Monday, January 9, 2017

Questions Answered and Answers Questioned: Reflections from OIL (One in Love) 2017 Conference

I was able to attend the OIL (One in Love) Conference at Wheaton College this past week. I was incredibly blessed and wanted to write a brief post to gather my thoughts afterwards. I would highly encourage anyone to go next year!

I was very blessed and fortunate to grow up in a Christian household. Between my father who was bi-vocational as a pastor and professor of New Testament and Ancient Greek at seminary and my mother who would inundate my younger brother and me with fervent prayer and bible verses, God and his word was heavily emphasized in my household. Though in the beginning, I went through the motions of my parents, I began to question and ask whether I really had any faith or love for Jesus. Sure I was involved with church and could pray, memorize scripture, and give offering, but is that what it meant to be a Christian? What did it mean to love God? How would I know that I “stepped over the line of faith?” Would it be a feeling or emotion I received? Would I walk around with a halo on my head? As I prayed, would the clouds rip open and the glory of the Lord descend? (that would have been cool). But as I went through confirmation, moved from California to Wheaton to Chicago, and was mentored and guided by my parents and other great spiritual figures, I began to realize the depravity and offense of my sin and just how much I needed Jesus, and how much he loved me and that the only response  I could show or have after receiving such love was to love and give everything I had. It was not an emotion I would feel, but a decision and commitment I would make. I became a Christian on 7/29/2012 (the summer before I would go to high school) through Hebrews 12:1-2.

High school was difficult and presented many obstacles and challenges. Through my struggles whether academic or spiritual, I realized that I had issues of pride, purity, and self-image. Following God and loving Jesus slowly began to feel like a chore at times, and on others, I began to use it to be harshly condemning of the secular lifestyles that I saw within my classmates, peers, and even other Christians. It was a strange dichotomy; while I would have my doubts and apprehensions about my faith, I would cling to it to almost spite those who didn’t believe; as if to show how good I was at honoring God and showing how Holy I was in a midst of a culture that only sought to satisfy itself. Yet through it all, I still tried to hold on and cling to God’s word. But many of this issues still remained with me as I finished out my senior year and got ready to attend Cornell University. As I left Chicago, and drove with my dad to Ithaca, New York, the questions I was asking were along the lines of: “How will God use me at Cornell? What fellowship should I join? How will I grow in my faith and make it my own?”

I was certainly blessed during first semester whether it was through the classes I was taking or the wonderful and vibrant faith community on Cornell’s campus, but as I returned back on December 10th, I realized that I had more fundamental questions I was subconsciously asking myself: Why did I follow God? Why did I love Jesus? Was it simply out of habit? Did being a part of a church or a Christian group provide a social body that I felt like I could be part of and one that would accept me for who I am and not shun me? Was following Christianity merely something that I did because it was the most comfortable and I was afraid to leave it? I wrestled with these questions all through break, and well into the first few days into the New Year. I came to OIL, prayerfully asking that I could see and know more of who God was, and that I could love him unconditionally with all my heart. That God would reveal himself to me and following him would not be something I did out of habit or conviction, but that it would be something I truly wanted. As it said in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” This was my prayer; that my soul would thirst for God. Furthermore, I wanted to be obedient to God at all times during the conference; that even if God was calling me out to the wilderness as the Holy Spirit did with Jesus in Mark 1:9-13.

