Book Review: Tattoos On The Heart

Tattoos On The Heart: The Power Of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle

There is within the circles of those who would consider themselves to be believers a major divide between those who tend to accept people in general regardless of whether or not they look or talk or act like other godly people, or those who wait until others prove themselves before acceptance. This particular book, as one might expect, comes rather heavily on the side of being compassionate and generous to a great degree with people who do not have a lot going for them. The author writes as a priest whose beat happens to be in a gang-ridden area of East Los Angeles, and who has created a small charitable empire of hoodlum related social services meant to provide jobs and encouragement for those who are seeking to leave the gang life but who struggle with basic tasks and basic knowledge and whose tattoos and scarred life histories do not bode well for success in the ordinary world of most workaday Americans. The writer has the chance to talk a lot about the crippling nature of father issues in setting up these young people for failures, and also discusses some of the practical means by which he seeks to help them overcome the shame that they have internalized and which cripples their success in so many areas of life.

This book is about 200 pages long and it is divided into nine chapters thematically that are based on the author’s experiences in seeking to evangelize to various homies on the streets of East Los Angeles. The book begins with a discussion of the Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries, which is where the author has been focused for a considerable length of time. The chapters themselves have titles like “God, I Guess,” “Dis-Grace,” “Compassion,” “Water, Oil, Flame,” “Slow Work,” “Jurisdiction,” “Gladness,” “Success,” “and “Kinship,” but at their heart is a selection of stories that the author tells about his own life and his own vocation as a priest as well as the young men whom he serves and seeks to encourage and inspire. Included are the ways that homies deal with their first flights or their first trip to the restaurant, the sort of experience that some of us may take a bit too much for granted. Also included is the experience that the author had when he was in Mexico for a year, serving as the priest for a rough island prison with harsh conditions and the bonding experience of furtively eating caldo de iguana with a couple of inmates, showing the author’s compassion towards people in such difficulties.

This book was loaned to me by a friend of mine and the book itself I read shows the mark of some editing for at least two issues. If these issues did not ruin my own enjoyment of the book, they are at least worth mentioning. For one, the book itself is written in a rather earthy fashion. The author has spent years of his life dealing with gangbangers, and he certainly enjoys dipping into their argot, from a lot of swear words in English to words which have a specific meaning in the gang life of Los Angeles. Not everyone will enjoy this as much, obviously. Similarly, the author seeks to speak of God in terms of being both male and female, and not all readers will be on board with this puzzling grammatical decision. Beyond that, there is a great deal of poignancy that the book provides because the author talks about so many homies who have died, often by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making it tough to get close to people who perish just as they are starting to turn their life around because of the larger gang life around them that makes it hazardous even for those who are not doing anything wrong themselves.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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