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. Telltale Signs

    You became an atheist when you were 10 years old, based on ideas of God that you learned in Sunday School. Your ideas about God haven’t changed since.

    2. You think that the primary aim of an omni-benevolent God is for people to have FUN.

    3. Although you’ve memorized a half a dozen proofs that He doesn’t exist, you still think you’re God’s gift to the ignorant masses.

    4. You believe the astronomical size of the universe somehow disproves God, as if God needed a tiny universe in order to exist.

    5. You spend hours arguing that atheism actually means “without a belief in God ” and not just ” belief that there is no god”, as if this is a meaningful distinction in real life.

    6. You can make the existence of pink unicorns the center-piece of a philosophical critique.

    7. You’re a spoiled fifteen year old boy who lives in the suburbs and you go into a chat room to declare that, “I know there is no God because no loving God would allow anyone to suffer as much as I…hold on. My cell phone’s ringing.”

    8. You believe that if something cannot be touched, seen, heard, or measured in some way, then it must not exist, yet you fail to see the irony of your calling Christians “narrow-minded”.

    9. You believe that priests are only in it for the money, despite the fact that they make less than almost anyone else with their level of education.

    10. Your only knowledge of The Bible comes from searching ‘bible contradictions’ in Google.

    11. You believe the movie Dogma gives the most accurate portrayal of Christian theology.–author unknown

    March 3, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Dr. Elvis

      Love every one of those, and # 5 could'nt have said it better.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • scoobypoo

      Provide proof of your god. Oh, that's right, you can't. That's why it's called "faith". Done.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • momoya

      christianity: when you can't differentiate between fantasy and reality and you refuse to consider anything that will help you see the difference.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • You asked for Proof?

      JESUS is the Proof.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • sybaris

      Telltale Signs, other than your post being nothing but a collection of ad homs, there's one very basic problem with the whole thing ........... everyone is born an atheist.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  2. Name*Chedar

    If this group believe on Ash Wednesday, they should just tattoo a cross on their forehead. This way it will save them from going to get another ashes on Ash Wednesday. Ahhhhh! The unenlightened being. I thought sounds like paganism.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  3. kiss

    If you are religious you believe your body is a temple of god he created you in his own image. Would you put graffiti on a religious temple? I hope not. keep it to the subway's

    March 3, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Gus

      I should probably take down all the decorations in my church then too...

      How are we doing with that "no graven images" thing?

      Protip: We are free from the law, through grace

      March 3, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  4. Tr1Xen

    "In a hip, artsy, area of Houston"

    Translation: In Montrose, the gay area. lol

    March 3, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  5. momoya

    Maybe it's an identification code; after all, you can't tell a christian by his deeds or speech.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  6. martog

    Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Do you know why the Atheist is right? Look around you and see what religion has done around the world. Nothing but misery in the name of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  7. martog

    Your beliefs don't make you a better person. Your behavior does. Anyone who needs the threat of hell and the promise of heaven to be a good person is NOT a good person.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Nathan

      It is common to believe that Christianity is simply yet another moral code. It is not. It about a Person, Jesus Christ. That being said,we act on our beliefs all the time, this is called a conscience. And we also act contrary to our beliefs (hypocrisy). Show me a moral people without God. Even the morality expressed by so called atheists is a moral compass that is a legacy ingrained into our culture, passed on as an inheritance, from our Judeo-Christian heritage. Those who claim to be "good," and "moral" and yet without a faith through which they approach God whom they may or may not even believe in, are still living out a moral capital inherited from a Judeo-Christian ethic. The moral abyss we find ourselves in today is a result of people rejecting that moral capital they have inherited, and what little capital remains is running out.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • martog

      Nathan, you just made my point without even knowing it. Ignorance is bliss eh?

      March 3, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  8. beeleef

    Jesus told me personally that he's against tattoos. He's more of a piercing guy.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  9. will

    matthew 5:17 , Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, (meaning old testament) but I came to fulfill it"

    March 3, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Emminencia


      March 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  10. OxheadLives

    Somehow, Robert De Niro's tattoos in "Cape Fear" come to mind.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  11. marty

    I prefer tramp tats.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • brain wash the lost

      ya aim for jesus forhead XD

      March 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. ozilot

    I thought the bible proscribed getting tattoos - Leviticus 19:28

    March 3, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Gus

      Lev 19:27
      27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

      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

      1 Corinth 6:12 + 1 Corinth 10:25-29 : Paraphrased- the "law" no longer applies


      March 3, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  13. Got Jesus?

    Man tried religion and he failed; he tried rituals he failied.
    It is all about a relationship; a journey with Jesus himself;everything else fails!

    March 3, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Nathan

      Spirituality and a Relationship with God is like water. Religion is the bucket in which one draws the water and is able to drink it. The claim that one can be spiritual and have a relationship with God without religion is a claim that just doesn't hold any water.

      “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
      ― G.K. Chesterton

      March 3, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • sybaris

      This is one of the best examples of delusion.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • 12 Disciples

      A Christian is a keyhole through which other folk see God. – R. E. Gibson

      March 3, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • momoya

      @ 12 Disciples

      AAAAAaaaaahhh He's ugly! He's ugly!! Go away!!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  14. Lorelei

    How about asking your congregation to become blood donors instead? Because getting a tattoo would prevent any existing donor from giving blood for one year, at least. If you're going to be poked with a needle, how about helping others while you do it?

