For years, readers have been asking Father Greg Boyle when he’ll write a sequel to his New York Times #1 Best Seller Tattoos on the Heart. Each time, he gave them the same answer: “Someday, when I have time.”
Somehow, between a full-time job at Homeboy Industries, masses at juvenile hall and camps, quinceañeras at Dolores Mission, and hundreds of speaking events all over the nation each year, Fr. Greg (or “G” as the homies affectionately call him), made the time. That book will be released this upcoming Tuesday, November 14.
Fr. Greg’s simultaneously hilarious and breathtaking voice can be heard on every page of Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. What he offers in this book are stories that cause us to laugh, cry, pray, and, most importantly, invite us to build his vision of kinship – a community where there is no divisions, no “us” and “them,” but simply us. Through these stories, he has one aim in mind: a oneness and mutuality that holds together and preserves diversity:
It would see that God created an ‘otherness’ so that we could find our way in mutuality to kinship. Margins manufactured by God, perhaps, so that we’d dedicate our lives to their erasure. We are charged not with obliterating our diversity and difference but instead with heightening our connection to one another.
Our task, it seems, is to find ways to build connections that simultaneously celebrate our differences and create a sense of unity.
This continues to be a daunting task, one in which we might find ourselves worn down or weary. Certainly, Fr. Greg is no stranger to the long work of justice – work that he calls remaining faithful to God rather than to measures of short term success.
To get a sense of how Fr. Greg continues to build mutuality day after day, we asked him to respond to two questions:
Early in the book, you tell us that “we believe that God is inclined to decline our credit card… that God is not who we think God is.” Can you tell us a moment when you personally found this to be true in your own life, or watched your experience of God expand beyond your wildest dreams? To put it in other words, what was a time that you realized you are a diamond covered in dust?
Fr. Greg: The invitation is constant and everyday: to welcome in the tenderness of God in all its spaciousness and expansive mercy. The discovery, then, every day, is of the God we ACTUALLY have – and not the partial God we’ve settled for. God is in the tender glance. I see this every day in the homies who carry more than I’ve ever been asked to carry and yet they pull this off. When I had to lay off 300 workers during the financial meltdown, there was only tenderness from the homies… God’s own countenance.
You invite the reader not to be a savior, but to simply savor. Can you give us an example of something that you’ve savored in your life?
Fr. Greg: Our choice, constantly, is to save the world… or savor it. I vote for savoring. The trick of course is that we save by savoring. When we snap to attention and delight in the person in front of us, truly listen, and allow ourselves to be reached by the other, we all get saved. Then, finally, it’s not about me but about the one seated in front of me. The ego recedes and real kinship happens. One chooses to savor with kindness and everything looks differently.
Our egos often get in the way of the hard work of kinship, though. We find ourselves hurt by others, scared by difference, and cling to the false sense of security that comes with the known. What might happen if we took up the call to allow our egos to recede?
Take the example of Mario highlighted by Fr. Greg in Barking to the Choir. Mario is asked what advice he’d give to his son. When he says he doesn’t want his children to turn out like him, the woman who asked the question stands up again and tells him that she hoped his children would turn out like him:
“Why wouldn’t you want your children to turn out to be like you?” she said. “You are gentle, you are kind, you are loving, you are wise.” She steadied herself, planted herself firmly. “I hope your kids turn out to be like you.” There was not much of a pause before all one thousand attendees stood and began to clap. The ovation seemed to have no end. All Mario could do was hold his face in his hands, overwhelmed with emotion.
In a simple moment, Mario hears for the first time that he has become a wonderful man worth being proud of. He is able to experience and savor a moment of tenderness. What might happen if we do the same – if we allow ourselves the space to accept tenderness in and from others? Might we find the mutuality Fr. Greg is invited us towards?
From that simple moment of tenderness is the heart of Fr. Greg’s call to us. When we offer that same tender glance to others, we give from the blessings that we’ve been entrusted so that the ballroom of kinship Fr. Greg describes might be fuller, lovelier, and wilder than we could have ever dreamed possible.
Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship can be purchased online at the Homeboy Industries Store, major online retailers, and local bookstores. Visit the website of Homeboy Industries to learn more, make a contribution, or patronize one of the many Homeboy Enterprises.
Cover photo courtesy of Homeboy Industries.