Kerry WeberNovember 28, 2017
(Homeboy Industries)

Barking to the Choirby Gregory Boyle

Simon & Schuster. 224p, $26 

The first book by Greg Boyle, S.J., was a triumph, a bestseller and a road hazard. I listened to the audiobook version of Tattoos on the Heart while driving through California and was so frequently moved to tears by his stories of compassion, solidarity and hope that I was forced to switch to the radio, or else be reduced to a blubbering mess. So, as a safety precaution, while reading his latest book, Barking to the Choir, I stuck with the hard copy, reading it only in places where I was not operating heavy machinery. It was a wise decision, because Boyle’s second effort also manages to break your heart just enough for the power of his grace-filled wisdom to seep in through the cracks.

“God is too busy loving you to have any time left over to be disappointed.”

Since founding Homeboy Industries in 1992, this Jesuit priest’s work to provide education, job training and a supportive community for ex-gang members has become world-famous, as has Father Boyle’s ability to captivate a crowd with stories of the hardships and healing experienced by the “homies.” Barking to the Choir is filled with such stories. The book is not a single narrative, but rather a collection of vignettes, conversations and reflections centered around themes like awe, inclusion and love. As in Tattoos, the homies’ malapropisms, mistakes and strength in the face of suffering often prompt deep revelations for Father G, as he is known to them.

“God is too busy loving you to have any time left over to be disappointed,” Father Boyle writes in a line that could serve as the book’s thesis statement. Barking to the Choir reminds us of the many forms that this love takes, often appearing in surprising ways or from unexpected sources. The sentiments and some of the stories may be familiar to those who have heard Father Boyle speak, but their power is not diminished in print and his call to kinship feels newly relevant at a time when our country remains divided in so many ways. Over and over, the book reminds us of one question: In the face of adversity, what other answer is there but love?

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