575: Rethinking charity: A different kind of superhero shines in The Cardinal

eadTheSpirit has recommended the work of comic author and artist Kurt Kolka for a long time. When Kurt recently prepared to launch a lavish new comic book edition of the Cardinal’s tales, he invited me to write a Preface for the debut edition as Editor of ReadTheSpirit.
    I was honored to do that and, in a moment, I’ll share with you some of what appears in that Preface. But, first, you’ll want to know how Kurt’s main character connects with this week’s theme: “Rethinking Charity.” (Click here to jump back to our overview on Monday, if you missed that.)
    The Cardinal’s real name is Rich Benton, the “Clark Kent” behind this crimson-costumed superhero. But, Rich is closer to a Spiderman than a Superman when it comes to personal struggles. Like Spiderman’s alter ego, Rich is young and struggling. In particular, Rich wrestles with his Christian faith, trying to discern his own vocation in light of these strange crime-fighting talents he has been given.
    What I like about Kurt’s work is that Rich doesn’t merely mope around until some gargantuan new threat looms on the horizon—a mighty foe truly fit for a superhero. Rather, Rich keeps plugging away at local volunteer efforts on a regular basis. There are scenes in this new comic book of Rich making beds in an emergency shelter for families left homeless after a fire—and Rich helping to sort out the stock in a food bank so everything is ready for needy families.
    Far too many of us fall into inaction because we fear we’re powerless to make a difference—or we wallow in fantasies that we would take action if only someone waved a wand and gave us superpowers.
    Rich is different. He is a superhero, but he makes as much difference through practical charitable efforts as he does through heroic crime busting.

    Here’s the gateway to the Cardinal’s realm:
    If you want to explore Kurt’s larger world with his superhero, click on the “More from K.J. Kolka” link on the comic page.

(Excerpts from David Crumm’s)
a new comic book by K.J. Kolka, No. 1

“What is my calling?”

The Cardinal voices our own inner plea in the years since the attacks of 9/11. Not only has the world’s balance of political power churned turbulently since that fateful morning—but, as the decade closes, the world is scrambling through the rubble of a historic financial crisis and millions of workers are learning that they’ll be changing jobs for the rest of their lives—if they’re lucky enough to find jobs.

Meanwhile, the media revolution has placed powerful doorways to global culture in the palms of our hands. Dick Tracy couldn’t have dreamed of the sheer connective power now built into wafer-thin rectangles that millions of us tuck into our pockets each morning. And, like almost everything else about life these days, these truths extend beyond the borders of the U.S. In the rapidly emerging island nation of Singapore, the average citizen now owns more than one multi-media cell phone and many Singaporeans own three or more.

The result of all this disorienting change is a plea like the Cardinal’s four words: “What is my calling?”

In our increasingly interconnected world, the models of men and women we can hope to emulate distill down into the vivid, heroic icons we all love to celebrate. These heroes’ abilities become larger than life until they seem, like the Cardinal, to take flight. But the best of these, like the greatest of our timeless religious icons, still are rooted in our human limitations. Like Achilles in the ancient Greek pantheon or like Jesus, the savior to the world’s 2-billion Christians, these are figures with supernatural powers—but also human flesh. For Achilles, there was that ankle. For Jesus, his choice to suffer on a cross was an agonizing decision.

That timeless human appeal of the greatest heroes is woven into the Cardinal’s character from his origins. One of the sages advising young Rich Benton, the Cardinal’s alter ego, tells him, “There is a power that is made perfect in weakness. And it is within you.”

Billions of fans around the world are voting with their pocketbooks for comic-style movies, DVDs, video games, manga and graphic novels. Now, scholars and high-brow critics were paying attention as well.

At a historic moment like this, whole battalions of comic heroes are waiting in the wings. Some, like the Cardinal, have been around for years maturing through various vintages like fine wines. The Cardinal you will enjoy today is a far cry from some of the Cardinal’s early sketches.

When you see Rich Benton with his hands deep in a pile of dirty dishes, volunteering in a mission kitchen, you might not think of all these grand and global associations. But the Cardinal takes off directly into these heady skies.

He’s a little guy. A flawed guy. A guy wondering if he’ll ever figure out his place in this crazy, dangerous world. A guy searching for a faith that will sustain him through turbulent change. A guy who wants to bring a little hope to others.

He’s a guy a lot like me—and a lot like you.


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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