Thursday, December 31, 2009

Painted Canyon, Mecca California


The rocks in the dry riverbed sand were clear. They pointed to the left. Phil and I simply didn't think it was referring to the direction we were supposed to take. We didn't think much about the arrow at all. Our conversation went something like this: "Oh look! An arrow!" "Give me the camera. I'll take a picture of it."

We continued up the riverbed of
Painted Canyon and didn't think twice about all the people we passed going the opposite direction until we spotted a ladder scaling up a stripe of white rocks on the side of the canyon walls. We decided to ask for directions from the next group that passed us. The couple seemed confused about how we'd gotten there. "We just walked up the dry riverbed," we explained.

"You didn't climb up the ladders?" they asked us. "You didn't come up Ladder Canyon? Did you see that big arrow in the sand?"

For some reason they couldn't understand that neither Philip nor I had made an executive directional decision not follow the arrow. They assumed it must be someone's fault. No big deal. We were only hiking the trail in reverse, which meant we would climb down Ladder Canyon instead of climb up it.


At the top of the riverbed we hiked down the spine of several ridges before heading down a gully that turned into a chute that became a twisting curving canyon, shaped by the flash floods that have scraped away at the sedimentary walls. And around a dozen curves we finally came across the ladders that gave the canyon its name. These metal ladders finally took us back down to the big arrow that we'd photographed two and a half hours earlier.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Dude in Front of Trader Joe's

If and when I have kids I want to teach them to give money to the people who stand on the outside of grocery stores: the girl scouts selling cookies, the Santa Claus bell ringer, the homeless shelter volunteer. I want my kids to have a heart for people and not money.
I’ve heard that the things you practice yourself are the things your kids will most likely learn from you, so I decided it was time to start practicing. On the way into Trader Joe’s today, I remembered to grab a fistful of change and shove it in my pocket. It was probably only 80 cents, and I saw two opportunities as I approached the sidewalk: a woman with a homeless shelter money box and man with a sign that read, “Trying to get home. Please help. God bless.”
Without making up my mind about anything I made eye contact with the sign man and asked him what the deal was. He told me a very colorful story about how he was from West Virginia and had come out to California to find his lost father, and now he was trying to get back home. He said he had $30, and a ticket was $120. Believing not a word of it, I told him I didn’t have any cash, but that I’d get some juice for him from Trader Joe’s.
I really didn’t want to give him anything. But I reminded myself that I wanted to teach my kids that it’s not our place to judge. I even thought through a little speech to my imaginary youngsters about our actions versus God’s justice.
While I was trying to find shallots, a Trader Joe’s associate approached me. “Hey, I saw you talking to that man outside, and I was wondering, what’s his story?”
I explained, not without adding my own prefaces, “So he says,” and “Who knows what the real story is?” Several shoppers nearby added their two cents to the conversation too.
“I just never carry cash so I can’t give them anything.”
“That guy’s been sitting out there all week.”
I shrugged. “Who knows?” and dismissed myself to another part of the store after finding out that green onions are just as good as shallots. What is a shallot anyway?
In search for bulgur wheat, which I couldn’t pronounce and kept having to show the word on my shopping list to associates, I asked another store worker about the man.
“If you want my honest opinion,” he said. “And this isn’t trader Joe’s opinion or anything, but I think he’s a scam artist. That guy’s been sitting out there for a long time. He’s always clean-shaven. He always has a new shirt on. I’ve seen him come in here and pull out a wad of cash to buy things in here. He says he’s from Ontario, but I’ve seen his family come up here and ask him to come home: his mom and a little boy. But we can’t do anything about it, cause we don’t own the property. I mean the customers complain, I just say don’t give them anything.”
Great. So now what do I do? I picked up a bottle of juice and headed for the cash register rehearsing what I might say to the dude on the way out. So he’s a liar and he’s been taking advantage of people’s generosity. Sometimes I wish I were Jesus. He’d know exactly what to say. He could look that liar in the eyes and say, “Benjamin, go home to your mom, Bertha, and your brother Timmy and stop living the life of a crook.” Jesus would know what to do.
But I’m a little in the dark. So I take my grocery bag and juice, bypass the lady with the homeless coin collection box saying, “I don’t have any cash on me,” walk out to the guy, hand him the juice, and say, “Stop lying,” and walk away.
And after that the liar saw the light. He repented and stopped living in sin, and the shoppers at Trader Joe’s were forever free of his loitering!
Actually after I told him to stop lying, he looked at me and asked, “What kind of juice is it?” And because I had so rehearsed walking away after I pronounced those two words, I did, not even stopping to make sure he heard what I said.
And from all this, my imaginary kids learned how to keep their change in their pockets. A lesson well taught.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jacob and Me

Jacob and I were beyond hopscotch, hide-and-seek, rubber-band gun wars, and Tiddly Winks. At ages 9 and 7 we knew that the best games were the ones we invented, and that was how Computer Battles evolved: a game of plotting and clever talk.
In the protection of our separate rooms, which doubled as bases, we made plans to destroy each other with the help of our imaginary multi-functional computers. The action proceeded as follows.
Jacob: “My computer made some bombs, and I’m hiding them outside your base."
           Me: “Then my computer built a video camera that sees you."
           Jacob: “But I saw you, so now I’m going to blast your cameras.”
            Me: “Well, my cameras have shields around them.”
            Jacob: “But my gun has special blasters that can destroy your shields.”
           Me: “But my shields are rubber so your blasters bounce off them.”
          Jacob:  “Your computer can’t build that kind of shield; you have to go to the store to get those.”
            Since my brother was my senior and capable of outtalking me, I’d have to go to the store—a lengthy journey up and down the stairs twenty times under the mocking eye of Jacob. The journey usually wore down our excitement for the game or provoked our dad into telling us to take our activities outside because we were wearing down the carpet.
Aside from cunning talk, the game required a great deal of pretending as well. On several occasions when I realized that I was defenseless against Jacob’s ingenious plans, I’d have to walk out of my base and let his bombs blow me up. Nothing was fatal though, and even if it was, and I dramatically admitted, “BLEAH! I’m dead,” Jacob would quickly come to my aid by saying, “But your computer found you and brought you back to life!”
Jacob wasn’t about to let his nemesis die. After all, the game was about sibling sparing not sibling annihilation.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Live Coal in the Sea

William Langland: “But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.”


