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.

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.