May 22, 2015
God wanted to show his great love for the church and He could have described His commitment using any word, but I find it telling that He chose the word “marriage”. The church is considered the bride of Christ. When we were kids, if a kid said they loved something another kid might tease, “If you love ______ so much, why don’t you marry it?” When I met this gal named Angie a long while ago I was inspired to commit my life to her and we were married in 1990.
If you love something you lean into it. If you commit your life to it, you marry it. This is how I think of art in my life. I am married to the arts… and I don’t believe in divorce. I was a child bride, so someone must have put a red dot on my forehead, or perhaps it was an arranged marriage by my Heavenly Father, but I can’t separate myself from art.
I thought about being married to the arts when I realized I had a life long commitment, it goes far beyond today. I know I’ll be an artist on my deathbed. Even if I can’t paint I’ll be an artist. That’s how I think of my spouse, it goes beyond today and hopefully forever.
An important thing to consider about marriage is that it continues even after the feelings for the spouse leave. In our 25 years of marriage the Beloved Mrs. TenNapel and I lost feelings for each other from time to time. We still knew we loved each other, but infatuation is exhausting and isn’t generally sustained forever. So with your thing. Your thing could be art, making video games, managing people, digging ditches and just because you lose feelings for it doesn’t mean it’s time for a divorce. Maybe it’s time for a break, maybe get some counseling or go on a retreat, but your commitment level is still there.
I have had a long marriage to the arts and it’s not going anywhere. We have been in love for a long time, perhaps even before I was born. We’ve had our fights, we’ve threatened divorce, but now the arts and I are an old couple and we fit each other like a glove. If I gave up on her in my 20s when it was much more difficult, we would never have known how sweet it is to be an artist today.
April 5, 2015
Death is a serious problem, mostly for me, but probably for everyone. The sun will collapse and the universe will fade, probably not today, but at some point it will. The resurrection of Christ is the great happy ending to what is wrong with the universe.
There are alternate claims to what’s wrong with the universe and alternate solutions. One could say that there is no problem, that nothing is wrong. One could say that there are many solutions more culturally desirable than a resurrecting God-man. But none could say there was a more creative, bizarre, thorough, world-changing story than the resurrection of Christ.
I’ve devoted my life to story, and you could also say that I have also devoted my life to The Greatest Story Every Told. I can give you one hundred reasons why I believe that story from the philosophical need for it to be true to the eye-witness accounts of scripture to the implausibility of the contrary, but these days I am compelled by the story merits of Jesus’ resurrection.
Story doesn’t have to be much more than a sequence of events artfully given to another. I love the prequel that is the Old Testament. I love the fall of man. I love God coming to Earth as one of us, and not just as one of us but as a baby. I love the parables, the drama, mankind putting God on a false trial and accusing Him of claiming to be God. I love the brutal death of a savior tormented by those He came to save. I love the silence of His dead body in the grave where the universe awaits something… anything. And I love today. Glorious Easter!
If you believe you are dead and you want to live then look no further than Jesus Christ. I find nothing better to do today than to consider Him as my savior. It’s not just true, it’s the best story.
If the resurrection is true, then it demands a response. Unbelief isn’t a problem. We’re talking about a God who conquered death so He can also conquer unbelief.
In Mark 9:24 a man asks Jesus to heal his demon-posessed son and the man gives a curious response, but it’s one I can completely relate to, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus’ response is not to condemn the man or mock him. Jesus doesn’t give him a rational argument. Jesus heals his son even while the man struggles with unbelief.
Even in your unbelief, you should consider Him.
March 16, 2014
One of the reasons why I am a Christian is that this religion got what’s wrong with the world right. In my wanderings through philosophy and reason I went looking for any religion that would best demonstrate man’s great problem. All philosophies (including no philosophy) exist to address what’s wrong with the world. I found something wrong with the world, and I intuitively knew this from a very young age.
When I was four I remember both receiving cruelty from my peers as well as dealing it out to them. Doing bad was an act of religion, bad religion, that all of us participated in. We weren’t convinced we should do bad by a world view or philosophy, and though most of us were never taught to do wrong, that is what we all chose to do at some point.
Now look around the world and ask why we do wrong. Why is it that few people have the goal of doing what is bad and yet we somehow always manage to do something wrong? It became obvious to me that not only was there something wrong with the world, but that it was largely beyond our choice or upbringing, for I did what was wrong even to my own moral code and upbringing.
