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. jesus is dead

    And good riddance.

    March 3, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • Da King

      He just took a three day nap after being nailed to a cross by people like you. I am sorry you don't know Him.

      March 3, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • jesus is dead

      No. He took a permanent dirt nap. Open a bible and read jesus' quotes. Pay specific attention to when he said he would return (although the bible says no one would know the hour except for the father), jesus, the son, told his followers when he would return because he knew. And uh, he was supposed to return about 2,000 years ago. According to his own words.


      Talk about contradictory garbage. The bible is full of this trash.

      I'm glad I don't know him. He was obviously a liar.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Ijiwaru Sensei

      You should let go of your hate and anger. You might also want to read works in context.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • jesus is dead

      Actually, you should learn to read in context. There are plenty of scripture to back up what I've said. And I'm not taking any of it out of context. Do some research instead of blindly believing in caveman trash.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Jesus

      If you're dumb enough to waste your time reading the Babble, you're dumb enough to scar and mark up your body with ink.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. Big D

    Boring comments.. Go Back to Bed.....especially the critics.

    March 3, 2012 at 6:19 am |

      your comment is the most boring of all

      March 3, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • scott

      Dont let them get to you... they are nothing more than ignorant skeptics.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • jesus is dead

      Ignorant believers are far worse than skeptics of any degree.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Jesus

      A story about delusional people marking up their bodies. How novel?

      March 3, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  3. eitherway

    Yes, Greg Carr, the Old Testament does say that. It also says to stone TO DEATH a disobedient child, and to sacrifice animals at the altar on Sunday. I assume you know better than to follow those laws. Whenever I read in the New Testament that Jesus overruled those old laws and said "I bring you a new covenant." I think, Thank God!

    March 3, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • Nativegirl

      People seem to forget there is a new testament and that the old laws were abolished, because of Christ. It is scary however, that a pastor would tell someone to do this and they would oblige.

      March 3, 2012 at 6:34 am |

      native you ignore the part in the bible where jesus commands believers to obey the old testament

      you, like every other christian are a moron

      March 3, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • cosmicsnoop

      The old and new books are different because the gods (there are more than one in the old testament) of the old are not "God", they are the Annunaki from Nibiru who made our species in their image. Jesus came along to rid us of their manipulations and to keep them from turning us into their slaves. There are plenty of books about this out there and these true histories of our species is become more mainstream all the time. There are shows about this weekly on the History Channel. By believing these pretend stories from the Bible, you are giving power to the 4th dimension and the Annunaki. Stop being their slaves.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Jesus

      You misread the Babble. Jesus brought a new covenant, but accepted the ALL the Mosaic laws (read Matthew!)...that includes the 10 Commenments and that stoning crap for violating those Commandments. That's why the Old Testament is not found in the trash heap. Christians accept it as Volume 1 of their Babble.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  4. TG

    Had Mr Seay done his Biblical homework ( as well as his "flock"), he would have seen that under the Mosaic Law covenant, that tattoes were a violation of the Law. Leviticus 19:28 says: "And you must not make cuts in your flesh for a deceased soul, and you must not put tattoo marking upon yourselves. I am Jehovah."

    Idol worshipers on occasion had the name, emblem, or image of their idol god reproduced on themselves to display the fact that they were devoted to that god. Deliberate disfigurement of the flesh was prohibited under the Mosaic Law. Under the Law the only mark ever put on a slave was the piercing of the ear of one who voluntarily requested slavery to his master “to time indefinite.”(Deut 15:16, 17)

    The reason for this was that Israel was a holy people to Jehovah God, a special property. (Deut 14:2) As such, Israel was to remain free from all idolatrous practices. Then, too, such extreme displays of mourning accompanied by self-inflicted lacerations upon the flesh were most inappropriate for a people who were fully aware of the actual condition of the dead as well as the resurrection hope. (Dan 12:13; Heb 11:19) Also, the prohibition against self-mutilation would have impressed upon the Israelites proper respect for God’s creation, the human body.

    March 3, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • Pineal

      So that means all Israelites are better human bengs than myself? They are "special" and I am not – I am perhaps a 'child of a lesser God'? I thought that is the definition of racism/discrimination? A religiously mandated racism. Beautiful.

      Actually it all makes sense now!

      March 3, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • Gentile

      Let's see now. Who wrote the text reading that the Jews were gods chosen people? Could it have been the Jews? What a coincidence.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • kevin

      1914 is a lie. Please stop spreading lies in God's name.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  5. lscgroomer

    I'm a tatted-up secular humanist. Finally–something about religion I can relate to! I like the tree, kind of looks like the Celtic Tree of Life.

