After Jesus returned to earth, and after he assured us we didn’t have to panic—this wasn’t, he said, the Second Coming, merely an extended guest appearance—we asked him if he would be our president.
He said he wasn’t prepared for such a large role—he cited his humility and the fact that, due to his having grown up in the Roman Empire, his grasp of our politics was a little shaky —but wondered if there was something else he might do to serve us.
We named other important political positions—senator, governor, congressman, ambassador to the Vatican—and he declined all but a spot on the school board of one of our rural counties.
Everything was fine until there was a vote on whether to reinstitute the morning prayer in schools. Such a measure had passed years before, but it had been overturned by the courts. With Jesus on our side, we figured the courts would reverse their decision. What judge, after all, would be so bold as to say no to the son of God?
To our surprise, Jesus expressed reservations about the measure. He said he wasn’t a proponent of blaring prayers into young ears. We assumed his objections had to do with our technology. He was constantly looking at everything around him—airplanes, cars, the PetSmart Five-Meal Automatic Dog and Cat Feeder he’d seen when he’d eaten dinner at the home of Ed and Sarah McCaskill—and muttering, sometimes in awe, sometimes in a kind of subdued terror, “Wow.” We assumed he was worried about the children going deaf. We reassured him this wouldn’t happen.
He said he thought the children might mistake the voice over the loudspeaker for the voice of God. Children, he said—indeed, he said, all people—should be trusted to hear God’s voice within themselves.
With Jesus’s vote in opposition, the measure failed.
We forgave him, but when Jesus proposed to replace the Safety Officers in all of the county’s schools with yoga instructors—Jesus said the presence of armed men and women anywhere endorsed murder—we wondered if he was suited to the position after all.
Nevertheless, we kept our opinions to ourselves until Jesus introduced a resolution to ban football. He objected to the game’s violence, equating football with the Roman pastime of throwing Christians to the lions. With this, we decided, he had crossed a line. “Around here,” one of us declared (a little too close to Jesus’s face, it’s true, as Jesus’s beard became spotted with the man’s spittle), “football is a religion.”
Citing their wish to have Jesus serve the community “in an even greater and more worthwhile capacity than the education of our youth,” the six other members of the schoolboard voted to excuse Jesus from further meetings.
We thought we could induce Jesus to appreciate the physical and spiritual benefits of sports by inviting him to participate in our bowling league. There was a discussion between captains about which team Jesus should join. Each of the captains, in the spirit of Christian self-sacrifice, offered other teams the opportunity to draft him, and the conversation turned into a game of verbal hot potato, with Christ as the metaphorical spud. Eventually, we drew straws and Jesus joined Pizza Pugglioni’s.
Jesus wasn’t a natural athlete, and he may have been suffering lingering injuries from his unfortunate time on the cross. He had difficulty lifting even a seven-pound ball, and when his turn came to roll, he would often stand at the end of his lane, ball cradled in his arms like a baby, and stare at the pins as if they were hieroglyphs that might, after enough scrutiny, yield an important message. One night, after downing a sixth beer, Al Pugglioni, Pizza Pugglioni’s captain, shouted from behind a ball rack: “Jesus, Jesus—either shit or get off the pot.”
It wasn’t clear whether Jesus was familiar with this crude maxim but, eventually, he rolled. Or, rather, he dropped the ball in front of him and it began a slow—no, an infinitesimally slow—crawl toward the pins. When, a minute later, the ball had traveled no more than a foot, Al removed a pistol from his bowling-ball bag—yes, he was carrying the pistol legally: he had a concealed-carry permit—and shot the ball six times, propelling it toward the pins, all but one of which fell, resulting in Jesus’s best frame of the night or, for that matter, ever.
Jesus wasn’t a witness to the entire scene (which eventually involved police officers, one of whom, thankfully, was Al’s nephew, who bestowed on his uncle a mere warning). Startled by the bullets, he fled to the men’s room, where we found him kneeling in front of a urinal, hands clasped. When we questioned his metal health—or, in the words of Michael Smith, Pizza Pugglioni’s best bowler, “Are you fucking crazy?”—Jesus said, “The most humble of fountains can be the font of God.”
No one had the heart to tell Jesus we didn’t think he was right for our league, so we rescheduled our bowling nights from Thursdays to Tuesdays without informing him. He wouldn’t mind, we reassured ourselves. He’d never seemed to fit in. On his first night at the alley, for example, after we all ordered beers, he asked for red wine. This prompted the man at the concession stand to say, “How ’bout I give you a glass of water and you do the rest?”
Jesus found a job as a barista at our local café, Coffee Celebration. People came to seek his advice on a variety of matters, from their romantic relationships to their financial portfolios. Jesus’s tendency to listen at length to the café’s patrons, however, led to long lines. Reviews popped up on Yelp and other social-media sites blasting the café’s slow service. There were additional complaints: one reviewer slammed Jesus’s bitter lattes. Another questioned whether his preference for wearing sandals didn’t explain the café’s “foot-odor smell.”
Although the café’s owner, a Jewish woman named Myra Goldberg, was determined to keep Jesus on her staff, he recognized he was hurting her business and quit. Some of us, either misunderstanding the circumstances of Jesus’s sudden unemployment or allowing our prejudices to paint a counter-factual history, accused Myra of greed, cruelty, and persecution, at least of the economic variety.
Looking to move elsewhere but lacking the financial wherewithal, Jesus showed up one Saturday morning at our Farmers Market, sitting at a booth in a far corner. An enterprising high-school student had printed up playing cards from Jesus’s bowling days. For $10, you could buy a signed card of Jesus staring down a 7-10 split.
Although the high-schooler was pocketing seventy-five percent of the profits, Jesus made enough money to buy an Uber ride out of town. We never saw him again.
Over time, we told his amazing story, sometimes interspersed with complaints—we bemoaned our school board’s lack of visionary thinkers and recalled with reverence Jesus’s dedication to improving young people’s lives—and sometimes amid beer-induced nostalgia in our fading bowling alley. We remembered, as if it were yesterday’s Disco Night, Jesus standing at the end of his lane, ball in hand. Yes, we could attest to the miracle: even before he hurled his sixteen-pound ball with his thin but omnipotent right and righteous arm, all of the pins—and all of our troubles—disappeared.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil's Kitchen Reading Award in Prose, and Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award. His latest book, Truth Poker: Stories, won the 2014 Autumn House Press Fiction Competition. He wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference?