Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today is the Day to Make Peace (A Tattoo Story)

Kelley Nikondeha is over at Deeper Story hosting a link-up on "Embodied Stories" where she invites us all to sit around the table and tell stories about our tattoos. I thought it would be fun, so I'm telling the story of one of mine and linking-up (a day late, which has become kind of my thing as of late).

I was out of the military and just really beginning to process much of what I'd gone through, and I wanted something to mark the occasion by. If you know me at all, you know that the traditional bald-eagle-American-flag collage wasn't really an option, nor was the classic violence-glorifying gun-worshipping sort of thing that also seems to be standard issue among vets (no offense if you've got one of those, it's just really not my thing).

There was a lot going on at the time. My whole worldview was slowly being picked apart, piece by agonizing and terrifying piece. All of the rationalizations seemed absurd, the excuses so silly and empty.

The other day, E was at "school" (which basically consists of 2 hours of structured play, because, you know, HE'S ONLY THREE) and he had worked hard to build a castle out of those fake cardboard bricks, only to have a bully come over and knock the whole thing down.

That's kind of what my faith looked like at the time. I had worked so hard to build it, meticulously placing each brick in its proper place and marvelling as the whole thing took shape. Then, it was confronted by the bully of cold, hard reality.

I had the most incredible English teacher in both junior high and my freshmen year of high school named Mrs. Brandenburg. She was passionate about her job and relentless in trying to get us to step out of our middle school awkwardness and actually express ourselves. She was a constant encouragement (like when I first started writing really bad poetry as a tween) and an inspiration to all of us who were lucky enough to have been in class with her. She was the first one to ever encourage me to write something down (I'll let you be the judge of whether or not that was a good idea).

Anyway, Mrs. Brandenburg had a saying that she lived by (and I can't help but think a certain stellar performance by Robin Williams had something to do with this): Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It has always stuck with me for some reason (perhaps as a counterweight to my accursed penchant for egregious procrastination), and it serves as a constant reminder to take advantage of the gift of time we're given.

So there I was, looking at the wreckage and ruin of everything that not-so-long-ago I thought I was certain of. I was looking for peace, but all I could find was a vague promise in an old book:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

So I have this saying, Carpe Diem, a saying that has been so often used as justification for all kinds of mindless, self-serving nonsense (I mean, let's be honest, YOLO is just the text-message abbreviation) and hedonistic indulgence. I thought, maybe it would be kind of cool to take it and apply it to something totally counter-cultural, like peacemaking. So I needed some universal symbols of peace that would be easy to recognize.

First, the dove. Duh.

I was raised Pentecostal. The image of the dove as a representation of a certain kind of spiritual peace is a foundational piece of Pentecostal symbology. Pretty sure that one was non-negotiable.

The olive branch is significant as well, from its roots in Roman usage as a symbol of peace. Also, I love the connotations of cultivation that come along with olive branch. To get good olives, you have to work the soil, tend the grove, and pay painstaking attention to the needs of the trees. It takes work, in other words. The two taken together are often seen as a symbol of peace as well, from the conclusion of the flood story to modern appropriations like the symbol of Vets for Peace (a personal favorite of mine). 

The process itself ended up with me answering my own question. I was looking for peace, asking "how do I find it?" when all along, the answer was right there in front of me.

In this life, we don't find peace. We have to make it.

So I guess if you ask me what my tattoo means, the short answer is this:

Today is the day to pro-actively make peace.

With ourselves, our pasts, our families, our enemies, our cities, our world.

Wherever we can. Today is the day. Make Peace.


  1. THIS is the story I've been waiting to read. I'm in tears - from the moment I saw the picture of your ink. I intuitively and immediately knew what it meant... So bold in meaning, in location, in images joined together. Luke, it is stunning. And I love the note on good olives taking cultivation and time... never thought of that before. Love your single sentence summation. Yes, today we make peace. I stand with you, today, making peace. Thank you so very much for sharing...

  2. Amazing story and amazing tattoo! Lovelovelove this: "we don't find peace. We have to make it." I can't imagine a more perfect tattoo to represent your peacemaker's heart.

    Thank you for sharing your story (and thank you to the teacher who encouraged you to write!)

  3. I've been waiting to hear more about your military experience and nonviolence. Thank you for sharing this beautiful window into that journey of living in the tension!

  4. Your tattoo takes my breath away!
    Amazing and wish there were more men whom share the same thoughts! Beautiful and inspiring.


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