The Minstrel

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The Reverend Emmanuel was fighting a war. Inside the battalion of his dominion, he was preparing the army of God to fight against the devil. There was no talk of peace, of gentleness, or of meekness. He had victory on hi mind. The victory was for God’s glory. He was honored to take up this fight. He would not back down before the task in front of him.

The Church, the Bride of Christ, needed purification. She needed the strength of her Betrothed. All this talk amongst the sheep, the mumbo jumbo of feeding the poor and sending missionaries to far off lands to build homes was pure nonsense. The world was laughing at the Church because she couldn’t get her act together, and the world knew it. That was why they rejected the Church. Why would they trade in all their earthly pleasures for something that seemed so weak? The Church needed to regain her power. They had the message of life, they were the ones with the power, even though it wasn’t the least obvious to anyone who was not part of her. Jesus seemed conspicuously absent from most bodies of Christ. Well, Emmanuel didn’t know about the rest of the Body of Christ, but his sheep were going to be strong in the Lord. There were to be no backsliders here.

He could spot the backsliders a mile away. The Spirit within him always made it obvious to him. It was as though the conflict in their souls resonated from them, portraying the struggle between the angels of God and the servants of Satan. The armor of God had not failed them; they failed God. They failed to resist the devil like James the apostle implored, and now they had fallen prey to spiritual attack.

These people were unwelcome in his church. You could not serve two masters. You could not serve the Lord and the world. Either you were hot or cold, not lukewarm. The Lord said this, so Emmanuel obeyed. And as the Lord spewed the lukewarm from his mouth, so did Emmanuel spew the lukewarm from his flock, in order not to contaminate the faithful members that remained. Paul had directed the Corinthians to banish the incestuous backslider, and so did Emmanuel. The disobedient were shunned, unwelcome to house meetings and Bible discussions. They were remanded to the back of the church during service, unworthy to be in the front in his sight. Those acknowledged as unrepentant backsliders were shunned until they repented and Emmanuel received a word of knowledge that it was all right to embrace the sheep back into the flock.

He was outside, staring into the sky. Blue, pure, like heaven itself. God was purity, bliss and love. The way of Satan was death. Why people would allow Satan to plunder their souls after they had tasted the sweet spirit of the Lord was beyond him. The devil only offered temporary pleasure. In the end he only brought death, with no exceptions. These false Christians thought they could have their sin and eat it too; sin now and call on God when it was over. What did they make God out to be? A cafeteria? Pick and choose what commandments you wanted to follow and leave the rest? No, God was no fool. He was not to be deceived. Perhaps these harlots would be spared and God would keep them in the fold, but they would pay heavily in this life, especially if they did not repent. He did not want any part of these recalcitrants. He only wanted souls on fire for God, the true God.

This life was better than his old life. He would never want to go back to it/ At times, Satan would plague him with his vile crimes as a sinner. In a way, it was easier for him to see himself as a sinner. His sins were obvious to everyone who knew him back then, though most did not know of his past now. To be considered evil amongst evil men had always been his lot. There were people who had met their Maker prematurely because of him, and one still haunted him. He hoped those souls had made their peace with Jesus before he snuffed out their lives. He would hate to know that he had sent some good soul to the devil just because they hadn’t had time to repent to Jesus before their deaths, and he thought of them quite often. He still asked God’s mercy for those deeds.

Gangs. Emmanuel saw them constantly on the streets. They tried to camouflage themselves, but he could spot their earmarks anywhere, even after all these years. He used to stand just as their did, with the wary looks, the stiff chest, dark expressions. A hooded, featureless creature would stand on the corner and a Cadillac would pull up to it. A brief interchange, and the Cadillac would speed off, and the hooded figure would mysteriously disappear. He was getting older, but he was not so old that he did not remember. He watched his pasts on the streets. Nothing had changed there. The devil still maneuvered in his old ways here.

Guns. He saw where they were hidden on them, because he used to hide them the same way. Guns. The devil used them to destroy his life; how many years had he destroyed behind barbed wire and bars because of them? Guns. The ending of life. Made him a god unto himself, choosing when people would die. There were payments for these crimes. Six casualties. Three rival gang members, all with children, two Hispanic, one white. A white woman, done in revenge for a killing of one of his homeboy’s woman. And last, a man and a child, both Puerto Rican. The man made to many waves. He tried to take men off the street, including Emmanuel. He didn’t mind his own business. They were his last casualties.

