Sending Jesus to high school

The TV show I would like to see — on MTV, or the N, or the CW — is simply this: Jesus Goes to High School. I wouldn’t call it that, of course, but that’s the whole idea, no more and no less.

The story would work due to the same dynamic that allows those contemporary reworkings of Shakespeare or Jane Austen to work in a high-school setting when they otherwise defy contemporary adaptation. High school is one place where hierarchical manners and strictly regimented behavioral codes like those of Shakespeare’s or Austen’s time still hold force.

A high-school setting also provides a good contemporary analog to the strict, hierarchical purity codes of first-century religion. High school is a place where clear rules govern one’s social standing, clean or unclean, acceptable or abominable. It is thus an ideal setting for portraying Jesus’ agenda of embracing the unclean, the outcast and the unrighteous and thus for retelling the old, old story in a way that would help us to see it with fresh eyes.

But that’s really only a secondary consideration. Denys Arcand’s beautiful film Jesus of Montreal took the story of Jesus and placed it in the context of the world of art and theater. In doing so, Arcand helped us to see that story in a new light, but I think that was only a side effect of his main theme, which was to allow Jesus’ story to help us to see the world of art and theater in a new light. Similarly, a TV show that told the story of Jesus in high school wouldn’t mainly be about helping us to better see Jesus’ story, but to better see high school.

This heart-breaking anti-bullying PSA gets at what I mean and why I want to see this story told (be warned — this includes harsh, hurtful language):

I want to see a story in which the last become first, the humble are exalted and the meek inherit something better. I want to see a story in which the outcasts and the despised hear some good news. I want to see a story with a preferential option for losers.

It would be best for this TV show to avoid a rigid, chapter-by-chapter rehashing of the Gospels. But take that story arc, borrow from that cast of characters — Peter, James, John, Judas, Thomas, Mary, Mary, Mary and Martha — and just follow where it leads.

What happens when you place that character in that setting? Take high school, and toss in someone like this:

He walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs. People and practices other men were required to shun he embraces with an equanimity that infuriates the proper and observant in his culture. … His followers are not to aspire to the social register, but to seek out the forsaken. … No outcasts were cast out far enough to make him shun them — not Roman collaborators, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the crazed, not the possessed. …

That’s from Garry Wills’ What Jesus Meant, which I’d recommend as a resource for the writers of this hypothetical TV show and for anyone else interested in understanding or emulating this character.

I’d only insist on a few aspects of the original story that I think would need to be included for the show in one form or another:

1. She should do something amazing, possibly involving loaves, fishes and hungry people;

2. Near the end of the story, she has to die, alone, in disgraceful circumstances; and

3. The story doesn’t end there.

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  • Ouri Maler

    “…and I’ll never forget the smile on his face when Jessie said that,” Luke concluded. I smiled and nodded – I hadn’t been there, but I knew the effect Jessie could have on people. Everyone here did.Was it just me, or did each meeting of the “We Miss Jessie Nassri Society” get MORE people attending? You’d have thought, after some reminiscing, we’d have gotten it out of our system and been done with it. But instead, every meeting just left me looking forward to the next. I looked around at all the familiar faces, and many not-so-familiar faces, and…
    …wait. That guy over there was waaay too old to have been a classmate, and he definitely wasn’t school faculty. Didn’t look like one of Jessie’s relatives, either. I asked Luke.
    “Oh, him? That’s lieutenant Santorum. Never caught his first name,” Luke admitted with a hint of embarrassment.
    “He’s police?”
    “Yeah. Well, he certainly was last time I met him.”
    I considered. “He knew Jessie?”
    “Kiiiiinda-sorta,” Luke waved with his hand. “He’s only met her once that I know of. Though I guess he knew her by reputation by then.”
    “OK, do tell.” I’d never heard of that particular anecdote…and Jessie had a certain addictive quality to her. The more I heard, the more I wanted to know even more.
    “Right. That was back in March of senior year. Jessie, Matt and me, we were planning to hang out after school. But then, when we left the building, this police officer was waiting for us, and he wanted to talk to ‘Jessie Nassri’. So, obviously, Matt and I started getting protective…You remember how it was back then.”
    I nodded. For someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly, Jessie sure had had a knack for getting in trouble.
    “Buuut, he said we didn’t need to worry, and she wasn’t in trouble. See, there was this kid, Sanchez? From an immigrant family? Sometimes earned a quick buck doing housework at Santorum’s place? Well, HE was the one in trouble. There’d been a purse-snatching in the neighborhood, and Santorum had noticed the description of the perp sounded an awful lot like Sanchez.”
    “Thing is, Sanchez and his folks…well, they hadn’t exactly crossed the border legally. Santorum didn’t give a damn, but, if he actually ARRESTED the kid to interrogate him, they’d all be getting a one-way ticket outta the States. Even if Sanchez WASN’T guilty after all. So, our friendly neighborhood cop instead made small-talk with him next time he came over, and got him to say where he had been at the time o’the crime. Which was with Jessie.”
    “Wait, Sanchez knew Jessie?”
    “Turns out. I mean, I dunno if they were close, but she’d been keeping him company while he was handing out fliers for…Wait, was it handing out fliers, or watching the…Can’t remember. Eh, doesn’t matter I guess.”
    “OK, so, Jessie was his alibi?”
    “Guess so, yeah. So, she told the officer that yes, she’d been with Sanchez, and no, he wouldn’t do something like that anyway.”
    “And then what?”
    “And then he said thank you, have a good day, and bye. Jessie was actually a bit rattled.”
    That got me interested. Not a lot of things got that reaction from her.
    Luke went on: “And Jessie was all ‘what, that’s it?’, and you know what Santorum said? He said, that he knew enough about her to know that she wouldn’t lie about this, and that Sanchez was safe. So she got this big smile, and thanked him for his trust.”
    “Huh. And they’d never met before?”
    “Pretty sure they haven’t. Don’t think they ever did again.”
    “So…how come? Where had he heard about Jessie before that?”
    Luke grinned. “Well, he’s right over there. How ’bout we go ask him?”

