How a Tattooed Man Taught Me about Love

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I know better but sometimes I can’t help myself: I stare. Recently I went with my husband to a completion program for seven incredible people who were graduating from a new substance abuse program.  One of the seven looked like a walking, breathing doodle pad. To be bitingly honest, I don’t encounter people like this in my upper middle-class church. Ever. Clueless, sheltered, prejudiced? Yes to all of the above but the third one steps on my toes a bit. Actually, it mashes my toes.

Jesus nailed me in Matthew 7:1-5: “Don’t judge.” When I see a person with so many tattoos, the mom in me wants to scrub the inked skin squeaky clean so that it looks just like mine. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be distracted by the icons that reflect some of my own battle. Some challanges are easier to see than others. My husband visibly grapples with the effects of a birth injury every day. Each of his labored steps is supported a walker. His support comes from something usually reserved for people old enough to be his parents. My amazing husband is a man who could stay in bed and give up on being active, but God has given him an incredible ministry helping those with substance abuse issues. Strangers often stare with silent questions, in much the same way I am tried not to stare at that tattooed man.

The log in my eye nearly kept me an arm’s length away. Jesus said, “treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). At first, I continued glancing sideways, staying at a comfortable distance. What about the brave people who could have said that they were turned off by my problems? Christians who easily might have judged me, but chose instead to love me and my husband, and because of it, our lives was transformed.

Only in God’s strength can we treat others the way we want to be treated. My feet carried me across the room to smile and I heard these words tumble out of my mouth, “You have worked hard and overcome so many obstacles. I’m proud of you.” I looked into seven sets of eyes that feared rejection, eyes that had seen the bottom side of life and had dulled with each judgment of themselves as a failure. Suddenly lifeless windows to the soul lit up. The smiles returned to me were the Lord saying, “You took out the log: I’m proud of you.”

You and I have received tender, loving mercy—too much to hold close and more than enough to share. Next time you’re tempted to judge, lay down the plank. Pick up love and treat folks the way you want them to treat you.

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Mary Crowson began full-time ministry at FUMC in Somerset, Kentucky and has been Director of Music for 14 years at Pine Forest UMC in Dublin, Georgia, where she leads/resources three worship services and ten choirs. She and her husband, Rev. Don Crowson, are proud parents to Ginny and Christian.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I want to ask you to pray for the young man in the article. I believe God has more in store for him than what he has experienced in his young life thus far.

    • What a great start to complete this program and how proud he must be……a new start…..a new chapter……a new book in his life! Prayers for him…..and for you to have the strength you need to carry on!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Mary. It is truly amazing what God can teach us through those we find different. As a pastor and university professor who happens to be heavily tattooed, I would like to offer a point of criticism. While I do hope it was not your intention, your writing reinforces the judgmental stereotype that many “tattooed people” encounter. This stereotype often categorizes individuals with tattoos as a lower class of people, convicts, miscreants, and “those” you would never expect to find in a church building. By explaining that you do not encounter tattooed people in your specifically “upper middle-class” church, rather than just “your church,” you introduce a class hierarchy that relegates those with tattoos to a position beneath the upper middle-class. Therefore, while this tattooed man may have stood as a message of holy love, he remains shackled to the very trope that initiated judgment in the first place. I do hope that this was not your intention and pray that the church would not see tattooed people as desecrated temples, but as creations of God, who happen to be a little more colorful. Again, thank you for sharing.

  3. I just wrote a long post…..but had trouble signing in as I…..of course could not remember my password! Wanted to say AMEN….and thanks for saying what I find myself thinking though I try to never judge! Just today spoke to two folk with tattoos and asked them about the story behind them and they were both very touching stories. …..and won’t mention names but when an evangelist has on more make-up than a clown gotta admit it is distracting. Also wanted to say what a ministry Don has to his congregation, those with substance abuse issues, his family, and now the world wide web with every step that he takes. But most of all when he talks…..and how he listens!

  4. Thanks Mary for sharing. I, too, have been know to stare and maybe even take a step back because of someone’s appearance. I am constantly being reminded we are to be Christ to everyone, and see Christ in everyone often. That also works both ways. There are churches in our area where I would be stared at and and maybe not be warmly received because I don’t have tattoos. It isn’t always upper middle, or middle class that mistrusts those who don’t look or act like they do.
    I also want to say hello to Don and Mary Crowson. It has been many years since we have had the opportunity to visit. This weekend the Holy Spirit has brought to mind the experiences we shared while I was in Seminary. It was good to hear about your ministries. God Bless.

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