Tony Cook is a visual learner who enjoys finding creative ways to study the Bible and explore the Christian faith. We caught up with him to chat about his latest project, The Illuminated Catechism—a visually stunning and carefully crafted book that encourages people to spend time reflecting on God’s Word, doodling, journaling, and expressing their creativity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What hobbies do you enjoy? When did your love for visual arts and Lutheran theology begin?
As far as hobbies go, I love designing board and card games in my spare time. I am also a huge fan of science fiction and various nerdly pursuits. Regarding my love for visual arts and Lutheran theology, I have always been inspired by religious art and the way it assists in devotional reflection. From bulletin covers to church architecture, visual and artistic expressions of the faith have meant a lot to me. Specifically, what motivated me to combine visual arts with Lutheran theology was my research into Christianity among youth in London and their use of art in worship. I had the opportunity to visit London and was inspired by the artistic devotional installations I observed as well as a rather inspiring video installation at Tate Modern, London’s museum for international and contemporary art.
What prompted you to combine your interests of art and theology into a book such as The Illuminated Catechism?
I was prompted by the desire to share the artistic devotional technics I had been using over the past years with others. It is a way of inviting others to explore the Christian faith utilizing both sides of the human brain. For me, art and theology aren’t that different. They both contain a deep and beautiful truth revealed through engagement and reflection.
How would you explain The Illuminated Catechism to a stranger you meet on the street?
The Illuminated Catechism is a devotional journey through Luther’s catechism utilizing artistic expressions, devotional reflection, and mediation on God’s Word. It’s a book that is not truly finished until the owners have made it their own.
You give special thanks to your son, Ben, who helped make this illustrated catechism possible. What role did your son play in helping you create this project?
Ben was my conversation partner and creative consultant. The Illuminated Catechism began as a father and son activity over Christmas vacation in Minnesota. I would print out sections of Luther’s Large Catechism, and Ben and I would read each section, discuss the content, and then develop ideas for illustrations and activities to be included alongside the text of the Small Catechism. Later in the process, Ben also read through the devotional content and provided editorial critiques. Only later did I realize that developing The Illuminated Catechism as father and son might also be a way the finished project could be used—by parents and children in the home.
In the foreword, you write, “Even though Luther’s catechism is small in size, the depth of its material provides for a lifetime of reflection and serves as a faithful companion for all ages.” What is your hope for the people who use The Illuminated Catechism?
My hope is that this book provides people with the opportunity to use Luther’s catechism in a reflective and devotional manner. I believe the catechism is a wonderful tool for personal, devotional reflection on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. It is my hope that this illuminated version helps to bridge the gap between the confirmation classroom and our everyday lives.
What challenges did you encounter while working on this book?
The biggest challenge was designing the concepts for the illustrations. Developing illustrations that draw the reader into the concepts covered in each section of the catechism was a challenge. The illustrations are more than decoration, they are meant to support and unfold the meaning of each section in a way that provides insight into the devotional aspect of the catechetical content.
What did you enjoy most about working on this project?
What I enjoyed most about working on this project is twofold. The first, of course, was working with my son, Ben. The second was the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the content of Luther’s catechism by developing the artistic connections. Even after all my years of using the catechisms, there were still new insights to be gained. I am excited to go through the journey again once it is released.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when working on this project?
My original audience was the adult coloring book crowd. I personally love using creative and artistic activities in my personal devotions and have used several coloring and doodling tools in my devotional life. I wanted to provide people like me, who use creative tools devotionally, with a tool that helped them explore the depths of the catechism. Now that The Illuminated Catechism has been announced, other audiences have come forward. One of the most exciting for me is the use of The Illuminated Catechism as a tool for confirmation instruction in the home and as a supplement to the traditional confirmation materials used in Lutheran schools and congregations.
What would you say to someone who says that they don’t really have time to sit down and color? Why is The Illuminated Catechism so much more than a coloring book?
In the end, coloring is not the goal. The process of coloring is designed to create a space, a dedicated period of time to reflect on God’s Word and the basic tenets of the Christian faith as found in the catechism. I have found that when I use creative devotional methods such as those found in The Illuminated Catechism, that I spend more time in the Word, prayer, and devotional refection. It’s more than a coloring book; it’s a way of intentionally setting aside time for prayer and reflection around the Word and grace of God.
The Illuminated Catechism will be available April 18, 2017.