I have found there are many reasons people get a tattoo. This is my story:
I remember back in graduate school, I wanted to be marked, but some circumstance always prohibited me from making the commitment. At the time, it was the Hebrew word "ebed" which means servant. I still love this word and the meanings that come along with it.
However, in September of 2009, as I was studying early Christianity, I came across a symbol that astounded me in a variety of ways. That symbol is one of the earliest Christograms and is known as the "Chi Rho." I have been wanting to pursue this marking since then. An incredible opportunity presented itself when gathering with my dearest friends here in Seattle. In mid-July 2010, we were talking about the honor of being marked and how we all have had ideas and desires to be marked but for one reason or another had never followed through. So we went to go visit some tattoo shops. We decided on Marc from the Wallingford shop of Slave to the Needle (for me mainly because of the ideas I had and his incredible work that looks like stone). Andy's idea was of a shepherd's staff and club from Psalm 23 with his wife (Andrea) and newly born daughter (Emilia) 's names incorporated on his inner forearm. Then Katie, recently inspired by an intentional spiritual retreat wanted "truth" with a cherry blossom (a symbol of femininity and power) on her wrist and Dave wanting a tree, a symbol of life and rootedness on his left shoulder/arm that would include Katie's name and leave room for future children. I have always wanted something on my upper inner forearm. A place that I can readily see and easily hide for the 'professional world.'
The Chi Rho is derived from the first two letters of Christ in Greek (Christos). The symbol gained popularity during the monastic community movement through the Celtic region. One of their ways of life was to sense what was good in a neighborhood and bless it, and accordingly sense what was evil and combat it with prayer. These people would carve the Chi Rho into the trees along the borders of their communities, neighborhoods, to mark them for Christ. This let those coming in to the neighborhood know the commitment to Christ of those residing there. It also served as a reminder to the residents, of Whose they were, of what truths to hold on to, and of Christ, the bond of unity for them.
It is not hard to see the biggest problem we as humans face in our faith when reading through the history of God and His people; remembrance. We will forever need reminders of the great acts of our great God. Read through Genesis and Exodus, so many times the people going astray from God started with one simple act: not remembering. This act of creating a mark is for remembrance. Remembering what God has done not only in my own life, but in the lives of those around me, stories of His movement around the world, and throughout history. It's a reminder that faith looks back which drives our hope in what God has promised, redemption through Christ and a new world.
Knowing what Marc was capable of, I approached him to create something similar but that looked like it was carved out of stone. I also wanted to incorporate something encircling the symbol, and with the stone wanted something that would signify life, like vines. Marc quickly told me that as small as I wanted, vines would not work but asked how I felt about olive branches. "Perfect," I said. And then the 3 week wait began until the appointment. The idea of using olive branches should have been an obvious option for me. As most of us know, they are symbols of peace, a peace which pervades all and surpasses our understanding. For me, it also brings about ideas of stability and the promised end to trials and troubles of this life. In John 16:33 Christ proclaims, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." I began to completely fall in love with this image of peace that surrounds the rock of my salvation. I also began to think about the promise of new beginnings. Recalling the story of Noah and the ark, after 40 days and nights of rain, then floating around on the sea with no land, no place to call home, God delivered hope by way of an olive branch, as Noah released a dove three times. The first time, it came back with nothing. The second time, the dove returned with an olive branch in its beak -- hope. The third time Noah released the dove, it did not return; it had found land, God's promises were fulfilled. In addition to the olive branches having ties to peace, it also makes me think of the Olivet discourse -- Christ's last major teaching about the end times, the tribulations, and the faith in Him that will see it through until His return -- a call to persevere, to press on.
As if these meanings were not enough, it gets deeper. Using olive branches keeps a very consistent Greek theme. As most of you know, I love running. It is calming to my soul and time of great reflection. In November 2008, I had the amazing experience of completing my first marathon, The Seattle marathon (I ran this marathon for my grandfather, who has since passed, and was the example of a man of God with a faith that presses on). Since then, I have been hooked; completing 2 more full marathons (Rock and Roll Seattle 2009 and BMO Vancouver B.C. 2010) and a half marathon (Seattle 2009). On July 31st, 2010, I finished my first ever ultramarathon, White River 50. This 50 mile endurance run was the biggest test of my physical and mental limits. Over the distance of 50 miles, the course runs a 27 mile loop gaining 5400' in elevation and a 23 mile loop with a 3300' elevation gain. That is 17400' of total elevation change. Helping me along were Dave and Katie as my crew. Throughout the 12 hours it took me to complete this feat, I learned a lot about the importance of community and encouragement - which harkens back to the Celtic communities use of the Chi Rho. Marathons began in ancient Greece after Pheidippides ran to deliver a message from Marathon to Athens concerning the victory of the Battle of Marathon. So this entire tattoo is a tribute to one of my favorite things to do, run.
In addition to symbolizing my passion for running, it gives more depth to pressing on. The Apostle Paul regularly referred to the spiritual life as running a race. In 1 Corinthians 19:24, Paul writes "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." The early Olympians were crowned with olive branches. James 1:12 reads "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him."
Until I have the opportunity to lay my crown at the feet of my Savior, this is my remembrance.