Saturday, March 23, 2013

Body (of Christ) Ink

Queequeg, harpooner of the ill-fated Pequod
The subject of tattoos came up recently, courtesy of Pastor Joelle.

We are long past the generation in which Leviticus 19:28 was cited censoriously in this regard.  For that matter, we are past the days when Richard Gere's father could snort, "You've got a tattoo.  Officers don't have tattoos."  (Or when our grandfather could insist, as he did to his dying day, that "pierced ears are for Gypsies.")  Across the Western world, we are living in what is almost certainly a golden age of body modification.  Any part of the body that can be is now inked, studded, scarred or be-ringed, on a regular basis, and not just on drunken sailors.

As it happens, Father A.'s father and brothers all have tattoos, mostly of a very modest kind.  Your diminutive correspondent, countercultural to the last, remains tat-free.  (Also, and perhaps not coincidentally, hepatitis-free.)  His scars have been earned in the customary ways:  a combination of dumb stunts and minor surgeries.  These days, he tries to avoid both.  Needles, even in the most clinical situations, make him shudder.

But ... what if?

A number of Lutheran pastors expressed interest in mounting a Luther rose somewhere on their bodies. The image may be a little obvious, like flag pins on politicians, but one sees its appeal.  Luther's personal seal is pretty, colorful, and -- to the initiate -- instantly recognizable.  You could do worse.

We ourselves were reminded of a seminary classmate who had caused to be inked upon his shoulder the Tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable name of God in Hebrew.  It was, when read in conjunction with that Leviticus, a forceful and ironic expression of our classmate's antinomian theology.

But, upon reflection, we think that we might go with the old Reformation-era monogram, VDMA.  It comes from "Verbum Domini manet in aeternum," the Word of the Lord stands forever.

But its history is complicated.  The motto and its initials were adopted by the Elector of Saxony, and became deeply identified the Lutheran side of the Reformation.  They were adopted by the Smalcaldic League, and one sees them inscribed on cannons, swords and that sort of thing.  These days, it has been taken on as a logo by The Lutheran Quarterly and various other churchy groups.

We have to admit that we are leery about the company this motto keeps.  Guns and cannon are the least of it.  The Quarterly is a fine historical journal, but it is also ... annoying.  For some people, it is still haunted by the specter of late editor Oliver Olson and his lifelong battle against the use of the Eucharistic Prayer.  A few of us still remember Louis B. Smith's stunningly uninformed and mean-spirited review of a book by Gordon Lathrop, many years ago.

But, a quick search of the interwebs assures us, the Friends of Forde Foundation is the least annoying of the groups to adopt VDMA.  Paul McCain has had it inscribed on his personal handgun.  A website called Gnesio (oy!) uses it to advertise the convocation of a Lutheran mini-denomination.  And so forth.

Still, abusus non tollit usum and whatnot.  It's a powerful motto, with deep resonance.  If, for some presently unimaginable reason, we were moved to get a tattoo, this might very well be the one.


Pastor Joelle said...

Now I'm not so sure I want a Luther Rose if it's deemed "obvious"

Anonymous said...

See the tattoos of the friends of Saint Barnabas Church here

Father Anonymous said...

Obvious, maybe, but still lovely to look at and precious to those who care.