Does a day come for everyone when they realize that their parents are just people or do some never find out and keep expecting their parents to be super human?

I suppose for some—those whose mothers drink, whose fathers sexually abuse, whose parents have affairs and divorce—I suppose the children of these parents find out the truth all too soon. They learn from the beginning that dad doesn’t keep his promises; that mom only cares about herself; that their parents don’t provide or protect. Shall I call these children the poor in spirit because they understand from a young age that mom and dad aren’t the source of love, peace, and safety? Shall I even go so far as to call them blessed? Them? With their distrust of men and homosexual inclinations and insatiable craving for human affection?

Shall I call the abused blessed? True, some spring back with resilience; some rise up on wings like baby birds that have fought to break through their eggshells. They make a way for themselves in this cruel world, and they shine with Christ’s own face. Yet others wallow and point fingers and vomit their turmoil to psychiatrists. ‘Injustice!’ they scream and they are right. The world is unjust, but they forget that they themselves are in the world.

I’m speaking like I have studied the dysfunctional and abused, when in truth I’m more knowledgeable about Pre-algebra and Greek. I will ask the poor in spirit if they claim God’s blessings.

In the meantime I must consider children of another sort. These children have parents who don’t abuse substances, who keep their vows, who take occasional family vacations, who eat together, who protect and provide, who train up their children in the way they should go, and yet when their young are old, some still depart. Why so many bad seeds from good soil and good seeds from bad soil? Has God made more good out of bad than he has out of good? Then blessed are the poor in spirit indeed!

I cannot leave it at that because the good that I’m talking about is not good at all. There is the good that God makes out of bad, which is certainly good, and there is the good by which I mean the functional family, which in comparison to the perfection that God demands, isn’t functional at all, nor is it good. By good here, I simply mean not as bad as it could be. These good parents are only thought to be good when standing next to the bad parents, but when placed next to God, when put in the light of the Almighty, we see the badness quite clearly in all mothers and fathers. It’s a badness that’s not only in parents, but all humans alike. Being a father or mother doesn’t make a person any more bad, nor does being a child make a person any more innocent. Haven’t we all crooked souls? And the sooner we see this, especially in ourselves, the sooner we will stop blaming and start giving grace.

But to realize that our parents have crooked souls is no simple process for the abused or the contented child. It feels like being betrayed. There we were, thinking our parents had everything under control, that they wouldn’t let us get hurt, that they were always fair and always selfless. And then we find out that they play favorites, that they’re unwise with money, that they argue, that they have prejudices and are judgmental. It’s a betrayal of an allusion. We had thought they were or at least were trying to be perfect parents—and chances are, they were—but they aren’t. They’re far from it.

Why had we demanded perfection from them to begin with? Why does it shock us to find out that those adults, those huge figures, those instrumental gods in our lives are nothing but silly little people like ourselves? Is this what it means to grow up? To stop being a child? “We start to become adults when we realize our parents aren’t perfect, and we become adults when we forgive them for it.”

How can I demand something from them that I could never do myself, and then forgive them for not meeting my unrealistic expectations. Aren’t I the one in the wrong? Aren’t I the one who’d expected my parents to be like God, when in fact my parents, though they may or may not have meant to, were pointing me towards God saying, “Don’t look at me for perfection, look at Him”.

What offense do I have to forgive, when mercy was shown to me during the months of infancy? What accusation will I make, when my sins put Him on the cross as well? How much longer will I demand fairness when Christ let himself suffer for nothing evil that he’d done? Mercy. Let it end with mercy?

“Mercy. It didn’t mean that everything was okay, could or should be condoned. But we can’t move out of ourselves and our own self-justifications until we look in the mirror and know, yes, I, too, could have done this.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

February Finds

The Camilia bushes have been shedding their blossoms like my parent’s plum tree in August, and the blossoms are no less messy than the fallen overripe plums, which congeal with the gravel on hot summer days.

Spring fever is spreading through the seventh and eighth graders, and the teachers know this is equivalent to a rainy or blustery day in the classroom. The boys are now competing for the title of class clown. They compete with uncalled for comments most of the time, but sometimes the competition includes bent paperclips, the automatic pencil sharpener, a re-shaped coat-hanger (where did the little brute get that one, certainly not from the teacher’s supply room), a foot-long pen, paper mache finger extensions, rubber bands, the occasional cell phone, and dissected pens rebuilt as rocket launchers. I must not be giving the little animals enough activities to occupy their time. I don’t hesitate to take away their gadgets and put them up for sale—the price is a few bonus tally stickers. So far no one has bought back the foot-long pen.

Philip and I have continued running in the dark before work. We set the alarm at 5:25 am and force ourselves to get up and throw on our running shoes. Another part of the world is awake at that hour. An old robed figure—I can’t describe him much more than that because it’s too dark—smokes a cigarette on his back porch. Several over weight ladies walked consistently for a week, and then their New Year’s resolution lost its motivation. A man in his mid-twenties stands at the curb waiting for his ride on Hadley. He chuckled at us the first time I zoomed by on my bike, hollering to Phil to hurry up or else we’d miss the light. My knee has started to bother me, so I ride my bike now. It’s hardly the workout I got before, but I’m still panting and puffing at the top of Orange.

