Sakura and Water Bottles

Sakura Picture
This festival is awesome, by the way. You should definitely go next year.

Hello, everyone! As you all can probably tell, I’ve just gotten back from the cherry blossom festival in D.C.—which was pretty much just plain awesome, but also left me exhausted. So, once again in lieu of a long, drawn out post, I’m going to leave you all with a scene I wrote for an assignment from my fiction workshop class.

Enjoy! 🙂


It only takes a moment for the camera to focus, the details of the interrogation room sharpening to reveal a man and a woman seated at opposite ends of a grey metal table.

The woman twists a bottle of water in her hands, the plastic crackling slightly as she applies pressure on it.  Her eyes are trained on her work; the man seated across from her is frowning slightly at her lowered head.

“Whitney Marie Garrett?” he says. He shifts his left hand to start tapping a rhythm on the underside of the table in front of him.

The woman’s eyes flicker toward the source of the sound before they return to her hands. “That’s what they tell me,” she replies. The bottle protests as she continues to distort it.

“….All right, then.” The man’s voice has risen slightly in pitch. His fingers drum harder against the underside of the table. “Miss Garrett—”

“Whitney should be fine.”

Her eyes narrow slightly. The man watches as she presses against the edges of the water bottle to squeeze out an indentation in the plastic. He clenches his right hand into a fist as she starts bending it in again. A few seconds pass before his hand relaxes, his fingers splaying out across the surface of the table in front of him.

“Miss Garrett,” the man continues.

Crunch.

“Where were you the night of September the fifteenth?”

“Randi reckons I was at home. She’s a southerner. Probably. They tend to reckon things.”

The man lifts his right hand again, this time to rub at his forehead before briefly passing it through his hair. “Not, ‘Where does Randi say you were?’ Where were you?”

“That’s the question.” The woman blinks rapidly, but she doesn’t look up at the man watching her. She gives the bottle a sharp twist, this time wrenching it completely out of proportion.

The man reaches across the table, trapping her hand against the bottle. She pauses.

“What do you remember?”

She blinks at his hand on hers for a few seconds. “Coffee.”

“Coffee?” he replies, raising his eyebrows. He draws his hand back. “What does that mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” the woman says. She is running her fingers along the edges of the bottle cap. The hard plastic doesn’t crackle under the pressure. “It meant something. It might mean something.”

She sets the deformed bottle down.

“What…the hell…” the man mutters. He reaches forward, taking the bottle and drawing it to his side of the table. The woman follows the motion with her eyes. “You’re not giving me much to go on, you know.”

“There isn’t much for them to go on, you mean.” She doesn’t inflect the word them, but she does lift her head to look somewhere over the man’s left shoulder.

He follows her gaze, his eyes catching the sight of his own reflection in the two-way mirror behind him. “Tell me again why we’re going with this plan,” the man says, raising his voice slightly. He reaches behind his head to rub at the back of his neck before turning to the woman.

“Because nobody’s ever faked memory loss before.” She tilts her head to the side, meeting his eyes.

He slides the water bottle back over to her.


Also, if any of you guys were wondering about the prompt that we were given for this writing assignment, I’ll go ahead and provide that here. We were supposed to write a story that followed these guidelines:

  • 500-750 words
  • Two characters
    • Think point/counterpoint rather than protagonist/antagonist
    • Do not describe the characters physical appearance, but their actions.
  • One event must occur, whether small or large, significant or not.
    • Begin the story in medias res.
    • Both characters must be in the room when the story begins.
  • The action must take place in one
    • Characters may interact with up to three objects total, one of which must be a container of water.
  • The Narrator
    • The narrator must observe the story from the third-person objective perspective (i.e. no thoughts of the characters, no omniscient knowledge, no interference, no editorializing). In other words, be a camera. Observe.
    • You must use at least one line, description, etc. from your index cards (not the line I gave you).

