You are not unfamiliar with uniforms. They are very much part of most of our lives one way or the other. To wear them, you have to be authorised to do so. They have both functional, infor-mational, and ceremonial qualities. Just looking at a uniform tells you considerable information about the wearer. That’s important to help you know how to react or respond.
I’m not unused to uniforms either. I wear clerical apparel with a ‘uniform mentality’. I don’t have name patches or insignia for information as various items of clothing – the stole (and maybe chasuble) at the altar, the preaching scarf at the pulpit, and the clerical shirt out in the world. People expect me to wear black shirts and, as you’re well aware, I do but not all that often. Invariably people ask me whether the colour means something (a rank? a church? a function?) and it gives me an opportunity to try and say that church and clergy are not remote but people ‘just like you’. (How so is usually another story!)
I’m writing this because I was in the supermarket the other day and I saw a very elegant couple in the aisles and I saw them a few times as one does while shopping. They were both quite tall, very well dressed, fashionable, walking models almost, hand in hand and what struck me was what she was wearing – a tattoo – a long list of Asian characters up her arm. Even if I was close enough I wouldn’t be able to read them and I wondered whether I should get a tattoo – maybe something to surprise Charlotte with when she gets home from Australia!
But what would I want to say that was always appropriate and applicable to me? A tattoo is more than a uniform which, while a big or important part of me, isn’t fully me. I can take the uniform off. No, I see a tattoo as something intrinsic to me – a reflection of my identity – more than my loves or my philosophies which might change in some way. And then I got thinking about who the tattoo would be for – me (as a reminder) or you (as a statement)? I figured that would then affect whether I could see the tattoo myself. Ah, the random thoughts down the aisles.
My identity is tied to the cross and the font. No matter what I do – what I’m seen doing (good or ill) – what I say – just as I can’t change my identity through my parents (deed poll not withstand-ing) – so what was done for me on the cross and given to me at the font is permanent from God’s side of things. So should I tattoo a cross over my heart? Or surround my forehead – why not my whole head since I’m follicly challenged – with a diadem of water drops? Maybe! But the danger I fear would be that I would be then pushing my religion to the outside – for show – when surely the whole point of a relationship with God is that it works from the inside out.
That’s why God uses words – to punch through sin and death and bring new life into being. Why he uses water so that we are born again. And why he uses bread and wine to reach inside us to bring us healing, forgiveness, and strengthening of faith. Jesus only dwells with sinners – that’s a Gospel message to treasure – even as we believe that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. And now my living is my ‘uniform’, my ‘tattoo’ that the world sees. It’s never perfectly pristine or clean but the identity doesn’t change. Thank you, Jesus! — GS