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. Jeff Lucas

    I don't think the early church would have gone for tatoos. But Christians will always push the envelope of perfect Liberty. I personally encourage other Christians to speak against the war on medical cannabis and industrial hemp. Those things are a matter of Liberty of Conscience. cannabis prohibition is a stumblingblock that causes a person to become desensitized to his convictions on his conscience, and it is our lawful Christian duty to speak against this evil tyranny in our land.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Pot should be legalized. Perhaps Cocaine too. Is it a free country or not? Alcohol is legal. Why the double standard. Besides, we need the tax revenue BAD and it would be quite a blow to the cartels. How long will we allow this gang violence go on? I long will we allow drug dealers to profit? How long will we allow dangerous and overly strong strains of cannibus endager lives? Regulate, tax, win.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Oh, and there is the whole prison issue. Come, have some common sense!! Jail time for weed? This issue ruins lives and reputations for no good reason, and forces jail over-crowding. I am personally sick of it.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  2. christards

    Ten years have now passed since many of us first felt the jolt of history—when the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We knew from that moment that things can go terribly wrong in our world—not because life is unfair, or moral progress impossible, but because we have failed, generation after generation, to abolish the delusions of our ignorant ancestors. The worst of these ideas continue to thrive—and are still imparted, in their purest form, to children.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Yahweh

      It's all part of His divine plan, He works in mysterious ways, It's not our place to question it. Why, just look at the beautiful weather he's blessed the southeast with the past few days. How many dead? He loves you.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Quite right. According to the bible, there is no free will. God has you in his book. He has a plan for each of us. He knows when you will be born and when you will die. He is therefore responsible for all death, murder and destruction for all of history including every abortion ever performed, every miscarriage, every atrocity. He is perfect. He is omniscient. He is omnipotent. So how could this not be so?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  3. MaxS

    "Religion…has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’." Douglas Adams.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  4. Ungodly Discipline

    I am saddened by all those who cling to religion and continue to endorse it as reality and insist that it somehow should govern morality and law-making. One can lay out all the evidence and build (and have built) an airtight case against every single religion on Earth past and present, but still believers will not budge from their point of view, even when presented with the lies and contradictions in the very scriptures they they base their beliefs on.

    Understand, I am not talking about a belief in God. I do understand that. I am talking about religion. Every one of which has been empirically proven false but yet clings like moss to ancient rocks.

    I believe the single most important factor in this inability to see through the foolishness of religion is fear. Children’s stories of heaven and hell. The initial indoctrination for many, simply cannot be undone.

    Secondly, there is a feeling of community that comes with any “club” Naturally this is not relegated to religion so it does not qualify as an excuse.

    Finally some minds are unable to think creatively enough to imagine the more plausible alternatives. What are those alternatives? Well we have to turn to science, but also we have to accept what we don’t know and keep looking. And in truth, we don’t really know anything about how the universe came to be, what came before and where it is going. If there are multiple universes and time lines through which we move, these would be marvelous discoveries. There is a wonderful article in Scientific American this month regarding a new spin on the Quantum theory. That being the quantum universe could have foamlike fluctuations that rule spacetime, not unlike the 0’s and 1’s that are the foundation of computing and storing information.

    If we wish to believe in such things, we have to make them up. Hence religion. It doesn’t mean there is no god, or gods, or aliens, but it does mean that we don’t have the answers and most likely never will.

    Now we arrive back at fear. What will happen to me when I die? For me, I look forward to an eternity of nothing. Others fear this prospect and prefer to believe in fairies and fantasies and are not even ashamed that their mental description of an after life is akin to that of a 5-year-old’s picture book.

    I believe the Universe and the “everything” are FAR more bizarre than we could ever imagine with the faculties we have thus far obtained via evolution on this planet. And I wonder how many millions of civilizations across the vastness of space and time have pondered likewise.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • innkahoots

      Five stars for you Onestarman, One of the fineist posts I've read in a lond time. It's not so much that people have a belief in an infinite presence, but it's there metheds I question.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • innkahoots

      Sorry, I ment this for Ungodly D.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • False Dichotomy

      Yes, nice post.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  5. Appauled

    How familiar is this pastor with the bible? What doctrine does he believe? Did he not read in the bible where tattooing your body is a sin. What kind of congregation do you have? Do they believe the Lord is their God or the pastor? If they read the bible they would know what the pastor is telling them is wrong so they are following something that is wrong and the pastor should not be leading them to do such a thing to their bodies. The body God gave them not the pastor.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      How familiar are ANY of them? They "preach" end-times, rapture, apocalypse, anti-gay, sacrament-magic, self torture, possession, "visions" in everything from shrouds to tortillas, cryptic bible codes ... If God wants to talk to the world He does not need cryptic codes or a Pope .. that's all foolishness. Why would God create a church that divides itself into 1000 non-communicative sects? (that's the Tower of Babel story). (and each one claims to be the ON:LY one .. because of some phrase - less than a sentence - and would start WWIII over it. Somehow their followers go for it. That plain crazy.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      If they read the bible they would become athiests and really regret the choice of tattoo they made.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Biblesaywha