    March 3, 2012 at 5:19 am |
    • Emily

      Same! There are some other really neat ones – here are the rest: http://createvisualculture.wordpress.com/

      March 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  6. Jordan

    This seems sacrileges to me... Doesn't the bible say your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? I find it difficult to believe God/Jesus would approve of tattoos but whatever, the amount of people who are truly christian is very low anyhow, If you ask me the desire to tattoo religious imagery onto yourself is quite shallow/conceited and I'm almost certain these people are just pretending to be something they're not in an effort to fit in or be 'cool', like the majority of so-called "Christians" Jesus will turn away from them and will "profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:23)

    March 3, 2012 at 5:10 am |

      apparently you haven't read your stupid bible

      there is a reference to jesus prancing down on his white horse with a tattoo on his leg

      it's in the doomer book of your crappy bible

      the last one where jesus kills everyone and horses are knee deep in blood

      March 3, 2012 at 6:08 am |
  7. Tattooey

    Think people! Many employers may not hire you. As a graphic designer who had to stare at logos and designs for
    months on end, forget it; I can't stand the thought of years with one particular image. It gets old. Many missed the CNN
    article on millions being spent with people removing their tattoos. One the other hand (no pun intended) it does come in
    handy ( no pun again) to identify your body parts in a plane crash.

    March 3, 2012 at 5:07 am |
    • Jesus

      I don't even dork women with tattoos. It's downright hideous!

      March 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  8. BK

    Friends with a tattoo artist and decided to do them a favor, eh? Nothing like a gullible congregation to make you and your friends some extra bucks.

    March 3, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • Greg Carr

      The Bible specifically says in the Old Testament not to get tattoos.

      March 3, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  9. Robert

    The Bible teaches to treat your body as it is a temple.....I guess this priest thinks a little graffiti on the sides of the church is O.K. ........Whatever.

    March 3, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • Robert

      Wouldn't the tattoo itself be considered a false idol....................puzzling

      March 3, 2012 at 4:38 am |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 3, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • Jesus

      The only thing prayer changes is your time schedules. Don't waste your time "praying" to an invisible and imaginary friend in the sky and you'll have more time for more productive pursuits.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  11. Sandra

    Eh... bets that more then 25% will have tattoo regret?

    March 3, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  12. M

    That's um .. huh...
    Oh! There's a new iPad coming out?!

    March 3, 2012 at 3:57 am |

    believers are such idiots

    March 3, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • mike P

      Poor choice of words, which make you sound like a pretentious individual. Believers might be a high on the credulous end, but calling them idiots?

      March 3, 2012 at 4:22 am |
    • Martin

      I would say "high on the credulous end" and "idiot" are pretty much the same thing.

      March 3, 2012 at 5:11 am |

      mike, your choice of words proves your pretentiousness

      my choice of words just proves that I don't hide behind vocabulary

      hiding behind vocabulary equals fear


      March 3, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  14. meghan

    ecclesia has drawn a lot of (mostly negative) attention to its church over the years. not surprising that their newest way to garner such attention is to hypocritically go against their "word" (bible) for a few more members.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  15. knowledgeseek

    Yes, many religious people make us all look bad. But in the end it is about love. You can believe and practice the 8 fold path or the gospels of Jesus life, etc. People you hear in the news are the fringes or the extremes of the ideology spectrum. There are many of us who are logical, caring, non hypocritical people who follow the two great commandments from Christ. first,
    Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength;

    second, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

    I believe too many Christians fail these two commandments that were spoken from Christ's mouth, and that is unfortunate. In the end they will pay for their sins of hatred, gossip, etc. You need not worry, just be a good person and maybe you will see a glimpse of god.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      if only it was really about love. but it's only about love if you follow the rule book. ask gays if christianity is about love. no, too much of that book is about hate, fear, guilt and ignorance.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Seek Reality instead

      When you say "You need not worry, just be a good person and maybe you will see a glimpse of god", you do realize that parts of the Bible emphatically reject that assertion, don't you?

      Yes, in one of the fundamental contradictions of the Bible, there are many places that clearly state that salvation is by faith alone. There are just as many that assert that fatih must be supported by acts. What is a Christian seeking salvation supposed to do when the Bible gives to clearly-different answers.

      But the one answer that you will not find in any religious text is the one you gave – that acts without faith can achieve salvation. And that is what makes religion so hard to take. An astoundingly good but non-believing person is doomed in the vast majority of religions, but a bad person who has sincere faith is saved. No God would work that way.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Religion is sham, scam, and spam

      Jesus said you are to follow all of the laws of the Old Testament. And you are supposed to sell your possessions and give it to the poor. Done all that?

      No, of course you haven't. If you truly believed what you think you believe, you would not turn a blind eye to such things. You would be far to afraid of the consequences.

      March 3, 2012 at 4:18 am |
    • knowledgeseek

      Yes Christ said, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." I agree with that. please do not assume you know what I am by your bias lens. I am disturbed not only by the crazy religious zealotry, but also the others who use the bible to attack.. I guess on the other side we shall see what happens, but all i know is my life is a good one. If an atheist took a look at that and saw the harmony of my life, then what is the issue?

