A Walk On The Wild Side: Reflections On Getting A Tattoo

I must admit that I have a fascination with tattoos. I wonder why people get them. I wonder why they choose the particular image they do. I wonder what it says about them. Is it a statement? If so, what does it say? Certainly it does catch the attention.

This past weekend I attended a “Renaissance Fair” with a good friend. She is rather a free spirit. So when she suggested that we get a henna tattoo, I was all for it. This could partly reflect that I am losing my mind. Or this could partly reflect that I never sowed any wild oats in my youth. Or this could partly reflect a mid-life crisis. You choose. Whatever the case, we went for it. I once read that if you are thinking about getting a real tattoo, you should try getting a henna tattoo first. So I found myself going through the simulated experience of what it would be like to get a real tattoo. My free spirited friend was not the least bit worried. She had them free-hand a vine-flower bracelet around her wrist. Me on the other hand was scouring the books of designs trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to brand myself with. When it came down to it, what symbol really defines me? I looked at flowers, hearts, butterflies, initials, geometric shapes, animals, birds, sayings. I looked at every book. I couldn’t make up my mind. I am a person who can’t decide what to eat for breakfast. How can I decide on something that is going to remain on my body for the next six weeks? Not only do you have to decide on an image you have to decide where to place it. That’s a whole other dilemma. Do you want it to show? Do you not? If it doesn’t show what is the point? What if you place a tiger face on your belly and then you gain weight making it look less like a tiger face and more like Jabba the Hut? These things have to be carefully thought through.

Finally it was my turn and I was sweating bullets. Though I really wanted to engage my wild side, when it got down to it I was a big fraidy cat. The young girl in front of me was getting a huge flower design which covered half of the side of her abdomen. She was squealing delightedly. Then comes me. With sober face I sit in the chair and immediately ask, “How small can you make it?” My thoughts are if this thing goes south and I am stuck with it forever, I don’t want to have to explain a large scorpion for the rest of my life. The tattoo artist smiled at me amusingly. She explained assuredly that a henna tattoo meant good luck. I wanted to explain to her that my experience with good luck was very limited. Just recently a grandfatherly figure at my kids school came up to me and gave me a picture he took of a four leaf clover. “Here you take this for good luck.” he said. “Use it as a bookmark.” I took it home. Promptly my dog got a hold of the photo and chewed it. It is now wrinkled with teeth marks. This is somehow a metaphor of my life and my experience with luck. But how do I explain all this to a woman dressed in Renaissance garb holding some sort of medieval instrument who is about to give me my first tattoo? (Other than the adhesive one I put on my hand of Yoda). Instead I sat there and prayed for it to look decent.

henna butterfly tattoo

Fast forward to the evening. Now I am sitting at a Jazz Bistro with my same friend, celebrating her birthday. She has her henna bracelet and I have my minute butterfly on my right hand. They are now invisible because the henna flakes off and then your skin absorbs it. My friend is delightedly telling our other friend how her and I got henna tattoos at the festival today. Our other friend immediately frowns her disapproval. After all GOOD Christian women do NOT get TATTOOS. Then she tells us of a show she saw recently where this person got a henna tattoo and it would not wear off. My heart fell to my stomach. I wanted to run to the bathroom and immediately start scrubbing. My cohort in crime looked at me withering in my chair and said with a smile “Don’t you dare wash that off!”

I must say the whole experience has given me a real appreciation of people who do get tattoos. I admire that they have the guts to do it and the ability to make decisions. Now obviously many people do get tattoos impetuously and without thought. But I think some people do put thought into it. I don’t think I could get a tattoo unless I thought about it for a long time very carefully, but that’s just me. I don’t judge people by externals, though I know many people do. What God cares about is the inner condition of our heart. I know many people who look squeaky clean on the outside, but inside their heart is so black it is rotting. For now I think I am just going to admire other people’s tattoos. Next up for me? Belly dancing.

An Anatomy of Avarice

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”

Mark Twain

“Avarice distracts those who might do more serious work such as many of

our artists and writers, into the avaricious pursuit of possessions that

neither their work or their lives in fact require, and in the end pervert

and destroy.”