  • vsm

    At first I thought he was going to be the riot cop Rocky stabbed at that demonstration that became a lot less peaceful once the police brought out the batons, but that works too.

  • Ouri Maler

    Right. Although in retrospect, I’m not sure if I like my idea more than Seraph4377’s concept of a “Centurion gang” whose leader shows Jessie respect…

    I want to write more scenes, but I’m afraid my lack of Bible expertise is showing. Suggestions for cool Jesus scenes? (The “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” one comes to mind, of course…)

  • chris the cynic

    I haven’t been following the thread
    very carefully, so no idea how this fits into the discussion, if it
    does at all. Just something that popped into my head.

    She opened her eyes, and then worried
    that she was blind. She saw nothing. She was lying on her back, on
    a hard surface. She couldn’t see, and neither did she hear anything.
    She tried to sit up, and hit her head.

    She wanted to swear, but none came to
    mind. She settled on, “Ow…” She sighed then said, “Ok,
    Jesse, what now?” Panicking wouldn’t help. So she should just…
    she laughed.

    When she had been younger, at boys’
    camp, and learning to kayak an instructor had tried to explain what to
    do when one found themselves upside down. He had started by saying,
    “The important thing is to keep calm so just take a deep-” and
    then he realized that that was extremely bad advice. One should
    never take a deep breath underwater. He amended to, “Just take a
    moment to clear your head,” but the bad advice had always stuck
    with Jesse.

    Thinking of it never failed to amuse her.

    She took a deep breath, and felt her
    soundings. She was in a box, rectangular. She hoped it wasn’t a
    coffin. Coffins were placed in concrete burial vaults and one of
    those would be impossible to get out of. Then again every coffin
    she’d ever seen had something more inviting than the cold metal she
    felt around her, and no one would bury her naked. Right?

    She pressed on each of the sides. The
    one her feet were at was the only one to give at all, though it didn’t give much. She kicked. Nothing
    much happened. She kicked again, and again. And again. Finally
    something gave. The side opened and there was light, though not much.

    Jesse awkwardly slid herself out of the
    chamber and found herself in what she assumed was the morgue. It
    made sense. If she’d taken more time to think about it she thought
    she would have worked it out without seeing it. The lights were off
    and her glasses were nowhere to be found. Nor was any kind of
    clothing. She took the tag off her toe and read up on herself.

    Soon she said, “For fuck’s sake.”
    She was listed as Jesse Joseph Davidson, Male. Apparently, even
    after they killed her they still had to be a jerk about gender. She
    looked at herself and noted that her breasts were coming along nicely, if slowly. They weren’t any different from the last time she’d
    seen them, but they gave her some hope for the future. Maybe when
    they were bigger people would stop insisting she was male.

    As she tried to figure out what to do
    about her situation an answer presented itself. A door opened,
    lights turned on, and before Jesse’s eyes adjusted the coroner
    screamed, “Oh my God!”

    “Yes?” Jesse asked. She was
    acutely aware that she was naked, and tried to cover herself with her

    “You’re … it’s … I …” the
    coroner stammered while backing up against the wall.

    For some reason the coroner’s fear made
    Jesse less self conscious. “Please don’t faint.”

