“His ways are not our ways…but they sure could be.”
Tattoos on the Heart author Gregory Boyle, aka Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries and long-time priest of the Delores Mission in Los Angeles, aka “G-dog”, sums up his approach to life in that simple, but profound, phrase. Father Boyle has been honored with numerous awards, including the California Peace Prize, and even brought gang members to dinner at the White House. A bout of leukemia prompted him to finally write a book inspired by his twenty-five years ministering at the ground zero of gangland—Boyle Heights of Los Angeles. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is my new favorite book and it will take something pretty special to bump it off the top of my list.
It hit me on so many levels. First, the writing style—there’s a dose of barrio homeboy vernacular to make it real. A homegirl acting as receptionist answers a bomb threat with “Go ahead and bring that bomb, motherfucka. We’re ready for your ass.” (Christian publishers passed on the book because of those moments.) Then, in the next paragraph Boyle might quote Thomas Merton or a Catholic saint. He uses so many different colors to paint the palette of his book.
Next, the content is the stuff of inspiring sermons—spiritual lessons couched in anecdotal stories of the homies. Rather than writing a chronological autobiography G (as he most often is called) offers chapters that focus on the gifts of the spirit—Grace, Compassion, Gladness, Kinship. He makes the barrio come alive through the eyes of man who sees the value in people who can’t see the value in themselves. This isn’t a Disney-like portrayal of the happy mean streets. His heart has been broken by the 167 times he’s buried the homeboys because of senseless violence.
Yet, there is hope because he knows who the Savior is. He sees Him in every scary, tattooed ex-con who comes through the doors of Homeboy Industries. G knows the Boundless Compassion of God and does his best to pay it forward.
Father Boyle lives among the angry, the marginalized, the under-educated throwaways of society and shows them God’s love. Indeed, his ways are not our ways…but they sure could be.
If you read it, Tattoos might turn into your favorite book also.
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle