Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Last Of The Immortal Arrival – Daniel Richardson

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An Excerpt from The Last of The Immortal

In a flash of white light, David fell five feet onto the snow-covered ground. To his right he heard another soft thud as his friend Charon also completed the journey. Could he even consider Charon a friend? David thought as he watched the tall man pick himself up, dusting the snow off his black robes with a slight scowl upon his face. Although he might appear young, David knew he was ancient; his eyes told the story of a millennia filled with pain and suffering, the so called gift of immortality. Behind him he heard a quiet hiss as the portal closed, sealing them for the moment in this snow-filled world of days long past. They stood at the foot of a hill as the crisp morning breeze shifted through the large evergreens that surrounded them, providing little shelter from the golden rays of the rising sun.

“Where are we?” David asked, still in awe. Just a moment ago he had paced the dark caverns of Azure, firmly believing that the world had been lost and that only Charon and he had survived. It was then that they had stepped through the legendary Doors of Time and had been transported to their present location.

Charon turned in place, first recognition, then a trace of excitement appeared on his face in rapid motion. Distracted, he ignored David’s question entirely and instead sprinted to the top of the hill, sliding in the snow. When he reached the top, he fell to his knees, surveying whatever stood before him. David picked up his sheathed sword from where it had fallen and strapped it to his back; he then slowly made his way up to where Charon knelt. What he saw fascinated him. Below, a vast valley stretched out as far as the eye could see blanketed in a layer of gleaming snow. In the center of the valley a white city rose up from the plains like a diamond upon the earth, larger by far than any David had ever seen. In the center of the city a single tower stood above the rest, reaching into the horizon. David stood unmoving, caught in wonder at the sight that was before him.

“Welcome,” Charon said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Welcome to the city of Dolor, welcome to the home of Aiden.” As he spoke, the excitement died in his expression; his eyebrows shifted downward resuming their iron shield of world-weary apathy.

“It’s so… beautiful…” David replied, lost in the cloud of amazement that surrounded the city. Now that he thought about it, everything in this world seemed rich with life. The trees were greener, the wind crisper, even the sky seemed bluer; it was if the very air was bursting with perfection.

“The world is still new, this is before the fall,” Charon interrupted his train of thought, “in four days’ time Dolor will burn, and both Aiden and Valrine will disappear without a trace for all eternity.”

“Until we released him,” David sighed heavily.

“Until we released him,” Charon confirmed.

“Why didn’t you take your own life like the others did?” David asked, the memory of finding the lifeless bodies of both Ezio and Abyss hanging from the rafters jumped to his mind. Overcome with hopelessness as they watched the world crumble from the cage of their imprisonment, Charon’s two brothers had sought Death’s sweet release, leaving only Charon and he left in the ruins of a shattered world.

Charon stood, and then turned to face him. “There have been times I wanted to. When I would have gladly taken a knife to escape the weight that bears down upon my shoulders…”

“But?”

“But in the end, I am stopped by the words a dying friend once spoke to me,” Charon’s brow furrowed, as if lost in the web of a passing memory.

“What did they say?”

“You ask too much, boy,” Charon snarled, turning to face the distant city.

David held his tongue, letting a moment of silence pass between them. “They are there aren’t they?”

“Yes, yes they are. Charon sighed. Many I once knew still live and breath in this time, even a much younger version of myself walks the streets of Dolor.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that,” David replied with a chuckle.

“Impossible. We are seven thousand years in the past; the slightest alteration of this world could completely change our own.” Charon answered his tone serious and unapologetic.

“Our own is nothing more than a scarred piece of rubble at the moment,” David countered defensively.

“I don’t think you understand. Say we do something and a person here dies who would not have before. This far removed from the present; his death could wipe an entire city from history without even a memory. We can’t disturb this era or the period of events that take place. Our only goal here is to somehow prevent Valrine from being released by us in the future.”

“Why don’t we just go to Aiden? I’m sure he…”

“That’s not an option, Aiden forsook Akentire the moment he abandoned us.” Charon’s blunt words stopped David mid-sentence.

“You owe him everything Charon. He was the…”

“I owe him nothing! Nothing! He took everything from me!” Charon roared, shouting in defiance, anger blazing across his face.

“Quiet! What was that?” David hushed his companion, averting the impending argument with a single word.

The sound of rustling leaves broke the silence and Charon’s face darkened; horror seemed to fall over him like a silken funeral pall.

“We have to leave… now.” Charon spoke in a harsh whisper.

Without a sound David followed Charon’s lead and made his way to a tree covered snow bank some ways off to their left. As they hunkered down in the frigid snow, a soft laughter echoed through the woods. Two figures, a man and woman, skipped up to the top of the hill lost in their own conversation, oblivious to the world. The woman was beautiful, her face full of youth as she twirled in the snow, sending her long golden hair swirling with the breeze. The man was also young, clothed in black robes he bore a joyous grin upon his face, the look of a man without a care in the world.

“Let’s go,” Charon whispered, sliding his body away from the two lovers on the hill. “Not just yet,” David answered, his eyes returning to the scene before him.

“What was that noise?” The man asked, his eyes following the tree line, hopelessly searching for a source.

“Probably just a bird,” The woman laughed, “Wow! Just look at this view!” she shouted, facing the white valley, “It’s so beautiful!” “Is it true what they say,” her tone suddenly dropped, growing lower, fearful even; “that he’s returning? Ravaging the North?” The man didn’t respond, instead he chose to look away, his eyes tuning out the gloomy thoughts. “Charon, answer me! They say there’s a Darkness, one that spreads over the land like a shadow, blocking out the light of day and killing all life within it. They say it grows closer to the city each day, that we should flee…”

“Flee where? Where else is there to go?” the man answered, clearly frustrated, like they had spoken of this before.

“I don’t know, I just… Aiden has not left his tower in months,” she replied reaching to take his hand.

“Aiden will protect us, just like when Valrine attacked before. He will do it again, we have nothing to fear.”

Charon grabbed David’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “We are leaving, follow me.” This time David did not resist, instead he followed Charon down the hill in silence.

Finally, when they had walked for what seemed like an eternity David spoke. “That’s how you knew what day it was, where we were… who was she?”

Charon did not turn to face him but instead looked off into the distance. “Well?” David pressed.

“This was the day it snowed…” Charon started, his voice choked with emotion, “this… this was the day she died.” Almost instantly as he said it, a loud scream echoed across the valley, sending chills down David’s spine. Charon fell to his knees ahead of him; and for a brief moment David thought that he saw a shimmering tear fall onto the white snow.

The Importance of Reading – Katy Blackburn

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In today’s culture, most people do not choose to read a book when they have free time. They would much rather watch TV, surf the web, or text someone. Thus, the question is asked, “Is reading really that important?” I believe it is, and it can benefit anyone who is willing to try it. However, a person should not read just any book, but it must be a truly good book with certain defining characteristics. A good book needs to have an engaging plot that makes a reader feel attached to the characters. A good book should also conjure up vivid images and allow a person to picture every scene that is taking place. Finally, a good book should not promote sinful behaviors, but should be insightful and thought provoking.

Reading is important because it nurtures the reader’s imagination and can lead him to create his own stories. Also, reading a wide variety of books can help a person experience other cultures or time periods. In general, reading well-written books helps a reader to broaden his vocabulary and become a better communicator, especially if he uses the words he learns from books in his everyday speech. Although it is not always the case, reading can also build relationships between people because they have something in common to talk about: their love or dislike of a particular book.

Some people would say that reading is not good for a young mind because it can pull it away from reality, giving unrealistic hopes or fears. I agree that if someone is always sucked into a book and never tuned into reality, then it is not healthy. But as a hobby, reading is extremely beneficial. A person should distinguish between fantasy and fact, and then reading is not likely to cause any harm.

Patrick McGucken Explains Why He Loves His School

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When people ask me why I would recommend Westminster, I always start with lunch. Every student wants a nice lunch, because it is the only free time during school. Luckily, Westminster provides a wonderful lunch. For fifty-five minutes, the students are free to roam the campus and spend time with each other. Lunch at our school goes beyond the normal lunch provided at a public school, it creates an environment where students can bond with teachers and experience freedom.

Initially, students have the privilege of being able to bond with students at lunch. My favorite activity to do during lunch is to play Corn hole. Corn hole is a sport that involves two teams. Each team consists of two members, who toss bean bags onto a white board. The points are calculated to where one bag on the board is one point, and a bag in the hole is three. The teams add up the amount on the board and subtract it from the other team. This is the amount of points scored for that team, when a team reaches seven the teams wins. One of the great aspects of Corn hole is the dependence required to win. It cannot be won by one person, so you have to rely on your partner. This creates a way to bond with your partner, and increases the amount of trust. Corn hole at Westminster is especially fun, because teachers participate as well as students. Teachers at are school are outgoing and want to bond with the students, I have had the experience to spend time playing with a lot of different teachers. From the math teachers who calculate each throw carefully to the humanities teachers who believe it requires a clear mind to throw properly, it creates an amusing environment. Some of the best teams in the school consist of teachers teaming up with students. However no matter team you have, everyone should watch out for Mr. Wortman. However this is not the only way to bond with teachers. Our school provides many clubs that are led by different teachers. From drama to Math Team, each club creates a unique experience to learn more and increase in fellowship. Lunch is a great place to spend time with teachers, but it is also a time to express our freedoms.

Additionally, lunch provides a unique way to bond with students. One of the major privileges that Juniors and Seniors have is the right to leave school during lunch. This means that they can eat at any fast food restaurant, or go home and sleep. The beauty of this is that it gives freedom to the students. That way the students can actually relax and spend time with each other. Jonathan Harville, a junior, describes the freedom of lunch as this. “Being able to go off campus during lunch on Tuesdays is a great privilege. It gives us a responsibility of freedom that is an exclusive Junior and Senior opportunity. Eating outside of school property with my friends gives us a unique time of fellowship that we’ve come to cherish.” The fellowship that the Juniors and Seniors have, greatly strengthens the grade as a whole. Westminster’s trust that is put in the students is one of a friend to another friend. Many of the students have come to appreciate that factor.

Overall, Westminster offers a unique lunch environment. This is not all that makes Westminster one of the greatest schools in the state. The opportunity to worship freely and interact with teachers, makes the school a phenomenal place. From my three years of attending Westminster, I can honestly say there is no where I would rather go to school.