I had a reoccurring dream from those early years, I believe I was four or five years old, but I was walking through hot mud under a scorching sun and staggering between dead trees. I was lifted up in the air by the sun and it’s beams of light pierced through me, they knew me, and I was found wanting. It obliterated me. Now I don’t know if that dream was any kind of a sign, I don’t look to personal experience to exegete what God did or didn’t do. But regardless, it was clear in word pictures in my mind from early on that I believed something was deeply wrong with the world, my culture, and myself. So I’ve always been on a hunt to find a world view or life philosophy that embraced this fact, that there was something wrong with me. Most world philosophies actually tell me the opposite. They tell me there is something right with me. Those world view stories get an automatic rejection from me. You’ll have to come up with something better than “nothing is inherently wrong with you.”
In fact, when atheists criticize my religion the first thing I do is hang on the edge of my seat asking for their best shot against my religion. Many think I’m joking about wanting so badly to find a better argument or explanation than what I’ve got, but I’m serious. I so long to hear a decent, philosophically coherent explanation for the world’s problems. I get nothing of the sort. The only thing more ridiculous than Christianity’s explanation for sin and death is any alternative I’ve heard so far. Still, I’m always open to a good shot at that explanation. It makes for better conversation around a drink than what most people talk about.
My other problem with everything was that there was not only sin or imperfection in the world, but that there was physical death. When I was four years old, I considered that my time would one day end, and I wanted some kind of meaning or explanation for why. As a four year old I knew that people died and I wanted anyone else to admit that it was a problem. If someone couldn’t find that death was a problem then I had no interest in that world view. My own dad had some residual nihilist philosophy passed around from the 60s and seemed to have a hard time articulating death having any meaning. As a kid we used to sing meaningless songs about death:
“The worms crawl in
The worms crawl out
The worms play Pinochle
on your snout.”
My second criteria for finding a legit religion had to embrace our physical death as real. There is something worse than mankind being sick or wrong, but that he experiences death and that death is a deeper evidence that something is out of order. This eliminates most Eastern religions that either embrace it as a recycling project, fertilizer project or deny death altogether.
I wasn’t raised in Sunday school, but I knew the scriptures well enough to know the shortest scripture in the Bible which is John 11:23:
Why is Jesus weeping? The context of the verse is that Jesus just learned that his old friend Lazarus has died. In just a few more verses, Jesus is going to raise him from the dead, and yet there are still tears to be had. Death is bad, and even when Jesus is going to resurrect Lazarus physical death is still a bad thing.
But I was aware of more than just dying, for I knew that I was guilty before a good God of some kind. I wasn’t merely guilty of sin, physically dying here on earth, but I was eternally dead. How could a four year old know he was supernaturally dead? I don’t know. I can’t explain how I know because back then I hadn’t been exposed to any formal religion and got glimpses of philosophy from the neighbor kids or perhaps my Pentecostal grandmother. Nothing explains why my view was so developed so early on, and yet, when I found the Bible some years later, I found a philosophy that made perfect sense:
Ephesians 2:2 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient… 4 But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6″
Dead in my transgressions? Where do I sign up?! There are many reasons to believe in Christianity, and perhaps a few lingering details that give me doubt or trouble… but I’ve always been in love with how it got my spiritual death right. I am a walking dead man, both physically and spiritually. The story begins with something being completely wrong and this is where other world views, myths and stories often get things wrong.
One day I’ll have to get at the rest of the story, but for now I’ll say that one reason why I’m a Christian is that it gets what’s wrong with the world right.
“Hi! I know this is random and you probably won’t even see this but I just had to write. My son really loves your books, cartoons and video games. The most amazing thing is that he came home from school today and ran upstairs to read about the ‘Cardboard boy’ book he got for Christmas. My son is autistic, so getting him to read is s HUGE struggle…this is the first time I saw him not only do so without any prompting but he did it with joy and said, “I love Doug TenNapel” he’s awesome at everything!!” So thank you for being awesome and inspiring my son.
Sincerely, a grateful Mom
One of the strange benefits I’ve had to writing graphic novels is the number of reluctant readers, autistic kids and people who struggle with dyslexia that have written me about their love of my work. I never intended to write gateway books to reading, but I’ve had so much feedback now that I’m convinced this graphic novel medium is a top candidate for literacy programs everywhere.
I have another special joy in having these kids in my audience… it’s that I was never normal. I’m happy to call this audience my peers because I remember what it was like to feel like a bit of an outsider even in my own skin. I had a few comforts of my own to help me get through those tough years and they came in the form of The Bible, Ray Harryhausen movies and raising amphibians.
October 16, 2013
Pentel brush pen on watercolor paper.
Oh, and get my book of art at Kickstarter!: