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Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

From the publisher:

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.

I’ll Tell You Now I Keep it On and On

David got me these flowers on our anniversary in July (13 years, baby. Our marriage is officially a teenager). I’d chosen them as part of my wedding bouquet, but just got around to looking up their meaning today, and what I found kind of threw me off a bit: on the positive end, hydrangeas stand for gratitude. That’s lovely. On the flip side? They also portray frigidity, or disinterest (probably not what a couple wants to consider as it goes waltzing down an aisle, but let’s move on, shall we?).  Gratitude and disinterest: oddly enough, they’ve been the presiding emotions inside this ol’ body of mine this past year. It’s what’s prevailing, these conflicting feelings of extreme thanks for all the good in my life: the publication of All the Difference, my lit agent, my writing community, my family and friends and home and all of that. When I wake up every day, my first thought is just that: thanks. I’m so thankful to have this. But that’s before the second emotion sneaks in there, flowing around the side of that gratitude like…

Perspective: Writer Version

I posted a cute (well, I think it’s cute, anyway. Blog posts are kind of like kids that way) story over on my other website about the day last week that advanced reading copies of my All the Difference came in. Please go check it out, then come back here, because I have something funny to tell you that won’t make sense until after you read that other one… …did you finish it yet? …what about now? Okay, good. You’re back. So now you know the embarrassing Story of the ARC (not at all like Noah’s, but for a brief moment in my little corner of the continent, almost as earth-shaking). You know all about the tears, and about the family huddle, and the fact that–for all of us, kiddos included–it became absolutely real that this book is actually, really, happening. At least, I thought it finally made sense to most of us. The Big Huge Accomplishment was UNDENIABLE. I was humbled. I was giddy. I was overwhelmed. We were all so happy at this Wonderful Thing That Happened. And–for a brief…