Brad Ellison – Zen Baptist, Writing Mentor, and Chosen Brother

This is Brad Ellison –

Master of the Kubrick stare.

Master of the Kubrick stare.

Yeah. Drink up all that ferocity for a minute.

Don’t worry if you feel like he’s kicking your courage in the teeth, it’s okay, that’s the normal mammalian reaction to such a predatory visage.

Take comfort in this, dear friends: The first time I met Brad was at the Karaoke meet and greet that the Freshman of Hardin-Simmons University are asked to attend during their orientation week on campus. And I know what your thinking, a man such as this must have stood above all others, wearing a crown stitched together by the foreskins of weaker men, and demanded that we all bow before him and collectively sing mighty rock anthems of the 1980s. I can see how you’d think that when you look at that picture. Hell, I’ve known the man for over ten years, and when I see that picture even I get a little nervous, like he might show up at my house and demand that we machete fight to the death while naked and covered in the war-woad of our fathers.

Those things did not and have not happened (YET!) , no the first time I met Brad Ellison he approached me while wearing black cargo pants, a Led Zeppelin t-shirt all slathered in a leather trench coat, and said, “Hey, you wanna do this thing?”

My first reaction was to ball up my fists and get ready to rock and roll with this mountain of tremendous flesh in a brawl that would have brought down the walls of Valhalla itself. But then I realized that he was actually asking me if I wanted to sing a song with him. I smiled, nodded, and chose the song which would cement our friendship for the rest of time.

I picked, The Great Pretender by The Platters –

Because that’s how I (lamely) roll.

Four months would pass before we’d see each other again, when we were introduced to each other again by our mutual friend Will Clapp.

Over the next three years we build a friendship which helped him survive loneliness and me conquer my bigotry, racism, fundamentalist ideology. It is easy to say that I would not be the man I am today without the calm and taciturn nature Brad ushered into my life. I was an untempered piece of iron that Brad Ellison helped (along with others) to forge into something sharper, something more beautiful, and something more useful to the world around me.
Brad Ellison, and I say this with no hyperbole, is the single, shining reason that I became a capable writer. Upon reading an incredibly bad Batman short story that I wrote, Brad looked at me and said, “I don’t even know what’s going on here. I mean, Seth, you know I love you, but I’m not even sure if this is American English that I’m reading.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen is how Brad Ellison elicits care to the people he loves. An unbridled honesty that cuts right through all the games ‘friends’ play with each other. He could see that at the root of me I was a storyteller, but that I had no freaking clue what the parts of speech were, how to put them together, and fuse together a narrative that engaged a reader. It was on that day that Brad clapped his gigantic hand on my shoulder and vowed that if I was willing to do the hard work it was going to take, he’d teach me.

I told him that no one outworks me.

He said, “We’ll see.”

Over the next four years he put me on a rigorous reading regimen: Les Misérables, Musashi, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Shining, Always Out Numbered, Always Out gunned, those were the first five novels and short story collection that I ever read. And upon doing a tally of all the works he required me to read, I have counted seventy-one novels, forty-eight short stories, and seven collected anthologies which I took into my brain. All of this was tacked onto me settling into a two-thousand word a night writing routine that I’d email to him every single day for the first year of our student/teacher relationship.

I won’t lie to you, those first few years I was terrible. I was an adjective addict. Tenses punched me in the face. And the gerunds, my Lord the gerunds.

But slowly, with each plodding step forward this mind of mine began to transform into something sharper.

Through Brad Ellison’s patient tutoring I went from being someone who lies on paper to someone who fills empty, white pages with stories that move people.

Without him, I wouldn’t be a published author. He was there through all the doubts, reminding me every so often that I once said, “Brad, no one outworks me.”

Above all his wonderful qualities, the best and most endearing aspect of my friend is that he believed in me.

I’ve suffered his best right cross. And he is the only person to stuff my single-leg wrestling take down that I’ve used to take men bigger than him to the ground. We’ve wrestled with one another physically, emotionally, and intellectually; and we’ve both come out stronger men for it.

The Reverend Kevin Sinclair is Sir Bedivere.

Brad Ellison is Sir Gawain.

Green Knights don't stand a chance.

Green Knights don’t stand a chance.

 

A man, such as I am, has been afforded friends of the highest caliber and none can say that they are higher than my friend and chosen brother, Brad Ellison.

I was the best man in his wedding, and he is one who makes the world a stranger and more miraculous place.  He is my favorite author, and you can buy his fantastic short story, The Devil’s Right Hand here. It’s worth every penny.

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A Multitude of Infirmities, Part II: The Poison of Loneliness

Part II: The Poison of Lonliness
by C.S. Humble

Hell is other people.
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.”

– T.S. Eliot

One of the challenges of living life at its top is that no matter how high the peak of joy, the anticipation of the great drop into the abysmal valley seems to cut a red line through whatever boon God above has delivered unto you. There is no kind word that doesn’t have a rejoinder of sorrow, no blessing that doesn’t seem to have a hidden cost. For it is true to say- no matter how brightly the sun may shine through the glory of the mid-day, the midnight is coming. And the midnight is always spent alone.

For me, the late hours -when the hands of the clock seem to turn most slowly – are spent here, in the solitude of a brightly lit screen accompanied by the soundtrack of each singular keystroke. This is the time when stories fill my head, the moments when dragons seem most real and there is no noble knight for me to call upon, or become, to slay the mighty monster; these twilight episodes where there is no St. George to slay the perilous foe.

These are the hours when the maw of darkness opens and devours me whole. The times when I eat most heartily from the fruit of the poison tree – when I imbibe the poison of loneliness.

As previously discussed in Part I of this series, Pride is the root of all my infirmities. Because I am a man firmly rooted in the soil of my own perseverance, I cannot endure the sinking devastation of personal inadequacy. And in truth, when I come to the end of my own abilities – when the powers of my own intellect and authorial stamina fail me- I’m left with nothing by which to keep myself upright. I, like many people I believe,  think that because I am not enough for myself I cannot be enough for anyone else. And so begins the great cycle of destructive thought that I’ll never be good enough for anyone.

I’ll never be as steadfast as people need me to be.
I’ll never be enough, in any regard.
I’ll never be worthy of love.

Saint Paul, through Christ Jesus, teaches us that Love is a thing given, not earned, and that is a concept that I struggle with. My pride – no, my vanity – refuses to accept the notion that there is a benevolent force who has liberated me from the shackles my own infirmities. Because how can there be a love strong enough to shoulder all the falseness, all the anger, and all the weakness which exists inside the human heart?

How can their be a balm of righteous care that can sooth each and every stain that I, let alone all the world, has amassed over our sordid and bloody history?

How can there be a fountain by which all humanity can come and be cleansed?

I think I’m finally starting to realize the answer, and I want to share it with you. Here and now, in this fragile moment –

I think that the defeat of pride can only come through surrendering. I think that submission to love is the only vehicle by which we are able to accept the Messiah grace of Christ.

Pride is the strong man who, with closed fist and drinking heavily from the bottle of loneliness, stands firm in the face of being always outnumbered and outgunned and says, “I’ll be the last son-of-a-bitch standing.”
Submission is the man, who dearly wants to be strong, but in his sobriety sees his weakness, and thus bends to his weary knees and says, “I am the bastard victim of a thousand self-inflicted wounds, and I cannot bear to stand any longer.”

Loneliness is a poison, administered to the self by hopes that we are capable to do for ourselves by our own means.

But if we were capable creatures, unto ourselves, then why do we yearn for the shoulder of a friend when the tremendousness of life bears down on us with all it’s stark ferocity?

If the prideful man is so strong, then why does he look for the hands of others to help him rise when he has fallen?

And how can solitude be such a wonderful companion, when in our solitude all we desire is the gentle, comforting hand of hope to guide us out of the valley of bleached white bones we have buried ourselves in?

When we cloister ourselves away from community and the caring fellowship of others, we aren’t proving that we are strong. Rather, we prove that we are afraid. But we don’t fear loneliness.  We fear vulnerability. We fear the knowledge that others will see us as we truly are – not firm, but brittle.

For the prideful man, such as I am and have admitted to being, the poison of loneliness is an easier drink than the elixir of life, which is fermented and aged in the submission to the strength of others. To realize that to love is commanded, but to be loved in return is divine.

And that is a divinity higher and greater than any mountain top one might attain by their own strength.

Learning to accept the love and care of others is to put away the drunkenness of self-reliance and find the moment true sobriety in this –

The care and affection of friends and lovers is the wellspring of life, from which flows the deathless power of God’s ceaseless and eternal love.

And so, what falls to us – to me – is the choice:

Do you drink of the familiar poison?

Or shall you imbibe from the cup of submission, wherein lies the fine wine which sustains the soul?

After that examination, love seems more potable now, more than ever.

I am lonely. In this way, confessed to you, I am infirm and lame.
But, I rejoice in this: “love covers a multitude of infirmities.”
Yours and mine.

A Multitude of Infirmities, Part I – The Armor of Vainglory

Part I – The Armor of Vainglory
by C.S. Humble

“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. ”
― Khalil Gibran

If Wrath is the fruit of all my infirmities, then Pride is the root.

Most people have a whole spectrum of emotions that they experience each and every day, they shift and dance between the twinge of melancholy when the sorrows of life greet them when they leave their front step, and the gentle repine of relief when they are finally able to rest their weary heads at night. While that may be the norm, there are other people who, like myself, experience life at the edge of emotional poles. We are either experiencing the great, cresting majesty of life’s mountain peak or down in Dante’s seventh circle with no Virgil with which to find our way out of hell and back into the light. In my particular case I like to lean on the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to express how I feel one-hundred percent of the time, rain or shine:

“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life at its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire.”

When I am at the height of my mental faculties, I feel like there is no sentiment I’m incapable of pouring out onto an empty white page. When barreling along at full speed, thundering down pathways of fabled adventure, I can reach into the attic of my mind and easily grasp any obscure piece of information I need in that very moment. My brain, when at its highest register, makes me feel firm in who I am as an author. It makes me joyful, when I feel capable with the power of the written word.

And when I feel capable I, like Bellerophon, begin to believe that there is no monster I cannot slay, no great trial I cannot overcome, and no mountain that I am not worthy of conquering. I begin to believe in my own power- That I can reason all things. Examine all things. And overcome all things.  I put on the armor of vainglory – a glimmering, suit of plated vanity forged in a fire of dedication and shaped by the hammer known as the inferiority complex. My whole life I’ve always clung to the deep seeded desire to prove myself to others, to show people that I’m not just a court jester; that the purpose of my life isn’t chained to the moniker of “He failed, but tried really hard”.

I’m a big believer in the power of single-minded dedication into the efforts that make us who we want to be. I have wrapped myself in the steely notion that if I spend enough time writing, if I sacrifice enough, I’ll eventually prove to everyone that I am worth reading. And because I am prideful, as the Gibran quote above suggests, I cannot abide the hospitality of others, and even worse, their care.

I shy away from compliments and pretend like I don’t need them. I act as though affirmation is a coward’s boon, something weaker souls rely on to push them through the long, dark nights filled with self-doubt. And oh, do I struggle with doubt, especially when other folks are asleep and I’m awake writing at ungodly hours in the morning. I do that as a way to prove to others that I’m working hard enough to be worthy of their hope in my ability. And it’s strange, I know, but I feel like a man shoveling coal into a furnace, down in some dark boiler room, and if I spend enough time down there, and shovel enough of the explosive material into the raging inferno eventually a transformation will happen.

One day, I keep hoping to wake up and be good enough.

That would allow me to keep wearing the Armor of Vainglory, so I could say, “You see, I did it. All the time I sacrificed in the face of all those who told me I’d never make it, I’ve proved them all wrong.”

Myself.
Me.
I.

Those who suffer from the wound of pride, all of us, we want you to be as proud of us as we are of ourselves. And we don’t want to admit it. We couldn’t stand to look at you and say, “I need you, because I’m not enough on my own.”

And so, we wear this armor to keep others from seeing just how vulnerable we are, and after a while it stops protecting us. It looses its ability to conceal us from the weapons of our doubters, and it slowly starts to harden around the joints making us inflexible to change, the slits for seeing and breathing begin to rust over – transforming our panoply of protection into a burial coffin of our own making.

Pride buries us inside ourselves. It crushes us down. It makes us a prisoner to all of the hopes and dreams that once made us dedicated in the belief that we could make the world better by living in it fully, but those dreams now are yokes we wear around our necks. Like giant millstones cut from the mountains we once hoped to move.

At our best, we, the prideful ones, want to be an unbending structure that all our community can lean on, that our friends can call upon in their time of need. That we’re dependable when everyone else is a unreliable and shaky. We want to be there alongside you in your greatest moment of need, standing strong, shoulder to shoulder with you in the sunlight of victory, saying, “See, I told you you could count on me.”

At our worst, well, we’re uncompromising assholes who tell you that you’re not good enough, because we never feel good enough. And we’re the worst because everyone around us can see that we need help and we’re too stiff-necked to ask for or accept it.

But I want you to know that even though we may be encased in the armor, that in the deep heart of us we want to be able to remove it. We want to be able to be vulnerable. We want to know that when you see the atrophied and maligned body underneath, that you won’t turn away or betray our weakness when we are emotionally naked. We just want to know that we’re enough for you. That you can love us despite our great malady.

We need you.
I need you.
Even though I’ll never admit it.

I need you to help me believe that even though I’ve been fighting for so long to find some meaningful victory in my writing, that even if I fail, it doesn’t mean I’m worthless.

Because if I’m worthless, you don’t need me. If you don’t need me, I’m irrelevant. And irrelevancy is something even the most stout heart cannot bear.

Unbending structures when put underneath too much stress may not bend, but without needed support they do break, and then they have to be mended. Reforged, so that they can find purpose in bearing weight again. And we, the unbending, prideful friends in your life, find our hidden joy in the knowledge that you love us, accept us, and bear our burdens with us – even when we tell you not to.

I am prideful. In this way, confessed to you, I am infirm and lame.
But, I rejoice in this: “love covers a multitude of infirmities.”
Yours and mine.

Rev. Kevin Sinclair the Hospitaller

Since March the Twenty-Second, Two-Thousand and Fourteen,  Anno Domini, I have been living with my friend: Reverend Kevin Ray Sinclair in Houston.

My time in communal living with him is coming to an end on May 31st, even though I now live in Houston and will be able to see him, the bond that we have reforged in our short reunion has impacted me in such a way that I can’t help but write about it here.

Kevin and I met in 2003 when I started pledging for the Hardin-Simmons fraternity Kappa Phi Omega in the aforementioned year. And because there are far too many stories about laughter, heartbreak, depression, and change that are intertwined in the narrative of our friendship, I will only say this –

The Seth Humble & Kevin Sinclair story is the single most epic Buddy cop film yet to be put on film.  The role of dashing, plucky upstart Kevin should be played by a young, handsomely bearded Marlon Brando.

Marlon Brando as Kevin Sinclair

Marlon Brando as Kevin Sinclair

While I would like the role of me, the hardline and cynical veteran detective to be played by some tall, strikingly handsome European man of Shakespearean quality…to preserve historical accuracy.

I freaking wish.

Ian McKellen as Seth Humble.
We could be brothers, everyone says so.

It is easy to say that Kevin has been one of my dearest friends for the last decade of my life, easier still is it to say that he has been my brother confessor, and easiest of all is to say that his gentle fingerprint is imbedded into my own heart.

When I met Kevin I was a different human being, and more the man in my basement than the person I am now. I was living life through a lens of anger.

I was a racist.

I was a bigot.

I was broken and too proud to see that I needed mending.