    “What happened to you?”

    “A bunch of jerks beat me up, rubbed
    peanut butter all over me and left me to die. It happens,” she
    felt guilty about the annoyed edge in her voice. The corner hadn’t
    had anything to do with what had been done.

    “You were dead.”

    “What makes you say that?”

    “I know you were dead, I checked.”

    “Well you can’t tell the difference
    between a boy and a girl, what makes you think you can tell the
    difference between a live person and a dead one?” Jesse hadn’t
    meant to raise her voice or be confrontational, but she’d had a bad

    The coroner’s fear was replaced with
    confusion, “What?”

    “I’m female. Fe. The chemical
    symbol for iron, the first two letters in FEMA, the Danish word for
    Fairy, the Spanish word for faith. Fe-fucking-male. Not male!”
    Ok, the peace, love and understanding thing was not going well at the
    moment, Jesse had to admit. Instead she was in a mood more like when
    she’d scared off the recruiters. With a whip.

    “But you have a-” the coroner
    started to point towards Jesse’s crotch.

    “If you finish with that line of
    reasoning I swear by all that is holy that I will eat your brain.”
    She’d run completely out of patience for the obtuse, insulting, and
    annoyingly out of focus coroner, who had now returned to cowering.
    “Now, where are my glasses?”

    “At the police station, as evidence,
    they took all of your …”

    In theory that means the police were
    taking her case seriously, that was the best news she’d heard all
    day. Of course it still left naked and with poor vision. Jesse
    figured that she should deal with one problem at a time. “I’m
    stealing your coat,” she announced.

    “My coat?”

    “Braiiiins,” Jesse said.

    Soon she had a nice long coat, enough
    to cover her up until she found more clothing.

  • Anonymous

    Soo…Where would you like your shiny new internet delivered?

  • Anonymous

    Good story, excellent writing, you’ve got a gift for dialog.

    My personal opinion, is that I don’t know if it’s strictly necessary to make Jesse herself an outsider.

    I think this depends on the story you want to tell –
    personally I think that having Jesse be trans
    detracts a little from the meaning story, because it becomes a “marginalized
    person” speaking to other marginalized people, and that’s just not how
    I’ve ever read it.  I also think it introduces a sort of psychological
    “meaning” to her love of the poor and downtrodden that detracts from
    concept of grace.  For me, there should be no reason for Jesse to be friends with the “wrong” people.

    I think this is one of the great things about the Gospel itself, and of the third party framing device we were discussing (to be brutally honest I suspect that’s why they use it in the Bible too) – the character of Jesus accepts all of your baggage.  No matter what personal failing you bring to the table.

  • Ouri Maler

    There’s some truth to that. Jessie’s unconditional acceptance of others means a lot more if it would be easy for her to step over them, were she so inclined.

  • chris the cynic

    It probably doesn’t fit all that well for a number of reasons and, as I said, I haven’t really followed the thread that closely.

    The idea of trans Jesus has been in my head since I read an entirely unrelated parable by Lunch Meat.  Then there was discussion of whether Jesse should be male or female, and I think I brushed up against the idea of male Jesse being killed on the assumption he was gay, which led me to thinking of it being a case where the attackers were so wrong they were actually right, they were wrong about gender (thinking her male instead of female) and orientation (assuming she was into men instead of women) but they were right that Jesse was gay because Jesse was a lesbian.

    And something about allergies.  And that’s basically where I wrote from.

    To be honest if I were making the story for mass consumption I’d be more worried about what it might say about gender roles.  If people are worried about what it says to have the caring character be female instead of male then what does it say if the caring character who originally presented as male reveals herself to be trans?

    That said, I do agree that there’s a problem with making a story about members of marginalized groups helping each other.  That is a good thing that there should certainly be stories of, but it’s not, as understand it, the Jesus story.

    My understanding is that Jesus probably wasn’t exactly rich, and it is certainly the case that Judea was under occupation, but he was a part of the local majority and he was apparently in good enough standing that he was seen to be lowering himself in his association with certain others.

    If the story is about someone saying, “We’re not better than them,” and working with the people society says are their lesser that only works if they start off from a position of privilege.  Jesse should almost certainly become an outsider (you’re hanging out with them?) but to stick with the story it would be a result of choice rather than nature.

    There’s a difference between choosing to mingle with those seen as undesirable and being considered one of them from the start.  It may take a lot of work on self acceptance and a fair degree of bravery for a lesbian to be willing to hang out with another lesbian who is being ostracized at school for being a lesbian, but it isn’t really walking through social barriers

  • Another Chris

    I was originally unsure about having Jessie be a Muslim, because it feels odd to put a character of another faith in the most quintessentially Christian story. But I warmed to the idea, given that Islam also believes in the Messiah. (Of course, this opens the entirely new can of worms as to whether Jessie would be the Messiah of the Jews and Muslims.)

