This I Believe: I Believe in Getting the Tattoo

From June 2008, this is dedicated to Chris Paradise, aquatic ecologist, writing coach, fellow parent of a young child, and cherished friend.  I wrote this essay at the Lilly Seminar for Davidson College Alumni, “This I Believe: Exploring the Meaning of Life.”  Chris will forever be in my heart for his role in bringing this out of me.   It was a long time coming.  Thank you!

I believe in getting the tattoo.

In the summer of 2007 I had already wanted my tattoo for four years.  I could close my eyes and imagine it a part of me, but when I tried too hard to see it, it would slip away into the underbrush like a deer who senses your gaze.  It was a long period of meditation and patient waiting.

I needed permanent representation of bringing my heart and mind to peace with nearly ten consecutive, tumultuous years involving chronic disease, professional struggle, marital crisis, and infertility.  Enough was enough, and my soul hungered for a ritual to mark my moving forward.   When the voice of the universe whispered repeatedly the answer was a Eurasian practice of permanent decorative skin marking from Neolithic times, I was stunned.  I expected something more like a new sports car.

la Paix is French for "peace"

That summer, I planned a weekend getaway with girlfriends from Davidson College, and the time was right to push this vision toward reality.  One of my friends  was hosting the group in her hometown.  “Where’s the best place to get a tattoo?” I asked.  Without hesitation she told me, and I felt  my feet hit the first firm steps on the path to my Holy Grail.    I emailed with the shop’s owner and described the elements I wanted:  the French word for peace in a feminine script, very small and discreetly placed.  After several back and forths in writing, the next step was simply to meet in person and do the deed.

Upon my arrival, the artist showed me his design, and it literally took my breath away.  It included not only my original elements, but a dove and a stylized peace sign.  It was much larger than I expected, but I knew immediately it was mine.  With no hesitation, I said, “Let’s do it.”  Four hours of cathartic pain later, I emerged from the shop in my new skin, not so much a different person as the old reborn.

What did I experience through this mysterious process?  Contemplation, patience, individualism, connection, intimacy, trust, support, privacy, freedom, release, self-expression.  What do I carry with me every day as a result?  The same.

My tattoo is not a part of me, but one with me.  From the first moment I saw it embedded in my skin, it was not something new, but something the hot needles had scratched away skin to reveal rather than add.  I smile now when I think about my original fears, especially the fear that I may have set a bad example for my child, who is due next month.  Everyone says that tattoos should not be taken lightly, because they are forever.  I agree they should not be taken lightly, but they are most assuredly not forever.  This body had a beginning, and it has an end.  What will last longer is my story, and for her entire life my daughter will be able to say of her mother, “She got the tattoo.”

Image credit: Elizabeth Gaucher; tattoo by Robert Ashburn, Liquid Dragon Tattoo Art Studio, Asheville, North Carolina.

A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers

I am blessed with many wonderful friends.  Consistently, they humble and amaze me when I see their formal credentials in black in white.  (I’m just glad these fine folks will talk to me about life, parenthood, and what’s for dinner!)

Allan Hugh Cole, Jr.

My friend Allan has a new book coming out soon, and I encourage you to visit his website and check out all of his wonderful resources.  From managing grief, to soothing anxiety, to connecting with the spiritual lives of children, his body of work provides insight into some of the most important ideas in the human experience.

From his “Bio” page:

Allan Hugh Cole Jr., a noted author, serves on the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX.  He is appointed to the Nancy Taylor Williamson Distinguished Chair of Pastoral Care.  He holds several academic degrees, including the Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Davidson College, the Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, the Master of Science (social work) from Columbia University, and the Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The author or editor of six books, he is the founding editor of the Journal of Childhood and Religion, an on-line publication of Sopher Press.  For more information, see  He also serves on the editorial boards of two journals, Pastoral Psychology and Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary.

He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), having served congregations in New York.  Currently, he holds membership in Grace Presbytery (Dallas, Ft. Worth, Northeast Texas).

He is married to Tracey Cole and they have two daughters.

A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers (Westminster John Knox Press), will be published in early 2011 and is available for pre-order.  It includes essays by Gail Godwin, Sheri Reynolds, Greg Garrett, Lauren Winner, Will Willimon, Marjorie Thompson, Michael Lindvall, Philip Wogaman, Ted Wardlaw, Homer Ashby, Deborah Block, Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher, Ismael Garcia, Albert Hsu, Brad Braxton, Donald Capps, Kerry Egan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Richard Osmer, Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, Michael Jinkins, Elizabeth Liebert, Stephanie Paulsell, and Allan Hugh Cole Jr.

Wonderland: Radar Love

It is an honor for me to share via Esse Diem writing by my college friend Lucia, who often posts her sermons and thoughts on faith as Facebook notes.

