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Monday, November 21, 2005


Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Cakes

The week before open house, I noticed that other teachers had decorated their classroom with student work. Poems, essays, little illustrations. Lots of creativity and, well, colorful learning. My walls were white. The posters I hung up during the summer now looked a little bit self-obsessed and egotistical. My walls displayed my personality rather than my students.

The we read Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." One of my mentors had her students respond to the imagery of the poem in art. It wasn't something I liked to assign. Art was so hard to grade. And it had so little to do with learning textual analysis. But my walls were empty. (Except for the 1990 original Wall Concert poster from Berlin. And a Lyle Lovett poster signed "to Marcus and Amy good luck on getting married.") I was desperate to hang up some student personality.

I don't remember the handout or the specific assignment, but I do remember its openness. Don't limit yourself to drawings, I told them. Make a T-Shirt. Design a CD cover. Bake a cake and decorate it like Hell. Bring those images to life. God holding us like an insect over the fires of Hell. God holding back his wrath like a dam. God ready to shoot us through the heart with an arrow. These were great, violent, powerful images. They sent the puritanical New England churches into hysterics when he read it.

On the day of the assignment, I received thirty-two cakes.

It worked out well, because the due date happened to be my birthday. Sheer coincidence, I promise. But relatively convenient.

We stepped over cakes all day long. Chocolate cakes with spider icing, red velvet cakes "burning inside" as the student explained, but the best cake of all is the one nobody touched. A spider dangling by a thin line of icing over the flames of Hell. Hell's flames were fiery hot Fritos poking up from the icing like barbed wire.

I don't know how much critical analysis the students learned, but I still remember that day over ten years later. I still have one creative response catching the light in my office window. Andy Willome's cardboard statue of God's hand floating out of billowy clouds and pinching a spider by the thread. The base of the statue, Hell's flames in burnt orange, and red, with yellow peaks licking at the arachnid.

Part of me still feels like the assignment lampooned education. Stepping over cakes and spending a day sharing mostly ridiculous, pathetic creative responses scribbled on scratch paper that morning when students remembered what was due.
Can Andy's one spectacular success redeem so much fluff?

It sure looks good in my window this morning. Thanks Andy. Whereever you are.

HillCountryWriter Category: Teaching
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