    Also, I’ve always assumed that the Middle Eastern names “Nasri” and “Nasrin” meant “Christian”. It’s thanks to this thread that I’ve learnt otherwise.

  • chris the cynic

    So I still haven’t read the rest of this thread, and I did take a look at John 20 and decided to ignore it.

    Jesse left the hospital intent on finding clothes and glasses, but was soon distracted.  The garden in front of the hospital was a mess.  The geraniums needed tending and several things had been planted too shallow and were no falling over for lack of support.  She muttered, “For the love of…” and turned her attention to tending the garden, being careful to make sure she didn’t end up exposing herself.

    Replanting the various things wasn’t the easiest thing to do by hand but the soil was loose enough.

    She heard someone crying behind her and and realized it was Maggie.  “What are you crying about?” she asked.  But Maggie didn’t recognize her and didn’t respond.  She stood up approached Maggie who had turned around, said, “Maggie,” apologetically and touched her shoulder.

    Maggie spun around and hugged her.  “Easy there necrophiliac,” Jesse said.  Maggie didn’t listen and they shared a long kiss.

    “How is this possible?” Maggie asked.

    “I was dead, now I’m not.  These things happen.”

    “I must be losing my mind.”

    “Possible though that may be, I’m really here,” Jesse wasn’t quite sure how to approach the next topic.  “And … and I’m naked under this coat.”

    “That’s fine with me.”

    “And I can’t see,” she tapped her temple, where her glasses should have been.*  “I was hoping to grab the spare glasses I left at your house, and maybe steal some of your clothes.”

    “So you’re really here.”


    “And you were really dead?”

    “Seems that way.”

    “What happened?”

    “It’s complicated.  And fuzzy.”

    “Are you back for good?”

    “I don’t think so.  I think I’m back for a month.  Or a month and a week.  Or a month and a week and a day.  Or a month and a week and a weekend.”

    How do we feel about teen pregnancy?  If we’re stealing the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were in a relationship, are we also stealing the theory that they had a kid?  My understanding is that hormone replacement functions like birth control, but probably not 100% effective birth control and we are talking about a family with a history of miraculous conceptions.

    Of course what little I have read of this thread indicates to me that my whole focus on the resurrection goes against everything everyone else is thinking.  To a certain extent it even goes against what I’m thinking.

    The way I see the “We Miss Jessie Nassri Society” functioning doesn’t really include Jesse being around.

    Mostly I see it growing around a similar thing to a section of Acts Fred once quoted:

    All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

    That’s from chapter 2, but when looking for it I initially opened to chapter four and thought I must have found it there:

    The whole group of believes was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.
    None of their members was ever in want, as those who owned land or houses would sell them […] it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.

    The first quote is better because the things I omitted from the second are about the primacy of the apostles where the first is straightforward: each according to their need.

    If the we miss Jesse society is offering a place to crash, a meal, or taking up a collection to help the woman on the corner who just got laid off** pay the mortgage until she gets a new job, I can see their numbers growing pretty fast.

    * You know what the part of an eyeglass that’s at your temple is called?  A temple.  “She touched her temple where her glasses’ temple should have been,” doesn’t sound right at all.

    ** I haven’t decided whether she’s single or her husband is a stay at home dad.

  • Anonymous

    If we’re stealing the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were in a
    relationship, are we also stealing the theory that they had a kid?

    Dan Brown books make you stupid.  I tried reading one once.  Therefore I vote no.

  • chris the cynic

    Yeah, he wasn’t the first.  Don’t get me wrong, several of the other books will make you stupid too (including, notably, what I’m pretty sure was the first) but when I think of that theory I don’t think of Dan Brown.

  • Anonymous

    I know,  I was just being a smartass.

    I actually wasn’t a Dan Brown hater until I read “Deception Point” – when I discovered that he didn’t know WTF he was talking about in the slightest.  I don’t actually have a problem adding plotonium to your scientific formula, but the entire plot of that boot basically revolves around something that any competent scientist would have uncovered within the first three pages.

  • Patrick McGraw

    Yeah, he wasn’t the first.  Don’t get me wrong, several of the other
    books will make you stupid too (including, notably, what I’m pretty sure
    was the first) but when I think of that theory I don’t think of Dan

    I first ran across it in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which pretty much formed the entirety of Brown’s “conspiracy.” This book also claimed that Moses and Akhenaten were the same person.