Plot Challenge of the Week

So, I’ve been teaching a class on leadership in missions, and this happens to be a class full of Pentecostals (literally… there is one student who is not Pentecostal in this class). The class actually shows the range of the Pentecostal church ranging from very literate, well-thought out, reasonable argument to off-the-wall crazy talk (I had one student explain to me that Protestantism and Pentecostalism are different religions, that all Evangelicals are Pentecostals, and that Baptists are a third different religion completely separate from Protestants and Pentecostals). I also find it interesting that the vast majority of the class is Pentecostal since, at the moment, the fastest growing and generally dominant Christian denomination in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is the Pentecostal denomination. That being said, the topic of miraculous gifts, and especially tongues, has come up multiple times throughout the class. The primary scriptures used to support Pentecostal teachings on tongues (and miraculous gifts in general) is 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. I was rereading 1 Corinthians 14 today in my devotions and the thing that struck me about this chapter is how heavily Paul emphasizes order. First, he speaks primarily of prophecy (which he defines as edification, exhortation, and consultation) and he compares it to tongues. Paul’s primary argument in the first half of the passage is that prophecy is superior to tongues because prophecy edifies the body by engaging the spirit and the mind of the church as a whole while tongues engages only the spirit of the individual. Further, in the second half of the chapter Paul then emphasizes that both prophecy and tongues are to be used in the church in an orderly manner. He sets forth specific rules as to how they are to be used, and commands those who cannot obey these rules to remain silent. I find it interesting just how much of the modern Pentecostal church ignores this section of the chapter almost entirely. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:

temple-citadel-arena

The Words We (Don’t) Say

Hello again, everyone!

I’m sorry to say that graduate school is just as hectic as it was when I wrote my last post, so this one is also going to be a little on the short side. One thing that I’ve been slowly relearning in my fiction workshop class is the importance of dialogue—not just any dialogue, but realistic dialogue that isn’t grammatically perfect and that clearly shows each character as a unique individual with his or her own quirks and mannerisms.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you all with another writing exercise. This one is from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, one of the books on the required reading list for my fiction class.

Write a dialogue in which each of the two characters has a secret. Do not reveal the secret but make the reader intuit it. For example, the dialogue might be between a husband, who has just lost his job and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his wife, and his wife, who has a lover in the bedroom. Purpose: to give two characters individual ways of speaking, and to make dialogue crackle with feelings not directly expressed. Remember that in dialogue, as a general rule, every pause must somehow be shown, either by narration (for example, “she paused”) or by some gesture or other break that shows the pause. And remember that gesture is a part of all real dialogue. Sometimes, for instance, we look away instead of answering. (204)

Senseless

So, graduate school kind of snuck up on me a bit, so I’m afraid I don’t have a long, drawn-out post planned for today. I do, however, have a nice writing exercise from Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft for those of you who are interested:

In the movie Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman being pursued by a killer through a darkened house. Audiences usually jump out of their seats during the film’s climactic final scene because they identify so thoroughly with her character. Write a scene where your character is deprived of one of his five senses. Then, set the character in a situation where missing that particular sense would have an especially significant impact. The situation might put him at an advantage or disadvantage, but in any case, he will have to compensate, wringing every bit of useful information he can out of his other senses. Make the situation dramatic, one in which he is driven by a pressing need or desire. (Burroway & Stuckey-French 71)

I can’t speak to the quality of the movie (I haven’t seen it, but if Audrey Hepburn is involved, my roommate would probably insist that it has to be amazing), but I did find this prompt particularly interesting given that a lot of the description in my own writing seems to focus on just one of the senses (usually sight), rather than using all five senses to help describe the setting and action.

As always, feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂

Philosophy Challenge of the Week

One of the questions that is often brought up in discussions of legal natural law theories (i.e. the idea that law is an purposive power that should guide people to better themselves by rewarding those actions that are morally good and punishing those actions that are morally wicked) and legal positivist theories (i.e. the idea that law is a practical entity that can be good or bad in nature an it may reward or punish anything a culture chooses) is the question of whether a government can be trusted to train its citizens in morality. The argument can be seen in this way:

  1. A claim is made that the law should train citizens in morality by rewarding morally good actions and punishing morally bad actions.
  2. A counter-claim is made that a bad government could then make bad laws that would train people to be immoral, and thus it is better to pass laws in a morally neutral way that protect the liberties of all from gross violation.
  3. Proponent A (of Natural Law) makes the argument that a libertine idea of freedom (i.e. freedom means doing whatever you want) actually encourages immorality because people are likely to follow the easiest path to a goal (moral or immoral) unless taught to do otherwise.
  4. Proponent B argues that it is up to parents to train their children in the moral beliefs that they hold, not up to the government to determine moral beliefs for a nation.
  5. Proponent A then argues that this will result in a nation with many moral disagreements, which strikes at the basic fabric that holds any society together and makes the nation itself inherently unstable.
  6. Proponent B argues that a morally pluralistic nation can work if a no-harm principle (similar to John Mill’s–that one may act as one pleases unless this action directly harms another) is in place.
  7. Proponent A points out that an individual can be harmed by indirect action. For instance, if my children are taught in school to embrace moral beliefs that I am convinced are actually immoral (i.e. such as the idea that gay marriage should be either embraced or condemned–each view held to be immoral by certain parties) then I have been harmed. Thus, a society that seeks to be pluralistic in a libertine fashion is not actually pluralistic unless it openly embraces indirect harm to everyone in the society.
  8. Proponent B then introduces an expanded no-harm principle that considers indirect harm as well as direct harm (similar to John Rawl’s ‘original position’ in A Theory of Justice which proposes that justice can only be known from an entirely unbiased position that assumes [or pretends] that the individual making the laws is not yet a part of society and could end up being any part of society [i.e. a fundamentalist Christian, Ecological activist, Homosexual, Abortion Doctor, Rapist, Congressman, etc.]),
  9. Proponent A points out that such an unbiased position is likely no more than a figment of our collective imagination because it is impossible to entirely know or put aside one’s personal biases.
  10. Proponent B disagrees and argues that the scientific method involves doing exactly that.
  11. Proponent A points out that scientists never put aside all of their biases (for instance, they are biased towards the position that the scientific method is valid and their senses are generally trustworthy), and that some scientists rarely put aside any of their biases.
  12. Proponent B disagrees again, pointing to the great progress that scientific work has achieved and arguing that a belief in the scientific method is based on clear reasoning and thus not a bias.
  13. Proponent A points out that the belief that human reason is valid is, in and of itself, a bias.

I’m sure that you can work out how the rest of this goes. It generally gets less complicated rather than more complicated from this point forward and an agreement is rarely achieved. So, this is my challenge to you today: I want you to respond to this debate. You don’t need to take one side over the other, though you can if you want. In fact, your response can be an attempt to show that the entire debate is ridiculous. However, you should respond to the debate.

As always, your response should be in the form of a 1000 word work of flash fiction. Enjoy!

Rote Memorization

Rote (n): routine; a fixed, habitual, or mechanical course of procedure.

It’s been years since I’ve thought of what letters I’m hitting. For those of you who can speed type, you get this. You think of the word. It pops up on the screen. You need to delete a word? Poof. It disappears. There was a time you thought, “Alright, ctrl+delete, and bingo!” There was a time you had to cheat. “Shoot. Is my finger on y or u?”

How many of you turn on your computers and instinctively pull up the tabs in your browser, your emails, and any other programs you start up immediately? Within five seconds I have WordPress, Google mail, and Facebook up and running. Might not even be that long.

I’m sure there are those of you who cook like this. You bring out the food, you chop it up, throw it in, and you’re done. Very little thought. That lasagna has been cooked a hundred times. It is a routine.

Lately I’ve been playing a game called Paragon. It’s a moba. Basically two teams of five clash in epic battle. You purchase skills as you level, and you develop a routine on how you purchase those skills. When I was playing today, after I purchased my first ability, I thought, “Shoot, was that the right one?” Even though I didn’t remember purchasing the skill, I bought my starter skill.

This list goes on. Driving. Swimming. Mechanical work. Those who are masters do the same thing over and over in often times boring repetition. Do you know how many horrible things I said about my keyboard class? But I kept at it. Because mom said so.

Combat is rote memorization. Your body is trained to respond through repetitive exercises. In the same way I think “word” and it appears on the screen, they think “parry,” and their body instinctively blocks the blade. They think “shoot,” and they immediately aim at center mass, compensate for recoil, find cover.

But why do our heroes master these skills in months, sometimes not even?

For your characters to become good at something, they have to be prodigies (I do understand these exist and they learn select skills very quickly), or they have to train for a long time intensely.

