Grace

Tattooed Shame: Indelible Ink Redeemed

Color photo of the author's tattoo that brings him shame as it represents his distance from God.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Deuteronomy 8:17-18

I have a tattoo – only one – and it’s a source of shame to me.

A tattoo doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, especially among my generation. Although I got mine in the early 1990s, they are all the more common in today’s twenty-teens.

Even most Christ-followers seem ok with them, despite Old Testament prohibitions lumping tattoos with prostitution and black magic (Leviticus 19:26-31). A post-modern seal of approval perhaps stems from Jesus’ teaching – normally attributed to food – that, “nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15). Our tattoos can even be a part of our testimony.

While earnest followers argue for or against tattoos, my shame isn’t for sake of having skin art. It’s not because a friend of a friend of my sister’s did the work – clearly, it must have been his second or third tat ever. It’s not because 25 years later, on my middle-aged shoulder, this “art” is sagging and fading and blurring, just like wiser people back in the day told me it would. And it’s not even because the design bears an unanticipated resemblance to the Body Glove logo, and the suggested commercialization of my body – without the proceeds of an endorsement deal – embarrasses me.

Rather, this is the source of my shame: I got the tattoo at the height of my self-reliance, my pride and my rebellion, in my late teens. To be clear: I wasn’t rebelling against my parents or society. Indeed, my immediate circles of loved ones, friends, and acquaintances were what you’d call freethinkers, and if they weren’t outright supportive of something like a tattoo on a young man, they were at least “to each his own” about it. Instead, my rebellion was against a God that I didn’t yet believe existed.

In that respect, the art that I selected – that I designed, I should admit – suited such a worldview perfectly: It is of my hand print, set inside a machine gear.  To my adolescent understanding, my intellect, creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work is what made me who I am; they were my means to success and to meaning. Me. My. Mine. Instead of a Holy God, I was the sole agent of my life – god of me, if you will – over something like Johnny Cash’s empire of dirt, as I’d figure out later in life.

Today, a born-again follower of a sacrificed, risen Christ, I hate my body art. As described, the depravity of my thinking “B.C.” – Before Christ – is pretty self-evident. It clearly represents my sin, even in its muddy image.

By my research, getting rid of an unwanted tattoo is futile and vain. It’s a time-honored trick to put a new tattoo over the old one; to cover up the old stain with a new stain. But even if no one else knows what’s underneath, I always will. There are some pretty fancy lasers that can blast away the pigment of a regretted tat. But the raised welts of the skin give away the mark.

Metaphorically, if not also metaphysically, the indelible mark of a tattoo represents the stain of sin on every one of us. There’s nothing on Earth or in man’s power that can forever remove the permanence of a tattoo. And likewise, there’s nothing that a fallen man like me can do to rid himself of the stain of his sin.

And yet, there’s hope.

Our hope is in the Lord, who promises to wash away all sins, with the blood of His sacrifice. New. Clean. Pure. Saved. These words, throughout the Bible, and especially in context of the saving grace of Jesus, tell us that the worst juice-sin stain on the white carpet of our souls will be Oxi-Clean with Jesus.

Arguably the most hope-filled line of the Bible is where we’re told that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God also promises us a new body – a body made perfect and without the blemish of sin (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

On these promises, I’m content to shoulder my stain for the rest of my time here, as a bitter reminder that in the place of that once-proud, rebellious young man is a new creation, filled with hope in redemption for eternal perfection. All because of Jesus.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

THE END
Copyright 2016

This essay is torn from the pages of "The Flame," a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.

This essay is torn from the pages of “The Flame,” a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

 

Love all Sinners

All have sinned. Love them all! How can you NOT with a sweet face like that?

You’ve heard it said that you are to “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  This common Christianese phrase has a basis in Biblical truth, and is recited by church people as though it was red-letter text.  But there are some problems with its use:

1) First, it’s decidedly NOT Biblical.  Similarly worded, but decidedly different in meaning — and in bona fide red letters to boot — is the following:  “You have heard that it was said, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” — from Matthew 5:43-44.

2) It’s hypocritical.  ” … He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” — John 8:7.  ‘Nuff said.

3) It’s divisive and judgmental.  Yes, there will be an accounting for all shortcomings … I will spend a lot of time recounting my own personal sins (ugh!) …  As fallen humans, we ARE our sin, so when we condemn sin, we condemn the lost we are trying to reach with God’s message of grace and mercy.  That turns people off, frankly.  It turns God off, too — in Proverbs 6:16, when the Bible describes seven things the Lord hates, “haughty eyes,” and “a person who stirs up conflict in the community,” are prime among them.  So until His return, we of the church need to try harder to be about His love and forgiveness.