Robin and David Cox—our landlords, neighbors, and relatives—inspired Phil and I to get bikes. We had such a surreal ride through Yosemite after the rain cleared out the tourists on our summer vacation. The deer were out in the misty meadows chomping on grass and the grisly bear was waddling through the wet woods. Until Christmas we couldn’t justify spending over $300 for a beach cruiser that we’d probably have to store in our living room. But our grandparents on both sides gave us some Christmas booty that we set aside waiting for a find. I reclaimed my rusty mountain bike from my parent’s garage, and before long we found an ad in a Big 5 catalogue for a 7-speed beach cruiser for $119. A little assembly, a little brake adjusting, and there you go. We’ve taken the Whittier Greenway trail twice now. Once we took it over the bridge at 5 points, which has been decorated with artsy metal wind mobiles. I was tempted to ride it here to Starbucks today, but we don’t have a bike lock yet.

The characters in uptown could be several chapters in a novel all by themselves. Oh my! A man in bright yellow Sunkist pajama bottoms is walking his albino pit-bull across Philadephia with a white snake around his neck. An old man in sweats and a sports jacket is pushing his own wheelchair down the sidewalk. A group of men are taking ownership of Starbucks with their confident loud voices. One of them dressed in a striped blue dress shirt hands a scroll of blueprints to a contractor. They’re pointing to the walls and scribbling notes onto a pad of yellow paper. The chalky announcement board on the wall tells me that this Starbucks will be closed for a week during a brief remodeling. These are the men who still have jobs. These are the men whose confidence relies on the momentary work at hand, but what will tomorrow bring?

Phil’s work —Land Concern—has felt the lack of business. The company laid off almost all of Phil’s co-workers, the receptionist, the cleaning lady, and the office plant maintainers. They work four days a week now and have signed up for the various cleaning jobs around the office. Phil vacuums. He’s found private side jobs to keep him drawing at home on his Friday’s off, and I’ve been asked to do more work myself. Three families have asked me to tutor their kids in the last month. I’m annoyed at the demands of my time, but I can’t deny that someone’s looking out for our financial state. Must everything be cushioned for us? I was ready for hard times, just so long as I get my English Breakfast tea in the mornings and my Saturday mornings for writing. A heater would be nice too and maybe some gingersnaps from Trader Joes.

At home depot last Sunday Phil and I were gaping at the price tag on a circular Tiffany’s ceiling lamp. The cheapest lamps that size that we’d found online were no less than $100. This lamp said $19. “They must have forgotten a zero somewhere,” we said to one another. We called in the worker who perched atop a ladder showing us his underbelly as he pulled down the lamp for us. I peeled back four layers of price adjustment stickers. The lamp had started at $136. Then it dropped to $129, $95, and $57. Now it was $19. The woman at the cash register said we could sell it for hundreds on ebay. We could, but we’re going to have H.K Maynard install it above our dining room table instead. It’s now part of our February finds collection.

The last item is not currently in our possession, and I highly doubt it will ever be. We call it the barn, and its located on California and Mar Vista. It’s way out of our price range, but fits right into our dreams: two rentals on site, a two-story three car garage, plenty of nooks for planting, an office… and $800,000. Maybe it will be March’s find.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"7 In a Boat"

PART 1: The Upper Room at Nightfall

INTRO/ED: The following events happened, and while we have no way of knowing whether or not they happened in this way, human nature hasn’t change in 2000 years, and so… they might have happened like this.

(PETER, JAMES, and JOHN are waiting to meet with the disciples. PETER is rapidly pacing the length of the room, looking out the window, looking at his watch, impatiently. JOHN is staring whimsically at nothing with a pad of paper and a pencil in his hands. JAMES is fixing a fishing net.)

PETER: I said just before dusk, didn’t I? Then how come no one’s here yet? Last time I checked, dusk was right after the sun set, not when it’s pitch dark.

JAMES: (Not phased) They’ll get here.

PETER: Oh yes. Andrew will be on time. I’m surprised he isn’t here already. (Looks around) Nate will be on time and Philip too; he’s a fast walker, but the others don’t understand time. They think dusk is midnight. This isn’t Egyptian time; this isn’t even Roman time. This is Jewish time! This is the restoration of Israel time!

JAMES: Don’t sweat it. They’ll get here. I don’t think anyone wants to miss this, especially if the risen Lord shows up again.

PETER: (Animated) You think he will!?

JAMES: Who can tell? He comes and goes as he pleases these days. (Whisper, pointing to JOHN) But Johnny’s got that long lost look in his eyes again. I think he senses it. (They both stare at JOHN until JOHN notices them and becomes self-conscious, clears his throat, and goes back to scribbling on his notepad.)

PETER: I hope the Rabbi does show up, cause this time I know just what I’m going to say. No more babbling stupid things. This time I’m going to say, “Rabbi, (Falling on his knees and acting it out) You are the messiah! You are my lord and king! Please, forgive me for…(Suddenly realizing he doesn’t want everyone to know what he’s done.) uhh…forgive me for.... for...”

JOHN: (Not spitefully) For denying you three times?

PETER: How did you know that?

JOHN: (He speaks to his notepad.) The Rabbi told us, remember, on the night before he died.

JAMES: I remember that. (Ashamed) He said we’d all desert him.

PETER: Yeah, but that’s not as bad as what I did.

JAMES: That’s probably true. You did pretend not to know the Rabbi three times, and that was after you chopped off that servant’s ear.

PETER: Look, this doesn’t leave the room okay?

JAMES: Fine by me. I’m just as guilty.

PETER: John?

(JOHN is looking off into the distance, mouthing words.)

PETER: Johnny?

JOHN: Doesn’t leave this room. Got it. (Suddenly starts writing furiously)

(PETER continues pacing, looking at his watch, and glancing down the aisles.)

JAMES: Hey Johnny, what are you working on now? Another novel that’ll never get published?

JOHN: (Bashfully) Oh, nothing, nothing really. Nothing big that is. Just something small, v-very simple.

