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Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship Hardcover – November 14, 2017
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Praise for Barking to the Choir
“This is a beautiful and important and soul-transporting book. It's written by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles who has worked with (and loved) gang-members for decades. This book is about how to love people. How to really love people. And how to know God when you see God. . . . This is a fantastic book. Please read it.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
“If you’re in the market for genuine inspiration, I urge you to read Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle, a book that shows what the platitudes of faith look like when they’re put into action.” —Ann Patchett
Praise for Tattoos on the Heart
“Destined to become a classic of both urban reportage and contemporary spirituality.” —The Los Angeles Times
"An astonishing book . . . about suffering and dignity, death and resurrection, one of my favorite books in years. It is lovely and tough and tender beyond my ability to describe and left me in tears of both sorrow and laughter." —Anne Lamott, author of Grace (Eventually)
"One of the bravest, most humane, heartbreaking, brilliant, and hopeful stories I’ve read in ages. Father Greg, the Gandhi of the Gangs, fills Tattoos with unquenchable soul force and down-to-earth love." —Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart
"Father Boyle reminds us all that every single child and youth is a part of God’s ‘jurisdiction’—and when they know that we are seeing them as God does, they are capable of great things. Father Boyle is a national treasure." —Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
"Sometimes we are allowed to see in our own lifetimes what we were supposed to see in the life and ministry of Jesus. Read, and let your life be changed!" —Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
"Incandescent, always hope-filled and often hilarious. Boyle somehow maintains an exuberant voice that celebrates the strength, compassion and humanity of people often demonized. He simply highlights charity and goodness wherever they are found. Boyle intersperses his narratives about gang members and his work with them with theological and spiritual reflections from a variety of theologians, poets and other writers. By introducing book-buying, highly educated readers to people we may never otherwise encounter, Boyle aspires to "broaden the parameters of our kinship.'" —The Christian Century
"Tattoos on the Heart is an astounding book and a remarkable testament. No one brings more triumph and tragedy to the street gang story than Greg Boyle. No one brings more conviction and compassion than Greg Boyle. And no one writes the gang story more beautifully." —Malcolm Klein, Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
"A spiritual masterpiece touching the innermost sanctum of the human soul. Boyle approaches each person as a child of God and fully deserving of love and compassion. His capacity to reach the heart of the most hardened, and to see the best in everyone, inspires. I laughed, wept, and underlined on virtually every page." —Kerry Kennedy, founder of The RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights
"An extraordinary reflection of a life totally committed to reshaping and redirecting the lives of countless young gang members (from L.A.’s gang culture), Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart proves one man with courage is a majority." —Martin Sheen
About the Author
Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Now in its 30th year, Homeboy traces its roots to when Boyle, a Jesuit priest with advanced degrees in English and theology, served as pastor of Dolores Mission Church, then the poorest Catholic parish in Los Angeles, which also had the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. Homeboy has become the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry program in the world, and employs and trains gang members and felons in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to thousands of men and women each year who walk through its doors seeking a better life. Father Boyle has received the California Peace Prize, the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award, and the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal. He was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and named a 2014 Champion of Change by the White House. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.
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“Barking to the Choir” is somewhat different in its approach from “Tattoos on the Heart” and its purpose is not to pick up where “Tattoos” left off. Fr. Boyle uses the stories of many of the people he has encountered and situations that have happened to him at Homeboy Industries, as a priest at Dolores Mission, and in his prison ministry to respond to the challenges of our time and the negative rhetoric that is so prevalent. In a time where the dialogue in our country has been bitter, people are polarized, and snap judgments are common, Fr. Boyle challenges us to look beyond people we see from the outside and see more of what we have in common. He does this mainly by sharing anecdotes which can to lead to reflection. While it may seem as if he is responding to the current political climate, most of the stories in this book would have been timely if we had not had situations such as Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 and the President referring to African countries in a derogatory way. Fr. Boyle shares the stories, in some cases adds some commentary, but in general allows the stories to speak for themselves. He often uses the actual terminology of his “homeboys” and makes you see the situation form their point of view. It’s as if Fr. Boyle wants you to see the person of Jesus Christ I the stories he shares and hopes that what is easy to do when reading from a page can be applied in real life.
For those of us who have to preach on a regular basis, this book is a gift with many great tales that will be excellent homily/sermon starters. It could also be a great resource for teachers. It is a great selection for book clubs, especially faith-based book clubs, and can be of use for people in social justice ministries. No matter why people read it, “Barking to the Choir” has the potential to widen our perspectives and allow us to see people in a different way. I am giving “Barking to the Choir” five stars, and yes, it is well deserved, but the five stars may be out of guilt. I’ve used so many of the stories in this book as well as the story of “Tattoos on the Heart” in so many homilies, Bible Study session, RCIA classes, and with young people, I owe Fr. Boyle at least five stars!
To which I replied, “No, just one of his admirers.”
In Barking to the Choir Gregory Boyle rekindles the admiration of multitudes for the work he and Homeboy Industries does in getting Los Angeles gang members off the streets and into jobs where they can work to provide for themselves and their families. The title, Barking at the Choir, reflects some of the mixed metaphors Boyle has heard over the years.
The humor in the book is one of Boyle’s trademarks, as in his previous book, Tattoos on the Heart. But the humor in Barking at the Choir is just a vehicle for Boyle to tell the tragic, almost hopeless stories of people trapped in lives of abuse, crime, violence, incarceration, and often premature, violent death. It also puts the spotlight on society’s mistaken estimation of gang members as incorrigible and worthless.
Barking to the Choir would be a heartbreaking read were it not for the success stories Boyle tells: about how youth and young adults find purpose and redemption (in the broadest sense) from having a reason to get up in the morning, somewhere to go, and something to do. Homeboy Industries is the largest, most successful gang rehabilitation and reentry program in the world.
Barking to the Choir is also a platform on which Boyle addresses social causes, such as police abuse and the death penalty. After nearly 30 years spent working in Boyle Heights, one of the most gang-ridden neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Boyle has a better-than-average idea about what works and what makes things worse.
Boyle was diagnosed with leukemia about 15 years ago. That reality may be why kinship and community—radical kinship—are such predominant themes in this book. It tells stories that are ultimately uplifting, stories of individuals and situations almost impossible to imagine. The occasional appearance of four-letter words (in context) might put off some readers. But the stories of hope in otherwise hopeless situations are worth that minor inconvenience. The stories might even inspire some of us to be more involved in trying to solve some of the intractable problems in our communities.