Henry Fairlie

If I am going to write about the subject of greed, surely I am going to talk about Ebenezer Scrooge, or his modern day equivalent Bernie Madoff. Actually I am going to talk about Mark Twain. Twain once defined himself as “the American” and in many ways he was. He is certainly one of the greatest writers we have produced and one which spoke the American voice so well. He was no doubt a brilliant, funny man. At the height of his fame he had a lovely wife and three beautiful daughters. He built himself a magnificent house in Connecticut called “The Hartford House” which was furnished in lavish style and they entertained many guests here in high style. The family had at least seven servants and the children had a governess. He would live in this house with his family from 1874-1891 and write many of the works he is most famous for here, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He would call this time the most wonderful time of his life.

Like many geniuses Twain did not have good business sense. His appetite to live the high life caused him to make foolish investments in new inventions. The family was forced to move from the Hartford home. Since they couldn’t afford to maintain the house, they moved to Europe to economize in 1891. In 1894 his publishing company failed and Twain went bankrupt. He set out on a world lecture tour in order to earn money and pay back his debts. Things went from bad to worse. Back in America his favorite daughter Suzy got spinal meningitis and died. She was twenty-four. After her death in 1896 the family never returned to the Hartford house. The home that had brought Twain so much pleasure in family life. Twain’s wife Livy would die in 1903 and he would also lose his daughter Jean On Christmas eve 1909 to an epileptic seizure. Twain himself would die four months later. Though Twain did eventually manage to pay off his debts and restore his monetary fortunes, he was never able to restore his real fortune: family life. Once the family moved from the house, they were never together again as they once were. He was not even able to be present at his beloved daughter’s Suzie’s death or funeral. Twain blamed himself for her death.

In America our greed rules our lives, just as it did for Twain. Fairlie in his work “The Seven Deadly Sins Today “says “Avarice in our societies is a harassment difficult to push aside. We are harassed into working in ways that are unsatisfying, so that we may buy things that we have been harassed into believing will satisfy us. What we complain about today in the increased tempo of is its harassment, and it is caused in part by the Avarice that our societies employ in every hour.” Fairlie also point out that greed is a “distraction.” Certainly many years of Twain’s life went to working to pay back his debt. I wonder how many wonderful books were lost to us because of the distraction of his greed? Fairlie defines Avarice as “not so much the love of possessions, as the love of merely possessing.” We often think of a miser as someone who hoards his wealth. Yet Twain did not hoard his wealth, but lived lavishly. So a miser can also be someone who surrounds himself with many possessions and “runs his eyes and hands over them exactly as the miser does over his coins.” Fairlie quotes William F. May: “Counting is the main object of Avarice and the main pleasure of the miser. Money is the chief object of Avarice, not only because it provides for the control of many objects, but because it offers the very simple satisfaction that it can be counted.” We think of the children’s nursery rhyme: “The king is in his counting house counting out his money.” But for all our love of greed it does terrible things to our hearts. We think of the line from the Grinch which explains the Grinch’s problem: his heart was three sizes to small. Fairlie says it more strongly: “Avarice leads to a form of self-annihlation. Those who surround themselves with things that they do not need, and do not even really want, soon cease to know what they do need or want; and in a little more time they cease also to know or be able to be themselves.” It makes our hearts unfit for eternity. Jesus warns: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24.

In the end Twain truly was “The American.” In America success is worshiped, and money is a sign of your success. It was Twain’s great drive for success and the privileged life that led him to make foolish investments in an attempt to gain even more wealth. At the end of his life his success was all he had left. He was not living as Sam Clemens. Sam Clemens had lost everything. He lived his latter years as Mark Twain. He epitomizes, as so many Americans do, the folly of Avarice and the chasing after wealth. A sad end for a man so greatly gifted.

What Is Art? Longing for Van Gogh In A Campbell’s Soup Can World

Christianity alone has the resources to restore the arts to their

proper place, for Christianity is a worldview that supports human

creativity yet does so with appropriate humility.”

Chuck Colson

“All the great artists copy the greatest artist.”

