Kanye West and God's Redemptive Grace

Recently, Kanye West has been making headlines (I feel like that’s an evergreen phrase) with his recent actions surrounding church and his faith. Over the past year, he’s been organizing and holding church services across the country, having interviews where he talks about his new-found faith in God, and even recently announcing a new gospel-influenced album entitled Jesus Is King. Kanye says that Jesus Is King has been made to be "an expression of the gospel and to share the gospel and the truth of what Jesus has done to me."

Kanye is an incredibly polarizing person, no doubt about it. Over the span of his career, he’s done some pretty wild stuff. He has talked about how he views himself almost as a god. He’s written horribly misogynistic songs. He donned a MAGA hat a year ago and hung out in the Oval Office. He even more recently went on TV and recited gross, prejudiced rhetoric. Frankly, it can be exhausting trying to keep up with Kanye West. However, over the past year as Kanye has made headlines about his faith, I’ve been really disheartened by the responses of Christians. Maybe we’re all tired of Kanye at this point, or think The Life Of Pablo didn’t live up to the hype. However, it has felt like many, if not most Christians have heard about Kanye's recent antics and flippantly dismissed it as “Kanye being Kanye again.” It seems like many, if not most Christians don’t think Kanye’s new-found faith could possibly be genuine, and many people think this is another attention seeking scheme of his because at the end of the day, "Kanye will be Kanye". Instead of giving Kanye or the faith in God he claims to have a chance, many Christians have dismissed him entirely.

Here’s the thing: the bible is full of utterly, broken people whose hearts were touched by God. People who made claims bolder than Kanye ever has, and did things crazier than Kanye ever will. David had an affair with a guy's wife, got her pregnant, and then proceeded to have the husband killed just to cover it up. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who took advantage of the most vulnerable members of society to make himself rich. Paul was a guy whose professional job was to go door to door and murder believers of Jesus. Yet, each of these stories are bold examples of God’s redemptive grace and ability to touch the hearts and lives of broken people. David wasn’t defined by his horrific mistake and was still able to have a meaningful, impactful life. Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus and his heart changed. He then made it his mission to pay back every single person he had wronged, even if it meant he would now be the one living in poverty. Paul went from murdering Christians to becoming one of the most influential leaders of the early Christian church, eventually losing his life because of his belief in Jesus. None of us are too broken to encounter God.

Over the past few years, my faith has evolved from one where everything always seemed very black and white to me, to one where I see the grey areas and embrace them instead of running away or rejecting them. I don’t think faith or belief in God is supposed to be a cut-and-dry, yes or no type deal. To me, Kanye West and his faith is a grey area. In writing this, my intent is not to defend Kanye and make a case to prove he’s changed. My intent is to make a case for the power of God’s grace. It is entirely possible in a week from now, Kanye will log onto twitter and tweet this was all just a giant joke. But is it not also possible that Kanye could be genuine? That he could actually have faith and truly be trying to follow God to the best of his ability? Is God not in the business of touching hearts and changing lives? As I reflect over my life, if I had a dollar for every negative thing I've done I would be a billionaire. I’ve said terrible things and I’ve done terrible things. We all have. However, God met me where I was and changed my life for the better. No one is too broken or too off the rails for God to be able to do that, and he can do it with Kanye too. Of course, there is reality to this: when Paul had his moment of truth and believed in God, everyone in the early church took him with a grain of salt, and rightfully so! They worried it was a ploy to get inside their circles and kill them later on! However, there’s a difference between taking Kanye’s recent actions with a grain of salt and utterly dismissing his actions as being genuine in any way because of his past. In my opinion the latter is dangerous, because what we’re really saying is that Kanye West exists outside of the grace and mercy of God. We can actually see the "grain of salt" dynamic play out in Acts 9 with how people in the early church embraced and took care of Paul even though they weren't sure if he was truly being genuine.

Embrace the grey areas. Take things with a grain of salt, but don't doubt the power of God's redemptive grace.

What Would Jesus Do?

I've been struggling with my faith as a Christian for the past year or so. I'm not looking for a pity party, I just want to share how I'm feeling. I've been feeling overwhelmingly unsatisfied with the Christian church and how it has related to current events. Specifically, I feel that as a Christian, the Christian church is generally out of touch with the world. As I get older, I feel myself becoming more and more isolated with fellow Christians and finding it harder to connect. For example, based on my personal experiences, most days it feels like Christians my age are more interested in things like finding someone to settle down and build a life with, and I have a hard time relating to that.