As I sit here writing and reflecting on January 9th, two days after OIL ended, I give thanks to God for being faithful and for answering my prayers. I learned so much and was profusely gripped through the praise, prayer, seminars, and sermons. From Dr. Mitch Kim, I was challenged by the notion that my vision FOR God was bigger than my vision OF God. For so long, I had purely looked to God with a genie-in-the-lamp mindset. I was focused on what God could do for me, and when the results were not immediate or what I wanted, I would pray with a lackluster heart and bad attitude. I realized that in college, I had been living for myself and wanted God to bless my own plan. But then I realized how less of me must live and how Christ must live in me. As I follow Christ, will I do so with grit? I should not give up. As an unexpected yet powerful follow-up, Charles Zimmerman’s preaching on Matthew 16:13-16 also resonated with me. In the land of other kings, not Peter was willing to declare that Jesus was king but that Jesus was HIS (Peter’s) king. So in my life, there is no denying that Jesus is king...but I was gripped with the question: was Jesus my king? If the answer to that question is no, what was holding me back? I realized I loved my own plans and life too much; I needed to relinquish that which was mine and receive that which was Jesus’.

These two messages leading up were preparing my heart for Dr. Crawford Loritts message on January 5th. Reading from Revelation 2:1-5, Dr. Loritts powerfully articulated how we have left our first love, and have drifted towards self-centeredness. Looking at my life, I realized how I was not daily prioritizing my heart to love Jesus; I loved the way I did Christianity more than the Christ of Christianity. I was reminded of the line in the hymn “Come Thou Fount”, which states “Prone to wander Lord I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love / Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it / Seal it for thy courts above.” I had wandered so much and given myself so much credit for all of the good actions that I have done; how I did not smoke, drink, or party incessantly in college (even though other people did). That my only vices were dealing with purity and occasional bad language, and that I was faithful to God through my academics. Yet I realized how much I missed the point! Yes, God was happy and applauding me for not partaking in sin etc., but was that what it meant to really follow him? As Dr. Loritts said I had “exchanged process for destination… because I did the right things I thought my heart was right.” So this raised a question in me: what was I to do? What did it mean to really love Jesus? What did it mean to return to my first love? And yet I was struck that despite my infidelity and lack of commitment to love Jesus, God still loved me with agape love (unconditional). So what should my response be to this love? I left challenged by Dr. Loritts’ last question: when was the last time I sat in Jesus’ presence and told him how much I loved him? I realized that it had been a long time. Despite all of the actions I was doing, these did not communicate my love.

After that message, my heart and attitude towards the retreat changed immensely; whether through the prayer times or worship, I was reminding myself that I did want to love Jesus, but didn’t know how. I prayed that God would equip me with his strength and show me the way I could love Jesus. Through Dr. Kent Hughes message on Zaccheus, I was reminded that my stature did not matter; what was my vision of God? I was blessed to have Jesus “invade” my life, and so would my response be? To step down from my Sycamore tree? I felt most illuminated by what my response should be during the seminars by Skye Jethani, the Urban Missions challenge by Ray Bakke, and the final sermon by Dr. Min Chung.

Admittedly I fell asleep quarter of Skye Jethani’s second seminar, but when I woke up he was stating how subjects such as the arts and humanities (called the “useless” things by society) should be studied because we live in a world where we look at everything by its use; but there are things of inherent value, and we ought to value God not by what he does for us but for who he is. Did I love God for who he was? Not just for what he did for me? Not saying that I shouldn’t count my blessings, but I approached God as if what he would give me, when he had already given me himself. With Ray Bakke, he reminded me how Christians should “obey the law of the land but exceed it in character” while also “being the soul and conscious to the city.” As I lived and went back to Cornell, is this how I would live? Would I let the light of Jesus shine in me? Would my love of him be evident? This coupled with Erwin Lutzer’s prior message of being willing to offend lovingly for the cross was poignant; it all tied back to grit; was I too focused on myself and was I letting my fears supersede the love I had for Jesus?

As I thought about all of these questions Dr. Min Chung’s final message sealed the conference with resounding finality. There were many quotable lines and moments that shook me to my core. I should not seek happiness as the end result; I should seek Jesus. I WILL face hardships and thus I must daily deny myself. Fighting sin prepares me for suffering. Fight not FOR victory but FROM the victory Jesus has already won. Jesus promises PEACE not JOY in trials. The lowest place I can fall is on the foundation that Jesus Christ has built in me. Be moved by feeling, not calling. Harsh words are worth enduring so that I can stand before Jesus and be faithful. Ask Jesus what his purpose is for me. Thus, I realized how spiritually weak I was; I was not willing to endure for the cross, and I had the misconception that life was somehow better without Christ at the center. I lived an accessory filled life, where the “engine” (loving Jesus) took backseat while the physical actions I did came first.

