Barking to the Choir Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 47-page guide for “Barking to the Choir” by Gregory Boyle includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 10 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Oversimplification of Evil and The Unique Spiritual Roles and Gifts of the Marginalized.
Friar Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization known for being the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the world. Boyle is also a Jesuit priest and the author of the bestselling Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, a memoir and religious text presenting his work with Homeboy Industries as a set of parables. Boyle received much acclaim for this first work and followed it up with Barking to the Choir.
Barking to the Choir takes its name from a malapropism (or “homie-propism”) coined by one of the men with whom Boyle works at Homeboy Industries (he calls these men “homies”). In the malapropism, the two expressions “barking up the wrong tree” and “preaching to the choir” are amalgamated. But instead of merely correcting or sanitizing this mistake, Boyle finds unexpected joy and insight in it—he hears a challenge to the status quo and a “yearning for a new vision” within the mix-up (2).
This conceit of examining and redeeming an erroneously spoken phrase continues throughout the book, and serves as a major framing device of the work. Through it, Boyle gently subverts both the conventional wisdom of Christianity and of American society at large as he carefully and persistently seeks, articulates, and celebrates the great wisdom, beauty, and strength he finds within his community of homies. Throughout the book, he combats commonly held beliefs that relegate the men and women with whom he works to the lowest rungs of society: Gangster. Criminal. Inmate. Murderer, even. In order to trumpet the worth and value of every single person before God’s eyes, he speaks against a pervasive attitude viewing this population of people as utterly disposable. In so doing, he enjoins his reader to a kind of Christianity deeply invested in compassion, tenderness, humility, and community kinship. He believes most people settle for a form of Christianity that is hypocritical, narrow, and inauthentic—while the true nature of God calls everyone to experience an “exquisite holiness” beyond the small and petty preoccupations of humans (2).
Each chapter of the book offers a specific lesson regarding either God’s character or a positive human spiritual virtue—usually bolstered by a “homie-propism” bearing out the book’s quietly subversive trait. Boyle thusly weaves a religious text deeply anchored in the material, psychological, and emotional reality of the Homeboy Industries community.