Saturday, June 9, 2012

Erasing Tattoos on the Heart

I've been subscribing to a daily email from Ravi Zacharias for a long time, most days I skim through them, yesterday I read this one and was very touched, enough that I wanted to share it. I've known about Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries now for a couple of years, ever since my daughter was at LMU and his book 'Tattoos on the Heart' was required reading for a class of hers. I read the book (even started a book review, which is still in my draft folder but I never finished it) and was incredibly inspired, it's one of those that makes you laugh, cry, and inspires you to live differently and love more. This is the email, I hope you love it as much as I did.  

Until next time, Ciao!


Father Greg Boyle is in the business of erasing the past. A Jesuit priest who is 
the founder and director of "Homeboy Industries" in East Los Angeles, Father 
Boyle has put together a team of physicians trained in the laser technology of 
tattoo removal. The team is part of a program that takes the tattoos of ex-gang 
members and wipes the slate clean. For many, it is as crucial a service as it is 

Gang-related tattoos prevent many former gang members from getting jobs or 
advancing in work. For others, the markings critically impinge on mental health 
or put them in serious danger on the streets. There is no fee or community 
service required to receive the tattoo removal offered by Homeboy Industries. It 
is strictly a gift—a gift that is perhaps a modern look at Christ washing the 
feet of his friends. Currently, there is a waiting list of over a thousand 

For those involved, the spiritual imagery is often compelling. The seeming
permanence of a gang tattoo fosters the attitude that the gang's claim is also 
permanent. It is a mark of ownership as much as identity. The emotional 
consequence is that it seems a part of you that can never be shaken. I suspect 
some of us have felt like this with past mistakes, actions whose mark we cannot 
shake off, decisions embedded into our existence like permanent tattoos on 
bodies longing to forget.

 It's not hard to see how profound the erasing of such marks could be in the life 
of a former gang member. The life marked by Christ is similarly altered. Like 
former gang members who have had the marks of a former life removed, so our sins 
are blotted out by Christ. They are remembered no longer.

To those holding on to the scarred markings of former sin God would say: "I, 
even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers 
your sins no more" (Isaiah 43:25). Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall 
be white as snow. Like the unmarked
 ex-gang members among us, we are made into something new.

One of the curious things about the growing list of people interested in laser 
tattoo removal is that Father Boyle is straightforward about the procedure. The 
process of tattoo removal is extremely painful. Patients describe the laser 
procedure as feeling like hot grease on their skin. And yet the list grows, each 
name representing a life that longs to be free and is willing to endure the pain 
to seize it. 

 Followers of the Christian faith have described God's work in our lives as the 
"refiner's fire." Removing the impurities we have embedded into our lives is at 
times quite uncomfortable. But like a child that trusts her mother enough to 
endure the pain of having a splinter removed or the young man who undergoes the 
burning process of removing a gang tattoo, we are freed by skillful hands. The 
Great Physician is sometimes a surgeon. But when we look at God through the 
refining fires of God's presence, we know that it was well worth putting our 
name on the list (whether it was our doing or God's in the first place). "For as high 
as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from 
us." At his table, we are made new.

 Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity with Ravi Zacharias 
International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.