Stacey

van gogh starry nightWhat is art? How do we define it? How do we know that it is good? What makes a piece of art good? Can we answer these questions? In his book “How Now Shall We Live” Chuck Colson tells a story that exemplifies how confused we are about these questions. Back in the nineties “the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts held a competition where an award was to be given to a watercolor entitled Rhythm of the Trees” because the work displayed “a certain quality of color balance, composition, and technical skill.” To their embarrassment the artist turned out the be a four-year-old child. Apparently the mother had submitted it as a joke. What it exemplifies is that we are so thoroughly confused about what good art really is, that we can no longer tell the work of a skilled artist from that of a child. What this makes clear is as Colson says, “No one can say what art is any longer. And if art cannot be defined, then it will be destroyed.” Those are powerful words. How did we come to this place?

In the chapter entitled “Soli Deo Gloria” Colson explains how art lost its place in the world and then regained it in a false way. Our culture made a shift to elevating science to the sole source of knowledge. Once that shift took place it seemed to many that “if science is true, then art must be false.” Artists began to struggle with the idea of whether what they did had any purpose and meaning. Colson explains that Cubism was a reaction to this struggle. Cubism attempted to “portray the mathematical structures underlying the physical world.” It was a way to infuse art with meaning by connecting it to science. Colson then explains that artists began to overcompensate by making an idol or art. Art became a realm only for the elite and not the average person. Artists too were seen as “people gifted with unique insight, offering a vision of an ideal world, and as people who denounced the sins of the real world.” What this eventually translated to was art that attacked the real world. As Colson comments, “Art that attacks all standards ends up destroying itself-because even artistic standards are attacked and cast aside.” This is evident in a lot of the art that passes itself off as art today. One piece of modern art in the St. Louis Art Museum is simply broken glass arranged on the floor. I am sure the artist would say I am horribly truncating his work, but that’s what it looks like to me. Pollack’s art was paint dripped around on canvas. Warhol of course reproduced the infamous Campbell’s soup can. Warhol once said, “Art is what you can get away with.” Apparently that is the new standard.

Besides the cultural paradigm shifts that brought a change in art, another aspect of society that affects art is how society as as whole incites envy. Envy is defined as “a desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to someone else.” In “The Seven Deadly Sins Today” Henry Fairlie comments: “One of the destructive forms that envy takes today is the widespread assumption that everyone should be able to do and experience and enjoy everything that everyone else can do and experience and enjoy.” One of the results of this inciting to envy is that we can no longer acknowledge great talent. We must instead level it. Fairlie notes: “If we cannot paint well, we will destroy the cannons of painting and pass ourselves off as painters………We are today surrounded by young people who think that they are artists and poets. They dabble and daub with no talent. It would be hard to count the number of them who, in the absence of real talent to write or paint, foist themselves on us as filmmakers, or who have taken up photography as an art form that will nevertheless bring a commercial reward as well. They are artists, have a right to be artists, and must be acknowledged as artists, and a camera will serve in place of any artistic vision or skill.” Fairlie calls this “The Revenge of Failure.” The artist Kandisky once likened art to music. He said, “Color is a way to exert a direct influence on the soul. Color is the key. The eye is the hammer that strikes it, and the soul is the instrument of a thousand strings. The artist is the hand that plays one key or another to trigger the vibrations of the soul.” If art is like music, we might call what currently passes as art “the day the music died.” (Don McLean).

In the quote mentioned at the beginning, Colson says that “Christianity is a worldview that has the resources to restore the arts to their proper place.” We were made in the image of God. God is the ultimate creator. We reflect Him when we are creative. Yet unlike God, we do not create or bring into existence that which did not exist before. All art is in some way a mere reflection of the beauty God has already created. When I think of the truly great artists, all of their art reflected the glory of God. Michaelangelo spent his life painting and sculpting the human body, that most magnificent of art forms. Monet spent much of his life painting water lilies. Van Gogh painted the starry sky and magnificent sunflowers. Davinci painted The Last Supper. Colson remarks, “Who more than Christians have good reason to appreciate and create works of art?’ The church need to encourage contemporary artists to create works of beauty. Works that inspire, works that uplift, works that are music for the soul. We can do this in many ways. We can encourage artists to exhibit their gifts in worship, or to use their talents and skills for and in the church. Our homes should also be places where both “art and culture are nurtured.” We need to be a part of encouraging the renewal of art to a place of beauty and inspiration that infuses both the artist and his audience with purpose, meaning and hope.