I listened to a five minute clip of Gregory Boyle’s commencement address the other day and was pretty much mush for the hours that remained. Towards the end of the graceful story he describes about an ex-gang member turned tender, contributing, peaceful member of society, yet constantly judged by others because of his looks, he said the following:
“You stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. And you stand with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. And you stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and with those whose burdens are more than they can bear, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless, and the voiceless, and make those voices heard.”Gregory Boyle
I could stop there, and you are welcome to, but it brought me to tears because I have tasted this. I have tasted the fruit that comes from turning our eyes towards the elite and envying what I thought they had, and instead, finding Jesus on the bottom, with those not really envied by anyone. And beside Him, the never-ending banquet of life that is there. It has fed my soul more than anything I thought this world could offer.
There is so much truth about this in the words of Psalm 73 and Jeremiah 29:13-14. Asaph says that we miss God’s goodness when we look up to people at the top, envying their lives, rather than going to the bottom and finding the presence and peace and joy of Jesus that is there. Jeremiah’s words, directly from God Himself, remind us that when we seek God with all our heart, we will find Him and He will bring us back from captivity. This captivity that we often do not know we are in is the result of striving after that which the world strives. This is the captivity that we land in when we envy the life and external rewards of those who may be more rich and famous than we are, but are actually quite empty. This is the captivity of shallow thinking, the thinking that places us in bondage and saps life out of us. We don’t realize we are in it until we discover the presence of Jesus with the powerless and voiceless and those the world thinks are disposable.
I have discovered the life that has been returned to me as I have been able to stand with the demonized–the sex-offender, the murderer, and the prostitute. I have found God in sitting with those society deems disposable–the homeless, the mentally ill, and the child no one seems to want. But most importantly, as I have been in relationship with those whose dignity has been denied, or have had burdens too great to bear, I have been wrecked by the discovery of my own privilege. The privilege I did not know I had.
I was brought to tears with Boyle’s speech because it wasn’t just Bible Study that brought my life back. It was exactly what he said–it was loving the strangers that soon became my friends. They showed me who I really was–the self that was underneath all I had dressed myself with to “succeed” in this world. We remain blind to this until we “get serious about finding God and want it more than anything else” (Jer. 29:13)–not settling with merely studying His word but actually living it by finding Him in loving “the other”.
The Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom. We remain in captivity until we drop everything we once thought was important and let God flip us over and show us life from His perspective. He wants us to live abundantly and He tells us how to do it: “You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless…” (Psalm 82:3-4)
unsplash photos by James Douglas, Mitch Lensink, & Ben White