Why Religion Should Not Be Taught in Public Schools – Olivia Godfrey

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A widely discussed and highly controversial issue throughout all of the United States is whether or not religion should be taught in public schools. Senator Phillip A. Hart from Michigan said, “I’m a Catholic and I hope a devout one, but I think that the public school classroom is no place for me to try and impose my world formula for prayer on children who don’t share it, and for that very reason, I don’t want my children in a public school classroom to be exposed to someone else’s religion or formula.” Hart is stating that he believes everyone should have freedom to have his own beliefs. Other people’s religious views should not be forced upon others, especially children. People like this do not agree with those who believe that religion should be allowed in schools for various reasons. For example, many people who do believe religion should be taught in public schools argue that they have the “freedom of speech” granted to them by the First Amendment. But does this mean that one can go out into a public place and speak out anything he wants? This is where the fine line is drawn between religious and state matters. Religion should not overflow into the government funded education. Religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because more controversy would be present if religion was permitted, many public school officials do not know enough about other religions beside their own, and lastly, teaching children about every religion is simply impossible. These three points all lead to the conclusion that allowing religion to be taught in public schools will only create even more problems and issues than were present before.

To begin, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because too many controversies would be present; therefore, more arguments would start. The word religion means, “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects” (dictionary.com). “To be taught religion” means to learn about each religion and its beliefs and faiths in order to understand it or to believe what the specific religion teaches or believes. Nowadays in society any kind of disagreement can and often does start an argument. The public school, however, is no place for more disputes to be made over religion. There are already arguments present in the public schools without religion being discussed. In the article “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools” written by Charles C. Haynes, Haynes writes, “A cursory glance at the daily headlines reminds us that religious differences are at the heart of many of the world’s most violent conflicts. And, in the United States, rapidly expanding religious diversity presents daunting new challenges for building one nation out of many faiths and cultures in the 21st century” (9). In this excerpt Haynes is trying to reveal that many of the roots of our country’s problems are the religious controversies in our nation. If the public school system does decide to allow religions to be taught, then it will only create more problems. There is no way to get around it. The more one teaches about religion, the more people will argue about what is true and what is not true. The teachers cannot force a student to think a certain way or believe in a certain religion, but the student must think for himself and decide what to believe and what not to believe. The First Amendment of Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” There are many interpretations of the First Amendment. Because of the various interpretations of this amendment, it would be hard for all of the public school systems to answer the questions: to what extent should religion be taught if it is allowed to be taught? Does giving the people the freedom of religion and speech mean that religion should not be allowed to be taught? Or does this mean that to a certain point religion should be allowed to be taught? These are the types of questions that lead to many disagreements as well as arguments. Mona M. Abo-Zena writes in her article titled “Faith from the Fringes,” “Religious diversities prompt a range of student interactions and reactions” (16). Abo-Zena, when stating that religious diversities prompt a range of interactions, means that these interactions and reactions can be productive but, they can also be destructive. It all depends on each situation. But, there is no need to put children at the risk of having to defend their faith in front of others who do not believe the same as they might. Children should not be forced into arguments that they themselves cannot control. All of this to say that allowing religion to be taught in public schools would only lead to more controversies over religion and the start of many arguments that could have been avoided.

Another reason why religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools is because many school officials and teachers do not know enough about other religions besides their own. The article “Getting Religion Right in Public School” written by Charles C. Haynes states, “Despite the recent increase in study about religion in schools, many Americans still have little or no knowledge about religions other than their own—and even that knowledge is often thin” (9). This is a problem because if public schools did decide to allow religion to be taught, the teachers and officials would have to be taught about all of the various religions first before they would be able to teach their students. This does not mean that teachers in public schools do not know of or about other religions besides their own, but it is merely impossible to really know and understand every religion present in America, just as Haynes has presented. This excerpt clearly defines why allowing religion in public schools brings about the problem of teachers being ignorant of many religions. This alone should make people think twice before allowing their children to attend a public school which allows religion to be taught. Also, another issue is that each teacher will probably only be well versed in his own religion. Mona M. Abo-Zena writes in her article “Faith from the Fringes,” “Teachers have tremendous power to validate or deny, to recognize and illuminate or ignore any sensitive topic in a classroom” (17). This statement demonstrates how having teachers with different personal religious views and convictions can affect the children they teach. This is not how religion should be taught. Whenever someone is given power, he can either use this for better or for worse, and in the case of allowing religion to be taught in public schools by uninformed teachers, this power will be used in a negative way. It may even lead to the issue of each teacher putting emphasis or even sometimes leaving out certain parts of a religion because of personal preference. This would lead to issues such as offending families of children by making some students feel of more importance. Many children in public schools are bullied for reasons such as clothing, grades, and popularity, so what is going to keep others from learning of one minority’s religion and using it against them? The way a teacher portrays each religion may have a negative connotation, so it does not seem right that public schools should create an environment where even a child’s religion is mocked. Thomas Hutton’s article “Teaching and the Bible,” “…it’s easy to do badly” (39) referring to the teaching of religion. Teaching religion is not as simple as some may perceive it to be. Religion is often a tender subject for some people, which means that when teaching about religion, one must be sensitive to others. However, this cannot be guaranteed by all of the teachers in a public school system. All in all, because the teachers in public schools have so much power and can use this to, not intentionally, but negatively affect the children, public schools should not be allowed to teach about religion.

