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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…

Description
“This is a beautiful and important and soul-transporting book. . . . Please read it.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

“If you’re in the market for genuine inspiration, I urge you to read Barking to the Choir.” —Ann Patchett

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. Jamal, abandoned by his family when he tried to attend school at age seven, gradually finds forgive­ness for his schizophrenic mother. New father Cuco, who never knew his own dad, thinks of a daily adventure on which to take his four-year-old son. These former gang members uplift the soul and reveal how bright life can be when filled with unconditional love and kindness.

This book is guaranteed to shake up our ideas about God and about people with a glimpse at a world defined by more compassion and fewer barriers. Gently and humorously, Barking to the Choir invites us to find kinship with one another and reconvinces us all of our own goodness.
Notes
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.