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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: BASICs

BASICs. It stands for “Brothers And Sisters In Christ.”

This is what Sophie, the church retreat organizer, tells us during the meeting for Bible study leaders. Earlier last week, she e-mailed me to ask if I would lead the sophomore men’s small group. I agreed.

The goal was to make the guys in the small group feel comfortable opening up about spiritual struggles their non-Christian friends wouldn’t understand. The e-mail said, “Our vision is that they will begin to trust and pray for one another, and most importantly, love one another.”

That’s what BASICs are for. Because in the tough world where worldly temptations come from every angle, we as Christians need to press on through the faith with our BASICs. What that usually looks like is a whole bunch of Asians going to the Davis Creamery on dollar scoop night, complaining about our BioSci midterms.

When the weekend starts, I notice that the second night of the retreat happens to be my second birthday – two days before MLK’s birthday. That night, I celebrate it alone with leftover funfetti cupcakes from dinner, reading the fourth chapter of 1 John. Two years ago was a similar scene. I was sitting in a cafeteria during a retreat, reading the same passages and it hit me that Christianity made sense, and I couldn’t find a way to believe otherwise. The other kids in the cafeteria playing Cranium had no idea I was accepting Christ three tables down.

I think about the small group I had earlier that day after the morning’s sermon. The keynote speaker for the weekend just spent the hour talking about how Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night because he was ashamed. But later in the Gospel, he reappears in the daytime to boldly proclaim his faith.

Wearing my Kid Cudi shirt, I decided that the theme of the small group was “Day N Nite.” The goal: Have the guys in my group not be ashamed and open up.

I asked everyone to say their name, major and to answer the question, “When was the last time you told a lie that you thought was the truth when you said it?”

I ask David, the other small group leader, to start and he says he does it every day.

Ironically, it’s night now and everyone’s especially open with one another. A few hours earlier, the speaker had the emotional sermon planned with the extended worship session so kids can either dedicate or rededicate their lives to Christ. It’s a retreat cliché.

Most are off in pairs, spread out in the different pockets of the sanctuary conjoined with the cafeteria. Some are crying and praying with one another. Others use the time to catch up with people they haven’t talked to in a while.

I’m in the back of the cafeteria stuffing myself with funfetti.

At two in the morning, my friend Glory, who sang during the worship set a few hours earlier, asks to talk. I suggest we go into what I call “the barn” – the room across the kitchen with bare wooden walls and a fan to air out the smell of rat urine.

She says she’s been crying so much during the day that she was dehydrated. We sit there til four – mostly in silence – as she tells me that she isn’t sure a God exists who listens and answers her prayers. Whereas a year ago, she spent hours each week praying while she was running through the Arboretum. She doesn’t know anymore if prayer is just a wall she’s talking to.

I don’t know what to say back, because after two years, I can’t agree or disagree. I pull my beanie over my head, partly because I know the image of my glasses poking through the gray knit will make her laugh, and partly because I don’t want her to see my face.

One of the icebreaker games we played that weekend was Amazon Women. During the game, all of the guys have to link arms and stay together for 15 minutes as girls try and tear them apart. It’s notorious for turning people into Pokemon. Girls become ruthless destroyers with smiling faces, and I become a head-butting machine.

When Sophie yells “Start!” all the guys run and link arms. The cafeteria suddenly becomes a war zone, and I hold onto my comrades like bombs are dropping. And it sounds like bombs are dropping.

We do anything to stick together as girls pull at our arms and legs to rip us apart. Some of the other guys are yelling “Don’t let go, I got you!”

My glasses fall off. My beanie’s long gone. I’m yelling at the top of m y lungs, trying to hold onto everyone while making sure I’m still alive. The guy I was holding onto gets torn away. As he spirals into death, he yells, “Don’t give up, you can do it!”

I’m trying not to give up, but my arms are tired. I’m head-butting anything and everything that tries to pry me away. Amidst the yelling and pulling, I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, who’s on my side and who’s not. But I pray to anything to keep me going. I pray to God. I pray to Satan. I pray to my helpless soul. Above all the voices, I hear Sophie yell there’s only three minutes left.

Just a little longer. It’s been two years already. I can’t give up yet.

GEOFF MAK apologizes for the racist undertones of the name “Amazon Women.” He didn’t make it up. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you can come up with a better name.

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