Not long ago, I had an interesting night. I spent a couple of hours at a tattoo parlor. I guess you still call them parlors. My grandmother had a parlor, but it looked nothing like this one.
I visited a place called Spaded & Jaded in Tulsa. Six tattoo artists wanted to raise money for cancer research, so they decided to hold a 24-hour tattooathon. If you donated $50, you got a free tattoo.
The event started on Friday at 5 p.m. and went until 5 the next evening. Caleb Moore, the pastor of Tulsa, Logos, asked if his church could supply free food. Without much fanfare, the church set up a barbecue grill and a table with all of the fixings for hot dogs, along with chips and drinks. At 5 p.m., the line began to form. Soon, the little waiting room was packed tight and a large group gathered outside. That night, I made a few observations:
1. Those gathered to receive tattoos represented an unreached people group largely ignored by most churches. We talk a lot about unreached people groups overseas, but right here is an ever-growing group of people who embrace a different lifestyle. For the most part, the more tattoos and body piercings they have, the more uncomfortable we become. Sometimes we need to be like Jesus, Who Scripture says was “listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46). If you take the time to talk with people, you’ll find that their needs and ours are the same.
2. They are not by and large anti-Jesus or God; they are anti-church. Many of their tattoos have religious overtones, and they love to talk about spiritual things. But when they come to our churches, what Sunday School class do we put them in? I’m not sure we have a place for a man whose nickname is “Goat.” They think the church is for those who are good, not a sanctuary for those in pain, troubled or different.
3. They have a community. Those who signed up for a tattoo at 10 that night didn’t get in to see an artist until 5 the next morning. And no one ever waited alone. Friends, strangers, all waited together. If you walked up, they would move over and give you a place to sit. Even without words, you knew you were accepted. When they found out I didn’t have a tattoo, they offered to take up a collection to buy me one. I was touched, but declined. I wonder if this group understands community better than today’s church.
4. This culture attracts people of all ages, occupations, ethnicity and social status. I saw students, homeless people, grandmothers, businessmen, bikers, veterans, Christians and cowboys all standing in one line. I wish we had this same line waiting to get into our churches.
5. I asked a number of them what kind of tattoo they were getting. All those I heard about were connected to relationships. One man showed me two tattoos he already had, the same as those of his departed grandfather. He got emotional as he talked about his grandfather and how much he admired him. But that night, he was getting a tattoo of a sparrow holding a ribbon with his grandmother’s name on it in its beak. I talked to another woman who was getting a tattoo of the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon with her mother’s name below. Doctors caught the cancer in the early stages, and her mom is now five years cancer-free. She wanted to celebrate with a tattoo.
6. They affirmed and celebrated together. No matter what tattoo someone got, everyone admired it. The group praised each tattoo whether on the back, ankle or arm. “If it matters to you, it matters to us” seemed to be the unwritten theme of the night.
7. Outsiders were welcome. Have you ever seen a children’s book where the object is to identify which three objects are alike and which one doesn’t belong? It didn’t take long for people to notice that I was the odd one out. But as my son took me through the back door to meet some of the artists, they all welcomed me. Even the legendary artist, “Goat,” stopped what he was doing and welcomed me.
What did I learn? We are the same everywhere. We are all looking for meaningful relationships. We all need community, acceptance and validation. Sometimes, I wish the world could find that more often in the body of Christ. Mom and Dad, if your children don’t find community, acceptance at home and in the church, the world will provide alternatives.
I’m glad there is a church that will stand outside a tattoo parlor and love the people Jesus loved. Way to go, Logos Church!