Non-delusional response to everything is kindness, says Fr. Gregory Boyle

“So, a guy named Daniel, an older guy who walks with a limp and has a cane, is in charge of the list, the list of people who sign up to talk with me,” said Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday, July 21, morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Comfort and Joy,” and the Scripture reading was Mark 5:1-19.

Daniel has a light grasp on life and is always clowning, Boyle said. “I would be talking with a Homegirl and he would stick his head in and say ‘Don’t get her mad.’ One day I was talking with Isaiah, and Daniel stuck his head in and said, ‘Is Isaiah bothering you?’ ”

One day Daniel came in to talk with Boyle. 

“I was really upset in church today,” Daniel said. “This woman pulled out a cigarette and lit it. I almost dropped my beer.”

Boyle feels as though Daniel’s outlook on life speaks to his journey. 

“This is the sound of someone from the margins who lived in the tombs and landed safely in a place where he is cherished,” Boyle said.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote: “That you have a soul — your own, no one else’s — that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own. So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours more than my own.”

Referring to the story in Mark of the man possessed by a legion of demons, Boyle said that people are afraid of a world out of control. 

“We have criminalized brokenness, like putting chains on the man (with the demons),” he said. “We long for a world where policing is obsolete and the jails are closed, where we don’t punish the wounded, but seek to heal them.” 

The man with the demon said his name was Legion, “like he belonged to a gang,” Boyle said. Another translation of the name could mean “I am what I am afflicted with.” 

“No, that is not who you are,” Jesus said to him.

Boyle was driving somewhere with three Homeboys, one of whom was Anthony, when he noticed that the car was about out of gas. He told Anthony to watch for a gas station.

“Anthony leaned over to check the gauge, as if he did not believe me,” Boyle said. 

“No, you have gas,” Anthony said.

“No, it’s on empty. E means empty,” Boyle said.

“It does?” Anthony asked.

“What do you think it means?” Boyle asked.

“Enough,” he said.

“And F?” Boyle asked. 

“Finished,” Anthony said.

“Thanks for visiting our planet,” Boyle said to the congregation. “Every human looks in the mirror and sees ‘Enough’ and ‘Finished.’ ” 

There was a lone laugh from the back of the congregation. 

“Except one,” Boyle said.

Jesus sees that we are more than enough, Boyle said. Jesus sees our goodness and fullness and knows the gravity of kindness. 

“Kindness is the non-delusional response to everything. Every other response is delusion. Tenderness is the finishing touch of love. It is the highest form of maturity,” Boyle said. “The wild man of the tombs became a disciple sitting at Jesus’ feet, restored to wholeness, inclusion, nonviolence, acceptance and unconditional loving kindness.”

One day, Boyle was sitting in his office in a meeting when he noticed a man come to the counter where people are greeted and signed in. There were people who were waiting to see him, people waiting to get tattoos removed or waiting for job counseling. 

The man went up to the counter and every one of his sentences was punctuated by slamming a soda can down on the counter. 

“I could see meth and madness, and I got up to intervene,” Boyle said. “Then Miguel, a huge guy with a T-shirt that said ‘Security,’ — a real gentle giant, the soul of tenderness  — walked the man out.”

Miguel talked with Boyle later and told him what happened. 

“How about I take you to the placita and buy you some tacos,” Miguel said. “The man lifted his shirt, showed me a gun in his waistband and said to me, ‘How about I put a bullet in your head?’ I said, ‘Two tacos or three?’ ”

In the two blocks they walked to the taco stand, the man was arguing aloud with the demons in his head. One told the man not to trust Miguel, another thought the man should eat. When they got to the taco stand, the man threw the first taco on the ground in defiance then inhaled the other two because he was hungry.

“Love your neighbor as your child,” Boyle said. “Develop a culture of tenderness, the contagion of kindness. Find love, comfort and joy anchored in relational kindness to set the compass of your heart.”

Danny had vowed never to set foot in Boyle’s office. Boyle got to know him on his path through the juvenile justice system and prison. 

“In recovery, they say it takes what it takes for the light bulb to come on. The birth of a son, the death of a friend, a stretch in prison. But at one point, the light goes on,” Boyle said. 

For Danny, that occurred when his mother died of pancreatic cancer. She was mentally ill and had tortured him as a child, but he was her only child who cared for her as she was dying. Boyle buried her a week later, and a week after that Danny showed up at Homeboy.

“I watched him as he laughed from his stomach, had tattoos removed and felt more comfortable in his own skin. He transformed his pain so he did not transmit it,” Boyle said.

Danny stopped in Boyle’s office one day and said, “What happened yesterday has never happened to me before.”

Danny was taking the train home and a man, who was drunk, stood in front of him and pointed to Danny’s Homeboy sweatshirt that said “Homeboy Industries  — Jobs Not Jail.” The man asked Danny if he worked at Homeboy. Danny nodded yes. 

“Is it any good?” the man asked.

Danny shrugged and said, “It helped me. I don’t think I will ever go back to prison. What’s your name?” 

“Luis,” the man said.

Danny pulled out a piece of paper and wrote out the address of Homeboy for Luis. “I can’t believe I remembered the whole thing,” he told Boyle. 

“Come see us. We can help you,” Danny said to Luis. 

Luis got out at the next stop. Danny looked around and saw that everyone was staring at him. 

“This had never happened to me before. Everyone was nodding at me, smiling at me. For the first time in my life, I was admired,” Danny told Boyle.

“Danny discovered tenderness as a weapon of choice,” Boyle said to the congregation. “God wants us to be whole and filled with comfort. Holy people are healthy people, and healthy people are holy people.”

He continued, “What is in a name? We have to look with affection and see as Jesus sees so all are restored to wholeness and the soul is clapping its hands.”

The Rev. J. Paul Womack, pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church in Chautauqua, presided. Jim Evans, a member of the Motet and Chautauqua Choirs, read the Scripture. The prelude, played by the Motet Consort, was “Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano,” written for Barbara Hois, flute, and Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, by Joseph Musser, piano. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir, directed by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, was “Ubi Caritas,” by Maurice Duruflé. The postlude, played by organ scholar Nicholas Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ, was “Trumpet Tune,” by John Stanley. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy. Unless otherwise noted, the morning liturgies were written by the Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua. Music is selected and the Sacred Song Service created by Josh Stafford. If you would like PDF copies of the morning liturgies, send an email request to

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.