Monday, September 13, 2010

Meme: My Faith, My Tattoo

Adam Copeland over at A Wee Blether is conducting some informal research about people of faith and their tattoos. Seeing as how I have one, I decided to help him out and answer his questions. So, here goes:

1. Describe your tattoo(s):
I have one tattoo on my right shoulder blade. It's a red cross behind an icthus (sometimes called a Jesus fish). I have ideas for other tattoos (all faith-oriented) that I think about getting. We'll see if I ever do.

2. What made you want that tattoo?
I had been contemplating one for a while. I ended up deciding to go and get one my last summer as a camp counselor. There was a whole group of us who decided to go and get some ink one weekend. I didn't set out to get this specific tattoo, however. I told a co-worker, who I knew was artistic, that if she drew something I would get it tattooed. So she did, and I did.

3. How did your faith influence your tattoo, indirectly or directly?
I have always been a very faithful person. In fact, the summer I got this tattoo I was working at a church camp, and it was also the summer before I headed off to seminary. A tattoo is a unique and fun way to share your beliefs or what is important to you. So a cross and a fish, two symbols of Christianity, seemed like a good way to share what is important to me.

4. What's the relationship between your tattoo and your broader understanding of your body?
My senior pastor has told me on numerous occasions that I should never play poker. I have a hard time keeping a straight face in a lot of situations. People can tell, by looking at my face, what is going through my mind. In fact, there is some statistic (that I can't remember and so I won't quote) that says that a majority of communication is nonverbal. We use our faces and our bodies to communicate all the time. My tattoo is an extension of that.

5. Was it worth it... do you have regrets?
I see my tattoo everyday in the mirror. Everyday I look at it and I appreciate it. I appreciate what it stands for, I appreciate what those symbols mean to me, and I appreciate the memories that it brings back of the time in my life when I got it. Never once have I looked at it and wished it wasn't there or that I hadn't got it.

6. What funny story has happened because of your tattoo?
I have several stories about it that are kind of funny. I'll only share a couple. Since I was a camp counselor when I got it, I know that I didn't take care of it like I should during the first few weeks. There are guidelines about what you should and shouldn't do for a couple weeks, and going into a chlorinated pool is one of the things you shouldn't. But I worked at a camp with a pool, and had to go there everyday with my campers. Trying to explain to my boss that I'd rather sit on the side of the pool and not get in because I decided to get a tattoo during the summer would not have gone over well. The campers would not have been big fans of this, either. And I'm not one to sit on the sidelines and let other people have fun. I like to be in the mix. So I ignored some of these guidelines and played in the pool. Well, one day in the pool, I was giving a camper a piggy back ride. Now, when tattoos are healing they will scab over. You are not supposed to pick the scabs as that can affect the coloring. But I'm giving this camper a piggy back ride and he says to me, "Is your tattoo real?" and I said, "Yeah it's real." and he replies, "No it's not. Look, I can peel it off!" I told him not to do that, and thankfully he didn't because not only could it have made some spots on my tattoo that are less colorful than the rest, but it could have been pretty painful, too.
Another story is how I told my parents about the tattoo. I was unsure how they would respond, so I showed it to them while we were in the hospital and my dad was just about ready to go in for hernia surgery. I knew that if they didn't like it and weren't happy about it, that it wouldn't give them much time to be upset about it before my dad went under.
Being a pastor, my work does not call for me going shirtless a lot. Most of the time this happens at events or places where we can go swimming. Most of the time, these events are youth events. It is always funny to me to see the kids' reactions when they see that their pastor has a tattoo. Jaws drop, eyes widen, and they say, "Pastor Mark!!! YOU have a TATTOO?!?!" It never ceases to amuse me.
There's also a funny story surrounding the inception of the tattoo, and some events that happened afterward, but I think you might have to know me better to get that story.

7. How did your tattoo change your faith (and if not, why not)?
I can't say that it changed my faith, really. I don't think that, because of my tattoo, I am now bolder in my faith or that I suddenly have less doubts. I think it is just an outward manifestation of my faith, and has given me opportunities to talk about it with other people. When I'm in the pool or the hot tub, or on the beach, or some other activity where I am not wearing a shirt, my tattoo is readily visible. I've had people ask me about it, when I got it and why I got it, and it opens it up for a conversation about what the symbols mean to me.

For background on how this meme started, see Adam Copeland’s blog at


  1. Awesome, Mark. Good stuff and very interesting. For what others are saying/answering, check out the original post:

  2. very interesting...although this would have been a good post for a picture! i think if i were to get a tattoo it would be a lutheran rose with an eastern orthodox cross in the middle...