Tattooing My Religion

February 26, 2018
Six months ago, I found myself deeply invested in rediscovering my faith. Every Sunday, I’d gladly drive the 25 minutes from Coral Gables to Wynwood, Miami’s art district, to listen to a guy in his early 30s, clad in skintight, ripped jeans, Chelsea boots, and a sports jacket, preach to a middle school auditorium full of Miami’s non-denominational hipster millennials.

One Sunday in November, another church leader shared a message spotlighting life’s different seasons. Most of his examples pertained to parenting, something that I, then a 21-year-old college senior, could not relate to on any level. Then he switched gears. I had been drifting in and out, hearing only bits and pieces of his monologue, laughing and applauding when appropriate, until I heard the word tattoo.

He explained that getting a tattoo is signing a contract, in a way— this contract requires that you always have an answer prepared for the inevitable “What’s your tattoo?” or “What does your tattoo mean?” Anyone can ask you, anywhere, at any time, so you need to have rehearsed what you’re going to say. Maybe I’m naïve, but I was not aware of this unspoken rule; in fact, I thought the opposite was true: don’t ask, don’t tell.

With the exception of a persistent and, frankly, frustrating friend, only one person has asked me outright what the piece on my inner right arm represents, and I awkwardly, but politely, thanked her for her interest and said simply that I wasn't going to talk about it. My church speaker is apparently more forthcoming than I am.

The inscription on his arm reads memento mori, or to die in Latin, and he’s accustomed to getting odd looks when he translates it for the guy on the adjacent barstool or the barista behind the counter at the coffee shop.

At some point in his life, this young man had a reminder of death tattooed on his arm. He will carry those sobering two words, etched in a dead language, with him forever, that he might look down and see that this thing we call life is fleeting and that we all die. This clarification stood out to me, but not as much as the inherent duality of the tattoo.

Before elucidating, he said something incredibly simple that palpably resonated with those around me: Christians can have tattoos— that they aren’t allowed is a cultural assumption. I knew this, but to have it said, to have it hang there in the air, the air I shared with other young, tattooed Christians, was affirmative and empowering. Still, words only carry weight for those willing to hear them.

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Christians get an unfair rap today. Radical offshoots expound a false message of hate and condemnation; you’ll be punished for mutilating your body with needles and ink, they say, and racism and sexism are continually, and falsely, justified with religious doctrines. The central, binding philosophy of Christianity? Love. Christians are to love as Jesus loved. Jesus showed compassion to rich and poor, all colors, all beliefs, all walks of life. A tattoo does not make you a “bad” Christian in the same way that different hair colors and names do not.

There is also a modern disconnect between faith and religion. The latter tends to have more negative connotations; Merriam-Webster defines religion in the archaic form as “scrupulous conformity,” and it is often regarded as an institution, a rigorous set of rules to be followed. You must go to church. You must do XYZ. Synonyms of religion include words like creed and cult, in addition to faith. But faith, in contrast, is defined as “allegiance to duty or a person;” the first synonym listed is devotion.

I’m no biblical scholar, but I do know this: you can be religious without having faith and vice versa. Adherence to rules does not translate into how “good” of a Christian you are. You can follow protocol for reasons unknown, and you can believe in salvation through Christ, whether you attend church or not. Christianity is grounded in the teachings of the New Testament, and much of the “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” can be found in the Old Testament. People look to the past because they don’t trust what they don’t know, and they don’t want to know what they don’t trust.

For those who have asked, I’ve likened the experience of getting a tattoo to anesthesia— but instead of a quick pinch, the needle goes in and stays in, cutting the surface of your skin in three- to five-second bursts. And, of course, you never lose consciousness. Before stepping foot into the shop, I’d determined how painful getting my first tattoo would be based on articles I’d read, experiences of others, my own pain tolerance, and even color-coded diagrams depicting pain levels for different areas of the body. Then I was in the chair and the first stroke was made. A pause. “Wait, is that it?” Roughly 180 minutes of slight discomfort and some sporadic grimacing, and it was over.

