Friday, October 9, 2015

Why I Don’t Have a Cross Tattoo

I don’t have a cross tattoo.

I don’t have a cross tattoo because I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t have any tattoos for three reasons: (1) I’m afraid of the needle, (2) I don’t think one would look good on me, and (3) my Good Wife won’t let me get one.

If I were to get a tattoo, though, it would probably be a Mercer Bear, a guitar, or a book (in that list you gain further insight into why I should not get one). I would not get a cross tattoo. In fact, I would not get a tattoo of any Christian symbol. I would not get one for the same reason that I don’t wear a fish lapel pin, a cross necklace, “Christian” t-shirts, or any other such outward and artificial pronouncement that I’m a Christian.

I just don’t think they offer a meaningful witness to my following of Jesus. Put more bluntly: they don’t prove a thing. And they might even be hypocritical. I have enough of a struggle with hypocrisy; I don’t need to compound it by saying to folks, “Hey, look at me! (And I sure am glad you can’t see my heart!)”.

Really, now, what good is a cross on my body if I haven’t taken up my cross and followed Jesus? What good is a “Christian” t-shirt if my life isn’t clothed in the love of Christ? What good is “Christian” jewelry if my life isn’t adorned with the grace of God?

(Now, let me hasten to add that there are plenty of people who can wear such outward symbols of their faith with integrity. They wear them as a sincere expression of a genuine faith, and I say “More power to them.” I’m talking about those of us who struggle with their integrity and to those who should.)

There’s an old joke about the police officer who pulled a driver over. When he approached her, she angrily asked what she had done. “Well, the officer said, “I heard you blast your horn at that fellow who pulled out in front of you and I saw you make that obscene gesture at him. So when I saw the ‘Follow Me to Church’ bumper sticker on this car, I figured it must be stolen.”

Speaking of police officers and vehicles, there’s been a bit of brouhaha about some law enforcement departments putting “In God We Trust” decals on their cars. I won’t get into the whole separation of church and state issue—you know, the whole question of whether government owned vehicles should have a religious statement on them. If I did, someone would just point out that “In God We Trust” appears on our money, which actually gets back around to my point: isn’t it ironic (don’t you think?) that we use money that proclaims “In God We Trust” when, in fact, more of us trust in the money than trust in God? Or that we try to trust in both of them at once? (I’m pretty sure Jesus had something to say about that.)

But I’m talking about decals on law enforcement vehicles, not about money. Here are my two questions about them: (1) What difference do the decals make if the people riding in the car don’t actually trust in God? After all, trust in God is something you have on the inside, and if you don’t have it there, shouting it from the rooftops (or from the back of your car) won’t make any difference. (2) What difference do the decals make if the people riding in the car do actually trust in God? After all, trust in God is something you have on the inside, and if you have it there, shouting it from the rooftops (or from the back of your car) won’t make any difference.

I recently moved to Upson County and I celebrated my birthday last month so, when it was time to renew my car’s registration, I came to Thomaston to do it. (Let me insert here that all of the ladies working in the office were very nice and professional in their dealings with me.) When the very nice lady helping me asked me if I wanted an Upson County sticker or did I have an “In God We Trust” sticker, I heard myself saying, “Well, I trust in God, but I’ll take the Upson County sticker.” I have three reasons for making that choice. First, I like to know what county cars are from and I like folks to know which county I’m from. I think it’s interesting. Second, my non-scientific research indicates that folks with the “In God We Trust” sticker on their car tag drive much faster than those with their county sticker. I don’t need to be tempted to be so presumptuous of God’s favor. I’ve already given you my third reason: I am aware of my hypocrisy. I know that I don’t trust God like I should. It makes me nervous to proclaim otherwise.

I have for a long time been intrigued by the fact that Jesus says two seemingly opposite things in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others, in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). He goes on to say that we who follow him should give our offerings and offer our prayers in secret. “Don’t do those good things in ways that let other people see you doing them,” Jesus says.

But elsewhere in the sermon, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city build on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

So which way is it, Jesus? Do you want my faith to be seen or unseen? Do you want it to be visible or invisible? Do you want me to trumpet my faith in you through “Christian” t-shirts, “Christian” jewelry, “In God We Trust” stickers, or even cross tattoos?

Or—and I really think this might be it—do you want me to grow so much in my following of you, in my trust in you, and in your gracious love of me that it can be seen in the ways that I talk and act, and especially in the ways that I treat other people?

Maybe all the outward decorations in the world don’t really say a thing about my faith.

Maybe all the inward realities of my relationship with you can’t help but honestly and legitimately show themselves in the ways I live . . .

[This post originally appeared in Ruffin's Renderings in the Thomaston (GA) Times on Friday, October 9, 2015]

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