Skinheads, Nose Rings, and Tattoos, Oh My!

It is easy to jump to rash judgements about people, but we should see the image of God in each person.

Rash judgment is the unquestioning conviction about another person’s bad conduct without adequate grounds for the judgment.

We’ve all done it, or at least I am very guilty of it: jumping to conclusions based on something I think I know but, in reality, is not the way it actually is. But despite our own proclivity to judge rashly at times, it is important to teach our children the importance of hating the sin but not the sinner. Of course, we can make objective judgments about things—this is what separates us from the brute beasts. But as our children grow up in a more and more secularized, neo-pagan world, it is very probable that they will come in contact with many more deviant, strange looking, contrary-to-reason-acting individuals than we, their parents, did growing up. 

Today, people like to show and celebrate their differences, and they want the world to accept them for who they are, what they are, and how they act. And our children, who are being taught about the existence of objective Truth and the need to follow the Will of God, need to figure out a way to see these people for who they are—who they really are—children of God who are simply wandering down the wrong path. We need to be able to teach them to judge prudently, and not rashly, and to be an instrument of God in the world, helping others to know, love, and serve Him. In God’s Divine Providence, we can just never know how our actions or interactions might affect another.

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This is my story of how God showed me how awesome He is and how foolish I was in my judgments.

I was a DRE for 5 years in the ’90s, and to supplement my income, I worked as a bartender every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at a local restaurant. Everyone there knew that I was some type of extremist religious fanatic and that I was “all in” on Catholicism. In fact, they all knew that I was working toward earning my master’s degree in theology at the same time.

Working in the kitchen there was a guy—let’s call him Rob—who was a scary looking fella with a bald head, a huge nose ring, some eyebrow rings, and loads of body art, including tattoos covering his arms and even the back of his large, bald head. And he would say things to try and shock me, use profanity and bad language, and even tell rude, crude, and obscene jokes involving priests and others. I thought he was “of the Devil” and a really, really bad guy. 

I quit that job in February and was happy not to have to ever see that guy again.

But God’s really funny sometimes.

I was standing in the back of church one Sunday in the late summer of that same year, trying to keep my baby daughter, Maria, from causing a disturbance in Church. The Mass ended, and people started flowing out into the vestibule, where I stood. Then I saw him. “Why would Rob be here?” I thought. “He’s a bad, bad guy.” Then I started freaking out and thinking, “Oh no. He’s going to see me, and since I’m the only one in this church that he probably knows, he might want to talk to me. Shoot. I’ve gotta hide.” Thankfully, there was a pillar close by, so I held my daughter really close to my chest and sort of hid my face.

“Hey Tom!” I hear. I look up, fearfully. It was him. He found me. I was flustered and ended up, unfortunately, saying exactly what I was thinking.

“Wow,” I said. “Satan’s entered the building.” He looked at me strangely, and I immediately tried to cover up for my rudeness and said, “What are you doing here?” He replied, “Just doing what everyone else is doing—trying to find God.” I said, “That’s cool. I hope you find what you are looking for,” and then I quickly left, happy to not have to gaze upon his hideous tattoos anymore.

At around 2:30 that afternoon, my phone rang. I answered it, and it was Rob. “Now he knows my phone number? Is he going to come after me and my family?” I thought.

“Tom, I just wanted to call you to let you know that I really didn’t appreciate that comment you made at church today, about Satan entering the building. There was no need for that type of comment,” he said.

“Well, Rob,” I began, “I am really sorry for saying that, but you must remember that when I worked with you at the restaurant, you were pretty hostile to me and Catholics in general, and you really seemed to be a pretty bad guy. But, again, I’m sorry and I should not have made that comment.”

He replied, “Ok. I guess I bothered you quite a bit, but I’ve changed. I’m now interested in learning more about Christianity and religion. I appreciate your apology, but I guess I may have deserved it a little.”

“Rob, you know, if you actually want to know more about the Catholic Church and her teachings, I teach a class every Tuesday night for people interested in possibly becoming Catholic. You should attend,” I responded.

“That sounds like a great idea, I think I will attend,” he replied.

The rest is history, as they say. He came to all the classes, began to understand and live the Faith, and was confirmed a Catholic at the Easter Vigil, where he received Holy Communion for the first time, tattooed head and all (although he wore long sleeves to the Mass to cover his ink-ridden arms). And he looked so radiant!

For the next year or so, I’d run into Rob in the confession line on Saturday afternoons, along with many of the others whom I had helped convert to the Faith. I don’t know what’s become of him, or whether he is still practicing the Faith or not. The one thing I know is that it is very easy to be Pharisaical and condemn others who are not like us. In my many years of teaching RCIA, I came across all kinds of “tax collectors and sinners,” all of whom showed me that God’s mercy and grace are for everyone and not just for the righteous ones. And through this experience, I learned to better “hate the sin but not the sinner.”

Everyone is created by God and loved infinitely by Him, and we are called to be examples of His love in the world—even to the tattooed skinheads of the world, even when they look to be hostile to the true, the good, and the beautiful. This I have learned, thanks to Rob and so many more, and I encourage my children to look past some of the outlandish antics of people and to judge them for who they are—children of God who are in need of our prayers and good example.

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

  • Tom McFadden

    Tom McFadden is the VP for Enrollment at Christendom College, where he has worked since 2000. He holds a BA and MA in Theology from Christendom College. He and his wife, Amanda, are the parents of 11 children, aged 29 to 5 years old.

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