It was providential then that I met Kevin at that nexus point in my life; you see as I am someone who breaks things, Kevin is, by the unique gifts of Christ, a mender. While we are polar opposites in so many regards, we are brothers of familiar wounds, sons of old Texas mentality fathers, and we share a fraternal joy in the power of storytelling. And it is appropriate that our first moment of friendship was spent on a couch, inside the Kappa shanty, with him playing a Country Western lick on his guitar and the both of us making up lyrics to a Tall Tale ballad we entitled, “We’re Just Good Ole’ Country Boys.”

Kevin reminds me of my Grandfather, the venerable Pa Max, because when I am with him Kevin makes me feel like the single most hilarious human being on the planet, but rarely ever makes me feel like I’m a joke. While at times it is hard to get his attention, once he gives it to you, you see in those crystal blue eyes of his that you’re the most important person in the universe to him.

And I have felt that way many times over the last two months, usually during our mornings when we take our coffee together, and sometimes breakfast. We sit, usually with me to the right of him, and he’ll lead me into a story that he likes to hear me tell, or he’ll see me staring out the tall, storm window with great anxiety on my face and ask me “You okay?”, and best of all he’ll pick up that warm, throaty guitar of his and take us both into song. And every time we sing, I feel like I’m sitting on that couch in Abilene, our friendship taking root all over again. We’ll sing George Jones, George Strait, Marty Robbins, and best of all Johnny Cash. We aren’t adverse to the new stuff, we are just old souls when it comes to music.

Kevin and I have been a rolling harmony that has been as changing as the ocean’s shifting tide and as constant as the firmament of the earth.  All of which is a life-song we pronounce as thanks to the God of Rescue, who broke chains in both our lives by giving us each other. Many of those infirmities I share here on this blog, but those he has shared with me I keep locked away, for his confidence in my loyalty is principle in the self-respect that keeps me upright.

We’ve had exactly one argument in our time as friends, seven years ago, which was over a theological position I so staunchly defended then, and now wear like a branded badge of shame – to think I once believed in a doctrine of law over a theology of liberation, and much of that change in my life is due to Kevin’s healing presence.

Metaphorically, Kevin has been essential in the saving of my life- which means he is a part of the slow miracle God is ushering into my each new day.

Literally however, Kevin saved my life in the Fall of 2005 when I collapsed in my dorm room from the combination of the Flu and the most devastating asthma attack I’ve had since I was an infant. The swift miracle of that moment was that I flipped open my phone and hit the call button twice, just to try and get someone on the phone to help me. With all the world fading to dark circles, he was the voice who answered the phone, and wouldn’t you know, he was only moments away. Kevin, and my pledge brother Matt, found me in my room, struggling to try and get up off the floor while suffocating from a childhood sickness I thought I’d outgrown.

“Five more minutes and you might not have made it,” is what the nurse said to me after I recovered a few hours and three breathing treatments later.  Kevin Sinclair is a healer in both effect and indelible personality.

Kevin Sinclair is a Knight Hospitaller, and by the Grace of God, all he needs is five dedicated minutes to make it abundantly clear that at his very worst he’ll change your life, and at his very best, he can be an instrument by which God can save it.

Therefore, I am so very humbled to have reconnected with this modern day Sir Bedivere, this man who I know that if I had a dying wish, he’d ask me to consider it twice and then knowing it was my final will, bring it to fruition with the firm knowledge that God is divining all things to an eventual goodness.

For at his belt hung excaliber

“Qu’il avoit cainte Escalibor”

Kevin the Hospitaller understands how to love and heal me me when we are smoking on the balcony together and he says, “You’re a good man, Seth. And you’re a good friend.” Because he knows words of affirmation are the love language I chiefly need.

Kevin Sinclair of the Cross, understands the love of the suffering servant, Christ, when on Holy Wednesday of this year he said,

“In the cross, God not only conquers and nullifies sin, God experiences, alongside us, the weight and burden of our suffering. When Jesus Christ cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. ” he cries a cry of dereliction that echoes into eternity for all men, women, and children who hang on history’s crosses.”

Kevin Sinclair – knightly friend, a brother worthy of all my epistles, and minister to the brokenhearted – thank you for letting me live with you again.

For it has been my sincere pleasure.

Laying with Merry

We’d survived two wives, a loan shark, and alcoholism together – now he was leaving me.

His name was Merry, a golden retriever I picked up outside a Cincinnati bus stop on Bay St., during a torrential downpour. He was whimpering, scared and alone, where someone had left him tied to the bench post. They must have just tethered him there because when I saw those big brown eyes open and then shutter closed with the boom of thunder, I knew the first person to come along would have scooped him up.

That’s the first and only lottery I ever won, and I didn’t even have to buy a ticket.

Merry was afraid of storms for the rest of his life, and on those nights that rumbled and crashed with cosmic flashes of terror, I’d let him slink out of his own bed and hop into mine. He’d circle the whole bed, making sure our pillowed island was secure, then plop down next to me, putting head to rest in the crook of my neck. I’d hear him breathing that hot, broth stinking breath of his in great big chuffs for a moment, then ease out of fear into comfort.

Neither wife couldn’t stand him, but that was okay, he didn’t like them either. Well, I suppose that he tolerated my second wife, probably on an account that he thought these women would keep on coming, so he might as well get used to one. And though he tried to love Kathy, she never did consider him anything but a mess waiting to happen. The truth of it was though, I was the one who kept making the messes.

Booze, gambling, and even heroin once, cost me my managing job at the pizza parlor. The anger the booze gifted me cost us my inheritance from my father. And even though Mary had stayed through booze, neither her or Kathy could handle the gambling. They were right to leave. And Merry would have been right to leave me too, but he never did.

But now he’s here, on this steel table, his deep chest throbbing up and down irregularly. The Vet is petting Merry, but I ask him to stop because he’s doing it all wrong. You’re supposed to scratch Merry on the hip, that used to get him to playfully snap at your hand, but I don’t think he’s up for wrestling anymore. I don’t think Merry feels anything now but the pain of the cancer.

I pet him behind the ear, just like I did when I picked him up, all trembling and sopping wet, from underneath that bench in Cincinnati. He looks at me from cloudy, partially blind eyes that beg for relief.

The Vet asks me if I want a minute alone with Merry.

I do.

He leaves and before the door is closed I’m walking around the table, making sure there’s enough room for the two of us. I climb up with him, but my weight dents the steel table, a resounding rumble thunders in the room. Merry whimpers, so I shush him, tell him that everything is going to be okay, that he won’t have to endure any more storms. I curl into a semi-circle around him, and slide my face over the cleft of his once strong shoulder. I kiss the side of his mouth and slope my wrinkled hands over his forehead and rub my fingers in-between his squinting eyes.

He slips his tongue out of his mouth one last time to slobber my cheek. I don’t shy away.

The Vet comes in. I don’t know how long it has been, but he’s got a needle.
He tells me it’s time.
I take the Vet’s side now, and I tell Merry that I love him.

Five minutes later- I am paying a bill, while the receptionist tells me they’ll dispose of the rest.
“The rest? Lady, there’s nothing left anymore,” I say.
Then I’m alone for the first time in fifteen years.

– End

Image

I Am My Right Hand

by C.S. Humble-

You don’t know this about me, but I was born left-handed. Then, for some antiquated reason, my teachers in elementary school told me that I didn’t want to be left-handed, that I should be right-handed. Since I was seven years old, I’m fairly sure that I didn’t give the left/right hand debate enough consideration because I was busy with Star Wars, action figures, and hanging out with my first best friend, Jack. (Yeah, he’s a whole other blog post – one that involves me getting hit in the head with a gardening hoe while we were trying to dig China.)

I wanted to be a good student, so when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Williams sent me home and demanded that I write the alphabet thirty times every night with my right hand, so I did exactly that.

And so, through much toil and struggle two things happened –
1. I became right handed.
2. I immediately anchored myself in this concrete truth: Homework is for chumps.

