The 116 Life x Ryan Weaver
Ryan Weaver is the owner of Kingdom Tattoo, a tattoo parlor based in Decatur, Georgia. Weaver began tattooing in 1999 working under several esteemed tattoo artists before he founded Kingdom Tattoo in 2012. His shop has become one of the highest-rated in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and his list of clients has included recording artists Lecrae, Future, Ciara, Tai Anderson, formerly of Third Day, and members of the Atlanta Falcons, Hawks and Thrashers sports teams.
Ryan Weaver: Tattooing for God’s kingdom
Ryan Weaver lost count after he attained his fiftieth tattoo.
Fifteen years later, he guesses that he’s reached about one hundred, which is also nearly the amount of philosophy and theology books he has read. One of those books, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright, inspired the name of Weaver’s tattoo studio, Kingdom Tattoo.
According to its product description on Amazon, How God Became King claims that “the coronation of God through the acts of Jesus was the climax of human history,” which is why — rather than focus exclusively on the afterlife — “our real charge is to sustain and [cooperate] with God’s kingdom here and now.”
Kingdom Tattoo is Weaver’s application of this theology.
“What does it look like if God’s kingdom infiltrates a tattoo shop?” Weaver poses. “How does customer service look? How does quality of trade and experience as a whole look? That was the idea behind [Kingdom Tattoo] and still is.”
Weaver’s end-goal is to honor God by crafting excellent tattoos and loving people. This can frequently foster interesting mid-tattoo discussions, some of which can get deep.
“We certainly make the environment comfortable for anybody and everybody,” he explains. “I have guys in the tattoo shop working for me that are not Christian, and it’s also an environment for them to do good work, have good conversations.”
“I’m not in your face, I’m not trying to evangelize. This is my vocation. This is my way to put food on the table. I’m not teaching theology out of there. I’m doing tattoos, and I’m doing a good job of that and making people happy.”
Kingdom Tattoo’s faith-related inspiration may not be obvious to all who enter, but Weaver still fields many faith-related inquiries.
He explains, “There are a lot of instances and situations where conversations come up and are initiated by clients, whether they’re curious or they just flat out know who I am and what I represent.”
“My wife owns a hair salon, so we’re kind of like unofficial psychologists. I guess if they trust you to permanently mark their body and take control of their arm or leg for a certain amount of time, then they’re willing to trust you with the story of their life.”
Weaver’s story started in the church, but he rebelled at the age of 18, when parties started to appeal more to him than sermons. His new lifestyle left him unsatisfied, though, and knowing God could fill that hole, he embraced his faith again at 20.
His introduction to tattoos was not a part of that rebellion. He played bass guitar in a few punk rock bands, including Joe Christmas under Tooth & Nail Records, so everyone around him was tatted, and he fell in love with the art. Not long after Weaver began to live out Christianity again, he got his very first tattoo — thorns and nails to represent the crucifixion.
His tattoo count quickly rose, and although tattoos are taboo in certain Christian circles, he personally never wrestled with the issue. He explains, “In my journey of faith, I did a lot of studying and reading I think when God said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, I believe he means we must learn as much as we can about the one we worship and the ways of the one we worship.”
“These ideas that tattooing isn’t biblical are just a misunderstanding of Scripture,” Weaver believes. “To anyone who opposes, I just very kindly point out the context in which the Scripture was written, who it was written to and what it actually meant.”
Weaver, whose most meaningful ink includes a Jerusalem cross and an ancient alpha and omega symbol, spent so much time in Atlanta at Tornado Tattoo parlor that artists Rob Knight and Gary Yoxen offered him an apprenticeship. His enjoyment of the art continued to grow, and after several years there and 10 more working for Cap Szumski of Timeless Tattoo, he launched Kingdom Tattoo so he could spend more time with his wife and three children.
Weaver has shattered conservative-Christian stereotypes on many occasions in his tattooing career, and he hopes to lose count of that total, too.
“I think part of my job here in this life is to come to an understanding of God and who we are in relationship to Him that opens up the box that we have of Him and of what we’re here for,” says Weaver.
“Here in the West, it seems that people’s idea of being saved or becoming a Christian is for what happens to you after you die — we’re being saved into eternal life. Although that is apart of it, that’s not the main point. The main point is that we get to participate in God’s rule here and now.”