  • Heather

    Working backwards from a Road-to-Emmaus-type scene, another possibility for Jessie’s death occurred to me.  If the show was set somewhere in a more northern state, she could be beaten up and then just left outside.  The exposure would be what actually killed her.  (Bonus points for a corrupt judge who doesn’t want to actually convict anyone, since his son was one of the perpetrators.  Or a mayor who just doesn’t want the scandal as it might hurt his chances for re-election.)

    Then, a few days later, a couple of students are walking home from Jessie’s memorial (either a student-run one at school, or a more official one that’s closed casket – apparently part of the cover-up must have included removing Jessie’s body from the morgue.  Unless maybe someone “accidentally” cremated her body early?  There’s got to be a reason it isn’t there anymore!).  They meet another student along the way.  All three are bundled up in coat, hat, scarf, gloves, etc., so they don’t know who the stranger is.  Finally they get home, and invite the stranger in for pizza and hot cocoa, and when she starts divesting herself of everything, she turns out to be Jessie.  

    Of course, to avoid having it be totally obvious, there would have to be a lot of scenes of the memorial and aftermath, showing everyone drawing together and trying to figure out for themselves how to act as they think Jessie would have – including inviting total strangers in for food and warmth.  

  • Ouri Maler

    “Oh, hey. Caylee, right?”

    “Yeah. Tamar, right?”

    “In all my buzzkilling glory.”

    Caylee chuckled. “Well, I guess I got meaner things to say about myself.”

    “Showoff,” Tamar stuck out her tongue playfully. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”

    “Oh, I did come to one of the meetings,” Caylee gestured toward the rest
    of the ‘We Miss Jessie Nassri’ Society, “But I’ve had to miss most of
    them until recently. Had a bun in the oven. So to speak.”

    “Oh! Well, congrats then! Is it…?”

    “Boy. I wanted to call him Jess, you know, in her memory, but his dad hated the name. We compromised on John.”

    Tamar nodded. She didn’t ask about the absence of a wedding ring, or if
    Caylee wasn’t a bit young to be a mother already (Really, what practical
    purpose would that have served?). “So…how did you know Jessie?”

    Caylee smiled nostalgically. “The short of it is, she protected my sorry
    ass. More than once. It’s…Well…” Her cheeks reddened slightly.
    “Well, you gotta understand, I had a bit of a bad reputation back then.”

    Tamar nodded. She remembered enough to know there was a bit more to it than that, but she didn’t interrupt.

    She didn’t need to. “OK, so it was more than just a reputation,” Caylee sighed. “For a while there, I was the school slut.”

    “You did say you had meaner things to say about yourself.”

    “It’s…Well, back then, I enjoyed being reminded the boys wanted me, I
    guess.” She paused. “…Among other things. And you know…back in high
    school, it’s usually not too hard to get a guy to sleep with you, if
    you’re willing and let him know.”

    “I’m aware, yes.”

    “Aaaand I guess that’s still true now, but, back then, I didn’t really
    care if the boys were already taken.” Caylee paused again. “In
    hindsight, maybe that was actually a plus. Like it meant I won against
    their girlfriends, you know?”


    “Not cool, I know. Not justifying, just explaining.

    Thing is, word started getting out. And before I knew it, I had several angry girlfriends going all Kill Bill on my ass.”

    “Presumably with less katanas.”

    “With less katanas, yes.” Caylee allowed herself an amused smile.
    “Which…isn’t to say no blades were involved. Remember Anna Richter?
    Tough girl, had this whole posse with her, all-around bad news?”

    “Sure. She attends most of our meetings.”

    “She wha…? Ah, OK.” Caylee blinked rapidly a few times. “Anyway, I
    slept with her boyfriend. She found out. She got pissed. She and her
    gang cornered me during recess and shred my clothes to pieces.”

    “Wait, wait, don’t tell me. Jessie found out, then ripped her own clothes to make you feel better.”

    “…You remember that?”

    “Didn’t remember who the other girl was. Plus, it’s totally what Jessie would have done.”

    “Heh, yeah. But that wasn’t the end of it…”

    “Do tell.”

    “Right. Well, after that whole thing, you better believe I stayed the
    hell away from Anna’s boyfriend. Other girls’ boyfriends, though? Not so
    much. And I didn’t know know one of those girls was Anna’s friend.”

    “Let me guess: Maxine Newman?”

    “Yeah, you know her?”

