A Captain Indomitable: On the Importance of Heroes

This past Sunday I taught a bible study lesson for a wonderful group of people via South Main Baptist Church. The title of the lesson was, Comic Books: An American Mythology. It started out exactly like you’d expect –

“Hi, My name is Seth, I write comic books and here is how they have affected us in the history of our society and also how they have affected me. ”

At first I was a bit nervous, mostly because I used to teach four bible studies a week in my early twenties, but I haven’t taught adults in over a decade. Doubt and self-criticism pick up the microphone in my head and they start orating Ad nauseam  all the old rhetoric of a self-defeating man.

“You know you’re doing this for the spotlight. You aren’t doing it for them, you’re doing it for yourself.”
or
“Who are you to give a discussion on anything? Do you really think these people want to hear about comic books? You’re a loon.”
And yes, my inner critics use words like ‘loon’, probably while smoking pipes, lifting snifters of brandy, and pretentiously kicking their feet up in some metaphysical Victorian era gentleman’s social club.  My intelligence may not be broad or deep, but it is very fancy.

Once I get past the introduction I can feel all the old enthusiasms start to wake back up. When this happens, it’s like an internal reformation- like my soul is stretching out of fetal position,  the warmth of love putting marrow back into spiritual bones, and taking a strong but forgotten posture.  The teacher in me is re-birthed. Born again.  And like all resurrection moments in our lives, be they grand or wonderfully tiny, it came out of nowhere. And while I was teaching about Superman as a Messiah character, inside my head all I could think about was the scene from Pulp Fiction when Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) says –

“Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt God’s touch, God got involved.”

Then going forward it wasn’t like using old muscles I hadn’t stretched in a decade, rather as I moved on into Batman as a narrative of the ‘Suffering Servant’, it started to feel like there was a machinery in me, sputtering and chuffing to life at first, but then heat and steam and smoke and power and motion come whirling De Anima. I can see on their faces that I’m telling them a story, and they are with me on that journey. We’ve stopped being a group of adults sitting in a beautiful living room having a discussion. At that point we are travelers on a road, a company finding fellowship in the narrative birthed out of funny books people once designed to keep the minds of children suspended in wonder.

We get to Spider-Man.

That’s when the story starts weighing down harder.

spider-man

I try my hardest to not get choked up by that page every time I see it.

“Why?” you ask.  Peter Parker isn’t real. The weight crushing him down isn’t real. Power-imbuing radioactive spiders aren’t real.

Here’s why – Because the character being crushed by the machinery isn’t Spider-man, it’s me. It’s you.  The machinery pressing down on his shoulders isn’t some large engine, it’s the weight of life. It’s the tremendous task of living, yoked over a man who in the face of oblivion doesn’t wilt to the pressure. He’s a man who says, “I can and I will.”

Peter Parker is a man who has lost, and lost, and lost and still chooses to care about the world that will ultimately destroy him. Because carrying the massive weight of life is worth the reward of the journey. To harbor great enthusiasm, to swing from metaphorical heights and smile in the face of absolute calamity and dare to win the day.

To strive.
To seek.
To find.
And not to yield.

And then just when I think I’m going to make it through this bible study, which is already a renaissance to my love for teaching, I come to the hero that I most identify with – Captain America. I identify with Steve Rogers on a primal level because I grew up a smaller kid. I was furiously picked on by the cowards they call bullies and I always wanted to be more than what my genetics afforded to me. I wanted to be fast; I am slow. I wanted to be strong; even at my strongest I’ll never come close to what nature has gifted to other men. I wanted to be brilliant; what I am is intellectually average. But more than anything I wanted to be capable.

I wanted my life to matter.

But mostly, what I wanted was to be this guy:

CaptainAmerica

 

The problem is that I was this guy:

Yeah. The one holding the trashcan lid.

So, back to Sunday, I’m talking with these folks about Captain America and I say that we all have felt like Steve Rogers; intellectually frail, physically weak, or emotionally incapable, we’ve all known days where we were 97 pounds soaking wet. We’ve all felt weak.  Steve Rogers, a man whose story teaches us about what an indomitable will to do good can accomplish, taught me about myself: no matter the bullies, or the doubts, or the weaknesses given to me at birth, I can take all the punches. I can keep thrusting myself in to the bloody fray. Though I may know defeat time and time again, I will take the blows life has to offer and with a resolute heart, unconquered I can look my oppressors in the eye and say-

“I can do this all day.”

And I can.

Not because Captain America is real, but because the anthem of perseverance in the character’s voice is true.

And I manage to make it through that without my voice breaking, without my eyes tearing up (just barely) and then I realized that in order to tie it all together all I had to do was show the single most Gospel comic book page in the history of sequential art.

supermanrooftop

That single page is about a deity interacting with a broken human being and choosing not to simply swoop down and remove her from harm, rather it’s about meeting both her physical and emotional needs at the same time. The point of Superman isn’t that he is powerful. Lots of people think he is because he’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive. But Superman is about having the ability to dominate another person and choosing to serve them.

To say to the hopeless, “Dare to dream a man can fly.”

To say to the powerless, “Goodness is all the power you’ll ever need to change the world.”

And that’s what makes all of these characters heroes – not their super powers or costumes, not their ability to save their world from various monsters and madmen.
What makes a hero truly super is that he loves his fellow man higher than he loves himself. That he places himself in the arena of life and puts his hands to the work of making the world a better place.

That he strives valiantly.

That he dares to try, though it may cost him everything.

What makes our American comic book gods so very special, is that they do not reside on some high mountaintop and judge us from far away; they need no pantheon because they are in the streets with us. They are even on the rooftops with us when jumping into destruction seems easier than walking the road of life set before us.

What makes our superheroes special is that they look into the face of tyrannical forces, forces fully capable of destroying them, and with a mighty heart utter a phrase which encapsulates the spirit of human fortitude – “I can do this all day.”

And we can.

Captain2

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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.

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.