I am enthralled. Tattoos on the Heart, by Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle, is a constant inspiration, from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter. Buy it, read it, then read it again. I'm re-reading it now. Or re-hearing it.
I downloaded the audiobook Monday thanks to a tip from a friend, and I had heard it all by 5:30 am Wednesday morning, thanks to a round-trip Boston-New York solo car ride, complete with iPhone, Audible.com app, and ear buds. The beauty of the audio version is that it is read by the author, over 30 years a Jesuit and founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. It is read with deep feeling and a convincing Spanish accent too. (Ninety-nine percent of gang members in LA today are Latino, so there’s a smattering of Spanish thrown into the text, reflecting the lingo of Boyle’s daily ministry.)
Begun as an outreach to gang members at the poorest parish in the LA archdiocese, Homeboy Industries has grown into a conglomerate offering gang members the one ticket out of the projects: a job. Businesses include a bakery and Homegirl Café, where waitresses offer attitude with your entree. Some businesses started but soon stopped, Homeboy Plumbing Services, for example. As Boyle jokes, homeowners didn't want gang members in their houses. “Who knew?!”
The book is a collection of stories, most of which were homilies first. After a short introduction giving the author’s bio and the genesis of Homeboy Industries, there follows a bittersweet mix of triumph and tragedy. Boyle (known as “G” to the “homies”) had officiated at 173 funerals of gang members by the time this book was written. Boyle sprinkles in quotations from every possible tradition. Poets Mary Oliver and Denise Levertov share space with Sufi poets and Catholic icons.
The message of the book is simple, and it’s the only message worth delivering anyway: the vastness of God's love for us. In the end, this is the one thing that can overcome the hopelessness and despair of life in the projects—or in the suburbs. For a Catholic like myself, who enjoys the comforts and safety of middle-class American life, Boyle’s message is completely convincing.