            So as OIL came to a close, I realized that God’s answer to my prayers came in the form of many questions. How would I live my life differently? So going forth, I realize now the importance of loving God and having a genuine relationship with him and how everything else is second. I need to rediscover my first love and “be a man of one book.” Every day I need to love God more and more so that way when the day I die, that is when I will love Jesus the most. I need to live every day as a response to the love and sacrifice Jesus has done for me. It is not enough anymore for me to simply live off of my parent’s faith or think that actions alone can save me. So daily, I will ask God to reveal more of himself to me through his word, and that I can see Jesus for who he is and love him, and that that love can dominate every aspect of my life. I want to be willing to break away bad habits and destroy accessories in my life that are not contributing to the engine. My relationship with Christ is the most important; let me live for no one else. As I head back to campus, I want to make concrete changes: I will attend prayer meeting so that way not only can I communicate with God but further know his word. I want to be inundated with God’s word so I will try to memorize a verse every day. I want to cut out things that may be distracting me, whether they be movie websites, toy videos, video games, TV, etc. Let me live 2017 focused and loving only one name: Jesus.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Let's Catch Up

Although I was not the best when it came to updating the blog while I was in high school, now that I have finished my first semester of college and have some time to breathe during Winter Break, I wanted to give an update. As I said in my first post, this blog was originally designed as a venue for me to place down my own ideas and musings. While this will largely remain the case, I am transitioning this blog to serve as more of a "previewing" space for me to document the drafting process as I write more poems and short stories. I'll be sure to post links to "finished" works on my Facebook. Thank you!

For articles that I wrote for the Cornell Daily Sun, see:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Champions (WY Remix)

In just a few hours, I will officially be a high school alumni. To all the staff, teachers, and students of Whitney Young, thank you for a blessed 4 years.

Dear Whitney Young...or rather Whitney M. Young Magnet High School,

I didn’t want you at first…
Even as you flexed your “#1 school in THE Nation” muscles and “state championships” curvatures, I was unimpressed
Because all your other aspects were frankly, a mess
I’m no Hercules, but you made me go the distance,
I wanted to sleep more, but I got up at my alarm clock’s insistence,
For a 57 minute commute time? I needed persistence  
I’d often question my own existence, when I had to wake up at 5:45
After being spoiled by 7am rises, I can’t believe I’ve survived
I thought things couldn’t get worse, but man was I in for a surprise
The bottom floor of the school is like a complex maze,
Trying to analyze how to get around would take days

So yeah, with you, I wasn’t that impressed
But I think it’s because deep down, I was jealous
Because at my old school I was the best,
But being #1 is the norm here; you’re just one of the rest
At a school where we have pep rallies for basketball and chess
And now after four years, I can say that I was blessed,

When you gripped me with your 8 o’clock start times and threw me into class
Crust still hanging from my eyes like meat hooks
Taking my mind on a journey from Speech to Ethnic Studies,

When you kicked me with your West Side location
Making me realize that life is more than my safe, pothole free North Side
But that roars and echoes of downtown and sirens are just as much a part of the equation,
As the subjects learned in the classroom

You shoved Baccis into my Pizza Hut world
You played twice with my hunger at Ella’s
And made me feel special at Billy Goat’s
I got to taste Chicago and Freedom in off campus lunch

Thank you teachers, for while I was still a seed, you laid the foundation,
Nurturing my academic soil and watering me with support
Thank you encouraging us to not be afraid of our own voice
To have the courage to make our own choices

