22 December 2014

Dreams and Visions and Trust, Oh My! (Not Quite the Christmas Story)

This isn't technically a Christmas play but since everyone associates this part of the story with Christmas, here it is. It should probably take place a year and a half after the birth of Jesus. Desert. Sand. Beach. Summer. Suddenly I see!

Copyright 1998, 2011, 2014 Miles O'Neal, Round Rock, TX, USA. All rights reserved.


Narrator

Narrator

never seen, reasonably serious type, but not a stuffed shirt, may be male or female, any age

Joseph

18 to 30 y/o Jewish carpenter

Mary

14 - 16 y/o girl

Peter

healthy donkey, piles of stuff on his back

Thomas Bodett

14 - 20 y/o, inn-keeper's nephew. Eager, helpful, honest.


[curtain closed, stage dark]

Narrator:

It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It was instead a bright, hot, arid, windy morning in the middle of a desert. A young family has been traveling all night, as they have for a number of nights now ...


[curtains open, lights up fast, young Jewish couple plodding along with donkey]

Mary:

(stumbling) Oh, Joseph, it's so hot!

Joseph:

(steadying her) I know, I know. (sighs, looks around shading eyes with hand) Mary, ride the donkey.

Mary:

Oh, Joey, we have too much on Peter as it is - almost everything we own! (Looks at stuff on donkey) Such as it is.

Joseph:

That's what donkeys are for! (stops donkey) Here, let me help you up. And tell me again why you named him, "Peter"?

Mary:

(resignedly gets on donkey.) Because he's so good-natured, but so stubborn.

Joseph:

And so who is this stubborn, good-natured guy he's named after?

Mary:

Just someone I saw in a dream once. (donkey starts, Mary groans). Ooooh... I'm so sore. (gets faraway look) Next time we take a Concorde, first class. (smiles dreamily)

Joseph:

What? Con-Chord? First what?

Mary:

I'm sorry, Joseph dearest, never mind.

Joseph:

I worry about you when you talk like that. I think we need to get you out of this heat!

Mary:

Ha! When I talk like that! (looks to sky) Angels he sees! Dreams he has! Take a lovely tour of the Middle East and see fascinating Egypt, home of the Pharoahs, pyramids, and lovely sphinxes, my precious! See the spot where Moses turned the water into blood! See where Joseph fled Potiphar's wife! Get your picture taken with Egyptian guards like the ones who drowned in the Red Sea! (smiles lovingly at Joseph) And you worry about me?

Joseph:

(wry smile) You have such a way with words, dearest. I don't think I ever put it quite like that.

Mary:

I know, I know. Oh, I'm so sore! Get me down off this mangy beast!

Peter:

Hee haw! (stops suddenly, Joseph catches Mary as she starts to fall)

Joseph:

I don't think Peter likes that! And he isn't mangy. And he's a good donkey. He carried you to Bethlehem, he got us this far, with no problem.

Mary:

True enough. I'm sorry, Peter. (rubs muzzle fondly) It's just that his bones (pats Peter's back) and my bones (rubs rear) don't seem to line up right for comfort. What this donkey needs is some nice, leather Ricarro seats, with lumbar support and adjustable head rests.

Joseph:

Mary?

Mary:

Sorry dear. You have dreams, I have visions.

Joseph:

Visions she has. Angels she sees. (shakes head) And you danced with that one angel!

Mary:

(laughing, almost hysterically) Not quite! I danced before the Lord! If the angel danced, too, that was his business! (makes moon eyes) It's only you I dance with, Joey!

Joseph:

(catches Mary as she stumbles) It's too hot. We've got to find shelter before 10 AM.

[child hurries by with subtitle sign "...before the 4th hour"]

Joseph:

Oh, well, the Lord sent us here, the Lord will provide. (looks up) Right, Lord?

Mary:

(starts looking through bundle on Peter's back) How's our little boy? Son? (anxious) Son? Are you in here? (upset) Joseph! Where is he? Did we leave him at the last oasis? (frantically digs into pile)

Joseph:

(stops her, holds with one arm, moves rags on different part of pile) No, no, it's all right, he's here. Remember? You wanted him to see out the back for a change of scenery?

Mary:

(slumps against Joseph) I forgot. I'm sorry, honey... I'm so hot and tired... I remember now, I was thinking about family vacation in a station wag... Never mind. Anyway, I agree, we need to find some shade. Can we set up our tent against that sand dune?

Joseph:

Let me climb it and see if there's anything nearby.

