Book Rec: Tattoos on the Heart

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Recently, I had the good fortune to learn about Father Gregory Boyle’s “Tattoos on the Heart” from my supervisor. It sounded interesting, so I went to my handy-dandy Amazon Prime account and bought it immediately. (Bargain shopping for books on Amazon is more than a habit for me; it’s a lifestyle.) Once it was delivered, I started reading… and I could barely put it down.

“Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
‘Love me.’
Of course you do not do this out loud…”

-Hafez

Boyle’s book is a powerful, insightful read discussing his work with gang members in the Los Angeles area over a period of three decades. Father Boyle moved to the area as a priest and expanded his mission to serving those most in need in his parish. The book is a moving example of Christianity “with its workboots on.” Boyle’s insight into Christ’s boundless compassion, redeeming grace, and endless patience make the reader laugh with his irreverence and cry with his profundity.

“How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have.”

Boyle’s beliefs about God’s love, identity, compassion, and grace (summarized quite brilliantly in his quote above) is infused throughout the book. Without these beliefs, Boyle writes, he would never have undertaken this work. Without first experiencing and understanding Christ’s boundless compassion and grace, Boyle would never have been able to show it to others – especially those whom society deems unfit. He learned the hard way, however, that going out and preaching about Jesus to anyone who was standing around wasn’t the way to disciple people. Instead, Boyle met them where they were and created much-needed opportunities for them. He founded Homeboy Industries – a foundation with multiple businesses that hire gang members looking to leave the life. As people in the neighborhood saw what Boyle had to offer, they began to seek him out. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“…[T]he principle suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame – a global sense of failure of the whole self. … The ‘no-matter-whatness’ of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.”

Additionally, “Tattoos on the Heart” shines a light on the harsh realities of the culture of poverty and the harmful effects it has on those who live around and below the poverty line. Boyle’s descriptions of the trials and tribulations his parishioners face are hard to read about, and they challenge the stereotypes about gang members and impoverished minorities that many people hold (whether they are aware of them or not). Boyle describes in detail the lives of his friends who experience such great shame about themselves and their lives that they self-identify as bad people and see no way out of the lifestyle they are living. He tells stories of heavily tattooed men who receive nasty looks in restaurants, people with no marketable job skills because no one would ever hire them, and others who don’t know how to exist outside of juvenile detention or prison. People who have survived abuse at the hands of strangers, enemy gang members, and loved ones. They don’t believe they are worthy or lovable, by God or man. But even when humans are judgmental (and church-going folk can sometimes be the worst), God extends his love and mercy to those that other humans deem unworthy, because Jesus “had room for everybody in his compassion.”

“Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. … The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather standing in the right place – with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”

This is what “Tattoos on the Heart” is all about – standing with those in need. To paraphrase another quote from Boyle, we must learn how to have compassion for everything that poor people must face without judging the ways they try to survive it. That can be a difficult perspective to take. It can challenge beliefs and opinions that have formed throughout our lives. It might contradict one’s political party of choice’s platform. But what do you gain by changing your perspective; what do others gain? Challenge yourself with the thoughts in this book, and ask yourself where you stand. Do you take the right stand on issues? Or do you stand in the right place? How can you do your best to stand in the right place for those around you who are in need?

The Ultimate Texas Weekend Getaway

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March has been such a happy month for me! Instead of just being busy with school and work, I have also been very busy with good friends–two of whom travelled to Texas just to see me!

Over my spring break, my cousin Ashton came to visit me for a long weekend. She had never been to Texas before, so this was an entirely new experience for her! I led her on a campus tour of Baylor and she was able to meet a few of my cohorts over dinner her first night in Texas. While showing her around, we happened to notice that the gates to Floyd Casey Stadium were open (which is Baylor’s recently closed football stadium), so we walked in and took pictures on the field! It was such an amazing feeling to be the only two people in the entire stadium! It really makes you appreciate the size of the place and the perspective of the players.

Me and the cuz

Sic ‘Em, Floyd Casey! I was on the field, y’all!

BU

Proud student

Fortunately, the trip only got better from that point forward! On Friday, Ashton and I got up and drove to Austin, TX, so that she could experience the “Keep Austin Weird” culture. Needless to say, she loved it! We started off by taking a little tour of the UT Austin campus. It was beautiful in its own way. HOWEVER, the two of us could not help noting the differences between the REAL UT (Knoxville, TN) versus the knock-off UT (Austin, TX). Tennessee girls, Tennessee pride.

The fountain and the Clock Tower.

Family ❤

Their football stadium is massive.

We also visited the State Capital Building, SoCo, SXSW events, and went out on Sixth Street that night, where we had a ridiculous amount of fun at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. We arrived in Austin after the accident with the driver at SXSW that left so many innocent bystanders killed and injured. Our thoughts and prayers went out to them and their families as we walked around the venues late in the afternoon. South Congress St. was an amazing experience, with lots of enjoyable shopping, food, and live music. Because of SXSW, we thought that we might never catch a cab to Sixth Street, but due to my ingenuity and a little bit of luck, we managed to make it to Pete’s, where we met a wonderful bunch of guys from Louisiana having a bachelor party!

The Capital Building

Sixth St. and SXSW

Getting ready to go out!

SXSW

Shout out to the bachelor party!

Shout out to the bachelor party!

After that fun-filled Friday, the cuz and I got up and drove down to San Antonio. We toured the Alamo and the Riverwalk, then we visited La Villita for shopping and perused the street vendors along the Riverwalk. We also visited the oldest church in the area (St. Joseph’s) and ate dinner at Casa Rio, the oldest restaurant on the Riverwalk.

Remember the Alamo!

