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Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Inked" (Kim Goad and Janet E. Kusiak)

TITLE: Inked: Choosing God's Mark to Transform Your Life
AUTHOR: Kim Goad and Janet Bostwick Kusiak
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013, (208 pages).

What do you do when you meet someone with a tattoo on his body? Do you roll your eyes or brighten up with excitement? Do you pass negative judgments inside your head or do you demonstrate a desire to learn more about the tattoo? Or do you simply appreciate the individual's bold self-expression on his skin? Or like the authors, have you ever thought that the tattoo itself can be a great conversation starter? This book probes into these and offers up a fresh perspective on how Christians can understand people with tattoos, tattoos on people, and anyone involved in the creation and designs of tattoos.   Tattoos reveal a lot about the person. It can be a sign of solidarity or a revelation of some pain. It can be an expression of love or a remembrance of someone. It can also be a message of hope or a statement of faith. All in all, tattoos reveal more than meets the eye. It is a window into the world of the person wearing it. For the authors, it is also a window of opportunity to care and to understand more of the interesting people in this world. While not all tattoo stories are pleasant and heartwarming, some of the stories shared reveal a whole load of honesty about the brokenness of the world we live in. This is a book into the inner world of tattoos, personalities, art, self-expression, and things pertaining to the tattoo culture. Key to understanding tattoos is how it encapsulates the essence of a person's perspective of life, their dreams and their hopes.

The Book
Each chapter begins with a Bible verse and a quote from a person with tattoo, that sets the tone for the pages to come. Historically, tattoos have been used since the American Civil war days where soldiers were tattooed. The 1940s were said to be the "golden age" of tattoos. What makes this book most compelling is that it is not simply about tattoos but about the stories behind the tattoos. It is not about the inked art on the body but about how it diagrams the life of the person. Like Josh Hamilton whose highly successful baseball career was curtailed in a car accident, and how him being a showcase for his tattoo artist, plays a part in his slow but sure recovery of faith in himself, and more importantly in God. Or like Ricky, who struggles with a mother who seems to put her own interests above the children, and a broken family, and how he tattoos on himself a quote from Fight Club: "It's only after we've lost everything that we are free to do anything." Yet, not all tattoos are intentional works of art. Others like brawny looking Pete and petite sized Lilly have been scarred by life so much that the tattoos are about what life has done to them instead of what they have wanted out of life. Still, Lilly manages to find some revelation of God's glory through her gashes, and how the gentle engraving of images on the skin is a whole new learning experience of how God is gentle on people. As prayers can bring about an experience with God, so can tattoos. Chapter after chapter, page after page, the authors painstakingly weave in stories of God's redemption of people, even as people seem trapped in the harsh world of broken reality and dashed dreams.

My Reflections
Five things strike me as I read this book. Firstly, there is a painfully honest dimension with regards to tattoos. From the first tattoo experience, to the stage where they "kick into third" gear of engraving more permanently the ink, the tattoos personalizes their experience, and in some unique way, allows them an honest expression of their personal pain and gain. Pain in the engraving. Gain in the explaining. The honesty in the tattoos fully deserves greater understanding from the public. Christians can learn to ask open questions with keen interest to know the person more. They ought to show genuine care and to avoid casting statements of judgment. Like what the authors have experienced, readers can use the world of tattoos as a great conversation starter, and in the process, engage in a warm conversation leading to friendship that heals people.

Secondly, it is a bold step of faith to personalize their own struggles. Tattooing is a painful experience for novices. Many of the persons describe have a childhood struggle or a traumatic experience to share. It tells us about how broken the world is, and how deceptive the devil can be in deceiving us or making us hide from reality. The tattoo is a way in which many people express how the evil one has tried to crack an innocent life. In tattooing, real struggles are depicted in flesh and for some, in pain.

Thirdly, there is a strong element of redemption through Christ. This is not just about the bible verses in the front of each chapter, or the bible stories weaved in each tattoo story. It is about how God redeems people in the past, and how He is still redeeming people in the present. In God, we can overcome any harsh self-critic in us, by learning to see ourselves from the loving eyes of God, instead of cursing ourselves to oblivion.

Fourthly, we can move from self-expression to expressing ourselves more holistically in God. Tattoos can do so much to represent personal history or human hope.  There is only a limited leap of faith in any element of human spirit. As we are all made in the image of God, only when we reflect the image of God more fully, can we present ourselves more completely. In other words, tattoos may represent us partially, but it takes God to be about to help us be the persons we are made to be. After all, we are in many ways, "works in progress." When we learn to move beyond self-expression, we start to notice that the world is bigger than our world. There are the other people and different characters in the tattoo shop. There are many different artists and skills in the tattoo industry. There are also thousands of stories waiting to be told. Most importantly, what counts is a "new creation" that only God can provide, above the mini-acts of creative works of art humans try to engrave.

Finally, we do not let the tattoo define us. It is God who defines us, aligns us, and refines us in our journey called life. We cannot frivolously judge people with tattoos with any preconceived mindsets. For Christians, yes, I understand that the Old Testament do have words of warning against graven images, or the New Testament teachings about preserving our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. Learn to see the tattoo for what it is, and not to see too much into it. Learn to see from the eyes of Christ, to see that underneath the inked mark is a person that Christ has died for. Underneath the skin is a person that God loves very much. Underlying the picture or engraved words is a story that is being told or waiting to be told. 

Final Words
This is a very unique book that looks into the world of tattoos from a very redemptive angle.  In fact, I feel that tattoos have often been cast unfairly in a negative light. Through the insights gained in this book, readers will certainly learn that there is more than meets the eye. We need to learn to withhold judgment and to embrace an openness like Jesus toward people, regardless of their looks or their lifestyles. Just knowing that many people with tattoos are also people with genuine struggles should help us maintain a level of empathy and understanding to want to hear more of the stories. One big disservice any Christian can do to the gospel is to brush off people with tattoos with any of their preconceived ideas about tattoos. Next time, if you look at a person with a tattoo, do not cringe or feel embarrassed. Be interested, and ask questions. For all you know, you will find that the person is just another ordinary person like you and me, coping with the cruel reality of life, in the best possible way. Thanks to authors Goad and Kusiak, we not only have a book that puts some perspective to an often misunderstood world of tattoo, we have a guide on how the gospel shines regardless of the effects of sin in this world. After reading this book, you'll see tattoos from a new perspective, largely positive.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Abingdon Press without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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