by Tracy Simmons
It’s faded now, often covered by socks or pant legs. What was once a symbol of pride has now become a branding, an aching scar I hide.
Thirteen years ago, on a Friday night, I strutted into Fine Line Tattoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico and told the artist exactly what I wanted. A Jesus fish, please, above my right ankle.
It was a symbol of my born-again Christian faith and the Greek letters inside (IXOYE) — the Greek word for “fish” — emphasized the acrostic, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”
At 18 years old, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that people were being spiritually wronged in the name of Christianity. I didn’t know that I too, would be victimized by the faith I so proudly hailed.
In “Speaking Christian” Marcus Borg writes that to be Christian means to know, use, and be shaped by the Christian language. Yet many modern Christians don’t truly comprehend the language they preach, and in turn use it to lash out at and harm others.
As a young Christian I used the Bible, and my new tattoo, as a weapon to condemn those I didn’t understand — people of other faiths, other political parties, “sinners.”
I was a budding journalist at the time and, because faith was so valuable to me, ended up becoming a religion reporter. It was when I began studying other traditions that I began veiling my tattoo.
The more I wrote about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., the more sacred they became. In turn, the more I reported on Christianity, the more sacred it also became.
But I could no longer call myself a born-again, which is what the Jesus fish has come to represent in our society. My Christianity evolved. Through researching and writing I finally began to speak Christian.
Those with whom I once sank to my knees and prayed, with whom I once raised my hands in the air and sang “Hallelujah,” told me I had lost my way. The inclusive theology I now embraced meant I was no longer on the narrow path, and they could no longer support me, or my career.
Their rejection inspired me to get a second tattoo. This one can’t hide, and I don’t want to. A quill pen, about six inches long, dresses my right forearm. It’s writing the word “Scribo,” which means “I write” in Latin.
I see it every day. Even when I’m wearing long sleeves, the “S” peeks out, reminding me that writing can lead to changed attitudes.
Maybe if I write enough, the Jesus fish can be reclaimed as a symbol of Jesus’ mission for social justice and compassion.
Until then, tube socks it is.
Tracy Simmons is the editor and community manager of Spokane Faith & Values. She’s reported on religion for about a decade and has written for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Simmons has won several journalism awards including the 2009 American Academy of Religion’s first place award for best in-depth reporting on religion, and the 2011 Religion Newswriters Association’s Schachern Award for Online Religion Section of the Year.