Okay, so walk me through this tattoo, starting from the top...
It starts with an image of Creation and the cosmos, and that flows into the angel Gabriel descending. The pregnant Elizabeth and Zechariah stand near the depiction of the Nativity -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus, along with a donkey and a cow. Next is Jesus in the desert for Lent, followed by the largest piece, Good Friday and the Crucifixion, with Jesus surrounded by the women weeping at the Cross. The next scene is the angel and the women at the empty tomb at Easter, followed by the final image of Mary and the apostles with flames on their heads at Pentecost.
So people ask you about the tattoo a lot?
All the time! It's not a style of art you see being tattooed, so people are really fascinated by it and come up and ask me about it. I go through the whole explanation and they go "Wow..." and I tell them, well, I'm a Lutheran pastor so it's kind of a vocational tattoo.
And how do people respond?
Generally, people either look at me as though I'm lying or joking. Seldom do people say, "Oh, that's really great." They have to sort of work through this cognitive dissonance.
This is obviously the largest and most complex tattoo you've done, but you have many others. What was the very first Christian tattoo you got?
Mary Magdalene was the first. She's from a 12th-century Psalter from the British Isles called St. Alban's Psalter. It's a rare depiction in ancient Christian art of Mary announcing the resurrection. She was the apostle to the apostles.
And your most recent tattoo is a dramatic portrayal of Lazarus shrouded in deep blue and purple cloth. Why Lazarus?
Well, I was preaching on that text and I couldn't write the sermon! It's true. And, I just really feel like I experience resurrection all the time in my own life -- death and resurrection -- constantly, like every day. So, I think that's really a part of the Christian life - dying and being given new life. In our baptism, we daily die to the old self and rise to the new. That's the Christian life.
What is it about tattoos that is so compelling for people today?
When you ask people about their tattoos, what you'll find, even though they might not articulate it this way, is that it allows us to put something on the outside that is already on the inside. It's a way of sort of wearing our insides.
So, are your tattoos a form of evangelism?
I don't think of them as an outreach tool. I don't do that ... it's not like me to be intentionally thinking, "oh now I can try and hook this person." I'm just who I am in the world and how people interact with me is up to God. To me, evangelism is just authentically being who we are, where God put us ... being people of The Story.
"Ready for Christmas?" Read Nadia Bolz-Weber's article here.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor living in Denver, Colorado, where she serves the emerging church, House for all Sinners and Saints. She blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television.