This doesn’t just go for combat. Pick up the book Blink. It’s basically all about training your instinct through mastering a subject. By making it rote. Someone bought a counterfeit piece of art. A bunch of experts looked at it and instantly said the buyer, a museum, was making a mistake. They couldn’t say why. Years of training their brain, years of seeing real and counterfeit art, and they knew that art was fake. It’s rote. They made looking at art rote memorization.

Basically I’m just pleading with you to make your characters learn things in a realistic manner. I know there are books which do a great job. But others cheat, and it makes the book feel fake. As for prodigies, just make sure it’s important. Otherwise you’re dangerously close to a Mary Sue character.

Using Stereotypes

6406761829_fa1424f97d_z.jpg
Jeremy T. Hetzel (c) 2011

I have been playing The Division a lot lately. The game is based on you being a sleeper agent who is to bring order to NYC after a designer virus wipes out about 90% of the population.

NYC is broken up into districts, and each district has a coordinator. This coordinator gives missions. For the most part, you hang out with them for about five minutes of dialogue throughout a couple hours of clearing their district of evil. Then you move on.

In any line of fiction, these people would be forgotten quickly as nearly anonymous NPCs. The characters would all blend together, basically be the same person, and we would all move on and forget them.

However, Ubisoft and the dozen developers and publisher who were involved in this game made a very smart move. They played off stereotypes to create slightly over the top personas that I still remember.

The first coordinator was a soccer mom. “I think this is going to be dangerous, hun, but I’m sure you can handle it.” Then just amplify the worrying about you but believing you’ll do your best by 100%. You could hear the “I owned a minivan and went to soccer games for my kids” in her tone.

Then there was an action movie actor. “Dude, when this thing blows over, you’ll have to talk to my agent. I mean, if he’s still alive. He probably isn’t. So I guess we’ll have to make our own movie without help. But you would be so awesome to act beside.” He was such a tool.

Let’s not forget the zen master. “There is imbalance and a disconnect. Actually literally a disconnect. Someone took down one of our communication relays. Go spread some karma.”

Each coordinator was an over the top stereotype, and that made the character stick. It made it so I could immediately create a concept in my head of who that person was, and though there may have been some deviation at times, overall I knew what I was getting. And it was hilarious.

In your own writing, how many bartenders (or ultimately the role of information broker) do you have? Whether they’re at a space station, in a wooden tavern, or in a downtown bar, how often are those bartenders interchangeable? I try to distinguish them, but it’s difficult. By making them over the top, Ubisoft succeeded in making each of these otherwise anonymous characters pop.

Let’s look at Song of Ice and Fire. Catelyn Stark goes into a tavern where there’s a woman that she remembers as a child. The woman ate a fruit that made her teeth red. Always red. She was an obnoxiously nosy woman. I remember her. She lasted a full ten pages. She was a stereotype of the nosy neighbor.

Stereotypes often exist because of some truth. The soccer mom exists. I get they each have nuances, not all soccer moms are the same, but in five minutes of dialogue you don’t have time for nuances. In ten pages you don’t have time for nuances.

Now don’t take this as me saying everyone fits in those stereotypes. I’m simply stating that if you have a character who will not show up often and will be easy to forget, find a mold, cast him, change a couple things, and plop that person onto a page.

What I am saying is we understand stereotypes. We can create a full image with very little information. Use it. It’s an excellent way to convey a lot of information about a character in a very short period of time.

The Other Job of an Author

I was watching an interview with R.A. Salvatore. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of his writing. However, he is successful, he sounds like a great guy, and at the very least he’s wise. I don’t like horror, but I still am glued to anything Stephen King says. You don’t need the author that has you stuck to the pages to find an author who can give sound advice.

Salvatore was asked once what the best college degree would be for a writer. The response left me puzzled.

Engineering.

 

Why engineering? Maybe if you wanted to write about architecture? Either way, there was a lot of confusion.

You can’t write when hungry.

17160656345_b2539a6dd4_z.jpg
Bring home the bacon! (GotCredit (c) 2015)

In this age of self-publishing, if that’s the path you will be taking, it also costs money to make money. You are your sole investor. It’s $200 for an editor on a novel, often times more, rarely less. Even more rarely if you want quality.

An artist is at least $300 for the cover art. Sure you can do the layout. Of course you can go with stock photos that look immensely generic and someone else may have used. However, don’t you want something original? Something tailored specifically to your book? It just looks better.