Mrs. Williams was thorough too, she’d watch me eat in the cafeteria and make me switch the fork to my right hand any time I tried to use my left. She made sure the P.E. teacher, Coach IlooklikeI’mEdAsnerwithabadsunburn (Pretty sure that was his name) made me learn to dribble a basketball with my right hand.

I do all my best work with my right hand these days.
My best punch is a counter right hook.
I can snap really loud with my right hand.
You know, all the important stuff.

But there were old forms in me, ancient rituals rooted in my soul that my body refused to let me do with my newly appointed dominate hand. Ancient rituals like Billiards – Because sometimes this sleepy left hand hears the sound of a pool balls cracking together and he wakes up and tells the right hand, “You just line it up, Dom. Me and the kid can handle the rest.

I drive left-handed – because it feels correct.
I turn pages left-handed – because to use the right would get in the way of the words.
I smoke my pipe left-handed – because the right is busy penning a hand-written correspondence to my dear friends.

Yep, the left is important. My left hand is a reminder that no matter our situation in life, we can change, adapt, and turn weaknesses into strengths, but that doesn’t mean the strong and natural things can’t still be important and crucial to who we are.

And so, because I first-draft everything I write with a pen and paper, and because writing is essential to who I identify myself to be – My right hand is the focus point by which all my creative effort is made manifest in the natural world.

I am my right hand.

Which is why this was such a big deal –  (Warning – Graphic image below)


Is there a doctor in the house?

Is there a doctor in the house?

Seventy-two hours ago, thanks to Mrs. Williams strict routine, I was right-handed and had been for the last twenty-three years.

And then, because of a nail gun double firing on me, all of a sudden I went from being right-handed to left-handed again.

A family from my home church has invited me out to help work on their cabin. We arrive early in the morning, fresh dew all over the greenery and all the kind of stuff Emerson would have written about is going on in full force. So, we put ourselves to the work of building. I get handed a nail gun and get to it.

So I fire off these two nails, one of which was perfectly placed, the other…well it was very close to being perfectly placed. Suddenly, I feel this deep pressure ripple down through my forearm and elbow. I look up and see a four inch carpenter nail jutting into and out of a part of my body.

My first thought was, “Huh, that’s not supposed to be like that.”

Everyone freaks out because I’ve got a nail in my hand, which is a normal reaction. I, however, am trying to keep everyone as calm as possible because if we all lose our heads then the things that need to happen next (such as taking the freaking nail out of my thumb) are not going to happen in a timely manner.

The journey to the emergency room in Marlin,Tx was spent mainly keeping the very wonderful Mrs. Musgrove (the mother of one of my dearest friends), who was driving, calm and relaxed. I was patting her on the arm, asking if she was okay, and reassuring her that I was fine – all the while giving people a big thumbs up while driving past them.

I was in fine spirits, not in too much pain, and excited that I’d have a wonderful story to tell people – “Hey remember that time I was a jack-ass and shot myself in the hand with the nail gun while building the the Musgrove cabin?” Then we’d all laugh and keep drinking whiskey.

Then the receptionist at the Intake counter asked me to sign my name.

I couldn’t write my name.
I couldn’t write anything.
I tried writing with my left hand, but because of the plate still in my forearm from a compound spiral fracture when I was fifteen, my forearm and wrist can’t line up to make letters- writing with my left hand is like trying to stand up in a hammock.  It’s just a bad idea.

Luckily, my friend Melodie was there to help me fill out my paper work, here’s us having a great time in the emergency room –


Friends that are nailed together, stay together.

Friends that are nailed together, stay together.

I had the nail in my hand for almost eight hours. The ‘Doctor’ (who greeted me in a bitchin’ Harley Davidson long sleeve shirt and biker sunglasses) didn’t want to remove it in Marlin because of a possible hairline fracture he saw on my x-ray, and if my bone was fractured then there was a possibility of bone infection, which could have meant me losing my thumb.

So Melodie, ever the patient friend, takes me to a hand specialist in Temple,Tx (that great reliquary of Medical Genius you’ve all heard so much about) and eventually a doctor comes in, tells me the worst part about this is going to be the local numbing shot they are going to give me. I tell him he’s wrong, because numbing shots don’t work on me – I tell him I know that because previously, on SETH, a doctor gave me a local shot right before he had to re-break my left arm when I was fifteen. That numbing shot didn’t do anything, and neither would the one this fella wanted to give me.

I’m looking at him after saying this, and I think he can tell the look on my face is saying, “This is going to be awful, so let’s just go ahead and pull the damn thing out.

He gives me a local.

It doesn’t work.

He gives me a few more shots.

They don’t work.

He shrugs and says, “Well, I guess we’re just gonna have to do this thing.”

“Buddy, I’ve been waiting for you to say that for the last five hours,” I said.

“You want me to give it a pull and see if you can handle it,” he asks.

“I’ll be fine.”

One hard pull and two inches of galvanized carpenter nail later, I’m standing over a sink watching the doctor put a syringe into a gaping hole in my hand and squirt iodine and antiseptic through the place I’d tried to decorate with something bold, yet rustic.

The doctor keeps asking me if I’m okay, and I keep telling him that I’m fine. And that he’ll get me something for the pain, to which I tell him isn’t necessary, because I’ve got some drinking to do when all this is done.

Of course I'm going to give the nail back to the Musgroves. I might not be a good carpenter, but I'm certainly not a thief.

Of course I’m going to give the nail back to the Musgrove family. I might not be a good builder, but I’m certainly not a thief.

On the way out, and all the rest of the night, I keep hearing this echo in  my head, a voice of the doctor who said, “possible nerve damage,” and “might never feel that part of your thumb again.”

In the morning, giving myself a good nine hours to get over the whole nail through the thumb thing, I start trying to write.

It’s a disaster.

Melodie tells me that I need to give it time, relax, and not expect so much out of myself so quickly.

The problem there is that, yep you’ve guessed it – I am my right hand – and if that hand can’t create, then I’ve got to start learning to use my mongoloid left hand, who is great at pool, driving, and holding a hot pipe bowl, but is just the worst when it comes to those letters Mrs. Williams beat into me with my nightly alphabet homework assignment.

Good news is I can type, obviously, but I couldn’t write. If you take away my ability to write, then you take away my ability to craft hand-written letters, and if that’s gone, it takes away one of the things that makes me who I am. Writing letters to people is my form of deepest affection. It is my personal ritual of holy confession and fraternal benevolence. It’s the way I say ‘I love you’.  And the idea of being incapable in that regard terrifies me on a very primal level.

Having my hand taken away from me, removing that tool from my personage, put an existential dread in me I’ve never really felt before.

So that’s where we are, dear friends. I tried writing with my left, and after a couple of hours I had zero pages of legible alphabet. Cursive or print.

No! No! NO!  That's not even how you hold it!

No! No! NO!
That’s not even how you hold it!

Out my frustration, I took the bandage off my right hand. I struggled to keep the pen in my hand at first, it kept rolling around and blotting up the page. Ruining everything I was trying to create. Refusing to move the way I wanted it to move.

But then I finally just let the pen drift into a different crook in my hand. I determined myself to adapt.

I’d bend.

I’d compromise the old way of holding the pen, because clearly that way isn’t the way it’s going to work anymore.  So I loosened the grip, and this is what I got –

I was so afraid I'd lost you.

I was so afraid I’d lost you.

So, I put a nail through my hand on Saturday, thought I lost one of the most important parts of me, but then I gave myself a little time and bent my ways, if but only a little, to a new way of doing things. And to tell you the truth, my new handwriting is an improvement on the looping hen-scratching Mrs. Williams so happily brutalized me into learning.

All of that to say this –
Things in life get broken, punctured, or torn asunder, and in our impatience we try to put them back together the way they were before- but they can’t go back to what they were. Once you break something, it’s changed, but the breaking doesn’t have to be what defines us. The reconstruction of ourselves can be the narrative of our own hero’s journey.

In the end, it’s only a passing thing – the pain of a life reformed by suffering.