JAMES: Let me see.

JOHN: No. It’s not finished yet. I’m still working through it. I’ve just started really.

JAMES: Come on. I won’t laugh. Would I laugh at something my brother made? Let me see.

JOHN: Well….

JAMES: Come on. (Snatches the pad out of his hands)

JOHN: It’s just the opening lines to a poem I’ve been working on. (Starry-eyed, looks off into the distance)

JAMES: (Reading) “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of time and truths; not bound by flesh, once he had burst forth from the hallowed grave of death.” (JAMES conceals a laugh; JOHN grabs the notebook back.) No, I think it’s good. It sounds…uh…Greek.

JOHN: I knew you’d say that.

PETER: Look! Here comes Phil and Nate. (Pointing towards the audience)

((PHILIP and NATHANIEL enter from the back of the sanctuary and make their way down to the front. ANDREW emerges seemingly from nowhere on stage.)

JAMES: Andrew! Where’d you come from?

ANDREW: I’ve been here the whole time. You didn’t think I wanted to miss the opening statements of this meeting, did you? Especially if it involves you guys! I mean you guys were the cream of the crop! The chosen ones! You saw it all. It was like you had front seats to the game! You’ve got VIP passes to all the top miracles. You’re like…the three amigos…’cept you’re Jewish!

PETER: Woah! Settle down there, little bro. (Sits him down, but ANDREW springs up and follows PETER as he continues to pace, mimicking his every move.) Just how much of our conversation did you hear as you were sitting there the whole time?

ANDREW: Every word… well I was trying to catch every word, but I do admit my ADD was kicking in a bit…so I really didn’t hear much at all… nope, not a bit.

PETER: Good.

ANDREW: I did hear something about you denying the Lord three times. Is it true?

(By this time NATHANIEL and PHILIP have reached the door. NATE knocks.)

PETER: Look Andrew, this doesn’t leave the room okay?

ANDREW: Anything you say bro; you’re the greatest! (ANDREW follows PETER as he goes to answer the door.)

PETER: “He is the Vine”?

NATE & PHILIP: “We are the branches.”

ANDREW: You come up with the greatest passwords, man.

(Password confirmed. PETER opens the door. JOHN shakes his head in the background.)

PETER: Philip! Nate! Shalom! Come in! Glad you could make it!

(PETER exchanges embraces with PHILIP and NATE. ANDREW does the exact same thing. JAMES merely gives a noncommittal wave from across the room. As NATE, JAMES, and PETER carry the conversation center stage, PHILIP crosses to JOHN, the men embrace and mimic animated, excited talk.)

NATE: All praise goes to our risen Lord, Jesus the Christ!

PETER, ANDREW, JAMES: Amen!

NATE: What a week, hu Peter? Who would of believed that we would see our Savior again after they nailed him up like a criminal? Who would have believed it?

JAMES: Thomas certainly wouldn’t, unless he’d seen it himself.

NATE: You’re right about that, but it’s true. It’s all true. The Savior’s alive! And he’s appeared to us, twice now! I can hardly believe it. All our foolish doubts are gone. (To PETER) We were stupid to have been so afraid after his death, and stupid to have hid from the Jewish priests while the Rabbi was in the grave.

PETER: I know.

ANDREW: Me too!

NATE: After all, I knew our Rabbi was the Messiah. From the day he said he saw me praying beneath the fig tree, I knew he was the Son of God. I knew he was the King of Israel.

JAMES: What I want to know is how he’s going to set up his kingdom.

PETER: I wonder what he’ll do to the Romans.

ANDREW: He’ll probably chop off all their ears at once!

(PETER fake laughs as he slaps ANDREW on the back of the head. Then makes a hand sign for shut-up)

NATE: Then they really won’t have ears to hear.

PETER: I wish some of us didn’t have ears.

(They pretend to continue the conversation—PETER scolding ANDREW and NATE acting as peacemaker—as they drift off to the side. Attention is now on PHILIP and JOHN.)

PHILIP: How goes the poem, Johnny?

JOHN: Oh, you know. I get these inspirations. They’re turning like a… like a twisted vine in my mind, but when it comes to this stubborn pen and paper, they just won’t cooperate. I’m afraid the muse is gone.

PHILIP: Let me see what you’ve got.

JOHN: Oh, it’s not finished. I’d hate to have anyone look at my unfinished work.

PHILIP: (Genuine) I won’t laugh. You write good stuff, Johnny.

JOHN: Well… okay, but I just wrote it, so it might have some mistakes.

PHILIP: (Reading) “It was the best of times, after it was the worst of times, it was the age of His wisdom, while it was the age of our foolishness.”

JAMES: (Sarcastically) That’s original.

PHILIP: Just ignore him, Johnny.

JOHN: (Dejected, bows his head and takes back his notepad.) I was trying to show different contrasts, you know? But I guess I failed, hu?

PHILIP: (Genuinely) No. It’s great. I like it. It’s like that Psalm about all our sorrows turning to joy. And let’s face it; we were fools to have been afraid. And his wisdom is beyond our understanding. I mean he conquered the grave.

PETER: (Overhearing) And he’s going to do way more than that. I just know it! That’s what this meeting’s for and we’d begin if certain someone’s would hurry up and get here.

NATE: Don’t worry Peter. They’re coming. We all want to know how the Lord’s going to set up his eternal kingdom.

JAMES: And make those half-bred Samaritans know what’s what.

ANDREW: And if they don’t figure out what’s what… (ANDREW makes a thunder sound effect.) Lighting from heaven! BAMO! Right Peter?

PETER: I don’t know little bro, but whatever’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be big.

ANDREW: Yeah!

(As this has been taking place. MATTHEW and THOMAS walk down an aisle towards the stage. MATTHEW is carrying a stack of bibles. THOMAS knocks on the door. PETER goes to answer it, ANDREW following closely. PETER is annoyed with ANDREW, steps aside to let ANDREW give the password.)