Then there are book fairs, conventions, writer friend hangouts, and buying enough books up front so you can sell them at different events. This isn’t cheap. Don’t even get me started on the investment in marketing.

Guess what you can’t do if you’re a starving artist? Any of this. You’ll perpetuate the starving part and art will be a miserable endeavor for you. I have friends in this boat. They can’t sell out. Getting a job outside writing will nullify their dreams (marketing, guys, you are all marketers of some sort).

I sell restaurant equipment. This is what I am known for. I sell restaurant equipment and go on mission trips. I work about 50 hours a week. Fortunately in outside sales there’s a little fudge room. I am struck by my muse and 4:30 and nothing is happening? As long as I get caught up on emails before 8 am the next morning, I’m good. I’ve gone on a writing rampage to answer emails at 1 am.

However, this job is my literary life blood. With it I was able to go to a convention in Utah where I learned, networked, and met a friend I’d known online for around three years. I was able to buy original cover art which will eventually become metal bookmarks. And marketing. I so hate marketing.

All of this was because during the day I sell restaurant equipment. I work a normal job. One writer I met in Utah was a lawyer. His hours were significantly less forgiving than my own and he had a family.

The world works on money, and money from a primary source makes it easy to fund the writing (or drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.).

The short of it? The whole Bohemian thing is really cute. Now get a job.

Story Challenge of the Week

Well, a little more traveling and we’ll be finished for a bit. Also, Chinese is hard… good, fun, frustrating, and hard. Anyway, it’s time for a story challenge. We have a challenge this week that is not knew, but that I haven’t given you in a very long time. I am going to give you a theme and you have to write your story on that theme. However, I am also going to give you four words (a verb, a noun, an adjective, and an adverb) and you will have to use each of those words in your story. The goal in this exercise is to write a story that includes these words in a natural and meaningful way.

Your theme: learning

Verb: Objectify

Noun: Wisdom

Adjective: Black

Adverb: Crookedly

Short Story: “While We Were Yet Sinners,” part 3

This is the third and final installment of an old short story I’m re-posting, called “While We Were Yet Sinners.” Before you read this, you should also read Part 1 and Part 2. I’d also like to refer you back to an older post of mine about taking a known character and putting a fresh new spin on them as a writing exercise, because if you haven’t guessed already, that’s basically what I did in this story. Thanks for reading, and for those who celebrate, have a blessed and happy Easter.

Joha still remembered the details of how it had all happened the previous day. Now he sat in a cold, hostile jail cell, on the day that he had been told he would be killed. The cell was underground and since he could not see the sun, he was not totally sure what time of day it was now, nor what time of day his execution was to take place. As far as he knew, he could have almost a full day left, or he could have only mere minutes. He had no idea. As Joha sat against the hard, bare wall, he began to think about all that had happened recently. He had killed a man, but he accepted it now. Not to say that he meant to condone it as if it were not wrong, but he realized what he had done, and knew that there was no way to take it back. He felt deep remorse now, and though he knew that the pain of his death would be great, he understood that, if anyone should have died, it was himself, not the innocent man he had killed.

On that note, his thoughts turned back once again toward spiritual things, and what he had learned as a child. He knew that the LORD must certainly hate him now; he had stolen several times, and he had taken a life. He thought back through his past and realized that those were not the only bad things he had done. He lied whenever it suited him to do so, which was often. He had gotten drunk frequently, either from being under pressure or just for pleasure, and he had sometimes spent stolen money on the local prostitutes. He remembered the Commandment about regarding nothing higher than the LORD, and he certainly hadn’t obeyed that one. In fact, he seemed to have broken all of the LORD’s commands that he could remember.

Then he remembered Jesus. Jesus, the most controversial man in all of the Roman empire, possibly in all the world. The man who called himself the Messiah. The man who preached assurance of salvation, and forgiveness of sin. Joha thought about this. He knew he had committed many, many sins and was deserving of judgment. But he remembered from his studies of the Scriptures in his younger days that, though the LORD was righteous and just, He was also loving and merciful. What if this forgiveness thing was true? What if, even now, with only a very short time until his death, he could still be forgiven, and his soul could still be saved?