So I’ll miss when after a stressful day, during lunch we’d die laughing
Get out of “blue house right now” from Mr. Fanning
Thank you for being an aquarium where I could meet other dolphins,
But I know that I can’t stay here, I have to explore more
Even as I swim through an ocean of knowledge scared to the core
I know that Whitney Young will always be my shore

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Throwback: Triune Trauma

I meant to post this earlier. I read the memoir A Long Way Gone, and wrote this piece as a creative response to the horrific events described in the novel. The main character, Ishmael, stated that he is a big fan of hip-hop and that it was one of the things that always reminds him of his childhood before, during, and after the war. I wanted to construct a slam poem/rap detailing the three stages of his life: his time before the war, his time as a soldier, and his struggle for redemption afterwards. I tried to make it purposely bellicose, to give it a “diss track” feel, and view this piece as Ishmael’s diss to the world for what has happened to him, yet there is a message of hope towards the end.

If I reach deep down within my past
Before the hands of time grab it too fast
I can see faint traces of I’ve lost
How the price of war, carries a heavy cost

One day, Imma be a rapper
But I don’t wrap gifts, I’ll wrap your body in a bag,
My language is explosive like a frag,
You wouldn’t be able to stand on my track,
I eat your weak rhymes like a snack,
Woah...chill down man, just relax,
And breathe, taking in the cassava leaves and rice
The overripe bananas and Sierra Leone spice,
These are the smells of a community that’s united,
We live our own lives, far away from the fighting,
Even though life isn’t perfect, I’m still so thankful for what I have
My parents, though divorced are still married to me,
I’ll never forget my roots; I’m part of the family tree
So if I appear belligerent with my words, know it’s just a joke
We’re just youngsters messing around, putting on an ostentatious show
Lately, what I’ve been doing is dancing to this music you call rap
It’s got my feet a slave to the beat, I guess you can call it trap
But this fast-talking to some percussion, all of my friends and I love it
We’ll kill time, just to understand what these spitters say,
We’ll slay seconds, and beat hours 24 times till they turn to a day
So right now, l can attest that life is good
It’s a simple cycle, and I do what I should
I go to school and help around the house,
During the day, I’ll play soccer at the park
And at night, with my brother Junior, we’ll tell stories of monsters in the dark,
But never during the time that I was having fun,
Would I have known that I would become one?

If I reach deep down within my past
Before the hands of time grab it too fast
I can see faint traces of I’ve lost
How the price of war, carries a heavy cost

How did I ever gain pleasure from such trivial pursuits?
Kicking at soccer balls like a childish brute?
Settling for such plebian and layman food?
That boy is gone, now you’re looking at new Ishmael
Now I kick the heads of my enemies till they move no more
I steal whatever I want, watch yourself, I’m bad to the core
I scoff at you school boys, thinking you can save yourself with knowledge and education,
So you’ve learned all the literary devices? congratulations!
When I ballistically bruise you badly with bullets, save yourself (ha) with alliteration!
It’s in the army where you’ll learn real skill,
The equation for life is simple: kill or be killed
So you should change your field of study,
Look at me, 15 years old, and all I know is guns, drugs, and hip-hop
But I mix these opposites well, like the Notorious Tupac
I spill no black ink, just blood on city blocks
Trying to fight with me, it's no competition
I’m number one on the charts cuz of my headshot percentage
Give me any rebel and I’ll spar
I’m a good kid, turned mad by my city that’s Kendrick Lamar
As long as I have my gun, I know I’ll be Alright
I don’t slip, I’m not Freud
My shooting is mechanical, like an android
Now I get a rush from the violence I reap,
You wouldn’t last 7 days out here, cuz you’re so weak
I’ve survived back to back battles, this job ain’t for the meek
I’m a monster uncaged on the battlefield, an animal out of the pen
My clique runs deep, we kill anyone who run Solo, that’s Kylo Ren
Your life is in my hands, will you die? It depends?
Just a boy, but I’ve killed a lot of men
Murdered grown up versions of my future, of what I could have been...
I talk with war a lot, we consider each other friends
Look what this friendship has made me do...
I hack apart bodies for it and sever so many limbs
I create Frankenstein's, killing has become a hobby
Now I wonder what kids my age are doing,
Other children got toys and Coloring Books, I didn’t get a Chance
I was seduced by violence, and caught in its trance
So please war, let me go,
Haven’t I given enough of my service to you already?

