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. Ungodly Discipline

    The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbolism are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints. Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual – the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of "God-eating" – were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions.

    Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras – called the Son of God and the Light of the World – was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday or Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans.

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

      that is why Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate any of those pagan celebrations. are you?

      March 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      No, I am a lion tamer.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      If more people would take the time to study history & specifically the history of religions (as you apparently have) they would be enlightened & find the comfort they need in the reality of our existence. Future history will show current religions as no different than how we view ancient religions.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • justme

      mr. horseman, the only religion left in the future will be the only one who followed the truth about jesus who are amazingly
      J Ws, see above for just a few reasons and there are many more, for those who want sincere answers answer your door the next time they knock.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      justme .. that's what the Greeks, Egytians, Myans, Norsk & thousands of others said about their religions. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • justme

      horse, that's why i said what i did if you read it you would know what to respond to but you did not so try again please if you sincerely want answers it tells you where to go and i am out of here. i might check it out later.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      justme .. in case you return.
      I did not ask for answers, I have mine thank you.
      I always open my door to JW's, we have comfortable conversations, we don't agree but peacefully I wish them well on their choosen efforts .. hopefully I've made a few rethink thier views.
      My comment had nothing to do with pagan celebrations, only historical fact, so your comment had nothing for me to re-read .. I understood it the first time.
      I don't expect you to understand what my point is about history since people who choose not to understand won't, but hopefully someone else gets it.
      Stand back, see the forest for the trees, and you will see the history of religion is no different today than it has been throughout history & will be for future history.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  2. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Christian tattoos is like the South Park epi-sode, "Christian Rock Hard"
    Gimme a break! Not hard-core! Dork-core!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  3. adam mclane

    You know you've done something worthwhile when the blog trolls come out in droves. Good work Scott and Chris.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  4. teepee

    The Bible says not to mark your body...read for your self...

    March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • trav

      They dont live by the bible but their own intellect idol.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  5. jack

    I thought the bible says not to desecrate the body God has given you?

    March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • trav

      That's true. Many pastors out there taken a position for themselves and not called of God and do whatever it takes to keep a crowd.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Oneil

    I wonder what this so called pastor would say about Leviticus 19:28. "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  7. Attila the nun

    Maybe alter boys should have "Property of the Catholic Church" tattooed on their az.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • People are Stupid


      March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. AnnieM

    The Mark of the Beast?

    March 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  9. gager

    Let's see, I think I'll have a permanent piece of crap displayed on my arm that nobody would care to display on a wall in their home.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Unknown


      March 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • yeap that's right

      best reply to date

      March 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  10. idiots

    Whatever happened to your body being a temple of God? It's like you are spraying graffti on a temple. The pastor looks like a lost soul. Now he has led his flock astray. It's hard for people to find jobs as it is. I wouldn't hire anybody for a position that was public facing with any kind of tattoo that was visible. It's just my opinion. Do whatever the F you want!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bernard

      god's not real... no harm, no foul

      March 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • idiots

      Bernard, God may not be real but there are still good values to learn from every religion. No harm no foul? These idiots are going to have to live a life of regret now once they realize how stupid these tattoos look. I think most people have missed the true meaning of religion. Religion should be about how to live a good life and to stay away from things that will F up your life. There may not be consequences for your actions in life in the afterlife but in life there are always consequences. That is the point!

      March 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Unknown

      Bernard... I'm with you on that. / idiots... I'm with you on your answer to Bernard and I.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  11. The Truth

    For lent, I gave up religion

    March 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      When people give up something for lent when it's over they either find it that much sweeter to have that something back -or- they discover they are happier without it.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. Stop RELIGION

    They have never proven religion to be factual. This is a book of ideas written down and rewritten over time to control mass societies. Scaring people into believing something has great power over individuals freewill therefore being able to control mass groups of people. GOD has never been proven to exist in physical form except in between the pages of a book that plays havoc on an individuals free thinking. You don't need need a book to become a caring individual to your fellow human being. WAKE UP and see what religions true intent is. POWER and GREED!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Unknown

