On Binary Sunsets

I’m not really a “crier”, but I turn into a blubbering baby when I watch the original Star Wars films. There are only a few films that can do this to me: Lonesome Dove, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring are probably the only other two.

In a previous post entitled The Incorruptible Son, I touched the tip of the iceberg of the sentiment I feel when I watch Luke Skywalker take those fabled steps out of his home- a dusty, sci-fi hovel on that famous desert planet Tatooine. The first time I saw that moment, sitting in the back room of my late Grandmother’s house in Snyder, Texas, I was nine years old and it filled me with an inexhaustible longing that has shaped my life. You see, this was a story about a boy who looked out into a desolate horizon and saw all the adventure waiting for him among the stars. His gifts, all of his natural talents are completely wasted in his current station in life. And so, we are allowed this short and powerful glimpse into the heart of a boy who, more than anything, wants to get past the yellow sands of a mundane life and find all the miraculous things floating above him in that star filled galaxy. He is the child orphan who remains talented but unused. A revolver always cocked but never fired or a sword expertly crafted that impatiently remains sheathed. In that moment, we see the longing in Luke’s heart, because he knows, as so many of us have known in our own lives, that life is less when the special things about us are jailed away because of circumstance, but that existence is grand and filled with wonder when our gifts are given means by which we may exercise them.

There are moments within Luke’s narrative that touched me deeply when I was young and honestly they cut me deeply these days.Those who know me best understand that Sherlock Holmes is my favorite fictional character, but Luke Skywalker is the one who I identify with the most. I remember the first time I saw Luke walk out of his home, alone and among the falling suns of that fictional world, while watching him and being absolutely crushed by John Williams’ score, I thought, “You’re just like me.”

Is that silly? Probably.
But it’s true.

I identified with the loneliness of his longing and now firmly believe that longing and loneliness are inescapably married within the human heart. That scene, seen by a nine year old boy of an oil-field worker, and later by a thirty-one year old father of two, pulls at my soul. When I see Luke looking at those twin stars, I cannot help but remember the desire that Luke’s narrative put into me. This was primal as a boy, influential as a teenager, and even now as a grown man I cannot help but be moved by the power of the singular notion behind what this scene represents. It pulls on the viewer’s need to matter in their world.

Our need to have measurable weight in our lives and the lives of others. That none of us are just the sum of our parts. It elicits the hope that our lives are not dictated by our circumstances.That despite the disbelief of others, we do matter. Though we might be orphans to a cruel parent, citizens of derelict places, or consistently told that our lives are just candles edging toward their own extinction – this scene of a falling sunset, this piece of art, communicates that hope is worth holding on to. What we do in our own narrative changes the stories of others. While you may feel like a child, who has only changed the world in the amount of sand he’s kicked up on the dunes to which he is relegated, you can actually be heroic. With the heart and hope of a child who houses a longing heart, you too can escape the desert of your circumstances. It all starts by walking out of the prison huts either we, or others, or the world has built for us, being courageous enough to take the steps necessary to crest the top of the hill of our doubt, and then braving to look toward the stars. Amid that, dusty twin sun horizon is where dreams are waiting.

Dreams, which are of course, the infant beginnings of transformation.

A Multitude of Infirmties, Part IV: The Aimless Journey

My pastor Steve Wells has been going through the story of Joseph in Genesis, his series of sermons revolve around the idea of, “God’s dream for your life,” and how that can often times put you in conflict with yourself, your family, and the world around you. Last week Steve preached on how Joseph suffered through an incredible journey of trials ultimately to end up where he could serve God in a place where his innate talents and the culmination of his life’s experiences found their true purpose. Before he was Pharaoh’s highest counselor, Joseph was beaten, betrayed, enslaved, imprisoned, disowned, harassed; keeping his integrity in all these moments helped refine Joseph into a man that could be trusted. Joseph is not a brilliant man. Joseph is not a wholly capable man.

But Joseph is reliable.

And it is his reliability in the use of his gifts which propels him forward in his story.

Steve says, “God has a dream for your life.”

