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. 21k

    these tats are praising the god that didn't stop hitler, right? just want to keep it straight that some people want to spend eternity with a supreme being that is powerful enough to create the entire universe and everyone in it, but decided not to give a stroke or heart attack to one of his creations who was responsible for so much death and destruction. maybe this god hates us?

    March 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Jesus

      BTW my real name is Jesus just in case. But, it just doesn't work like that. You are forgetting the fact that we are all sinners. That we have all sin against God and done what is evil. If you wish Hitler would die sooner than YOU and ME should have also died even before we were born. Because just as Hitler sin, we also have sinned and deserve death. But the Bible says that God doesn't rejoice in the death of the wicked, but He is patient with us so that we might repent. The only thing sure about life is death and then there is judgment day where everything is going to be made right. And God is going to judge everyone justly for the sins. We need to repent and trust in Jesus if not we will perish just like Hitler.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • 21k

      hey, jesus. so infants thrown into a furnace before they could walk were sinners who deserved their fate? wow, what a strange world you live in. glad i'm not a part of it.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • ufadoof

      Hey Jesus. You explanation is what we would call "a cop out".

      March 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • justme

      jesus; i know you are not the one from the bible since you forgot it says we pay for our sins when we die
      Romans 6: vs.6 and 23 check it out.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  2. babydoc

    They should rename the church "Our Lady of the Trailer Park."

    March 3, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • palintwit

      That's where the Palins like to attend.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  3. Emminencia

    Plus, because someone uses the name christ or jesus, does not mean they refer to the true Christ. "beloved, test every spirit"

    March 3, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  4. Don

    I went to look up the passage about marking your body and started at the beginning of the chapter. These things were written to the "whole congragation".
    Leviticus 19:1-3 (NASB77)
    1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
    2 "Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ' You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
    3 'Every one of you shall ...
    Concerning the "old testament" this is what the "new testament" people including Jesus read and quoted from. We still practice its teachings. As a rule we still consider murder, adultry, lying etc to be sins. We just need to read the whole word of God from cover to cover and see if there has been a change in the teachings. Things such as in the old test do not commit adultry then in the new Jesus taught if anyone looks upon a woman to lust they have already commited adultry in their hearts. The new not only reinforces the old but adds to it with intensity.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Emminencia

      @Don: AMEN x3

      March 3, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. Darwin

    Leviticus 19:28 – "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, NOR PRINT OR TATTOO ANY MARKS UPON YOU: I am the Lord."

    March 3, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • nellyv85

      That is in the old testament under the Letivitical law.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Evan

      It's not a mark for the dead. Jesus is alive!!

      March 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • 21k

      bob: 14-87-hike: " tatoos increase your chances of contracting blood-borne disease, so don't get them"

      March 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • JesusFollower

      this was specifically for the levitcal priests in the OLD testament.. the previous verse says "do not trim the edges of your beard.." This isnt applicable to us. 🙂 God bless

      March 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • ufadoof

      Why is the old testament contained within the bible if it is not the word of "god"? By claiming that the "new" testament is the true word then wouldn't it also stand to reason that Mormons follow the new new word of "god". So therefore the new testament is now old and therefore irrelevant. Why is there a book at all. Regardless, wouldn't it be easier to imprint the info in all our brains? Language translations alone account for multiple interpretations. From the outside looking in, it would seem this Jesus (god) character wasn't very clever.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  6. j moneyfirstnamelastname

    Hahaha its very intriguing how upset this makes alot of you, what do you care? all i see is passing judgement and alot of 'im holier than thou' yall should really worry about your own path to salvation and perhaps offer a helping hand to your brothers and sisters instead of turning the other cheek at their "defiled bodies" i been inking my body for the Lord since 18...wont stop till my heart pumps its last. ROMANS 10: 9-10 keep fighting the good fight!

    March 3, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Timber

      Why do you claim to be a follower of the Messiah, yet mock others?

      March 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Happyfrenchman

    Hey, I am not gonna hire you if you have a Jesus tattoo visible, same as any other. Yutzes live the first part of their lives like total azoles, then get Jesus and think it is all cool. If they had any sense they wouldn't need to be getting Jesus in order to straighten themselves out to begin with. To each his own, but don't be applying for a job with me.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:53 am |

    I am in agreement with these 2 former comments. There is nothing "hip and artsy", and " tats are in direct violation of God's WORD", Leviticus 19:28. Because this is allegedly said "...to honer Jesus", it is in fact demonic in its origin as The Living God says what He means and means what He say. He never goes against His WORD !!!

    March 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Happyfrenchman

      Hip and artsy are also in direct contravention to Gods teachings....Exhibit A, Santorum and the Popel..