Children. Their faces looked at him now as he passed them playing on the playground . They always were afraid of him at first. He would smile, and then somehow they warmed to him. The Lord smiled through him and the children saw His beauty in his soul. Emmanuel himself was not beautiful, for he was evil. Children knew no color when they saw a beautiful soul. They were smiling now. No color. No Spic, no nigger, no honky. Children could be cruel and use many other names, but did not have the weapon of racism at their disposal or understanding. Something seemed to go wrong later on; maybe the children should teach the elders, instead of the other way around

The courage of his convictions was faltering. He had been spared to better his people and carry God’s message to them. T o save them from the streets.

Living very much the life that his last victim had. But he wonders if he wanted to anymore. If he was worthy anymore. Had he ever been worthy?

Emmanuel went to prison less than a month later. Not for the murders, but for armed robbery. He had held up a bodega on 168th and gotten time for that, only the second time he ever saw the inside of the cell. It was in prison that he had his conversion experience. There had been this guy named Carlos who’d been there years before him and would in all likelihood be there long after him; he was in for a double capital crime- a fire marshal as well as a police officer. They were both shaking him down when he was armed and high on crack, and he shot both of them. Carlos had no memory of the murders. He had just been a junkie trying to support his habit before that incident. Now he was a cop killer, and he was in for life. He managed to stay downstate only because the state facilities had been full then. He still was in danger of being transferred. Then he would see none of his family, for they all lived in the Bronx. Emmanuel felt he beat the system then. For five killings he should have been in longer. But in six months, he was going to be free.

Despite his lot in lot in life, Carlos almost seemed happy. Every morning, he would start the day by singing praises to God. Some of the other inmates would join him. Carlos welcomed everyone to join him, but few were willing, or brave enough, for that matter. For people who were brave enough to challenge life on the outside, most were conservative here. There was nowhere to hide here. But that didn’t deter Carlos. He read the Bible and preached from it. Though there were a lot of people who covered their ears when he spoke, Carlos was well liked. He could be trusted, and he was admired by everyone because of his guts. When you had a problem, you went to Carlos. He was more popular than the prison chaplain. The inmate population could relate to him better.

It was during one of his conversations with Carlos that he first heard of the Lord. He had been telling Carlos his usual rap about his worries; about whether Abdullah was waiting for him, even though she visited him every time the public was permitted, about what was he going to do with his life once he got out of jail, would any reputable employer hire a black man with a prison rap, when right when he was in the middle of talking about whether he thought Abdullah was pregnant with a boy or a girl, he stopped. It was Carlos’ expression. It was so peaceful, so calm. Emmanuel had never seen anything like it. It had more impact upon his spirit than any blow or threat ever had. He wondered at what Carlos had. After all, it wasn’t like Carlos had much to be peaceful about, condemned for the rest of his life to this place. But yet, there he was siting before Emmanuel with the utmost calm about him.

Carlos noticed his alarm. He asked Emmanuel what was wrong, but a voice inside Emmanuel’s head that Carlos knew what he was going to say. It was the first time Emmanuel had ever heard this voice in his life.

Emmanuel stuttered, not really knowing how to answer. He was in awe of the spectacle that was Carlos. He finally found the words asking, how is it that you are so peaceful when your life is such hell?

Carlos smiled, apparently not the least abashed by the question. His dark, rugged, beaten face seemed flawless then, like an angel’s. It was like a transformation had taken place. It is the peace of God within me, not of my doing, the perfect face said.

What the hell is that supposed to mean, Emmanuel barked, suddenly afraid. There was a part of him that wanted to run, and yet he remained where he was.

What I mean is, Carlos explained, the source of my peace does not come from me. It is a gift of the Lord. The Lord lives within me. I asked him to live and reign in my soul, and He is my peace and strength now. Without him, I am nothing.

Emmanuel was still confused. How does God make you peaceful when you’re stuck in this place?

My happiness and joy has nothing to do with this world, was Carlos’ reply. Whatever happens in this world right now doesn’t matter because it has no meaning in the long run. My joy comes from the knowledge that an everlasting God loves and cares for me. I anticipate eternal peace and life when I die and go to heaven. All this I have because of God. My time here means nothing compared to the eternal joy I have with him.