But it was also the beginning. Having a tattoo comes with a new awareness. I am now very cognizant of tattoos in general: on strangers, on people I know, even online and in shows and movies. A friend of mine likened this awareness to buying a particular car and then seeing the same car all over the city.

I find myself wanting to know what assumptions, if any, are being made about us— the tattooed— because of our ink. Who is questioning our intelligence, our beliefs, our professionalism, or our characters, simply because we decided we wanted permanent body art? Are people truly capable of not judging books by their covers, or is that something we say to make ourselves feel better?

I think most of us would agree with the latter; if this wasn’t the reality, wouldn’t racism, sexism, and stereotyping be non-existent? As more people get tattoos, the stigma is fading with social acceptability, but whether society can ever put aside its isms and assumptions... I think I thought I saw you try. 

I did lose some things when I got a tattoo. I lost fear. I lost doubt in my ability to withstand pain. I probably lost the option to wear short sleeves in certain work environments. I may have lost the respect of people I don’t know. But I didn’t lose my religion— I tattooed it.

The Hot Button, Vol. 1: Gun Control & Net Neutrality

February 22, 2018

The horrific shooting in Parkland took place ten miles from my mom's house, just outside the county I was born and raised in. Yesterday, hundreds of students staged a walkout from the high school I attended from 2010 to 2014; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduates, now undergraduates at my alma mater, hosted a vigil for the victims on Tuesday night. Across South Florida this week, teens have walked miles, hours in the heat in support of the #NeverAgain movement.

Still, Florida lawmakers voted down the bill that would ban assault weapons. Gun control does not have to be a partisan issue. Everyone, regardless of political leaning, should be able to agree that the average American has no need for a military-grade assault weapon. Everyone should be able to agree that banning some guns is not banning all guns. Everyone should be able to agree that stricter background checks do not violate the Constitution.

Every child deserves to attend school without fear and deserves a safe space to learn. Every teacher deserves to be able to walk into work without wondering whether or not they will take a bullet, or their life, for their students that day. Every parent deserves the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their kids and those to whom they entrust their kids are not put in unreasonable, unnecessary danger.

Gun control laws are hotly protested now more than ever, but there are things you can do to build awareness and create change. Many protesting students are under 18 and cannot legally take action, so if you hear what they're saying, you need to fight for them. Here are seven things you can do to help prevent gun violence, and here are actions you can take if you can't stage a walkout.

There have been 18 school shootings in the U.S. this year; let's end the count here.


Today, the FCC officially implemented the repeal of net neutrality. This is a huge deal, but it's not over yet. Join Operation #OneMoreVote here, and on February 27, take action to convince one more senator to join the effort to overturn the repeal and keep our Internet an open, free space.

If you don't think this repeal will negatively impact you, you are wrong— unless you happen to be a big cable or media executive. Some things to consider if companies are given the ability to selectively charge Americans to access the Internet:


Who will pay for public school students, teachers, and faculty to access the Internet? Taxpayers? Will tuition fees go up so university students, teachers, and faculty can do the same? How will this impact low-income individuals who may not have computers at home and must rely on public institutions such as libraries and community centers?


How will this impact the average small business owner? What about those who make their living online, such as remote employees, freelancers, and online shop owners? Will the concept of "free wifi" become null and void?

Everyday Life

How does paying to Google something sound? Paying to watch Netflix or stream music, which you already pay for? What about paying to job search or to tweet?

We have a limited window to fix this, so spread the word, sign this petition, and remember to take action on Tuesday, February 27.

It's All Science to Me

February 18, 2018
Every summer from the time I was six to when I turned 13, I was enrolled in day camp. I painted and pottered at the local art museum, took "classes" at a summer youth college, and went on daily field trips with a city-sponsored program. The closest science museum— the Museum of Discovery and Science in Ft. Lauderdale— was a popular field trip destination and, in essence, an icon for South Floridian kids; two summers ago, I worked with someone my own age who had never been, though he, too, was born and raised in South Florida.

