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“Only love gets fists to open.” – Gregory Boyle
I am a teacher librarian who has worked over 30 years in public high schools. I am recommending we have a nationwide read. You know how a book club works. You’ve heard of community reads, where an entire city or area reads a book and then people discuss it together in many different venues. I am suggesting a NATIONAL read. Let’s all go to our libraries and our bookstores and get a book. Let’s read together, teens and adults, plumbers, social workers, introverts, extroverts, people employed, people out of work, members of Congress, state legislators, and you, President of the United States.
Did you know March is Reading Month? Here are my suggestions for our National Book Club:
We all want the same basic things. Of course we need food, clothing, and shelter. Yet, to be loved, to belong, to have meaningful relationships, to have a purpose; these are just as important as those physical needs. A book that addresses these needs and more is by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.” These two have experienced great suffering in their lives. They have witnessed terrible violence and bloodshed, and yet they can write a book on happiness. Perhaps we can learn from them how fear, anger, and stress sabotage our joyfulness, and we can learn to set aside our many differences and face our flawed and beautiful humanity together, as one nation. Perhaps we can build rather than tear each other down.
No one who reads “Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion” by Gregory Boyle will be left unchanged. Father Boyle is a priest in Los Angeles who has been working with gang members there since 1988. He has devoted his life to love and compassion. He founded Homeboy Industries as a gang intervention program, and has dedicated his life to this work. The book jacket states what is so eloquently expressed in this book, “how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally.”
“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson is a searing indictment of our justice system. Bryan Stevenson, like Father Boyle, has dedicated his life to compassion for those unjustly accused of crimes, or those wrongfully imprisoned, or those improperly sentenced. He took on the case of Walter McMillan sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to help the poor and especially women and children get proper defense. He has fought for many people on death row, and has given a voice to the voiceless. Again, a story of boundless compassion and mercy.
Gregory Boyle’s newest book is “Barking to the Choir.” On page 7 he writes, “What if we ceased to pledge our allegiance to the bottom line and stood, instead, with those who line the bottom?”
Yes, what if? That’s a great opening question for our book club, and one that could create a lot of discussion if only we would open our hearts and our minds.
Perhaps we could listen to these authors for a while. And then talk with one another. Not like we’re at the OK Corral or living in the Wild West or a shoot ‘em up movie. Let’s have some rational discourse. Instead of having ridiculous conversations about arming teachers, let’s talk about some great books and the profound issues they raise. Let’s talk to each other about how to make this world better, and not just for some, but for ALL. Instead of ranting and railing, let’s talk about caring for one another. Instead of demeaning and casting blame, let’s take a look at ourselves.
I invite you to my National Book Club. Read any/all of the above books and talk about the remarkable people who wrote them, and the marvelous, compassionate work they have done. I have many more suggestions when you’re done reading these.