“You. Murderer,” he heard. He looked toward the cell’s entrance to see one of the Roman guards who had escorted him here in the first place. “Get up. It’s time.”

***

The guards were leading him to where he was to be crucified, a place called Golgotha. Joha had said nothing. Many thoughts were racing through his head, mostly the same ones that he had already been through a thousand times. He felt apprehension and sadness, of course, but he couldn’t ignore the thoughts he kept having about Jesus. He had never even met the man, but he couldn’t stop thinking about him.

What was it about Jesus that kept plaguing his mind? Was he truly the son of God?

As they were walking, the guards were talking to each other, making light conversation as anyone might do with their coworkers. “Another one to be crucified,” one of the guards remarked. “He’s the third we’ve had this week. What do you know?”

“It just shows you what a corrupt world we live in,” the other guard replied. “But at least this one isn’t as bad as the one we brought in yesterday.”

“Most certainly not. Jesus of Nazareth—claiming to be the son of God! What a ridiculous statement. I’ll be glad to see that lunatic crucified.”

At this mention, Joha became alert. “What did you say?” he asked frantically. “What about Jesus?”
The guards both eyed him strangely. It was very uncommon for prisoners to converse such with their guards. But perhaps they felt that the dying man deserved to be granted one last request; whatever the reason, they let him speak.

“You want to hear about Jesus?” the guard asked him. “We arrested him yesterday and brought him to be crucified!”

“But not before He was flogged and whipped,” the other guard added.

Joha was shocked. “What?” he asked. “Why? What did he do wrong?”

One of the guards looked at Joha as if he didn’t know anything. “You don’t know much about the man, do you? He was claiming to be the Son of God!”

“Well, yes, I know that!” Joha continued. “But he was healing people, and doing miracles, and forgiving sins! Those aren’t worthy of death, are they?”

“Look,” the guard said tersely. “I don’t really know, and I don’t really care. It’s your own people who want Him dead—I guess He wasn’t quite the king they were hoping for. I couldn’t care less about the man—I just do what I’m told, and they told me to arrest him.” The guard paused, then added, “Besides, I don’t think you’re in much of a position to be questioning what’s worthy of death and what isn’t.”

Joha ignored the insult to himself and continued inquiring. “But what if He really is the son of God?”
The guards were getting irritated now. They stopped walking and turned back to face Joha. “Why are you sticking up for this man? He can’t help you now, and He is receiving a punishment much worse than yours. If I were you I’d shut your mouth, unless you want them to charge you with blasphemy too!”

“But—”

“Stop!” one of the guards commanded. He gestured for Joha to come forward just a little bit more. Then, when they were in the desired location, the guard said, “We’re here.” He pointed to Joha’s right. Joha looked where he was pointing and saw it. Huge, menacing, a symbol of utmost terror and pain. A tree that had been cut, shaped, and formed into an implement of the worst possible torture. It was the cross.
“Carry it to the hill,” the guard instructed coldly.

***

Carrying Crosses
Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

Joha’s journey to the hill was brutal and torturous. A few times he felt like he wouldn’t be able to make it, but he forced himself to press on and complete the journey successfully. He grimaced at the irony that he was making such a journey that would only aid his captors in his death. But, just as before, there was nothing else he could do.

 

They pierced each of his hands with a metal spike, and put one through both of his feet. Joha cried out as excruciating pain surged through his entire being. He was now fastened tightly to the cross. He continued to moan and scream as they raised the cross, with his body still on it, until it stood upright and was securely fastened to the ground. The process, for the most part, was complete. What disturbed him most was the knowledge that he was likely to be left here, writhing in torment, for several hours or even days, when every part of his mind and body was screaming for the pain to be over right now. He knew, however, that at this point he would be dead sooner or later.

Despite the terrible, indescribable pain, he looked around him. There was an incredible commotion coming from the ground to his left. He saw that there were two other crosses in addition to his. All three of them stood in a row, and strangely enough, the man in the middle next to him was still being tortured and taunted by the spectators on the ground. Joha wondered why they would be doing this. Wasn’t the shame and torment of the cross enough punishment for whatever the other man had done? And, if anyone, why weren’t they doing these things to himself? Surely this man’s crimes, whoever he was and whatever he had done, were not worse than Joha’s!