Nails can puncture us, cruelties can break us, death can steal people from us – but those events don’t have to ruin us. So much bad happens, so much darkness, but if we lean on community, and we learn to be patient with healing, we can be reshaped and enriched when tragedy meets eucatastrophe.

Hands

Hands

On my twelfth birthday my Uncle Doug handed me a box wrapped in paper that I was certain had been crafted from volcanic glass. The gift, wrapped in a shining mirror of moonlight, reflected the dull, whiskey colored light flowing from the overhead fan in my Grandmother’s guest room. There was a giant, blue ribbon which cross-sectioned the box – An azure band crafted into a tight, looping knot, which cut across the black cube.

And then it dawned on me that Doug and I were alone- my uncle, the upright South Carolinian Gentleman, was giving me a gift away from the rest of everyone else. A box shrouded in cosmic infinity, banded by some enchanted ribbon that laced the very fabric of the universe together.

He slipped the box into my outstretched hands. Doug didn’t say anything, he just looked at me with his bright, twinkling eyes and a smile slouching on the right side of his cheek.

I took the box, cradled it close to my chest, and just before tearing into the black pool of the forever-paper, I looked at him for permission to ruin such a marvelous thing.

He laughed, and nodded.

With fingers that had matured into  their adult size long before anything else on me did, I ripped and tore, greedily slashed and put asunder the black paper. I remember pausing after the first initial pull, watching the midnight black reveal an immaculate, gossamer sheen underneath. The contrast arrested me, if but for only a moment, and then I quickly got back into the tearing.

Standing among ribbons of tattered paper right out of a William Randolph Hearst nightmare, with the virgin knot now sullied in my hand, I gazed upon another black box, but this one had words on it.  It said –

“Magician’s Kit and Instructional Guide”

My Uncle, with one present, had answered in me the question which all men have asked since the dawn of time –

“What is my purpose in life?”

Doug and I knew that answer – It was my life’s purpose to become the single greatest magician in the history of magic.  It was my destiny, delivered to me by this astute man of Southern charm.

I was going to be this guy (Skip to :53 seconds in to see the act in full force) –

Inside the box were the great mysteries of sleight of hand, the collapsible magic wand, and of course the hollow thumb of vanishing! With these techniques…nay-with these mighty powers – I would, after numerous hours of dedication, stand within the great performance halls and wash my audience in a rolling wave of mesmerizing trickery.

I opened the Magician’s secret manual, the tome by which all these great mysteries could be unlocked and made known only to me.

I was drunk with power and filled with a great pity for the fools who would be deceived by the awesome grandeur of the prestige. It was all coming together, my stagecraft already bubbling over inside my head -practicing lines like,

“Oh, but sir, how could you have chosen the Jack of Clubs, if it is inside your billfold?”

or

“Thank you, thank you. Please, for my next trick I will need a volunteer.”

and of course the magician’s dream of telling his prey, while rolling up sleeves as white as the inside of the forever-paper, “As you can see, I am not hiding anything here.”

Which by the way, when a magician says that last line, what he is really saying is, “Please look at my sleeves and not the hidden pocket around the lapel of my coat (or vest).”

You see, growing up, I had the tendency to ’embellish the truth’ or ‘spin a yarn’ as my Grandmother, Nanny Joy would say; which was a nice way to say, I was a liar.

An incredibly capable liar. Still am, as a matter of fact, but that is off point.

And the notion of being a magician enthralled me, because a Magician, aside from the career politician, is the only person you pay to lie to you. We watch magicians, knowing that it’s all smoke and mirrors, and we ask them to fabricate something miraculous out of the mundane.  Make a card disappear, then make it reappear. Manifest a dove from your handkerchief. Saw that woman in half, then put her back together.  We do it because we want him to lie to us, we want him to make us believe in magic as we did when we were innocent and filled with the absolute and concrete notion of, “Life is filled with splendid magic; that logic is misleading, and things are not always what they seem.”

And we ask him to do that because if a card can vanish into thin air, then maybe we can change the hand we are dealt in life.

And if he can turn a handkerchief into a fluttering dove, then maybe I can take the rags of my life and transform them into something beautiful.

And if life’s pain and suffering rend me in two, then maybe there is a magic in this world that can put me back together.

It didn’t take very long for me to see that all of the pictures of the various magicians all had a single thing in common, they all had long, dexterous fingers. Fingers which could take a billiard ball and palm it as such that you could never imagine it was resting there from the other side of the hand. Magicians, the ones best at sleight of hand, all have them – long, beautiful fingers.

I did not have slender, meticulous hands. Nor long, graceful fingers, by which to hide whole decks of cards. If the hands of the magician were to be characterized by a person, they would all be Clark Gable.

If my hands were a person they’d be Richard III.

"But I that am not shaped for sportive tricks..."

“But I that am not shaped for sportive tricks…”

That is the hand of a soil breaking farmer, or maybe with a little more experience a cowboy, but not someone who makes cards disappear, makes doves take to the sky from nowhere – that is a hand which breaks things, not mend them back together.

I never became a great magician, but what my Uncle Doug introduced to me upon gifting me that magician’s kit is the notion that the people, both young and old, need magic in their lives. And that magic is something that we pass down to our children, to our nieces and nephews, and share with children from the ages of eight to eighty-eight.

And while I am not a magician, I still know how to weave a spell. I don’t use a collapsible wand- I use words.

And only after thinking long on this memory do I realize that there are many great and wonderful things that I wanted to be while I was growing up, but what I became was an author.

A storyteller.

A person you pay to tell you stories that aren’t real, but that are true, because you want to believe in magic as much as I do.

A liar, who in discipline through the written word, is elevated to something higher – a mythmaker

A magician, of sorts, who with his opening paragraph says, “Are you watching closely?”

An illusionist who uses characters and metaphor like a carousel of smoke and mirrors to reveal the light and darkness inside of you.

While these hands of mine, rudely stamped, are poor at card-tricks, they have through dedicated time and effort become fully capable of delicately taking you by the heartstrings of your inner-child and making you not only see magic in story, but feel it sewn deep down into the knitting of your soul.

And that’s an illusion that doesn’t need a stage, a prop, or a beautiful assistant.

Because stories are my magic- the magic that doesn’t come in a box. Magic that even these hands of mine can perform.

The Man In My Basement

The Man In My Basement
by C.S. Humble

PREFACE –
The human vessel has been compared to countless nouns and suggested to exist in even more states. Some of the analogies or beliefs are simple in phrase, yet titanic and revolutionary in concept. Plato told his philosopher brethren that the human soul was bicameral – existing in the realms of good and evil, light and shadow. Others have compared our consciousness to Ancient Greek plays, animal guides, Primordial elements, colors, and even aspects of dreamed up gods. The Song of Solomon depicts the human form using powerful agrarian analogies (my lover’s breasts are as two fawns, etc.), while modern conventions such as Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of THE SHINING compares the journey of the mind as if it were Theseus navigating the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Others say the human soul, mind, or consciousness can be compared to anything from a sailing ship to Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

The comparisons are as infinite as the sum of labels the human intellect can imagine or observe in the natural world. But, for us dear friend, in this particular journey of both confession and attempt at healing, let us borrow our particular analogy for these things from American Cinema.

Part I.
INVITATION –
Life is a house-
Built up over time, crafted from crude human materials such as emotions, experience and determined purpose of the human heart to experience something more powerful than mere survival.

Life is a house-
The foundation of which is not chosen by the home’s occupant but the final architecture is. Different gifts and disciplines are varying tools, which mean that no house may ever be completely similar or wholly unique; for we are influenced and we influence. There may be furnishings or patterns we see in others, and thus we work them into the wood, brick, and mortar of ourselves. And this element of the building ranges from the beautifully inspired adaptations of art seen in others, to the bland and shoddy work of the copycat builder.

Life is a house-
In that as it takes shape, it grows in both size and scope. Some homes are crafted with many rooms, which can be filled with dozens of friends or family members. Others craft a tiny, more intimate abode which can overflow with a single visitor. Some are palatial, others are forest cabins furnished with only the inherited beliefs and heirlooms of the house’s foundation-maker. Some have moats, drawbridges, which keep away The Other. There are also those which have no need for front door, gate, or latch to hide a single space; a house of pure hospitality.

