By: Lex Jacobson
I have a Jesus fish tattoo on my ankle. A big one. And I’m not Christian, at least not anymore. I think.
When I was getting a Brazillian wax a few weeks ago, my esthetician saw the tat, and while she was parting my ass cheeks, decided it would be a fine time to ask me about my faith. Specifically, as she was pouring the hot wax into me, she asked, “Have you found Jesus?” I felt like telling her that, if she were looking, He probably isn’t in my ass crack. Just sayin’…
The tat has become a point of conversation over the years, specifically because I’m actually ashamed of it. I got it when I was about 17 or 18, after a particularly bad psychotic episode where I had the full cast of “Men In Black” follow me around everywhere I went (no joke). And my faith in Jesus was the one thing that saved me from Will Smith shooting me in the back.
I am not pleading insanity; I was relatively sane when I got it, and back then, it really did mean something. I think tattoos are a fine reminder of life stages. This is a stage that was particularly complex for me though.
When I was 13, my parents sent me to a summer camp. Both of my brothers had attended it for a few years and loved the windsurfing and sailing. My parents expected that I would enjoy the same activities. The water sports were fun, but what I enjoyed most was the three-times-a-day mass, the prayer, the sermons, and the companionship of being with other children-of-God. My family was far from religious, although my dad and I often went to an Anglican church. But this – this big Baptist wonderland – was something that I sunk my whole self into.
I came back from camp that summer, having accepted Jesus into my heart. For the following few months, I tried to convert everyone I knew – including my parents – and began to live my life like a good Christian girl. The church I was involved with, unlike many good, Baptist churches, taught me that I would lose everyone I loved to the Devil if I didn’t make it my mission to save them. No pressure or anything.
The first year or so, I was able to keep it up until there was something fun that the Christian in me couldn’t partake in, and then I “let myself fall”. I wanted to drink, I wanted to fool around with boys, I wanted to have fun – all things I didn’t think I could do as a Christian. But underneath it all, being involved in the church helped me gain a solidity that, if I didn’t have, I don’t think I would have gotten through what I had to face as a late teen/young adult. Christ really did have His benefits.
At the age of 16, I decided to do my Ministry and Discipleship training. I wanted to make a difference for other lost kids. I threw myself into the church and can honestly say that I witnessed some miracles and really did experience the presence of God. When I got sick with depression and psychosis a little after that, my intense relationship with God played a big factor in my illness. I was constantly feeling guilty for letting Him down, yet when I was suicidal, He was the only thing that saved me.
Religion played such a huge part in my young life that it is hard to deject some of the good things about it: the community, the strong sense of belief that everything will be okay, the connection to a spiritual force. But there are things I really did have to walk away from, like the pressures of a child having to save an atheist family, the constant guilt I felt when I did anything “wrong”… and most importantly, the rejection of homosexuality inside church walls. One Sunday, one of the youth leaders at my church was asked to step down because he got his teenage girlfriend pregnant. We spent the next three hours praying for his forgiveness. I never went back.
Years later, I consider myself spiritual, not religious. But I don’t even know what that means. I have not had my tattoo removed or tatted over, out of lack of money more than anything else. In many ways, I miss the church. I miss the masses praying for me when I was sick. I miss feeling completely and genuinely loved. But I do not miss the shame. I don’t know to whom I pray, but I still pray. I dropped the “Jesus” and “Father” in my prayers a long time ago, and now speak to a general audience and hope that someone in listening.
My partner, Devon, was never religious. She has only been inside churches for funerals. She listens to my stories of the Baptist church and is quick to dismiss it as a cult. All she sees in a church is an institution that rejects gay people. She is resentful of a God that took away both of her parents at such an early age and who would judge her for being the woman she is. I have tried to show her that not all churches are homosexual haters, but it is hard to come up with positive stories when there is so much hate and bigotry. My ex-church certainly isn’t a great example.
When we have a child, I want for that child to appreciate a higher power. I want for that child to know that there is a God that loves him or her in-and-out, regardless of the choices he or she makes. But we will probably disagree on how to raise our child and I still have to figure out what I believe in, if anything. As for what to say when my child is old enough to ask me about my tattoo – that, I don’t have an answer for. Yet. By then, perhaps it will be inked over.