January 29, 2023 Essay: Barking to the Choir by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

Jan 18, 2023

So I’m in my office at Homeboy Industries talking with Ramón, a gang member who works in our bakery.

Lately, he has been veering into the lane of oncoming traffic. He’s late for work, sometimes missing it entirely, and his supervisors tell me he is in need of an emergency “attitude-ectomy.” I’m running it down to him, giving him “kletcha”—schooling him, grabbing hold of the steering wheel to correct his course. He waves me off and says, self-assuredly, “Don’t sweat it, bald-headed . . . You’re barking to the choir.”

I immediately liked, of course, the combo-burger nature of his phraseology. The marriage of “barking up the wrong tree” to “preaching to the choir.” It works. It calls for a rethinking of our status quo, no longer satisfied with the way the world is lulled into operating and yearning for a new vision. It is on the lookout for ways to confound and deconstruct.

What gets translated in Scripture from the Greek metanoia as “repent” means “to go beyond the mind we have.” And the “barking” is directed at the “Choir”—those folks who “repent” and truly long for a different construct, a radically altered way of proceeding and who seek “a better God than the one we have.” The gospel can expose the game in which “the Choir” can find itself often complacently stuck. The game that keeps us from the kinship for which we long—the endless judging, competing, comparing, and terror that prevents us from turning the corner and bumping into that “something new.” That “something” is the entering the kinship of God . . . here and now, no longer satisfied with the “pie in the sky when we die.”

The Choir is everyone who longs of and aches to widen their “loving look” at what’s right in front of them. What the Choir is searching for is the authentic.

In a recent New Yorker profile of American Baptists, the congregation’s leadership resigned itself to the fact that “secular culture” would always be “hostile” to Christianity. I don’t believe this is true. Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense. It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little. We settle for purity and piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness. We settle for the fear-driven when love longs to be our engine. We settle for a puny, vindictive God when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of God to atrophy. We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all. The Choir has settled for little . . . and the “barking,” like a protective sheepdog, wants to guide us back to the expansiveness of God’s own longing.

The Choir is certainly more than “the Church.” And in many ways, Homeboy Industries is called to be now, what the world is called to be ultimately. The Choir understands this. Homeboy wants to give rise not only to the idea of redemptive second chances but also to a new model of church as a community of inclusive kinship and tenderness. The Choir consists of those people who want to Occupy Everywhere, not just Wall Street, and seek, in the here and now, what the world is ultimately designed to become.

— Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

(An excerpt from Fr. Boyle’s book, “Barking to the Choir” [2017])

Join us on Monday, January 30th at 7 PM (in Wallace Hall & Livestreamed) as Fr. Boyle presents When the Wave Knows It’s the Ocean: Apostolic Wholeness and the Kinship of God. Fr. Boyle will explore the marks of authentic discipleship: flourishing, joy, and fearlessness.

To learn more, visit www.HomeboyIndustries.org.