Sometimes, a tattoo is nothing more than a weekend in Vegas and few too many drinks.
There are times, however, when a tattoo can mean much more, regardless of whether everyone can see it.
Verve Church Pastor Vince Antonucci embarked on a monthlong teaching series called “Tattooed” Sept. 18. He added a little pain to his point by getting a real tattoo during a series of sermons this past Sunday and Monday.
Throughout life, everyone has been “tattooed” by a variety of setbacks ranging from financial to verbal to physical, Antonucci said during one of the identical services last weekend. These marks are lasting and can shape a person’s life and identity.
In his own case, the setbacks started almost from birth. Antonucci’s father was wanted by the law in Miami, so he had to register under an assumed name when Vince was born in 1970.
“He was an angry, bitter person and much of it came out at me,” Vince Antonucci said of his father. “He was emotionally abusive. I repeatedly was told I was stupid, bad, worthless.
“He would tattoo me with questions like, ‘How could you be so dumb? What’s wrong with you? Are you totally worthless?’
“And then he would make statements like, ‘You’ve got a real problem’ or ‘You really are stupid.’”
Antonucci said the hurtful names stuck with him.
“They left me feeling like my identity was ‘Stupid’ … ‘Bad’ … ‘Worthless.’”
The damage of verbal abuse had other effects, too.
“Over the years, my identity drove my behavior, like it does for everyone, so I lived out that ID, or I did everything in my power to prove it wrong. I tried to make my identity the opposite, so I strived to be seen as smart and worth something,” he said.
But change is hard.
“In order to get your new tattoo, your new ID, you have to first remove the old,” Antonucci explained. “I had lived so long thinking of myself in a negative way. I didn’t know how to not think of myself that way. I didn’t realize that God loved me.”
Antonucci’s tattoo added by tattoo artist Tommy Altman says, “The one Jesus Loves.”
“Your true identity is that you’re the one Jesus loves,” Antonucci told the gathering. “When I put my faith in Jesus, I became a different person.”
Among the congregants who could relate to the message was Darren LaCroix, a 50-year-old, 10-year resident of Las Vegas who hails from Boston.
“I understand what Vince was saying,” said LaCroix, a professional speaker. “I am now trying to remove the tattoos of my youth in Boston. I had a very fortunate childhood, but I also had my setbacks.”
The biggest setback was as a comic.
“I bombed a lot as a comedian,” he said. “My logical voice said that I simply wasn’t funny.
“Then, I owned a Subway Sandwich shop and it failed.”
LaCroix retreated and did a lot of praying, visualizing and listening to God.
Airman Gavin Brawley, a three-year resident of Las Vegas, also said the series is helping him.
“It’s been very good for me,” Brawley said. “We all struggle with the lens by which we view the world. That lens can be broken because of sin and the bad things in the world.”
“We found it pretty amazing. … The stuff we have grown to believe may not be our true identity,” added Steve Gunther, who attended the service with his wife, Denise.
Setting up the unusual services took some planning, Antonucci said later. “This was a big deal. In fact, the health department came for an inspection and gave us permission to have the tattoo given while I was onstage.”
It was not the easiest for him physically, either.
“It was not a fun experience,” he said. “It hurt and felt like getting a shot from a doctor, and the doctor proceeds to move the needle around on your skin.”
Getting his message across was what mattered to him.
“The entire experience was worth every bit of pain.”