      StopRELIGION I agree

      March 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  13. ufadoof

    The fact that the bible is open to this many interpretations proves one of two things. One that "god" is a horrible author. Or two that the bible wasn't written by or from the words of "god". A much better version would be something simple like: Believe or live in eternal misery. If I was "god" I would just imprint all the rules directly into everyone's brain. Then there would be no question. There would be no Hindus or Muslims only Christians. Or would we be all Muslims? Hmmm.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  14. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    As usual with tattoo artists the art is awesome!
    However, as usual with leaders in the religion industry, this is nothing more than "bumper sticker" advertising with a non returnable daily dose of indoctrination. I'll give them credit though, it's an ingenious marketing ploy.

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

      I agree

      March 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  15. paganguy

    Stupid is as stupid does. This pastor must be getting a kickback from the tattoo parlor.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • ufadoof

      That's what I was thinking.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  16. Emminencia

    No need to cast my pearls in front of swine. Go run yourself into valley...

    March 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  17. Johnny Wonder

    Leviticus 19:28 which says, "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 12:12 pm |
    • AnnieM

      Religion, as we know, really has nothing to do with God for the Bible...it's all man-made – or as a good friend of mine says "God made man and man returned the favor"...

      March 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Unknown

      AnnieM Good one.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  18. Luke

    Words are symbols that degrade over time. The only thing of value in a word is not the word itself, but the cause of the word. Words are like little boxes within which someobne placed a gift. That which was placed within the box degrades over time and more than likely becomes worthless or useless. But the motivation, thet spirit, is not symbolic and it never degrades. The true gift and value is the putting in not the thing itself. So, rather than using words long in the presence of degradation to judge this act...this behavior, I would suggest seeking that which cannot be read and only felt – the spirit- to judge it by. I imagine standing before my bible and I imagine standing deep withion a cave looking at 30,000 year old images and I think wonder which would stir me the most, the deepest and I would have to say it would be those images becasue it sets the spirit free. Seek not the meaning in the ink, seek the meaning in the spaces between the ink...that is where God (or that which is greater than us) resides. That is what I think. You will have to decide for your self. Tats are cool.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  19. republicanwhineypoo


    March 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  20. Christian or not

    Well believe or not, there are a lot of negative comments towards believers!!! It can almost prove one thng,with no god in your heart, you are heartless....find somehting meaningful, and stop being so hateful towards Christians. Its a choose, and as far as I am concerned they are certainly not hurting anyone!! If you dont beleieve why stop even stop to read the article!?? I think ts a beautiful display or dedication. Well done!

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

      Your statement here is hateful and as a Christian I am offended. Are you saying that Buddhists have no heart? The reason other religions and the secular community is so upset is because of ignorant comments like that.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Nick Swardson

      I hate haters. Haters hate bad grammar.

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

      "It can almost prove one thng,with no god in your heart, you are heartless"

      Prove it. We are waiting.......

      March 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      with no God in your heart you are not heatless .. you are just Godless.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • AnnieM

      Dear God: Protect us from your followers...

      March 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Christian or not..Are you saying ,then, that there has never been negative comments to wards others who are different from what christians believe is the norm? Religions have a low tolerance of other religions, most despise gay folks, so what has your god to do with anything to do with understanding and love? none actually. I am an atheist and have great life..I understand the world around me, see beauty in the way we are all connected to the universe in ways that are far more beautiful then anything described in the bible. When i see the world and life being marginalized by religion, any of them, of course I speak out as do many other atheists.Its our world and society as well and is not the exclusive domain of
      those who believe in ancient cults

      March 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Unknown

      ufadoof Can I wait with you, I brought tea and donuts?

      March 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Unknown

      AnnieM Amen to that.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Unknown

      If Horses Had Gods... Which isn't a bad thing.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Exactly! Mr. Unknown, not a bad thing at all.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Unknown

      Jessica / The reason that I don't care for the religious and their religions, is the hypocrisy. ( most recently demonstrated in the political discourse) That being said, thank you for your contribution. One person who 'gets it'. Have a nice weekend.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • ufadoof

      It would be awesome to have tea and crumpets with the unknown. 😉

      March 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
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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.