    March 3, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • GhostColin

      The problem with your idea, is that it's logical and since religion doesn't have anything to do with logic it just won't work.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Danman

      I have to agree on the logic point, that would actually be a Christian thing to do; therefore; it will never happen.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • scotterickson

      we actually do host blood drives every other month at our sunday gatherings. the blood donation truck comes and we encourage our community to give blood.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • lovemeimaliberal!

      you're not allowed to donate for a year if you say something. I know my artists use clean needles, so i dont. Christianity isn't about saving everyone from dying. It's about embracing death and our redemption through Christ.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • GhostColin

      @scotterickson – topic aside, very nice line work!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Nathan

      @GhostCollin There is popular misunderstanding that pits faith against reason. However any cursory study of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and other Doctors of the Church will reveal just the opposite. Christian Theology is grounded firmly in Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, Augustine relying heavily on Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas on Aristotle so much so he simply refers to him as "the Philosopher." Let us not forget, it was the Catholic Church that outlined and created the Scientific Method. Faith is the gratuitous gift from God of his revelation of himself to man and even of man to himself; reason is how we unpackage and understand our faith. St. John in his Gospel even calls Christ, the Logos, the Word Incarnate. To somehow hold that faith is opposed to reason is to reveal an ignorance of both.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • kiss

      our church has oil changes every quarter for single mothers and car washes we also help move people if they can't afford movers and many other programs to help our community what has athesist done but complain about religion

      March 3, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • GhostColin

      @Nathan The church has been claiming for eons that they are responsible for the creation of scientific method. Sounds lovely, but no. It was very nice of them however, to place Galileo under house arrest. Just because person A happens to be from religion B, does not mean that religion can claim they are responsible. If you want the church to claim they are responsible for anything, lets give them being responsible for holding back even further progress in the scientific field. I'll let them have that one.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  15. BL

    It's not about what's on the outside. It's what's on the inside that counts, a lesson never learned.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  16. John

    Religous dolts! Or is it Texas dolts? Maybe that is making a distinction without a difference.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  17. Ungodly Discipline

    I have decided to convert from athiesm to Solipsism. The ceremony is going to be a blast, I will be having all my friends and family over and un-validating their existence. Then it will just be a free-for-all. I will also be getting a tattoo of my own face on my a.s.s.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • John

      Good post! LOL

      March 3, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • JohnR

      Your a.s.s. doesn't really exist. Take it from me. I don't really exist, either. So I should know!

      March 3, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Observer

      Something about your face on your ass? True confessions?

      March 3, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • .

      If you're a Democrat, you can't have your face tattooed onto your a.s.s. because your a.s.s. in in Washington.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • gerald bemis

      That sounds like a great idea – it'll bookend your face of an ass!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  18. .

    Join the Democrat Party and stick your dick up another guy's rear end.

    Then go have a parade.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • palintwit

      Get back under your bed where you belong, junior, and put the computer down.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • dumbrednex

      go home dad, you're drunk.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Danman

      Yep, have a parade of all the gay republican pedophiles and let the pages carry them on litters....LMAO!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  19. scoobypoo

    Gotta love the old lady that got the "fish" tattoo, which is actually the pagan symbol for the Pagan Great Mother Goddess's nether region. Too funny.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  20. lizette

    "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and DO NOT MARK YOUR SKIN WITH TATTOOS. I am the Lord. ~Leviticus 19:28...

    March 3, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • skeptic2

      Gee, maybe this is why God is punishing us with all these killer hurricances. I mean, don't mess with the Big Guy's edicts, right?

      March 3, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • JohnR

      Another idiot who ignores 90% of the old testament edicts cherry picking one to go nuts over. Just another day in Christendom.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • scoobypoo

      OMFG, skeptic2, that's it!!!

      March 3, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • 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
      1 Corinth 10:25-29 (paraphrased: I am free from the law in christ, if I don't make others stumble)

      March 3, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • T. J. Garrison

      And not only that, it's really a stupid and expensive thing to do.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • dumbrednex

      Leviticus 19:27 "'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

      you were saying?

      March 3, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • A

      You do realize that Christianity really doesn't adhere to the Old Testament, right? Jes us tossed out the old rules and replaced them with two simple ones: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

      That's why judgmental, hateful Christians that randomly quote whatever OT verses that fit their need get my blood boiling. Loving your neighbor means loving their tattoos, or their gay-ness, or whatever else you might find objectionable because some evangelical told you it was a "sin". I wish we all abided by, "Harm none, do as you will" in every religion.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Lola

      My thoughts exactly, upon reading this article!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • buddy

      The original latin text of the bible does not say tattoo. It refers to the term, INK, in that time period was used to write spell to protect from the dead, sickness and bad luck. Also in the new testament,"And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." Revelations 19:16. So Jesus will return to us with a tattoo on his thigh.

      March 3, 2012 at 10:12 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.