    “Tangentially. She and Anna were BFFs in junior high, before Anna went
    down the mean and tough road. But I guess she was still protective of

    “…Yeah. A few days later, Anna, her gang, and a zillion other girls
    all dragged me to the gym. Called me out on being a boyfriend-stealing
    bitch, which I guess was true. Made a big production out of it. Some of
    them slapped me…or spit on me…I know Anna had her switchblade, but
    I’m not sure how far they were willing to go. Don’t want to know either.
    I was…I was SCARED, you know? They were all royally pissed at me,
    they’d all gotten together to kick my ass, and there was nothing I could

    “I get it, yeah.”

    “Then, like a Big Damn Heroine, Jessie came in. Well, actually it was
    kinda subtle. A ‘hello’ from the other end of the gym, and she showed
    up, like it was a completely normal situation, asking what was going on
    all nonchalant-like.”

    “Right.” Tamar had known Jessie long enough to be aware of the girl’s
    temper – she had probably been A LOT less calm than Caylee remembered.
    Not that she necessarily remembered WRONG, either – Jessie could put on
    her calm game-face when she thought it would help.

    “I have no idea how she got there,” Caylee admitted. “It’s like being at
    the right place at the right time was her superpower or something.”

    “PLEASE don’t tell me you’re another one who thinks she was psychic,”
    Tamar lost some of her composure for the first time since the
    conversation had begun. “Jessie was a very smart, very perceptive girl
    who PAID ATTENTION. That’s it. And she WASN’T always there at the right
    place and time. Often, she showed up later, and helped pick the pieces.”

    “OK, OK! Jeez, I was just saying…”

    “Sorry,” Tamar’s attitude switched from frustrated to apologetic in an
    instant, “I didn’t mean to blow up like that. It’s just a pet peeve of
    mine. Sorry.”

    “It’s OK. Anyway…Like I was saying, she showed up, all casual-like,
    asking what was cooking. And they were all, ‘roast the witch!’ and
    stuff. So you know what she said?”

    “Do tell.”

    “She was all, ‘you girls totally have a good reason to be upset,
    cheating is wrong, sleeping with someone else’s guy is wrong, and hey,
    we all hate it when someone’s being bitchy and doing all the wrong
    stuff, right?’. And I wanted to cry, because I thought even she was
    against me. And then she went on, like, ‘and since this is all about
    punishing someone for doing all the wrong stuff, let’s make it fair: The
    first person to get a shot at her should be whoever’s NEVER done
    anything wrong!’.”

    Tamar chuckled. “That magnificent bitch.”

    Caylee grinned. “And she just kept going, you know? She kept saying
    nobody’s perfect, only without ACTUALLY saying it. By the end of her
    little spiel, you could have cut the awkwardness with Anna’s
    switchblade. None of them said a word when she took me by the hand and
    led me to the infirmary.”


    “Mind you…on the way there, she made me promise that this kind of crap
    wouldn’t happen again. That I’d actually think about other people next
    time I wanted an itch scratched.”

    Tamar refrained from voicing the “Aaaand?” in her mind, waiting instead for Caylee to pursue.

    Caylee obliged: “That was two years ago. Haven’t stolen a single boyfriend since,” she concluded with a big smile.

  • Ouri Maler

    Another thought: How do we handle parables?
    I mean, they do kinda cover the bulk of the anecdotes in the Gospels. I could easily see the Good Samaritan modernized as “and only that Muslim guy the neighborhood hated actually bothered to call an ambulance for the mugging victim”. But…Are they things that happen in Jessie’s life?
    Are they anecdotes she uses as examples? (Possibly even taken from real world anecdotes – real life has its own share of the incredible, after all.)
    Or, are they just that – parables, like in the original Gospels? Is Jessie a talented improv storyteller?

  • Anonymous

    This is slightly off topic, but it’s been bugging me for a few days. I’m…rather uncomfortable with the idea that Jessie (i.e. Jesus) couldn’t be trans. I get the practical considerations, but ideologically? It feels really, really, wrong. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I got, and I had to say something.

  • Ouri Maler

    Maybe try looking at it this way: Jessie CAN be trans. It’s just that if she is, then that changes the story (as does her being female, or gay, or Muslim, or Christian…). It’s just a matter of figuring which changes to the story work best – and that is not going to be fully objective, naturally.

  • chris the cynic

    From a real world perspective if we were trying to judge whether someone were the second coming there is no way in Hell (or elsewhere) that I would consider, “But she’s trans,” to be a strike against that person.  (Then again, I’m not a Christian.)

    From a story telling perspective I definitely think that the story has merit, I wouldn’t have written (some of one version of) it otherwise.  That said, I get the practical consideration that there’s a difference between helping a group you are a part of and helping one you are not.

    That said, if she were trans then the only thing with respect to breaking barriers that that really changes involves QUILTBAG* issues.  There are plenty of other marginalized groups that she wouldn’t be a part of and many other barriers to be broken.

