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Charles Siburt: The (Almost) Blind Prophet

2012 July 11
by Mike

This morning Charles Siburt, described by one of his sons as “the best man I’ve ever known,” died. He was a good friend. I’ll remember his remarkable voice, his big bellowing laugh, the way his face could express the words “these are my sons in whom I’m well pleased” when around John and Ben, and his insight.

Like Tiresias, the blind prophet in Greek mythology, Charlie could see things no one else could see—despite his failing eyesight. And he wasn’t afraid to help people move beyond the places where they were stuck. He helped others see ways in which their own pride, bitterness, sense of privilege, and nearsightedness were interfering with better relationships.

Two of my favorite memories about Charlie aren’t altogether pleasant. (Let’s be honest: people didn’t call him “Chainsaw Charlie” for nothing. The truth is that this was a compliment: you just don’t meet many people in life who will love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself. It’s also why so many churches brought Charlie in to help them. When all else fails, try asking someone who will tell you the truth.)

Both of the memories come from the mid-90’s, around the time of Megan’s death. Diane and I were exhausted, and in my exhaustion I lost nearly all ability to see myself. Charlie held up a much-needed mirror.

Once was after a tense elders meeting—this seems strange to say, because there was almost never a tense elders meeting the last ten years I was at Highland—when I drove him home. We sat in the car late at night. I invited him to tell me what he thought about some conflict I was in with a few people. And kindly, but very directly, he spoke words that hurt. Because they were true. He spoke them as a friend, not as a scolding elder. And then he moved on to words of affirmation and hope. I remember thinking that this was a new beginning for me as a minister.

The other time came about a year later. It was two months after our daughter’s death. I was fragile and tired, but I needed someone to tell me that that’s not an excuse for poor behavior. I got mad at Clois Fowler. Yes, Clois Fowler: one of the best men I’ve ever known in my life. My friend. Like a father to me. But in my exhaustion and immaturity, I got upset. So I went to Charlie. I guess I was going to tattle on Clois. Or perhaps I just figured another strong leader of our church would put his seal of approval on my anger.

Wanna guess how that went? Charlie told me that he could understand how weary I must be, but that I needed to pull it together. He told me that if I had a bigger fan at Highland—someone who’d cleaned up more of my messes than anyone else—than Clois, he didn’t know who it was. He said, “If you can’t make things work with Clois, I’m guessing you can’t make things work. He’s your greatest fan.” I crumpled in sorrow. Charlie prayed for me, and I went to Clois immediately to apologize. (If you know Clois, you know that he’d already forgiven me.)

Somebody in life has to love you enough to tell you the truth. And it helps when this person is a friend.

My greatest bond with Charlie was this: we were ALWAYS fans of each other’s sons. (And he and Judy loved Megan while she was alive, too.) I aways asked him about John and Ben; he always asked me about Matt and Chris.

So it’s fitting that the last time I saw Charlie was about three weeks ago: he was sitting at The Beehive eating lunch with Judy, John, and Ben. He asked about Chris’s youth ministry internship; and he told me that John came into his hospital room asking if it was Halloween because he’d just seen Matt Cope dressed up like a doctor.

His body was bearing the marks of a long battle with cancer. But there was that great joyful face of his, sitting at a good meal with his wife and sons.

Thank you, Charlie. Well done.

40 Responses leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012

    Thanks Mike! It makes me cry reading these words. He had a profound impact on my life and although I know he is healed, my heart hurts. He was a gift from God to my entire family.

  2. Larry Henderson permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thank you, Mike. And thank you, Charlie.

  3. David P Himes permalink
    July 11, 2012

    I know Clois and I knew Charlie … both great models.

  4. Jimmy Adcox permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thanks Mike. That was Charlie. And that’s why we loved him.

  5. Ally Mavroulis Ocheskey permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Beautiful article. Dr. Siburt will be missed.

  6. Chinedum Nwankwo permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thank you bro Mike and please be consoled as he has gone to be with his maker God bless his family and keep them strong in the Lord.

