what i learned from a tattoo…

20 Aug

Ran into someone on Sunday I hadn’t met before (I’m a pastor, it happens).

Noticed several lines of print tattooed on his arm, and feeling just slightly forward, I grabbed his arm and asked what he had written on himself (I think I may have verbally asked permission before making the grab for his arm, but there’s no telling, all I know is he smiled and didn’t run away).

Even without my glasses I could discern Greek.

Oh, I like you.

I often do tattoo consultations for folks who want Hebrew, Greek or Latin phrases tattooed on them – frequently enough that I could probably start my own Scripture Tattoo Consultation business on the side.

So I was curious.

This is what I saw…

 tattoo_phil 1_21

Some of those witnessing my reading it aloud and then translating it immediately wished I had messed with him and said it means something like “I likey do the cha-cha in a pink tutu.” A missed opportunity.

I just read it and then high-fived him.

For to me to live is Christ (chree-stows) and to die is gain (ker-doughs).

Christos and kerdos.

I memorized Philippians two decades ago. Knew this verse long before that. It made my early memorization list – especially when confronted by the spector of possible cancer at eighteen and a life-altering major surgery.

But seeing it tattooed on his arm, I really saw it.

Funny how that is.

It’s like carrying a picture of your kids in your wallet for twenty years and then suddenly seeing that picture and it’s like the first time. It’s like running into someone you’ve known your entire life and suddenly really seeing her in a whole new light. Hopefully it won’t take a tattoo to do that for all of Scripture. That’s a lot of ink. Talk about the illustrated man…

Christos and kerdos.

Seeing my old friend engraved on someone’s skin, I realized I had gotten his first and last name reversed all my life. I’ve read the verse wrong in my head and heart. All this time.

I’ve read it “For to me to live is gain and to die is Christ.” All these years. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

We could call it a quite appropriately capitalist reading. Live to gain, to profit, to accumulate, to succeed, to do as much as you can. Kerdos. It’s what you have to show for all your hard work, it’s your return on investment. So invest your life. Do good works. Make a profit – spiritually, emotionally, economically – on every level. And then you die and get Christ. Kerdos then Christos. And religion is, of course, here to lead us into greater kerdos – on every level (especially economically, please oh please oh please) – right? And if we’re not in the “Jesus came to make us healthy and wealthy” crowd, then at least we are looking for spiritual gain translated into consistent spiritual highs, yes?

But it’s Christos, then kerdos. And if you’ve lived long enough or hard enough, you need no further warming to the notion of death being gain.

But to live is Christ. That’s what really hit me. Christ. No mere devotion to a moral man, to a mere Jesus. The Cosmic Christ. The One who fills all things. Life. The Light shining upon every human being. Every. Human. Being. The Centering force behind, in, through all reality. The One who slays the most malevolent darkness with but a breath, and who weeps with a groaning creation. Effulgence. Substance. Transcendent. Immanent. Word.

What wide-angle view! And how content I can be with so much…less

To live Christ. To possess such an expansive view, no, rather to be so owned by it, by him, and to know it as I go step by step through each day into whatever mess has been left on the floor of life’s barn.tevye_1

I found myself sighing with Tevye as he pondered what life would be if he were a rich man.

But he was.

We are.

All things are yours.

Whether Paul
or Apollos
or Cephas
or _______________
or the world
or life
or death
or the present
or the future
all are yours
and you are Christ’s
and Christ

Quite a lot, that, to be inside the ink of that tattoo…


Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Faith, haverings, Nature of God


Tags: , , , ,

4 responses to “what i learned from a tattoo…

  1. Jodene Presler

    September 13, 2013 at 1:31 am

    This is my son’s tattoo. I wasn’t happy with his choice of getting one and having
    it all over his arm but he is an adult and makes his own decisions. I fleetingly thought, kinda cool for him to choose that particular verse and in Greek but man it’ll be there forever! He wants to be a witness for Christ with it, to have it be a conversation starter, to arouse the curiosity of the unchurched and to be a daily imprint of what Christianity really is. I find it amazing for his pastor to comment on it and to issue his challenge that hits us between the eyes with the truth of his eye/heart opening blog. Thank you. My daughter also has a tattoo written in Greek or Hebrew that says ‘inner beauty’. All of their life I’ve tried to remind my darling children that outward beauty is ugly if not held with inner beauty first. I’m proud of their spiritual growth and what they are doing for Him. Thank you for sharing your insight. This reader is consistently awed by what tools God uses to remind us of His words no matter where we are.

  2. wordhaver

    September 13, 2013 at 2:44 am

    I love this, Jodene! 🙂

  3. Alexa

    December 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Dear Sir, your short entry has blessed my life and reminded me that life isn’t about living what you want to have or to achieve, to live like the world does, but it’s to follow Christ and to do his will in your life. thank you for reminding me this. I just happened to stumble upon this today since I’ve been wanting the verse tattooed for some time now, and I praise God that google had your blog on the first page.

  4. wordhaver

    December 2, 2014 at 2:46 am

    So glad!


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