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. CNN promotes sharia, s.ex books, tattoos

    anything but the gospel truth.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      There is no gospel truth. They have to write about something.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  2. Dood

    I understand that people get tattoos to "express themselves" or whatever. Why taint beautiful skin with that garbage? It only looks worse as you age. You want to express yourself or do something as a reminder for Lent? Write a book or poetry, or paint/sculpt to be creative. Do something with style and class. Help the poor, spend time with the sick or imprisoned. Society has become more and more low class. Don't listen to that pastor.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • JM

      tattoos are a form of art: body rather than canvas

      March 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  3. David

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

    Even an atheist like myself can understand that.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I can't see....can't open my eye. Cut me Mick!

      March 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Hannah

      Please read all of Leviticus 19 and make sure you follow every single commandment before you judge those who tattoo themselves.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Appauled

      Why Hannah, do you have tattoos? He's not judging it's simply saying what the bible says

      March 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  4. JT

    What if you got one of these tatoos and then somehow cast off your indoctrination in favor of reason? It'd be like putting your girlfriend's name on your arm and then breaking up with her.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      That's part of what this pastor (likely his bosses) wants. To give you an unreturnable mark as a daily indoctrination boost! As well as a recruitment ad like a bumper sticker. This is not a matter of personal faith, this is a marketing ploy.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  5. tony

    Religion is a sin.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • JM

      James 1:27

      "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

      March 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • tony

      Golly that doesn't sound like the republican health-care platform!!!

      March 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  6. JM

    We spend too much time judging one another.

    These people are making an outward expression of their faith and trust in Christ. More of us should be so bold in our faith (instead of hiding it "under a bushel" because we're too worried about what 'people' will think).

    “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven." – Jesus

    March 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      What are you 5 years old?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      It's not that they are making an outward expression of their faith .. the problem is, why didn't they do it before, on their own without the need for someone to tell them too?
      If you don't see what's really happening here .. it's a marketing tool. These people are being asked to permanently wear bumper stickers for God (advertising for recruitment). In addition it's a great way to insure daily indoctrination with permanent reminders.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • JM

      Your point being? I can read?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • David

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

      This why atheists love the bible

      March 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • JM

      Isn't that what everyone does in America? We buy stuff, do stuff because other people are/do?

      Yeah, pretty much everyone jumps on bandwagons.

      I wouldn't get a tattoo, but that's just me. I won't get a smart phone, but that's just me. To each His own.

      However, the fact that people are wondering if there is something more to this universe shows that their minds aren't stagnant and that they aren't just thinking: well, all these guys on CNN are making fun of people who think that there might be someone in control so I better just jump on their bandwagon and...stop wondering/thinking.

      I wonder what would have happened if people had just kept on assuming that the world was flat or thinking "well, that's it; we've figured out all there is to know about the human body...there certainly can't be anything else (like DNA, essentially the motherboard for the human body) to find. Because we know-it-all.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Do you mean like the persection of Galileo by the church? just sayin' since you brought up the world is flat scenario.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • JM

      Um, people claim to be Christians but don't actually do what Christ said. He said that those people have nothing to do with him.

      So, all the stuff that was done in the name of Christianity that doesn't represent His teaching on love, forgiveness, mercy, grace...that's not His teaching.

      I can say I'm the President of the United States; that doesn't mean I am.

      Have you actually bothered to read what Jesus taught? He was kindest to the people the self-righteous religious zealots denigrated. He was harshest with the religious Pharisees (the hypocrites).

      That's the reason it was good news (and not more crap).

      March 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Appauled

      Faith comes from hearing the word of God not by mutilating the body he gave you.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Webster


      Is that a play on words - like you are with Paul, or something?... or is it just atrocious spelling?

      March 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  7. Ungodly Discipline

    Ask yourself this simple question: Why, when you read the Bible, are you not left in awe? Why doesn't a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement? If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn't you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author?

    Would you not expect each new page to intoxicate you with its incredible prose and its spectacular insight? Wouldn't you expect the author to tell us things that scientists have not been able to discover yet?

    Yet, when we open the Bible and actually read it, we find it is nothing like that at all. Instead of leaving us in awe, it leaves us dumbfounded by all of the nonsense, contradictions and backwardness that it contains. If you read what the Bible actually says, you find that the Bible is ridiculous. If we are honest with ourselves, it is obvious that an "all-knowing" God had absolutely nothing to do with this book.

