Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tattoo Man

When he handed me my change from across the counter, dark bold ink from his left forearm shouted out, "John 3:16."   It got my attention.  Then I saw the cross etched in ink just above it.  Without really searching for it, I also saw on his other arm another Biblical reference.  The right arm read, "Psalms 23."   I wondered what was under his shirt.  The Beatitudes?  I Corinthians 13?    Maybe a picture of Jesus?  Had the convenience store not been so  busy and I had not been in a hurry to make a dentist appointment, I would have spent some time talking to the Tattoo Man.  As it was, I left with my questions and thinking about "Parker's Back."

"Parker's Back"  is a short story by Flannery O'Connor.  I used her stories so much in preaching while in Vidalia that a couple gave me a volume collection of her stories.   The Tattoo Man encounter caused me to dig Flannery out of the box of stored books and read about Parker once again.  O.E. Parker had tattoos over every part of his body except for the middle of his back.  The story begins with him courting a self-righteous sin sniffing woman whom he should not have married and ends with her chasing him out of the house with a broom.  Between those two moments, he runs his tractor into a single tree in the middle of the field.  He is thrown from the tractor and looks up to see the tree ablaze and his shoes off his feet and on the ground.  It is a life changing religious experience for Parker who then walks barefoot to town to get a tattoo of Christ on the middle of his back.  While Obadiah Elihue Parker is sure this tattoo will please his wife, Sarah Ruth, instead she screams, "Idolatry!" beats the picture of Jesus until it is battered and bleeding, and drives her husband out of the house.

Some folks just don't fit inside our narrow believer stereotypes.  As I saw The Tattoo Man, I realized this about myself.  Parker and Sarah Ruth reminded me as well.  Just as not everyone comes to faith in Christ the same way, not everyone expresses and lives out that faith in the same way.  Having or not having a John 3:16 tattoo does not make me, or someone else, more or less a believer.  Like the Word says, it is always a matter of the heart. 

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