Lastly, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because teaching various children about many different religions is simply hard to do well. To start, it is not very likely that every religion can be taught to every child. This is very unreasonable, yet if it is not done this way then many people may become offended. Just think about how much time it would take to thoroughly teach about one religion along with the beliefs and rituals. In the book “Religion and Education” published by Bonnie Szumski, it is written, “… the goal of having ‘objective’ or ‘balanced’ teaching in respect to religion, and specifically the Bible, would be difficult if not almost impossible in the current social climate” (51). This means that nowadays it is very unrealistic to think that when public schools try and teach about religions they will interpret and know everything about each religion in order to do it justice. Now this is not a problem for private schools because many are focused on one religion. Yet for a public school, many different religions are present. Therefore, if the public schools wish to teach religion, then every religion must be taught. However, schools do not have the time to teach about various religions. Public schools will not be able to provide enough of a balanced religious atmosphere for religious minorities. In Mona M. Abo-Zena’s article “Faith from the Fringes.” She writes, “Religious minorities may alternately feel proud, unique, unwelcomed, ashamed, or targeted in public schools” (15). Clearly this would be a major issue if religion was allowed to be taught in public schools. Diminishing students for their beliefs should not be what the public schools system is all about. Those who are religious minorities are people who have religions that are not as well known or as widely practiced as others in America. Even though this may not be a large people group, they are still people and have the right as American citizens to receive respect towards their religious beliefs. Therefore, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because teaching about every religion well in public schools is simply impossible.

While the point that allowing religion to be taught in public schools will lead to too many controversies and arguments is a valid point, many people argue that this should not keep children from broadening their minds by learning about different religions. In the article “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools,” Charles C. Haynes writes, “Public schools can (and should) teach about religion, where appropriate, as part of a complete education” (13). When one first looks at this statement it seems to sound as well as look logically correct. But the downfall is the phrase “complete education.” What defines “complete education” in public schools? This is where the problem lies. There is no way that public schools will be able to find a clear and precise definition for a “complete education”. Since there is no way to find a definition that everyone would agree on, this would create conflict and start arguments. This clearly shows why the point prior is valid. Public schools should not allow religion to be taught because it will lead to too many controversies as well as arguments.

Although it is true that religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because there is not enough time or resources to do so, some people believe that these should not be restricting factors when it comes to religion. An excerpt from the book “Religion and Education” states, “For example, the late Justice William Brennan, in a concurring opinion in Abington v. Schempp, stated that, ‘it would be impossible to teach meaningfully many subjects in the social sciences or the humanities without some mention of religion.’” (43). When a student broadens his knowledge of other religions, this will overflow into his knowledge in other classes. This is a very valid point, but, there is still the issue of being able to teach about every religion well in a restricted amount of time. In order not to offend any students in the school, without singling them out, it is necessary to address every religion and what the beliefs and practices are. But this is simply impossible because this is time consuming as well as simply hard to do well. Often times school curriculums will make assumptions about certain religions and people that may not be true. In Thomas Hutton’s article “Teaching and the Bible,” he writes, “Bible instruction in public schools sometimes has made assumptions about religion and student that are inconsistent with a neutral, academic approach” (40). This quote fully supports the idea that when teaching religion, false assumptions are often made. This however is not beneficial to the school or the students, therefore leading to issues. This is why it is better for everyone, teachers as well as students, that religion is not allowed to be taught because it would only cut the time of other important classes as well as be hard to do well as to not offend any students.

Public schools are supposed to be a place where all religions are welcomed but when people who do not want to be outspoken about their beliefs are forced to, then this will only cause conflict. In the book “Religion and Education” published by Bonnie Szumski, it is written when discussing the issue of prayer in public schools, “Who gets to choose the prayer? What happens to those students who find the prayers offensive or against their own religious beliefs? What happens to those who do not–for whatever reason–wish to take part in prayer?” (36). Students already are insecure about their popularity, grades, and clothing at school so why make it even harder for a student to be himself in an environment that was created to help him? This should not be the main goal of public schools. If issues will be created by allowing religion to be taught in public schools, then the risk is too high. Many students are already insecure about what they believe and some do not even know what they do believe yet. Public schools do not need to try and force all of this knowledge about other religions in their brains when many do not even know what to believe. The main point is that religion should be for the church and home, not for the public school system. Indeed, religion is a major part of America, but there should be a fine line between church and state and this is where this line should be drawn: between religion and education.

 

Abo-Zena, Mona M. “Faith from the Fringes: Religious minorities in school.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.4 (2011). 15-19. 12 February 2013. http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php
Haynes, Charles C. “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.4 (2011). 8-14. 12 February 2013. http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php
Head, Tom. Religion and Education. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Hutton, Thomas. Teaching and the Bible.” American School Board Journal
195.6 (2008). 38-41. 12 February 2013.
http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php 

