Coming up on my 58th birthday, I would like to say brand doesn’t matter to me, but I have to confess I care as much about the brand of what I wear as teenagers and professional business people care about the brand of their clothes or cars. Brands help us define who we think we are or want to become. For me it’s any sports clothing, hiking gear, or outdoor adventure accessories with that saleable balance between affordability, functionality, and reputation for quality of workmanship that makes it an investment more than a luxury—as good a rationale as any!
As a young child visiting a family farm in Texas, there was the old blue Chevrolet Cheyenne Custom Deluxe-10 pickup truck that couldn’t be serviced enough to make it disposable. (I had learned to navigate gopher holes in it as my first experience driving out in cow pastures, before I was old enough to be licensed. My cousin, Johnny, still boasts that he owned “The Blue Armadillo” to the end of its life.) I can remember Kenmore, Whirlpool, and Frigidaire competing for top ratings as household appliance producers. One fond memory of visits to my grandparents’ home is of an old round-featured Kenmore out in their garage. It held wonderfully cold beverages like Coke and Dr. Pepper in glass bottles with raised logos, restoring our energy in the Texas summer heat. We delighted in opening them on the old metal bottle-opener mounted on a framing timber, before escaping to the air conditioned game room above to shoot “pool” or play ping pong as an RCA Victrola radio blared popular country music.
But there was another kind of forced branding that made me cry uncontrollably when I witnessed young calves corralled and wrestled to the ground by cowboys simply doing their job on the farms in Mineral Wells and Hereford. The smell of burning hair and singed skin still makes me cringe, but the practice of branding protected the interests of the owners, whose livestock had the potential to stray or be stolen. Now, ear tags serve a similar purpose, and although young ones still yowl when their lobes are punctured, it’s not the long excruciating bawl associated with the trauma of hide-burning.
All through history, cultures have identified branding and piercing as outward signs of “belonging to” or “identifying with” something. Among ancient cultures recognizing “body modification” as an outward display of status, Hebrew slaves who served six years had to be freed in the seventh year—the Year of Jubilee (Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12); but, if the slave refused the offer of freedom and wanted to continue in the service of a benevolent owner, the master pierced his ear with an awl, creating a bond for life (Ex. 21:5–6; Deut. 15:16–17) . Obligation became personal choice and an outwardly seen act to “seal the deal” was a culturally accepted practice.
Are you still with me? Hold on. I’m going to make connections. I promise.
For the past year I’ve lived near and worked in Cocoa Beach, Florida where tattoos and body piercings are commonly seen. Many who have them consider it an art-form elevating personal expression. Never having gotten one, I wondered what would make anyone endure the pain of the process and permanence of the results. I also began questioning whether there was anything I could confidently say was “me”, enough to pay for the experience. A few months earlier I’d seen an exquisite oak tree with a set of scales suspended under its canopy on the torso of a young man. It was a piece of art for which he’d paid a higher price than I’d ever venture, but never-the-less, an impressive expression of something deeply rooted in him.
Ok, here comes the “punch line”, the “tie in”, the connection:
Today I succumbed—I won’t say to temptation— but to allow myself not only license to “think outside the box”, but to choose something for myself at one time unthinkable. A design had been ruminating in my mind for weeks, as I was reminded of a trail-name adopted before a second thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail. For me it was a name that still symbolized my intent to fit with and travel harmoniously along whatever pathways I might encounter in life. Mingled in my heritage are Native American Cherokee who traveled along a Trail of Tears from their home in North Carolina to reservations in the Midwest. I had been reading psychologists’ interpretations of dreams involving water, rivers, and tears. Some say they symbolize the awakening of a subconscious “knowing” typically repressed by business-models and scientific reasoning of our “progressive” age. Somehow, the name “Dovetail” resonated with me and I knew it was a name I could live with as long as my spirit had residence in my body. Over the past year I’d been learning to love myself again—to believe in things I couldn’t see but felt were good and right and true—promptings that either made me restless if ignored, or gave me great peace when regarded as directional signs for my life.
After visiting several tattoo parlors, assessing them for cleanliness, and browsing thru artists’ portfolios, the non-refundable deposit I put down in a moment of self-affirmation, somehow made sense. When I met the artist, “Doc”, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. His gaze was direct, steady, and confident, even as his voice was re-assuring as he explained the process. He worked with precision, pausing to gently dab the inscription of a pattern he was etching into the clean slate flesh between my shoulders: An opened heart with wings protecting me—Dovetail– like a fledgling bird in a nest, waiting to take flight. I tried to relax and focus on the fact than pain is a passage and momentary. When Doc announced he’d finished in less time than I’d expected, he let me to a hallway and showed me the permanent new feature on my back with the aid of a hand-held mirror.
A quiet sense of empowerment lifted me out of a holding pattern that had haunted me for months, as I drove to get after-care lotion for the new wound, considering the paradox of inviting pain for the purpose of launching in a new direction outside the comfort of routine and predictable outcomes. I was choosing, in a year of Jubilee, to bear a birthmark of sorts, symbolizing my willingness to trust and serve my Creator, unashamed of the Spirit within or a God whose purposes were yet to be revealed in my life. Today it had come in the form of a tattoo—something well beyond a comfort zone whose boundaries had been breached. All I saw was a sky filled with billowing clouds, and a clear road before me. And I understood the purpose and value of a brand.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (II Corinthians 1:21,22)
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1,2)
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)