ANDREW: “He is the vine?”

THOMAS: Umm…. Let’s see… (To MATTHEW) What’s the password again?

MATTHEW: I haven’t the foggiest idea. Peter keeps changing it.

THOMAS: We are the…grapes?

ANDREW: Nope!

THOMAS: We are the… harvesters?

ANDREW: Nope!

PETER: (Impatiently) Just let them in Andrew! We don't really need passwords anymore.

NATE: Yeah, what are the chief priests gonna do now? He’s alive!

(ANDREW opens the door.)

ANDREW & NATE: Matthew! Thomas! Shalom! Welcome.

(NATE helps MATTHEW with his stack of bibles. JOHN, PHILIP, &; JAMES greet the new comers from their seats)

PETER: It’s about time.

NATE: What are all these, Matthew?

MATTHEW: Our assets my fellow apostle, the scriptures: you mentioned that we would be discussing the national ramifications of our Rabbi’s resurrection, yes, indeed our Savior’s glorification, yes, indeed his reconciliation of all scripture. This is indeed pivotal. (Passing out the bibles) So for our study I’ve brought the King James Version for your name’s sake, James, son of Zebedee. The New Living Translation for your sincerity, Nathaniel also known as Bartholomew. The New International Version for you, Philip of Bethsaida, in case you decide to travel internationally. Here’s the Message for your passions, Simon Peter. And In keeping with familial ties, here’s a message for you too, Andrew, brother of Peter—that’s a liability. I’m keeping the infallible, revised New American Standard Version for Thomas and myself. And I couldn’t for the life of me decide a version that would fit your creative channels, John son of Zebedee, so you will just have to settle for the Good News Bible.

THOMAS: I doubt he’ll use it.

PETER: Excellent! Now we just have to wait for the other people who think dusk means the early morning hours to get here.

MATTHEW: Ahem, I believe the Oxford English Dictionary describes dusk as “the darker stage of twilight,” which, if you looked out the window, is precisely at this moment.

(PETER rolls his eyes)

MATTHEW: And I regret to inform you that Simon is at an anti-tax meeting with his zealot friends.

THOMAS: And Thaddeus and James II are clocking in extra hours at their jobs.

PETER: What?! I can’t believe they’d miss this. Do they know what they’re missing?

THOMAS: I doubt it.

JAMES: Peter, you’ve called a meeting every night for the last two weeks. We can’t be here all the time.

ANDREW: (Rallying to PETER’s cause) Well, they need to get their priorities straight.

PETER: Thanks little bro. (Sits him down) I guess we’ll just do without them. (Clears his throat.) This meeting is officially in session.

(Disciple’s sit down from left to right: ANDREW, THOMAS, MATTHEW, NATE, PHILIP, JOHN, JAMES.)

PETER: Now I’m sure you’re wondering—

NATE: Wait! I think it would be a good idea if we prayed first.

(Disciples nod their heads in agreement)

PETER: Of course. You’re right. Nate, will you lead us in a Teffilah?

(NATE nods, opens his bible, and searching for the right prayer.)

PHILIP: (After a prolonged silence) Try Psalms.

NATE: (Nate continues to flip through the bible. After awhile, he gets frustrated, shuts it, and raises his hands heavenward.) Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. (As he goes on, one by one the other disciples join him until they are all saying the prayer out loud, together.) Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen

PETER: Thanks Nate. Now, I bet you’re all wondering why I’ve scheduled yet another meeting. Well, after last night’s discussion—

JAMES: (As an aside) argument is more like it.

PETER: —I think the only logical thing for us to do now is to search the scriptures and discover what exactly Yeshua, the Messiah, has come to do…you know…so we’re ready.

MATTHEW: (Astutely) This does not call for a meeting. We already know that the Messiah was to unite his kingdom. (He opens his bible, clears his throat). Isaiah 11:10 and 12: “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious. And He will lift up a standard for the nations, and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

JAMES: (Holds up his bible) Anybody want the King James version of that, just to make things more complicated?

(Murmurs of no)

MATTHEW: So you see, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would consolidate all the scattered Israelites.

NATE: But how will this come about?

MATTHEW: My dear Nathaniel, if the Rabbi could silence tempests and disperse demons, I do not doubt the distance his voice might travel to summon all Israelites to himself.

NATE: Too true, Matt. Oh sorry: Matthew.

JAMES: You really think that's going to happen when everyone's been at each other's throats?

PETER: What do you mean, James?

JAMES: The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots can't agree on anything except the price of fish?

PETER: No, no, there won’t be a bunch of bickering groups of people. They’ll all be united under the Messiah. (Fumbles through his bible) Where is that verse? It says something about how he’ll set everything right.

(The disciples thumb through their bibles.)

JOHN: (Out of the blue) How about this one, guys? Genesis 1:1-2 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

JAMES: Ummm…. And what does that have to do with the new Israel?

JOHN: (Stammering) Don’t you see? He- He was in the beginning and- and- the spirit of God…and…

PHILIP: (Scowling at JAMES) I follow you, Johnny. Yeshua was from the beginning, just like Micah said in Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

MATTHEW: “Days of eternity” is what the New American Standard reads, if anyone wants a credible source.

NATE: Wait. Our Rabbi was from Nazareth not Bethlehem.

JOHN: No. He was born in Bethlehem.

JAMES: How do you know, Johnny?

JOHN: Yeshua’s mother told me. They had gone there for the Roman Census.

JAMES: Anyways… back to the original question. I think I got the verse you were looking for Peter. Jeremiah 33:15 “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.”

ANDREW: He’s going to execute people? Cool!

NATE: That just means he’s going to bring about judgment and righteousness.

ANDREW: Oh.

