Book talks of lessons in kinship, compassion

| November 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

FR. GREG BOYLE, founder of Homeboy Industries.
Photo by Eric Pulitzer

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship,” by Rev. Gregory Boyle, who grew up in Windsor Square and attended Loyola High School, was released last month by Simon & Schuster.

A collection of stories, ideas and parables based on Boyle’s 30 years of working with gangbangers, or “homies,” and their families, “Barking to the Choir” is loosely organized around a series of what the priest (who likes to be called Fr. Greg) refers to as “homie-propisms;” these are used as launching points to discuss spiritual aspects. Mostly, however, the book addresses how kindness, compassion and the kinship of humanity can filter into every aspect of life. Lessons can be learned from the very people you are trying to help.


In an Introduction that needs to be read (and not skipped over as one may do), Boyle explains the title as coming from a homie who referred to “barking to the choir” instead of “preaching to the choir.” Boyle decided he liked the new saying better. It seemed to describe a way of waking people up, making sure they made room for everyone, not just themselves. There’s a feeling of exclusivity — “us and them” — in being in the choir, when there needs to be more inclusivity. There’s a seat for everyone at the table.

But sometimes people need to be barked at, nudged, prodded and shoved to get them to move enough to make that happen.

“The world is steeped in God. Grace indeed is everywhere,” he writes in the chapter, “Holy Befold,” when discussing how one “homie-propism” can refer to the sacred — holy and extraordinary — unfolding before us within ordinary circumstances.

“Happiness only comes from kindness and compassion,” Boyle quotes Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk in the chapter, “Now. Here. This.” The reference is to a colloquialism used by homies when asked what they are doing. “Just right here, watching TV.” Boyle uses that chapter to discuss making space for life in the present moment, not fearing the future or resenting the past. Being in the present allows for more generosity of spirit, which can lead to more kindness, more compassion.

Transform, not transmit

Everyone has pain or hurt in his or her life, Boyle says, but there are some in this world who have an abundance of it. Fifteen years ago, he was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia that he has had to manage. And, as of the writing of this book, he had buried 220 young people he knew and loved— kids who grew up with such rage, despair and violence that the community offered by a gang seemed friendlier than the rest of the world.

What is needed, says Boyle, is an “exit ramp” out of that despair and a way to transform the pain; use it, move past it into love and joy, rather than transmit it onto others in the form of hate.

That is something we all could use help with. This book reminded me of lessons I took to heart while reading spiritual authors Brother Lawrence, Viktor Frankl, Bruce Bawer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.


Boyle’s first book, “Tattoos on the Heart” (2010), introduced to readers how Homeboy Industries was launched in 1988 as “Jobs for the Future,” later collaborating with “Proyecto Pastoral” to create Homeboy Bakery in 1992.

What began as an effort to lure young people out of gangs with the promise of jobs has become what has been called the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

Homeboy Industries now has an 18-month program that includes nine businesses that employ “homies” from rival gangs, as well as providing gang tattoo removal, therapy, classes on childcare, and help on how to live, not just survive.

Fr. Boyle will have book signings in December in Pasadena, Brentwood and Manhattan Beach. There is hope that a date can be scheduled for Chevalier’s as well.

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