Monday, July 6, 2009


“What are you waiting for?”

The question surprised me, because I knew he didn’t like tattoos.

I hesitated. “I should finish Divinity School first.”


I couldn’t come up with an answer.

“Tell me what the tattoo means to you.”

I lit up. “Well, it’s going to be right here,” I said pointing to the fleshy part of my right forearm. “It will be a chalice, which will hold me accountable every time I hold out my hand to friend or stranger, that I will act in a way honoring our principles, our faith tradition, our religious community.”

He grinned. “Uh-huh. And tell me again why you’re waiting?”

I got it. I was already doing that. I was already inviting people to church while waiting in line at the grocery store. I was already doing works of justice to live out Unitarian Universalism and intentionally, publicly wearing a chalice. Why was I waiting?

“Honestly, Love, seminary will make you no more a minister than you are now. I think if you want it, you should go get it now.”

I called around to find a tattoo parlor open on a Sunday morning. This would be my alternative worship. I finally found one down by Fort Lewis Army Base. I called and made my appointment. The person who answered the phone identified himself as Cam the Sailor Man. I told him I was studying to be a minister and wanted to get my religious symbol tattooed on my arm. If I brought in a necklace of a chalice, could he create a tattoo from that?

“Oh, yeah. Cool! Come on in.”

I was greeted by a tall, weathered man in a kilt, combat boots, and a tattered gray t-shirt. He wore a long gray pony-tail and brown, stained grin. He was beautiful. I don’t know what possessed me but rather than shake his extended hand, I hugged him. He smelled like cigarette smoke. With the embrace he released a big bellow of a laugh. “Oh, that’s how it’s going to be? You’ve come to the right place.”

Once the design was created and applied to my arm with carbon paper I was ready for the ink. I don’t do needles well. I was obviously nervous and flushed. Cam put me at ease. “Okay, I’m going to put your chalice on your body, and while I’m doing this, you tell me about your religion and we’ll let all that goodness go into the ink.”

I told Cam The Sailor Man about the intention behind the placement of the chalice. I told him of my dream of planting churches all over the Pacific Northwest. Of congregations of people alive and awake in the world healing their communities. Of people living fully into their human potential. Courageous choices steeped in love, courage, and joy. Of the holy being reflected in our theological diversity and that religious community holding each other accountable to stretch and grow. While I talked he concentrated on my arm, periodically wiping away the beads of blood that appeared along the lines.

A group of men came in mid-chalice. They were in their early 20s, I guessed. They were boisterous and loud. Cam the Sailor Man gave a deep sigh and hollered over to them, “Hey quiet down!”

That didn’t seem to deter their noisy enthusiasm.

“Hey! You! Shut the hell up or get out. We’re worshipping over here. If you can’t respectfully keep the quiet, I’m not doing your ink.”

They looked at each other with amusement and fell silent. They respectfully looked at the books of tattoo designs while waiting their turn.

Once the tattoo was complete Cam The Sailor Man wiped it clean and admired it.

“I think this is the most important tattoo I ever inked. Thanks for coming in.” He took my hands in his and we sat in silence for a while. He broke our gaze with “Amen.”

And I went back out into the Sunday morning sunshine ready to shake hands and spread the Good News.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Pathway is Open

You need to know that I’m known to be directionally challenged and have spent much of my time in Portland either lost of misplaced. Being of a curious nature, I usually don’t mind, unless I know someone is waiting for me at the end of my intended destination.

I was very pleased to find out that my Tacoma YMCA membership is honored in Portland. I found the Portland area YMCA’s and discovered one in our area. I Googled the map and off I went… only to find that the particular YMCA I had been looking for was not a gym, but rather an office.

My second try was more fruitful. This time my challenge wasn’t in finding the actual gym, but rather finding my way around the gym once inside. The customs were just a little different, which through me off. I handed over my card to be scanned and was handed a key to a locker. The desk attendant and I stood blinking at each other before I finally asked if he had handed my card back to me (which is the custom at Tacoma YMCAs.) “No. I give it back to you when you give me back the locker key.” “Oh! Right! Of course.”

And I turned to take in the maze of equipment. I scanned for a logical path to a locker room. I turned back to the desk attendant and held up the locker key, “where might this key be useful?” I smiled trying to make an ally. “Down the stairs. Take a right, an immediate right, and then a left.” Being mildly dyslexic, I dutifully went down the stairs, turned left, got flustered and walked into a supply closet. And then back-tracked a number of times until I found the word “women.”

Once in work-out clothes I calmed down and made a bee-line for the stationary bikes. Head-phones on. Fresh Air playing. I easily slipped into my zone. Once my sweat broke I looked up to take in a bit of my surroundings. The people around me looked a lot like the people usually around me in Tacoma.

There was one man who caught my attention. He was on the Elliptical (and anyone who can master that beast without falling off earns points in my book – that machine hates me. Yes, it’s personal.) This man was almost dancing as his upper torso swayed back and forth as if he was listening to soulful R&B. One of my little amusements in life is to imagine what is playing on other people’s iPods or music thingies. But this man didn’t have ear-buds in his ears, and there was no Muzak streaming into the gym. I wondered if there was music in his head like I sometimes make up in my own imaginary life soundtrack.

I went back to finishing the time on my bike and went over to the weights. I was still engrossed in my podcast and working on my triceps when the man from the Elliptical caught my attention. He was shuffling through the muddle of weight machines with a white cane and saying something. He looked troubled or confused. No one else was around him. I stopped mid-crunch and pulled my ear-buds out. Not being able to make out what he was saying, but sensing that he was upset, I walked over and softly asked if he would like some help.

“These things are everywhere!” he said in a low, but distressed voice.

“Yes. The weight machines are very close together. May I help you go where you want to go?”

“No! Just tell me that the pathway is closed.” I didn’t understand his request and went on trying to be helpful.

“Yes. These weight machines are a maze. But I’m happy to help you get where you want to go. Where do you want to go?”

“I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me the pathway is closed.” He said through clenched teeth and started rocking back and forth.

“You can probably tell by my voice that I am at your… (think quickly) left. If you want to reach out I can guide you. But you don’t have to, of course.”

He repeated himself rocking, “I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me the pathway is closed.”

“I can’t do that, because I don’t believe that. I think the pathway has obstacles that you can’t see. But I can see right now and I’m here next to you and you can use my eyes.”

He put his hands over his ears. “The pathway is closed. That is the truth.”

“It’s frustrating, isn’t it?”

“Yes! The pathway is closed.” He almost shouted.

I made my voice as calm as I could. “Brother, what would you like to do right now?”

“I’m going to stay right here.”

“May I stand next to you?”

“I’m going to stay here all night, because the pathway is closed.”

“I have nowhere else to be than right here. I’m standing right next to you.”

We stood in silence for a while. I just stood by him. By this time the desk attendant came over. He stood about three feet away with his hands up as if he were guarding someone in basketball. I found his reaction strange. I motioned to him that everything was okay. After a couple minutes of rocking the man I stood with had edged out of the maze and was standing almost in front of the hallway.

Keeping my voice calm, “Brother, in the time that we have stood together you have taken yourself out of the weight machine obstacles and you are now about 10 feet from the front door. The pathway is open.”

“No! The pathway is closed. That is the truth.”

“You freed yourself. The pathway is open. You can walk forward and find the door.”

“You don’t like my truth.”

“That truth is not who I am. It doesn’t work for me.”

We stood together in silence for a bit longer. And then he slowly moved forward using his cane. I walked over to the stretch out area, sat on one of those huge exercise balls and slid back until my hands and feet were both on the ground making a bridge. “My pathway is open and upside down.”