If I reach deep down within my past
Before the hands of time grab it too fast
I can see faint traces of I’ve lost
How the price of war, carries a heavy cost

Adulthood yearns to release itself from this form,
Rushed maturity attempts to bleed out through my scars
The child and adult in me try to tear itself apart,
Leaving me fatigued and filled with stretch marks
I am a grown man in a child's body
No matter how hard you make me try, I won’t sit still in the lobby
Trying to rehab off drugs makes my head foggy
Why are you trying to change me? The damage has been done
All I know is war, just give me back my gun
Nurse, stop asking me about what happened
About my days as an army captain
About how after slitting throats of victims, we’d die laughing
While rebels swam in their blood, we just started rapping
I don’t want to go back to those memories...I don’t want to feel this pain
I can’t raise the dead, I can’t take back who I’ve slain,
I’m just not Abel, instead I’m Cain
Like Lady Macbeth, the blood's on my hands... it’s stained
People tell me it’s not my fault
It “wasn’t really me” carrying out those assaults,
I was “just a boy”, unaware of what I was doing
But ignorance is not innocence, and enough of that was taken from me,
Though I’m not dead, I don’t think I can live again
Now when I see leaves on branches
They hang like bodies off trees
Innocuous faucets now drip blood
A bird’s song is the bang of a gun
But I’m told that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel
That I can outlive my tragedies
My past doesn’t have to define me
Though I’ve lost much, I can start anew
The path to healing is long but I’ll push on