I tried to jog his memory— of course he'd been there before— by describing the iconic outdoor setup: a huge, automated rollercoaster-type structure that sends colored balls up, down, and around the museum courtyard. No? What about the IMAX theater? Or that room meant to make you feel like you're inside a kaleidoscope, directing the lights and patterns with a wand? The Mars rover simulator, the virtual volleyball, the turtles and stingrays, that weird, nameless thing that involves strapping yourself to a seatless chair and letting your friends spin you around until you're ready to puke?

You must remember the gift shop, I persisted. All those overpriced knick-knacks, the astronaut ice cream you're obligated to repurchase even though it's more nauseating than the seatless spinning chair? To my surprise (and undisguised disappointment), my tactics proved unsuccessful; he had really never been.

I would not consider myself a science-oriented person, despite doing well in the subject in school, but for whatever reason, I am big into science museums (don't get me started on planetariums or aquariums, ethics aside for a moment). In college, I worked part-time as an academic tutor for a program partly funded by a science museum, and my last semester, we moved to the shiny, new location overlooking Biscayne Bay and Downtown Miami.

I was given an informal "tour" my first day there, and my not-so-inner nerd thrived on the complimentary access given me by my newly granted museum ID card. Shiny and new as the museum was, I found myself disillusioned by the lack of interactive, hands-on exhibits. The ingenuity (at least in my kid self's frame of reference) I'd come to expect had mostly been replaced by tablets and touchscreens and things to be watched rather than engaged with.

At first, I wondered when and how museum curation became something of significance to me, and then I realized: the next generation of kids won't get to experience science the way my peers and I had. Will they find that favorite exhibit worth going back for again and again, or will the museum displays of today and tomorrow seem to them just an extension of the iPads, VR games, and drones they can use at home?

I grew up ten minutes from a "science playground" (different things hidden within the multi-level wooden park were intended to be "discovered"), and on the grounds was a children's science explorium. The best permanent installment, by far, was the frozen shadow room. You had ten seconds to strike the craziest pose you could come up with before the light flashed and "froze" your shadow to the wall. Would today's kids enjoy this as much as I did, or is interest in traditional science museums waning because of evolving technology?

Improved technology should, logically, make for the most innovative science museums. But what if it's working out to have the opposite effect? If interactivity is being replaced by all things digital—not to say that the two can't coexist, or coexist well, at that— can't you just put your kids in front of a screen at home and save both time and money? I guess there's a science to this, this new sort of development, a different kind of science from the principles that museums aim to educate the public on. What is it? Well, I'm no scientist, but I hypothesize that only time will tell.

The Box We Put Ourselves In

February 15, 2018
We'll all face it, likely more than once, if we haven't already. The box. That figurative 4x4 space we sometimes relegate our minds to. Confines that we've convinced ourselves we belong within, for in the box, we can ignore that one project, that one idea that we're too afraid to commit to.

We're comfortable right where we are, within the parameters we've set for ourselves, the limits we've imposed. That, or we don't know how to escape them. We long to identify as a member of a particular group, or at the very least, we don't want to be lumped in with another, opposing group. If we're brought up to be a certain way, behave a certain way, we might place ourselves firmly in a box representative of everything we weren't taught.

Is it fair that we put ourselves in boxes? Does it matter? If we're only projecting ourselves onto ourselves, it's just us hurting us.

When I was a kid, I would regularly tune into PBS for a handful of shows on my dinosaur of a home TV. Every week, I'd watch a rotating cast of kids a few years older than me conduct experiments, make fun foods, and embrace their individuality. I admired these kids I didn't know for acting in a scripted show, essentially (to be fair, I didn't realize that they were just reciting lines from memory). Even after I grew too old for Zoom, the theme of the show— embracing creativity— stuck with me for some reason.

That— embracing creativity— is what I hope to accomplish with this new project. I'm ready to ditch the clean-cut, blog-ready pieces in favor of the heavier, question-posing pieces that I write and don't share. Essays, long-form content, op-eds, creativity, culture, socio-political opinions, wellness, fiction... I'm breaking down (and probably recycling) the box I've been in.