Do you have a set of authors to which you cling—old and wise friends, lovely old souls, who are longstanding conversation partners and with whom you visit over and over again? I do. Madeleine L’Engle, Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, Kathleen Norris, Frederick Buechner, Thomas Merton, Carlo Carretto, Mary Oliver, C.S. Lewis, Mary Karr, Father Greg Boyle, and Eugene Peterson are all good friends to me. Of course, most of them have no idea I exist except for maybe the ones who’ve gone on to be with God. Who knows? Maybe when it’s my turn to go with God into the rest of eternal life, I’ll find our hearts were divinely knit together and that we’ll be the best of friends in the place that Jesus has prepared for us. That would be really swell, I think. Actually, it’d be heavenly.
Well, since Jennifer asked me to pick just one author who has really influenced me, and is forcing me to play favorites though I don’t like to, I suppose I’ll acquiesce to her request for now. But before I do, I’ll issue this disclaimer: they’re all my favorites in the same way our three daughters are all our favorites—each for different reasons.
My pick for this post is Father Greg Boyle, author of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Father Boyle is a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, California and the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries. I have to say that Tattoos on the Heart has been one of the most influential books in my life since it came out in 2010. Though I haven’t had gang-related experiences, the themes and truths found within this book are universal. And so this book has played an integral part in my spiritual formation over the last five years. Reading it and implementing the posture toward others Father Boyle describes has transformed me and made me love God more. And I believe, others.
If you want to know about me, read this book.
I’ve probably read it six or seven times since I bought it and have led several groups through it. The funny thing is, I don’t like to watch a movie twice because after watching it once, I know what happens. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Unlike movies, I find myself returning to this book again and again. Each time I read it, I learn something new or am filled with wonder and awe at the truths found in it. Father Boyle is an expert writer and storyteller. This is a beautiful book—the kind of book that has me laughing and crying within the same paragraph. I am constantly recommending it to others.
Anne Lamott says something similar in her endorsement: “An astonishing book . . . about suffering and dignity, death and resurrection, one my favorite books in years. It is lovely and tough and tender and beyond my ability to describe and left me in tears of both sorrow and laughter.”
I’ve underlined much of the book. In order to give you a taste of the book, I am going to quote a few excerpts:
· “We used to joke during this period of hostility that emanated from those who opposed the very idea of Homeboy that with so much vitriol leveled at us, we ought to change our voicemail message after hours: ‘Thank you for calling Homeboy Industries. Your bomb threat is important to us.’ From my office once, I heard a homegirl answer the phone, and she says to the caller, ‘Go ahead and bring that bomb, mutha fucka. We’re ready for your ass.’ I ask her who’s on the phone. She covers the receiver, nonplussed, ‘Oh just some fool who wants to blow the place up.’ ‘Uh, kiddo, um,’ I tell her, ‘Maybe we should just say, ‘have a nice day and God bless you.’” (Boyle, 11).
· “God seems to be an unwilling participant in our efforts to pigeonhole him.” (Boyle, 35).
· “And yet, part of the spirit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal. (Boyle, 44).
· “Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate,’ means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”
Looking over these excerpts just goes to show me that a few brief and decontextualized escapades into this book do not do it, and Father Greg Boyle’s beautiful and loving wisdom, justice. So, if you’d like a more exquisite taste of what I am talking about, instead of a hardly-there foretaste, you’ll have to pick it up.
Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press, 2014). She is a bylined contributor for Christianity Today's Hermeneutics and Gifted For Leadership blogs as well as for Our Daily Journey (Our Daily Bread), and Missio Alliance. She has three young daughters and is married to her favorite person on Earth, Shawn Graves. When not with her family or writing, she is offering pastoral care to those in her church and teaching seminary students.