    The reason why the Bible contains so much nonsense is because it is a book written thousands of years ago by primitive middle eastern men. A book that advocates senseless murder, slavery and the oppression of women has no place in our society today.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • JM

      Your perspective.

      When I read the Bible, I am amazed at how much it describes me: my heart, my sin, my foolishness, my pride, my need for forgiveness, my desire for something better than this messed-up world.

      “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis

      March 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • tony

      And why do social conservatives want to spend an eternal afterlife in a totalitarian socialist society of 127 Billion, mostly non-christians???

      March 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      JM, clearly you have not read it. Having someone else read it to you, and cherry pick the "teachings" and "explain" it to you and rationalize it does not count. Read it sometime. It is awful and VERY uninspired. In my opinion.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • JM

      Are you kidding? I have read through it numerous times. My copy is underlined, highlighted, annotated.

      I don't understand it fully (obviously); however, I am amazed at how pertinent it can be.

      Unfortunately, most people haven't read the Bible but make all sorts of assumptions about it. Most people are unaware of all the literary allusions to the Bible in literature, speeches, etc. Most people worship football or their tvs and can't be bothered with the idea that there might be a creator who might want our attention once in a while.

      We shall see when we see...we shall know when we know.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    defiling your skin is ok now... well thats good, but it doesn't bode well for the sins of the bible... perhaps he is really the devil in one of his many forms...clearly the devil loves irony!

    March 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  9. leo

    read this..... Leviticus 19:28 and 21:5

    March 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • tony

      Read Exodus 14:19 – why does an all-powerful god have to hide the Israelites, when he can kill the Egyptian army a day later?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  10. BubbaCo

    I got a "666" tattoo a few years ago, so I'm cooler than they are. Jesus was a hippie-freak.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Sean

    Leviticus 19:28 "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." NWT

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

    – 1769 Oxford King James Bible 'Authorized Version

    The man asking, or challenging his flock to get tattoos shows that he is acting from his own thoughts, not the thoughts of God. He is a man of lawlessness, and a wolf in sheeps clothing. One who is searching for true Christianity need only look at the fruits of such a man(that is to say, his produce, the things he brings to bear) to know that there is false religion running rampant in this time.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Appauled

      I agree

      March 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  12. Army Wife

    This guy doesn't know his Old Testament. What we have here is another "ear tickler". Religious body art is creature

    March 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  13. Annaliesa

    Isn't Leviticus the book that talks about not coming in to contact with menstruating women lest a man be unclean? I think there's some specific bits about not sitting where she has sat and such as well. If such is the case, notes to husband: Do not sit on the couch. Do not borrow my car. Do not sleep on our bed. Probably shouldn't walk on our floors, either, since I've sat on that a few times while on my period. Hm. I guess that means he can't stay in our house. Guess we'll need to add an addition to our house where I can visit all but one week of the month.

    Leviticus is full of fun bits like that. Most people have no problem accepting it as a part of Judeo-Christian history. If God is a reasonable God, then I suspect God won't condemn you to a life of God's absence or a lake of fire or whatever it is you believe about the place where the condemned go, provided you don't get a tattoo of Hitler or something equally offensive. If God isn't that reasonable, well, I'll enjoy my time chilling with Nietzche, Buddha, some of my good friends, a few favorite professors, my therapist, my favorite aunt and uncle, Gandhi, some of our founding fathers, and all of those other folks who do not subscribe to Christianity or don't follow it to the letter. Which sounds like it might be 99% of the planet.

    March 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  14. J

    Symbols are against Jesus' teachings. An abomination. Another wolf!