PETER: That’s perfect. The Rabbi will unite all the tribes of Israel because of his just and righteous rule. People won’t argue anymore about angels and demons and life after death. We’ll all know the answers to these questions.

ANDREW: Yeah! We’ll be super geniuses.

JAMES: And what about the Romans and the Samaritans? What’s going to happen to them?

(Silence as the disciples flip through their bibles)

NATE: I don’t know if this has to do with anything, but I think it’s about the Messiah.

PETER: Let’s hear it.

NATE: It’s in Isaiah 9:6-7: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”

PETER: Aha! Heaven’s armies. Did you catch that James?

JAMES: Yeah. It’s not very detailed though. You’d think that Isaiah would have a little more to say about Rome getting smashed if he spends half his book predicting Babylon’s destruction.

PETER: There’s a little more later in Isaiah 11:1-4: “A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse's stump, from his roots a budding Branch. The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight. He won't judge by appearances, won't decide on the basis of hearsay. He'll judge the needy by what is right; render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.”

MATTHEW: (Scoffing) Would anyone like to hear the proper translation of that passage?

(Murmurs of “no”)

PETER: Justice, justice, justice: I keep hearing that the chosen one, the shoot of Jesse will bring about justice. But where’s the justice? The Romans keep taxing us heavily, and all the tax collectors they hire are corrupt—no offense Matthew.

MATTHEW: None taken. You’re assessment is accurate.

PETER: The Pharisees and Sadducees keep making up new stipulations to our already strict Levitical laws. The poor are still poor, and the corrupt rich are still rich. Do you guys see any justice in this, cause I don’t?

ANDREW: Nope, no justice at all.

JOHN: Peter, surely you don’t want justice?

PETER: Of course I do.

JOHN: Justice for yourself? For your sins?

ANDREW: All three of them.

JAMES: (To JOHN) Hey, lay off! Just cause your Mr. Perfect doesn’t mean you have to point out everyone else’s faults.

PHILIP: Don’t listen to him, Johnny. He’s just jealous cause he can’t write.

PETER: Would you guys shut up?

THOMAS: Who died and made you our leader?

MATTHEW: Indeed! I can’t recall a single instance when you’ve been accurate about anything.

PETER: That’s not true. Well, I was right about one thing.

THOMAS: What’s that?

PETER: James and John are not going to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand.

ANDREW: Yeah! Jesus said the youngest would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and that's me!

(The whole room erupts into argument. Each disciple argues consistent with his own character, except NATE who merely adds to the noise with pointless shouting.)

JOHN: BROTHERS! I don’t think the Rabbi would want us fighting like this. I think he would want us to… love one another.

(Awkward prolonged silence)

JAMES: (Holding up his fishing net) Finished. (Looks off into the distance with a sparkle in his eye) Well, this meeting is getting nowhere. Fishing anyone?

PETER: (After a moment’s thought) Let’s do it.

(Everyone jointly agrees to do just this. They begin getting up.)

MATTHEW: Gentlemen, I leave you to your blue-collar pursuits.

Part II: In the Boat at Night

(Lights dim. All except MATTHEW form a single file line down the front steps. PETER is in the front. JOHN is in the back, still scribbling away at his pad of paper. From back to front PHILIP, THOMAS, JAMES, NATE, and ANDREW pantomime paddling alternately like a canoe. PETER, takes off his jacket and throws it at his feet and then stands at the front of the line like George Washington crossing the Potomac River. He suddenly becomes aware of something strange. He turns around.)

PETER: What is this? A Canoe?

(The disciples look at one another, spread out, and make their formation more like a fishing boat. JAMES handles the net. When he tosses it into the sea, the men stop paddling.)

NATE: Wow, it’s dark out here.

JAMES: That’s because the moon’s almost set. See. (Pointing to the horizon) It’s early morning, perfect time for fishing.

PHILIP: Look at that water, Johnny. It’s so still, like glass.

JOHN: It’s always like this this early. I used to love coming out here to fish. It’s so peaceful.

JAMES: Except I was always the one doing the fishing, you were scribbling in that notepad of yours.

JOHN: How could I let such beauty, such tranquility go unpublished?

(JAMES rolls his eyes and shakes his head.)

PETER: Maybe we’ll see the Rabbi coming to us on the water again.

(Everyone pauses and looks out to where PETER is looking to see if it’s true)

THOMAS: (Shaking his head) I doubt it. Great men never enter a scene the same way twice. And you know what they say, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.”

PHILIP: Made any progress on that poem, Johnny?

JOHN: I’ve rewritten it again.

PHILIP: Why? I thought it was good.

JOHNNY: No. It didn’t do the Rabbi justice, so I changed it.

PHILIP: How’s it read now?

JOHN: (Reading) “Midway this way of life we’re bound upon, we woke to find ourselves in a dark night, before the Messiah was wholly raised upon that dawn.”

JAMES: Mmmmm Latin?

(JOHN scowls, but he’s starting to not let JAMES’ comments affect him.)

PETER: I just don’t get it. If Yeshua came to establish his kingdom here on earth, why didn’t he tell us how we should prepare for it? You’d think he would have told us something, especially when he sent us out to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember that?

JAMES: That was more than a year ago.

NATE: I remember that. He sent us out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand. We were even given the power to heal the sick and cast out demons in His name. Wasn’t that amazing! We told people they needed to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven was near.

ANDREW: Hey, that sounds just like what John the Baptist said when I was following him.

PETER: But I bet John the Baptist knew what he was talking about. I don’t think we had a clue. I know I didn’t have a clue. I was proclaiming a kingdom I knew nothing about. I even had a little cousin of mine in Capernaum ask me if I was the king’s personal bodyguard, and for a moment I thought I might be. I was all ready to sell the clothes off my back to buy a sword. I would of gotten one of those short blades: a real jabber.

