Martin Copenhaver: What I Learned at the Tattooists Convention

Excerpt from Luke 5:29-32

They asked Jesus, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

Martin B. Copenhaver

I once participated in a small gathering of United Church of Christ officers and pastors charged with considering how we can become a more multi-racial and multi-cultural church.  Around the table were African Americans, European Americans, a Native American, a Japanese American, Latinos and Latinas, as well as folks of different sexual orientations.

We had wonderfully serious and probing discussions about how we can become a more inclusive church that accepts differences and claims a larger unity.

At the same time and in the same hotel there was a large convention of tattooists.  Every corner of the hotel was crammed with tattooists.  The men wore cut-off T-shirts and the women wore scanty outfits to show off their tattoos.  They had tattoos on every imaginable part of their bodies and I am sure other parts I don't want to imagine.  Their bodies were pierced in ways that made even worldly liberals stare.

After we had finished our last discussion, our inclusive UCC group opened the door of the packed hotel lounge and, seeing these tattooists all together - like moving wallpaper - we simply closed the door.  One member of our group said with a laugh, "You know, it's one thing to be open to differences, but I'm not sure I'm ready to drink with a crowd of tattooists."

Since then I've wondered if we might have learned more about being an inclusive church if we had abandoned our polite and careful discussions around the conference table and instead had spent the day hanging out in the lounge with the tattooists.

After all, when we opened the door to that lounge we didn't look around long enough to see if Jesus was there.  And Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking in just such a place.


God, open my heart and mind so that I might see who you are calling me to eat and drink with.

Taken with permission from the UCC's StillSpeaking Devotional.