When Your Kid Wants a Piercing, Your Spouse a Tattoo

It’s tough livin’ in a largely non-Christian world. We know it. ‘Tougher still raisin’ kids and grands. It’s tough just teachin’, or walkin’ the mall. Jeans fall from young hips. And language, shall we say, rolls down the corridors off the lips of young and old, male and female. What’s a body to do? A Christian, a believer. And how? These questions are bigger than this message. But let’s try to help. After all, some of you have asked me to. I mean, it’s a whole new world out there. I’ve known it at least since the ‘90’s and the arrival of our then new bishop, Felton May. At a “hello” meeting, he asked us clergy to introduce ourselves and churches. “Give me some creative way to locate you.” My line, “We’re two miles west of the Beltway at Exit 18, and conveniently located 2 blocks west of Little Vinny’s Tattoo Parlor!” Even then, folks were lookin’ for a sign. A brand! A way to distinguish themselves from the rest, signal where they belong, and project where they hope they’re headed. It’s all about identity in a world/culture where identity-theft means way more than losing your credit card. You can loose your soul, too. That’s worth remembering ‘next time your kid wants a piercing, your spouse a(nother) tattoo! Know what’s at stake, as a spiritual matter, and it might help you cope as a practical matter!

Distinction. Belonging. Direction. There are few more pressing issues for believers and their own, especially in these times when everybody wants a brand name, from their sneakers to their souls!

You wanna talk distinction? Setting yourself off? Sayin’ who you are, and how fine. ‘Finer than the rest. It’s hard to beat Goliath, the giant of Gath. The Goad of Israel. The Bedeviler of David and Belittler of David’s God. ‘Founder, the original Champion Apparel line. 9’ Goliath made NBA Shaq a shrimp. Bronze helmet. (‘Bet he polished it. Show-off!) Chain mail armor, heavy as lead. (Maybe a Nike Swoosh @ the neck!) Bronze leggings and javelin (off the shoulder, don’t you know!) ‘Spear like a weaver's beam, iron-tipped. Maybe an NFL barbed wire Tat, both arms! Mean dude! Even before he taunted Israel across the hilltops he distinguished himself from all the  rest. The notice in all this personal artwork: Look at me! It’s all about me. Self-centered. Sure. Selfish, likely. But look deeper, look spiritually. Not even Goliath is big enough to feel entirely secure in himself. You? Showing off reassures him about him! Us/us. When all you believe in is yourself, your self is all you got! [All repeat.] My title with a tattoo in it means no harm or disrespect to those who have one. Personal art is everywhere. From lipstick to ‘ball jerseys, pierced parts/colored hair, jewelry/toupees. All this, born of a world with a God no bigger. ‘Of a culture that conceives no eternity longer than an ad campaign, no judgment more condemning than the hisses (or disinterest) of the crowd.

So how do believers get beyond all this; guide, protect, teach our kids? Know and teach, show and tell this. As you are, however you are, YOU are God’s artwork! Old David hits the note just right in his 100th song, “Know that the Lord, he made us, not we ourselves; we are his people, sheep of his pasture.” ed. Someone’s bigger, fashioned us, declared us his most exquisite art. (‘Little less than God, crowned with glory and honor! Ps. 8) You and I can’t improve on God’s artwork. So we don’t have to! Gaudy Goliath is a goner! Runty little David rules the day. He needs not improve himself with army-armor. He arms himself with trust that “the Lord, he has made us, and not we ourselves.” A stone is sufficient; you don’t need a boulder, no matter the size of the bully. Believers believe in the handiwork of God. If you touch kids, teach ‘em David/Goliath, the Psalms, the Creation story. (Refresh your own memory.) And if you need a prop to prove the point, try this. ‘Next time you dress or un…, note every item bears a label that says who made it. Designer tags are worth a fortune. Yours is better. Find it like this. Index finger up, down… belly button bound. Inny or outty, if you got a belly button, you got a label. “Heavensent!” That’s your brand name. God, you’re maker. No finer distinction, better label. No bigger challenge to be who you are. This is radical. …Redeeming!

Belonging. Our era  l o n g s for belonging. And seeks signs of the same at every turn. Don’t you? I do. Team colors, school colors, gang colors. The IN group. The cool-ers. Even the nerds got a sign (Pocket Protectors Forever!) Families have their own thing, kids theirs. A recent NEA study finds 65% of all elementary, 85% of all high school behavior issues belonging-related. Street crime claims 'Same game. Bad guys have their territory, their markers and their own clear message. Beware if you don’t belong! And, from the benign to the beasty, every belonging comes with its own set of values, code of conduct (and yes, dress). If kids claim your heart and curl your hair, or color it gray, understand this well. Most mis-adventure is a cry for, or a testing  of belonging. Wanna intervene, fix the fam. or sculpt a better scholar at school, ask first: what’s the distinction issue here? What are we tryin’ to prove? BUT, ask the belonging question a real close second. How is this soul just longing to belong? And how can I help… even in a holy way?

We read today of Doubting Thomas. Surely the lines, “Unless I see the nailprints, touch the side,” are about believing/disappointment. But they are also about believing/belonging! Thomas’ cry is about being restored as one of Jesus’ belov-ed, one of the bonded-and- sealed, as much as about the truth of Christ raised-up. And what he finds as the sign of his place is the same sign to which we hue. The cross. The cross. Some generations sing, “Jesus keep me near the cross.” The young more likely, “Show me all the sacred places”… but both end at the same place… “Take me to the cross!” Our team jersey is the simplest robe/garment. Our colors: repent-blood-red, and forgiven-driven-snow white! Our hazing is no horror. Just the sign of the cross on our forehead painted in baptismal oil that soaks in, and never fades away! Our territory is wherever trouble lurks, on the street or in the soul. And our gang is nothing less than the Beloved Community for whom Christ died. Wanna find an antidote for the illness of the world? Carry, conceive, imagine, touch: the cross. Teach your kids, too. (Maybe it’s a wise thing that large portions of the church neither eat nor pray, rise nor rest, without making the sign of the cross.) One way or other, claim and give your loved ones the cross, the Belonging Sign of Christ!

Direction. I need to end here. And I can do it fast. (‘Luia!) Know where you’re goin’ if you’re plannin’ to get there. Don’t miss a chance to teach and tell the young. “To the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  Through the street of the city; also, on either side, the tree of life with its twelve fruits, month upon month; and the leaves of that tree: for the healing of the nations. Nothing left to curse, everything shot-through with God and the Lamb, his servants praising him. They’ll see his face, his name shall mark their foreheads. Night shall be no more; no need of light, lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light. And they shall reign for ever and ever. Distinction. Belonging. Direction. How to be an overcomer!

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