Even though my childhood is a long way gone

Friday, June 10, 2016

Throwback: Heroic Idiocy

            On June 22, 2015 I stepped out of a summer filled with bible verse memorization, 1 AM curfews, and summer blockbusters and into one filled with Cervantes quotes, 1:30 start times, and films that would probably make Robert Egbert’s top 100 movies. In other words, it was my first real day of college classes, and I let my senses soak up the campus ethos. Rows of eclectic food trucks were crammed together like sardines, and each one was hoping to outdo the other. Luckily, pedestrians benefited from this culinary warfare as the air filled with aromas of buttery croissants, spicy halal, Italian beef sandwiches and other greasy Chi-town comfort food. The pounding of jackhammers and the battle cries of imposing bulldozers filled the air with a mechanical soundtrack, albeit with an irregular cadence. The stone gargoyles glanced auspiciously at me as they perched on extended edifices. Although for many of the passerbyers, this was just another day at the University of Chicago, I found myself cognizant of all of these minute details, evidence of the smorgasbord of excitement and apprehension I was feeling.
            As I walked past the safety of the Quadrangle, and stepped inside Room 108 of the Social Science building, the ambiance immediately changed. My #2 lead pencil, Starbucks coffee, and cold sweat replaced the delectable aromas of the outside. A man carrying a black satchel and MacBook Pro suddenly entered in the room and in a professional, yet cordial tone, exclaimed “Welcome to ‘The Idiot as Hero!’”
            “The Idiot as Hero” (or ENG 24102) with Professor Lawrence Rothfield, as I would soon discover, became an intellectual odyssey. Far more than the typical English class, it was interdisciplinary in content and scope. I watched films, interpreted poems, analyzed art pieces, and read copiously both short stories and full-length novels. I grappled with literature, media, cinema, theater, and semiotic theory all within the confines of three time-stopping hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of June through July last summer. Each week, in a Socratic seminar setting, I analyzed the conventional idiots of film and literature with six undergraduates and Professor Rothfield as we studied works like Forest Gump, Don Quixote, The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The class, for which I received an “A,” was a fantastic experience, but I gained much more than a grade. I grew in my critical thinking and writing skills. I grew as a person.
            What I love about literature, film, and other forms of artistic expression is how their narrative worlds become a mirror to my own real-world experiences. Their characters often reflect the angst, fears, joys, laments, and dreams of my generation. When I questioned, for example, whether or not Forest Gump, Don Quixote, or Lazarillo were truly idiotic, I came to the conclusion that they were not. These characters were only “idiots” if read and viewed through the social, moral, and cultural codes of the audience. Forrest Gump was no longer a shrimp-loving runner who had blind faith in people, but became for me a paragon of true friendship and loyalty in the midst of adversity. Lazarillo de Tormes was not just a conniving Falstaff-esque individual who lived for base desires but a frustrated soul who sought true bliss in the humble pleasures of life. Yet one character that I always had the hardest time analyzing was myself.
            As I looked upon the summer narrative of my campus experience, I saw how afraid I was to acknowledge my own “idiocy.” I felt the pressure of being surrounded by undergrads who were much older than me, and I wanted to perform on their rhetorical level and display the same amount of intelligence. Yet I realized that they, too, were still learning. They were my sojourners in the quest of knowledge and personal growth, not my competitors.
            Ray Bradbury in his novel Fahrenheit 451 states: “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.” It took time to feel comfortable interrupting the professor mid-sentence so I could ask a clarifying question, or energetically share my thoughts when I received an epiphany about the author or character. But to hide myself was to play the idiot’s game. I realized that an essential part of growing intellectually was to accept where I was not the expert but ask for help and take risks to learn. So, though initially intimidated, I took ownership of the course, refused to let my nervousness control me, and engaged in intense dialogue and debate with my professor and peers. I worked hard to create an academic space for vulnerability in the classroom without fear of censorship or ridicule.

            I have many aspirations. I imagine myself in the future to be a professor or teacher of English literature, an accomplished author, and leader in public policy for urban education. But all grand dreams require a spirit and community of collaboration, and I am so thankful that College Bridge provided this for me. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Throwback: Slackers in the Hands of an angry Ms. Graf

“The Wrath of God is like great waters that are damned for the present!”
My head snapped back like a whip, ready to bombard Ms. Graf with excuses of why I had fallen asleep in class for the 666th time, as well as question the sudden change in her vernacular of “ANALYZE ANALZYE ANLYZE”  to talk of the justified anger of a monolithic deity, when I realized I was not in Ms. Graf’s room. 

I was in a stuffed chapel, with thousands of members, all bustling and waiting for the enigmatic speaker on the pulpit, a tall spare man with piercing eyes and thin, set lips to continue with his sermon. The man had obviously startled everyone with his booming voice, and was continuing to preach, albeit still high, but in a calmer mannerism. A glass painting of the rupture that was to take place at the end of time was behind him, depicting the souls who were to be saved and those who were to be killed.
“How did I get here?!” I exclaimed, turning around, hoping that my love for literature is what compelled me to dream up such a world in my sleep.
A woman who sat next to me, about the age of 38 or so, turned around and scowled at me.
“Look sir,” she began in an icy tone, putting down the pad she was using to take notes, “I traveled all the way from Boston to here to settle an estate at first, but once I heard Reverend Edwards was in the area, I decided to hear him. Please take your unmannerly and disruptive quarrels out of the chapel, lest you want God to take you to hell early.” She sat back down and looked up the speaker (now identified as “Reverend Edwards”) and gazed at him intently.
Seeing no escape from this knight of a woman, I too sat down and tried to recall facts about Edwards.