A Tough Journey for a Better Future – Olivia Godfrey

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Over the past years Westminster has developed an athletic program that is very unique from any other.  It was not but a couple of years ago that Westminster had its first varsity boys basketball team.  This was a great achievement for the school athletically because it demonstrated the growing strength and courage this small private school had.  Westminster has also had many middle school girls’ basketball teams, but never before did they have a girls varsity team.  In the school year of 2012-2013, The Westminster School at Oak Mountain had its first varsity girls basketball team.  This also was a great achievement for Westminster’s athletic program. As the basketball season began, the freshman and eighth graders who would make up this team became even more anxious, and excited, for what was to come. But, many if not all of the girls that made up this first varsity team did not anticipate what was to happen in the coming season.  Before the season even started, one member of this team was out with a knee injury.  This certainly was not encouraging to the girls especially since the season had not even started yet. But they still persevered on to the road ahead of them.  During the first month of practice, the team became excited and even very confident about the coming year of varsity games.  Never before had this team played twenty-three games in one season. But, this confidence slowly faded away after several games of being beaten badly by other more experienced varsity girl teams. While confidence was low, many girls felt like this season would not accomplish anything. Almost half way through the year two more girls were out for the rest of the season. One had surgery on her foot and the other was suffering through a major concussion. With these loses this team now did not have enough players in order to scrimmage during practice or even sub well during games. Therefore, after the middle school girls’ team finished their season a couple of girls began to practice and play in games during the last half of the varsity season. No one is going to argue this was a very tough season for all of the girls in many ways. Also, not many people have had to go through a season of losing twenty-three games and winning zero. Overall, many lessons were learned because of the tough practices, tiring games, and difficult injuries among many team members.

Reflecting back on this first varsity girls’ basketball season, the girls were asked what it was like to be part of the first varsity girls’ team at Westminster:

“Being a part of the varsity for Westminster means being a team. There is simply no I in team. Even though losing every game was hard,  we had to learn to encourage each other even though it was difficult at times.”

The girls were also asked what the hardest part was during this season.

“It was hard losing all of those games, but I know that our losses will now benefit future Westminster girls teams.

And lastly, the girls were asked what the best part about the season was.

“My favorite part of the season was playing such competitive basketball. While it may have been hard, it was fun to be able to test my skills and see how well I can compete with 17 and 18 year olds. I learned how important it was that we work together as a team. If a team doesn’t get along and act like a team on and off the court, then there is no way they will have a chance at winning.”

From these answers it is safe to say this season was definitely a learning and growing season, not a winning and record-setting one. It is hard as a team to be proud of what has been accomplished when the statistics do not show it. But this team was strong and fought hard and displayed what Westminster athletics should be all about. Playing the sport for God’s glory and looking for ways to grow spiritually in the process.

Land of Beginning Again/Heaven – Rebecca Thompson

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There was a rich man who wore expensive garments and indulged in sumptuous feasts every day and a poor beggar Lazarus who was starving and stricken with sores from head to toe. Lazarus died and was carried up to Heaven by angels; however, the rich man died and was sent to Hell, in everlasting anguish. As the rich man was tormented, he lifted his eyes toward Heaven and saw Lazarus at Abraham’s side. “Send Lazarus down to dampen my tongue with water because of the tortuous flames,” he cried. Abraham responded, “Lazarus received bad things in life, but you received your good things. Now he is comforted in Heaven and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:19-25). This story of the rich man and the poor man shows how Heaven and Hell differ. Heaven is the place of peace and joy where the Lord reigns and there is no sin. Hell is the place of eternal damnation and suffering. After death, Christians are taken up to Heaven by God and non-Christians go to Hell. Clearly, Heaven is the ideal place to be because Jesus Christ rules there. The poem “The Land of Beginning Again” written by Louisa Fletcher describes Heaven, only, instead of Heaven, the poem calls this place the Land of Beginning Again; however, the way the poem describes the Land of Beginning Again does not match up with how the Bible describes Heaven. There are differences in the descriptions of Heaven related to the way admittance is achieved, meaning how a person goes to Heaven. Also, there are differences in the view of  Christ’s eminence or how He is revered. Furthermore, there are differences in the details of the environment or what Heaven is like. These three distinctions prove that the illustration of the Land of Beginning Again does not entirely equal the illustration of Heaven in the Bible and is, in fact, not nearly as beneficial.

The Land of Beginning Again differs with Heaven and is not as esteemed foremost in the way a person gets there. The poem states, “We could come on it all unaware” (7). What the poem is conveying by “we could come on it,” is that a person does nothing to attain the Land of Beginning Again, he or she simply stumbles upon it. Also, a person obtains entrance to it “unaware,” meaning unintentionally and accidentally. It is true that a Christian does not know when he or she will enter Heaven; however, it is not true that a person may come to Heaven “all unaware.” In the Bible Jesus divulges, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Admittedly, it is possible for anyone to receive eternal life in Heaven, for this quote pronounces “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” But this citation also affirms that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a person must first hear the words of Jesus and believe in God the Father and be saved. Besides this, a person must also “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Therefore, it is impossible to enter Heaven “unaware,” for a person must first become a Christian, and, as a true Christian, will await Heaven, knowing of its reality. The poem additionally states that the Land of Beginning Again is discovered “like the hunter who finds a lost trail” (8). Of course, it is true that a spiritually “lost” person may find out how to get to heaven; nevertheless, Heaven should not be compared to a “lost trail” because Heaven itself is for the lost, so that they may find a way to life. This is evident when the Bible declares, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). These representations of how to get to the Land of Beginning Again and Heaven show how these places are not fully alike and that Heaven is superior.