Life is a house-
In that inside these safe places reside the Attic of the Mind, the Hearth of the Heart, and the Basement of the Soul. Inside these private and guarded places – and by guarded you may think I am using a pejorative – but is the Attic not in need of the stairs of understanding and introspection that they might be safely navigated? Does the fire of the Hearth not need a grate to catch the popping embers of all life’s hot and dangerous flame? Does not the soul require the quiet solitude of the safe place, where neither the chill of the human winter or the roasting fury of life’s summer may sully the treasures kept within?

Life is a house-
My attic, I choose to keep filled with tedious details, antiquated stories, both classic and obscure. My attic looks much taller and more broad from the exterior, for I greatly desire that people should see it. Part of me needs people to admire its sharp Victorian edges, which I have placed more effort into the filigree, than I have in the beams which support it. Seeing the attic from afar would suggest  I am an intellectual, a ponderer, perhaps even a scholar. To come inside would arrest those false conceptions. For upon climbing those slender, twisting steps you would see how the passage narrows and where the wood is warped. The door to the attic would look as though it were the portal into a Hobbit house; entry inside would prove much less fantastical.

I have invested in many bookshelves, but many of them are barren, covered in dust, serving as a holding place for intellectual cobwebs rather than tomes of wisdom.

Light would find purchase in the form of a single, glowering beam providing just enough light to see, but not examine – inquire but not investigate. And upon a full, quick viewing of that place, you’d likely say, “Oh, this is nothing like I thought it would be.” And quickly followed with, “When was the last time you cleaned up this dreadful place?”

“I’m getting around to it,” I’d grumble, knowing I should have let you see from afar but never inside. Because then you’d realize something true about me, and say, “Oh, you’re just an over-compensating coward, a paper-thin version of John Steinbeck with no real work of great story to claim as your own.”

Life is a house-

In that I’d invite you into the den of my emotions, where I keep a roaring fire blistering year-round. The hearth is made of large, unpolished stones, quickly mortared together in a seemingly violent, but passionate fashion. Though the home of the fire is crude and harsh, it is fully capable of handling the flame of life at its top. You’d see a hearth that contains a desire hot enough to melt iron into wax, burst stones into magma, and either brand with great affection or incinerate with flashing ferocity. The mantle of the hearth would be decorated with a pipe collection, a pen, and pages from a love letter written by the creator of all things. There would be a few chairs, enough for a select fellowship, but not nearly enough for a large company, though surely the room could endure if but only a few more seats.

And there would be a stack of the coal of sacrifice beside a mountain of rotting wood, for a fire so colossal requires both a great, careful maintenance and a willingness to endure corrupting solitude.

You’d ask to sit. Depending on my care for you, I would either offer you a chair or warn you that very few are allowed to sit so close to the contained conflagration; for it has burned many called friend and even more pathways known as bridges. And then, depending upon how much you care for me, you’d take a seat or say, “well, it is rather stuffy in here.

Then, something altogether strange would happen. You would hear a thundering blow crashing from down the circular cut hallway which leads to the back of the house. A maddened, cursing howl would cry out. The sound of calloused fists, smashing into a solid steel door, something akin to the noise a mallet makes when tenderizing meat, would fill your perked ears. The screaming voice would rise to a fever-pitch, eventually blaring out all other sound or raised voice of caution.

“What the hell was that,” you’d ask.

“Thank you for coming, but I’m afraid I must invite you to leave,” would be my quick rejoinder. And despite your valid protestations, I would either by flame of hearth or manipulative con, usher you out the door.

“Thank you. Please, call before coming again.”

You’d likely never call or visit again, because whoever can house a sound and fury so monstrous must either be a deranged jailer or a monster themselves. Perhaps both.

Part II.
CONFRONTATION –

My Life is a houseAnd there is a man in my basement.

He’s an angry man who grew up inside me; he is part foundation, part maturation, and he is wholly corrosive. He is a personal Frankenstein monster that has been stitched from the hatred in me, the selfishness sewn in me. Part alcoholic endeavor, though more the long fermentation of the dark and prominent rage at the nucleus of my soul.

He is a prophet of destruction.
He is an abominate force of unbridled wrath.
He is the thorn in my flesh.
An usurper of a soul which wants to desire love above all other things.
He breaks things – friendships, hopes, and joy.

The man in my basement is Rage, not childish petulance mutated into anger, but dark and destructive wrath; the Old Testament kind.

And he’s down in the basement of my soul, screaming for me to open the locked door that keeps him from scouring my home with his lunatic frenzy.

In the past I’ve mistakenly used him as a weapon; and he has proved to be all the gun I’ve ever needed in physical confrontations with other men, but he’s also come up short when the man he assaults just happens to be meaner and tougher than he is.

With him I’ve given out broken noses, black-eyes, beatings, and because of him I’ve endured all the same, and worse. I’d love to pretend he’s an animal I keep caged up, or a beast of the primal mind, but that’d be a lie. He isn’t a beast, he’s a master and I’m all too often made a slave to him.

Sometimes I can keep him locked up. Other times, he breaks free and the maniac in me is set loose on the one’s I love.

Life is a
house –
My house. There is a man in my basement and it is time for us to meet face to face. Because one of us has to go.

So, now that you’ve exited, I’ve decided to head down into the basement and finally have it out with this son-of-a-bitch.

I make my way down the now silent hallway, all the world an empty path before me. I think about going to the attic first, perhaps to gather my tools of logic. But I know they are impotent to repair that which is completely illogical. I pass by the hearth of my heart, and for a moment my bravery swells within me. Perhaps I will craft a torch and take it with me, but then I remember how much he loves passion and fire. How he uses it against me, to raze and burn and scorch. I realize that to take a weapon of any kind will only serve him.

So I take nothing.

I strip off the clothing of my gifts, charms, and social tricks. I remove all tokens of confidence, guile, and all rings of commitment.

For if I go down into the basement, I trod there alone.

Today I decide to remove all the chains he’s wrapped around me. I choose to be fettered to him not one more day.
Naked within myself, I approach the cold, silver door. I unhinge the seven deadbolts, which were supplied by God the Craftsman of All Good Things; they are Prophecy, Service, Education, Exhortation, Charity, and Mercy. Each one clatters open, leaving only a thick beam, which is braced against the center of the door. This beam, cut from the Tree of Life, which is rooted in God and drinks from the deathless wellspring of Love that flows through all reality. Power and majesty drips from the beam in the form of divine blood.

When I first lift the heavy slat I am surprised how light it is, and marvel at how something so fragile has jailed my monster for so long.

I set the beam aside, the crimson salve now covers my hands. I do not feel as though I need to wipe them clean, something about this sacrificial balm emboldens me.

Beam and bolts undone, the door creaks open. The weight of the frame causes the foundation to moan.

The aperture, like a maw, opens into a gaping darkness, swallowing light, warmth, all.

I see that the man in my basement has been busy during his quiet hours. He has torn away the walls, broken into the private spaces of my soul. He’s ransacked the Study of Joy, the wine cellar of merriment, and he’s robbed the vault where I once kept the currency of my self-worth.

This isn’t a basement anymore, it’s a labyrinth. A maze inside my own soul, of which I have no compass, map, or Virgil to assist in navigation. Stepping into the cleft, my feet touch rough, wet stones. He’s torn up the flooring, anticipating that if this day ever came, he’d hold every conceivable advantage. He’s smarter than I thought; probably examined the volume in the Attic which is dedicated to the strategy of War.

We both knew this day would come, I think, and he’s prepared for victory.

I, on the other hand, am naked and alone in a once familiar land which is now altogether alien. But my legs do not tremble, my footfalls are without trepidation, and my blood-soaked hands are capable. For though he has changed the landscape, this underground soul is mine – and I refuse to have its ownership torn from me.

