Why Your Name Matters {Book Club}

Okay, so the small warning on language in Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle may needed to have been a little larger. Still, knowing that’s what language is probably like in the gang world, it helped me understand his world. I bet language is more a part of some of your worlds than we might think–or even than you might have thought before you arrived. If you’ve been in your context for a while, how have you seen this part of language change since you first arrived?

This brought back several (kind of) funny memories. Part of my responsibilities involved visiting teachers who were teaching ESL classes. One of the teachers I consistently observed would have her classes start off with a group of four or so students doing a skit. And without fail–with.out.fail–on the days I’d be there the skits involved language that was, shall we say, colorful. The first time she was horrified to have an observer experience her handling of a, to her, embarrassing situation. I get it~ but she handled it well! The next semester when in a different class it happened again, she turned and looked back at me with the “You Have Got To Be Kidding Me” look. Maybe I’m the common denominator :). Yikes!

Anyway, this is a part of ministry life, isn’t it? Unredeemed (and redeemed) folks might not use the vocabulary we would choose for them.

Other than that, did you find yourself marking almost every page? Again and again I found myself underlining, starring, and putting dots. Which is great, but it does make it tricky to know where to start having a conversation. I loved knowing where the title came from. “Sharkey seems thrown off balance by [all the affirmations] and silently stares at me. Then he says, ‘Damn, G . . . I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.'”

Or the start of Homeboy Industries? Repeatedly, I found myself appreciating that Father G shared what worked and what didn’t. What they tried and how it fared. The weakness of sharing news via newsletters is that there often isn’t space for the process (and in fairness, a newsletter is a different form of communication than a book).

“So I hired [Ramiro] at the bakery, and little by little we erased his forehead. And we have since added laser machines and doctors who perform more than four thousand treatments a year. We owe it all to Ramiro (who moved on to a job as a security guard at a movie studio–no trace left of the angriest moment of his life). Businesses have come and gone at Homeboy Industries. We have had starts and stops, but anything worth doing is worth failing at. We started Homeboy Plumbing. That didn’t go so well. Who knew? People didn’t want gang members in their homes. I just didn’t see that coming.”

I cracked up!

“But anything worth doing is worth failing at.” Does this encourage you? It does me–not everything we’re going to try is going to succeed. We’ve had a few small fails recently at Velvet Ashes, if I’m honest. But this encourages me that failure is a part of being involved in ministry, relationships, life. Being willing to fail may be the entrance ticket to meaningful involvement.

And that poem at the end of the introduction. Wow. “Why not become the one.” Yes, why not? I love that I think this stirs you too.

Good grief, I’ve already used over 600 words and haven’t even gotten to chapter one or two?! What I’m drawn to in this book is the way he weaves reality (and desperation) with hope.

Where did you laugh out loud? (“Not only is he menacing, but he seems to have lost his volume knob.”)  Do share in the comments.

Which stories stood out or touched you? (For me- the rose petals over Father G’s head. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? When we thought we blew it. Also “In this early morning call Cesar did not discover that he has a father. He discovered that he is a son worth having.” That. Just that. And one last one: “I don’t know how to wash my clothes except in the sink of a cell.” Wow. The privilege woven into my life in even simple areas like washing clothes.)

One final thought, the power and importance of knowing people’s names. In what ways have you seen in your context the power of knowing someone’s name?

I could go on, but will wait and join you in the comments.

Until then, Amy 🙂

P.S. Reading plan:

September 8: Chapter 3 and 4

September 15: Chapters 5-7

September 22: Chapters 8-9

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 


  1. J September 1, 2015

    Hi Amy and everyone,

    I haven’t been able to participate in the book club recently as I have started some really demanding studies which is taking up a lot of time, apart from my usual family commitments. I really would have liked to have got into the discussions on The Poisonwood Bible more but was sadly unable.

    Back the the current book, thanks for choosing it Amy, there is a lot that I took from it. I listened to it via Audible on my phone which was great, especially as it is read by the author himself who gets into character with a latino accent when speaking the words of many of the ex-gang members, but it makes it more difficult to refer back to certain parts.

