All posts tagged “Gregory Boyle

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Giving gangsters a family

This excellent short film was produced by Fourth Line Films in conjunction with Christianity Today‘s Global Conversation project leading up to the third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town in late 2010. Here’s the blurb from the Fourth Line blog:

What happens when a generation of young men grow up without families? These are the stories of young gang members incarcerated in a Central American prison. They tell of their hunger for belonging, heartache at the church’s hostility, and hope that they can change and contribute to their communities.

In January I posted a video about a priest in San Salvador who ministers in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity, which provides some more context on the situation facing so many in Central America’s urban centers. And last fall I shared some thoughts on Father Gregory Boyle’s work among gangsters in LA, as told in his bestseller Tattoos on the Heart.

Both of those priests and the pastor in this film show us the human side of gang members, who can so easily be dehumanized and, once they’re securely behind bars, forgotten. If anyone has any incentive to give these young men a new start and a healthy, life-giving place to belong and to seek the common good instead of destroying it, it seems to me it has to be the church.

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Katie’s top 11 books from 2011

One of the myriad things I love about Katie, my wife of eight weeks, is our shared passion for books. Even better, we read a lot of the same kinds of books. And then we get to talk about them, and often, what ends up on this blog begins as a conversation over dinner or while driving through the Arizona desert. I’m smarter and wiser because I have her around, that’s for sure. On Monday I shared my top books from 2011. Here now are Katie’s top picks. There’s a bit of overlap, as you’ll notice, which owes itself just as often to me copying her as to her copying me.

Although I share my husband’s desire to read widely to develop critical and discerning thinking rather than cloning myself to one or two author’s thoughts or perspectives, I have compiled a rather narrow top 11 reads of 2011. It seems somehow wrong to have two of the same authors as well as three books on the topic of justice, but these were the books I was honestly most impacted by this year.

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart
An inspiring and informative read about how relationship and empowerment can bring change and self-respect to those who easily believe they are worthless. Boyle is a priest whose impact shows how each of us desire to be invested in, known and loved.

Emmanuel Jal, War Child
An especially timely read in light of South Sudan’s 2011 independence, Emmanuel shares his story of becoming a child soldier. Scarred by hatred, hunger, isolation and violence while just a child, he found his voice through music which he has used to raise awareness, protest and advocate for peace, child protection and human rights.

Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water
Foster’s grace and wisdom approaches six traditions of the faith offering perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Each offer enduring elements that challenge those of us who desire to live faithfully.

Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
Who among us can say we grasp forgiveness and extending it to others? This book is best summarized by this quote from the introduction: “The true God is a God who cannot stop giving and forgiving, and that our knowledge of Him is utterly bound up with our willingness to receive from the hand of God the liberty to give and forgive.” (Dr. Rowan Williams)

David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes
I re-read this for a class and am grateful I had the opportunity to do so. A solid collection of articles written for those who desire to help others in the process of becoming more like Christ. He encourages us to place the Redeemer at the center of the picture and find the power to change in turning to Him in all of life.

Eugene Peterson, The Pastor
Absolute soul-medicine. A masterful weaving of the formative moments of Peterson’s development into a true pastor. He redefines what we often view as the essentials of a good pastor and extends to us something richer, steeped in Scripture.

Edith Schaeffer, L’abri
The concepts of L’abri had shaped my views of hospitality and personal vocation long before I read Edith’s description of their story and vision. But this book still brought new shades of light and context  to the ideas of facilitating, in relationship, the process of leaning into God and what he has to say about the realities of the world we live in.

Robert Lupton, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life
Lupton breathes experience, wisdom and genuine love for the poor and marginalized. He navigates the tensions between reaching out with compassion and defending the dignity and humanity of every person.

John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down
A compelling story of Perkin’s civil rights journey. Although heartbreaking to read about the depths of hate and oppression, it’s inspiring to learn from one who pursued social justice rooted in strong evangelical faith even before it became trendy.

Timothy Keller, King’s Cross
A collection of sermons based on the Gospel of Mark which bring the words of Jesus to life, offering context and references that reveal the message as truly good news.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice
A treatise of the implications of our faith and belief in Scripture; the Biblical basis for what should drive us to pursue justice. Keller beautifully articulates what many of us know in our hearts and see as we read Scripture, but often struggle to communicate effectively.

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My top 11 books from 2011

Last February I shared some thoughts on the merits of reading both widely and wisely, and I shared my own reading goals for the year. Specifically, these:

  • At least one book about/from every continent in the world (plus Central America and the Middle East)
  • At least one book by an adherent of every major world religion
  • At least 25% to be written by dead people
  • At least 40% to be written by women or non-white males.

Well, how closely did I stick to those goals?