    It’s just a question of how certain topics can be approached really.  The parable of the good Samaritan can’t be told by a Samaritan otherwise it loses its meaning.  Keeping company it tax collectors is only worthy of note if you’re not a tax collector.  So on, so forth.

    In the story Jesse can be trans, but if she is then it means that having her be accepting of trans people isn’t breaking any barriers**.  In my version she’s also a lesbian, so her being willing to mingle with people who aren’t heterosexual is likewise not so much barrier breaking as the expected outcome.  

    * I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that term.  In my mind something ending in “bag” is usually an insult.

    ** Well, it requires a certain level of self acceptance which would require breaking through what society tells her she should think and feel and want and be, but I would argue that’s a different kind of barrier breaking.

  • Ross

    Part of this is why I’m uncomfortable with the whole concept in the first place. Make High School Jesus a white man who crosses the lines and breaks the cultural taboos by breaking bread with the downtrodden, and it’s basically impossible to avoid tumbling into a Mighty Whitey story about how the Magic White Dude Who Fixes inequality.  Make him a black man, and you’re now a Magical Negro story about the man who has magical powers due to being simpler and purer than the white folks with all their superior book larnin’.  Make her a woman, and now it’s a story about how Women Are Just More Pure and Spiritual And Sensitive And Doesn’t That Make Up For Them Getting The Shaft On Pretty Much Everything Else Ever. Make her gay, trans, intersexed, non-able-bodied, any one of a host of other disadvantages, and it’s a story about how being an oppressed minority makes you morally superior.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • Ouri Maler

    Well, I suppose the answer to that is to keep the character interesting and three-dimensional.

  • Lunch Meat

    Don’t want to reanimate a zombie thread, but since people have been posting off and on, I thought I’d write out my own plot bunny. Was interested to see what the teaching aspects of Jessie’s “ministry” would look like.

    (TW: homophobia, rape, victim blaming)

    “Please, Jess? I really want you to come with me.”

    “I don’t know, Maggie, it just really doesn’t sound like my kind of place.”

    “My mom is expecting me to be an officer next year, and you can’t be an officer if you don’t bring visitors. I haven’t invited anyone all year. Please? Just this once.”

    Jessie sighed. “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”

    They walked together down the hall. The room wasn’t hard to miss. A brightly colored sign hung next to the door, proclaiming “CHRISTIAN CLUB” in big letters across the top. Below that, it read, “John 3:16. We heart Jesus!”

    Maggie led the way to a seat in the back of the room, talking nervously. “Tiffany is leading the Bible study this week. Everyone likes Tiffany. She’s smart and she knows everything about the Bible. You know she’s gotten first place at all the Bible bowls three years in a row? She’s even memorized whole chapters of Revelations, just because she can. She–”

    “Okay everyone, let’s get started!” Tiffany stood up at the front of the room, beaming a brilliant-white smile at the group. “John is going to lead a prayer, and then we’ll sing a song.” Her sleek ponytail bounced as she turned to an awkward bespectacled sophomore, who mumbled, “Let’s pray, you guys.”

    Jessie closed her eyes and tried to find the heart of the prayer, filtering out the endless “like”s and “really”s and “father”s. Then she worshiped quietly while the group stumbled through a spiritless rendition of a forgettable praise chorus, each student intentionally not looking at each other.

    “Okay, awesome, you guys!” Tiffany bounded back up to the front, as if determined to make up for everyone else’s lack of energy. “We’re gonna do announcements later, cause we have a really important text to look at today. Who wants to read Romans 1:26-27?” No hands shot up. “Anyone? How about you, Maria?”

    Maria stood up, fumbling with her Bible. She read quietly, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” A couple of guys in the back giggled nervously as she continued, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” She sat down.

    “Thanks Maria! Okay, so our first discussion question is, what does God think about gay people?”

    No one spoke for a few seconds, until a freshman timidly raised her hand. “He doesn’t like them?”

    “Correct! He doesn’t like them because they’re rebellious!” Tiffany smiled even more, incongruously. “And why don’t gay people love God?”

    Jessie couldn’t stand it anymore. “There are gay Christians, you know.”

    Tiffany stopped smiling. “Who said that?”

    Jessie stood up in the back. “I did.”

    “Oh, you’re new here. Well, it’s very popular nowadays to think you can be gay and a Christian, but we have the truth and we know better. It says right here that ‘they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him,’ so how could they be Christians?” Tiffany smirked triumphantly.

