A Tattoo to Talk About

I got my first tattoo in 2011. It’s on the inside of my left forearm, and it says, Solus Christus. Christ alone.

We were in San Francisco at the time, where I pitched for the Giants. The Bay Area occupies an important place in the history of tattooing, so a family friend from Seattle — a tattoo artist — visited us in order to learn more about it. When he flew down with his wife, he brought his tools along, and my wife Larisa and I got our first tattoos.

We did the tattooing at home, so our nanny took our oldest son out to play. At three and a half, Walker was all over the place. I was worried that he’d get in the middle of the work. I didn’t want to end up with some random line tattooed up my arm!

That little man blew my mind when he came home. He’s so observant. He ran in the house yelling, “Dad, I’m home!” I called out, “Hey, Buddy,” and he came running in the room. He was just about to give me a hug, when suddenly he came to a full stop. He was literally three feet away from me. He looked down at my arm and said, “What’s that? What’s on your arm?” I told him, “It’s my tattoo!” Right away he said, “I want one!”

“Well,” I told him, “you know, I’m not against that, but people might ask questions if my three year-old son shows up with a tattoo on his arm. Also, when you’re 16 and you have a tattoo of Go, Diego Go!, you’re probably going to be a little bit upset with me. So not right now, Buddy. Let’s wait on that.”

“Okay,” he said, “but can I get something fun too?” And I said “Sure!” Larisa got online and ordered some of those sticker tattoos that they make for little kids. I was on a road trip with the team when they came, so she texted me a picture. She told me Walker wanted his sticker tattoo on the exact same part of his arm as I had mine. And he was so proud of it!

Since he could change his, he wanted to know why I didn’t change mine. He didn’t realize that my tattoo is permanent.

I Want to Be Like My Dad

That was the first time that my oldest child said, “I want to be like my dad.” I was awed when I heard it, because that’s exactly how I think about my Father in Heaven. I want to be just like Him.

I also want to be like my brother Jesus, the Savior of the world. As a husband and father, I want to be just like Him.

I also want to be like Jesus in the world. Like Him, I want to be a servant leader.

Leading with Tattoos?

Getting a tattoo might make me seem more like a follower than a leader. They are pretty trendy!

Truth is, I hadn’t always wanted one. What were they for? Rebellion? We look at people who have tattoos and think, “Oh, there’s a rebellious side to that one.” We just know it. Whether it be quiet or loud, you hear that defiant voice. It says, “I have a statement to make.” Maybe it says, “Well, my mom and dad don’t like tattoos and didn’t want me to get one, so I did.” Or maybe it’s saying, “You know what? I’ve been so good my whole life. I want to get something that’s really out there, just this one time.”

There are also the accidental tattoos. The mistakes. Sometimes I’ve asked people about their tattoos and they’ve said, “Oh, I was drunk when I got that. It really doesn’t mean anything.” It’s true! People have told me, “I really don’t know why I got this tattoo. I just woke up one morning and there it was!”

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of man who would drink too much and then get tattooed.

In fact, I talked to a lot of people before I made my decision. I heard all kinds of different opinions about tattoos. I think everybody has an opinion! But no matter what opinion they hold, everybody agrees that a tattoo is permanent. When you tattoo your body, that picture or that message is going to be there for life. (I know there are laser removal techniques, but that’s painful! I really didn’t want to do that!)

I had to be absolutely certain that when I put something permanent on my body, it would mean something truly significant.

A Conversation Piece

That’s why I didn’t go for a standard tattoo. I didn’t want a Major League Baseball logo, or a baseball with flames on it. I didn’t want a Bible verse. I didn’t want something obviously Christian, like John 3:16.

No, no. I wanted a conversation piece. I wanted people to see my tattoo and ask me about it. People already know that I’m a man who lives by faith in the Almighty God, so John 3:16 wouldn’t advance the conversation in any meaningful way.

Selecting the right tattoo meant that I had to ask, “What am I trying to say?” I needed a tattoo that would arouse people’s curiosity and prompt them to ask me about it. I wanted someone to look at my tattoo and say, “What does that mean to you? Why that tattoo?”

Well, I knew a tattoo in Latin would start a conversation. So that’s where I went. I had Latin words permanently inscribed on my body. My forearm reads, Solus Christus.

It’s worked out so well. I’ve had great conversations with a lot of different people because of this tattoo. This tattoo has created all kinds of opportunities to talk to people about my faith. People see it and they ask, “What is that?” And I say, “It’s one of the five solas of church history.” Right away they ask, “What’s that?”

The Five Solas of the Reformation

That question itself shows you what a big deal this is. We’ve forgotten the five solas! We’ve forgotten our history as God’s people. We’ve forgotten where things started. We’ve forgotten where things came from. We don’t remember who we are supposed to be.

I’ve done several studies of church history. I haven’t done an in-depth study, but I think I get the gist of it, and the five solas have always stood out for me. There’s sola gratia, by grace alone, sola fide, through faith alone, soli Deo gloria, for God’s glory alone, and sola scriptura, according to scripture alone. And then there’s solus Christus, in Christ alone.

Solus means “solely,” or “alone,” so the five solas say something about our individual journeys. My journey is different than the journey of the person next to me. My journey is different than your journey. When you look at the five solas, you can’t help but think, what is my journey?

They make you ask, right?

See how well this tattoo works?

I am the author of To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball (2013), and my second book is in the works. Visit my Huffington Post page here. I blog here. Follow me on Instagram & Twitter: @JeremyAffeldt.