Friday, August 21, 2015

Wizard World Chicago: "I Coulda Been a Contender!"

"Hey, Nicholson! You borrowing
my face, boyo?"
In roaming around at Wizard World Chicago, dressed as Jack Knight, Starman, I got a few compliments and one real fan boy appreciation. I also met inker extraordinaire Joe Rubenstein who did Frank Miller's classic Wolverine mini-series back in the early 80s, shook hands with Neal Adams and Michael Golden, my old art heroes who's work have been adored by millions of fans, and then attended a panel on cosplaying.

BTW, in my chat with Joe Rubenstein, he responded to my vocal admiration of his work by painting the pinky nail on my right hand black with his ink brush. Heh!

We hit it off fabulously. Joe "shot straight" as they say (he's a believer from NYC area) and had the chutzpah to crack wise about me being a pastor, all the while drawing away on a commission.

He had a STACK of inked work for sale with pages from Marvel, DC and Archie Comics he'd done. Just watching him ink with a brush, dipping into an ink bottle taped to a piece of cardboard smacked me for all my years of prissy perfectionism. A perfectionism that kept me from working until everything was "just right."

I began to see that what separated me from these men and women of great talent with "mad skillz" was simply hard work. Dedication just pays the best dividends, you know?

"I coulda been a contender!" says Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. It is his realization his chance for success was taken from him by his brother's actions. He bemoans the fact he has achieved nearly nothing in his life. "Don'tcha see? I coulda been a somebody instead of a nobody!"

Now to be honest, he does do something noteworthy later but still that scene hit me in the feels, and very recently too. In having a tiny-eensy bit of success with my mini-comic, The Dragonknight, I realized that my ideas could have flown high if I had been in the right circle. I got very close to men who did join the comic book industry, and as arrogant and proud as this may sound, I had some ideas that turned some very important heads. They liked them. They were genuinely interested.

I did nothing with them.

Then, I would watch, time and time again the same ideas come to fruition in other hands. As if God had been broadcasting, and I was receiving, but I was refusing to transmit. Refusing to step out in faith and work on them.

I like to drive my creative car real nice and slow and only on Sundays, if you get my drift.

But like George Bailey in  It's a Wonderful Life, there is a little more to the story than a talented man missing his opportunities. God has a plan greater than his. I also believe God had a plan for my weakness in this area. My lack of pursuit.

For it was my personal failures--in marriage, in life, in my career--that drove me to go back to church. It was there through the interecession of others that I met Jesus as a Living Real Entity. It was in my bedroom screaming one night that I made peace with God and received His love and forgiveness.

Even my friends noticed the change in my attitude, my life outlook. God was in charge. I was not. My job was to take care of people when I could and do what was in front of me.

Twenty years later, I am doing what was unthinkable to that young artist. I am standing in artist's alley talking about God to one pro, discussing the Christian worldview versus other religions with another pro, and recognized as a Believer by a tattooed lady vendor who recognized the handmade bracelet I wore because she too had made them for her kids in her Sunday school class.

After I left, I wondered if I did enough to show Christ to these few.

I mean, am I lazy? Having failed to work as an artist, am I now relegated to failure as a pastor or evangelist?

Well, that depends on how you define failure, and I define failure as not doing what you are given to do by God. In other words, breaking ranks and rebellion.

Then, I wanted only to serve my self, my needs after I had control of everything around me.

Now, I want to serve others. It is easier to do that physically than artistically I have discovered. If I carry your groceries in for you, you immediately say "thank you" and if I wait on your table in a restaurant I get a tip.

But I never considered my art as a form of service to others. Never.

I am so clueless, I forgot how art and comics carried me through hard times of puberty, including my mother's cancer and bullying at school. Art transported my soul until God could talk directly to me. Great artists showed me a larger world. They gave me epic stories.

I wanted to join in those stories by being an artist. It is that simple.

God understood. He also was patient. I wanted a career; He wanted my heart.

Formerly, I grew up reading the Bible and loving comics. Now, I love the Bible and read some comics. My love affairs are reversed, but one aided the other far more than it hindered.

So today I am not a well-known artist or creative. It does disappoint me a little, losing this little dream of mine. But as C. S. Lewis says, "God does not find our desires too strong, but too weak."

God, in the same 20 years, has done something else. He's made me a sort of superhero--fighting the evil in men's hearts. Where The Shadow knows it lurks....

I have been to Russia, Kazakhstan, and India. I have taught for years in two different county jails, preached extemporaneously some 500 times and written over 300 Bible studies. There are many men who surpass men in this area, I know. Still... doesn't sound like a loser in God's sight, does it?

Obviously not. But like all who wish to serve, I realized I was too weak to do it without God. The apostle Paul writes about his own weakness and aks God to fix it. God says something strange [New Living Translation]:
Each time [God] said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
Paul's weakness was his eyesight, I believe wholeheartedly. If I am correct, then he'd have to speak aloud these spiritual letters, dictating them to a younger man and have them read back to him. I mean every letter he wrote to Christian churches.

That meant the Roman guards keeping him had no recourse but to hear the Good News, over and over and over...

Never thought of that, did you?

And I never thought how wretchedly insufferable I would have become if I did become a successful artist years ago. I am not exonerating my lack of effort. I mean I think God made sure I did not get going and evade meeting Him.

When things go our way, we tend to forget God. Like--every time, maybe?

When things are not good, we tend to call on God like our Insurance Agent In Heaven. Loudly, with angry imprecations.

We contend with the invisible God, but not with the visible World. We want success and perks and extra love, but not loving discipline, constrainment or correction.

I could have been a contender, a successful artist? Yes, but no. Not if God was overlooked - and I was doing that, absolutely.

You see, I was a contender. I was fighting God's call on my life. I had my own plan of success, my own goals, my own way to make myself happy.

So did God

Guess who won? Take a wild guess.

We'll wait.

Meanwhile, I'll be admiring my little pinky, blackened by the ink brush one of the greatest inkers of all time, who's inked more artists than anyone, ever. [Wiki article]

And now, by God's providential hand, he's inked me.

Thank you, Jesus.

In our weakness, He is made strong indeed.

Amen.

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