“Edwards, Edwards, Edwards”  I muttered to myself, trying to recall facts from my head. Was he the guy who discovered India? No that was someone else…Wait! He must be the one who was named after the head of a cow no? No no no…I cursed myself, knowing that I should have paid more attention in Ms. Graf’s class. When she said “Even though this is history, the analysis you do now will help in the future” I didn’t know it meant literally!
Edwards. He was a child prodigy, and entered Yale at 13, graduated at 16. He was a Calvinist.

I stopped there, remembering the day before that after asking Ms. Graf what a Calvinist is, she smiled and said “I think you will find out soon enough.” Oh the irony of it all!
All of sudden, the scream of the people broke my recall of facts. I realized that I had ignored the booming of the Reverends voice while deep in my own thoughts. The people, who were once calm and complacent, were on the floor, writhing in agony like worms. A woman behind me behind me burst out in tears. Some threw themselves forward and began to recite the Lord ’s Prayer. Still many others lifted up their hands and shrieked that the omnipotent God would forgive them for their sins and that they could be spared from the judgment of hell. The woman who had denounced me earlier before was also standing up, proclaiming that she would never equate another human being to a pig ever again. A man in front of me was co-switching from Greek, Latin, Hebrew and French in what appeared to a song of confession.

Edwards drew a finger to his mouth, telling the people to quiet down so they can hear of more of the mercy of God and the atonement for sins. Struggling, the mass did a collective blowing of noses, wiping of eyes, and cleaning of glasses before being silent for Edwards to resume again. Such an ordeal occurred seven times throughout the message, with Edwards waiting for the congregation to silence their mouths and open their hearts each time.
Unable to take all of this in, I rushed out, and immediately the breeze of 1730’s weather. The sky had unleashed a torrent of water bullets that struck the ground with as much ferocity as Edward’s words. The sky crackled and lightning flashed across the sky, adding a divine and powerful overtone to the setting. Under such conditions I would step back inside, but I could not comprehend the reality that I found myself in. How did I get here? How would I get back? I shivered in the cold, becoming instantly drenched within seconds, and proceeded to step back inside, when I saw a misshapen and amorphous frame of a figure, bent and walking on with a limp. The rain personified the dark colors that were streaked across his jacket, giving him the appearance of a humped mass of sludge. “Some change please,” he uttered in a raspy voice, thrusting a broken porcelain mug, “Just something to help me find shelter.”

I dug into my pockets and gave him the 7 dollars, 3 nickels, 29 dimes, and 50 pennies that bulged my pockets, seeing no need for it now. The man’s eyes gleamed with ecstasy and lumbered off, not event thanking me or asking for my name. “Sir!” I called out to him, just as he was about to disappear into the night, “why don’t you go to the monastery? There is shelter there.” The man smiled, revealing an incomplete set of discolored and chipped teeth, “That place is dead to me now,” he said, “none of the people believed that this place was India! They all mock me, they with their Puritan ideals and hypocritical sermons. They say that old Columbus was frail and unfit to lead the voyage and publicly condemn me in public! The very words of the good book in which they speak are written in Scarlet Letters; taken from the blood of the witches, innocents, and immigrants that they have oppressed! Do not go in there; it only spells a chilling end to your worthy life.”
I walked back inside, partially to get out of the rain, but also to see whether Edward’s sermon really did such things to people. As Edwards continued to speak, I noticed the power of his metaphors. God was constantly depicted as a force of power and destruction while human beings were shown to be nothing but grievances to God. My heart was burdened at how sinful human beings are, yet noticed that Edwards did not add a “redemptive” factor in his message,

Edwards continued to preach, booming that all are destined to end up in the Devil’s home, we best enjoy our life now.
“You are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters continually rising and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back.”
I imagined that I was dropping “wrath coins” with the face of God stamped into every one of them, into a big leprechaun bowl whenever I disobeyed God. Oh how many coins I had! I felt the urge to throw myself down as well like the rest of the congregation, acknowledging the fact that I was powerless to the consequences of sin. But I decided to wait, still wanting to hear the talk of “free choice” that was present in Arminianism, while so far had not been found in Edward’s Calvinism.