  • I had each of the continents (plus Central America and the Middle East) covered
  • Though I read a lot of books written by Christians and a range of non-Christians (including Alice Walker, a Buddhist, and others I presume to be either atheists or agnostics), I don’t think I read anything by Hindu or Muslim authors.
  • 20 written by dead people; only 21%
  • 26 written by women or non-white males; only 27%

So I did better in some areas than in others. I’ll keep the goals more or less the same for 2012. But in the meantime, as is the custom (sort of), here are my picks for the top eleven books I read in 2011. Like last time, these are in no particular order, and include books not necessarily published this year. When applicable, I include a link to what I’ve already written about it.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just 
A must-read on following Jesus and doing justice. I reviewed this one for PRISM and blogged about it here.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir 
If you are a pastor, know a pastor, or have opinions about pastors, read this. I blogged about it here.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird 
It’s a classic, and I should have read it a long time ago. I’m guessing you already have.

Michael Casey, Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image 
A fascinating look at how the iconic “Che” image has been reproduced and re-appropriated for countless causes — and has paradoxically come to represent global capitalism.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy 
This biography of the great German theologian who was part of a failed assassination plot against Hitler won all kinds of awards last year. I blogged about this here.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? 
In this book the Harvard political philosopher put the cookies on a relatively low shelf, helping you and I wrestle through different understandings of justice in the world around us. I blogged about it here.

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
One of the most inspiring, funny and heart-breaking books I read this year. I blogged about it here.

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era 
From what I understand, this book never really took off, which is a shame, because it’s a wise, nuanced, an intelligent handling of the two topics none of us seem to know how to discuss in polite company. I blogged about this here.

Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help 
An important book on doing no harm when seeking to do good. I blogged about this here and it was also picked up by the Values & Capitalism blog.

Richard Mouw, He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace 
I haven’t had a chance to blog about this yet, but I plan to in January. In this slim book, Mouw articulates a wonderful theological and practical vision of common grace.

N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters 
For Christians unsure about what’s supposed to happen between being “saved” and dying, this is an important book on ethics and cultivating virtue. I blogged about it here.

How about you? What were your favorite books of 2011? What are your reading goals for 2012?

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Tattoos, gangsters and “the slow work of God”

I had a pretty good feeling going into it that I’d love Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. It had been talked up by some people whose opinions I consider highly, and I’d learned enough about Homeboy Industries and the work of Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle among gang members in LA to know it was going to be a remarkable story. I wasn’t disappointed. He tells of coming to serve in the Dolores Mission Church, “the poorest parish in the Los Angeles archdiocese”, in gang territory between two large public housing projects. Though he was raised in a very different, more affluent part of LA, he credits a stint in Bolivia as what prepared him for his life’s work:

I can’t explain how the poor in Bolivia evangelized me during that year of 1984-85, but they turned me inside out, and from that moment forward I only wanted to walk with them. This was a wholly selfish decision on my part. I knew that the poor had some privileged delivery system for giving me access to the gospel. Naturally, I wanted to be around this.

The book is full of stories of gang members, which presumably would make it a sobering read, but Boyle masterfully takes us on a journey from tears to laughter and back again, sometimes in the span of a paragraph or two. He was an English major, so his writing is excellent, and his colorful language in conversation with “homies” keeps things lively. The funny stories remind us that gang members are just kids, while the tragic stories remind us that they are simultaneously kids trapped in terribly destructive cycles.

Through Homeboy Industries, Boyle and a committed team have been giving gang members the chance for redemption through employment, job training and tattoo removal. But Boyle is careful to show that he’s no hero. Rather, if anything, he demonstrates his utter inability to change anyone. I’m impressed with his trust in God to change these kids, and his belief that his role is simply to be a faithful, loving presence in the neighborhood, offering a better way.

I enjoyed the book all the way through, but I especially appreciated the second-to-last chapter, in which Boyle addresses the problem of success. Anyone involved in ministry or non-profit work among the poor knows the tension between faithfulness and success. The two aren’t necessarily the same thing. Boyle demonstrates that for those truly interested in serving the ones everyone else has given up on, faithfulness is what’s required:

Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones…

Funders sometimes say, “We don’t fund efforts; we fund outcomes.” We all hear this and think how sensible, practical, realistic, hard-nosed, and clear-eyed it is. But maybe Jesus doesn’t know why we’re nodding so vigorously. Without wanting to, we sometimes allow our preference for the poor to morph into a preference for the well-behaved and the most likely to succeed, even if you get better outcomes when you work with those folks. If success is our engine, we sidestep the difficult and belligerent and eventually abandon “the slow work of God.”

Here’s a video interview Boyle gave on Calvin College’s Inner Compass television program: