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Worshipers get tattoos for Lent
March 3rd, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Inking for Jesus: Dozens of church members take Lenten tattoo challenge

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN)-– In a hip, artsy, area of Houston, a hip, artsy pastor is taking an unorthodox approach to Lent.

Standing in front of his congregation at Ecclesia Church, a congregation he admits is different - more diverse, more urban - than many evangelical churches - Chris Seay encouraged them to do so something he said combines the ideas of sacrifice and devotion that mark the Lenten season, the 40-day lead up to Easter.

He asked them to get tattoos. Specifically, he asked congregants to get a tattoo corresponding with one of the Stations of the Cross, the collection of images that depict scenes in Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion.

“The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering,” Seay said in an interview. “Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.”

To help with the project, Seay enlisted Scott Erickson, artist-in-residence at his church. Erickson designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos, leaving out four stations that Seay said changed in context when you are asking someone to get something permanently drawn on their body.

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The Stations of the Cross depict Jesus from his condemnation to the Resurrection.

The church is now displaying photographs of the tattoos in the church’s art gallery, in an exhibition called “Cruciformity: Stations on the Skin.”

Initially, Seay has hoped that enough people – 10– would sign up to fill each station of the cross. But his expectations were far exceeded.

Seay says that more than 50 people are now brandishing one of Erickson’s designs on their bodies.

Guadeloupe Rodriguez is among them. When Seay pitched the tattoo idea from the pulpit, Rodriguez’s wife squeezed his hand. “That is what you have been waiting for,” she said.

“I fell into some hard times in my past, hanging out with the wrong crowd … got into some pretty tough drugs,” said Rodriguez, who says he found Jesus at Ecclesia. “My aunt, though, on her deathbed, said to me, ‘You only have one God, one mom and one dad – you need to be straightening up for all three of them.”

Because of that experience, Rodriguez had the churches 10th station image, the resurrection, tattooed to his body. He felt that the two birds holding a suspended banner that read, “Rise Again,” perfectly fit his personal story.

“From the day my aunt said that to me, I relied on the Lord a lot to guide me in the right direction,” Rodriguez said. “I am where I am now because of God.”

Another member of Ecclesia, Joyce O’Connor, channeled her family when she was deciding what station of the cross to get tattooed onto her body. O’Connor, who has one biological child and two stepchildren, connected with the fourth station, Jesus meeting his mother.

“I am a mother and in just a minuscule way can relate to how Mary must have felt,” O’Conner said.

“The tattoo captured me and I love it,” she continued. “When I think of that image, I don’t feel tragedy or sadness because I know how the story ends and it makes me smile.”

This was O’Connor’s first “tat,” and she said this project has exemplified why she came to Ecclesia in the first place - acceptance, out-of-the-box thinking, diversity.

Margaret Feinberg, an evangelical Christian author, spoke at the gallery opening. She said she was taken by the “beautiful blend of art and flesh.”

“I remember standing in a small booth on an upper landing looking at everyone in the room,” Feinberg wrote in an e-mail. People “from every walk of life - exploring and celebrating this time of Lent - the scene took my breath away.”

According to Seay, such experiences deem the project a success. He admits to spending a lot of time dissuading individual congregants from getting tattoos after he announced the idea. People have to “know it is what they are supposed to do,” he said.

The design Seay choose for himself, the resurrection, which shows a tree growing from a coffin, like Rodriguez’s. On Seay’s tattoo, however, the initials of people he loves fill the tree’s leaves and his nickname for his grandfather – Papa – is carved into its stump.

Seay lost his grandfather, Robert Baldwin, last year. Baldwin had been a pastor in the Houston area for 60 years and Seay considered him his mentor. Though Seay still misses him desperately, the tattoo reminds him of a simple biblical message.

“Death,” he says, “comes from life.”

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- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Texas • United States

soundoff (944 Responses)
  1. palintwit

    The Palin women prefer getting tattoos of Mandingo.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  2. lizette

    Guess everybody in ths congregation forgot to read Deutoronomy, which clearly forbids marking our bodies....God doesnt need our little sacrifices, he demands obedience.....

    March 3, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  3. Station8

    leviticus shmidicus, shaved and had a hair cut lately? well. there ya go.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  4. JCizzle

    How original, a "hip, artsy" pastor who used to do drugs, etc. By "hip, artsy" I think they meant "complete dork."

    March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  5. erich2112x

    One but cheek could say "Slap me" and the other, "You are forgiven".

    March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  6. Rev. C. E. Morris

    "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and DO NOT MARK YOUR SKIN WITH TATTOOS. I am the Lord. ~Leviticus 19:28

    March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Station8

      I am assuming you are addressing israelites too.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  7. Samson

    Anyone that uses the bible to argue for or against anything is an idiot.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  8. Christian

    Apparently this guy doesn't care about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost! He's doing to to appeal to his "urban" audience! Sure, lets mark up our bodies! And i bet he's going to be sporting earrings for Jesus next.

    Leviticus 19:28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  9. scoobypoo

    Instead of spending time and money on tattoos, how about actually doing something to help people less fortunate than you?

