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.