Ron 'Ram' Lee, left, and the Rev. Brian Krabach own Revelation Tattoos in West Toledo. The two artists were drawn together by their faith and a mutual love of tattoos.
A little over four years ago, Brian Krabach and his wife, Christy, were driving around Toledo in a sporty new Honda S2000 and getting ready to build their suburban dream home with an indoor pool and home theater.
At the same time, however, Mr. Krabach was wrestling with the idea of giving up his high-tech, high-paying job as a Web site designer and Internet entrepreneur to devote himself to full-time Christian ministry.
"I thought about starting a church to reach our peers, a church that was like the others but with a different flavor," Mr. Krabach said.
Today, he is an ordained minister, the founder and pastor of Paradox Church, and co-owner of Revelation Tattoos Inc., a West Toledo shop where he and business partner Ron "Ram" Lee talk daily to clients about God.
"It's not that we preach to people," Mr. Krabach said. "We just talk."
Mr. Lee added that the subject of God comes up "every day" at Revelation.
The two Toledo tattoo artists were drawn together by their strong faith and a mutual love of ink.
Mr. Lee, 40, is a nationally known, award-winning artist who's been creating tattoos for more than 11 years. He also works as a part-time firefighter in Petersburg, Mich., and has been using his artistic talents to create acrylic art on canvas of firefighters in action.
Mr. Krabach, 30, read an article in The Blade 3 1/2 years ago about Mr. Lee's tattoo artistry and his membership in the Christian Tattoo Association. The Paradox pastor looked up Mr. Lee and eventually became his apprentice.
While Revelation Tattoos will inscribe most styles of tattoos on their customers, the two artists draw the line on some icons.
"We won't do pentagrams, or 666, or swastikas. I tell them I can't do that, I have to answer [to God] for it someday," Mr. Lee said.
"You should see the look on their faces," Mr. Krabach said. "They're surprised when we say no."
The Christian Tattoo Association, which has several hundred members worldwide, offers information and discussions about faith and tattoos on its Web site, www.xtat.org. It says the Bible verse in Leviticus 19:28, which states, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves," was intended to halt pagan practices in that ancient era and that it is as outdated as other Leviticus verses that ban clipping the edges of one's beard or wearing clothing of two kinds of material.
After Mr. Lee closed his shop in Petersburg, he and Mr. Krabach discussed the possibility of going into business together in Toledo. They found what they considered to be the perfect site, on West Alexis Road, near a liquor store and around the corner from a crack house.
"A year ago, we figured out that it would cost about $10,000 to get started," Mr. Krabach said. "The next day, I got a $9,000 federal tax refund and a $1,000 state tax refund. I figured, 'What more of a sign from God do I need?'●"
Mr. Krabach, whose arms are decorated with numerous tattoos and who has steel piercings in his eyebrow, ears, and lip, said that when he began getting tattoos he used the opportunity to talk about Jesus.
"I'd sit in the chair for three or four hours talking to the tattoo artist," he said. "But I knew eventually I'd run out of arms and legs, so I decided to get on the other side of the chair."
Mr. Krabach was ordained in the Missionary Church USA and Paradox is supported by that denomination as well as several others, including the Southern Baptists.
"Brian's ministry is, I think, reaching the gothics and other people who are marginalized by our usual standards of lifestyle," said the Rev. Dave Claassen, pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth Congregational Christian Church, which supports Paradox both spiritually and financially.
"These wonderful folks are not going to be reached by a traditional style of church very easily," Mr. Claassen added, "so Brian is able to remove some of the barriers between those people and a relationship with the Lord - where we create more barriers, I'm afraid. Brian is a missionary to this segment of our society, and I certainly encourage him and feel he's performing a great ministry."
After trying a number of approaches to running a church, including renting space in Northtowne Mall and opening a skateboard park, Mr. Krabach settled on a different route for Paradox. The church now consists of small-group meetings held on different nights in about eight private homes, with 8 to 12 people attending each service, Mr. Krabach said.
It became clear to him that it is more important to build relationships than physical buildings, he said.
"We had spent way too much on surface stuff and were missing out on important things," he said. "If we're going to build a facility, it's going to be a place where we can build relationships."
Working as a tattoo artist has been extremely rewarding, Mr. Krabach said. He and Mr. Lee can not only use their artistic talents and creativity on their customer's skin, but, they hope, their faith can have an impact on clients' souls as well.
Revelation Tattoos Inc., is at 2109 West Alexis Rd. The Web site is www.revelationtattoos.com.
- David Yonke