A few weeks ago I wrote about Tina Turner and what it means to be a hero. Arthur Ashe concluded that, it’s “… the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” At the time of that writing, I’d never even heard of Father Gregory Boyle and the Dolores Mission Church. But, a fortuitous meeting with a good friend, a great discussion, and an awesome book recommendation changed that. It always pays to be on the lookout for a great book. 

This book, Tattoos on the Heart, is expansive in nature and has taught me a great deal about love and compassion. I’m not sure what qualifies someone for sainthood in the Catholic Church, but I think Father Boyle should be strongly considered when the time is right.

Father Gregory Boyle is a Catholic priest, trained in the Jesuit order. During his time of early service he felt a call to serve among the poor and the marginalized.  He was assigned the Dolores Mission Church in the projects of Los Angeles, smack dab in the middle of the gang capital of the world. He chose to minister to those who are seen as the hardest of criminals, those who appear to be beyond help. I can’t even wrap my head around that choice. I can’t even fathom what courage it would take to try to make a difference in that environment. Maybe there’s one phrase that captures his vision. “Perfect love casteth out fear.”

Father Boyle worked tirelessly to change the view of the parish members to recognize the need to help the gang members in the community. He founded Homeboy Industries, a collection of businesses that employs gang members, and seeks to rehabilitate them back into society and provide a support system that is desperately lacking in their lives. His stories are heart-wrenching. The senseless violence and acts of crime are overwhelming. But Father Boyle never loses hope because he possesses an inclusive compassion that extends to both the victim and the victimizer. He states, “Here is what we seek – a compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgement at how they carry it.”

There are too many stories to tell and I cannot do them justice in this short piece. But Father Boyle shares the following description of his church. “Gang members gathered by the bell tower. Homeless men and women being fed in great numbers in the parking lot. Folks arriving for the AA and NA meetings  and the ESL classes. It’s a who’s who of everybody who is nobody. Gang member, drug addict, homeless, undocumented.”

How would you feel if you witnessed that scene? What judgements might exist in your mind? Would you move towards them, or run away as fast as you can?

I know there is a lot of negative talk about religion these days and people seem to be leaving organized religion at a pretty high rate. While I recognize the problems that exist and the trust that has been lost, I can’t help but feel saddened by this move away from faith. Believe me, I’ve had my own struggles. But when I read stories like this I can’t help but feel something divine.

From the opening chapter Father Boyle states, “Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in. In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea.” 

Maybe if you are struggling with your belief in God, or your purpose in life, this book might be the answer to some of your questions. That answer just might be LOVE.

Pema Chodron, a buddhist nun, writes of compassion and suggests, “Its truest measure lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see our kinship with them.

Father G (as he’s referred to affectionately by gang members) illustrates what immersion in a life of service looks like. But we don’t need to drive to Los Angeles and serve in the projects, or fly across the world to help in the poorest countries in Africa to make a difference. We don’t even have to look far to find those on the margins. They are in our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods and our churches. They may even be in our own families. We just need to have the courage to seek them out and a willingness to stand with them.

In the end, I hope this book will prove to be life-changing. I’m so grateful for the examples of those willing to serve on the margins, and try to enlarge the circle so those margins no longer exist. I’m grateful for courageous heroes like Gregory Boyle. Which makes me reflect on whether or not I’m doing enough. For the most part I try to make financial contributions to good causes. And while I think that’s critical, I now see better that true love and service is moving physically closer to the outcast. I hope to find the courage to seek kinship with them.

  • Carol Hanson
    1 year ago
    This is a wonderful recommendation that I need to follow up on. I think we all can do better to make a difference in the lives of those who live on the margins. It’s kind of scary to make our circles larger and include those who are different from us. As you said, it’s all about love and service.
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      It can be challenging to make the circles larger. It usually requires new experiences and that can be scary to confront. It definitely takes courage to put your knowledge into action.
  • Adam
    2 years ago
    Nate I’m so glad you loved this book. It’s truly a gem and one that will make you cry, laugh and inspire you.
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      Thanks for the recommendation Adam!
  • Stuart Matheson
    2 years ago
    I gotta say . . . I’m not as good as I wish I were at using love to approach all my relationships. But when I do, it never fails me.
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      So true! Love just may be "all you need."