And of course, like most Christianese, using the phrase usually displays a lack of critical thought, and instead is simply something that we’ve heard and parrot to others.

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Becoming a Random Handyman: A Testimonial

As a kid, I thought Jesus had abandoned me. Left me to my poverty and to my insecurities and to my unrequited desires.

We were less than “Christmas-Easter” Christians; the faith of my elders — in our home — was more of the “Shut up while your Grandpa says Grace!” type.

Because we’d never really been introduced, we were strangers, Jesus and I. But I had an innate yearning to find Him and know Him.

I was on my paper route under overcast skies one day; I might have been 10. I stopped dragging my paper-laden wagon and looked to Heaven.

“God, if you’re real, send down a bolt of lightning over there!” I directed. I waited. Of course I waited. I’m not the boss of God, and as much as I believe that He, too, wanted to know me, it would never be on my terms like that.

Being a good person, I decided to give Him another chance. I wrote Him a letter. I took it to the backyard and buried it. I waited. Nothing happened. Again.

Of course nothing happened. I can’t remember what I wrote or what was supposed to happen. I don’t know why I thought that the wretched dirt of our urban garden was a supernatural post office (we didn’t know about owls back then). Kids have funny ideas anyway, but I had no basis of faith to compare my ideas to.

Fast forward a few years — to high school — to find a kid who was too open-minded for God, too good for God, too rotten for God and too smart for God. I did what, to a 16-year-old, felt like an “in-depth and thorough critical inquiry,” into the faith of my nation. But really, it was just superficial rock throwing at the edifice of Christianity:

“How can god be if he’d let the world be so rotten? Why do god’s people rape and pillage and kill in his name? And why is the bible any more legit than any other religious or scientific answer to who and what and why?” I supplied the questions, with a cynical sneer, and then I applied a 16-year-old’s answers. With the process done to my own satisfaction, I made up my mind: there would be no more proof tests, no more letters, no more questioning. I decided, and I got on with living.

Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch.

Though I gave up on Him, Jesus never gave up on me. Eventually, I got another chance to meet Him. Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch. A friend or acquaintance gets sucked in and gets excited, and she wants to build her network — at your expense. That’s kinda how it was with Tina, my college girlfriend, and I:

“Hey Jeff, get over here!” I want you to meet a great guy. His name’s Jesus! I’m in this great program with Him, and He wants you to get in on it, too!” You approach warily, afraid that by the end of the evening, you’ll have a new water softener, $1,500 less in your account, and a commitment to sell additional units to at least five other suckers in your circle of friends and family.

I remained skeptical, even after she introduced us. But I was into her, so I asked her questions. We went to movies and dinners, and I went with her to church. We debated our different takes on ancient history and interpretations of her faith experiences. But the more time that we spent time together — the three of us — the more I kinda liked having The Guy around.

As things between us — the two of us now — got more serious, they got a little eerie, too. In a good way, of course. As we got to know one another better, we discovered odd coincidences. Or signs. You decide:

– We each came from large families of similar make-up. She has four sisters and two brothers. I have four brothers and a sister

– My siblings and I have identical initials: JMB. Same with (Chris)Tina and her sisters: CLS

– Both our fathers were in the Korean War. And had no other service

There were other eerie commonalities not worth sharing, but beyond a dozen or so supernatural coinkydinks, there was plenty more to our deepening relationship to convince me that Tina and I were meant to be together. They didn’t convince me about Him, though. Not then, anyway.

In respect to the spark that started this fire, I never had that flash-bang-bolt-of-lightning, blinding-flash-of-the-obvious conversion. That Damascus Road experience. That 180-degree U-turn in life. That Holy Spirit fire.

Nope. I simply just found myself more open to faith and truth and history and reality every day. So unlike other testifying Christians, I don’t really know at what point I “became” a Christian; I have no birth certificate for the specific day that I was born again. All that I know is that when I dropped out of college early to head off to Air Force Basic Training, the new dog tags dangling around my neck were stamped:

Jeffrey M. Bishop
O Neg
Christian

In turn and in time, Tina and I were married, and we’ve grown our family, our love, and our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day since.

Today, I’m proud to witness as a fearfully and wonderfully made Random Handyman, simply striving to follow after the Master Carpenter and to build well in His name with the tools and time that I’ve been given.

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.