NATE: You’re no guiltier than the rest of us, Peter. When I was in Cana a woman there asked me if the new king of Israel had a wife yet, and I told her the new king probably wouldn’t marry until after he’d pushed the Romans out of Israel.

JAMES: Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

THOMAS: And I doubt the Rabbi will ever get married.

NATE: Maybe that’s where the Rabbi is now.

ANDREW: Getting married?

NATE: No, traveling to all the regions, gathering his armies.

PETER: Think guys. Do any of you remember him mentioning an army? Do you remember anything he said about his kingdom?

(Pause)

ANDREW: I remember that he said his kingdom was like a mustard seed.

NATE: (Remembering) And he also said it was like yeast.

JAMES: (So-what-attitude) And like buried treasure.

THOMAS: And like a landowner who hired workers throughout the day.

JOHN: And a prodigal son, returning to his father.

PHILIP: And ten talents, given to different servants.

ANDREW: What’s a talent?

PETER: A coin.

JAMES: He also said the Kingdom of Heaven was like a net cast into the ocean, (He casts out his net.) except that net caught fish.

ANDREW: You’re only catching reeds. (Childishly laughing)

JAMES: Well if everyone wasn’t talking so loudly, I would of caught something by now.

(Prolonged silence. JESUS, as covertly as possible, comes out and sits in a chair on stage right. He prods a fake fire with a stick.)

PHILIP: The sky’s turning gray.

JOHN: The sun should be rising in an hour or two. Hey Philip, how does this sound: “Twelve households, all alike in dignity in fair Galilee, where we lay our scene, from ancient prophesies break to new perceptivity, where Savior’s blood makes uncivil hands clean.”

JAMES: Was that English?

PHILIP: Once again Johnny, you’ve hit it right on the head, but the question is, do you like it?

JOHN: It’s okay, I guess. I think I could do better though.

NATE: Hey Johnny, you should ask the Rabbi how to start your poem. I’m sure he could give you an infallible opening sentence.

THOMAS: I don’t doubt that.

PETER: While we’re submitting questions to the Rabbi, I think I’d like to ask why he didn’t leave us with any further instructions about his kingdom?

JOHN: Peter, the teacher told us lots of things to do. They just had nothing to do with setting up a kingdom.

PETER: Really like what?

(Lights begin to get brighter. Morning is coming)

JOHN: Well… like…(He flips back in his notepad to see what he wrote earlier.) He told us to remain in him, and he would remain in us.

PHILIP: And he told us to love one another and our enemies.

JAMES: He told us to wash one another’s feet, and give away our possessions.

THOMAS: He told us not to judge and to turn the other cheek.

ANDREW: He said watch out so we wouldn’t be deceived.

NATE: He told us to trust in him and not to be afraid of those who kill the body.

PETER: Yes, yes and he said we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.

JAMES: And he said he’d make us fishers of men, (Holding up his net and examining the contents) not reeds, rocks, and… what is this? A snicker’s wrapper?

JESUS: (Calling from the shore) Friends! Haven’t you caught any fish?

PETER &; JAMES: No!

ANDREW: Only reeds.

JESUS: Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you'll find some.

(Everyone looks at one another doubtfully.)

JAMES: (Quietly and sarcastically to those in the boat) Ooooh, is that where all the fish are hiding? They’re on the other side of boat. I thought they were on the left side. What the heck?

NATE: Here, give me the net.

(JAMES tosses it to NATE. NATE awkwardly spreads the net into the ocean.)

JAMES: No, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not going to catch anything like that. You have to spread it out. Here. Move over. Let a fisherman do the job.

(As JAMES crosses to the other side of the boat, all the men jerk to one side as if the weight of their catch is tipping their boat to that side. The following 6 lines are delivered overlapping one another.)

THOMAS: I don’t believe it!

PHILIP: Look at all the fish!

NATE: Help me.

JAMES: Grab that end.

ANDREW: We’ve caught all the fish in the lake! (Doing a victory dance) Woohoo!

PETER: Move over! You’re going to tip the boat.

JOHN: Peter! (Pointing to JESUS) It’s the Lord!


Part III: On the Shore Early in the Morning

(PETER takes one look, grabs his jacket, and jumps out of the boat. PETER pantomimes wadding though deep water. The other disciples pantomime fast rowing as they change their formation so it’s going left to right on the stage.)

ANDREW: Hurry up! We’re going to miss something big!

JAMES: Settle down Andrew. Nothing big is gonna happen without John being there.

NATE: Someone grab that far corner of the net. It’s sinking.

PHILIP: I got it.

(When PETER gets to JESUS, he falls at his feet.)

PETER: (Looking up at JESUS. This is his moment. He giggles.) Hi.

JESUS: (Laughs and brings PETER to his feet.) Peter, go help your brothers bring some of the fish you’ve just caught; we’ll all have breakfast together. I’ve already cooked some bread.

PETER: Yes Lord! (Runs back to where the disciples have pantomimed getting out of their boat and are now dragging the net towards JESUS.) Don’t strain yourselves, guys! I’m coming! The Lord wants to have breakfast with us. Here, give me that! (He grabs the front end of the net and leads them to the fire. One by one the disciples stop helping him until he’s the only one dragging the net. The disciples go ahead of him to embrace JESUS one by one. They mouth excited chatter.) Don’t worry about it. I can handle this by myself. No problem. Almost there. Just a bit further. There. (Panting, he collapses in front of the fire.) Wow that’s a lot of fish.

JESUS: Looks like 153 fish. Don’t you think John?

JOHN: Yes Lord. (He scribbles this sum down on his notepad.)

JAMES: Wow! And they didn’t even rip my net. It’s a good thing; (To JESUS) I spent half the night fixing it.

JESUS: I know. I saw you.

(JAMES laughs nervously.)

JESUS: I saw all of you.

(Everyone is silent. They hang their heads, clear their throats, scuff their feet, knowing that JESUS has heard their arguing too.)