    I will try to listen to parts again. Suffice to say for now I was really touched by much in this book, especially Father Gregory’s ability to see past the young people’s hardened exteriors and attitudes (which is what most people would notice) and difficult behaviours and into their hearts. I believe this is part of the nature of our Heavenly Father who also does not look at the outward appearances but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

    It is a challenge for us to see people as God does. Maybe people who appear different to ourselves, who have been brought up not in the church but on the streets, people who have had to become tough on the outside whilst nursing a broken heart inside.

    I look forward to further discussions.





    1. Amy Young September 2, 2015

      J, we’re glad you can join now :)! I’d enjoy hearing Father G read — love it when someone is able to do different voices. And you touched on one of my favorite parts of the book: the repeated invitation to see beyond the exterior. I know i need this reminder!

  2. Anna September 2, 2015

    I have really been enjoying this book.  First of all, I love the imagery of the truth being tattooed on one’s heart.  We all have those lies we need to fight, and what better way than having the truth so deeply engraved.

    I haven’t quite made it through the first 2 chapters, but I am immensely enjoying the book.  IN the words of Larry from Veggie Tales, “I laughed, I cried, it moved me Bob.”  (My kids are past Veggie Tales now, but I still quote them quite a bit.)

    One of the funniest parts was Cesar buying clothes (loss of volume knob), partly because I could picture it happening.  And the guy from 60 minutes pulling up in a Limo & flak vest.  (talk about cultural insensitivity!)

    Yes, anything worth doing is worth failing at.  If you don’t take chances, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t.  And sometimes, it’s not that you have to throw out a whole program or concept, but just come at it in a different way.  (like the plumbing- not the right jobs, but they found other things that work better.)

    There were so many parts that moved and challenged me.  I marked quite a bit of the section that talked about our misconceptions of God, specifically creating God in our own image.  “It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image.  It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be a part of God’s DNA.  God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.”

    And after living in this imperfect world, I could really relate to this: “And yet, part of the spirit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal.” I think it’s human nature to just assume that other people would make the same decisions we would make in any given situation.  But for those who have experienced different things than us, have a different set of beliefs, etc.  So many people in areas in the US and around the world have lived with generational violence, poverty, hopelessness, displacement… the list could go on and on.  For example, those who have been taught that they have no value as a person.  That takes some time to change.  And when we work with those people, we have to remember that.

    1. Amy Young September 2, 2015

      I marked this part too, Anna: There were so many parts that moved and challenged me.  I marked quite a bit of the section that talked about our misconceptions of God, specifically creating God in our own image.  “It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image.  It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be a part of God’s DNA.  God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.”

      Isn’t that powerful? So many do have an overactive disapproval gland — I wonder how many people in our line of work, believe deep down in their hearts that God disapproves of them and wants them to DO more.

      In the last week or so, I have been going through an intense internal period … which has been distracting me from all that I need to get done! God has been saying, “Right now focus on your ‘to be’ list more than your ‘to do’ list.” But that disapproval gland is more interested in getting things done. I’m trying to turn the volume knob down 🙂

  3. Lindsy Wallace September 2, 2015

    I have wanted to read this book for a long time so thank you for bumping it to the top of my list! As expected, I love love love it. I quoted a part to my husband last night and he said, Oh yeah, I heard that guy speak last year. Apparently hearing Father Greg speak wasn’t newsworthy to him! 😉

    I mistakenly borrowed a book from the library instead of purchasing a copy but i might have to remedy that! I’m especially drawn to the ideas that Father Greg teases out in the first couple chapters – this idea that narrowness is the way – it’s not restrictive, finding moments that rhyme with the expansive heart of God – as a lover of words, this calls to me, the section on shame – yes, yes, yes. And Carmen’s story. Shew. It’s all so good and there’s so much to chew on.

    Can’t wait to read the next few chapters and hear everyone’s thoughts!

    1. Amy Young September 2, 2015

      I know! I could park on almost every page. What I love is how Father G has captured the dark and hard parts of people’s story, but keeps pointing us to the light.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.