My good friend Rik Offenberger reached out to me recently with a question: how has my faith in Jesus positively affected my career and/or my life?
In reflecting upon the question, I realized that the answer for me ultimately lies in an over-marketed phrase whose ubiquitous use on cheesy novelty items has made it a source of ridicule. And yet, if you forget about that gimmicky detour and just focus on the words, you get my answer to Rik’s question:
“What would Jesus do?”
That’s the heart-attitude I try to have, the approach I try to take in my life. Not always successfully I’ll be the first to admit. I am human, after all. Not perfect in the least!
So what form has this taken in my life and career?
Well, I look at it in terms of Jesus’ time on earth, as portrayed in the Gospels. I try not to apply any special rules or dogma from any particular church or denomination or movement. I look at what Jesus did as depicted in the Gospels and do my best to try to follow that for my cues.
So what do we see in those gospel depictions of Jesus? We see the model of grace and mercy. Jesus reaches out to everyone, from all walks of life and treats them with compassion and dignity. He listens to them, he embraces them. He is kind. Most of all, he is forgiving. In short, he approaches everyone from a position of love. That is Jesus’ model.
The thing I love the most about comics aside from the artistic format itself is that the people behind comics are a community. A community made up of folks from all walks of life, with diverse beliefs, cultures and ways of life. That fact offers me an opportunity to be myself and allow others to be themselves. I try to model Christ’s love through the way I treat others in the comics community: with an open mind and an open heart. I try my best to treat everyone with love and respect and dignity no matter what they do or don’t believe (again, I say “try” because, again, I am human – I’m not perfect and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way).
I’m not of the “I’m against this; I’m against that” mindset – I find that just pushes people away and is a distraction from what we should be concentrating on. I’m more of a “what can I contribute in a positive way that models Christ’s love, grace and mercy” person. It’s a mindset that’s probably summarized best in the famous hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” based on a couple verses from John chapter 13 – verses 34 and 35.
For the entire mission statement of how I try to walk through life, see Matthew chapter 25, verses 31 through 46. That’s Jesus’ famous speech about the end of the age, where he states that “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” It is a very difficult charge to uphold on a daily basis because it requires selflessness, which is just about impossible to maintain 100%. But it’s a way of life worth pursuing as often as possible.
One of the ways I try to model Christ’s love is through comics-related charity work. I was fortunate to be involved for many years with the now-defunct Superheroes for Hospice. This was a charity created by Spiro Ballas wherein local comic sales including countless long-boxes of comics from every decade went to benefit hospice endeavors among volunteers. The shows also featured appearances by comics pros on hand to do autographs and speak with patrons. I handled some PR, wrangled some guests, and even did guest appearances myself at those fantastic events.
Likewise, in a similar capacity I’ve been blessed to be part of Kids’ Comic Con. An outreach initiative initially for the community of the Bronx, NY; it has since attained a worldwide scope. This initiative includes a flagship annual comic convention, as well as road show presence at other conventions, plus both in-person and virtual writing and drawing workshops all over the globe. The mission is to fire kids’ imaginations and creativity and give them both the encouragement and tools to express themselves through the arts. Kids’ Comic Con was created by comics writer, playwright, and educator Alex Simmons along with educator and advisor Gene Adams of Bronx Community College.
There have been other opportunities – partnering with Ronald McDonald House, donating comics stories to publishers raising awareness of issues like bullying, and giving editorial guidance to comics creators seeking to reach kids dealing with struggles like cancer – all of these are what I consider “missional” in nature. They are opportunities to spread Christ’s love. In particular, they are wonderful chances to keep Jesus’ command to love the children, as they are precious in His sight.
Whether it be through my work in comics, the toy industry, or animation, the chance to “give back” to others, especially kids, in a spirit of love, has been both sublimely humbling and selflessly fulfilling. It’s what Jesus would do, and I’m grateful that He’s allowed me to spread His love that way.