This book review written by Peter Sullivan first appeared on Earl Hipp’s Man-Making blog.
Note from Earl: “I’m always pleased when I hear a story of how a man has reached out and had a positive impact on the life of a young male. Every once and a while, however, a story of a dedicated man, influencing (and sometimes saving) thousands of lives, just takes my breath away. This post is a book review by Man-Making blog guest contributor Peter Sullivan. The book is, Tattoos on the Heart – The Power of Boundless Compassion.”
I’ve recently read
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It is about a Jesuit Priest who has worked for over twenty years in a gang-intervention program. The program is located in a neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA, a community with a high concentration of murderous gang activity, over a hundred different gangs, and in what many consider to be the gang capital of the world. What Father G (as the boys call him) started is now called Homeboy Industries, a collection of business created to, assist at-risk and formerly gang involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.
For anyone interested in mentoring boys, I don’t think there could be a better role model than Father G. Because he is loved, respected, and trusted, he is able to have a powerful influence on the young guys around him. The subtitle of the book, “The Power of Boundless Compassion” speaks to Father Boyle’s approach, and is dominant force you can feel in his work.
I was very deeply moved by Father Boyle’s descriptions of the lives of the young men around him. The struggles they go through, the poverty, the violence, the need to keep up their “rep”, as well as their loneliness, humor, and humanity. I came to actually admire and care about each character he portrayed. Because of my attachment to them, I also felt a deep sadness when, just as these young men were beginning to make progress and experience success, they would often be cut down in a senseless drive-by shooting or other violence. These individual stories are woven into parables that spoke directly to my heart in a way that the spiritual lessons couldn’t be missed and which profoundly changed my world view. Here is a quote from the book, which also describes what happened to me:
“If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it . . . Our allocating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest. For no amount of our screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them. The margins don’t get erased by simply insisting that the powers-that-be erase them . . . The powers bent on waging war against the poor and the young and the “other” will only be moved to kinship when they observe it.”
I am part of a small group in my community called Just Faith. It’s a program to encourage learning about social justice issues and then taking actions to help change things. In “Tattoos on the Heart” I was indeed “moved to kinship,” and motivated to do what I can do to make a difference in the lives of the young men around me. For starters, we will be visiting homeless shelters in Camden, New Jersey. I am developing a plan, with others, to consider how we can move into action based on what we learned from Father Boyle’s book. I highly recommend it to the readers of this blog.
Tattoos on the Heart teaches us how to fight despair and to meet the world with a loving heart. It’s a story of people overcoming shame and hopelessness and learning to stay strong in spite of failure. Maybe most importantly, it clearly demonstrates the impact unconditional love and boundless compassion can have in the lives of those giving and receiving it. Here is a short video clip describing Homeboy Industries and Father Boyle’s work:
is like building graveyards to address AIDs”
Father Gregory Boyle