The tipping point of my frustration was the 2016 Presidential Election, where 80% of White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Over the course of 2016, I watched many Christians voice their support for Trump. Meanwhile, Trump ran his entire campaign on hate. He promised to "build a wall," to ban Muslims from entering the US, to force US Muslim citizens to join a registry, and to bring back Stop-And-Frisk (a method ruled as unconstitutional because it solely targets minorities). These are only an incredibly small fraction of the things he has planned to do. He mocked a disabled reporter, was found to have sexually assaulted women multiple times, and doesn't believe in reproductive rights. Mike Pence is equally horrifying, as he supports Conversion Therapy and helped to create an HIV spike in Indiana by slashing public health spending.

I don't understand how a majority of Christians could vote for someone like this. Someone who promised to make the lives of those he opposed a living hell. 2016 was a frightening year for many of my friends and I because most of Trump's proposed plans directly impacted us, and watching them become more and more accepted was horrifying to experience. I'll never forget hearing about the hate crimes over the past year being done in Trump's name. I'll never forget the night of November 8th, as I sat with a few friends and watched state after state go red. I remember waking up the next morning, hearing the news, and being sick to my stomach. I remember hearing on social media that many people I personally knew were being targeted by hate crimes at my school. I remember being so distressed that I seriously contemplated calling the suicide hotline. I remember going on Facebook later that week and expecting to see my Christian friends denouncing Trump and the hate, but almost every post I saw was normalizing his presidency and simply promising to "pray for him."

I refuse to believe that the God I know would support the terrible things occurring in the world right now. Just this past week, Trump signed an Executive Order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. This is horrific on just about every level, but no one seems to be talking about it. Nothing was said at church. Most of my Christian friends are completely silent. How can you profess to follow Christ but support someone like Trump, who has who promised to do all of these terrible things? How can you be silent when refugees are being persecuted for their religious beliefs and their country of origin? I've been sickened as I've watched people I used to respect, people who I would have considered to be "champions of the faith" support Trump. Every Sunday as I sit in church, I can't help but wonder how many of the people around me voted for Trump.

My Mom has reminded me this at least two million times while I was growing up, but my faith isn't supposed to be based on what others do, say, or think. However, it is incredibly frustrating to see professed followers of Jesus supporting someone who represents the exact opposite of everything Jesus stood for. In fact, it's disgusting and shakes me to the core. I refuse to normalize Trump's presidency and the current events that are unfolding. I'm far from perfect and far from having my faith figured out, but instead of ignoring current events and blindly devoting myself to praying that a heart as egregious as Trump's would change, I'm going to focus on living by and doing what Jesus considered to be the greatest commandment: 

‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
— Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

We are all terrible at addressing sexual assault

On June 2nd, 2016, Brock Turner was sentenced to only six months in a county jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. After originally facing a maximum sentence of 14 years, Judge Aaron Perksy decided upon the lighter sentence because "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others." Unfortunately, Brock's Father wasn't satisfied with the light sentence, as he claims his son is paying a steep price for "20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life." During the trial, Brock Turner was portrayed as a good kid with great swimming abilities and good academics. During the trial, Brock Turner never acknowledged that he sexually assaulted his victim, and blamed the alcohol he consumed that night. Brock Turner gets to sit in a county jail for six months, register as a sex offender, and then live the rest of his life as a free man, while the victim will continue to live with the pain and memories of that night for years to come.

This sums up rape culture in America.

Our society is absolutely terrible when it comes to addressing sexual assault. There is so much miseducation, ignorance, and general laziness surrounding this huge issue affecting scores of men and women. It is assumed by many that sexual assault isn't as big of a problem as it is made out to be. However, 23% of female college students experience unwanted sexual contact. Society places the problem of sexual assault solely on women. Current Ohio Governor and former Presidential candidate John Kasich had the audacity to suggest that women can avoid sexual assault by simply not going to parties where alcohol is involved, as if it's only the woman's job to avoid being assaulted, and as if parties are the only places where sexual assault can take place. The truth is, half of sexual assaults occur within 1 mile of the victim's home. I find it horrifying whenever someone is misinformed on something like this, especially someone in such a high seat of power as John Kasich, who makes decisions everyday that affects 11.59 million Ohioans. With his logic, maybe women shouldn't even live at home?

