Getting something, words, art, portraits, symbols, permanently etched in your flesh is a momentous occasion. A lot of tattoos happen because of inebriation and impaired judgment. Others happen after long deliberation and careful thought. Most happen somewhere in between. I’m not sure where mine falls on the spectrum, but I know it’s on the more thoughtful end of the spectrum. I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on tattoos, why we get them and why I got the one that I did.
One of my ideas for a tattoo was to get the verse from Leviticus 19, which many people use to say Christians should not get tattoos, actually tattooed. The irony was too good, but I thought the joke would get old after a while and therefore not make a good permanent fixture on my body.
For me getting a tattoo marks a passage, a momentous time, an important milestone that I don’t want to forget. Living at the farm in many ways makes living simply easy. There is a community that does most of the work for you. Composting toilets are the only choice for where to relieve yourself. Growing food in a sustainable way is part of my job description. There’s also a community that values, simplicity, skill sharing, creativity, producing what we use and dumpster diving.
What will life be like when I’m not around these people who care for me and encourage me?
I know what life is like outside of this farm. There are mortgage or rent payments, insurance payments, school loans, groceries, doctor’s visits, car problems and more. Will there be time for a garden? Or backyard chickens? Will I hold to the values and principles that are easy to do in community, but harder when you have to choose them every day?
The reason I chose a tree is partly because of its rich significance in the Christian tradition. Psalm 1:1 describes the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of water. The tree of life is a symbol of our lives hidden with God, but also the abundance of that first garden and God’s intentions for our lives on this planet. So, there is a spiritual and religious significance.
I wanted the tree to have a large root system. The design I found included the mushrooms poling up from the roots. It would be easy to assume this was some drug reference or hippie posturing. That would be selling the life beneath the soil and all of the fungi kingdom way short. The mushrooms represent resurrection. They grow out of the death and decay in the soil. They are often one of the first things to pop up after a forest fire. Certain fungi also make nutrients in the soil accessible to the root systems of plants that they would otherwise be unable to use.
Roots and the life beneath the soil are so important. They are the unseen foundation of life on our earth. A beautiful green plant that puts on a lot of growth, but does not have a root system will fall over and die at the first gust of wind. A strong, well-established root system is essential for the health and longevity of plants. The roots are unseen, however. If they do become exposed there is a danger that the plant will die.
People see our fruits. They see what we do and hear what we say… in public. The real test is what we do when no one is looking. How do we treat our wife or kids at home where no one sees? What do we say behind people’s backs? What goes on in our inner life, our thoughts and feelings? How do we deal with our emotions or desires? These are the roots that make us who we are. The kinds of roots we have determines how fruitful we are. John and Jesus both said something about the axe being laid at the root of the tree that bears bad fruit.
I also think of the way trees put down roots, compared to the way modern (American) humans live such transient lives. We are often scared to put down roots, to stake a claim and commit our lives to a career or cause, much less a place. That’s what a tattoo is in many ways. It is a permanent statement, a claim staked, a flag planted. It’s scary to get something permanent etched in your flesh. What is worth looking at every day for the rest of your life? What would your statement be?
The tree and roots is also a reminder of my interdependence on nature and my fellow human beings. For that reason, and the others I mentioned, I feel confident staking my claim here. This is where I plan to put down roots. This is the hill I wish to die on.