Subsequently, the Land of Beginning Again and Heaven, the better of the two, contrast in how Christ is viewed there. The poem expounds, “The one whom our blindness has done the greatest injustice of all could be at the gates like an old friend that waits for the comrade he’s gladdest to hail” (9-12). “The one whom our blindness has done” is describing Jesus Christ, for “the greatest injustice of all” is His crucifixion. It might seem that, because Jesus is present in the Land of Beginning Again and Heaven, the two places are similar; however, this quote conflicts with how Jesus is regarded in Heaven because although it is true that Jesus may be seen as a friend and comrade, he is more than just that. The Bible proclaims of angels in Heaven, “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed’ ” (Revelation 15:3-4). Jesus is “the Lamb” and in Heaven Jesus is seen as “great and amazing,” “just and true,” “holy,” and “righteous.” Furthermore, the angels sing of Jesus that “all nations will come and worship you,” meaning all Christians shall praise and adore Jesus, the Lamb of God. The poem does not speak of Jesus Christ in this point of view. Another dissimilarity in the way Jesus is viewed is unmistakable when the poem asserts, “And I think that the laughter is most what we’re after in the Land of Beginning Again” (29-30). One might object here that this assertion does not contradict with what the Bible says of Heaven because Heaven is a place of laughter. This is perceptible when the Bible conveys, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). What this citation is communicating is that, as a Christian, if you “weep now” on earth, “you shall laugh” later in Heaven; however, the poem expresses of the Land of Beginning Again that “laughter is most what we’re after,” whereas, laughter is not the Bible’s main reasoning for seeking Heaven. This is apparent when the Bible commands, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). As Christians, people are to fix their “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Laughter, nonetheless, can be found “on earth.” Although laughter is good because it is in Heaven, Christians should seek after what can only be found in Heaven. This passage also states that a Christian should “seek the things that are above, where Christ is,” meaning a person should work toward Jesus in Heaven. The fact that Christ is present there should make a person want to go to Heaven because Jesus is perfect and the savior of the universe. As previously confirmed, the way Jesus is viewed is one of the key differences between Heaven and the Land of Beginning Again and shows that Heaven is the greater place.

Finally, the Land of Beginning Again and Heaven, the more valuable of the two, are distinct in their environments, meaning what a person does there. “We would find all the things we intended to do but forgot, and remembered too late,” (13-14) the poem conveys. What this excerpt is communicating is that, in the Land of Beginning Again, a person may “find all things,” meaning all belongings and activities on earth must be found there. On top of that, a person may find what he or she “intended to do,” which shows we could do everything we wanted to do on earth in the Land of Beginning Again. Of course, some people’s dreams may have been a world without sin, but the poem is speaking of what a person may have wanted to do. Additionally, it is true that Heaven is a perfect world, but this does not mean we will do all that we wanted to do on earth there, for, in Heaven, people will no longer desire earthly wants. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 19-20). What this verse means is that we should not store up valuable effects on earth, rather in Heaven, where things last forever; therefore, earthly treasures are worthless in Heaven and there is no care for them there. This means that what we want on earth is not the same as what we will want in Heaven. Moreover, “The Land of Beginning Again” expresses that there will be “little promises broken” (15). Although by “little” the poem means “a small amount,” this indicates that some promises are broken. Since breaking a promise is a sin, it must be concluded that sin is not fully absent in the Land of Beginning Again. This is not the same for Heaven. This is clear when the Bible announces of Heaven, “Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Revelation 21:27); breaking a promise is “false” because it is a form of lying, which is a sin and, therefore, “unclean” and “detestable.” Consequently, the poem states, “All our mistakes and all our heartaches and all of our selfish grief could be dropped” (3-5/33-35); whereas the Bible professes of God in Heaven, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4). It might seem that both of these passages mean the same thing: that grief, tears, and death will be absent. Nevertheless, the poem does not mention not having pain, but the Bible does. This proves that the Land of Beginning Again is not perfect, unlike Heaven, for how is there to be a perfect world that has pain? These variations in the Land of Beginning Again’s and Heaven’s environments, ergo, support the argument that they are disparate and Heaven is more beneficent.

On the whole, Heaven and the Land of Beginning Again conflict because of the poem’s outlook on Jesus. Jesus is the main focus throughout the Bible’s passages on Heaven that have been previously referenced; however, the poem barely mentions Jesus at all; and when it does, the poem does not even call Jesus by His name, but “the one whom our blindness has done the greatest injustice of all.” Because of this, Heaven is greater than the Land of Beginning Again. Jesus’s prominence in Heaven proves how Heaven is better than the Land of Beginning Again when the Bible states that Christians are to seek what is above, where Christ is, thus demonstrating Christ’s importance. The poem, regardless, does not show the same value of Jesus as the Bible does. The past exemplifications confirm the argument that the poem’s depiction of the Land of Beginning Again differs from the Bible’s depiction of Heaven, and is not as advantageous.

Strength and Courage – Joshua Moore

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It was 1990, and the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, was just finishing their expansion of the New Headquarters Building. Submissions had come in from all over the nation for artwork to adorn the courtyard. The only qualification for this $250,000 commission was that it should inspire feelings of well being and hope (Clues to Stubborn Secret in C.I.A.’s Backyard). The winner, a modern sculptor named Jim Sanborn, was partnered with Edward Scheidt, a retired CIA cryptographer, in order to design an encoded sculpture. Over twenty years later, Kryptos has yet to be fully decoded.

