Building the House of Self

Posted: June 6, 2013 in World On The Edge

Where does our moral center lie? What is our motivation when we build the ‘house’ of our self? And we do, you know, build our own house, over and over again. Sometimes it’s an honorable house, sometimes a dishonorable one. We have been given the perfect tool to build our house—God’s grace, His love–but often we use flawed tools and build a defective dwelling place for ourselves.

In my article on The Catholic Imagination, I talk about finding God’s love in the direst of circumstances, and amid the worst actions of people. In my novel, A Hunger in the Heart, each of the characters, at one time or another, chooses either the tool of God’s love, or the malfunctioning tool of a saturated self-love. Today I compare the choices of two of those characters; Fig and Clayton.

Both Fig and Clayton are Christians, both believe in God. Clayton’s belief is a ploy, a tool to prosper himself. Fig’s belief is an authentic expression of love. He acts–which is what legitimate love is—and his action is toward others because he allows himself to be spurred by the tool of grace.

 Excerpt from A Hunger in the Heart

“But Boss wasn’t here. He was down at the doctor’s, where Fig had driven him an hour earlier. “You keep my business toyourself,” C.P. had said, huffing up the back steps to the clinic, so he wouldn’t be seen and thought to be afflicted.

Boss hadn’t wanted to go. Fig made the appointment for him after one too many nights of sweats and vomiting and pain in his chest when he woke Fig to sit with him, when he gripped the sheets and sometimes Fig’s hand until the pain subsided. It was then that he wanted Fig to retell the stories about Mama Nem’s good virtues. Just today, the old man wanted to hear how his wife had forgiven his unfaithfulness. “You sure she said that?” C.P. asked in a halted breath that yanked at the center of Fig’s own chest. “She surely said it. Because Jesus told her to.” “Dammit,” he gasped, squeezing harder on Fig’s fingers. “Jesus ain’t behind everythin’!” “No sir. Just the good stuff.”

Waiting now until it was time to pick up his boss, Fig rubbed an olive-colored circle into the dust on the hood of the Jeep and saw his reflection there.”Is you good stuff?” he asked the image. And the image clearly answered him. “Well sure, Fig. Ain’t I always behind you?”

Quoting from a Goodreads Review of A Hunger in the Heart by Mike Sullivan:

“In Clayton, evil is a palpable force. For Clayton, Jesus is an entity with whom he can bargain. Escaping from prison, he carries with him, a Madonna he had stolen from Putt, the man who saved his life.

“‘Remember how you saved me once? Okay, okay. So I fell out of your boat and got sent up the river again. You don’t want me to spend another ten years in that prison do you?’ Then he remembered the statue and felt for it in his pocket. See here? I got your mama. I’m gonna take care of her too, if you just come on, Jesus’ and save me.'”
“Ms. Hinckley addresses the issue of whether a life is so without value it is not worth saving. The resounding answer is no. Every life has value because each person has the possibility to change. It’s a matter of choice.
Without any doubt, the moral center of “A Hunger in the Heart” is “Fig,” a black man taken into the Boss’s home as a child from Aunt Aggie’s. For Fig there is no black and white. He is in a sense color blind, not only to race, but to all human frailty. He is the Boss’s right hand man. He is the purveyor of forgiveness, the moral compass for young Coleman, and the ultimate key to redemption.
Fig serves as the perfect foil to Clayton, or “Sarge.” They are respective representatives of good and evil.”

Like Fig, and like Clayton, we are capable of both genuine faith and superficial faith. We are human. We are flawed. Often we use the wrong tools for the wrong reasons. When we take up the tools that will build our eternal house, shouldn’t we think hard about the repercussions?

Photo credit: Nicholas_T /

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