One of the various middle school responsibilities for teachers includes chaperoning a middle school dance at which no one ever dances.
After weeks of exciting gossip in the hall, texting among friends, decision-making about clothes and who’s going with whom, the event itself never measures up to its anticipation. Oh, there may be one or two “group” dances — Macarena-type choreography which everyone knows — but anything remotely resembling a boy dancing with a girl never occurs.
Instead, thickets of girls in one corner text pockets of roving boys. Occasionally, there is an excited scream or an attempt at some physical contact, but then it quickly subsides. And so the evening ends at the dance which never happens.
The Hallway to the Ballroom
I was reminded of this after attending a lecture given by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., the founder of Homeboy Industries and the author of the marvelous “Tattoos on the Heart.” He and two former gang members enthralled us with living examples of, as he describes it, “the power of boundless compassion.” With the theological eloquence of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the natural humility of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the self-deprecating humor of his Irish heritage, Fr. Greg challenged my concepts of Christian love and service.
“We are doomed to be the God we believe in.” Ouch.
“We know we have created God in our own image when that God hates the same people we do.” Double ouch.
“Christian Service is the hallway to the Ballroom.”
Now, wait a minute! So all of the flash lunches (we make hundreds each year for the homeless), and baby showers (for unwed mothers), and mission drives (we have lots of “buck-a-jean” collections), and Thanksgiving meals (we have one of the largest in the city)—isn’t this Christian Service?!
I went away questioning whether I was truly serving others, or only serving my own ego. Is my service no more than “virtue signaling” to others? Am I merely teaching “drive-by” works of mercy to my students?
Standing in the Hallway
I learned that the success of Homeboy Industries is not due to the job placements, the tattoo removals, or the counseling services. It is due to the love that is offered as one equal to another. Gang members are offered this love, as they are, and it each member’s decision to accept it or walk away. It’s that simple, and that scary.
In the hallway outside of the ballroom, we warily measure and analyze each person inside. We dress ourselves up, put on our best faces and hair, and put out our coolest attitude to be noticed. We’ve paid for our ticket, supported the cause, and proclaimed our virtue for all to see.
If we never enter the dance, however, we never really know or get to love any of the others there. We’ve gotten all cleaned up for nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). At the end of the night, we walk away unchallenged, unchanged, and unattached.
Jesus at the Dance
We forget that Jesus is in that ballroom, disguised as all of those nervous dancers waiting for an invitation to love and be loved. But if we keep standing in the hallway, we will never truly know Him, love Him, or serve Him, in this world’s ballroom, or the next.
I know that it’s time for me to make my way to the ballroom.