Mary:

Oh, be careful. And make sure it's not a mirage! I had a cousin who wandered for days chasing a mirage. They found him nearly dead, pouring sand from a camel's skull into his shoes, convinced he was at a tea party!

Joseph:

Don't worry, I'm not the one talking about Ricardo's leather seat, or whatever! (kisses her gently, starts up hill)

Mary:

(talks to bundle on Peter's back) I had such high hopes for you, little man. Growing up with your cousin John, playing in the yard outside a nice split level in Nazareth, helping your Daddy in the shop... He was going to make you a rocking horse, if only I could explain to him what a rocking horse was! (sighs) Poor Joseph! Sometimes he must think me mad, with the things I see in the future. Funny, I've never seen anything in the near future - about you, about us... He's a good man, is Joseph... He could have sent me away... We could be living in Samaria right now, me a servant girl or something, just trying to survive, desperately trying to find you a father... But some day, I see us coming home, coming back, you in the Temple, teaching... Yes! I do, I see you in the Temple teaching. Why do the other teachers look so unhappy?

Joseph:

(running towards them, laughing and hollering) Mary! Mary! Yes, we will go round this sand dune! We'll stay there! It's a great place to (Ha ha!) pitch our tent! (arrives breathless, laughing, stumbles into donkey) Let's (breathes hard, wavers) let's go!

Mary:

Joseph! Are you all right! I think you've had too much sun!

Joseph:

No, I'm fine, just a bit carried away. Come on! Let's go! (pulls at Peter, stumble on) Wagons ho!

Mary:

(confused) What?

Joseph:

You can do it, I can do it. Wagons ho!

[curtains close]


Narrator:

And so, Mary and Joseph and their young son and Peter the donkey and nearly all their worldly possessions have come to the end of another long night's journey through the desert, exhausted, tired, dry, but safe. Sometimes they worry vaguely about lions, or jackals, or bandits...


[Curtains open on a small oasis town in the middle of the desert. An adobe building (or series of tents) labeled "Motel 6" is in foreground. As the family comes round a sand dune, a young man in bright clothes suddenly steps out in front of them.]

Thomas:

Howdy!

M & J :

(looking terrified) Aaaahhhh!

Mary:

(throws herself in front of donkey) Stay back, you fiend!

Joseph:

(throws self in front of Mary) Halt! Who goes there?!?!

Thomas:

(throws self on ground, appears to be having epileptic fit)

Mary:

Joseph?

Joseph:

I don't know! (Looks around warily) Maybe this wasn't such a good idea...

Thomas:

(laughs hysterically throughout lines) Oh man, oh man, oh man! If you could have seen your faces! (starts to get up) I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you! I just wanted to get your attention, to welcome you to our oasis, and offer you our hospitality! (has fits of giggles) Thomas, son of Bodett, at your service.

Mary:

(slumps against Peter, Joseph grabs and holds her) I think I need to sit down. No, lie down! And have a huge glass of...

Joseph:

(interrupts, kisses her, shushes her, looks knowingly at lad) Um, we were just passing through, we hadn't really decided for sure if we want to stop here...

Thomas:

(Looks at them, looks at sky, wipes forehead exaggeratedly) Oh, of course, of course. But if you should be interested in spending the day out of the hot sun, maybe sleeping in a nice, air conditioned room...

Joseph:

A what?

Mary:

(exchanges looks with the lad) Don't worry about it.

Thomas:

...drink some cold water, eat a few fresh figs and dates, I'm sure you would find our prices very reasonable!

Joseph:

Well, just for the sake of argument, if we were to delay our journey, give up the lovely views of traveling by daylight, rest a bit in your, ah, whatever, drink some tepid water, maybe share a meal, how much is reasonable?

Thomas:

That's cold water, I assure you, honored sir! And most excellent dates and figs! Only a few shekels!

Joseph:

(looks at Mary, raises eyebrows) Only a few shekels? For all that? (looks around dubiously) You have a lot of competition or something?

Thomas:

And no bugs in the rooms.

Mary:

(clutches Joseph's arm, whispers) Oh, Joseph, could we? Everywhere we've stopped, it's been roaches, scorpions, palmetto bugs...

Thomas:

(bows) We would be honored to have you stay here. This is the last rest stop and filling station for many spans of cubits. But we are honest men. When the great and rich come, my uncle charges them the prices for great and rich men. When others come, we charge them much less. We are blessed, and would not take from those who have not much.

Joseph:

This isn't a room in the stable, right?

Thomas:

Huh?

Joseph:

(holds out hand) OK, deal!

Thomas:

(looks at hand) Huh?