    “Those people in Romans 1 don’t sound anything like the gay people I know. And besides, you’re taking it entirely out of context. That passage starts with a “because of this,” but you’re not even bothering to read what came before! The scripture clearly shows that their “rebellion” came before God gave them over to “shameful lusts.” I know someone who was raised in the church and never doubted, but when he was ten he realized that he liked boys even though everyone expected him to like girls. How could a ten year old rebel? What would that even look like? And why would God condemn him for that, what happened to the age of accountability?”

    Tiffany stood stiffly with her arms folded. “So you think you know something about the Bible, do you?”

    “I know a bit, yeah.”

    “I’ve been studying the Bible ever since I could read. I’ve memorized more verses than anyone else in my youth group. Don’t you dare think you can argue with me about what the Bible says.”

    “Rote memorization! Good! That’s the first step to knowing what God wants. But do you know how to interpret? What did Jesus say was the greatest command?”

    Tiffany rolled her eyes. “That’s the easiest question ever. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    “Well done. But what did he mean by neighbor?”

    Tiffany glared frostily. “Why don’t you just tell me what you think he meant, since you know everything about the Bible?”

    Jessie smiled. She walked up to the front of the class and sat down on a desk, facing the group. “A woman left a bar late at night. She’d had a little too much to drink, but her friends weren’t answering her calls, so she decided to call a cab. But while she was waiting, a man dragged her into the back of his car and raped her. Then he pushed her out and drove away. She saw a policeman at the next bar over, who was answering a disturbance call. She ran to him and told him what had happened, but all he noticed was her short skirt and the alcohol on her breath. He brushed her off.

    “A few weeks later she found out she was pregnant and went to a crisis pregnancy center. They didn’t let her finish her story, just told her that an abortion would be murder, and that God had let this happen so that she could become a better person by sacrificing her desires and learning to love her baby.

    “She went to a church to find healing, but the preacher saw her in the congregation and remembered that she was a lesbian who was active for gay rights in the community. He preached fire and brimstone and warned the church that those who rebelled would be judged by God and receive his just punishment.

    “Her next-door neighbor, an atheist, knew something was wrong and invited her over to talk. After the woman told her story, the atheist promised to be her friend and support her throughout the next several months, no matter what she did. The atheist took her to the police station and helped her file a report, and referred her to a compassionate doctor who would care for her health.”

    Jessie paused, and Tiffany jumped in. “Oh well done, you’ve twisted the Good Samaritan story into something completely unrecognizable and blasphemous. Your retelling doesn’t even make sense. And just because you can tell the story doesn’t make it true, it doesn’t prove anything. Now you’re going to ask who the neighbor was just to trap me and force me to admit that the atheist was a good person, as if this would ever happen in real life. Well, I’m not playing your game.”

    Jessie shrugged. “I’m not playing a game. And the story’s not supposed to prove anything. I assure you that trapping you was the farthest thing from my mind. I want to free people, and get them to think instead of respond automatically. My question is, what does it mean to realize that someone is your neighbor and to love them? What does that look like?”
    Silence again, but a thoughtful one this time. Then Maggie tentatively raised her hand. “Maybe it means that you think the best of people?”

    “That’s one aspect. What else?”

    The floodgates seemed to open. “You listen to people’s stories.” “You learn about people before you judge them.” “You listen before you talk.” “If you love someone who’s struggling with a hard decision, you don’t tell them what to do, you respect them and support them as they work through it.” “You protect those who are hurt.” “You listen.”

    “Seeing people as our neighbors is really just seeing them as people–not caricatures, not sinners, not rebels, but people just like us, with the same hurts and needs and wants,” said the same freshman from earlier, whose eyes were wide with discovery.

    Jessie was beaming, listening to the discussion, when suddenly the warning bell rang. “Thanks everyone! But I think we’re out of time, and I’m sure Tiffany wants to give her announcements.”

  • Anonymous


  • Ouri Maler

    Loved it!

    (I do wonder about Tiffany recognizing that it’s a retelling of the Good Samaritan parable, mostly because it could get old if EVERY parable Jessie tells gets that reaction…but here we run again into the Celebrity Paradox…)

  • TJ Baltimore

    Even though it didn’t focus on Jesus, I’m surprised that no one mentioned “Clone High”. From Wikipedia: Jesús Cristo: a Latino version of Jesus Christ. He is often seen in woodshop class, which is an allusion to the real Jesus’ career as a carpenter. He was used as a confidant to Joan in A.D.D.: The Last ‘D’ is for Disorder. He wears a halo on his head. He also appears to be a stoner. His voice is provided by Jeff Garcia.

  • Jonathan Garcia

    I know this post is two years old but I LOVE this idea and want to steal it.