      Does it matter that you believe the bible says tattoos are a sin? It also says cutting your hair or shaving is a sin. It says it is a sin to let yaks and buffalo graze together. It is a sin to wear blended fabrics. It is a sin to eat shrimp. You buy into all of that, or do you single out tattoos and gays?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  6. scott

    I can't help but wonder how Jesus would really feel about body mutilation.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I like to think he would go with a "Mom" tattoo and maybe an ear piercing. Somthing modest.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  7. marsmotel

    Religion is accepted schizophernia!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • moonster

      from my standpoint atheists are more under-medicated.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • marsmotel

      From your standpoint...you do not have a rational, intelligent or free thought in your head. You need someone else to believe in and tell you what to believe. Stop it.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      What is your standpoint? And what do you mean? Sorry, I didn't understand your post.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Biblesaywha

      moonster- your post makes no sense. Maybe it's because you are "more under-medicated". Whatever that means. Please go back into your prayer closet. Oh, I bet you don't have one of those (god think you should). Instead you (attempt to) make a show about how religious you are. I wonder what the babble says about that. . .

      March 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Gecul

    Amazing! Another example of how uncool jesus freaks really are!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  9. christards

    organized religion is "the main source of hatred in the world

    all religious belief is sinister and infantile

    March 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  10. christards

    Ten years have passed since a group of mostly educated and middle-class men decided to obliterate themselves, along with three thousand innocents, to gain entrance to an imaginary Paradise. This problem was always deeper than the threat of terrorism—and our waging an interminable “war on terror” is no answer to it. Yes, we must destroy al Qaeda. But humanity has a larger project—to become sane. If September 11, 2001, should have taught us anything, it is that we must find honest consolation in our capacity for love, creativity, and understanding. This remains possible. It is also necessary. And the alternatives are bleak.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Don't forget Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple!

      March 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  11. JEN


    March 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • J.W

      ok take a deep breath and calm down you are rambling

      March 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  12. RightTurnClyde

    Well this is just one more example of how Christian churches are not Christian and their "followers" have no idea what it means to be Christan. The preachers twist phrases into income producing hysteria (end of the world, apocalypse, image of Jesus in tortillas, tattoos (?? new any way), devil possession and exorcism, ... candles, holy water, incense, ashes, hocus pocus .. hanging locks of hair on statues and icons ) ... none of that is Christian. Calvinism is NOT Christian; Papism is not Christian; sacraments are not Christian; encyclicals are not Christian; dogma is not Christian. It is all manipulation. But the herd likes it I guess.

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

      What then, pray tell, is Christian?

      March 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  13. Cameron A.

    When the bible says do not tattoo your body I believe it means for every reason, but whatever.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Biblesaywha

      When is it okay to cut one's hair? For bison and yaks to graze together? (never and never) To kill your children? To kill people because they believe different than you? (those are allowed, no, COMMANDED)

      March 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  14. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    The God(s) of history were aliens ... "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinquishable from magic" with credit to Arthur C Clarke

    March 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  15. HI, I'M SATAN

    I'm thousands of years old. I enjoy torturing, fire breathing, sodomy, wearing red and blogging. I'm looking for some souls to party with. Gender and race unimportant.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Face

      I was guessing George Bush until I read the last sentence.....

      March 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • MaxS

      I am also pretty old. Millions of people were killed in my name. According to me women belong to men, they should not be allowed to vote, all they should is to serve their masters. I don't give .....t when an innocent child dies. I don't really care about anything.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  16. Ungodly Discipline

    When you look at different religions, they usually contain "magic." For example:

    • The Mormon religion contains the magical golden plates, the magical angel, the magical seer stones, the magical ascension of the plates into heaven, etc.

    • The Muslim faith contains the magical angel, the magical flying horse, the magical voices, the magical prophet, etc.

    • The Christian faith contains the magical insemination, the magical star, the magical dreams, the magical miracles, the magical resurrection, the magical ascension and so on.

    The presence of "magic" is a clear marker for "imaginary." For example, how do we know that Santa is imaginary? Because (among other things) he has eight magical flying reindeer. How do we know that Jack and the Beanstalk is a fairy tale? Because (among other things) the story contains magical seeds. In the same way, how do we know that God is make believe? Because God is surrounded by magic.

    According to believers, God is an all-powerful being who has the divine, magical power to do anything. How do we know that this belief is a fairy tale? One way to know is to try to invoke God's magical power. For example, the Bible tells us in many places that God answers prayers. However, whenever we try to pray, we notice that nothing happens. That tells us that God is completely imaginary. The magical powers ascribed to him are a fairy tale.

