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.


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flyraeven said...

This brought tears to my eyes! I am so happy to have discovered your blog here! And to have read this. You, your beliefs and your energing are always inspiring.

Kerridwen said...

I LOVED reading this post!

I also have a chalice tattoo. (Mine is positioned on my upper arm, because strength comes in knowing the source of my faith.)

I smiled through the whole tattoo process, and kept peering down to eagerly watch the tattoo artist (Susan Behney-Doyle)apply each dot of ink. In fact, my hair was getting in her eyes!

I designed my chalice tattoo - though Susan was responsible for straightening the lines, shading, and creating effects like paint dripping on the clay chalice.

For people who want to have a beautiful, visible symbol of their faith, but who aren't quite ready for a tattoo, you can buy my chalice artwork on T-shirts and other UU gifts at