  7. tom alexander permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Dr. Siburt, whom I only got to know via phone conversations, is hugely responsible for recommending we invite a young, still slightly wet-behind-the-ears Josh Ross to leave Texas 4 years ago and come to Memphis. He had listened to him, spoke with peers, and just had a “sense” Josh was ready to do ministry. Because of Charles Siburt, our church stepped out in faith, albeit with a little trepidation, & invited Josh & Kayci to serve here. Thank you, Dr. Siburt, for you saw a diamond in the rough whom God has used to bless us to grow closer to Jesus. Sounds like you did this for lots of folks! We are SO grateful for your wise counsel to us. Enjoy your reward, brother.

  8. July 11, 2012

    Thanks for this Mike. He was one of the best people I knew. Thanks for being so honest with your memories of Charles.

  9. Josh Ross permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Charlie, Charles, CS, Chainsaw, Dr. Siburt…he was a professor, mentor, and friend. He was also my boss for nearly 3 years. I would often drive him to the airport on Fridays for his weekend trips to churches and/or conferences. I still drive the same truck that I would drive him around Abilene in, and even then, he would make fun of my precious 95 Ford Ranger every time he got in it.
    Words can’t describe how much he means to the Ross family. He helped my parents through a couple of toxic church experiences, and he’s one of the primary reasons my dad, a gifted minister, is still in ministry today.
    I will go to my grave telling stories to my grandkids about a man in Abilene who helped shape me into the man I am.

  10. July 11, 2012

    Thanks for this Mike. You nailed it. At my lowest, when everyone was saying kind things to me in an attempt to help me feel better, Charlie told me the painful truth in loving way. He gave me the kick in the butt I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and instead to start working on myself. I’m going to miss not being able to call him.

  11. July 11, 2012

    As I said on Brandon’s facebook page, part of my childhood died today. While I was a teenager, Charles’ dad was the minister at my home church in Hamlin, Texas. Charles, his sisters, Myra and Elva, and I did the things teens do in a church youth group together. Little did I know that chunky little kid would grow up to be a giant in the church. Miss you already, Charles.

  12. July 11, 2012

    I just wrote something very similar, in the way Dr. Siburt helped change my own life in how he was able to see things in me.

    He will be greatly missed.


  13. Chris Blair permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thank you for your words! I’m always amazed at how much clarity Charles would bring to me in our conversations. I smile as I think about how his prophetic words continue to play out in my own ministry!

  14. Anonymous permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Charles came to our church. He told me I was angry, immature, and a wimp. I got mad at him. Then I hated him for about a decade.

    Then, as my life began to crumble, I decided to get well. What I learned with the help of a therapist and a 12-step group was this:

    I was angry, immature, and a wimp.

    My road to healing began the day Charles Siburt spoke truth into my life. He did it with no concern about whether or not he won my approval.

    “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

    I never got to thank him. So here, posthumously (and anonymously), is my note of thanks.

  15. Jana permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Love this. Thanks Mike. I like hearing about people who’ve made truth-telling more important than winning others’ approval. That’s not an easy road.

  16. David Fraze permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thanks Mike! I am sitting on a porch at a summer camp typing on my iPhone. Why, after over 22 years, am I still working with students and families? One of those reasons is Charles Siburt! I type with tears recalling his support of me as a 20 year old Highland intern and his tearful hug as he embraced me after a horrible accident and his words of wisdom, challenge and support at just the right times in my life and ministry. Thank you Father for a life well lived!

  17. Tim Montoya permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Amen and amen. A powerful tribute.

  18. Dan permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Charles came to our little community in the middle of nowhere to speak to our church of 60 or so. His insight changed much about what I thought I knew. I sought his advice when I was nominated to be an elder. I much enjoyed sitting in his classes at Elderlink. The greatest lesson I learned from him was that many people in church conflict have this opinion: “I don’t mind giving in as long as I don’t have to be wrong.” That lesson has served me well. God’s rest, Charlie.