      March 3, 2012 at 4:22 am |
    • knowledgeseek

      Salvation is through Christ, but remember man wrote the bible and not God. It would be imperfect as man is. Again i focus on the Gospels, and I don't think enough Christians do. If we really believe Christ is the son of God, shouldn't we put what he said on the high most order?

      March 3, 2012 at 4:25 am |
    • Religion is sham, scam, and spam

      By the standards of Jesus' time, the vast majority of Christians in America are very rich, even ones we consider lower middle class.

      Why did Jesus bless America with such affluence when he clearly viewed affluence as an evil? Makes no sense.

      Thank you for clarifying your religious beliefs. You do realize that you have effectively made your own religion, rejecting much of what any orthodoxy would demand you obey. In the Middle Ages, you would have been burned at the stake for heresy – no joke. You are a heretic.

      But don't worry – all living Christians are heretics of one sort or another.

      March 3, 2012 at 4:37 am |
    • Flinders the butler

      Yup...Christianity is all about that "paying for sins" thing. Jeebus paid for your sins, you pay for your sins, they have to pay for their sins. The Great Accountant is certainly keeping that great set of books. 1+1=3. Oh oh.

      March 3, 2012 at 5:04 am |
    • eitherway


      March 3, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  16. Damo

    It would appear that it's always a slow news day in the "belief blog".

    March 3, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Jesus

      God is dead! I've seen the body. It's decomposing now.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  17. Morris

    It has an added benefit: It's a lot easier to get a job at as a carnie.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  18. There. Are. No. Gods!

    I have only one passage to present to you religious nut cases. As an atheist, it would seem that I know more about your made up religion than you do. Any way, here is the passage. Look it up if you wish. . . Leviticus 19:28 "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord." You religious nuts break your own rules all the time, why do you believe in such nonsense? There. Are. No. Gods!

    March 3, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • toadears

      I am actually glad you believe that, I am sorry to say. I am so sick of you atheists going to the trouble to actually look up people who believe in a God that is bigger than this universe, and yes, even bigger than your own ego just to pick on them. You don't believe in God. Fine. Now go away and stop trying to CONVERT people to your (lack of) faith. You are a bigot. Men cause wars out of greed and lust and blame it on God and you believe it. You put your faith in people you are going to be very disappointed all your life.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • meh

      Leviticus is part of the Old Testament. However, after the sacrifice from the crucifixion, these original 613 laws were in a sense altered because of Christ's blood. From that same chapter 19… Verse 19 "…Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of materials." Verse 26 "Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it…" Verse 27 "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."

      You are proving that as an atheist, you do not understand the complete context or story. Yes, the Bible is confusing in many ways, even for the most educated. But when you select specific points and ignore the bigger picture, you are manipulating the message. There are many Christians who seem ignorant and believe blindly, but I assure you that the same generalization could be made conversely for atheists. God or no god, you should be more thorough in your research.

      March 3, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • Religion is sham, scam, and spam

      So meh, you think that Jesus' direct command to obey the laws of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:17-18 was somehow changed by his crucifixion? And you think the Atheists have a bad grasp of your religion?!?! Wow!

      Nowhere does Jesus show what parts of the Old Testament are not to be obeyed. He said they ALL were to be obeyed.

      March 3, 2012 at 4:27 am |

      too bad toad and meh are alive

      : (

      March 3, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  19. albie

    words simply cannot describe how crazy religious people are – never ceases to amaze me

    March 3, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • There. Are. No. Gods!

      Amen? Lol!

      March 3, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • Jesus

      Hey, they are a source of cash. Lots of people made a fortune off these delusional folks...recently that Goselin beotch, Palin, Bachmann, Osteen, White, Robertson, Graham, Meyer, et al. It's a great way and an easy way to make huge bucks. You just have to be amoral.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  20. JD

    Not being a nutter myself, I really couldn't care less what is written in some old book of myths, but I would have expected these people to take note of Leviticus 19-28.

    "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves"

    March 3, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Crad

      So you mock the bible, then use it as a weapon.. Typical.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • albie

      he is pointing out how hypocritical Christians typically are

      March 3, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • HeavenSent

      I wonder how much of the tattoo parlor he owns?

      March 3, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • Flinders the butler

      There is no such thing as THE bible. The assemblage of texts which YOU have today into that compendium of texts which you today call your "bible" were VOTED by humans, in non-unanimous VOTES, into the canon. The process of writing, editing, voting, assembling, translating, re-translating, mis-translating, and arguing, all proves ONE thing : it's a human, totally culturally dependent work of mythology. Move on.

      March 3, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Jesus

      Tattooing in the Babble is a sin. So is eating a ham sandwich or Bruce doing Larry in Frisco. The Babble is not anywhere near a pinnacle of wisdom today...back in the 1st century that was the way ignorant cultures lived.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:28 am |
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About this blog

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.