Lucia’s meditations were inspired by a  parishioner’s tacking on the bulletin board an article about the novelist Anne Rice’s announcement that she remains “committed to Christ” but is “quitting Christianity.”  (Note: I’ve shortened the sermon considerably for this post.)

Radar Love

I really enjoyed Lucia’s angle on the idea that, deep down, many people act as if God can’t keep up with modern life.  Regardless of your spiritual background or perspective, if you believe in a higher power or a spiritual energy that influences our lives, it’s a good self-reflection to consider if you hold that intelligence at arm’s length.  For example, do you think God understands blogging?  Social media?  It can get pretty funny when we process the human limitations we place on the idea of God.

Don’t miss Lucia’s line on “the art of loving dangerously” towards the end.  It’s a small reference, but a very powerful idea.

Lucia Kendall Lloyd is the priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Heathsville, VA. She holds a B.A. in English from Davidson College, an M.A. in English from Middlebury College, an M.A.R. in Religion and Literature from Yale Divinity School, and an M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. Prior to her ordination, she taught English at two girls’ boarding schools and a community college. She lives in Tappahannock VA with her husband and two daughters.

Luke 13:10-17

The group of students was asked to answer quickly, without reflection, the question:

“Do you think God understands radar?”

In nearly every case the reply was “No,” followed of course by a laugh, as the conscious mind realized the absurdity of the answer. But, simple as this test was, it was quite enough to show that AT THE BACK OF THEIR MINDS these youngsters held an idea of God quite inadequate for modern days.

This little experiment was conducted back in the 50’s, and it now seems almost quaint to think of times when the cutting edge of modern technology was…radar.  The author pursues the topic with the teenagers:

“Subsequent discussion showed plainly that while “they had not really thought much about it,” they had freely to admit that the idea of God, absorbed some years before, existed in quite a separate compartment from their modern experience, knowledge, and outlook.

There are probably many people today with a similar “split” in their mental conceptions. The “Grand Old Man” is treated with reverence and respect –look what a help He was to our forefathers! — but He can hardly be expected to cope with the complexities and problems of life today!  If the absurdity of this “split” makes us laugh, so much the better.

The person who conducted it was J.B. Phillips, who writes about it in a book with a wonderful title: “Your God Is Too Small.”

But what intrigues me most about this episode with J.B. Phillips and his conversation with the teenagers and radar is that it is exactly the attitude Jesus himself challenges in today’s gospel reading.  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  A crippled woman shows up.  Jesus takes the initiative, calls her over, and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  When Jesus lays his hands on her, immediately she stands up straight and begins praising God.

But what is the response of the leader of the synagogue?  He is, Luke tells us, indignant.  He is indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, and he keeps saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The important point in this passage is that Jesus is ready to roll.  He sees that the woman needs to be healed, and he sets her free from her ailment immediately.  The leader of the synagogue wants to slow Jesus down.  He says everyone needs to come back later, on another day that’s not the Sabbath, and Jesus needs to wait until then to heal them.

The great irony here is that human beings think we’re the modern ones and that God is old-fashioned.  But scripture shows us the real Jesus, the Jesus who is ready to move into the future, to go ahead with acts of love to change this woman’s life forever, setting her free immediately.  Who’s the one who is stuck in the past?  It’s not Jesus; it’s the leader of the synagogue, who insists that Jesus should not do anything new, that Jesus ought to do things the way they’ve been done in the past.

When God moves into the future, people get indignant.  And how does Jesus deal with the indignant people?  Does he give in to them and say he won’t do anything controversial if they don’t like it?  Does he say he’ll wait until everyone agrees before he does anything new?  Does he tell the woman, “I know you’ve been suffering for eighteen years already, but you have to wait longer because some people will be indignant?”

Jesus instead turns to the indignant man and says, “You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from bondage on the Sabbath day?”  Jesus says, “you give blessings to animals, how can you tell me to withhold blessings from people who have been putting up with so much suffering for so many years, and who now finally have the chance to be free of it?  How can you tell me to make them wait longer because you’re feeling indignant?  You hypocrites!”

Yeah, God understands radar all right.  And God understands quite a few other things that humanity needs to catch up on.  One of the things Jesus understands is the art of loving dangerously.  Jesus is willing to move ahead to perform an act of compassion for this woman even though he knows how vehemently indignant his opponents will be.  Well, if they’re going to be indignant, let them be indignant.  They’re not going to hold Jesus back.

As Luke tells us, “When Jesus said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”

There are people who think that God can’t quite keep up with modern life, when in reality we’re the ones who have trouble keeping up with God.  But there are also people who are excited about following this Jesus who has the courage to love dangerously, despite the opposition from people who are indignant and want to slow him down.  There are people who respond to gifts from God not by criticizing, but by praising God.  There are people who join the crowd in rejoicing at all the wonderful things God is doing.

God is not just ready to roll, God is already rolling!  Let’s celebrate!