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Pastor Steve Gets a Tattoo

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MY TATTOO WAS GOING TO BE A REALLY SMALL ONE that simply said, “Mat. 6:33,” the abbreviation for my life’s verse: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). I wanted to be reminded of it, forever—in ink! It was going to be so very tiny and hidden on the underside of my wrist, that the only way anyone would ever notice was if I gave a high five right above their sight line or smacked them with what my teen daughters call a “Juicy Forehead.”

I was never, ever going to get one but my daughter DD convinced me. Yes, I blame her.

On her 17th birthday she begged my wife and I for a tattoo. We said no.

“Please, Dad?”

“No!”

“Mom?”

“No!”

It went on like that for several weeks and months, begging, cajoling, nagging—did I mention that she was a teenager?—until I relented and called the tattoo parlor (do they still call them that?). Much to my delight, the law said you cannot get a tattoo in the great, awesome State of Texas until one is eighteen years of age. Strike a victory for Parental Rights!

Figuring she would eventually forget about it, I let it go with a smile in my heart, thanking God that this body-art desire phase would soon pass, all the while hoping she would not take a secret road trip to Nevada with her ne’er do well high school friends. You know who you are.

She didn’t forget.

On her 18th birthday I lost my right of refusal; DD was now an adult. She could vote, join the military and even get a…a…dreaded tattoo. “Hey Dad, are you gonna get one with me?” 

Speaking of the military, apparently the Air Force eliminated it’s 25% rule which said that if you cover more than a quarter of your body in tattoos, then you aren’t fit to serve. Good news: You can now go to battle camouflaged as a strange striped shadow in some Third World ruin with a butterfly on your butt.

By the way, twenty percent of Americans now have tattoos, forty percent in the 18-29-year-old range.

Mark Hemingway of The Federalist wrote,

“If tattoos were once an act of rebellion against cultural norms, now they are a well-established norm. If you want a tattoo, hey, it’s a free country. But it seems many people still get them laboring under the delusion that they’re a hallmark of individualism. The desire to use visual signals on your skin to proclaim yourself unique to people you don’t even know can’t be terribly healthy. It is, in a subtle and penetrating way, kind of selfish. Or maybe my misanthropy is showing, but the omnipresence of people begging to be noticed for such superficial reasons is surely annoying.”

Great. Now we were joining the great unwashed dermatologically graffiti’d, declaring our not-so-unique individuality to the world. Just like those rebels in the 60’s who grew long hair to be unique, then, everyone did it. Like the 70’s, where the unique super-cool donned white Travolta-esque polyester and shook their booties to that funky music all night long. Like the 80’s where, uh, well, okay…there were no individuals then.

But wait! I’m a pastor. My daughter, a PK. What would people think? More importantly, what would God think?

I had to pray about this one….

The Urban Dictionary defined “tattoo” this way: “A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”

Was I really willing to go all the way with an enduring, indelible, irreversible ink stain on my wrist?

I had an inkling that God told me the specific one to get; to some, that may seem strange. No, I didn’t hear a voice nor did a miraculous sign come in the form of some outrageous vision with thousands of angels and Benny Hinn lassoing Satan. Nope. It was truly a still small voice, that, frankly, might have been my own thoughts. Or, the pizza I ate. Before taking the plunge, I wanted to see what my Facebook friends thought:

“Why would you put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari or a Maserati?”

“It is hard for me to imagine Jesus getting a tattoo.”

“Don’t do it! Get a Tee shirt!”

On the other side:

“Why not, as long as it is tasteful!! There are many pastors with tattoos!

“They’re beautiful and colorful and I feel honored to have valuable and sentimental pieces of art permanently on my body.”

“Tattoos are cool.”

Comedian Richard Jeni said,

“I see a woman with a tattoo and I’m thinking, okay, here’s a gal who’s capable of making a decision she’ll regret in the future.”

It was about a 50/50 split, for and against.

Then there was the argument from Leviticus 19:28, a command from the LORD to boot! “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

Well, that seems pretty straight forward doesn’t it? If I were an Israelite living in Old Testament times under the Nation of Israel’s laws and putting tattoos on my body to honor pagan gods, then I darn well better not do it! But, I’m not and I don’t, so I will.

Context is everything.

As a Christian, we have freedom. Though not everything we do is beneficial, we are still free in Christ. The Bible says:

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters [like tattoos]. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything [even get tattoos], but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables [and won’t get tattoos]. The one who eats everything [and gets tattoos], must not treat with contempt the one who does not [get tattoos], and the one who does not eat everything [and refuses to get tattoos], must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14)

I got the tattoo, just not the one I thought I wanted.

As I prayed about this, I got a sense that God wanted me to get something entirely different. Again, perhaps it was a feeling, a thought, a notion or indigestion. Nevertheless, I changed my mind and went a whole different inky direction.

We went to Atomic Tattoo in Austin, a clean, bright, cheery place, walls adorned with sample tats ranging from bloody, fanged demons and devil’s horns to scantily clad pin-up girls riding elephants and snakes. Even the tattooed, pierced, ringed-nosed, spike-in-tongue people looked fairly normal.

My daughter got hers: the word “agape” in Greek: ἀγάπη, on her side, and I,  mine. Not “Mt. 6:33” on the wrist, but something else, what I believed the Lord told me to get: “KS ‘96” which stood for “Karen Sanchez, 1996,” the year we were married.

I had it penned over my heart—where no one else could see it.

Only her.

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