Joseph:

(bows)

Thomas:

(bows) This way... (leads to room 107, heads back to tent marked "Office")


Narrator:

And so Mary and Joseph and the child and Peter spend the hot part of the long day in an oasis. As evening approaches, they prepare to leave.


[lights fade somewhat (ideally, sun moves across sky as narrator speaks)]

Mary:

(carrying baby) Oh, Joseph! That was wonderful! A bed! And a bath! And fresh fruit! And cool water! I feel so much better!

Joseph:

I told you God would provide.

Thomas:

Your animal, sir.

Joseph:

Thank you. (looks wary) How much for taking care of him?

Thomas:

(consults paper) Let's see - fill up with hay (points to mouth), checked his wipers (points to eyes), new tires (points to feet)...

Joseph:

(whacks self in head, shakes head)

Thomas:

... washed and waxed him (waves hand around outside), 1 quart of Castrol... I mean Castor Oil... That's 5 shekels.

Joseph:

(jaw drops) 5 shekels???

Mary:

(almost drops baby) 5 shekels???

Thomas:

(cringing) 5 shekels. Hey, we didn't even charge for the Castrol, I mean Castor Oil!

Joseph:

No, no, you misunderstand! We thought it would be more than that!

Mary:

Far more! Oops! (covers mouth)

Thomas:

We are here to serve.

Joseph:

So, business has been good?

Thomas:

(shrugs) Not really.

Mary:

What about all the rich and great?

Thomas:

(shrugs) So it's been a little while. The Lord will provide.

Joseph:

(pulls Mary off to one side) What do you think?

Mary:

I think... (looks at Thomas, looks at baby, smiles) I think he's telling the truth. So does our son.

Joseph:

What? (stares at Mary, at baby, back at Mary)

Mary:

Trust me on this, OK?

Joseph:

So what do we do? We don't have 5 shekels! I forgot all about the donkey last night...

Mary:

Well... we were wondering why those so-called Wise Men gave us some of those gifts. I mean, Peter's lugged all that gold, frankincense and myrrh all the way from Bethlehem!

Joseph:

But those gifts were for our son! (looks wonderingly at baby) "For the king", they said. (looks at Mary)

Mary:

And we're his parents! We wondered what it all was for - maybe to help with this journey!

Joseph:

That makes sense.

Mary:

How far do we still have to go?

Joseph:

We're about half way there. Once we get to Egypt, who knows? We can camp at the border, or move on.

Mary:

To Cairo. (dreamily) Maybe a condo on the beach...

Joseph:

What?

Mary:

Never mind! (imperious British accent) Shall we pay with gold, or with spices, miluhd?

Joseph:

Gold, I suppose. And what's that silly accent?

Mary:

Never mind. Joey?...

Joseph:

(looks in eyes) Yes, Mary?

Mary:

Let's bless them. I saw others today - Thomas is the only one who has decent clothes. I think they've hit hard times.

Joseph:

Well, they certainly treated us well. I think you're right. (moves back to Thomas) Here, can we pay you in gold?

Thomas:

(suddenly suspicious) Gold? I thought you were just a family fleeing to Egypt!

Mary:

Gasp!

Joseph:

What made you think that?

Thomas:

Just stuff I read in the paper. (takes gold) Wait a minute! (bites, looks shocked) This is the real thing! I can't make change from this!

Joseph:

Don't worry about it - as you have blessed, so are you blessed. Now, which way to Egypt?

Mary:

Joseph... (pulls aside) Are you sure about this Egypt thing? I mean, really, really, sure, deep down in your soul sure?

Joseph:

(Looks into distance a moment, looks back at Mary)

Mary:

I mean, I'm just so tired of the desert, and Egypt will just be more desert, and we only have enough gold and spices for a few months after we get there, and if this is the Messiah, what is He going to do in Egypt??? Do we really need to go to Egypt? Are you sure about this dream?

Joseph:

As sure as the dream that caused me to marry you, my beloved.

Mary:

Oh! (blushes) Well, then, I guess...

Thomas:

Oh, most noble guests, I almost forgot! You get a paper with your room. Would you like an Israeli Daily, a Samaritan Statesman, or a Narnia Chronicle?

Mary:

Oh, thank you!

Joseph:

We'll take the Israeli Daily, please. (hands to Mary) Something to read on the way, dear - at least until the sun goes down.

Mary:

(idly glances at front, startles, starts reading intently)

Joseph:

Um, just out of curiosity, if we were to head back towards Israel, which way would you recommend? Are there more inns like this on some route we didn't know about?

