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.

The Joyful Christian – Disciple Now 2014 Homily/Recap

The following is a sermon that I gave on Saturday, February 15th, 2014, to the South Main Baptist Church Youth group for the final session of their disciple now. It is part homily and part testimony, enjoy it if you have the time. Comments are welcome. – C.S. 

The Joyful Christian:

Longing, Losing, and Living in Joy.

By C.S. Humble

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing- to reach the mountain, the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place I ought to have been born.”
-C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Let me set the scene for you – It’s 1989, I’m six years old and my grandmother has taken me to the Scurry County library to rent a movie. I was spending the weekend with her and my grandfather, so as a treat she is going to let me pick out any movie I want to watch. And so, I’m going through the movies, on VHS, and I see a cover that is going to change my life forever. There is a young man, clad in white, holding a glowing sword. The title reads, Star Wars.

*A New Hope, in me.
The first time longing touched my heart was this moment – Luke on Tatooine, Binary Sunset.  (watch the link for reference – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gpXMGit4P8 ) Nobody brings it home like John Williams. You see I identified with Luke Skywalker in that moment – Luke grew up on a desert planet, I grew up in the middle of the desert while my father worked in the oil patches of West Texas. And like Luke, when I look at those two burning stars in the far reaching horizon, I realized that I wanted something fantastic in my life, something impossible, adventure. I wanted my life’s song to have resonance and most of all, I wanted to get away from the shackles that my homeland had fettered on me.

And then, just too insane to stop there, I immediately watched The Empire Strikes Back
    *Luke on Cloud City

    Vader tells Luke he is his father. *Spoiler Alert*  I completely understood Luke’s horror, this creature inside the machine was pure unadulterated evil, the scourge of the galaxy, a black knight of destruction and pain. I connected with that emotion for in my own father I had seen the evils of alcoholism, the obliterating power of rage, and what it meant to destroy someone else. I could feel Luke’s great dismay when he finds out for the first time that his Father is an entity fully encompassed by evil. And so, Luke, refuses to be like his father, and tosses himself over into the depths of a city among the clouds, rather than join his merciless patriarch. 

And of course that brings us to my single favorite film of all time, (yes, single favorite) The Return of the Jedi

    * Luke and Vader on Endor
        You’ve all seen the scene, though likely you passed over it because no one is trying to cut down another person with a lightsaber. But Luke surrenders himself to Vader, submits himself to this evil man, and offers up himself to try and tell his father that there is still good in him. Which in the end proved to be true. So, after seeing the original Star Wars trilogy, I learned that I wanted to be more than I was, be nothing like my father, but that I had to love my father despite all the great hatreds and evils he harbored in his heart. My father wasn’t a good man, but he was mine, and that meant he needed my love.

And from that interaction on, my imagination, my childhood, my worldview would never be the same. Much of who I am is informed by stories; fairy tales, adventures, epics, poetry, plays, films, novels, and comic books.
* I love Batman because he’s always prepared. Because he weights himself down in fear and suffering, so that he can stare a living city of murder and insanity in the eyes and say, “Not another one. Never again.”
* I love Sherlock Holmes because he’s the embodiment of the belief that men can thwart evil if they wholly dedicate themselves to the power of intellect, reason, and observation of the world around them.

* I learned how to be cool from Bogart and have for so long tried to emulate his speaking pattern in my own voice.
* I memorized lines of Shakespeare because his words captivated something powerful within me, that made me want to be great. (Here I performed the first fifty lines of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech which you can view here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM&index=7&list=FLZ3t_D1t23Kbgo-55hncT_Q)
* I found my drive to be a great man from the lines of Tennyson, –
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

But out of all those narratives, out of all those stories, all of which bring me an indelible happiness, there is only one narrative that brought me Joy, and it did not do so gently. You see for so long, all I wanted in life was to tell great stories. I wanted to move people with words, because words have such a power to move me.

 

Let me set the scene for you again- It’s 1998, I’m a freshman in high school. I am a racist, a bigot, a liar, and over all, a pretty ridiculous person wrapped up in myself. And then, one day, like any other day, I go to church with my Brother. Where a man in a suit is talking and he’s informing me about another man, a man who wore a seamless white garment, who came and lived that I might know him, and who died so that I might live. The man in the suit told me that all I needed to do was give myself over to this man named Jesus, and that I’d go to Heaven.
    Didn’t think I was going to find a better deal than that. So I went up, accepted my sinfulness and let Jesus take it from me. And for the longest time, I was happy with that. I was so very happy to be a Christian, who just so happened to still be a racist and a bigot, and a hater of my neighbor. But I was happy. I had Christian friends, Christian community, and Christian music on K-Love. Positive. Encouraging. K-Love. I had it made in the shade with my pink lemonade. I wanted for nothing then, thinking that I had found Joy in my youth.

Then came college, and a lot of suffering – my Grandfather dying, Nanny Joy getting cancer and dying, my parents divorcing, having everything I’d ever held true about the Bible being challenged, trying to figure out who I was, who I was going to be, working for a church that in the end cast me out because of my beliefs on love and acceptance. And when all those things happened I realized that I had not only lost my happiness, but that I’d never known true Joy.

And I don’t know when it happened, probably when I started accepting the fact that God loved me for who I was, and not for who I had been or who I was trying to become. Me. And that’s when I found Joy. Just as I am. As he loves you. Longs for you. Has given up everything for you. And now lives with you.

The Mountain, Beauty, Natural Longing
The Heart of David –

God, through Jesus Christ, has shown us that mountain C.S. Lewis was talking about, the place where not only all the beauty has come from, but the place from which all truth originated. That truth is this – that you need no longer feel shame for your infirmities, for they are covered by love; that you no longer need feel alone, unwanted, or afraid, for yours is the God who endures with you, weeps with you, triumphs with you, and immeasurably loves you. He is the God who finds his ultimate strength when you, his beloved child choose to submit and love when indifference is easier. God finds Joy in your service to others, and so will you.

But we all endure wanting to be good enough, longing for someone to invest in us, tell us that they love us. Because life, and its cruel variables are far too tremendous to endure alone. We need the love of others to find Joy. And we need to give that love even more so, because it is the application of your love on another which blossoms the fruits of Joy in the human soul.

But I know that it is hard, I know that like David during his flight into the wilderness, you and I have, how many times prayed, “How long must I pray to you O’Lord?! How long must I wait? How long will you keep your face from me.

Don’t I matter?
Don’t you love me?
Am I not enough?
If I’m not enough for you, then why was I even born?”

To which, the God of your fathers and mothers says, “For infinite happiness, you can step out into it at any moment.” You see God isn’t up in Heaven alone. He is amongst us, actively participating in our reality. All true Joy is found in that love. Loving God and loving the everyday neighbor – The homeless, the despised, the criminal, the orphan, the widow, the prostitute, the lazy, and those who the world declares as entirely without worth. For as Jesus said, speaking on loving one another as the purest Truth in John chapter 15, “These things I have spoken to you so that my Joy may be found in you, and that your Joy might be complete.

The Transformation of our Fundamental Reality
The Deep Magic of Christ’s Story –

Like I said, my whole life has been informed by narratives, stories which touch the root of my heart, and there is such a story that is not only powerful, but also true. You see, there came a day, many years ago, long before you were born, when the powers of death and darkness waxed to their height, when humanity and sin collaborated together, and the Son of God was crucified and died the death of all men. Darkness came and swallowed up all light. Death began to sing his victory song.
But then, the power of God swooped down over all the earth, as it had not done since the very creation of all things. The fundamental reality of all the universe broke and was rewritten by its creator. And three days later, the fulfilment of man’s Joy came wrapped in the form of a resurrected man, and on that day life prevailed. Life prevailed through resurrection. Misery, Death, and Enslavement were forever crushed, for through the resurrection a tomb becomes a Throne of Power, from which sits a Prince clothed in white, the funeral garb of a dead man has become a robe of life.

God is victorious, through this Prince in White. But who is he? He has so many names and titles. 

We call him Jesus of Nazareth, but in truth he is the Root of David, High Priest of Man, Balm of Gilead, Prince of Heaven, He that sits upon the Mercy Seat, Sin-Destroyer, Peaceful Champion, Son of God, Healer of All Affliction. He that is mighty in power, mightier still in submission; Beloved Counselor, Gardener of all Fruit of Joy. Messiah. Helper. Lover. King of Resurrection. Chain-breaker. Alpha. Omega. The Eternal Fount from which flows the springs of deathless power.
For He who shall wipe away all your tears, save all your days, avert all calamities, is here.

And his greatest desire is that you might have life, and the eternal Joy which is sewn into it.

It was through my interaction with this man, this counselor by which I found that Joy. The bright flame kindled in the heart of man which cannot be extinguished by pain, loss, or death.

You see, to Christ, to God, none of you are just someone, none of you are just anyone.
You matter. As you are. God in his great mercy has declared to all the void of the cosmos that you matter.
Right now you are tiny candles of faith shining a small but infinitely important light into the world around you. But you cannot remain candles all your life, for if you cling to the capstone of Joy found in Christ alone, and are willing to be shaped and molded, you will find your foundation and ultimately be architected into towering lighthouses. Rock steady beacons illuminating the holy light of God’s love and mercy into the vast, stormy seas of life’s tremulous ocean.
And from that moment on, you’ll spend all the rest of your days guiding others to safe harbor. To Home. Where Joy is waiting.