  19. Cole permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Thanks for the good writing, Mike.

  20. Val permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Well, if you’re going to name-drop you might as well go all out. Charlie and Clois in the same post. I wish I had a transcript of conversations with Charlie in our drive to DFW and back for his Conflict in Churches class. If I’m not mistaken there may have been a hymn or two thrown in there.

  21. July 11, 2012

    My younger brother, Neil Davidson, was at Lubbock Christian College for two years in 1964-1965 (it was a Jr. college then) with Charlie Siburt and a young man named Gerald Ingalls. They became
    The Varsity Trio in the spring of 1965 under the direction of Jim Ravanelli. They traveled full time during that summer throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, presenting free concerts to introduce young people to the school.

    They were only together officially until the fall of 1965, but continued in school together, Charlie and Neil on to ACU for two more years, and have been good friends ever since. Charlie literally saved my brother’s life while at ACU when Neil and two other ACU students in an over the garage apartment filled with carbon monoxide on a cold winter’s Monday morning. Charlie had called there to see about playing an indoor sport, but no one answered. In God’s providence, Charlie and another friend went to the apartment, anyway, and found them.

    Neil was by far the worst of the three who had been overcome, having just become diabetic. But thanks to Charlie Neil is still with us today, having been diabetic more than 45 years. Charlie was best man at Neil’s wedding in 1968 and a few months ago, Neil put together a CD for Charlie of The Varsity Trio in concert for the Lubbock Christian College Band Camp in August 1965.

    I’m sitting here looking at the cover, with Charlie as Lead, Neil as Tenor; guitar and Gerald Ingalls as Bass; playing string bass. There are 15 songs on the CD, most in the style of The Kingston Trio of that era.

    I hope we’ll get to hear them perform for us in Heaven again as The Varsity Trio – such good-looking fine young men who have made such a difference in this life through their lives as Christians, each doing what God would have them do in his own way for others.

    May God richly bless Charlie’s family and God bless us all today, this glorious day when Charles Siburt was surrounded by angels to be taken into the arms of Jesus to await the Resurrection of us all.


  22. Chris Buxton permalink
    July 11, 2012

    About five years ago, my wife, Monica, and I were given the high privilege of attending one of the Minister Support Network weekends that Dr. Siburt helped lead. That weekend was our first chance (a few others came later) to spend time with him and Judy. What an incredible blessing. We left that weekend feeling more loved and filled with renewed energy, direction, and hope than we’d had in many years.

  23. Ken Holsberry permalink
    July 11, 2012

    Just this morning I thought about Charles as I was driving to work and I thought about a conversation we had 5 years ago in my office. I’m finally making some decisions that he and I talked about all those years ago and I thought, I need to let him know. Then I got to the office and saw that he had passed away. Blessings on his family who so freely shared him with all of us.

  24. Donna Bryce permalink
    July 11, 2012

    These stories and my own remind me how God used Charlie to speak truth and encouragement to multitudes, often one at a time, and usually not during business hours. As I look back at major life transitions, Charlie often showed up as witness to God’s faithfulness in my life. Between premarital counseling (in which he talked about things I didn’t know should be discussed out loud), to career choices, grad school recommendations, key contacts at every job change and countless words of advice and encouragement along the way…I can assuredly say I am who I am, what I am, and where I am because of the influence of Charles Siburt. I thank God for his wisdom, compassion, and life. (And I was only on the receiving end of his reprimand once!)

  25. July 11, 2012

    I only knew Charlie in passing, but he, of course, knew my parents and would inquire as to their health when we met. Everything I’ve heard today resonates what you have said: a man who would speak the truth: in love, with gentleness and respect. Not because he couldn’t wait to tear you down, but because he knew it was part of your pruning to grow you into a better servant. Oh, to be able to have Charles Siburt boldness and wisdom of speech. What a thing to pray for.

  26. Chris permalink
    July 12, 2012

    I don’t know what God’s voice sounds like…but I’d like to think it sounds an awful lot like Charles Siburt’s. Great tribute, Brother Cope.