The path twists and turns, the echos of my past haunt me. The same ghosts what oppressed Odysseus, the same patriarchal spirit that drove Hamlet mad, and even Dickens’ wraiths of Past, Present, and doomed future whisper from the dark, hollow corridors. Some of them tell me to turn back, “For here there be Dragons,”. Others press me forward with small consolations of love and confidence. I shut out all of them, closing off the mechanisms of both fear and pride.

My cowardice diminishes.

My hope, however, does not.

I do not encounter any traps or hidden pitfalls because the man in the basement doesn’t want to stop me short, he wants to crush me in the center of all things.

The bending maze, finally navigated to inevitable awaiting conflict, opens up to a golden hall. The man in my basement is sitting upon a throne of bones, the trophy carcasses of friendships he killed, losses I afforded him, and murdered loves he’s collected from decades of potent warmongering.

There is an empty fireplace behind him, for I have kept my heart away from his flame long enough to ensure there would be no fuel for his dark fire.

A long table squats in front of his gory throne. It is filled with a ruined feast of rotted memories, his past victories, and black tankards filled with the blood he has spilled. On these tankards are the inscribed names of the men I’ve beaten with my fists, the people who I’ve manipulated and lied to, or wounded with my words.

Torches of an unnatural fire line the cobblestone walls, kept burning by the greasy oils of pride, vanity, and self-love.

The man himself is nothing like what I expected. He is handsome, if but in a dark fashion. A regal brow and confidence-man smile greet me with the first words I’ve ever heard from his lips.

“Hello, friend.”

The moniker he places on me swells the rage within. He closes his eyes in what can only be described as a sexual crudity. He gains from my anger, and I am further diminished.

After his pleasure subsides, he smiles again and says, “You like what I’ve done with the place?” He then gestures all around the room with an upturned palm.
Without considering his question, I realize that I am speaking to him, and to my horror, I call him by name-

“Hello, Seth,”  I say.

“Hello, Seth,” he returns. Then, slowly and methodically, he rises out of his iron seat. He’s taller than me.

Because of course he is. And he’s stronger than me too, I know, for his forearms are like cables of tensile steel, his legs like pillars carry with them booming footsteps. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“So have I,” I say.

“Liar,” he says, as he takes one of the pewter tankards into his thick, embattled hands, and then drinks the dark wine of red vitality stolen from the veins of my neighbors, friends, enemies, family, and lovers.

Of all  the men you have chosen to face, you have avoided me. For in the upper chambers of this house, you have hidden from me in your fear of me, and in your times of desperation you unleashed me,” he says. And he’s closer now, stopping his progress to perch upon the edge of the table in front of me.
I’m not afraid of you,” I say.

When will you learn that your lies are no defense to the truths you keep hidden away from all others? When, Craftsman, will you accept that you are bound to me, forever yoked to the strength I provide. When will you finally understand that I am your war-like shield? Embrace me, and I will make you strong. Fully yield to me, and I will take away your weakness, your false modesty, your strained, meager endurance.”

I will not yield,” I say.

You will. Or, so I swear, I will eventually break down your paltry gate in all my majesty, with enough power to bring down this place you call home. I will break all your love, crush your hearth with the sole of my boot, and topple the little ivory tower you hide from me in,” he says.

“I will not yield,” I say again, the words more bold.

“Then all of you is forfeit,” he says, with grim satisfaction.

“No. No longer will this ghost of you haunt me. No longer will I make war. No longer will I be a slave to such a primative thing, such as you are,” I say, as the tips of my bloody fingers slide along my trembling hands.

He laughs again, the sound of death’s rasping cackle resonates within the throne room of my soul.

And what, little storyteller, makes you believe you have a choice in the matter?” He asks.

I gather my heart and mind together in that moment, not as weapons, but as penetrating light. “I have the choice because the free-will of this vessel is mine to claim. For even though I have wounded others and spilled their blood, I am now marked with the blood which was spilled for me,” I say with growing measure and lift my palms to face him, that he might see that the blood of sacrifice is higher than the blood of selfish gain. “I choose and no longer obey. I do not yield because you are not the master of this house; you are a resident, that in my youth and foolishness I leaned on because to have victory was more important than to know the fullness of life’s deep and abiding fruit. I choose others over myself. I choose love, Seth. And I choose it now, forever.

Suddenly, he is about me, fast and terrible is the wrath of the man in my basement. His hands grip my throat, and he crushes me down into the hard, unforgiving earth beneath us.

And what of these hands, weakling? What of the fists that have protected you from the harm other men would have wrought upon you? What of these, O’ Peacemaker, these weapons?  These capable fingers that have broken bones, written cutting remarks, and held the sword of discipline your weak mind could never wield?He screams, and his breath is the rank of a death tomb, his spittle a vitriolic acid that sears into my brow and mouth. His grip is cyclopean in strength, his malice a pure froth about his lips. With all that is within me I want to beat him back. I want to cast him off me, and throw down wounding blows that he once taught me in the desperate midnight hours of my life.

But, instead, I see the blood on his hands. And I feel the blood on mine. Through choking gasps I manage – “I am done with your strength.”

Shock smooths his once wrinkled maniac face, and he recoils from me. For now he shows his own fear.

I stand, over his diminished form, and say to him now, and to you dear reader, for forever, as I lift my palms covered in the zoe of Christ’s crucifixion-

These are no longer mine own hands. My heart is no longer set upon my own devices. My mind, no longer a grave. For I have discovered the One who can quell the raging sea inside of me. These hands shall make war no more, these hands will never again be raised in the horror of wrath. I choose goodness, I choose life sewn into the lives of others. I choose kindness, meekness, and above all I choose love. For now, and until the day of my death, these hands shall be the hands which comfort the sick, hands which heal the leper, pull the lame up to their feet. My voice shall no longer make destitute the heart of another, because I choose no longer to curse the name of my neighbor. I choose to be a herald of that eternal Gospel which in its symphony gives life abundantly.

I choose love, Seth.

I choose to put to death all that is hatred, wrathful, and cruel within me. And with that sacrifice, the sacrifice of all the crude weapons or hollow victories you’ve given me. I choose cross-death, over your throne. I choose sacrifice, Seth. And I sacrifice you, that I might never wound another heart so long as I draw breath.

Honestly, I thought that in this victory over him, the man in my basement would disappear; vanish into oblivion.

He did not.

He looked at me defeated. The throne room around us had changed, however, for it was no longer a monarchs ruling chamber. For victory over him in his titan labyrinth, had transformed the room into a small, but brightly lit tabernacle.
A Holy of Holies erected in the temple of my soul.

He was defeated, but offered one final word, “You can never be rid of me, Disciple of the Lamb.” 

To which, as I turned to leave, said, “No, because you’re forever a part of me. But your power is broken, your influence shattered against the Rock of Ages. I know you’ll always be here, but I need no longer bolt the door to this church. Because in unshackling myself from you, I have set you free from me. And perhaps one day the portion of you that is in me will be transformed into something good, loving, and pure.

And so, my dear friends who have endured this journey of mine, I say to you in closing –

Life is a house
And through great love and sacrifice  we choose not only the architecture, and furnishings of our inner workings, but we also choose its occupants. I pray you’ll come visit my home, to see the newly renovated areas of myself, for within this place that I call home, I believe I have a new found love that I’d like to share with you. And you, with me.

Why Loving Homosexuals Means Letting Them Marry: A Christian Perspective

Originally published by THE GOOD MEN PROJECT on April 15, 2013 –

Why Loving Homosexuals Means Letting Them Marry: A Christian Perspective
by C.S. Humble

 We’ve forgotten love.

And I am so sorry for it.

I’m pained so deeply by these Christian statements on the social, spiritual, and ethical implications of allowing same-sex couples the right to be married in the eyes of the United States government. We, and I say we, because I am a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, who through his life, death, and resurrection has defeated the powers of death and destruction for the sake of all mankind in order that we might have life. I am a part of the communal body of believers who swear in their life that they believe that Christ died, was buried, and then was risen from the dead by the deep and universal power of God.

