Church Chair with the Toddler Tattoo

It sat third from the end on the sixth row back. I first noticed it as I walked through the sanctuary early one Sunday morning praying for the people who would sit in each of the church chairs in both morning services. I prayed for each person to have an encounter with the living God when they came that morning. As I entered the sixth row I caught site of the chair – based on the design I judged the age of the artist to be one of our toddlers who apparently did not find my sermon enthralling enough to put down the pen he found in his mother’s purse.

Church Chair with the Toddler TattooI starred at the chair. It brought to mind the theme of the movie “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was “evil shall with evil be expelled.” As I stood looking at this chair and its toddler tattoo of a smiley family two things occurred to me. First, I felt a deep sense of joy and purity – here was an unspoiled picture of life from the eyes of a toddler who had not experienced evil. In contrast to the stories of pain and evil
that paraded through the pastoral offices the story told in the toddler tattoo spoke volumes about newness and wholeness.
Second, I pondered the fact that God’s approach to humankind was not with evil but the same joy and purity I saw in the toddler tattoo. Immanuel (God with us) started out as a toddler tattoo.

The church chair just sat there starring at me. I contemplated writing a maintenance request to have it cleaned. But the toddler tattoo enraptured my imagination. There was something unnerving and penetrating about the toddler tattoo. It spoke of hope, of delight in the moment, of joy in the love of family, of confidence in the care of others. What if the toddler tattoo had this effect on everyone else?

Well everyone but Mavis. Almost every Sunday between services Mavis asked me why I allowed children in the sanctuary. This week the toddler tattoo would serve as evidence for her verdict of displeasure. Mavis liked to hover over everyone’s business and often cited the policies and practices of the mega-church she and her husband attended prior to moving to our community and our little church of 450. Augh! Thinking of Mavis and her mega-church policies was like throwing a stone into a still and quiet pool of water. As the ripples of my thoughts dissipated the toddler tattoo reemerged beckoning me to see a different vision.

I decided to keep the toddler tattoo just where it sat. I knew people would encounter something of the power inherent in the vision of the toddler tattoo. For some it would be an invitation. For others it would be a painful contrast. Sometimes the promise of healing seems vindictive a cruel reminder of brokenness or pain. I had seen both responses in people. But I had also seen evil gently washed away, its cruel grip loosened and obliterated by the wooing of God’s love. The toddler tattoo captured the essence of this divine wooing. It would stay and I prayed that it would impact people young and old in ways that wooed them to respond to God’s love.

I completed my prayer time in the sanctuary and walked toward the kitchen to find a cup of coffee. On the way I saw that the little artist had been busy…the crayon fresco on the hallway wall just didn’t hit me in the same way as the toddler tattoo…the subject matter (a dinosaur eating what appeared to be another toddler) just did not pull the same heart string. I determined that I needed to tap into this emerging artistic community– in a more constructive way.

Special note: if a challenge other than a toddler tattoo afflicts your church chairs cleaning today’s church chair polyolefin or polyester fabrics typically requires a mild detergent and water for water based stains or a dry cleaning solvent for oil based stains. Check with your product specialist to find the best cleaning solution for your church chair upholstery fabric.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in cross-cultural leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.