People don't see the point in getting serious about addressing sexual assault. This Op ed suggests that harsh sentences for sexual assault perpetrators isn't necessary because it won't make a difference in getting more women to report assault, and harsh sentences end up damaging yet another person in the process (the perpetrator). What this letter completely misses is that the reason why many women (and men) don't report assault is because most of the time there is no incentive. In the rare case where a victim comes forward to report assault (only 32% of sexual assaults are reported to the police), they can face backlash such as retaliation and disbelief. Most of the time, the perpetrator receives a slap on the wrist and faces little to no punishment (98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail/prison), continuing the cycle in which victims don't come forward. Cracking down on assault and holding people accountable will make a difference, and the reason why we don't see this difference right now is because as a society America is not serious about addressing sexual assault.

Universities are failing to protect victims and punish perpetrators. Examples of this emerge time and time again, with the most recent being Baylor University covering up allegations of sexual violence by football players, and even retaliating against someone who reported assault. As of May 1, 2014, there were 55 Universities being investigated for Title IX violations.

We don't support women. For example, women at Ohio State have been lobbying for a Women's Center for years. Having a Women's Center is important because in 2016 women are still dealing with huge issues such as gender discrimination, sexual assault and equal pay on a daily basis. Having a place where women can receive resources and support is vital. However, administrators continue to drag their feet and offer excuses for not having one, such as funding. Meanwhile, Ohio State has the money to spend $42 million on renovations for Ohio Stadium, $700,000 on renovations for Browning Amphitheatre, $200 million on a new arts district, and continues to support a culture of big bonuses for administrators.

The thing about sexual assault is that it's everyone's problem. Every 107 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in America. This means by the time I've finished writing this blog post, there will have been 364 people assaulted today. It takes each of us to get serious about assault, from no longer laughing at rape jokes to believing and supporting a friend or relative who comes to you and confides that they have experienced sexual assault. Unfortunately, unless we educate ourselves and start addressing this huge problem, nothing will change and we will continue to hear more and more stories like Brock Turner's. It's up to everyone to do something about it.


I accidentally created a mean Twitter bot

I've been pretty fascinated with Twitter bots lately. I recently wrote @random_map, a bot that tweets random aerial images of the Earth every hour, but I've always wanted to create a Markov Chain based bot that would create random tweets based on words and phrases I would use.

For those who aren't familiar with Markov Chaining, it's a random process that uses probability and states to decide where to go next. One important property of a Markov Chain is that past transitions don't affect future transitions. In the sense of @CailinBot, Markov Chaining is used to decide the next phrase/word to use in a tweet, after choosing the current word/phrase to use.

For example, here is a simple Markov Chain with two states:

State A has a 20% chance of looping, and an 80% chance of transitioning to State B. State B has a 50% chance of transitioning to State A, and a 50% chance of looping.

State A has a 20% chance of looping, and an 80% chance of transitioning to State B. State B has a 50% chance of transitioning to State A, and a 50% chance of looping.


Yesterday, I was itching to finally tackle this, so I sat down and wrote @CailinBot, using a really cool Ruby gem called twitter_ebooks. This gem fetched the past 4000 tweets from my personal Twitter account, saved popular words and phrases as a text model, and used Markov Chaining to create @CailinBot tweets. Once I finished setting up the bot and assigning actions (how to respond to private messages, when to reply to someone when someone mentions it, etc.), I set it up on my Raspberry Pi and let it go to work.

I quickly realized I had created a monster.

It immediately started being snarky:

It doesn't like USG very much:

It's obsessed with fungus:

It pays attention to national politics:

It can be mean at times:

It also has emotions:

Oh, and apparently it thinks it is a human being?

Very odd.

I Am Ashamed To Be A Buckeye

I am ashamed to be a Buckeye.

Yesterday, Reclaim OSU: People's Open Mic organized a peaceful sit-in in Bricker Hall, because students and faculty are fed up with being ignored by OSU administrators. The three groups who helped to organize the sit-in have been repeatedly ignored and worn down by administrators for years. The demands of the protest were simple: Allow continual public access to the Ohio State budget, and meet one of the three established campaign goals of OSU Divest (divestment from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett Packard, and G4S due to their involvement in well-documented human rights violations), United Students Against Sweatshops (immediately cease all negotiations of the Comprehensive Energy Management Project), and Real Food OSU (sign the Real Food Campus Commitment).

Instead of agreeing to meet with students, administrators sent 20+ police officers to a peaceful protest, did not allow food or other people to come inside the building, and said they would arrest and expel everyone remaining in Bricker Hall at 5:00 AM (which ended up being pushed up to midnight).

Whether or not you support #ReclaimOSU, it makes me angry that students would be threatened to be arrested and expelled for expressing opinions. Throughout my four years at Ohio State, I have witnessed what these students are protesting. I've seen the silencing of student opinion and the importance of profit placed over student well-being.