Emmanuel still didn’t get it, even though he found his fear dissipating. He was instead, awed at this god who loved all, even the criminal. If Carlos had this much peace, he either was smuggling in good dope or maybe God was doing something good for him. He couldn’t get over the fact that God would give a murderer peace of mind. Incredulous, he inquired more.

So if God is so loving, how come you have all this peace and I don’t. And what makes you say that you are going to heaven when you’re a murderer?

Carlos smiled knowingly. Ah, but you see, God looks at sin differently than you and me. To Him, if you are angry with your brother, you have sinned no differently than if you murdered him. Sin is not ranked in order to him. Sin is just choosing to live apart from him. So you see, God sees me no differently than he would you. He loves everyone, but he will respect our free will and not interfere if we do not want his Divine influence in our lives. But God does not want anyone to go to hell, even someone like me. That is why he sent his son to die and resurrect, so all could be redeemed. God is merciful to everyone who asks and who chooses to have Him rule their heart.

Emmanuel felt like running from his seat as a prickly fear set through him. Vague memories of loud Baptist ceremonies during his childhood came back to haunt him. Hands telling him he should fall at the feet of the Lord. He turned to Carlos asking, you don’t mean the blood of Jesus stuff, do you?

Carlos smiled, tipping his head to one side. Why yes, I do. Are you saved too?

With that. Emmanuel bolted away from there as fast as he could. He couldn’t deal with any of this Jesus freak stuff, no matter how peaceful this guy was.

He changed his mind in a matter of days.

It was about a week later; hard to calculate exact numbers of days in a place like this. The day he got the news, the worst day of his life. Abdullah was dead, her life robbed by a single bullet. His world, his love gone forever. She had been his strength for many years now, and when he was not there to protect her, she had been stolen from him. He needed her strength to survive this pain, and she was no longer there to give it to him. His soul was in anguish, crying out for comfort, and now that she was gone, there was only one place he knew where to go. He ran to the chapel where he knew where Carlos would be, and he knelt down next to him and wept, saying over and over without realizing what he was saying, I need your Jesus, I need your Jesus.

Carlos nodded calmly, as though he was expecting Emmanuel to say that all along. All he asked was, Are you ready to relinquish all control of your life to Jesus Christ, or just the parts that hurt?

Emmanuel suddenly didn’t care anymore if Jesus ran his life or not. For twenty seven years he had run his own life, and look where it had gotten him. Being the murderer of a young girl and her father, and locked up behind bars while his girl and his unborn child where gunned down in cold blood. Who cared if Jesus ran his life? He could have it as far as Emmanuel cared. IF Jesus loved him so much, let Him fix his life.

Carlos asked another question. “Are you willing to accept that you are a sinner and deserve damnation for all your sins, but that Jesus died in your place and resurrected so that you can have his power and victory over sin? ”

The resurrection. How many times ha he heard of its power in his earlier days. It was amazing how rapidly his memory of the old pastor Smith hollering about the power of the Lamb. Hearing of the power through the love of Jesus. The power he had created by conquering death and sin. Jesus was the only real power. And Emmanuel needed him now. HE was ready/

There had been no vision or powerful light when Carlos prayed with him to accept Jesus Christ. To be honest, he felt nothing different at all. He began to wonder if he hadn’t prated correctly. Until that night, when he experienced a soothing deep sense of peace which he never experienced before. He realized that Carlos was right; nothing on earth did matter. He had the peace of the Lord now, the assurance that God would be with him forever. All other things seemed to pale in comparison to that glory.

And for the last fourteen years, Emmanuel Gideon Jackson had been a saved man.

A ball from a nearby game dribbled near his car. There were kids playing a game, couldn’t be more than eight years old; an age where innocence started meeting the monsters with a vengeance on the streets. One of the kids came over to him. He said, mister, can you get our ball, we can’t go in the streets. Emmanuel looked at him, wondering what this kid would be like when he was older. If he would even make it that far. Emmanuel had been that age once, and look what happened to him. But there was nothing he could do for the kid. Nothing but throw the ball back. So he did. Several women eyed him suspiciously. Who could blame them? A black man loitering in a nice car near a bunch of kids? What good could come of that? Because he knew. He knew from before, before he put the costume of God on in his life.

So he drove away. Away from the stares, but not away from the darkness that lodged inside him. There was no escaping that. None.

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