This Generation

A Call to Repentance, Renewal, and ReEngaging Inter-Generational Conversations

Every Tattoo Has a Story

I was sitting in a restaurant with another gentlemen much older than me. Our waitress was a young woman, fairly attractive, and covered from her neck down with tattoos. The gentlemen with me made a comment as the waitress walked away which I’m sure she heard. “Why would an attractive woman ruin her beauty with all those tattoos. One day she will regret doing that. Young people today don’t seem to be able to think past the moment.” While I didn’t verbalize my thoughts the way he did, I have to admit that I struggled as he did with why someone would do that to themselves.

Then a good friend of mine told me something recently that has completely changed my attitude towards all the tattoos we see on people today. I still don’t care for them or understand why people want to go through the process, but what my friend told me has given me a fresh desire to know the people behind the tattoos. He told me, “Whenever I see someone with a lot of tattoos, I say to them, ‘Every tatt has a story. Would you mind telling me yours?'”

For many of us over sixty (that’s me), it’s easy to begin to judge those who cover their bodies with tattoos. I remember one of the American Idol contestants a few years ago who covered half of her body with tattoos. She was a beautiful young lady with an incredible voice, but I found myself focusing more on the ugly tattoos I saw. I never stopped to consider her story and what those tattoos had to do with her story.

If there is to be trust and meaningful relationships between the generations, we need to care about each other’s story. That means often looking beyond things like tattoos or clothing or wrinkles. Every tatt has a story, but do we care enough about the story to put aside our personal opinions? It doesn’t mean we have to like some of the crazy things we see other people do to themselves, but it does mean learning to put things in perspective and not looking at outward appearances. (I think Jesus said something about that, didn’t He?)

That’s a hard thing to do at any age. But the relationships and stories we each have are well worth the effort.

How do you handle outward appearances that don’t match your own tastes? Have you ever asked someone with lots of tattoos about their story? What did you learn? I’d like to hear yours.

About Cavin

5 Replies

  1. I have just returned from a mission trip to the UK with a group of musicians from my church, many of whom have tattoos. At one very loving contemporary church we visited, it was suggested that our young men wear long sleeves while leading worship, to avoid any cultural misunderstandings and it got us all thinking about tattoos. In the US it has become common place and ‘cool’ for our young men and women to have scripture verses and body art, but apparently that hasn’t happened in Chrstian circles in Britain. I personally am old enough to still associate tattoos with people who have led troubled lives but I know most of our young musicians have not, in fact, most are probably from privileged backgrounds. Anyway, because of that experience, I was thinking about it more and I actually did ask a young British man on the ‘tube’ about what his tattoos meant to him. He was about 30 and obviously headed for work. He told me he had been very angry when he young but wasn’t anymore. I just smiled and said, “God bless you!” as he left the train. Sometimes our pain marks us for the rest of our lives. I guess it always does whether the scars are physical or emotional, but God redeems and I just wanted to bless that this man had moved on and left his pain behind him.

  2. Ann Young

    I, too, am of the generation (and gender) who always viewed tattoos as undesirable, marking the person with a label that said “inferior” or “low-class” (it was the boundary marking the difference between officer and enlisted, for example). However, as my son’s spiritual life and desire to follow Christ emerged, he began acquiring tattoos. He has several now, the designs for which were given much thought and discussion, and all of which have deep spiritual meaning to him. Likewise, several of the young men I work with in YoungLife proudly wear their tattoos, each of which tells a story in that young man’s spiritual journey. While my strong preference would have been that my son never had a tattoo, I no longer judge those who do and, like the grandfather in this story, I also want to know the story and meaning behind each one. I love my tatted up young men, who teach me something about faith every, single day.

    1. Ann,

      Thank you for that personal story. The Lord alone knows the heart, doesn’t He, while we still be judge by outward appearances?

      God bless you and those who choose to tell their story in creative ways.

      Cavin Harper

  3. Mike Rueckert

    As Jimmy Buffet said “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling”