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…
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.
I found myself sighing with Tevye as he pondered what life would be if he were a rich man.
But he was.
All things are yours.
or the world
or the present
or the future
all are yours
and you are Christ’s
Quite a lot, that, to be inside the ink of that tattoo…