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. Robert

    Once again, the liberal media is ignoring God.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Gosh, if I were god I would be mad and give them a stern talking to.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Commenter

      How would YOU run it, Robert?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • scott

      Just as he ignores man?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  2. CNN spreads sharia & tattoos
    March 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  3. brian

    apparently that guy isn't aware that the bible is against modifying your body. even the christian leaders are too dumb to realize their own ignorance and then people just blindly follow them because they need a crutch in their lives. i don't know if i should laugh or cry

    March 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  4. Sal

    Salvation comes from within, not in the expression of a tattoo. .

    March 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Salivating comes whenever I think of my favorite hole in the wall Mexican restaurant. They have this tri-tip with beans, tortillas and salsa that is heavenly!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  5. Ungodly Discipline

    My thorns, now flies.
    Buzzing around my gruesome head and face.
    My wasted body……finally brought down. Breathe still in me, just a whisper.
    Nurtured and cleansed. Bandaged and cared for.
    Now I am risen to say my final farewell.
    Do not worship me.
    Do not mourn for me.
    Do not build churches for me or profit from me.
    I am a man, born of a woman from the seed of my father.
    I am as you are. A human being.
    Learn from the sacrifices I have made. Learn from the hypocrisy.
    Bury me in good company. Remember me as a friend.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  6. tony

    Only the religious need to create graven images. I wonder why?

    March 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  7. JoneZ

    This isn't a Church, it's a CULT !!
    Your body is a Gift from God, a Temple.
    If you need to deface something, go Spray Print all over the Church

    March 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Shaneeda Quit

      There's no more room.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  8. moonster

    If tattoos remind oneself to keep faith/hope alive – all power to 'em.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  9. Thought provoking

    This post has been an enjoyment to read. Whether I agree with this type of "personal" devotion or not I shall keep that between me and the One who made me. The comments have been very thought provoking. To each of you thank you & have a blessed day.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • jellybean

      In other godly news, bored no lifes continue anal sniper attacks from behind their mighty anonymous keyboards. Sources say at least 500 were "owned" today, while millions continue using google as their brain to appear intelligent with their witty "fyi"s.....

      March 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Just fyi....the jelly belly factory is awsome, have you ever been?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Commenter

      UD, "jelly belly factory is awesome"

      Oh yes!... not more than 20 miles from me - still danged pricey, though.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  10. Ungodly Discipline

    If you would like to prove to yourself that God is imaginary, here is one easy way to do it: Look for places in the Bible where God is an absurd, unmitigated jerk instead of the "all-knowing", "all-loving", "fully-enlightened" being that he is supposed to be.

    There are many parts of the Bible that display these tendencies. However, if you are a woman, the place where God's absurdity becomes completely clear is when you look at God's s.e.xism.

    The dictionary defines a misogynist as "One who hates women. It defines the word "s.e.xist" as:

    1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
    2. Att.i.t.udes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender

    Is God a s.e.xist? Let's look at the evidence. We find this in 1 Corinthians chapter 14:

    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

    This seems like a straightforward passage. And God is the one who inspired the Bible. In Isaiah 40:8 God says that the word of the Lord will last forever, and he says the same thing again in 1 Peter 1:24-25. So here we have God, in his eternal and everlasting Word, saying that it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

    This quote from 1 Corinthians 11 is important:

    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head–it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.

    You may find it hard to believe that something that confusing is in the Bible, yet if you look it up you will find it is there.

    Then there is this section from 1 Timothy chapter 2:

    Also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.

    It is hard to miss God's meaning when he says something as direct as, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent."

    March 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Now if the bible is uninspired and was written by primitive middle-eastern extremists, it makes perfect sense.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • JoneZ

      Good points. Like what you have to say.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Commenter


      Yes, these Bible thu'mping people decry everything that comes out the the Middle East, but somehow they just eat up the stuff that PRIMITIVE folks from that area dreamed up a long time ago. And no, there is no more evidence that any god spoke to any ancient Hebrews, any more than there is that a god spoke to Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, Warren Jeffs or ANYONE.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • 13Directors

      Maybe I need to read your post again, but I think you're missing something that most Christians miss also. The scriptures you use to make your point were written by people who just happened to be men. I don't believe anyone that says they speak for God or Jesus for that matter.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Actually 13D, that seems to get missed by every Christian on Earth except you.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  11. Angela

    Jesus will be happy to hear that. Demonics

    March 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  12. Jeff Lucas

    Just like it is not essential for a person to believe that he must abstain from pot in order to believe that Jesus is God. It's "NONESSENTIAL DOCTRINE". A person can think that pot should be legalized and still be saved. We're free to make up our own minds freely concerning nonessential doctrine. It's called "Christian Liberty".

    March 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  13. dee

    Was too much lent to the bank to start the body painting? LOL What Christians won't do to raise money.
    Clever. one thing gang members really need is a loving family with rituals. I really hope what he is doing helps this.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jeff Lucas

      Tatoo Churches, Cowboy Churches, I want to start a pothead Church!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  14. Daniel

    Creepy. Degenerate.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  15. Lenny Pincus

    No, it will be easy for someone to find something somewhere in the Bible to support his or her actions. It is a terribly pliable, accommodating book.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Gino

    Exodus 20:4, "Thou shalt not make unto thee ANY graven image, or ANY likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

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

      If you are going to quote scripture at least know what it means. Taking this out of context is worse heresy than judging someone else like this guy.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • David

      "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 FAIL!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • stan

      I believe that it says in the Bible somewhere that we should be not marking ourselves.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • bobo

      David read the whole sentence and then read the whole book, then go and study what the Hebrews were doing at that time, falling into paganism, specifically the babylonian stuff going on. This scripture had to do with marking themselves with false idols and "totems" for the dead. An idol is a thing of worship, anything can be an idol. These tats are not idols.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  17. 13Directors

    "The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering,” Seay said in an interview."

    I beg to differ. I think there is too much focus on the negative and not enough on the positive things Jesus had to say.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Al

      He may be into bondage too.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  18. JDB

    Right. Cuz Jesus is a redneck hillbilly who wants you to get all tatted up and then sit around drinking beer and biyatching because no one will hire you. What a stupid story.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  19. Religion is not healthy for anyone

    Prayer is wishful thinking.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • 13Directors

      It is when you're asking for something to intervene on your behalf. Meditate and have faith in yourself.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  20. Chris

    Wow... I usually try to find decent artist when I'm permanently craving something into my body. I thought the bible said you were not supposed to modify your body?

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

      You should read the Bible and find out. (I'll give you hint you have to really read it, not just go looking for scripture to suit your purpose).

      March 3, 2012 at 1:41 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.