I waited until my late 30’s to really become a rebel. That’s when I got my first ink.
My grandfather had a military tattoo on his forearm, and even though he told me he had always regretted getting it, I loved the way it looked. I always wanted one, but back in the day tattoos were taboo, and a definite no-no in the church I was raised in. Needless to say, the times have changed. Per statisicbrain.com, as of 2013 there are over 45 million Americans with at least one tattoo, and nearly 40% of Americans ages 26-40 have at least one. As of May 2013, my wife and I count ourselves among that 40%.
The first one started as a joke. My wife and I had made vacation plans to St. Pete Beach to celebrate our 15th anniversary when I jokingly said to her, “Hey, we should get tattoos to celebrate.” I was shocked to hear her respond with, “Absolutely! What are we going to get?” I immediately started researching tattoo parlors in the St. Pete area and trying to select just the right designs. We finally settled on non-matching Swallows because they symbolized loyalty, a journey, and the importance of home, and found a respectable clean shop to get them done in – St. Pete Beach Ink in St. Pete Beach, FL. The guys made it easy, their work was clean, and in the end we both loved our new ink.
Since then I have had two more pieces done by a local artist, Angie Meuth, at Evermore Gallery in Edwardsville, IL. The first of these two was an old school eagle above my right shoulder-blade. It was in memory of my mother who loved eagles and had passed away in August 2013. The second, like my swallow, started as a joke. I had told my wife that I wanted another tattoo for an anniversary present in 2014, but I wasn’t sure what to get. I jokingly said, “I was thinking a pirate pin-up on my arm to represent you and your love for beaches and the ocean.” Her response was a simple – “That is awesome!” The next thing I knew we were meeting with Angie to set-up the appointment. I have to tell you, I gave Angie very vague descriptions of what I wanted in both cases, and in both cases the designs she created could not have been more perfect. Angie is a gifted artist, and I am proud to wear her work. I have concepts for 2 more that I can’t wait to see what she can do with!
Of course in our age of instant information, pics get posted to social media outlets, and feedback flows instantly. As a pastor, it is not surprising that quite a few of the comments I received were expressing concerns. Had I given up my faith? Was I leading people astray? Was I going through some sort of spiritual funk? Why would I go against scripture?
Verses were quoted and prayers were lifted.
I get it – the old taboos still exist. Some of the comments made me angry, but most were expressions of genuine concern for my well-being. I couldn’t be angry with people who wanted the best for me – but I could certainly disagree with their viewpoints. The responses/arguments I encountered from friends and acquaintances are ones that I think many people, Christians in particular, fear and aren’t sure what to do with when considering getting inked.
I’m not about to try to use scripture to defend tattoos – but I do not believe that there is strong biblical evidence against the practice either. The law in Leviticus 19:28 is in the midst of a passage that warns against planting a field with more than one kind of seed, wearing garments made of more than one kind of material,not cutting sideburns, and refraining from trimming beards. Besides the absurdity of following ALL of those laws today is the fact that what is referred to as “tattooing” in this passage is a mistranslation and far cry from what we call tattooing today (more akin to cutting or scarring for religious practices). One of the other major verses used as proof text against the practice is the famous “your body is a temple” passage from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. This passage is written about honoring God with our sexuality, not about the countless other issues we make it about. Besides, most of the temples I have seen are pretty ornately adorned as expressions of worship. If you are arguing against tattoos, I’m not sure comparing the body to a temple is the best argument.
The final argument I commonly hear is that we are to be sure that everything we do is to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This passage is expressing the incredible freedoms God has given us while also practicing restraint in exercising them. It certainly admonishes believers to be considerate of others in exercising that freedom, but it is more about telling us to give God glory in all that we say and do. Everything we do, every choice to exercise freedom or restraint, is an opportunity to give God glory. When we try to make it about restricting actions, we lose sight of the true intent of this passage. Whether we choose to exercise freedom or to use constraint – we can find reason to give God glory in both.
My tattoos are not about self glorification or rebellion (Dang it! I wanted to be a rebel). Instead, they are expressions of incredible artistry and celebrations of the things that matter in my life. Listen, I don’t want to deeply spiritualize the ink on my skin, but the things they represent are, I think, valid reasons to give glory to God. Art and the ability to create are expressions of the very creative spirit of the God we worship. I love art – and while some will disagree – the work people like Angie do is not only beautiful, it is painstakingly difficult. Her skill, and that of countless others in her field, are the residue of God’s creative nature, revealed through what He has created. Isn’t there a reason to give God glory in that?
My family, my journey and struggles, and my personal faith are things I am incredibly thankful for. Again, they are reasons that I give God glory.
In the end, that is what it is about. My tattoos do not give God glory – but I do.
What they do for me is help me celebrate and remember the things that matter in my life. Oh, and gosh golly if I just don’t happen to like them and find them über cool every time I look in the mirror! Are they for everyone? No, but neither are things like tomatoes, soccer, and Jane Austen novels.
If you like them and are considering one, I would just admonish you to take your time and give it ample consideration. Think about where on your body you want it, the effects it may have on your life, and choose something with real meaning to you. Then get some references from some ink covered people about where to go and what artists to use. Visit with an artist and ask to see her/his portfolio and get their advice on the design – and TRUST their opinion on design, location, colors, etc. Then take the plunge and get ‘er done! (Yes, it hurts a little – but the pain is quickly forgotten)
If you don’t like them, it’s okay, we can still be friends. Just eat some tomatoes while expounding on the marvel that is “Sense & Sensibility” and we’ll call it even.