In a moving example of unconditional love in difficult times, the Jesuit priest and bestselling author of Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, shares what three decades of working with gang members in Los Angeles has taught him about faith, compassion, and the enduring power of kinship.
In his first book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Gregory Boyle introduced us to Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the world. Critics hailed that book as an “astounding literary and spiritual feat” (Publishers Weekly) that is “destined to become a classic of both urban reportage and contemporary spirituality” (Los Angeles Times). Now, after the successful expansion of Homeboy Industries, Boyle returns with Barking to the Choir to reveal how compassion is transforming the lives of gang members.
In a nation deeply divided and plagued by poverty and violence, Barking to the Choir offers a snapshot into the challenges and joys of life on the margins. Sergio, arrested at nine, in a gang by twelve, and serving time shortly thereafter, now works with the substance-abuse team at Homeboy to help others find sobriety…
I really enjoyed Father Greg Boyle's first book, TATTOOS ON THE HEART, but it seems now that Boyle reread his own first manuscript and thought, "Nah. Hold my beer."
BARKING TO THE CHOIR may very well be the best book I'll read in 2018, and it's only the first.
Filled with anecdotes and personal insight, Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles and one of my personal heroes, writes about the way reaching to the margins and building community truly helps us save ourselves. Boyle founded Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the country, and writes about his experiences with the people within the program with absolute grace, humility and humor. Boyle is funny, self-deprecating, and at times surprising, and delivers messages so fiercely and quickly that I found myself carrying a pencil with me as I read. By the end of my reading, the manuscript was so marked up with underlines and notes in the margins it looked like a college textbook. This is a good thing.
Boyle speaks of belonging to each other, of the importance of reaching beyond ourselves, and of getting with the "original program" of Christianity as recently urged by Pope Francis. But this isn't a book only for Christians, Catholic or otherwise. He references the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and countless other leaders as examples of how the "original program" (i.e., "we belong to each other") is a universal truth. His essays bring the realities of extreme poverty, the cycles of abuse, and the reality of desperation into everyday life through the words of the gang members he mentors. TATTOOS ON THE HEART was good. But BARKING TO THE CHOIR may be the book I reread to begin each new year.
Read this book. I do not say this lightly: it may very well change the way you live your life.
On Thanksgiving I was talking with my Aunt Michelle, an avid, self-published writer, when she said something about the work that took me by surprise: writing is her way to relax. Michelle hustles like nobody’s business, but she cheerfully told me and my mom that she sees writing as her hobby, an activity she turns to as a reprieve from everyday life. She was smiling as she said it. Writing, to my aunt, is absolute joy. As for me? Well, I stood there listening to her while something like gruff shame flooded my body.Writing is her joy. Let me process that for a moment. I have never, ever approached any kind of job with a sustained feeling of joy. Yes, there was the thrill of seeing my name on a masthead when I began working for a big national law book publisher. I loved taking the train into and from the city each day (though I do remember vowing that if I were still taking that same train twenty years from now something had gone very, very wrong). I really enjoyed teaching, too, but the whole truth is that every single morning I would sit…
I was sitting on the steps that lead to the second floor of our house (it’s one of the places I go when I need to hide). I was doing something on my phone (incredibly life-affirming and positive, I’m sure, as all internet scrolling is) when Quinlan came bounding down the stairs. She stopped, sat down beside me, and wrapped her arms around me in one of her monkey hugs that drape and cling and demand that the hug-ee not leave such an embrace until Quinn is good and ready to disentangle herself. When I could come up for air, she planted a kiss on my cheek. I smiled, remembering her as the baby who wouldn’t even sit beside me on the floor without a hand on my leg. “Do you know you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world?” I asked her. She was already on the first floor and headed to the kitchen. She shrugged. “I know,” she said, and continued on her way. I was left sitting on the steps, stunned by the nonchalance of her response. I know. I…