      March 3, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • 21k

      but god never recorded any of this stuff. people did, probably hundreds of years after the first arabic tribal leaders made it up.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • AmonnaSue

      Pastor, I'm just wondering if you yourself follow ALL the rest of this portion of the Law ie vs 19 or vs 27 regarding cutting the hair at the side of your head, or vs 32 regarding "rising in the presence of elders" or...vs 30 regarding observing the Sabbath–especially after what Our Lord Jesus did in Matt 12 and what He taught in Matt 5-7?!? I would suggest that you "do not choke at gnats and swallow camels", and that you prayerfully read what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 9: 3, 19-23 esp vs22-23.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  9. across12

    What a complete punk.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  10. Raised catholic

    If god is omnipotent, why did he have to send his son to die as a sacrifice to himself? None of the story holds together except that there was a man named Jesus with a wild imagination and a few good ideas about how we should treat each other. Christianity is no different than any of the other religions practiced throughout the tens of thousands of years of human evolution. We have just had the written word during its tenure to continue the myth from century to century.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • ouch

      1st off CNN having a belief blog is like the nazis having a jewish blog ok so ....2nd God sent his son to redeem man through his blood...man goofed in the garden of eden...its all there u just have to read it 😀

      March 3, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Not a catholic, but...

      Christianity is a my.t.h –MY TRUST IN HIM

      March 3, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Mirosal

      @ Ouch ... we have read it. Why do you think we're Atheists?

      March 3, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Raised catholic

      I did read it. That's how I arrived at this conclusion.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Timber

      Because God is a just God, and will not allow sin...that is, transgression of the law...to go unpunished. So instead of simply condemning all mankind for its sin (which is what we deserve), he made a way out. He sent his son to be a sacrifice (because the only way to pay for sin is by blood...your blood, or his), so that whosever believes in him shall not be destroyed, but have everlasting life. Frankly, it's a gift we don't deserve.

      March 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  11. The Flamingo dumb@$$

    Hey Flamingo...any chance you can break down the pre-council of Nicea religious directive that explains "defilement of the flesh"? You Bible literalists are an ignorant lot.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  12. DAVID

    How about a tattoo on their foreheads that says 'IDIOT'

    March 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  13. Caleb

    Christians are not bound by Jewish Law (Leviticus). When people start wearing clothes cut from only one cloth, observing the Sabbath, the days of Awe, eating a certain diet etc.; then maybe they can talk about following the Bible word for word. Christians call it an OLD Testament for a reason. And if we want to get specific, Levites are held to a higher standard than others, so we could make the argument that this only pertains to them anyways. I personally believe we are to ignorant and self serving to understand fully what the Bible says, which is where faith comes in to play.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  14. Bill

    Disgusting. I rank this 'church' about as ghetto as it gets. They are selling God short. I equate them marking their bodies to someone getting a bunch of spray cans and tagging the pulpit! Even if this 'church' where focused on Prison Ministry, this would not be acceptable.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • MarkinArk

      Totally agree. This is plain & simple stupid!

      March 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Caleb

      Because the Pulpit it some high and holy part of Christianity. That's a man made thing.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • awm

      Ghetto? Really? Your tolerance for diverse expressions of faith astounds me.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  15. Gomez

    While they are at it, they should tattoo Santorum's face on their forehead.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • charemor

      Maybe their behinds would be a more appropriate place.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  16. mizh

    Oh brother. How common and ridiculous... anyone can get inked up with whatever they want. I think it matters not a whit what ink you wear, but how you treat your fellow man. I know "religious" people who are greedy and self-serving, who look down on others who are not "religious". Give me a break.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  17. Emminencia

    This Pastor must be serving the devil and not Jesus Christ. This is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Jesus Christ of the Bible and true son of God. He is an Antichrist, and his followers better beware. In the end, He will say : "I did not know you"

    March 3, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • fletch72

      seriously? Jesus taught us not to tattoo? and please don't quote Leviticus – those are the laws of Moses. Jesus replaced those laws. Jesus cares what's in our hearts, not what ink is on our bodies. please work on your own faith first.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Emminencia

      @fletch72: One shall not cast their pearls in front of swine

      March 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      "Jesus cares what's in our hearts, not what ink is on our bodies. please work on your own faith first."

      So a dead guy (if he existed at all) cares? You did get past the 5th grade right? You do realize that your jesus character can't possibly be alive even if he was real? First off no-one has ever returned from the dead and second, if your jesus character were alive he'd be approximately 2007 years old. The stories written about jesus were done approximately 40 years after his death and none of the men writing about him ever met him.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  18. drp146

    When will they get "The Mark of the Beast"?

    March 3, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Emminencia

      They have already begun...

      March 3, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  19. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    There is nothing "hip and artsy" in the degradation, mass humiliation, slaughter of non-believers, subjugation of women, war and hate that is organized religion.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Emminencia

      All of those things are the works of the master of the universe. If you obey the commandments of God, then you need not worry about those things that are not meant for you.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Stop-Christiantiy

      Agreed. I don't think much of Chistrianity but this is a new low. At least this time, they're not hurting others. But maybe it won't be long before they go to some African village and start tatooing the villagers with some Jesus tattoo!

      March 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  20. The Flamingo Kid

    Tats are in direct violation of God's word. It IS a defilement of the flesh. This "pastor" needs to get a life.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • The Flamingo dumb@$$

      ...Hey Flamingo...any chance you can break down the pre-council of Nicea religious directive that explains "defilement of the flesh"? You Bible literalists are an ignorant lot.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Copper's Donut Shoppe

      think i am gonna go defile some flesh ~ nice ham sandwich ~ maybe defile some cheese also.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:55 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.