And I want to believe Steve; all of me to the depth of all I have the potential to be, wants me to believe him.

Suffering six months of unemployment cuts through my trust in that statement. For the last decade I have been striving to become an author who could support himself and his family through the written word. Up to this point in my journey, I have failed to attain that goal.

And so, I think that it is appropriate to ask the question, “What is God’s dream for my life?” What is the purpose of the hard work into the gifts of rhetoric, oratory, and the written word if I cannot ferment these gifts to a livable wage. These tens of thousands of hours I have put into being an effective storyteller and I have yet to reach a sum of monetary value on my work that allows me to do anything more than pay an occasional water bill.

I am lost on an aimless journey. My circumstances took me out of vocational ministry and God planted in my heart this truth -That I am a storyteller. I am a writer.

I’m not a writer because I chose to be.  I am a writer because when I’m not writing I feel worthless.

When I’m not writing or working on writing I feel like I’m failing. Failing to be as good as I can be. Failing to provide for my family. Failing to work harder than others.

Writing is the foundation of my self worth. The act of storytelling allows me to believe that I matter.

My life journey is propelled forward when I move you (the reader) with narrative. Your joys and sorrows in my work, they are what give me value.

That isn’t a healthy perspective of self-value. I know that. I know that the journey of life is meant to be experienced, not just lived. But I cannot change that within me rests an inconsolable need to shape the world around me. To help you feel the great enthusiasms of my heroes, to be wounded by their pain, and experience life at its top when they triumph.

I’ve always wanted to be a champion. I’ve always wanted to inspire people. But mostly, I want my work to matter. I want it to matter to you. And I can’t make you like it. I can’t make it move you. All I can do is show up every night, after my children and wife are in bed, to a place where I have no one to keep me accountable but myself, and get to work stringing words together. I don’t have a boss who will dock my pay if I don’t hit those thousand words a night. I don’t have a manger who will take me through my writing and say, “Hey, this is good, but let’s stay away from this.” It’s all up to me to succeed and because I am not succeeding, I have only myself to blame.

I don’t have a compass for my life’s journey.  Navigating this career is a lot like trying to find water in the desert with a divining rod – I’ve seen people do it, but it looks like a magic trick when they do – and as I’ve already said, I’m no magician. I want to be great and I’m pretty sure I’m not there yet.

A writer’s competition for greatness isn’t found in his peers, it’s found in the dead.

Shakespeare, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Melville, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Cormac McCarthy, Updike, just to name the greats you’ve heard of. Their phantoms are ever present on the mind of the aspiring writer.

“If I could only write in a beautiful simplicity like Steinbeck…”

“If I could only paint an October tragedy like Bradbury…”

“If I could only dare like Melville…”

“…craft beauty with language like Shakespeare. Then I’ll be good enough.”

If I could only support my son’s college tuition with royalties…

If I could only pay the mortgage with that novel advance…

Would those things make me happy? Probably not.

Would they give the weight to my work that I’ve always wanted? No.

Because to me, ashamedly I admit, nothing is ever good enough. The heart of my writing is split between a burning desire to be great and an unshakable dissatisfaction in the work I produce.

I think that Steve is right. God does have a dream for my life- a dream rooted in faith, hope, and love toward the service of others in the name of Christ Jesus. A dream that will satisfy this mind and soul of mine which have been forever discontent toward anything but the very best. So I suppose that like Joseph, I will simply keep striving. I’ll keep working through my self-doubt.

Right now I’m wandering, though putting one foot in front of the other each day. Striving. Seeking. Hoping to find the place where I’m called to serve with the gifts I’ve been given. Doing all of these things with an unyielding dedication that is simply content in this – If I fail as an author, it will be because I lacked a high enough talent, not because I refused to throw myself into the furnace of dedication.

I’m wandering right now, on a seemingly alien landscape, and I’m clinging to the notion that Steve mentioned of Joseph – that while all these things are happening, “The Lord was with him.”

I hope the Lord is with me. I trust that He is, but the razor of doubt is cutting away at that all the time.

 

I am wounded by doubtl. 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 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.

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.

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.