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. el_incr

    Leviticus 19:28

    You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. Mr. Seay is a fool.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  2. Gus

    But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Sam 16:7

    All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." 1 Corinth 6:12

    Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”[a] 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 1 Corinth 10:25-29

    All of this to say:
    We are free from the old laws in Christ (long as we don't cause others to stumble).
    I am confident that God will judge the HEART of the tattoo, and not the tattoo itself.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  3. Jeff

    Christianity was invented by jews.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  4. JiminNM

    The light of truth may be dimmed by a shade or hidden by a cover, but it cannot be extinguished nor escaped.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  5. Aboutjab

    There is nothin "hip" about religion!

    March 3, 2012 at 8:17 am |


    March 3, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Jeff

      please don't insult Hitler like that

      March 3, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • John

      Actually, he was a false Christian. But take no offense ... you are a "true idiot."

      March 3, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • moonster

      having problem with your own image?

      March 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  7. AngerBot

    Symbols are for the symbol minded.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:06 am |


    March 3, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Observer

      The Caps Lock key can usually be found on the left side of the keyboard near Shift.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • jesus is dead

      There's no such thing as sin. It's terminology conjured up to instill fear in mythology. Nothing more.

      : )

      March 3, 2012 at 8:09 am |


    March 3, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  10. jon

    I guess they forgot that God said "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." (NIV) Leviticus 19:28

    March 3, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Joshua Acanfora

      Do you put mediums to death? Do you walk inside a palm readers shop and kill them? Leviticus 20:27. Stop the buffet style Law observances.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  11. Just sayin'

    Well spoken Amadea. For those whose faith is built upon the Bible, tattos are forbiden acorning to Leviticus. It's kind of like putting an idol on your arm! Our bodies are sacred so why would one want to have someone draw all over it? If you don't beleive the Bible is the Holy word of God do what ever you want, but don't take on Christ's name calling yourself a Christian and not follow His teachings. It gives Christianity and Christ a bad name.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • Joshua Acanfora

      There are many things forbidden in Leviticus. Are you still observing the Law? Are you observing all 613 of them? or are you practicing buffet style Law observances? I urge you to read Romans again.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • jesus is dead

      That moron jesus already gave himself a bad name by opening his mouth.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Joshua, the "law" you speak of that has been done away with is the sacrificial system of killing animals as an atonement for our sins. And yes, His supreme sacrifice did take that away! However it does not take away the principles of living a Christian life as outlined in Leviticus.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Joshua Acanfora

      Do we kill mediums? (Lev 20:27) I'm not replying this way to be snarky. I'm just saying that there are many other Laws that have nothing to do with blood sacrifice that we don't follow anymore. Which ones do we hold on to? Which ones do we toss?

      March 3, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Some of the laws pertain to the Jews as a nation. When Christ was cricified and Stephen was stoned, God rejected the Nation of Isreal and with it the some of the laws that deal with it's governing. It is illegal to kill in our country. Joshua, I'm not saying you are, but some take the "law does away with everything" theory as a lisence to do whatever they want without consequence. Christ did not come and die so we can absorb ourselves in self serving pleasure. Blessings!

      March 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Smitty

      I'm a Christian. Bare in mind that the Bible was written by man and that one's PERSONAL beliefs could have easily been added. Just saying....

      March 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Janice

      I couldn't have said it any better!!! I totally agree1

      March 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  12. Joshua Acanfora

    I love tattoos and are covered in them. I also love Jesus. However, for a pastor to recommend a congregation to do this is simply unbiblical. Observing Lent is fine (it's neither prescribed nor prohibited in the bible) but this is simply lame.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:51 am |


      March 3, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Joshua Acanfora

      Wow! What a bullet proof reply. I wont even waste time deconstructing your comment. Are you in high school or something?

      March 3, 2012 at 8:08 am |


      March 3, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Pinewalker

      Hitlers claim of Christianity is like many of our home born terrorists claim of patriotism.....grew up pledging allegiance and touting the flag but then bombed federal buildings with babies in them.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Dani

      When I see someone covered in tattoos, especially under the age of 40, I just see an insecure, trendy, wannabe rebel.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • David

      Hey Hitler, Jesus didn't love anything about you. So, it was all one-sided.

      March 4, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  13. Bootyfunk

    they should have gotten skull tattoos. they would have gotten laid more.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  14. Bootyfunk

    look at my official cult member stamp! now i'll never leave the collective or think for myself! woohoo!!!

    March 3, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  15. stinky bob

    Mark of the Beast, people, mark of the beast.
    That and tattoos are dumb.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  16. Roy

    Your body is a temple for Christ, not a tattoo parlor. I don't agree with this as I suspect a majority of Christians won't either.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • jesus is dead


      A temple? You really believe that? Man, what an IDIOT!

      March 3, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Erica

      I would usually agree, but I like this- I think that tattoos in general (and these specifically) are 1. beautifully designed, and 2. can be great avenues into sharing the gospel, and 3. a permanent, visual reminder of who you are in Christ. Certainly they aren't necessary, and certainly there's a stigma put upon them by Christian Culture, but I'm not opposed to them. I think that if most Evangelicals were to examine their underlying motives for disapproval, they would find them to be quite shallow.

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

      To me, it's one thing if you already have tattoos, and then become a Christian, but to have them done afterwards really doesn't make any sense.

      The most rebellious thing a person can do is NOT go along with prevailing culture, and by getting tattoos for no real purpose other than consanguinity with that culture is really to miss the entire point of the gospel. If getting a tattoo were some sort of societal punishment, then I might get one in order to identify with the outcasts, but they're completely elective, and usually had by people with self-image issues. There is no point in imitating that.

      March 4, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  17. Da King

    This story and the comments seem like a waste of time. Think I'll pray instead. Jesus cares about what is in your heart. He can forgive your moments of weakness if He is in your heart.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • jesus is dead


      He's dead.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  18. jesus is dead

    More believable than the bible:


    March 3, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  19. polycarp pio

    "To those with faith no explaination is needed, to those without faith no explaination is possible". PP

    March 3, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • logic

      please replace the word "faith" with "science"

      March 3, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Da King


      March 3, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  20. OLE

    Sorry christians, not impressed. I don't think Jesus would approve of doing something to your body like this to attract people's attention. Especially, for women. Per Bart Ehrman (biblical scholar) Jesus said that unmarried women who wear braids in their hair to attract men will be hung in the fire of hell from the same braids. Tattoos are fancy and they are for more style than sacrifice. Ramadhan is way more sacrificing and more Jesus like. Muslims are more like Jesus, they do ablutions like Jesus and fast like him. Dont start talking about terrorism blah blah, your pedo preists and pope are no saints either.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Amadea

      Please know, OLE, this is not your usual Christian ritual. In fact, if Mr. Artsy Pastor will read his Bible a little more closely he will find that what he is doing is actually against the will of God. Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." Christian ritual around the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Our LORD Jesus is solemn, reverent, sorrowful, and then wholly joyful as we celebrate Easter Morning. He is Risen! Hallelujah. Also, OLE, please remember that as many 'pedo priests' there are, there are an equal number of Muslim leaders urging violence among their people. Does that make one side right and the other wrong? They are both in terrible error. But then so is the whole world. Have you never done anything wrong in your life, OLE? That's why I worship Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world ... the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world ... and Who also said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. NO-ONE comes to the Father except through Me." Have a great day, OLE.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • ecclesia2020

      Also, I would like to know where your source is coming from OLE. I have read through the accepted gospels time and time again, never have I seen where Jesus said anything about hanging women from their braids in hell. lol.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:14 am |
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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.