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. Saigel Armbrustt

    Hi there, You have done a great job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I'm confident they will be benefited from this web site.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  2. Hrothgar Odinnsson

    Funny how photo number 4 shows a tree growing from a coffin. The symbolism here will escape 99% of you. The tree represents Yggdrasil (or what ever other name you have for the tree of life), which is 100% a pagan conception. It's also extremely funny that you krisjans seem to be able to pick and choose what rules you want to follow. Does not your own bible tell you in (if memory serves) Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the Earth beneath or that is in the water under the Earth.

    Obviously you are just ignoring rules set down by your "god". Not to mention you constantly use the excuse that the Nazerene changed many of the rules. However, did he not say himself that he did not come to change the law but to enforce it.


    In Service to the Gods,
    Hrothgar Odinnsson
    High Priest
    Fire and Ice Kindred, TX

    July 10, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Paul Cat

      Before making wild assumptions about Christianity, it helps to actually view Christianity through a Christian lens. For instance, through the history of Christianity the "tree" was and still is slang for the Cross of Christ.

      God commanded the Jews not to make any graven images. Yet, shortly there after he commands them to construct the ark, which contained two images of angels on the ark of the covenant. He then later commands the Jews to build a temple with images of more heavenly creatures placed throughout the temple. Therefore, when you attach Christianity, it is best not to pick a choose the Bible verses with which you wish to attack Christians. You cannot pick and choose the verses, but must read the entire Bible and all the books as a unified whole.

      Christ came not to enforce the old law, but he came to fulfill it. When a law if fulfilled, certain rules and laws pass away. It is similiar to how a teen has certain restrictions on his driving because he only has a Learner's Permit. Yet, when he gets his full Operator's Licenses he is no longer limited to the former restrictions. In scripture Peter has a vision that explains this.

      It is clear that you are a better Christian than most Christians, perhaps you should become a pastor of a local church and teach Christians how not to be hypocrites in their faith. Christianity needs all the help it can get, especially if the person is already reached a high level of perfection.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  3. Tattedfan

    Actually if you read the first testament then you would know that the old law (that being the old testament) has been blotted out and we are to now live under the new law. So Christians live and abide by the new testament now. We are no longer bound by the laws in Leviticus. Also, if you study that part of the scriptures deeper as well as look into the history of it all then you would know that this scripture is in reference to marks they would make to honor false gods. Not the one true living God. Tattoos then were something completely different in comparison to now. Further more, its not a desecration to God's temple. Its a praise! You are showing the world through this art form that you believe and praise God. There is no harm done here. If there was something wrong with peircing your skin then why would tattoos be wrong and earrings be ok? Tattoos that are praising God are simply that, praise for God. There is no sin involved.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • Hrothgar Odinnsson

      This is merely choosing what laws you want to abide by. Saying that the Nazerene came and changed it and gave you new law. Bull. You people are as bad as our government. Setting rules and then saying "well I don't have to follow these".

      You people are truly repulsive.

      In Service to the Gods,
      Hrothgar Odinnsson
      High Priest
      Fire and Ice Kindred, TX

      July 10, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  4. matchingtattoos

    Wow! I did not ever imagine that there will be such great challenge like this. I could merely offer my site which is the matching tattoos to give you ideas that you can use in this challenge. See for yourself =)

    June 8, 2012 at 5:52 am |
  5. Tina

    What ever happened to loving one another? What ever happened to live and let live? Whether you believe in Ecclesia's outward expression of love and thanks, just try not to hate so much. If you knew any one of these people you would understand that they are coming from a place of love and deep respect for all people, Christian or not. If you can't love, at least try hating a little less. I believe in God but I have a tumultuous relationship with the idea of Jesus, but I've met a lot of these people and there is a light in them that I can't quite describe - it's a goodness. That's really all I have to say.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  6. BigTex

    Ummm, is it not a sin to desecrate your holy temple? Yeah...religion is getting dumber and dumber. Way to stick to your beliefs folks.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Kimbal

      can you explain how it is a desecration?

      March 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • KMc

      Leviticus 19:28 (Amplified) which says, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord." I am an athiest so I have no do in this fight. Just amuses me when christians don't know what they believe ing

      July 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
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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.