Tattoos on the Heart Themes

Tattoos on the Heart Themes

The Largeness of God

God lives large in this text; after all, it was written by a priest. But the vastness, the immensity and the unrestricted power of god—and the faith that Father Boyle puts into this belief—are prevalent throughout the narrative. Boyle philosophizes upon the existence of god and the nature of his personal sacred beliefs, but the memoir is not just a religious handbook. The bulk of the text reveals the way that Boyle puts his belief in the largeness of God to work in the real world, sharing that spirituality among the community and with individuals.

The Poorest Diocese in L.A.

Boyle’s mission is situated in the self-described poorest diocese in Los Angeles. The book is populated with representatives of that economic deprivation: gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes, good poor people, bad poor people, and—on the outskirts—the rich, famous, powerful, and influential who live far away from that diocese but nevertheless contribute to Boyle’s mission. The theme of living among poverty, crime and hopelessness is juxtaposed against the theme of the largeness of god: one is oppressive and the other the means of liberation and Boyle’s work reveals how it is possible faith in one to overcome the surrender to the other.


The mundane reality of gang life in his diocese mandated that opposing forces committed to mutual devastation of each other was a fundamental obstacle looming so large that cooperation could never be attained. Boyle’s persistent and unbreakable belief that nothing looms as large as the power of god is put to the test by his single most outrageous proposal: a local bakery that would seek to combat the cycle of gang violence by employing former members of rival gangs. The theme of cooperation is fully expressed in the legacy of what became Homeboy Industries; an expansion well beyond the bakery which is recognized as one of the most successful anti-gang enterprises in the country.

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