While this isn’t a post about tattoos, people do sometimes ask if my nose ring has meaning like the tattoos. Since it does, and piercings qualify as body art, I decided to wrap up the series with a final word on this last body modification.

My experience of beginning to follow Jesus as a Christian was as dramatic as you’d expect from a pseudo-intellectual high school girl from a dysfunctional home with daddy issues. I made a lot of extreme commitments, wore creepy religious t-shirts all the time, and toted a HUGE bible to school every day. Some drastic changes were good, necessary even, to pull me off the self-destructive path I was walking. Some were the product of becoming a Christian into a pretty radical charismatic faith community. Some were the result of my very dramatic personality.

The Christian Bible was the single most important tool in my conversion, in my early discipleship, and even in what I devote myself to today. I read the thing voraciously, bought up all kinds of guides and study tools, went to classes and sermons and seminars. It was, and continues to be, the means through which I have learned to recognize the voice of God all around me. Over the years I’ve fixated on some pretty weird sections of Scripture, and have dragged my small Bible study group through those weeds. Like spending five months in the book of Judges, or how we are currently in a series on Leviticus that has lasted nine months (and counting).

Early on in reading the Bible I stumbled upon the following:

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year he shall go free, without paying anything….But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master…and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

~Exodus 21:2-6

So here’s a breakdown of a few things. This is in the second book of the Bible, a book that is telling the story of how the nation of Israel became…well, the nation of Israel. At the beginning of the book they are an enslaved people in a polytheistic, pagan country, and have been for generations. They have never existed as a nation, as free people, as monotheists. They know next to nothing about the God of their ancestors, but they know plenty about brutality and slavery. The rules that are laid out for them in this and other books of the Old Testament are given to help them learn about the God who saved them, who they were to be as a people who were His, and how to live in a way that was counter-cultural so as to reflect the goodness of God to the nations around them. *I do understand that this is a drastic oversimplification and that any number of arguments can be raised about the events of the Old Testament. For the sake of this post they are irrelevant, though I’d be happy to have them via actual conversation.*

They had been slaves and God delivered them to freedom. For that reason they were not to buy and sell one another. The most common reason for someone to go into slavery was to pay a debt, so the practice still existed as a temporary situation. However, regardless of the debt owed, the slave was to be freed after six years along with his wife if he’d been married at the time the whole thing started. Permanent slavery was not to exist among the Hebrews. This is one reason some scholars believe the verse about not tattooing is in the book of Leviticus – in surrounding cultures tattooing was a way to mark someone as a permanent slave.

Now if after the six years were up, the slave might decide to stay with the master. If his poverty had been such that it led to him needing to sell himself to begin with, and if the master treated him well and took care of his family, it might be a mutually beneficial set-up. So they could go to the judges (the people who decided civil matters for the community) and make the matter official. With an earring. Something visible, but revocable, done in the presence of witnesses as a voluntary act. No cornering someone about to be released and forcing a tattoo or piercing on them in a dark corner. Nothing that permanently marked them. This is where the term “love slave” may come from.

Jesus intervened in my life during a very dark and pivotal time in my life. I was barreling down a very specific, very destructive highway. His derailing saved my life (I don’t mean this symbolically) and set me on a path of healing and freedom and restoration. He rescued me. Under the safety of His guidance I have come to be a person and live a life I never thought possible. My life is infinitely better as His “servant” than it ever was when I thought I was free.

At eighteen I decided I wanted to get an eyebrow or nose ring to represent my voluntary submission to lifetime commitment to serving Christ as one of His own. Then my car broke down, and for a poor college kid that was enough to consume all monies for quite a while. Then I joined an internship that didn’t allow piercings. Then I was hired on at a credit union with a dress code from 1972 that didn’t allow piercings other than two in each ear (among many, many other ridiculous rules), and I worked there for over a decade. So when I finally broke free from my corporate prison and started with a company where my multi-colored hair and various body modifications don’t matter, the piercing idea came immediately back to mind. The eyebrow felt a little…young…at this point, and a coworker going through a tough time asked if I’d go with her to get her nose pierced. I spent some time thinking about it, and realized that the meaning I’d ascribed to a piercing at eighteen years old was a thousand times more true now than it was then.

I’ll be honest. Piercings hurt like a bitch. And I don’t heal well from them, unlike my tattoos which generally heal in warp speed. The nose was the second “nontraditional” piercing I’ve had, and it really did feel like getting stabbed with a huge needle. It took forever to stop being swollen, and as soon as it did the ring started falling out every time I dried my face. After a year and a half we’ve come to a truce of sorts; I no longer have to worry about it flying out of my face or getting randomly infected. But it still serves as a reminder of the life I could have lived and the blessing of the life I get to live instead. There are so many misconceptions out there about what a relationship with God through Jesus is about, most of which have been purported by the Church. All I can say is that I rest in Him even as I strive to emulate and serve Him. I can love Him (and you) because He taught me how to love. For that I am eternally grateful.


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