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Miscellany

Love with its sleeves rolled up

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, with a trainee at Homeboy Industries

Ryan and I caught a livestream last week of Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, the beloved Jesuit priest and founder of the gang rehabilitation program Homeboy Industries, in conversation with Oregon Humanities.

Boyle strikes me as one of those Jesuits who’s equally Catholic and Buddhist in his grounding. (Or, as a Catholic friend once said when an acquaintance asked him if he was Buddhist, “I wish!”)

He has been doing the daily work of accompanying “homies” and “homegirls” for decades, and what he does seems to be so transformative exactly because he’s not trying to force behavioral change or to measure KPIs or to implement programs to change the nature of gang activity. He simply shows up, over and over, for people who have never had stability in their lives.

He appreciates how his smartphone helps him keep in touch with the vast amount of people who’ve come into his life through his work. He says his relationships are stronger because he can send texts to let people know he’s thinking of them. What would our world look like, he mused, if we practiced micro-affirmations instead of micro-aggressions?

Or in the poet Mary Oliver’s words:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Be astonished.
  3. Tell about it.

His approach at Homeboy Industries, he says, is based on two unwavering principles:

  1. Everyone is unshakably good.
  2. We belong to each other.

His work is a mix of theology, psychotherapy, and companionship. He calls it “love with its sleeves rolled up.”

Former gang members come to Homeboy Industries for 18-month stints (the same timeframe in which an infant forms an attachment bond with primary caregivers, Boyle noted) to work, receive services, and to develop what Boyle calls “a muscular hope and a sturdy kind of resilience.” In short, they learn that they are cherished.

Hence, the name of Boyle’s forthcoming book: Cherished Belonging, which I’m looking forward to reading and giving to others.

The conversation had me thinking of a phrase used by psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy (who also uses the phrase “sturdy,” to describe how parents should act as leaders for their kids — to show empathy while holding firm boundaries).

She encourages parents to embrace the “most generous interpretation” when their children are acting out.

“Choosing the most generous interpretation of your child’s behavior does not mean you are ‘being easy’ on them, but rather you are framing their behavior in a way that will help them build critical emotion regulation skills for their future — and you’re preserving your connection and close relationship along the way,” she writes in her book Good Inside.

Emphasis mine. (And advice worth taking to other relationships, too.)

It feels like in-person human connection can be in short supply these days, or when we encounter other people, especially those in pain, we don’t know how to help. But we don’t build relationships alone.

As Boyle says, “Healing happens in a community. I’ve never healed anyone.”