*Recently, the Medium publication C(G) S N A P S H O T S issued a challenge in which participants were invited to submit images for their Snapshot Selfie Challenge. It’s limited to 300 words, so I decided to share here instead.
One of my daughter’s favorite pastimes is to pull down the neck of my shirt, point to my chest tattoo, and howl like a wolf.
While most two-year-olds are terrified of a snarling wolf, she’s fascinated and often traces her fingers over the image of the beast surrounded by broken swords, shields, and treasure.
As a child, my parents would discover that while retrieving the latest Superman comic from the gas station, I’d also pick up temporary tattoos to put all over my body. The fake tattoos had to be off by Sunday, however, because we had church in the morning and tattoos were marks of pagans.
My parents were certain, though, that one day I’d end up with some ink.
They just didn’t expect I’d get a three-quarter sleeve and weave more ink across my ribcage, chest, and arms.
The irony is that when I became a Christian at age twenty-seven (and learned what our sacred literature truly teaches about tattoos) I added to my collection of ink with fervor. Don’t let my Medium profile photo fool you either. Most days I dress in black and listen exclusively to heavy metal (the screaming type). I’m also a licensed minister and overseen by an ethics board in my current job. I am — at best — the worst Christian for a stereotypical poster.
When people discover these small tidbits about my life, or take a moment to ask about my tattoos or why I have so many, I get to share the stories behind them. Each one tells of an integral moment in my life. As stories connect and bind us all, I thought I’d take the time to move away from the Marianas Trench of the Soul I tend to write about. We often wonder about authors, what they believe, what they enjoy, and what informs their writing, so I figured I’d let you know some stories engraved on my skin as well as a peek into my beliefs/faith.
This is an homage to my name — Benjamin. In Hebrew, Benjamin means “favored son” or “son of the right hand.” My brother’s name, however, is Andrew which means “strong and manly.” Growing up I always thought my name sucked and my brother’s was awesome. But in my early thirties, while reading through the biblical narrative of Genesis, I discovered a passage in which Jacob gives a prophecy over his twelve sons. He tells his son Benjamin this:
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. He devours the enemy by day, and divides the spoils by night.”
The tribe of Benjamin subsequently became known as the fiercest and most skilled warriors.
For most of my life, I believed my name carried no real meaning or weight. It wasn’t until after reading this that I realized how much my name paralleled my life. I would spend eleven years in the military, then move on to work in a nonprofit working in mental health fighting stigmas (read: enemies) and helping others find victories. It’s a reminder that even when I don’t see beauty in the mundane or think God has a plan, he does.
The Angel & Demon
This was a dream my father had about me while I was in Iraq. Before shipping out, my dad told me that while in Iraq I would face the most intense mental struggles and spiritual battles I’d ever been through. I thought he was a crazy loon high on Jesus juice because I was agnostic. In his dream he explained that demons and creatures came out to attack me while I was on a patrol. But an angel came and knocked away every attack.
While in Iraq, I was part of the Second Battle of Ramadi and became disillusioned with life as my world views continued to crumble. Three months before coming home, my then-wife left and filed for divorce. I came home a very broken man who fell head long into depression and medicated with drugs and alcohol. With nowhere to go, I lived on my best friend’s couch, who convinced me to check out a church with him one afternoon. In a stroke of divine hilarity, we ended up hungover at church. I should also mention he was an atheist. At that church (where I still am ten years later), I would discover an unshakable faith and move from wounded—to a wounded healer. Several years later I would remember my father’s words and put them on my body as a reminder that even when I gave up on God, he never gave up on me. To this day when I look at it, it’s a reminder to persevere.
Return of the King
One of my favorite scenes in Lord of the Rings is when Aragorn shows up in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields with his ghost crew while stepping into his role as King. Most everyone knows JRR Tolkien was a Christian whose faith influenced his writing. Throughout the Lord of the Rings there’s this hope that Aragorn will one day step into his role as King and things will be set right.
In a broken world driven by racism, hate, division, injustice, fear, and suffering it’s an important reminder that my faith reminds me one day — just like the Aragorn in Lord of the Rings — the King will return and set things right. My reminder to hope is taken from a passage in Revelation where Christ returns with fire for eyes, a sword coming from his mouth, a white horse, and a tattoo on his thigh reading “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (look it up in the Greek, it’s a tattoo). He’s not coming back to be crucified again the way Aragorn’s sword remained broken, but like Aragon’s sword to reforge a broken world and heal it. My job in the meantime, however, is to hope and love others regardless of what they believe while trying to bring about peace and justice.
If you’ve read this far, you may be tempted to believe I’m a bible-thumping teetotaler using tattoos to promote his faith, but I assure you, this is just to give you an insight into the man behind the Medium profile. Each of us believe something, and it’s impossible to check our ideals at the door because they make up much of who we are. It will always come out in our writing — good or bad.
With that said, hopefully my tattoos have given you an insight into why I write the way I do. I write with hope because I want you to feel hope too.
Regardless of what you believe or don’t believe — like my tattoos — I want you to feel empowered, to persevere, or discover you have deep meaning when I pen words to paper.
“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.”
— Jack Kerouac