“Save yourself, King of the Jews!” mocking voices cried out from below.

“If you can, then come down from that cross!”

“Some savior,” one remarked, followed by a cruel, scornful laugh.

Savior?, thought Joha. He had been told by the guards that Jesus was being crucified as well. Was this man Jesus, the one about whom he had been thinking and wondering so much, hanging on the cross right next to him?

From this left, past Jesus’ cross, another taunt was heard. To Joha’s surprise and outrage, even the other criminal on the third cross was mocking Jesus! “If you’re really the Christ, then prove it by saving yourself—and why not us too, while you’re at it!”

Despite how much he was hurting, Joha knew that Jesus was innocent, and felt the need to protest this mockery. As much as he was physically able, he turned his head toward the other criminal. Straining his voice and ignoring the pain, he called back, “Do you not fear God even in your death? We both deserve to die for our sins, but this man has done nothing wrong!”

Then it came to him. He had just realized the answer he had been subconsciously seeking all along. The reason that he never had fulfillment in his past life was because he had walked away from God and had been living in sin. The reason that the LORD had never seemed close to him was that he himself had moved away by ignoring the LORD’s commands and following his own path, which had led him to this death. All this time, he had needed to repent of his sins and get back to God. And this Jesus—He hadn’t done anything wrong. He had healed people, and performed miracles, and fulfilled all the ancient prophecies—surely he was the true son of God, just as he had claimed!

“Jesus”, said Joha, finally seeing the truth. Slowly, t

Thief on the Cross
Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

he son of God turned his head towards Joha. His whole body was nearly unrecognizable; he had been beaten and tortured so much that he almost didn’t look human anymore. His beard had been violently ripped out and a cruelly wrought crown of thorns dug itself mockingly into His forehead, causing streams of blood to spill out onto His face. It was a face filled with ineffable sorrow that seemed to transcend even the physical pain of the cross, but even so, the hope, love, and forgiveness it radiated were unmistakable. “Jesus”, Joha repeated. “Do not forget me when you return to your Kingdom.”

Jesus smiled, inwardly rejoicing despite all the shame. Struggling against the agony to speak, He responded, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Joha managed to smile. It was true! Even though he had done so much evil, and would never have a chance to make up for it with good works, he was forgiven. Jesus had given him joy and hope, even as he was going to his death.

The rest of Joha’s life is indescribable. He endured much pain as he hung on the cross, pierced and bruised, for hours. He felt his heart almost sink again when he watched Jesus give up his spirit and die—put to death by the ones he had come to save. Joha saw and felt much grief, but he still held on to the renewed hope that Jesus had given him.

After several hours, a few Roman guards came by to make sure everything with the crucifixion was running smoothly.

“Look,” said one of them. “Jesus is dead.”

“Are you sure?” the other one asked, surprised and disappointed. “They usually last much longer than that.”

“Let’s find out,” said the first guard. Maliciously enjoying his work, he thrust his spear violently into Jesus’ side. The man on the cross made no reaction, no further outcry of pain. Instead, a mixture of what looked like water and blood gushed out from the gaping wound as the soldiers looked on, somewhat dejected. “Yes, he’s dead.”

The other guard shrugged. “Might as well just finish off the other two now.” He walked over to Joha’s cross. Taking a sharp, hard weapon, the guard smashed it forcefully against Joha’s legs a few times. Even more pain piled on top of what Joha was already feeling. He let out a shout of anguish. After several blows, Joha’s legs were broken.

Joha knew what this did. As long as his legs were still intact, he could still push up on his chest, and would still be able to breathe. But now that they were broken, breathing would be much more difficult. The guards did this when they wanted someone to die more quickly. Joha struggled to breathe, but couldn’t hold out very long, and he soon drew his last breath.

Suddenly, all the pain was gone. He felt no more hurt, and was no longer hanging from the cross. Instead of total darkness, he saw intense, unfathomable light. And in the midst of it all, he saw Jesus.

“Welcome, Joha,” Jesus spoke lovingly. “I had been seeking you out for quite a while, and I am glad that you finally decided to trust in me and be forgiven of your sins. We were just rejoicing over your repentance.” All the shame had been wiped away from his face. It now bore only a pure, holy love. “Welcome to heaven.”

Heaven
Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8