On Clark Kent and Vocation (Comics News)

October 25, 2012

If the mainstream press understood the world of superhero comics better, where “game-changing” Events and “earth-shattering” story arcs happen once every six months or so, we probably wouldn’t see as many breathless stories as we do from such outlets as CNN regarding the latest ostensible “big changes” to America’s favorite “funny page” icons. Every now and then, the “mundane” press proves it really learned nothing from the “death of Superman” back in the 1990s.

Case in point: today, CNN is trumpeting this shocking development: “Clark Kent quits newspaper job in latest Superman comic” (that would be Superman #13, on sale as of October 24). Oh, no, say it ain’t so!Everyone knows that Clark Kent is a mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, right? I mean, how could it possibly be otherwise? (Never mind that Kent was a TV news anchor for a good bit of the 1970s…)

CNN has also apparently already forgotten last year’s “New 52” reboot at DC (even though the network’s website has covered the relaunch on several occasions, including as recently as this February). The article seems to be quite perplexed in pointing out the following: “In Wednesday’s issue, Kent tells his editor he’s been a journalist for barely five years. But for decades, his job as a reporter at The Daily Planet has been a mainstay of Superman’s story.” Wow, I guess they caught DC with its continuity hands red-handed, huh? Sheesh.

So, even though Clark Kent’s career change may not be the stuff of breaking news for long-time (or, let’s face it, even casual) comics readers, I do still think it’s worthy of comment. Clark explains the reason behind the change this way:

I was taught to believe you could use words to change the course of rivers — that even the darkest secrets would fall under the harsh light of the sun. But facts have been replaced by opinions. Information has been replaced by entertainment. Reporters have become stenographers. I can’t be the only one who’s sick of what passes for the news today.

Preach it, Clark! There are the major offenders like Fox News and MSNBC, neither of which appear to make any pretense of being objective researchers and reporters of facts. And, at least in our local market, the local TV newscast is chocked to the brim with dueling talking points, fluffy human interest stories, and the on-air reading of viewers’ off-the-cuff social media comments as though they were pronouncements from Sinai. If it weren’t for the BBC, I’d get no real news from televison at all.

You may or may not share my (and Clark’s) low opinion of “what passes for news today,” but I hope you’ll agree with the other reason I like this change: so far from being contrary to the character, as an interviewee in the CNN story opines, Clark’s decision to leave the Daily Planet (well, ok, it seems he’s been fired–but he chooses not to fight it) is consistent with the character. As both Clark Kent and Superman, this man is devoted to the “never-ending battle for truth and justice” (and, yes, “the American way”–when it is consistent with those noble, universal goals). If he cannot serve truth and justice as a reporter, he will pursue those ends in other ways. Being a reporter is (well, was) his job. Serving truth and justice is his vocation.

In the “secular” world, “vocational” is basically a synonym for “job-related” or “career-related.” Vocational schools, vocational training, vocational counseling… All these are good things, but the Christian understands the word “vocation” differently. We remember its Latin root–vocare, to call–because we believe we are all called by God, regardless of our job, or even whether we have paying work. Like Clark Kent, we are called to serve the cause of truth and justice–God’s truth, God’s justice. That calling is at the heart of the Hebrew Scripture’s understanding of who God’s people are. “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue,” God commands through Moses (Deut. 16.20); or again, through the prophet Micah, “[W]hat does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8)?

And, in the New Testament, Jesus amplifies God’s calling, God’s claim upon God’s people. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he proclaimed he had come “to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19; cf. Isa. 61.1-2). Yes, Jesus is God’s Servant in a unique and unrepeatable way, but we, too, are called by God to be servants of our Servant Lord.

Our true life’s work is not whatever we happen to do for a paycheck, or the activities (paid or not) with which we fil our hours. Our vocation, our calling, is to love and serve God and love and serve our neighbor, with our whole being–heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Matt. 22.34-40). We can do that in any number of ways, in any number of places–but do it we must.

I love the way the Theological Declaration of Barmen–one of my denomination’s confessional standards, principally authored by Karl Barth, arguably the last century’s most influential Protestant theologian–defines our vocation:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death… As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

What higher calling could  there be? It may look like a “job” for Superman… but it’s really the vocation, the calling, God extends to us all, and for which God strengthens us through the Holy Spirit.

So what are we waiting for? Up, up, and away!

Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version.

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2 comments on “On Clark Kent and Vocation (Comics News)

  1. Daniel Oct 25, 2012

    So, does he become a blogger? I hope he finds a way to monatize it!

    • Michael Oct 25, 2012

      I haven’t actually read the issue yet, but, yes, apparently he (at some point) will become a blogger. No word on whether he can make it profitable, but, hey, he’s Superman. Of course he’ll find a way!

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