The man next to me, looking as though he came from a long and distinguished line of clergymen shook his head with a sense of disgust and disapproval uttering that what Edwards was offering no redemptive factor to his messages. Interested to find someone who had thoughts similar to mine, I turned to him.
“Excuse me sir,” I began, “Why do you not like Edward’s sermon?”
The man did not even turn my way; his eyes were still fixated on Edwards while his hands were transcribing notes.
“Mr. Edward’s sermon indicts no method or form of redemption,” the man began robotically, “He wishes to esquire the fact that humans are all embarking on a perilous journey to hell and that all are doomed to such a fate.”
I bit my lip to contain my excitement, happy to find a like-minded individual.
“Why sir,” I persisted, “do you want a note of redemption to be uttered from Edwards?”
This time, the man turned to face me, and for a minute, I believed that I had established a connection, and finally found someone who could relate to me on a spiritual level. Was this finally a man of whom, despite all of the others members being die-hard Calvinists, could share and help cultivate a new generation of modified Calvinism/modified Arminiaism.
“I want it so I can help the witches,” the man said in rigid tone, as though this was something everyone did,“ I was hoping that if I could use this information at a trial, it would help prove Martha Carrier innocent.”

He turned back, and I decided not to talk to anyone for the rest of the service.
As Edward continued to speak, I could imagine an unseen hand holding a struggling human over a fire, letting the flames sear him, but not burn him. Flesh and skin would fall off into the fire and sizzle yet occasionally; the little human would spit into the shadows at which the hand would drop the human even closer to the fire. Yet at other times, the body of every human was replaced with the trunk of a snake, and we were all cast out from earth into a salt lake along with the false prophet and the beast. Yet at others I could imagine the rich, on a boat called Safety, pulled along by a motor called Peace, when all of sudden a giant fish would swallow them up and there would be no 40 days and 40 nights of contemplation because they were already in the depths of hell.

Finally, Edwards walks off the pulpit and walks around, muttering more about how we all hang on a slender thread, and that none of us should live such sinful lives. I sit at the edge of my seat, waiting for Edwards to drop the “punch line;” that despite our sins and the grievances that we cause God, that God still loves us and sent his only son to die for us and that because of that atonement, we can be saved. But Edwards does not conclude on such a note. His last phrase is “Nothing that you have ever done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.” He grabs his bible and walks off the pulpit, and the people scramble up to talk with him, biting scratching and fighting with each other, like Salem’s dogs on rye bread. The man next to me finishes his notes, gives one more shake of disapproval at Edwards and walks off. The woman meanwhile beckons to someone named John, and that they best be heading off.

I stand and push past the people, and walk out. I know that for me, while Edwards sermon radiated some truth in the fact that human beings are powerless to sin, I could not swallow the fact that people were pre-determined. I gave one more look at Edwards: a man who clearly believed in the content of which he was preaching and that everyone was destined to go to hell. I turn back and continue to walk, knowing that this Calvinism is only one of the few radical ways to read the bible. Armanianism will come, then the Protestant reformation of Martin Luther, and then the formations of the covenant, Baptist, Greek Orthodox and other such denominations. I know how the story will end-

All of sudden, I find myself in the familiar space of Ms. Graf’s room. She just asked the question “Is there anything else you can tell me from the Edward’s reading?”
She gives me a wink with her eye, trying to coerce me to raise my hand and participate (for once) while subtley acknowledging an innate knowledge of my journey. She turns back to face the class, bellowing “C’mon 6th Period! Don’t let me down. I know you’re tired, but for those slackers and sleepers in the room, you don’t know where you’ll end up or what will happen if you don’t pay attention!” She scans the room again for a hand to emerge from the sleepy crowd, but really only having an eye out for one person.

Not knowing how I got back but happy that I am, I raise my hand, ready to tell the class of my journey with Calvinism.