It makes me angry that:

  • Ohio State is "committed to Diversity and Inclusion" but only had a grand total of 119 black males in the enrolled Fall 2015 first year class. Around 20-30 of these black males were football players.
  • Throughout my four years here, I have yet to personally meet a single student or faculty member who supports Privatization. I receive emails from the Comprehensive Energy Management Project every two weeks asking for student feedback on the matter. So many people in the Ohio State community are against Privatization, yet Ohio State continues to ignore feedback and is rolling forward with the plan.
  • Ohio State is struggling to recruit diverse faculty. One of the outcomes of the CampusParc deal was the creation of a fund for recruiting minority faculty. However, millions of dollars in this fund are being wasted because many potential faculty members do not want to come to an institution that gives lip service to Diversity and Inclusion, but has a student population that reflects the opposite.
  • Under the leadership of Geoffrey Chatas, Senior Vice President for Business & Finance and CFO of the University, Ohio State entered into the 50-year, $483 million partnership with QIC Global Infrastructure where they privatized the university's parking facilities. Once this deal closed, Chatas accepted a role with QIC Global Infrastructure but after backlash from the university community Chatas decided to remain in his role at Ohio State.
  • The university can spend $700,000 on renovations for Browning Amphitheatre (which is barely used) and $42 million on renovations for Ohio Stadium (yes yes yes and yes I know that "Athletics is a self-sustaining department and the department is paying for this project themselves") but tells students that it is not economically feasible to create a much needed Women's Center on campus.

These are a very small subset of things I've noticed at Ohio State. Please don't get me wrong: I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue an education here. When I leave in December of this year, I will be leaving with a strong degree, great experiences, and friends for life. However, as I've gotten older, I have seen the bureaucracy, the silencing, the focus on profit rather than the well-being of students, faculty, and staff, and the politics that run rampant.

The university I have called home for the past four years threatened to arrest and expel students and faculty for voicing frustrations, bringing light to real issues at Ohio State, and for being brave enough to do so. For that, I am ashamed to be a Buckeye.


I am a minority

The past two years has been a time where America has been blasted with race. It's nearly impossible to go throughout each day without hearing something about it. Mizzou. Syrian refugees, Donald Trump.

2015 has made me become a type of person who is comfortable with talking about race. I feel comfortable sharing my experiences as a black man. I think 2015 has made a lot of people comfortable as well. But a lot of other people aren't as comfortable.

Last Friday, students at Ohio State had a peaceful march around campus to bring light to what's been happening at Mizzou. Things continued with a sit in at the Ohio Union, where students demanded that Ohio State cut off all ties with Mizzou until they addresses racial issues at their school. Whatever your opinions and thoughts are of the protest, suddenly race, injustice, and current events was on everyone's mind during a Friday night. Many people were supportive, and many people were not. It was frustrating to log onto that night Yik Yak and see many derogatory messages, ranging from "race isn't an issue" to "black OSU students are only doing this for attention." Normally, you can't take Yik Yak seriously because people post crazy things on there because it's anonymous, however people were saying the same thing in public on Twitter. Many of my peers, classmates, and professors, could not understand what was going on. 

A lot of the time, I struggle to explain to my friends and peers how I've experienced injustice, hurt, and misunderstanding as a minority.

  • It sucks that getting followed around in stores is a common occurrence for me
  • It sucks that I'm the only black person in most of my classes
  • It sucks that most of my peers and classmates are taking to Yik Yak, Reddit, and Twitter to voice their ignorance over current events
  • It sucks that I've been told by many girls I've liked over the years that "black just isn't my type"
  • It sucks that making out/hooking up with a black person is a common thing to have on a bucket list
  • It sucks that many of my friends were mad at me when I told them Ohio State had awarded me a minority scholarship, which enabled me to afford attending the University
  • It sucks that people cross the street at night when they see me walking in their direction
  • It sucks that I match most of the criminal descriptions in the safety notices Ohio State sends out
  • It sucks that I was the only black person in my Sociology 2367 class, and for at least eight straight weeks the professor lectured solely on statistics saying that black people are the poorest, uneducated, represent most of the prison population, most likely to get arrested, most likely to steal, etc.
  • It sucks that I don't feel comfortable wearing a hoodie at night
  • It sucks that people aren't surprised when they learn I grew up in a fatherless home
  • It sucks that I feel very uncomfortable around police officers

All I ask is that for this year and as time goes on, you try to understand. Engage in conversations. Learn. Ask questions. Just don't be blinded by ignorance.