    Getting religious tattoos is about as effective as praying [i.e., does nothing] and serves only to further proselytize for this cult.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • lizette

      too bad you havent had any success with prayer...perhaps you should start trying it seriously!! The first step is to recoginze our sins and that we are not perfect, but that Jesus died for us so we can be redeemed, forgiven and saved. Accepting Jesus in our hearts and confessing Him as our Lord and Savior is all there is to it....nobody is asking us to be who were are not, but to believe we can be the person God intended us to be if we allow him in our lives.....He is the only one who can change our hearts....!! By the way, this is the correct passage.."Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and DO NOT MARK YOUR SKIN WITH TATTOOS. I am the Lord. ~Leviticus 19:28

      March 3, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  10. Hear Ye

    NO, I won't be trying any of your KOOLAID.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  11. Batgirl46

    I got my first tat for my 65th birthday this past October. It is an ichthus (Google it!) pierced by a nail. Together the design forms a cross. I thought long and hard about the decision and the design, asked my husband (who is a pastor if he had objections) and, of course, prayed about it. My husband went with me to get inked (he didn't, I did). When people see it and don't recognize the significance, it opens up dialogue. It's not for everyone but it was the right thing for me to do.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • mcineri

      actually, i prayed about your tatto just now. and God said it was a terrible idea

      March 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      We are all very impressed I'm sure.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Hear Ye

      Great that you now have permanent testamony to your fantasies. Hope it was done on the forehead so we all can view.
      Charlie Manson style.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I guess I have to ask, how do you pray about a tattoo? You think the creator of the universe gives a crap about your tattoo?? Really???

      March 3, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • mcineri

      weak minded people love having a crutch when life gets too real for them.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Church Lady

      You prayed about your tattoo. How Special. Now you can work at a carnival.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  12. scotterickson

    hey. i made all the images.

    if you want to read more about the project, you can read about

    the initial idea and write up:
    http://createvisualculture.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/cruciformity-stations-on-skin-the-designs-and-invite/

    and the show:
    http://createvisualculture.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/cruciformity-gallery-opening/

    March 3, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Why did you waste your time?

      March 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • batgirl46

      It's beautiful. I'm pretty sure you are praying for the haters.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Hear Ye

      NAW .... I've much better things to do, but you go guy. Make your Mom real proud.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Jesus is supposed to be God. God is supposed to be perfect.
      When Jesus speaks, he should speak the truth.
      Yet when we look at what Jesus says about prayer,
      he is clearly lying.

      Here is one of MANY examples:

      In John chapter 14, verses 12 through 14, Jesus tells all of us just how easy prayer can be:

      "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

      You can gather a million faithful believers together into a giant prayer circle. Have them all pray together in Jesus' name that God cures every case of cancer on the planet tomorrow. Pray sincerely, knowing that when God answers this completely heartfelt, unselfish, non-materialistic prayer, it will glorify God and help millions of people in remarkable ways.

      Now, we certainly have two or more people gathered together (Jesus liked the two or more thing), and they have asked in Jesus' name, and we have not one but a million faithful believers who, by definition, have faith and believe. We have fulfilled every one of Jesus' requirements.

      Will Jesus answer the prayer now? Of course not. Your prayer will go unanswered, in direct defiance to Jesus' promises in the Bible. In fact, if you pray for anything that is impossible, your prayer will always go unanswered.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  13. Hear Ye

    GAAAWWWWWDD! What's next ....... dance about with some venomnous snakes?

    March 3, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  14. mike

    Leviticus 19:28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

    LOL

    March 3, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  15. fletch72

    mcineri et al,

    You site Leviticus as law for Christains – I suspect you also keep all the laws of Moses, right? Christ replaced the laws of Moses. It is incorrect for us Christains to subscribe to the jewish laws that we find convenient, and of course ignore the ones we find inconvenient (i.e., keeping kosher). Jesus didn't care about tattoos, he hung out with all the outcasts of the day, loved them all, and saved us all.

    Peace out!

    March 3, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • mcineri

      its sad how quick Christians deny parts of their own religious text. its in there man. kind of hard to say it doesn't matter right?

      March 3, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • fletch72

      do you keep kosher mike and mcineri – its in there too?

      March 3, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • mcineri

      actually I prayed recently on this, God told me that I can just ignore whichever parts of the Bible don't fit in with my lifestyle. its a perfect set up

      March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  16. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    They'll try anything to get new recruits .. body bumper sticker advertising for God!

    March 3, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  17. JAB62

    Normally tattoos are permanent evidence of temporary insanity. In this case however I don’t think it’s temporary.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  18. Herewe Goagain

    The thing about tattoos is that by the time you realize they're stupid.... itts too late.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Hear Ye

      Stupid is what Stupid does.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  19. Deep North

    Mutilate your body for Jesus? What chapter and verse is that!

    March 3, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  20. Samson

    How about feeding the poor and healing the sick instead? That's what Jesus would have really wanted. I'm pretty sure he's not up there saying "Hey Dude, nice tat!".

    March 3, 2012 at 9:26 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.