A memoir recommended for those interested in putting a human face on the homeless, gangs, and the disenfranchised by trusting in the slow work of God and seeking the spirit of kinship with others in community.
Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, started in 1986 and now a national model, serving 8,000 gang members from 700 different gangs in Los Angeles. It offers mental health counseling, free tattoo removal, a charter school, job placement and training, and a curriculum offering everything from anger management to parenting. They run five businesses where rival gang members work side by side. Boyle gives about 200 talks a year and has agreed to give all of his net proceeds from this book to Homeboy Industries.
"We are put on earth," the poet William Blake wrote, "for a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love." For 25 years as a priest, Boyle has lived and served gang members in Los Angeles, home to 1,100 gangs with 86,000 members. He has buried 168 of his homies in this place where random violence is a way of life. It has been a difficult but productive ground for learning how to bear the beams of love. Boyle wants to "not only put a human face on the gang member, but to recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables." He has done so with a minimum of fanfare and an abundance of lyrical beauty and grace.
Boyle saw the need for a gang rehabilitation center and figured out how to make it a reality. He gives all the credit to his loving God who wants us "to marinate" in his fullness. In all of Boyle's work in prisons and with former gang members, he has never succumbed to preaching hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: "It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God's DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment." This perspective has served Boyle well with homies "who seem to live in the zip code of the eternally disappointed, and need a change of address." In a series of touching and edifying portraits, Boyle captures and conveys the lessons he has learned from these kids who have struggled through hard times and tried to put their lives in turnaround. He challenges us to "stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it."
Boyle has tried to be a compassionate person who never puts anyone out of his heart. He sees this spiritual quality as "the wallpaper of Jesus' soul." Many homies have low self-esteem and need to feel the unconditional lovingkindness of others. Other things that are most meaningful to Boyle after so many years of service: an abiding faith that in the face of so much pain there is dignity in just showing up; trusting in what Teilhard de Chardin once called "the slow work of God"; tapping into a sense of unconquerable gladness; and seeking that spirit of kinship with others that is a salient sign of the kingdom of God.