Turning Your Whole Life (and part of your body) into Lent

We need the Lenten police. If we had them, then Reformed Protestants may not have so much material to confirm our prejudices against the church calendar. But until we do, we are stuck with evangelicals schlocking up the liturgical year and proving once again the need for reformation.

In this particular case, a story at Her.meneutics (get it?), an estrogen-friendly site sponsored by Christianity Today, informs about a church in Texas where the artist-in-residence designed a series of tattoos based on the stations of the cross for congregants to affix to their bodies and thereby observe Lent.

The phrase came to me again last month when my friend, artist Scott Erickson, told me about his Lenten-theme project for the congregation we serve, Ecclesia Church in Houston. He had designed a series of 10 tattoos representing the 14 traditional Stations of the Cross, and was asking volunteers to tattoo them to their bodies, as a way of observing the 40 days leading up to Good Friday.

Ecclesia is not a typical church: Not only do we have an “artist-in-residence,” the aforementioned Scott Erickson, but about half the congregation is already tattooed, says pastor Chris Seay. This year, instead of the annual Lenten art show, the inked congregants would become the Stations of the Cross, and stand in the gallery spaces where paintings or photographs would normally appear.

Mind you, these were not the kind of tattoos you can wash off after forty days. These would last the rest of your days. And to underscore evangelicals’ difficulty with numbers, ten stations would have to suffice for the normal fourteen. But never mind the inconsistencies, tattoos for Christians could perform a similar function as the numbers tattooed on Jews by the Nazis (I kid you not):

I remember the first time I saw my friend Sloan’s grandmother’s Auschwitz identification number on her forearm. It was Sloan’s 12th birthday party, a pool party, and her grandmother sat under an umbrella at a picnic table. Her short- sleeved blouse revealed five numbers stamped on her flesh in faded blue ink. At the time I was reading on repeat The Diary of Anne Frank, becoming obsessed with the Holocaust and my own questionable Judaism. But nothing, not then or now, has ever made the horrors of the Holocaust more real to me than seeing those five numbers. Something inside me wanted to shout—to call a halt to the game of Marco Polo, to the grilling of hot dogs, to fingers wrinkling too long in the water, and demand we recognize, at this backyard barbeque in suburban New Jersey, that the numbers on Sloan’s grandmother’s arm were telling a story. I can’t count how many times over the past 25 years I’ve dreamt about those numbers.

Our bodies tell our stories, whether we like it or not; as mothers and daughters, as wives and sisters and friends. As followers of Christ, our bodies should also tell his story.

As I say, we need Lenten police. If Roman Catholics and Lutherans would step up to the plate, I can devote my energies to W-W and its 24/7 piety.

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  1. Posted April 16, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Oh joy, evangelicals are going to make their bodies like their t-shirts and the backs of their cars. “I love my wife” across the forearm. The Jesus fish on the ankle. How about a “Good game me if you love Jesus” on the rear section somewhere?

  2. Posted April 16, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    You should stick to what you’re good at, such as talking about worship (as in this post), church history, criticizing bad doctrine, and making social commentary inspired by some Cohen Bro flick.

  3. Posted April 16, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Dr. Hart,

    This isn’t really a new trend, back in the mid 90′s Christian teens & young adults were getting religious ink. The only difference was then, those kids & young adults were by the most part were seen as misfits & outcasts for their ink, piercings, and by the way they dressed. I spent six years trying to reach those kids & young adults. Then my hope that the church would accept these kids and young adults and not make them feel like freaks, I never dreamed nor hoped for a day that a “church” would promote this lifestyle.

  4. Posted April 16, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Dr. Hart, why do you have to be such an insensitive meanie? I mean, all that these tattoo-loving evangelicals are trying to do is be culturally-sensitive and “missional.” Why would you begrudge them their desire to be Uber-cool, trendy, and “hip” as a way of being “relevant” and influential? Don’t you realize that if the church doesn’t latch on to the latest cultural & religious fads, then God’s kingdom can’t possibly make a transformative impact on society? Get with the program, dude. ;-)

  5. Posted April 16, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    We Brits have a phrase: The mind boggles.

    It really does.

  6. Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Baus, but when are you going to recognize that W-W has a culture and a history that are worthy of questions if not criticism. Old Life is all about taking on sacred cows.

  7. Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Joe, isn’t the liturgical turn of bodily mutilation novel?

  8. Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Geoff, I would except that I’m a coward. Those piercings and ink have to hurt.

  9. Posted April 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Hart,

    True the liturgical twist is something I haven’t heard of before, but I bet if we examined the going ons of Erwin McManus’ Mosaic “church” and his emergent brethren that we would find similar red flags.

    I wished I would have had your and Dr. Muether’s book, “With Reverence and Awe”, as a guide back in the day.

  10. Brad
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh, for the days when bad hair and ugly clothing were sufficient to identify an ee-vangellicull. I blame California.

  11. Posted April 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I also must note that none of these tattoo-loving sensitivists happen to be confessional, that I can see. That would put a fence around a wandering evangelical mind. Without it, it’ll latch on to anything unimpinged. Darryl, you’re a killjoy :)

  12. Posted April 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Ecclesia is not confessional, but they are Southern Baptist so they have a “faith and message”…


  13. Alberto
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Hey Darryl, the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions have a large number of churches that observe at least some days in the church calendar. Among them are some ministers you know personally. There are a bunch of OPC and URCNA churches that observe some of these days. It’s been Reformed people, not evangelicals, who I have found to be more prominent in arguing for the observance of Lent and “holy days.”

  14. Posted April 17, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Alberto, the Dutch Reformed churches made concessions. I guess W-W only went so far. But it’s a long day from observing five days to picking up Advent and Lent.

  15. Jed Paschall
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink


    How convenient man. It’s easier to live in fear than it is to understand my man. Besides, isn’t that seminary in CA working hard at recovering confessionally Reformed Christianity? If we’re radical, it’s for all the right reasons. I blame the rest of the US for not being Californian, but it is hard to get my boxers in a bind when the weather is sunny, the burrito’s are spicy, and the surf is supposed to be 4-6′ with steady offshore winds.

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