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Tattoos and Sawdust

A while back Ruthie and I were visiting in a Sabbath School and the subject of tattoos came up. I’m not sure why, but in many classes, if a teacher permits, the discussion can take any detour a class member chooses. You’ve been there, too. Anyway, the gentleman who brought up the subject went into a fervent rant about how ugly tattoos are, how they desecrate the body God created, how under no conditions should they ever be permitted on any one at any time. He was certain he knew that a “tat” was a clear disclosure of a sinister, warped character. Others joined in though they were not as ardent as he.

As the tattoo police began to describe the various kinds of disciplinary options open to the church, a demure little gray haired lady, probably in her 60’s, sitting near the front of the class stopped the conversation in mid-flight by admitting that she had a tattoo, though she would not say where. It got really quiet. Finally she spoke again to clarify that it had been a long time ago when she was young and not thinking as clearly as she would later. She had tried to have it removed but it had created a substantial debris field – which she elected not to display.

The teacher changed the subject. He shouldn’t have. It was a classic teaching moment to have the class process how it relates to people who have beliefs or practices different from their own. Let me be clear – I am not a tattoo fan. I don’t have one; I plan not ever to have one. That doesn’t make me spiritual, but if I am critical of one who does, it identifies me as judgmental and if I understand correctly, that is more problematic to God than tattoos.

I love people with tattoos, and if I don’t, I need to fall on my face in repentance until I do. Do people with tattoos have some kind of deep-seated need which they are trying to cover with ink? I have no idea, Jesus never asked me to answer that question, or even to consider it. He asked only that I love them, accept them, befriend them, treat them as the brothers and sisters they are since He and I and they all have the same Father.

This is the type of real-world lab that helps a praying church set prayer agendas for itself. The teacher might have read a sentence from the most famous sermon ever preached that asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3) and then called the class to a time of deep contrition and cleansing. Now that’s Sabbath School in a praying church.

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