JESUS: But come. Bring that Perch, Peter. Let’s eat.

(The disciples pantomime taking the fish, putting them on the skewers, and holding them over the fire. They assemble on the floor around the fire in the same places that they were during their meeting: starting from Jesus’ right: JOHN, PHILIP, NATE, THOMAS, ANDREW, PETER, &; JAMES. They small talk: ex: ANDREW: wow, look at the size of this one. THOMAS: Someone hand me a skewer. JAMES: Where’s the salt. While JESUS joins them, they keep a parent-like distance from him, showing him things occasionally like a child would his father. In the commotion, PETER crosses behind JESUS to get a skewer.)

JESUS: (As an aside to PETER only.) Simon Peter, son of John?

PETER: (Looks like a deer caught in the headlights) L-lord…I-I-I…I’m- (Starts to get weepy)

JESUS: Do you really love me as much as you said you did on the night of the Passover? When you said if all others desert me, you would not?

PETER: (Weakly) Lord. You know that I have a great affection for you.

JESUS: Then feed my lambs. (Motions towards the other disciples)

PETER: (Glances at the stick in his hands and the disciples) Yes, Lord. (Returns to the fire) Make way. The cook is here. I’m going to roast you boys some fine fish this morning. Who hasn’t got one yet? Nate? James?

JAMES: We’re all hooked up, Peter.

ANDREW: Ha I get it. Hooked up.

JESUS: (Stands) Once again what I say is the truth. (Starts slow. The disciples are attentive.) The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he finds one of great value, he goes away, sells everything he has, and buys it. Do you still not understand?

(The disciples look at one another)

NATE: Lord, we understand that you’re the Son of God and the King of Israel.

(Disciples nod in agreement.)

ANDREW: And that you’re the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world just like John the Baptist said.

JAMES: And that you’ve come to unite Israel…(Scratches his head)…somehow.

JESUS: There’s still much for you to understand, things that you would think are foolishness without the Spirit. For my wisdom is not man’s wisdom. That is why I have spoken in parables, and I have uttered things hidden, but a time is coming when the Spirit of God will open your eyes and you will understand. (Sits)

ANDREW: Lord, we want to know now.

JESUS: The knowledge of Heaven’s kingdom has already been given to you because you have remained with me from the beginning. You have seen what was written about long ago: that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise from the dead on the third day. For the Messiah didn’t come into the world to judge the world, but to save it from its sins.

(The disciples have an awed look, though they don’t really get it.)

PETER: But Lord, when—

JESUS: (Stern) Simon Peter, son of John, do you truly love me?

PETER: (Caught off guard) Y-yes Lord, I love you in as much as I am able.

JESUS: Then take care of my sheep.

(PETER sinks down into his seat, hurt: looking at the other disciples and trying to understand what JESUS means.)

ANDREW: (Whispering to PETER) I didn’t know the Rabbi had a flock of sheep. Where are they?

PETER: Shhhh…

JESUS: This knowledge is too great for mere human understanding. Because now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, is being proclaimed for all those who have fallen short of God’s perfection. God has done this by sending an atoning sacrifice for your sins. The price has been paid. And you are witnesses of all these things. You will tell it to the nations, saying: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent, and believe in the one God sent’…for those who believe in me. (Stands to go)

THOMAS: Lord, you aren’t leaving us again, are you?

JESUS: It’s best that I leave, because unless I go, the Spirit won’t come to you. And unless the Spirit comes to you, how will the world be convicted of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment, and of the world’s sin: the sin of refusing to believe in me? Don’t be troubled or afraid. I have overcome so that you may overcome as well. Remain in me and I will remain in you. Surely I will be with you always to the very end of time.

(JESUS walks down the front steps and starts to go down the center aisle. The disciples look at one another, baffled.)

PETER: (Running after him) But Lord we don’t understand. Your kingdom? The army? Your teachings.

JESUS: (Stern) Simon Peter, son of John, do you love me?

PETER: (Very Distressed and tired of being only asked this one question, he falls on his knees in front of Jesus.) Lord, you know me inside and out. You know the shallowness of my heart. I cannot claim to love you any more than I do.

JESUS: Then feed my sheep. (JESUS motions towards the audience.) Peter, listen to me, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go. (JESUS puts both his hands on PETER’S shoulders) But until that day comes, Peter, follow me.

(JESUS begins to walk down the aisle. JOHN gets up to follow JESUS.)

PETER: (Looking back to the apostles) Was that a prophesy? Is that’s what’s going to happen to me? Man, that sounds grim. (To JESUS) Wait! Lord, tell me more. Is that what’s going to happen to everyone else? What about… uh… John? What about Johnny?

JESUS: (JESUS pauses and looks back) If I want him to remain alive until I return, what’s that got to do with you? You, Peter, must follow me. (JESUS continues to walk down the aisle.)

PETER: Yes Lord.

(PETER follows JESUS down the center aisle. The other disciples get up to follow. JOHN waits at the bottom of the steps.)

ANDREW: (To NATE) What did the Rabbi say?

NATE: He said John was gonna to live forever.

ANDREW: Wow! Cool! I want to live forever.

THOMAS: (To JAMES) Hey James, where are we going?

JAMES: Who knows, but we’re following the Lord. (Before leaving, JAMES gives JOHN a big and unexpected hug.) You write good, Johnny.

(All the disciples file out until JOHN is the only one left at the front. He stares off into space. Suddenly, he snatches the pencil off his ear and scribbles onto his notepad.)

JOHN: “In the beginning was the Word…” (He nods his head and follows the other disciples out.)

(Before the lights go out a lone character walks on stage: SAUL. His arms are crossed and he’s looking after JESUS skeptically. For a moment he looks like he’s going to forget his skepticism and follow, but then he catches himself and exits stage right. Lights out.)

THE END