Mary:

(VERY upset) No! Never mind! Thank you for everything! We'll be going now, on to Egypt. But, oh dear! If anyone were to ask for us...

Thomas:

(determinedly) No one will know of your passing, my friends. But you must be on your way. God go with you.

[they start off]

Joseph:

Mary, what is it! You're shaking! What happened?

Mary:

Oh, Joseph! The paper! The Daily! Those poor children! The poor parents! Oh, I hope everyone we knew was gone! (starts crying)

Joseph:

What? What?

Mary:

(Holds out crumpled paper) It's Herod! He's after what he calls "that newborn usurper and pretender to the throne"!

Joseph:

What? (tries to take paper, but Mary has a tight grip on it)

Mary:

(staring into distance) Herod killed every baby under two years old in the area around Bethlehem. He killed every woman who was pregnant... they would have killed our baby! (holds Jesus tightly to her and weeps)

Joseph:

(stunned, walks quietly, patting Mary's hand)

Mary:

An angel he sees... A dream he has... And am I glad he did... Honey, let's go home... to Egypt.


NOTES

Narrator: The narrator can sound calm and serious, use a bad NYC Yiddish accent, go for a BBC vive, sound like the radio narrator for "Chicken Man" or "The Tooth Fairy", whatever works.

Baby: The baby Jesus may be played by a doll, a light bulb, an actual baby, whatever works. A stuffed Yoda is probably going a little too far, especially if he's holding a light saber.

Peter: the donkey may be played by a stuffed animal, a cardboard cutout, a person on all fours, whatever works.

Child: various children scurry around carrying signs, props, etc. The main idea is that these people are short. Use children, midgets, people squatting, puppets, muppets, short robots, whatever works.

Gold: Use large, fake coins, a stick of butter, gold bricks, whatever works.

Costumes: Use authentic 0th century Hebrew clothing, bathrobes and dish towels, blue jeans and tees, cowboy and Indian outfits, whatever works.

Curtains: If you don't have any, dim the lights, hold up big pieces of paper or cardboard, whatever works.

Props: Get as sophisticated or as silly as you like. The props should probably match the clothes. Marker on butcher paper or large boxes is good for the oasis and Motel 6 in any event. Sun moving across the sky is well played by a yellow cardboard sun with rays being carried by a "child".

Production: This play works well at any level of amateurism. It's fun to hand out props and scripts to unsuspecting audience members at a gathering and have people do it with no foreknowledge. It might even work as a professionally done drama. I haven't had the pleasure of trying that.

30 November 2014

When Structures Kill

I can't find the word "organic" anywhere in the Bible. My Hebrew is non-existent and my Greek nearly so but I haven't ever run across it in a concordance, an inter-linear, or any translation or interpretation (I doubt the word existed during the time of King James).

But the original Church of Jesus was totally organic- it was Jesus and people and food and miracles and joy and stuff like that. It was constantly in motion, constantly growing, constantly new. The main non-organic part was Holy Spirit, who just takes organic into new realms.

In too many cases, the modern version of the Church (or rather, many churches) thinks in terms of structures- land, physical plant, hierarchy, covering, accountability, and so on. In and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with any of these. But taken to extremes they are extremely destructive. Couple these with lots of rules and regulations (as inevitably happens when structures take over) and you ten toward becoming a cult. Blech.

If the structures don't facilitate the organic Church- the community, the family- then I have no use for them. If the bricks, rules, or any other structure tries to define / solely contain / otherwise run the organic relationships, I'm out.

When structures start trumping the organic Church, they are probably driven by one or more of these culprits:

  1. Control - someone feels the need
  2. Fear - "If we don't..." "If we let..." "What if?" "Do you know what happened?" "Do you know what could happen?"
  3. Misunderstanding the Bible
  4. Taking verses out of context
There may well be others but I have seen these time and again. I've seen a lot of good people hurt badly by all of these. The antidotes?
  1. Love.
  2. Grace.
  3. Honor.
  4. Freedom.
  5. Joy
  6. Peace
All that stuff. Every. Last. Time. And we know the real source of the antidote- a relationship with God: with Daddy, with Jesus, with Holy Spirit.

I honestly don't care if you have joined a "local church" although there's a lot to be said for that if you can find a healthy one (or are healthy enough to help grow one). Community and family look different to different people. If your community and family are strictly online, that's better than nothing! (There was a time that other than my wife, my main community of faith was online.) But some days you need a hug, Or coffee or tea. Or whatever. Or they do. So look around you. There's someone. Embrace your brother and sister regardless of where they worship or what label (if any) they wear. Remember the second commandment- just like the first- "love your neighbor as yourself". Laugh with those who rejoice and weep with those who mourn. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Take care of the outcast. Eat and drink together. Sing, dance, play games, talk, pray, sit quietly, go for walks, heal the sick, set the captive free.

