Tattoos on the heart
Journey with Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries
Being a Jesuit, I have a certain soft-corner for the Jesuit works. Scientist, parish priest, theologian, philosopher, professor, intellectual, social-activist — it’s not difficult to find 100s of excellent Jesuits who fit these bills. But there is an American Jesuit named Gregory Boyle, who can fit some of these bills, but he is known for something beyond. If you have heard his name, I would be surprised. But why he is interesting? Or why his latest work is interesting?
Homeboy Industries is an institution founded by Gregory Boyle SJ. Their website says
Homeboy Industries is the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. For over 30 years, we have stood as a beacon of hope in Los Angeles to provide training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated people, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.
The book is nothing but, a sharing based on his experiences. I would call it, this way…. if you want to understand what is unconditional love, in tangible and contemporary terms; if you want to understand the parable of two sons (the famous prodigal son)…. this book does speak to you (it is definitely not preaching you to become this or that)…
I am not going to write a review on this book, but just to introduce you to some quotes that deeply touched me. Just a caution for the readers… if you are expecting a pious book, don’t go for it… it is a book that really enters into human life, with all the nakedness of life, emotions, and language...inviting to joy, belonging, loving, and not to solutions. I will put down a few quotes, with a few remarks of mine in italics if necessary to get the context.
- “We need to fan the flames of tenderness in each other.” Once we are reached by tenderness, we become tenderness. (p. XVI) …. this is their strategy and they practice it.
- We see God’s light in everything and thereby choose mysticism over morality. We choose connection, not perfection. We explore the things that help us feel beloved rather than on probation. We want to know the God of love, which is more than knowing the love of God. We long to see the wholeness of things and find our wholeness in Christ. (p. XIX)
- How could we have gotten this so wrong? There is no moment when God gets pissed off. WE do (eternamente), but God never does. God is never toxic, but quite often our version of God, to which we cling, can be. (p. 3)
- And, yes, the god who thinks “we haven’t done enough” is the wrong god. Too small. My friend Mirabai Starr, a mystic, who writes about mystics, says, “Once you know the God of Love, you fire all the other gods.” It is always hard for us to believe in the nonjudgmental, loving, and merciful God, and yet, that is the God we actually have. (p. 7)
- Homies in their recovery are constantly trying to shift the energy field. They want to move from a sense of scarcity that there isn’t enough to go around to a pervasive sense of abundance. Pretty soon, they take up residence in the house of plenty. They locate their inner abundance. They move from the impasse of some previous scarcity to the doorway of “enough for everybody.” (p. 13).
- A homie at a very low point once stared at me and asked, “Has God disowned me?” The question startled me. Before I could reply, he followed with, “Have you?” And you discover that the only way he’ll know that this is NOT on God’s mind is that it’s not on yours either (p. 19).
- It frees us from thinking that peace will come from humbling others, or that being stern with our children makes them gentle, or that justice is pain doled out to those who behave badly. (p. 26)
- A donor once said of me that I didn’t see “gang member” when I saw the homies, but that I only saw “potential.” Not quite. I only want to see goodness. (p. 27)
- How long have we trotted out this chestnut: “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? Yet, hating the sin hasn’t gotten us very far. It has kept us from the love of our understanding hearts. We’ve reduced morality to just a high level of horror at hating the sin, rather than helping the ill, healing the traumatized, or bringing hope to the despondent. No one needs to stretch very much to know this aligns with God’s heart and longing. (p. 38)
- We realized that the police had not been trained for innocence (p. 41)
- We have long been saddled with the notion that mysticism is some otherworldly escape, above and beyond this earthly existence. But it’s not “escapism,” it’s “dive-right-in-ism.”(p. 49).
- Homie Stevie Avalos says, “We see the homie’s heart until they can see their own. Then they leave here, and they see other hearts.” Mysticism, then, sees connectedness. (p. 51).
- Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will either be a mystic… or he will cease to be anything at all.” He’s not suggesting that “we see visions” but that we be “visionary.” We are asked to see as God sees and this changes all we view. We see wholeness, and it helps all of us rewire, not just the traumatized. The mystic’s quest is to be on the lookout for the hidden wholeness in everyone. Then we can remind each other that we are made for loving, and that the true measure of our love… is to love without measure. (p. 54–55).
- The father’s hope (and our invitation at Homeboy) is that this son will touch the center of his pain, go through it, not avoid it, and come out the other side. (p. 66). We no longer live “God-fearing lives” but rather “God-seeing lives.” We see as God does. This is the mystical trek. (p. 67).
- A breathless, admiring visitor to the Catholic Worker house in New York City asked Dorothy Day if she had visions. The story goes, she uttered an expletive and said, “Just visions of dirty dishes and unpaid bills.” (p. 77).
- Abel was shot thirty-three times, in a coma for six months, and spent a year and a half recuperating in the hospital. Someone in the office once asked him, “Why are you smiling and laughing all the time?” He simply said: “I’ve been through too much, not to smile and laugh.”(p. 103).
- Homeboy Industries isn’t just a sanctuary and sacred place, it’s a petri dish cultivating an ability to find the sacred beyond this place. (p. 110).
- My friend Mary Rakow says, “The Church is always trying to come to us from the future.” So, we need to allow it. Jesus lived, breathed, and embodied a boundary-subverting inclusion. If it’s inclusive and wildly so, then you know you’re warm. You are close to it. Nothing is excluded except excluding. (p. 128).
- What was ultimately treasonous about Jesus was his inclusivity. He ignored boundaries. Jesus plowed right through them. If Mother Teresa is right, that we’ve drawn our family circle too small, then Jesus sought to correct that. “The excluded,” Pope Francis tells us, “are still waiting.” (p. 129).
- A Greek philosopher described Christians to Emperor Hadrian in this way: “They love one another. They never fail to help widows. They save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the one who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they take him home and are as happy as though he were a real brother.” Not a religion so much as a way of living and seeing. (p. 133).
- We keep thinking we are being called to DO something at the margins. But the real question is: Who will we become as we stand there? So warmly embrace any invitation to stand in the lowly place that reminds you of your abiding goodness and points the way to joy. We are beckoned to be a Church that does this. (p. 138).
- What Somali poet Warsan Shire says about the plight of refugees could be said of Charlie: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark… unless home chased you, fire under feet.” (p. 166).
- The “rich young man” walks away because he’s sad, not bad (he couldn’t be one bit better). Wholeness is way better than being “freed from sin.”(p. 184)… wholeness is a theme closer to the heart of the author.
- It’s not about getting to solutions as much as getting to each other. (p. 203). Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. …. kinship/fraternity/belonging…different words used by Boyle.
- “Justice,” Cornell West has said, “is what love looks like in public,” just like tenderness is what love feels like in private. We need to take it to the streets. (p. 220).
- I ask him: “Why are you crying, Dino?” “Well, you know how I got out of prison and you hired me right away?” “Yeah.” “And you know how I worked alongside my worst enemies in the world, and they became my brothers?” “Yeah.” “And you know how I worked on myself, finally, at Homeboy?” “Yeah.” “And you know how grateful I am for Homeboy and this other job you guys got me and how I now have a house, my wife, and boys, and how I love my life?” “Dino, my son for life. Why are you crying?” “Cuz tonight — for the first time in my life — I feel this pain, for all the hurt I caused.” “Ma dawg,” I tell him. “You’ve arrived. Congratulations — you’ve done the really hard work. You can choose joy now. It’s right around this corner.” All he had once feared, he can now love. (p. 191). …. dawg, it is homie language to address another with love.