by Scott Bessenecker
I find it fascinating that Jesus was resurrected in a mutilated form. If I had any say about my resurrected form, it would definitely not include any scars or defects which mar my image. But Jesus returned from death with gaping wounds. They are the visible reminders of his love for us.
A few years ago I decided that if Jesus could mark Himself for me, then I could mark myself for Him. So I got a tattoo. It’s of a Coptic cross.
My family and I led a group of students to Cairo, Egypt, and spent the summer living in a Coptic monastery located inside a garbage collector’s community. It was a powerful summer of costly love that shaped all of us. We loved, and were loved, by Coptic brothers and sisters who live and work in the garbage and recycling industry in Cairo.
Every weekend, Coptic parents bring their children to Girgis, a man stationed just outside of the network of cave churches in the garbage community. They pay him to tattoo their children with the Coptic cross on their wrist or between the thumb and forefinger. It is not a fashion statement, but a prophetic one. It is one which embraces their status as a minority and an underclass.
It’s as if they are saying, “We mark this child for Christ even though it will mean exclusion or harassment in this environment. Their identity is first and foremost as a citizen of the kingdom.”
I decided that this was how I wanted to mark myself. The tattoo has become a gateway to discussion. It allows me to bear witness to my solidarity with Coptic brothers and sisters and to announce my commitment to Christ, to the marginalized, and to the Global Church.
I was sitting next to an enlisted man in army fatigues on a plane once. As a pacifist, I confess that I sometimes find myself wrestling with an unholy attitude toward those in the military. This man asked about my tattoo and I described why it was important to me. “So good to meet you,” the man replied, thrusting out his hand to shake mine. “I’m a chaplain in the US Army, and the men I serve are so very open to Jesus.”
It was a humanizing reminder for me of the people of faith who serve in the military and my tattoo became a doorway for deep conversation. It has served to open lots of beautiful discussions which allow people to know a few important things about me and for me to hear about the things which are important to them.
At the very least, tattoos are cosmetic ornaments—like our clothing or hairstyle—that tell others a little bit about ourselves. But for many, the permanence of a tattoo becomes a picture of the things we hold precious. Quite often, they are windows on one’s soul.
If you have a tattoo, be ready to talk about the things that matter to you and why that mark is important. If you don’t, ask others about their tattoos. They are invitations to discussions of significance.
Scott Bessenecker (@Bessenecker) is associate director of mission for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each year, he helps to mobilize thousands of students to high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods in the U.S. and to dozens of nations around the world. He is author or editor of five books, including his new release Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex. Scott also blogs at www.OverturningTabels.net.