Guest Post: Daytona

“I like your ink. Is there a story behind that?” Who would have thought that a simple question inquiring about the body art of a stranger could result in a meaningful conversation during motorcycle week in Daytona Beach, FL? I have known about the spiritual significance of body art for some time. I have admired the intricacy of tattoos of friends, but I’ve never actually asked a complete stranger about their tattoo expecting they would be willing to describe in great detail when, where, and why they chose a particular design. While recently in Daytona during motorcycle week I observed and participated in a number of conversations around the meaning and significance of a tattoo.

While tattoos are billboards that speak to lost love, pain, and promise on the bodies of those who wear them, one cannot automatically assume just because their “ink” is visible for everyone to see, they are willing to talk about the meaning. When I used the above lineIMG_2134 on our busy waitress, and pointed to a specific tattoo circling her exposed upper arm, I was surprised when she smiled and said, “my tattoos have personal meaning for me.” She took my order and left the table. I wasn’t expecting her polite yet resolute decline.

What my encounter with these two different responses to our innocuous question, “I like you ink. Is there a story behind that?” tells me is that not all people are cut out of the same cloth. Some are only too happy that anyone notices they have body art and are subsequently willing to talk about it. Others view their tattoos as a private expression that means something to them and perhaps their closest confidants. Whatever side of the tattoo conversation we encountered during our brief stay in Daytona during motorcycle week, I am more convinced than ever that tattoos may be the new entry into meaningful spiritual conversations. To that end, I look forward to approaching the next heavily tattooed stranger with this simple phrase, “I like your ink. Is there a story behind that?” The only caution is if one asks this question, be prepared for a lengthy story and conversation at least half the time.

Bradley Bergfalk
Litchfield, CT

Brad Bergfalk is a Covenant Pastor and presently serves as the pastor of First Congregational Church of Litchfield in Litchfield, CT.

Guest Post: Sarah in Boston

IMG_1819My daughter Sarah was my partner for our trip to Boston. She took lots of photographs, which I hope to get posted soon. The following is her “guest post” about her Ink and Skin: Word Made Flesh experience in Boston.

Tattoos are a very interesting concept. They permanently ink your skin with a picture, words, or whatever someone has the desire to get. Some people get them because they think they are tough looking, or that they make them look cool. Other people get them because they want something that will be a constant reminder of a memory or a person. When I agreed to be my dad’s (amateur) photographer for the trip to Boston, I knew what he had in mind for the whole “tattoo stories” idea, but I didn’t know how much would actually happen. He had told me about how people would “open up” about the stories behind their tattoos.

I have a fondness for tattoos, just as my dad does, but in a different way. I want to get them, he likes hearing the stories. When we got on the train, we found a woman in the observation car sitting and reading a book. My dad had already started up a conversation with her when I walked in, and he had told her about his idea. She started to talk about people that she knew that got tattoos to commemorate family or friends that they had lost.

When we arrived in Boston, we went to the Seafarer’s Mission, which allowed for us to talk to some of the people that worked in and around the ships. It was there that we met Julia, who was a dockworker.. Julia probably had the most interesting tattoos that I have ever seen on someone. My personal favorites were the cats that she had tattooed on her hands. IMG_1608As we talked to her, we found out that most of her ink was dedicated to family members and friends, many of whom she had lost. She explained that she had lost a lot of people in her life, and tattoos were her way of remembering them. She had stories behind every one of her tattoos, some serious, and some rendering, “I went to a shop that didn’t do as great of a job on this idea that I had, so I had it covered up with a giant Aztec-like black bar. I told myself I would never get a tribal tattoo, but looks like I ended up with one.” IMG_1613Julia described tattoos not only as her way of commemorating people, but as an addiction. She loved getting tattoos, and that they were her way of expressing herself.

When we came back the next day, we talked to a guy named Kevin, who was another dockworker. Kevin’s storytelling was really the one that opened my eyes as to what my dad was talking about. All we did was ask him about his tattoo on his forearm, and he opened up and told us all about the story of his mother’s passing. IMG_1621He told us about the struggles that not only she went through in her battle with cancer, but also his personal struggles during and following her death. It was amazing that someone that we had never talked to before would be so open about sharing that kind of personal information, simply because we asked about his tattoo. Before then, I had never really witnessed what my dad was talking about when he introduced the idea of people opening up and sharing when asked about their tattoos.

It’s amazing how much a pattern of ink can mean to a person.