  27. Marti O'Rear permalink
    July 12, 2012

    No doubt a man of encouragement! He graced me with words of ” you have a voice of an angel” anytime I sang. Of course, we loved hearing Charles sing with his deep rich bass voice. I have to assume he has joined the choir of angels for sure. You will be missed Charles!

  28. July 12, 2012

    A great and honest tribute. I’m with you Mike, lovingly filleted by ‘Chainsaw Charlie.’ Even in your memorial to him he is still speaking to and through you. And me. And who knows how many others?

    By the way… Charlie called me on Friday May 11. It was the last time we talked and I remember it well. He was feeling strong and sounded great, just like he did again yesterday morning.

    Thanks. And thanks to Charlie.

    Psalm 86.

  29. annie permalink
    July 12, 2012

    Always heard wonderful things about Charlie Siburt, & even met him a couple of times. After reading all these comments, I wish I had really known him. My sympathy to all of you who grieve his loss in your life, but he sure sounds like someone who knew LOVE WINS…

  30. Gail Matthews permalink
    July 12, 2012

    Thank you, Mike. Dr. Siburt came to our church in Houston several times over the past years to help us in times of transition. He had such a gift for being able to see the “forest” when we could only see the “trees”. He was helpful, clear, challenging and incredibly insightful. One of those visits was during a tremendously dark period in my own life personally. He sat with me, listened, corrected mis-perceptions, was gentle with my tears while simultaneously strong with his words. He would call me “Saint Gail” and laugh that boisterous laugh … then I could laugh … and was encouraged. He was a Barnabas for me … and I am forever grateful to God for my intersection with Charles Siburt.

  31. John G. Knox permalink
    July 12, 2012

    Thank you for such an honest and reflective tribute to Charles. I too was on the receiving end of the chainsaw more than once. But I always knew he loved me. I have not grieved the loss of a man to this extent since my father died over 34 years ago. Thank you again for your willingness to share.

  32. Douglas Young permalink
    July 12, 2012

    Loved this Mike!

  33. July 12, 2012

    Great man! Wonderful words, Mike. Thank you.

  34. Ken permalink
    July 14, 2012

    Wonderful article, Mike. I think you captured the essential Charlie Siburt for folks who did not know him. Although I had heard about him for some time, I met Charlie toward the end of his life, after he was suffering from cancer. He was courageous and fearless in the face of the deadly disease that gripped his body. He was not afraid to tell you what he thought about almost any subject, and I found his comments insightful. He was never a “yes” man, and I could always count on him to be perfectly frank with me when I asked for his opinion. He was a genuine person, and I will miss him.

  35. July 15, 2012

    My condolences, Mike. He does sound like an amazing man, and I’m glad to have found these kind words.

    I just wanted to say that Mike Morrell and I really appreciate your blog, and think you’d be an excellent candidate for our Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it’s free to join. Sign up here, if you’d like:

    You’re not on any contact lists, I promise; if you don’t respond, that’s it, and the invitation is open as long as you’re actively blogging. Hope you join us!

  36. Kathy permalink
    July 16, 2012

    Beauty in words expressing your deep love and grief, Mike. I was not blessed to ever know Charles Siburt, your beloved friend, not even for a moment, but your words have drawn a picture of a truly great man. I grieve for you and with you, dear friend. Praying that your memories of him, your friend and counselor strengthen you as you mourn his homegoing.

  37. July 19, 2012

    Thanks for the confessional way that you write and thereby illustrate the goodness and greatness of Charlie as a brother and as a minister. We are missing him


  38. Steve Floyd permalink
    July 19, 2012

    Mike, great tribute to a prince of a man. I only knew Charles since February 2011 when he came to UCC in Conway. His time with us was precious and his advice was always right on point. His influence on our congregation will be felt for many years. I am grateful for knowing him and getting the opportunity to have met Judy. A great family!

  39. November 16, 2012

    Wonderful words, Mike. Charles was as honest with me about a situation. I didn’t care for what he said until I told my wife about it. She simply replied, “He’s right.” I didn’t have any argument after that. Thanks for your great tribute to a great man.

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