    March 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  15. Robert Gusnowski

    My name is Robert Gusnowski and I am writing you this note to ask for your help and prayers to bring people to a forum I have just setup to build a sense of community among all Christians. In particular, I am reaching out to the Catholic and Orthodox community, but I believe that faith is a journey not a destination. With open minds and open ears, we can all learn and grow in faith
    The Guiding Principles I have set out are below:
    This forum has been created expressly for Christians of all faiths to meet, discuss, teach, and learn. Other than sections of the forum provided for specific internet communities, the intent is to be as open and uncensored as possible. Truthfully, can anyone in good conscience say they truly understand the mind of God? Please treat each other with the respect due to all of mankind. This isn't about agreeing on everything, but it also is not about being disrespectful, unkind, or condescending. Ad hominem attacks are NOT acceptable. You may disagree with what someone says or believes, but criticize the idea or belief, NOT the individual. Keep this in mind: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." Luke 6:37

    The reality of starting a forum is that finding enough people to participate is a challenge. No one will visit a discussion forum that is dead without people posting and being part of an active community. It is like the chicken and the egg. Who wants to join an empty discussion forum? How can a forum come to life without building a community?

    So I reach out and ask you to visit, register, and participate. Please share your faith. Please help me build a community by passing this message on to others.

    In Christ’s name…..

    Thank you


    MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    – Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

    March 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      You speak for Christ?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      You need to change your little cross logo thingy in the upper right hand corner. Create a transparent gif or png file so you can't see the white background at the top of the two crosses. That looks really bad and God will be mad.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • justme

      robert; someone already has a sight that is based on the truth of the bible. if you go to http://www.watchtower.org you will read about the only organization that is completely based on Jesus teachings. if you are sincere in your desire to find the truth, (and i think you are or i would not be leaving this) please check it out and don't listen to those that would mislead you before you do. this organization is teaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and that without financial requests.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Don't do it Bobby!!!! Not them!!!!

      March 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Brad

      I had a look, Robert. I'll probably participate once some discussions start up. On the surface it looks like a fairly ecumenical forum. I hope it does well.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  16. Josh

    The bible says do not tattoo yourself so they are not for the bible if they do that. Besides, the bible was written ONLY foe the tribes of Israel, not any old person. On top of that, CNN is owned by Jews so why are they concerned?

    March 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  17. Dani

    Christians love fads. Believe its because they want to be accepted and be 'just like everyone else.' Tattoos are the new fad, and they're following. When I was in college in the '90 the religious students, men, died their hair bleach blond. The tattoo phase is the new bleach blond. Why do they need to fit in so much? Tattoos no longer belong to rebels, troublemakers, but insecure hipsters, are the new face of tattoos. A turn off to see someone with tons of tattoos because you know they're insecure, trendy, and need approval.

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

      I could not agree more.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Commenter

      Yeah, the late 20th century was when they came up with the trendy "personal relationship" with God/Jesus psychobabble too...

      March 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Al

      Don't forget WWJD?

      March 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. Dr Clinger
    March 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Douglas

      Leviticus 19:28
      New International Version (NIV)

      28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  19. today is the day

    One sign that you're NOT a Christian:
    1) The Word of God (the Bible) is "foolishness" to you. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

    For the record, I am a Christian. I hope those of you who don't believe will take God up on His promise that you'll find Him if you seek Him with ALL your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). You have to be single-minded about it. That doesn't mean you don't do other things, it simply means seeking God with a pure heart is the most important thing you do. If you study the Bible and church history because you want to win religious arguments or shoot holes in the accounts of the Gospel, you won't find Him.

    You have to humble yourself and acknowledge Him, and ask Him to remove the pride that causes you to want to have your own way, and He will draw you by His Holy Spirit. You will begin to see things differently. I promise. No, I can't prove it to you. You have to taste and see for yourself. That's the way He's set it up.

    If He says that believing in Jesus is the only way to salvation, then guess what? Believing in Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation.

    Grace and peace be multiplied to you!! Especially to those of the faith! Have a great day.

    March 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Al

      How do you find something that isn't there. Any person that can think clearly and rationally does not talk to a god. You have to be warped, brainwashed, or high to have a conversation with something that isn't there.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  20. Conrad

    Well, there is certainly no harm in this, but I fail to see how it helps fulfill JC's injunction to help one and other. Talk about wearing your faith on your sleeve (shoulder)! What's the point? To demonstrate you suffered the needle for your faith? To show you are holier than those who did not get thus marked? I'd have been more impressed if the pastor had motivated his flock to go forth and help someone less fortunate than themselves rather than taking on "a tat for God." Again, it's not demonic and it doesn't hurt anyone else, but what good comes of it? What is needed is "more function, less form."

    March 3, 2012 at 1:56 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.