Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Holy Symbolism Batman...

Ok, confession time...I'm inked and I'm pierced. I know what you may be thinking, "But you're a pastor. You shouldn't do that. That's defiling the temple." And I would say that I respect your opinion, but do not share it at all.

A T-shirt covers all of my tattoos, none of which I regret by the way. In fact, I really want another one, but just haven't decided what yet. I got my ear pierced a few years ago on a whim, and haven't regretted that either. Well, not so much on a whim and I'll get to that in a minute. Yeah, it makes me a little different, but we already knew that. Let's just say that I'm not your typical preacher man and leave it at that.

I was asked by a former church member once, "Those tattoos, you got those before you went into the ministry, right? That's part of your old life?" To which I answered, "Nope," and left it at that. I didn't really see my being inked as any of her business. In hindsight, I could have taken a moment to explain to her why I had gotten them, but I didn't.

Now I will admit that I most definitely went through a very well defined rebel phase in my ministry, bucking the system and the institution much like Jesus would have. And that phase has helped shape me into what I am today. And I also admit that I'm not sure I'm completely done with it. I'm not rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious, but in an attempt to do what I can to fix a broken system.

"What does any of that have to do with the price of rice in China?" you may be asking. Well, here it is. What some folks see as rebellious, I view as symbolic. They have very deep meanings for me, and most of the time, folks judge other folks way before they understand those deeper meanings.

My first tattoo was a cross on my right shoulder blade. It's only a couple inches tall, just a plain, brown, wooden cross with a crown of thorns woven around it. It's my own design and a reminder of the price that was paid for me. My second tattoo is an image, that for me, is possibly a portrait of Christ. Of course we have no way of knowing what he looked like, and some might see that as creating an idol, but it's not. I'm also a biker, and since getting that tattoo, I'm reminded that I never ride alone.

And then I got my ear pierced. My gosh, the first time some of my church folks saw it, you would have thought I had said Jesus was a woman (it was a very conservative and not always welcoming congregation).

But the symbolism for piercing my ear is even stronger than for either of the tattoos. It comes from Deuteronomy 15:16 and, talking about freeing men servants and maid servants, says: "But if your servant says to you, 'I do not want to leave you,' because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life."

My uncle and I got into a very heated discussion over the interpretation of that passage one morning over breakfast. We are from very different traditions and I respect the fact that he is entitled to his opinion, however I do not share it. For me, this passage gave me a solid example of something concrete that I could do to remind myself whose I am. Every time I roll over on it in bed, or twist it to keep the skin from growing to it, I remember that I am a servant of the King.

So here is what I would leave you with: not every tattoo or piercing has any religious symbolism at all, I know that, but before we begin to condemn folks who look different, maybe we should take a second and get to know them. My earring has sparked more conversations about servanthood than anything else I have come across in my entire life. Just a thought.


(Motorcycle riding, earring wearing, tattooed, preacher man) Jamie

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