Riverwalk

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Casa Rio

After a fun Saturday that ended with Bellinis at the hotel bar, we got up on Sunday morning and visited the historic Menger Hotel’s bar, where Teddy Roosevelt selected and assembled his Rough Riders! Unfortunately, our weekend together was drawing to a close, so we had to begin the drive back to Waco. Ashton had to board her flight back to DC that night, but I’m so happy that she was finally able to come visit me! I also feel honored to be the person with whom she first saw Texas 🙂

Menger Hotel

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – T.S. Eliot

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Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . .                               10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,                               20
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                                30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—                               40
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                       50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?                    60
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
 .     .     .     .     .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets              70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
 .     .     .     .     .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?                  80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,                                             90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,                                           100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”                                          110
 .     .     .     .     .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .                                              120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown               130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

[1915]

Translation of Dante’s quote: “If I thought my reply were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would shake no more; but since, if what I hear is true, none ever did return alive from this depth, I answer you without fear of infamy.”
— Dante, Inferno

I wanted to share this poem on my blog because I love it so much. There is just something about this piece by Eliot that really struck me when reading it in my British Literature course in undergrad. I love it so much I actually have artwork in my bedroom inspired by it. Maybe I’ll write more about my specific thoughts and opinions on this poem in a later blog? Grad school is keeping me busy, but as always, my goal to be more active in this blog lives on.

“Even Though You’re a Girl”

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Sexism. This particular topic has been on my mind for quite some time now. Recently, one of my (female) supervisors asked me if I have ever before had the experience of someone telling me I couldn’t do something or disrespecting my opinion because I am a woman. After several moments of thought, I had to answer honestly that no, I hadn’t ever had that experience previously in my twenty-three years of life.

THAT realization stuck with me for quite some time. How fortunate am I? Oh, I feel incredibly blessed. Growing up, I was always told that I could achieve anything I wanted, be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted. And that was the end of the sentence. There wasn’t even an “even though you’re a girl” attached to the end! My parents, my grandparents, my good friends – they have always been encouraging to me. They taught me, supported me, helped me every step of the way. And I know that no one is more proud of my accomplishments than my family.

I started thinking that not everyone is so lucky. There are girls and women in the world, in my country, in my state and city, that are not so fortunate. They haven’t grown up being told how amazing and strong they are, how many options they have, how much potential to achieve anything they want. Those little girls and grown women deserve to hear that they can do things as well or better than a man, that doors shouldn’t be shut in their faces or salaries decreased just because of their XX chromosomes.

I appreciate the can-do spirit my family gave me, the belief that I have the ability and responsibility to hone my skills and excel in my field of choice. I never went into a situation feeling inferior because I am a girl. I also appreciate the advice my mother gave me when I was a bit older, though. She said that women have to work twice as hard and perform better than a man to be given the same opportunities. I believe that. Those words, in part, inspired me to overachieve in order to present myself as a competitive prospect for any position I may desire. Is it fair? Not at all.

I hope one day that changes. I hope that in the future, my children will be able to compete on equal ground with other job candidates regardless of sex. How can I make that happen for them? By changing people’s minds and hearts today. People’s opinions about sexism don’t change just because a new law gets passed through Congress or the Supreme Court reaches a certain verdict. Those things may change people’s actions, but it doesn’t make them believe in it. The way we do that is by teaching our children and providing good examples for them to emulate.

I appreciate the work that my family did to make me believe that I could do anything I set out to do. It is my hope that one day I can impart that same belief in my daughter. I want her to grow up with the world as her oyster, with no one looking down on her because of her genetic makeup. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to be a wife or a mother but that she can be those things if she wants. I want her to know that she can be an astronaut or a nurse or a neurosurgeon or a farmer or a police officer or the president of the United States. She can achieve those things because she is not intrinsically inferior to men. I want her to be strong and independent, not to be overly concerned about gender norms or stereotypes. I want my daughter to feel safe and respected in her society and to help create that society.

I want to teach my son to respect women, to be mannerly, considerate, and sincere. I don’t want my son to make “get in the kitchen” jokes about women or rape jokes, not only because he respects women too much to do so but because he respects himself too much to do so. I want him to have that same can-do, high-achieving spirit with the same lack of concern about gender stereotypes. He, too, can achieve whatever he wants and works hard to achieve. I want him to help create a society in which women feel safe and respected, in which “equal opportunity” truly exists.

Parents, teach your children to respect one another and themselves, regardless of gender or sex. That is where real change will occur.

Amazed

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I just checked the stats for my site, and I discovered that people from 47 different countries have viewed my blog. I just want to say HELLO and give a big THANK YOU to each of you! I think that is so cool. If anyone wants to say “hi” or leave their thoughts on my work, I would love to know what you all think. I love learning about new cultures and new things!

Anthem of the Week

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Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet.
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

– “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World

In response to my extremely stressful weekend, I listened to this song on repeat. It helped calm me down a little bit. And, in the end, everything WAS just fine. I managed to survive my first grad school course and get an A for my final grade! The cohorts and I celebrated with a champagne dinner and some much needed friend time.

I Want It All

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Do you ever think of all the places in the world you want to go to and all the things you want to see and experience during your lifetime then get really depressed because you know you won’t be able to do everything and go everywhere you want?

Because that happens to me on a regular basis.

Welcome to Adulthood

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The reality of grad school is hitting me now. Work, research, class, and all the reading/papers/etc. to complete outside of class time are really piling up. Time management is a valuable skill, and I always thought I was pretty darn good at it. I mean, I’m prioritizing all those things, so I’m relatively confident that they’ll all get done. It’s everything else that will suffer. Like, my poor apartment needs to be vacuumed so badly. And I have a pile of clean laundry waiting to be put away. Welcome to adulthood. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be, that’s for sure. Good thing I love the program I’m in and all the people I get to work with on a daily basis, because the next four years would suck if I didn’t.