To begin with, Kryptos is made of red granite, green granite, quartz, petrified wood, and four large copper panels, into which the encoded messages are engraved. The sculpture is curved, like the letter S, and lies in the Northwest corner of the New Headquarters Building. One half of the message is a ciphertext, a style of encryption which uses an algorithm to encode. This first part contains eight hundred sixty five letters and four question marks. Sanborn also intentionally incorrectly spelled a few words to make the decoding process more difficult. The second half of the code is encrypted with Caesar ciphers. This is a style of code where one letter will represent another. For example, if B represented A, C represented B, and so on the word DOG would become EPH. However Sanborn made it much more complicated than this by using different sets of Caesar Ciphers. This technique is called a Vigenere Cipher.

The Vigenere Cipher is a seemingly complicated form of encryption. This code is attributed to Blaise de Vigenere. It is categorized as a polyalphabetic cipher, in other words a cipher based on multiple different alphabet substitutions. The first documentation of a polyalphabetic cipher is from the Renaissance artist Alberti. Within an encoded document, Alberti would switch alphabetical substitutions. This was the first step towards the Vigenere Cipher. The second occurred in 1508 with Johannes Trithemius. He invented the Tablua Recta, which is necessary for encoding in the Vigenere Cipher and a labor saving tool for Caesar Ciphers. The Tablua Recta is a chart made of the alphabet; twenty six letters by twenty six letters (See last page). But with each row, the alphabet is spelled in a different order. Giovan Bellaso was the first person to describe the concept of the Vigenere Cipher. Bellaso took Trithemius’s Tablua Recta and added the concept of changing the Caesar Cipher by a keyword. Blaise de Vigenere later published a description of a very similar code. The Vigenere Cipher is named after him, but many say that Bellaso was the true inventor.

In order to create a Vigenere Cipher, there are two necessary parts: a keyword and a Tablua Recta.  Here is the process of encoding the word MATH in a Vigenere Cipher if the keyword is DOG. First you rewrite MATH using the keyword, so MATH becomes DOGD. Then you find the row on the Vigenere Square beginning with D, and find the letter to replace M. But to encode the second letter, you use a different row on the Vigenere square, so the code for the second letter is completely different than the code for the first letter. So MATH encoded with a Vigenere Cipher if the keyword is DOG becomes POZK. The longer the keyword, the more difficult it is to crack the code. For example if the keyword is MATHEMATICS, then MRCHAMBLESS would become YRVOEYBEMUK. Try decoding that!

Getting back to Kryptos, the first two messages are encoded with Vigenere Ciphers, the third section with Ciphertext, and the last part with an unknown encryption. The first message reads, “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of illusion,” and is encoded with the keyword PALIMPSEST. The second message is much longer: “It was totally invisible, how’s that possible? They used the Earth’s magnetic field. The information was gathered and transmitted underground to an unknown location. Does Langley know about this? They should; it’s buried out there somewhere. Who knows the exact location? Only WW; this was his last message. ‘Thirty eight degrees, fifty seven minutes, six point five seconds north.'” The third message is encoded with a ciphertext, and is a quote about the opening of King Tut’s tomb. “Slowly, desperately slowly the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway was removed with trembling hands. I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner, and then widening the hole a little, I inserted a candle and peered in. The hot air escaping from the chamber caused the flame to flicker, but presently the details of the room within emerged from the mist. ‘Can you see anything?'” This is a quote from The Tomb of Tutankhamen  by Howard Carter. From these three messages alone, Kryptos already creates an aura of good feeling and hope.

But Kryptos is not necessarily famous for its characteristic good feeling and hope, but its aura of mystery. This atmosphere is created by the unsolved fourth message. Thousands have unsuccessfully tried to crack this code, but Sanborn proved each of them wrong. In 2003, a Yahoo! Group dedicated to solving the remaining portion of Kryptos was solved. It actively coordinates the work of over 2,000 members. Interest in the Sculpture drastically increased in 2010, when Sanborn decided o give the CIA a hint, that within the fourth part, the 64th through 69th letters encode the word Berlin. After this clue, Richard Gray, a former NSA and current CIA operative, claims to have identified the encryption of the fourth message. He believes that the last section is encoded with a Playfair system and a keyword, but he has yet to actually decode the message. He is not the first to believe he has solved it; some code breakers have begun accusing Sanborn of lying about the message. Yet with all of the current technology, it seems that a 20 year old code would be easy to crack. But Kryptos has proved everyone wrong.

“Earth’s Lament” by Ethan Shaw

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Earth’s Lament
By Ethan Shaw, Class of 2015Groanings manifold and desperate
Flowed from earth’s deep womb, to hallow Seed of man yet Heaven’s flower—
He to purge our souls most fallow!

To the tension of the heartstrings
Plucked by the angels, solemn rite!
Her rocks were split, entreaty made,
Lest darkness quench the perfect Light.

She had seen Him first as sculptor;
He fashioned life out of the clay,
Celestial craft or earthly trade—
Created marvels in each way.

Mortal sepulchers were opened;
Each drop from Heaven like a tear—
She mourned those selfsame potter’s hands
Now torn by tools He’d known so dear.

Tombs had opened up that evening;
Creation’s grief had manifest.
Just so pierced hands are glorified,
Which overcame the Tempter’s best!

“Resurrectus sum. Vivatis!”
An anthem of the heart and soul:
That earth would sacrifice desire
And thus that we would be made whole!