    Another way to know is to read the stories of magical events in the Bible. There is the magical flood, yet we know with certainty that the flood never happened. There are the magical miracles of Jesus, but (predictably) none of these miracles left behind any tangible evidence. There is the magical resurrection, yet there is zero evidence that it ever occurred and no reason to believe it.

    God is identical to Leprechauns, mermaids and Santa. God is a magical fairy tale creature. The magic surrounding God tells us that God is imaginary.

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

      That's way too many words for believers. They have yet to finish reading the bible.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      Also according to Judeo-Christo-Fascism, it is OK for their "god" to perform magic, but NOT OK for people to be witches, sorcerers, wizards, etc. (as if there were such a thing as magic to be performed anyway). Nevertheless, these religious dolts condemn human magic. How stupid can they be? Salem witch trials, anyone?

      March 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Gecul

      Well said, but probably a wasted effort in the use of reason to dissuade children who still believe in Santa and other fairy tales!

      March 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Unknown

      ufadoof / I spewed my tea...

      March 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Yahweh

      Don't forget the Mormons' magic underwear!!

      March 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Included in "etc." LOL

      March 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  17. Nance

    for those quoting Lev, do u follow ALL the rules of the OT?? no?? why not???? LEGALISTS! at least they are spreading the Word. what are u doing besides coming against ur brothers and sisters? "preach Christ, and if necessary, use words" nowhere in the NT does it say u can't get a tat, and they are not just getting them to get them, they are using them to spread the Gospel!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  18. Yveliz

    Firstly, this is not a matter of opinion. This is not about hate or any other thing but living out the truth. How can you profess to be a Christian and contradict scripture? Do you not know that people all over the world are watching you. Have you forgotten scripture? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which reads what? Know tenor that you are temple of the Holy spirit? Which is in you, which you have of God, which ye are not of your own? For you are bought with a price: Therefore glorify God in your body and in your Spirit, which belong to God. Have you forgotten that there are people who are weak who because of this will fall astray. How absurd! God have mercy upon you all.Read your scripture,Leviticus 19:28. What exactly is the church trying to prove by tattooing scenes of Christ on your skin. What example are you giving to the world? We weren't called to fit in, we were called to spread the truth of Christ with out mouth. Jesus disciples never tattooed themselves. For all those that are reading this post I want you to know that Jesus loves you and that he died on the cross for you and you don't need a tattoo to know how much He loves you. May God have mercy on those who know Truth and do not do what is asked. We are living in the last days.

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

      You should be locked up in an insane asylum. Religion is accepted schizophernia! You have it!

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

      That's right. (except I do view "scripture" as statute. It is merely "writing" like a book you might buy at the bookstore. What YOU make of the book can only occur after having read the book. Merely possessing it or admiring it is not reading it. AFTER your read the book you KNOW what's in it and can (if you choose) inculcate it (or portions of it) as you see fit (and to the extent that you understood what you read). Most of the preachers I've met TWIST what they read and manipulate their "followers." The followers seem to believe they are Christian if they DO what the others do. Well then they can be led to believe the end of the world is 12/21/12 or abortions things or gay things .. and they will arguje about them .., and never have read the book .. they are NOT Christian (they are cows)

      March 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Max

      @Yveliz. i appreciate that you have an opinion. mine is that nowhere in the scripture you cite does it say that "thou shall not get a tattoo". you are putting your own definition onto that scripture to condemn the act of getting a tattoo as being disrespectful of the body/temple god provides. i think these people are choosing to get a tattoo to, in fact, to "spread the truth of Christ with out mouth". literally "with out mouth", and actually through a picture on their body. I think they feel they are glorifying God ON their body and thereby telling the world of their beliefs. Now, all that being said, I do kind of disagree with a church asking their congregation to get permanent body art for Lent, which is meant for giving up something for a relatively short period of time...this is something that they'll always have with them, even though their beliefs may change. THAT being said, anyone who agrees to get voluntarily get a tattoo better be prepared to have it there forever and if you don't like it afterwards, sucks to you be you and that's the risk you were taking.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  19. People are Stupid

    As usual, a bunch of people bashing religion. Shocking.

    March 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      What's not to make fun of about religion? On the other hand, there is nothing that can be made fun of about atheism. Go figure.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Well, admitting you are stupid is the first step. I don't think you can fix stupid, but you can get educated. Good luck!

      March 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      It's not so much bashing as it is a mission to help the less fortunate realize the truth.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Egads

      THimply Shocking!

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

      ReligionIs4Dolts / I have to remember that one. Pretty good.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Biblesaywha

      Why is it that religious people think that "bashing" is their exclusive domain? I mean, yeah, they're better at it than most other people, but why can't everybody else try to be like you?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm |

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

      So was Jesus actually.

      March 3, 2012 at 12:55 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.