… we started talking about tattoos and why so many of his generation have them. He explained it to me and showed me his.
A few weeks ago I was in the Pittsburgh area doing to work with the Matthew 25 initiative. After one of the interviews, I talked with The Rev. Charles Treichler of South Side Anglican Church. He hinted at a topic that I wanted to explore further, so I invited him to stay around and take a few questions in another video. I wanted to explore how he reaches the ‘millennial’ group in his neighborhood. That conversation got us going to topics that were very, very insightful: art, culture, hope, generational angst, and the Gospel.
In fact, Charlie was one of the most articulate young leaders I have ever spoken with about the subject of art, gospel, culture, and the Cross. You can see that on his website. Beautiful art there.
But then we started talking about tattoos…
That is the part of the interview that opened my eyes. Did you know that 36% of this age group has a tattoo? Does this surprise you? Are you ‘put off’ by tattoos? One writer, Adam Di Stephano, had this to say about it:
“Tattoos are an art form. Some people like oil paintings, others like ancient sculptures. I think there’s nothing more beautiful than a well inked tattoo. I love the stories behind tattoos. Most tattoos have meaning, and generally it represents an important moment in a person’s life. There’s something compelling about the permanence of a tattoo.”
When I meet someone with a tattoo, I have NEVER been told to mind my own business when I ask them about it. I simply say this: “I see your design there…can I ask you about it?” And the tattooees (Yes, that is a word in the making.) will open up and tell you the story behind their tattoo. I have heard some of the most heart-rending stories about their life, their hopes, a loved one, a grandmother, and some deepest desires.
Leviticus 19:28 notwithstanding, this generation sees their tattoos as nearly ‘sacramental’: outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual truth. And, in this way, they are a symbol of the impact of the post-modern era on all of us. Their tattoo represents a personalized version of what is generally denied for our society as a whole: TRUTH. These icons represent a truth for life that is so true for them that they will make it a permanent part of them. It is a ‘self-truth’, in a way; an icon of something that meant something transcendent for the one who got inked. It is ‘a truth’ known by the tattooed; a truth designated for that very specific person.
Again, this is a conundrum to me. The generation is looking for a truth so permanent that they will etch it on their body. And yet, most will question that a truth could actually exist and has already been delivered and received and can be fully known. (I John 1:1-2) But here is where Charlie sees an entry point for the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tattoos represent not just a style or a pattern of ink. They represent an entire generation’s search and yearning for something permanent, enduring, and beautiful. Enter the Gospel.
Charlie Treichler helped me see how the tattoos are like an Orthodox icon that a person wears. You are meant to see it…but also to see through it. And he reveals his to me…and to you. Fr. Charlie has some very cool things to say about his ‘body icon’. I invite you to watch this brief snippet of our interview.