 

The Place Where I Belong by Olivia Godfrey

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Olivia Godfrey
Mr. Kross
American Literature 9B December 3, 2012

The Place Where I Belong

 

Hi, my name is Mary Emily Black and I was born in 1953 and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am twenty-three years old and am currently living in Carson City, Nevada. In the fourth grade, everyone in my class was given a pen pal from somewhere in the United States. My pen pal’s name was Lucy and she lived in Sacramento, California. I wrote Lucy at least once a week, telling her all about school and my family. Lucy was an only child too, but we both wanted a sibling terribly. Through our letters, Lucy and I became such close friends. All throughout elementary and middle school, we wrote to each other every week. During my first year of high school, I went to the mail box to receive my letter from Lucy. I quickly opened it, but there was no letter inside. Instead, there was a ticket that fell out of the envelope onto the driveway. I hurriedly picked the ticket up to see what it was for. Attached to the train ticket was a note which said,

This is for you to come and visit me soon! Cannot wait to see you in person!

Love, Lucy

I was so surprised and filled with excitement as I read her little note and held the ticket in my trembling hands. Throughout the rest of that day, I could not stop smiling as my heart raced with eagerness.

About a week before I was going to leave to visit Lucy, my mom became sick with Scarlet Fever. This was devastating not only because scarlet fever can be deadly, but because my mom was, at the time, six months pregnant. I had always longed for a sister. Although my mom was very sick, I wanted so badly to go meet Lucy for the first time.

“Go on,” my mom would say, “I’m getting better. Don’t you worry about me.” But I could tell in her eyes that she was not. However, I convinced myself that she would get better and that I could not waste a ticket that was given as a gift. So, as planned, I left to go to Sacramento, California.

Before I knew it, I was climbing aboard the train to California. I had never ridden on a train before. The smell of the train station was like that of a gathering of people who had not showered for days. As I raised my handkerchief to my nose, I took one step at a time to find my place on the inside of the train. On the inside it smelled like Christmas morning. The fresh scent of pine wood was in the air. Everyone on the train looked so kind and friendly. I must have stood in the door way for at least ten minutes, my eyes growing bigger by the second as I took in the atmosphere around me.

I moved from the doorway down the aisle of the first car. Booths and chairs were along the isle to each side. The chairs were quickly filling up with the people eager to find a place to sit. I looked around for an open chair or booth. Way in the back, at the very end of the aisle, was a booth with two seats on either side. I immediately bolted down the aisle in order to claim that seat because there was no way I would stand during that whole train ride. As I sat down, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Now all that was left was to enjoy the ride.

I waited for the engine to begin huffing and puffing, for the sound of the people at the station to yell at their loved ones “good-bye!” This was all a new adventure for me, and I eagerly waited for it to begin.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” I looked up to see an elderly woman, probably in her early sixties, standing in front of me. She smelled like she was wearing a very expensive perfume and she wore a bright red leather coat.

“No, it’s not,” I responded.

“Well then I guess it has my name on it,” she replied giving me a sweet old- lady smile. I smiled back and then quickly jerked my head to stare out of the window because I was not sure it would be polite to observe this elderly lady anymore.

After about half an hour or so, I turned from the foggy glass to see the old lady knitting something that looked to be a scarf. She had a bright purple yarn and two silver knitting needles.

She saw that I was looking at her work and said, “Oh, this is for my granddaughter. She is sick with scarlet fever, so I figured it would be nice to make her a gift. I can’t even imagine her lying in bed all day so miserably. She was always so full of life and energy.” As the old lady continued to tell me all about her granddaughter and all her grandkids, I began to think about what she had said about her granddaughter having so much energy. My mother used to be that way before she became sick. Always so happy and content. But now, every time I thought of her, I saw her just lying there, as though all the energy had been sucked out of her. It was like she was not even the same woman anymore.

“I haven’t properly introduced myself. My name is Miss Anna Watkins, but you may call me Anna. And you are?”

“My name is Mary Emily Black.”
“Well it’s very nice to meet you Mary Emily. Where are you off to?” “California. I am going to visit a friend.”

“California! Wow that’s a long ways away for such a young girl to go by herself. I’m headed to Carson City, Nevada myself. How old are you sweetie?”

“I turn fifteen in December. My friend who I am going to visit actually bought this ticket for me. I was almost not able to go, though, because my mom became sick with scarlet fever.”

“Well I am happy to know she is better now. Family is the most important thing in life. It is always important to be there for your family, even in the toughest times, so that they may support you when you need it.”

I thought about what she had said and began to feel my stomach turning inside me. “Miss Anna? My mother is not better. She is still sick and I left her.”

“You poor thing! Don’t cry. Everything is alright. Everything is–” She started to cough in between words until finally, her coughing ceased.

“Miss Anna? Miss Anna, can you hear me? Somebody, anybody, help!” Those where the last few words I screamed before I was surrounded by darkness.

When I awoke I found myself still on a train, but a different one. I slowly sat up and looked around. I do not remember if I fainted or blacked out, but all I do remember is waking up and not recognizing anyone. What had happened to Miss Anna? She was nowhere in sight. I prayed that she had made it safely to her granddaughter and that whatever had happened to her was not too severe.

“Ma’am, excuse me? Where is this train headed?” “Minnesota,” she replied with a twinkle in her eye.

I was so thrilled to be on my way home. I didn’t care how, but I was on my way to where I was needed the most and where I belonged.