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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.”

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Texas • United States

soundoff (944 Responses)
  1. J.W

    I think in biblical times tattoos were meant too worship other gods, but they are not used in this way now. Today they are perfectly acceptable, also very attractive on women.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • mandarax

      Exactly. The Bible may have been relevant in the past, but it is entirely outdated.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  2. False Dichotomy

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

    Another great example of thinking the Bible is the word of God...oh, but not THAT part.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Jeff Lucas

      That's about what I'm led to believe about it, and that passage has shaped my decision to not get tatoos. Notwithstanding, we are not under the law, but under grace. Galatians 5 says if we're going to hold to one part of the law, we've got to keep the whole thing, and noone can do that. NOONE is justified by the law. "For by grace are ye saved, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."

      So, to summarize, for me I would not get tatoos because of my own personal convictions about it which are drawn from Levitical law. But I wouldn't hold another to the same standard, because the standard is Liberty of Conscience. It is not essential for a person to believe that tatoos are wrong in order to also believe that Jesus is God.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • mandarax

      So then we can just all choose to believe what parts of the Bible we want? And dismiss others? If that's true, then clearly the whole thing can be dismissed.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  3. His Names


    March 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  4. Agent P.

    LOL! I'm imagining Jesus finding this sort of thing rather embarrasing.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  5. Sue

    I like the version in the Harry Potter series better. At least the "dark marks" in that fiction notify the bearer when their dark lord is present. In the present tatoo case and the associated fiction (the bible), there's no real lord there to interact with, dark or otherwise.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  6. albert

    Religion continues to make a mockery of God as it continues to be less about God and more about arrogance and self worship. Or worship of the Pastors/Priests. Many are losing faith in God because of this foolishness. That is why the Bible says what it does at Matthew 7:21, and Revelation 18:1-8

    March 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  7. nolala

    Any TRUE follower of Christ would put forth ernest effort to follow His steps closely. No, we are not perfect and fall short many times, but to DELIBERATELY PRACTICE SIN and go against a direct command (Lev. 19:28) is gross disobedience. "Christian" means Christ-like; so ask yourself, did Jesus or any of his 1st century Christians, rather Jew or Gentile (non-Jew), get a tattoo? NO. This is so in harmony when Jesus said at Matthew 7: 21-23:

    "Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’  And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  8. DoG

    Tattoos haven't been 'hip' or 'arty' since millionaire athletes started collecting them decades ago. I am sorry that you have been misinformed.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  9. Smitty

    PEB, why so judgemental, CHRISTIAN?

    March 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  10. Mike

    I love religious tattoo's, they're "stupid stamps."

    March 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Sue

      Funny, that. So true.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  11. Randy

    Tattoos are just primitive.

    Tattoos are to achieve a sense of distinction by those who were born with none.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Geoff

      I like that!
      I have also said that any idiot with $50 can get one and most of them do.
      Also, Jimmy Buffet said they are a permanent reminder of a temporary sentiment.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  12. Jeff Lucas

    WHat the Early Church said about pot and pot prohibition. (It is a stumblingblock)

    "no one would act rationally in avoiding medicine because of its heresies"
    Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2 chapter 12

    "For it is not the eating that makes unclean, but the intention with which a man eats. If then thou dost not set that aright, you have done all to no purpose, and hast made things worse: for thinking a thing unclean is not so bad as tasting it when one thinks it unclean"
    John Chrysostom, Homily 26 on Romans(Rom. XIV. 14)

    "For a certain Alcibades, who was one of them, led a very austere life, partaking of nothing whatever but bread and water. When he endeavored to continue this same sort of life in prison, it was revealed to Attalus after his first conflict in the ampitheater that Alcibades was not doing well in refusing the creatures of God and placing a stumblingblock before others. And Alcibades obeyed, and partook of all things without restraint, giving thanks to God. For they were not deprived of the grace of God, but the Holy Ghost was their counselor"
    The Church History of Eusebius, Book V. Chapter III

    March 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  13. krishna

    so much ignorance. how sad. google "Bhagavad Gita" and read it. its one of my best works.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Geoff

      Who are you kidding? Certainly not me.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      For the time you spend praying, if you actually did something real to help someone less fortunate, wow, then you'd be accomplishing something.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      It's Groundhog Day!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things

      March 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • tony

      Still lying about the proof I see. That's commandment #9 you are breaking BTW.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  15. Brannigans Tattoo Care

    displaying a great Jesus portrait tattoo http://www.facebook.com/Branniganstattoo

    March 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  16. christards

    Ungodly Discipline has it right

    March 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  17. Church Lady

    My left n*pple is pierced for the Father, the right n*pple for the Son, and the down below for the Holy Ghost. Plus I have a tattoo of butterfly on my shoulder just for the heck of it.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      I think I would enjoy worshiping with you.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • inHisname

      Ms. Lady: You can debate all you want, but blaspheme against the Holy Spirit = certain death in hell! Have a safe trip. Oh, there is no repentance. Enjoy!!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I am sure she is very concerned. There might be a evil demon in a cave full of fire waiting to party with her.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  18. tony

    Religion is always about discovering new ways to make other people suffer.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Chris

      So, religious tattoos are a way that religion has found to make people suffer now, and not just a personal expression of faith? It's pretty obvious that you have no desire other than to bash religion. Frankly, your comment is the type of the thing that would be considered childish and ignorant anywhere but the internet. Do the world a favor and act like an adult. Kplzthnx.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by Chris contains instances of the ad hominem fallacy and the Complex Question fallacy, and is expressed with Prejudicial Language.


      March 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually I think Chris was right. I don't think that tattoos cause people to suffer, although I do not have any. But I think people are just expressing their faith here, not trying to suffer.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • tony

      Actually I know a lot of people with tattoos that regret having them them later in life.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  19. oneSTARman

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9f2BmlDB4w&version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0%5D

    March 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  20. oneSTARman

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9f2BmlDB4w?rel=0&w=420&h=315%5D

    March 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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.