Sunday, June 19, 2011

Christians and Tattoos: Compatible?

For years, I've been playing with the idea of a tattoo. For awhile, I had settled on a red fleur-de-lys, a symbol of both Scotland and Florence (two parts of my ancestry). However, due to the fact that they are both different, I changed my mind and decided on a thistle and a sunflower intertwined. Though I am composed of the blood of about five to six nations, I identify heavily with both my Italian and Scottish ancestry just because they seem to sum up my personality. Fiery, passionate, fierce, hungry for adventure, willing to eat many interesting things (haggis and rabbit, anyone?), lovely music (including bagpipes in BOTH nations), and an appreciation for sexy accents, as well as a healthy dose of stubborn, stubborn, stubborn, it's no wonder that I identify with it and would like to honor my ancestors with some ink in my skin. Of course, Catholic girl that I am, I often hear from Christians who wonder if tattoos are acceptable. Should a good Christian girl participate? Let's see.

Critics draw from a verse in the Old Testament that states, "Do not put tattoo marks on yourself...I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:28 paraphrase). However, while it's easy to take this as a command from God, Leviticus commands many things, such as not to eat pork, not to wear two different fabrics, not to raise two crops on one area and that women were unclean during menstruation. Most Christians today would not bar a menstruating woman from participation during worship, think twice before putting on that cotton-polyester blend shirt, or eschew bacon and some of us environmentalists find that polyculture is much better for the environment.

How did we come to turn our backs on these rules? While Jesus and the apostles were observant Jews, they also expected His message of justice, mercy, and peace to spread to all peoples. Jesus kept the Law in His life but also made statements about how people's actions made them clean or unclean, not necessarily their food choice or their customs. St. Paul took this further by stating that works of the Law do not save people because, if they did, Jesus would not have had to die on a cross for humanity. Thus, it was not necessary for converts to Christianity to essentially become Jewish as well (probably a good thing for adult male converts ;-)). While we honor the place the Law had in our history, we also understand that it was meant for a time when cultural cohesion was literally a life or death situation. Christianity, however, was meant to be universal while the Law was meant for one people.

As a Catholic, this means I can get a tattoo provided that it does not send an anti-Christian message, it doesn't involve poor stewardship of my resources (such as my bank account) and, if I were a minor child, did not involve disobeying my parents. At the same time, I think having tattoos can be positive for a Christian. It shows that Christians are comprised of different peoples, from different backgrounds, cultures, points of view and styles. I can have a tattoo and be a good Christian, just like I can drink responsibly, date, live on my own, hold a politically progressive stance, go to a secular college, play rock music and wear jeans and still be a good Christian. Christianity is not a question of how I look. It's a question of how I live. As long as I work to uphold my principles, I don't think God really cares about the ink in my skin.

Plus, I'm honoring ancestries that produced some of the best in Christian theology, both Catholic and Protestant! So, it can only be a Christian tattoo :)

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