Because I am part of that body I feel compelled to speak out – compelled to rebuke that which is hate and cradle that which is the truth found only in the grace and power of Christ Jesus our Lord.

I read the statements of bigotry and discrimination put out against our homosexual brothers and sisters, and I just want to apologize. I just want to hide away and not have to keep telling them that I don’t hate them. God doesn’t hate them, but rather that he loves them more immeasurably than they can ever know. A love that surpasses the ultimate final knowledge mankind can ever attain; a love rooted in an unimaginable light; a love so powerful that it shakes the very foundations of reality and puts to rest the powers of death.

We worship a Messiah who began a kingdom in a death tomb, where he sits upon a mercy seat, and decreed a line in the sand when the religious princes of the day wanted to stone the unclean. In the eyes of the law, rather how they saw the law, thought it best to put a hooker to death – to smash her brains in with stones because she was an abomination in the law scrolls of their ancestors. They were wrong. The Law is not the measure of our faith; it is not the full immutable truth. We ourselves are no longer bound to the stones of the Hebrews, we are no longer fettered to blood sacrifice, holy wars, and oppression of women and children.

The pharisees were wrong to call for a stoning.

And the Church is wrong to refuse homosexuals the right to marry.

How can we attest to love gay and lesbian creations of God when we purport to them that they shouldn’t be afforded the same rights that we as heterosexuals enjoy.

We are called to love above all things, love in spite of hatred, persecution, religious belief, and even under penalty of death. We are called to stare into the face of our persecutors and shoulder the yoke of love with every fiber of our being.

Love endures persecution, but also rebukes it. Love hopes for all true and glorious things. Love never fails.

Love surrenders.

It surrenders itself unto death. Submits itself to all others. Makes itself a servant to both the oppressed and the oppressors.

Love never fails because it is sufficient unto itself. Love never fails because true love dispenses with selfishness, in the way that perfect humility does away with modesty. Love never fails because true love does not see gender, race, or class, rather it only sees the immaculate creation of God in its pure and glorious light.

True love, the love Christians are called into, never seeks to condemn or oppress, but delights in submitting.

“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. The law and the prophets are summed in this.”

To love our neighbors is to provide them every single right that we entertain as heterosexuals. There is no other course!

This isn’t an issue about Grace, it is an issue that is chiefly rooted in justice. It is unjust to segregate a section of God’s creation because we cannot grasp how they could love someone of the same gender. It is a social crucifixion! Where instead of Christ on the cross, we choose to nail equality to the dogwood and let it suffocate and die, and then cheer when it has taken its final breath. We’ll say : “WE WON, WE WON, THE HOMOSEXUALS DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO MARRY! MARRIAGE IS OURS! JOY BE TO GOD, WE KEPT WHAT WAS OURS!” Instead of sharing that which we know to be the deepest commitment we can make to another human. We want to refuse marriage to homosexuals not because they are different, but because we know it proves they are equal with heterosexuals. And if they are equal with heterosexuals, we’ll be afraid to ask, “What if being gay isn’t a sin”, and “If being gay isn’t a sin, what does that say about my entire paradigm of what I think about sin and what it means to love unconditionally.”

We aren’t worried about what allowing gays to marry will mean for them, we’re afraid of what it will do to us. Because it will force us to ask questions.

Instead we’ll do murder. Sacrifice it to our vanity and religious zealotry, because we refused to love when our calling was to forever love without question or reservation.

 We will one day look back and see the historical record of Christian masses standing opposite an oppressed minority, screaming like the pharisees who collected stones, espousing puritanical dogma, and serving a political agenda that stems from a root planted in a garden of selfishness. It will be a time that we’ll tell our children we chose to serve ourselves and not Christ. And we were wrong to do so.

April 15, 2013

Confession is Good for The Soul, Love is Better

By C.S. Humble

This might just be me, but spiritually, I get lonely. There are times when I feel so empty that the only appropriate analogous descriptive noun would be ‘abyss’. Sometimes I feel like I’ve over complicated the gospel, other moments like I’ve simplified the eternal mystery of God so that I can have a reason to feel superior to others who embrace the mystical nature of Christ with childlike faith. I love to peacock and tout my own collected volumes of trivial knowledge, which I’ve stored away in my brain where real wisdom would be a better furnishing, so that people will think that I don’t struggle with an intellectual inferiority complex.

I suppose that I’m not the only person who over compensates through the use of verbal trickery and a suped-up vocabulary, but it feels good to let it out and let people know that I only do that because I can’t afford to be seen as intellectually vulnerable. Appearing incapable is one of my greatest fears; many of my closest friends will tell you that at my root I’m just a paper Napoleon, who struggles with math, giving grace, and cringes at the thought of suffering for those who suffer. I’m a Christian who has shunned the thought of entering back into the fold of the community of God because I’m afraid I’d get burned again by people who rejected who I acknowledged myself to be.

I don’t think it would be fair to label myself a hypocrite, because I do strive to live the life that I attest to be ‘the Way’ in my words. Falling down though,that I’m quite good at. I’ve been so very good at sins which I’m able to hide away from all of the public; tuck them away into pockets of self-deprecating humor, harmless cajoling, and help them find camouflage deep in my heart – the place you cannot see.

I’m a guilty man who finds ultimate liberty in the submission to a God of mercy. I’m a former bigot who, through the compassion of Christ, was able to begin to love my neighbor. I’ve been able to put away racism and objectification of women because of an equality made known to me through my marriage to my Wife, and a covenant made with God. I am a man who is fettered to two emotional pillars – isolation and attention whore; I’d either have people leave me entirely alone or espouse how funny, smart, or endearing I am. Again, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way or knows this type of existence –an existence that is identified with brokenness or lack of worth –but I do think that it was time to be honest.

The message of Jesus teaches that there is a deep and eternal value on each human life, God cares for and loves the bigot as much as he does the orphan, the scales of his love remain balanced when the life of the murderer is weighed against that of the widow. It is a love that surpasses the sum of human knowledge, logic, or any reasoning system that our minds are capable of cogitating. It’s a love, that to me, seems unfairly fair. And I say fair, but what I mean is just.

The weight of who we are, the yoke of all our internal terribleness or intrinsic wonderfulness, in each of us is equally valued by God. The criminal cross of Christ, the instrument of death wrought upon God by humanity, has been neutered; the power of death, fear, darkness, and obliteration have been jailed away, never to encroach upon the true and illuminated reality of life in God.

Rejoice!
Love has won the day.

So perhaps what I am saying, through this form of confession and homily, is that you and I are here, living in this world which seems surrounded by plague, death, hatred, intolerance, ignorance, destitution, hunger, poverty, and an indefatigable force of evil; but this is not the reality. The reality is that despite our pain and sorrows and struggles on this earthly plane there is a helper of the helpless, a light in the darkness, a God who abides.

A strong tower.
A fount of every blessing.
A bridegroom whose love washes away all shame, hurt, and unclean thing.

So maybe you are like me, a pilgrim who has come so very far in who I once was, but is struggling each day to understand who I need to be. Or maybe you are someone who feels lost and alone, thrown away by an uncaring world, and sees no reason to go on. Perhaps it’s a darkness that’s fallen over you because of a death, or a loss of incalculable measure. We all have the seams of imperfection cracking and creaking all the time in our souls – the midnight hour always upon us.

I’m not going to ask you to convert. I’m not going to tell you to ‘pray for Jesus to come into your heart’. I’m not going to give you some antiquated parable, that I’d probably screw up anyway, to make you feel better. I’m tired of the of the social internet rules that make people ‘friends’ but not a community. I want us to be honest with one another and start giving one another real support without the demand of theological agreement or unified orthodoxy.

Rather, I’ll only say that I’m a sinner who asks for grace and hopes for mercy, and if you struggle like I do, I’m happy to tell you that I’m here. I’ll help you endure. I’ll be a strong shoulder to lean on.

No matter who you are.

I love you.