That's what Jesus did. That's what the disciples did. Why do we think we have a better plan? Do you really think Jesus would have been more effective with modern business methods? Do you really think he didn't see these coming? He did. He might have wept.

28 November 2014

The Other Ten Commandments

When asked which was the greatest commandment- presumably of the ten God gave Moses- Jesus blew some minds.

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." (Mt 22/37-40, NIV)

Inevitably when I bring this up, someone adamantly reminds me that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, and that we must not forget about the other commandments. Since very, very few of these people observe the Jewish dietary laws I'll assume they mainly mean the Ten Commandments. So how do they apply?

In general, I would say that Jesus' two commandments do not abolish the ten; they fulfill them. It's not that we should ignore the ten, it's more that if we truly follow (or fall into) the two, the ten are no longer a big deal. Let's break that down.

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
    If I love God with all that is in me, what other gods would I love, much less more than God?
  2. You shall not make idols.
    An idol is something to worship. If I love completely, idols fall by the wayside, or get obliterated.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    Why would I speak lies about my beloved, or curse him?
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    I will certainly set aside time for the one I love most!
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
    If we truly love someone we will honor them.
  6. You shall not murder.
    How can I murder someone I love? And we are to love all.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
    Why would I cheat on someone I love? If I'm seriously tempted to cheat (temptation itself comes to all, even as it did to Jesus; I'm talking about seriously considering it) then I'm not really loving my wife enough and it's time to get my love on.
  8. You shall not steal.
    As with the others, how can I steal from someone I love? That would show a serious problem.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    I can't lie about the character or actions of someone I care deeply about.
  10. You shall not covet.
    If I love my neighbor (Jesus made it clear in another parable that's everyone) I'm not going to want to take their stuff. I'm going to be happy for them.
Is it sounding like a broken record by the end? It probably should. It's the same principle.

Jesus made it clear while talking to a crowd on the side of a mountain that we don't really even understand the point of the commandments. For instance, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Mt 5/28, NIV) It's about the heart as much as the actions. This doesn't mean the actions don't matter; it means the heart matters as well. But if I love that woman as God does, if I see her as God does, then I'm going to hate the very idea of lusting after her, and kick lust to the curb. That frees me up to express love; I can look her in the eyes, hug her, laugh with her, weep with her, let her talk about anything she needs to, and generally be in a safe relationship. My wife, knowing my heart, doesn't have to worry. And she, having that same love, is free in her relationships with others as well, and I have nothing to fear. Jealousy has no foothold.

(Someone will inevitably bring up safety here. If we're close to God, he'll let us know when to be careful with someone. If we're in community, we all have each others' backs. But too often when we talk about safety, it's fear driven. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." (I Jn 4/18) That whole love thing again...)

If you need guidelines for what love looks like (or more generally doesn't look like), spend some time pondering the ten commandments. But since Love is a person, spend more time pondering, getting to know, being loved by, and loving God. Everything else grows out of that.

30 October 2014

What About the Most of These?

We should all be familiar with Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25/30-46). It is there we find two passages about how we treat the powerless and downtrodden.
  1. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (v, 40)
  2. "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (v. 45)
Jesus of course was referring to a common tendency to treat the rich, the powerful, the admired, the famous, the respected people well and to look down upon the less fortunate.

But what about the people on the other end of the spectrum? How are we to treat them? Some people flip it around, showing compassion- even admiration- for those with little while heaping disdain (if not hatred) on those judged to be well off.

The reality is that God made us all in his image. Rich and poor, male and female, every ethnicity, every walk of life, whatever the difference, we are made in his image. We should show no more, and no less, honor and love for the rich than the poor, the poor than the rich. Until we truly see all men and women as equal, we are not living up to who we are- to who we were created to be, to who Christ died for us to be.

Love God with every fiber of your being.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Every last one of them.

26 August 2014

The Greatest Commandment, Bible Thumper Version

"Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?"

Jesus replied, "To be able to always quote a verse to prove your point; this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is just like the first, to react without really understanding what you are reacting to. All the law and prophets and your pathetic chances of salvation hang on these two commandments. Don't screw up." Mt 22/36-40, BTV (Bible Thumper's Version)

 

Clearly all the other versions are mistranslated. Probably dropped a jot or tittle, which we all know is the unforgivable sin; the Holy Spirit hates that.