Good Books!

Good Books!

Tattoos On The Heart and Barking To The Choir, by Gregory Boyle

Like me, you may vaguely remember hearing about Father Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries perhaps on 60 Minutes or from some other news source. Boyle, a Jesuit priest, started Homeboy Bakery in Los Angeles 30 years ago in an effort to provide “an exit ramp” for gang members trying to leave that life behind and start anew. (Job training, mental health support, tattoo removal services are some of the offerings at HBI). Barking To The Choir, published last year, picks up where Tattoos On The Heart left off in 2011, commingling Christian (and a good dollop of Buddhism) doctrine with anecdotal vignettes of some of the thousands of people this program has helped. At times, the religious tone is heavy (he is a priest after all) but Boyle is a skilled narrator and his often self-deprecating humor dials back the sermonizing. Liberally sprinkled throughout the text are laugh out loud passages which often involve mangling English and “Slangish” (slang Spanish): Barking To The Choir is an amalgamation of “barking up the wrong tree”and “preaching to the choir.” But profound sadness is present here as well; Boyle has buried over 220 young people from these communities and while he would never admit to despair, the loss is understandably, at times, overwhelming. The take-away message is one of grace. Everyone deserves the chance to be their best self; that circumstances beyond one’s ability to control (poverty, mental illness, abuse and neglect) are too often used to stigmatize, isolate, forcing people to live outside of acceptable society. Although Boyle (and his program) has his detractors and critics, (and some are are given space on these pages as well), I found myself appreciating his ability to remain non-judgmental and to offer hope and opportunities to people in these marginalized communities. Especially now, in these increasingly uncivil times, these books offer a glimpse of where we should be focusing our attention…towards the “better angels of our nature.”

Just Folks.  Pumpkin Pie vs. Sweet Potato Pie?

Just Folks. Pumpkin Pie vs. Sweet Potato Pie?

In Praise of Losers.

In Praise of Losers.