Tattoos on the Heart


Gregory Boyle

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Themes and Colors
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Tattoos on the Heart, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christianity Theme Icon

Father Gregory Boyle is tolerant of many different cultures, lifestyles, and religions. Nevertheless, he advances the argument that a good life, characterized by kinship and compassion for others, is only possible if one worships God and accepts Jesus Christ.

In almost every chapter of Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle makes comparisons between episodes from his life and episodes from the life of Jesus Christ. Boyle certainly isn’t suggesting that he’s a modern-day Jesus—rather, he’s suggesting that people should model their lives on the life of Jesus Christ. Boyle wants Christians to devote their lives to caring for other people, as Christ did. Furthermore, he argues that good Christians should go beyond the act of caring for other people—they should immerse themselves in the lives of others. Put a different way, Boyle believes that it’s not enough simply to give lots of money to charity, or even to volunteer in homeless shelters—people have a duty to respect others and get to know them with compassion, rather than simply regarding them as mouths to feed. This is one reason why being a Christian and leading a good life are, in Boyle’s opinion, one and the same. By modeling their behavior on Christ’s, people do more good than they’d otherwise do: they not only accomplish measurable, good deeds—they also become better, more compassionate people.

But the embrace of Christianity isn’t only about imitating specific Christian deeds, Boyle writes. It’s also important that people accept the existence of an almighty, loving God. The belief in such a God is important because it necessarily includes the belief that boundless, unconditional love is possible. This belief is one of the most important that Boyle tries to impart in his capacities as teacher, priest, and organizer. Boyle gives many examples of employees and troubled gang members who commit horrible crimes because they don’t think that they’re worthy of love—and seem not to believe that unconditional love is possible. By exposing these people to Christianity and the concept of boundless love, Boyle encourages them to treat other people with respect, and accept that they, too, are worthy of love. The book is full of inspiring stories of people who turn their lives around because of Boyle’s teachings on love and kinship. One such man, an ex-convict named Speedy, makes the decision to get a job, marry, and have children after (and, according to Boyle, because) a church congregant tells him that “it would break [her] heart in two” if anything happened to him.

In general, Tattoos on the Heart isn’t exactly a theological text, but it’s full of important Christian ideas. Above all, Boyle stresses that worshipping God is the key to a good, moral life. It is not enough to want to be good, Boyle argues: people need to accept the existence of total love, as represented by God, and they need a role model (Jesus Christ) on whom to base their own moral behavior. When they accept God and Jesus in their lives, Boyle argues, people—even serious criminals—are capable of living upright, moral lives and redeeming their sinful behavior.

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Christianity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Christianity appears in each chapter of Tattoos on the Heart. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Christianity Quotes in Tattoos on the Heart

Below you will find the important quotes in Tattoos on the Heart related to the theme of Christianity.
Introduction Quotes

Suddenly, the welcome mat was tentatively placed out front. A new sense of "church" had emerged, open and inclusive, replacing the hermetically sealed model that had kept the "good folks" in and the “bad folks" out.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

Our image of who God is and what's on God's mind is more tiny than it is troubled. It trips more on our puny sense of God than over conflicting creedal statements or theological considerations.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

There is a longing in us all to be God-enthralled. So enthralled that to those hunkered down in their disgrace, in the shadow of death, we become transparent messengers of God's own tender mercy. We want to be seized by that same tenderness; we want to bear the largeness of God.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

All throughout Scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can't pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers. […] The principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame—a global sense of failure of the whole self.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don't grow into this—we just learn to pay better attention.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

To love the enemy and to find some spaciousness for the victimizer, as well as the victim, resembles more the expansive compassion of God. That's why you do it.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

"You will not clean this up. If there are people in our community who are disparaged and hated and left out because they are mojados (wetbacks) . . ." Then she poises herself on the edge of the couch, practically ready to leap to her feet. "Then we shall be proud to call ourselves a wetback church."

Related Characters: Petra Saldana (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

This man sees all this and shakes his head, determined and disgusted, as if to say "tsk tsk."
"You know," he says, "This used to be a church."
I mount my high horse and say, "You know, most people around here think it's finally a church.”

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

They refuse to receive communion. I beg them. They will not budge. I go to the congregation and invite them to receive communion. Not one person comes forward. I beg and plead, but no one steps up. I discover later, with the help of some Jesuit scholastics, that the Indians' sense of cultural disparagement and toxic shame was total. Since the time of the Conquista, when the Spaniards “converted” the Indians, they baptized them, but no roofs ever got ripped open. This was to be their place—outside of communion—forever.
Maybe we call this the opposite of God.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 80-81
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

There is enough strained obligation in what we think God asks of us that our mantra might as well be "The Lord is nothing I shall want." But the task at hand is only about delighting—with joy at the center. At ease. We can all relax.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Olivier (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa's take: "We are not called to be successful, but faithful." This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Mother Teresa (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

“As I saw this kid,” she tells me, “I just kept thinking of what my friends might say if they were here with me. They'd say, ‘Pray that he dies.’” But she just looked at this tiny kid, struggling to sidestep the fate of her sons, as the doctors work and scream ...WE'RE LOSING HIM. WE'RE LOSING HIM."

Related Characters: Soledad (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Bandit hangs back. "Can I tell you something, dog?" I ask, standing in the parking lot. "I give you credit for the man you've chosen to become. I'm proud of you."
"Sabes qué?" he says, eyes watering, "I'm proud of myself. All my life, people called me a lowlife, a bueno para nada. I guess I showed 'em."

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Bandit (speaker)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

But who wouldn't be proud to claim Chico as their own?
His soul feeling its worth before its leaving.
The mortician's incredulity reminds me that kinship remains elusive. Its absence asserts that any effort to help someone like Chico just might be a waste of our collective time.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Chico
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis: