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Tattoo You

Jason Micheli —  January 13, 2016 — 4 Comments

‘My name’s Hawk’ he said, offering me his meaty orange and scarlet painted hand, flames I think, whose red tongues lapped seamlessly into the illustration running up his arm.

My hand disappeared into his and I thought to myself: Of course your name’s Hawk

Shorter than me, he looked like a squat version of one half of the Road Warriors, the Mad Max inspired WWF tag team I idolized as a kid. Maybe Hawk was a fanboy too because that clothes-lining, from the top rope, road warrior was also named Hawk. Road_Warrior_Hawk

’Is that Hawk? Or Mr. Hawk?’ I asked…like a tool. He did me the courtesy of faking a chuckle before opening the waist high ‘Staff Only’ gate and ushering back into his studio.

Once I realized a few months ago that my stage-serious cancer wasn’t going to kill me, at least not for now, I passed the infusion and transfusion time sketching a sort of bucket list, a concept nearly ruined for me in 2007 by that dentures dud of a movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, a ‘film’ which proved not everything is made awesome simply by the presence of Morgan Freeman. It’s hard to sail around the world on a pastor’s salary and I’ve already read all the Dostoyevsky I ever want to read so I settled upon less ambitious but no less important items for my Cancer Didn’t Kill Me Yet Bucket List, such as

#3: Spend More Time with Friends

#7: Take My Job Less Seriously and

#2: Try to be Less of an A-hole to My Wife. 

#6 on the list was something I’d always had in the back of my mind but had never gotten around to doing, getting a tattoo. Not only did the scare of the past year compel me, any tattoo I did get, I discerned, should in some fashion testify to the struggle we’d experienced and to any epiphanies with which we’d emerged on the other end of our nightmare.

Jacob, in Genesis, laid an altar to remember (and maybe warn away others) the place where God had struggled with him. Lacking any ebeneezers, I went to a tattoo parlor instead. So it was that I sat a few afternoons ago in Hawk’s brightly animated studio, my arm draped over a vinyl cushion, sucking on lollipops to stave off the sugar crash he’d warned me the needle would provoke. It’s a surprisingly intimate moment, having someone inscribe what might be a terrible mistake into your flesh. Like sex, it’s sweaty and you can’t take it back and, like sex, I felt it would’ve been even more awkward in the absence of pillow talk. Or, in this case, banter.

No doubt I’m judging, but I assumed the Republican Primary or America’s refugee policy to lie outside his conversational wheelhouse, so I asked Hawk:

‘What’s the strangest tattoo you ever did for someone?’

‘Please don’t tell me it was a dolphin leaping through a clovered trinity or a Chinese script character that actually translates to ‘Kick Me’ I joked. But his countenance fell. He looked bothered. Disturbed even. He turned the ink gun off and laid it down. Staring at the floor, he looked as though all that was missing was a fire around which he could tell this horror story. He was quiet for several moments before shaking his head and said: ‘Dude, this one time…this guy had me ink this giant butterfly on his entire back.’

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. ‘Well, that’s not quite Flannery O’Connor’ I laughed, ‘but that doesn’t sound too strange.’

‘No, dude, that’s not it. You see, the body of the butterfly…’ he looked back at the fake wood floor, ‘the body of the butterfly was a…giant _________.’

Since I’ve only recently petitioned the United Methodist powers-that-be to be reinstated off of medical leave, let’s just say the word Hawk shared with me rhymes with ‘Loner.’

‘Seriously?’ I asked him.

‘Yeah dude, and where the feet on the butterfly are supposed to go he wanted me to put a pair of _________. ‘

‘Of course. It would look ridiculous without them’ I deadpanned. He started to grab his ink gun but put it down again when I asked him: ‘Did you ask him? What was the story behind that tattoo?’

‘Naw dude. I figured it was best I didn’t know.’

‘Probably a good call.’ He started again on my arm. I watched him, looking down at the upside down A he had started to outline.


‘This is the Alpha and Omega, right?’ he asked over the whirr of the gun and the Dead Weather playing over the Bose.

He must’ve read my ‘How’d you know that?’ expression because he added, ‘We get a lot of Christians in here.’

‘I imagine so’ I said. ‘I guess crosses have more staying power than the Tasmanian Devil or Calvin and Hobbes.’ He did me another favor by laughing.

‘These here, then, this means the Beginning and the End, right?’ he pointed to the other letters in the corner of the cross. I nodded, unwrapping another lollipop.

‘Then this,’ and with the needle he outlined the crow in which the cross and letters were all contained, ‘must be Peter denying Jesus? The cock crowing three times?’ ‘Why does it look like it’s falling?’ he asked, sounding genuinely curious now.

‘Because while Peter’s denying Jesus, Jesus is falling down, carrying his cross.’ I explained.

‘Carrying it…for Peter’s sake, huh?’ Hawk closed the gospel loop.

‘Yeah. In a way,’ I said, ‘you can think of it as the ultimate tramp stamp.’

‘The three?’ he asked, ‘the Trinity?’

‘No, but that works too. Stations of the Cross, the third one.’

‘Why’d you decide to get a tattoo?’ he asked.

‘I’ve always wanted one,’ I said, grimacing at how cliche that sounded ‘and then cancer nearly killed me this year.’

‘How’d you settle on this image?’ he asked, wiping the blood that was dripping down from my cross.

I sucked the lollipop spit back into my mouth. It was my turn to look at the floor.

‘There’s nothing like cancer and your own looming death to point out just how imperfect and unfaithful- scared and sinful- you are’ I confessed.

‘When you’re afraid you’ve already done most of the living you’re going to do and all the important decisions you’ll make in your life have already been made, you take account. And no matter how many times you count, you fear you don’t measure up.’

He’d stopped the ink gun again and was considering me, like I would at someone in my office who’d revealed more than they knew.

‘Anyway,’ I mumbled through the lollipop I’d returned to my mouth, ‘this past year I’ve sought refuge in the fact that, in Jesus, God takes all those experiences and emotions of ours into himself’ I said, unintentionally saving the most important point for last.

‘God doesn’t cause our pain and suffering.

God doesn’t shun us because of our shortcomings.

God makes them his own.’

And, as though an affirmation, he stretched out the two solitary syllables: ‘Dude.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I think maybe I wanted the tattoo because I’ve had to remind myself of it a lot this year.’

He nodded like he understood or sympathized. ‘So…’ Hawk struggled to summarize, ’this basically means s#$% happens but, in Jesus, God shares in it with us.’

I nodded. ‘I thought an image like this would make a better tattoo than, say, a quote like yours.’

He chuckled. ‘You go to church?’ he asked me. ‘You don’t look the type.’

‘Just about every Sunday’ I said.

Andy Crouch in his book, Culture Making, argues that the early Christians transformed their culture and eventually the world by converting those in their society who were at the top of culture, the culture-makers. Artists and writers and leaders. With the notable exceptions of the Catholic Church and some emergent churches, this effort to reach culture-creators has largely been abandoned by the Church.

We’ve got contemporary Christian music, which is largely pop imitation of other bad pop music. We’ve got our own Christian book and film industries which primarily create content for Christians by Christians.

We don’t have an intentional reach to those you’d about in the Arts section of the NY Times, but they are the ones who presently creating what will be mainstream/pop down the road.

So, I’ve taken Crouch to heart and want to make a deliberate push to the artists in our community and region.

Submit me a tattoo design based on one of the Stations of the Cross passages below. I’ll get a jury of 1 professional artist, a pastor, and a lay person to judge them. ‘First prize’ will win $500 and the honor of me getting your image tattooed on me during Holy Week. 

All of the submissions will be a part of our Stations of the Cross exhibit that will be open to the church and community during Holy Week 2013.

Submit to: 

More Information at

If you got an artist in the family, if you got skills, if you’re a teacher and want to pass this on to students, if you’re a pastor and have someone in your congregation that might like to participate, if you know someone who doesn’t consider themselves a Christian but might like to try this…please pass this on.

Here are details from the flyer:

Rev Jason Micheli of Aldersgate United Methodist Church invites artists and students in the region to create an original illustration of one of the traditional scenes of the Stations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows, are the ancient way Christians have reflected and meditated upon human sin and Jesus’ sufferings during the weeks leading up to Easter.

Each ‘station’ is an image from the story of Christ’s Passion as told in the Gospels.

From the inception of the church, visual art has been used to help depict and understand the passion. The images submitted will be part of that legacy as Aldersgate and the surrounding

community will use them as part of their Holy Week devotion.

The designs will be juried. Top Prize: $500.00

And Rev Jason Micheli, will get your design tattooed on himself during Holy Week. Members of the Aldersgate community will also participate in getting tattoos selected by our juror.

To participate…. Deadline: February 15

Station 1- Wash (John 13)

The night he’s betrayed Jesus takes off his robe, takes on the role of a servant and washes his friends’ dirty feet. It’s a symbolic action showing how God has taken off his divinity and come to us as a servant, Jesus. What it means to follow him, Jesus says, is for us to wash one another’s feet. To serve.

Station 2- Pray (Mark 14.32-42)

In the Garden, knowing his ‘hour’ of suffering/glory is fast approaching, Jesus prays to God to move this ‘cup’ from him; that is, to move Jesus off the path of suffering. The fear, alienation and sorrow Jesus experiences in the Garden is meant to evoke the experience we all share apart from God.

Station 3- Betray (Mark 14.43-52)

Jesus is betrayed by his friend Judas. He’s betrayed by a kiss for a token amount

of money.

Station 4- Put It Away (Luke 22.47-53)

When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Peter, a disciple, pulls out a sword and attacks them. Having already taught his followers that ‘blessed are the peacemakers; Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword.

Station 5 – Deny (Luke 22.54-71)

As predicted by Jesus, Peter denies ever even knowing Jesus. Denies him three times as the rooster crows.

Station 6 – Crown (Mark 15)

Not matching our expected notions of power or majesty, Jesus is mocked,

scourged and crowned with thorns.

Station 7 – Carry (Luke 23)

Beaten and forced to carry his cross to his place of execution, Jesus is helped by a bystander in the crowd. Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross while the crowd hurls insults at him.

Station 8 – Forgive (Luke 23)

Jesus is crucified, but as he dies on the cross he prays that God forgive his

enemies for ‘they know not what they do.’

Station 9 – Promise (Luke 23)

Jesus promises heaven to a guilty thief who is being crucified on the cross next to him.

Station 10 – Rise (John 20.24-29)

Jesus rises on the third day and invites Thomas, who still doubts it’s Jesus, to touch his wounds for proof.

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