By Norris Burkes
Posted Apr 16, 2017

Six months ago, I wrote a column about getting a tattoo to celebrate my completion of two marathons. The tattoo is in an unassuming place, high above my elbow, visible only to me as I shave, shirtless. The small running man figure inspires me to stay fit as I enter my 60s later this year.

Shortly after the column was published I received a few emails claiming that ”… Scriptures make it clear that God forbids any person from having a tattoo imbedded in their flesh: ‘Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print (tattoo) any marks upon you. (Leviticus 19:28).’”

The writer urged me to ”… publish a recanting of what you have said in an attempt to rectify the harm which you have done ….”

Prior to joining the tattooed generation, I tended to assume, as these readers did, that tattoos were a sign of gang affiliation or a prison record.

For instance, some years ago I met a fellow in our Neonatal ICU with tattoos all over his face and neck. The neck tattoos were some kind of inscription, but I didn’t want to get close enough to read them. In fact, I didn’t want to approach him at all.

Nevertheless, it was my job to visit parents in our NICU, so I swallowed hard and extended my usual offer for chaplain services. As I spoke, the man’s expression softened, and his face began to welcome me.

He immediately told me how important prayer was to him. In fact, he said, he’d just spent the last 30 minutes whispering Scriptures to his son, who weighed not much more than a pound.

I had assumed much about this man from his markings. In fact, if you’d told me he practiced ritualistic killings, I’d have quickly believed you. Yet he was a man with a very gentle faith and countenance.

The Apostle Paul encountered people in the early church who fiercely assumed that no man could be a true follower of God unless he was properly marked. By “marked,” they meant the Hebraic tradition of circumcision.

These guys were teaching Gentile men to cut their privates. Yikes, I know you likely just spewed your Cheerios, but hang on for a minute.

Some of these leaders tried to merge Mosaic circumcision with the Sermon on the Mount in hopes they’d have the perfect hybrid faith. After all, if a convert was willing to undergo this surgery, he must have the right stuff to be a super-follower of God.

The Apostle Paul stood up to these surgical scoundrels and told them they were trying to out-god God. He accused them of “loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors.”

Paul was saying we can’t assume people have God or don’t have God just because they don’t look like us below the belt, or anywhere else for that matter.

“Don’t you see?” Paul asks in Romans 2. “It’s not the cut of a knife … It’s the mark of God on your heart ….”

If Paul were around today, I think he’d tell my critical readers that tattoos and purple hair — even earrings out the wazoo — don’t define who people are. God makes his mark deep within a person’s heart. If you want to see those marks, get close enough to people to drop your assumptions and read the writings, not on their arms, necks or other appendages, but on their hearts.

— Read Norris’ past columns at Write him at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.

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