Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Good Shepherd Discourse

In this short exegesis, we look at what is often called the Good Shepherd discourse.  We will encounter some terminology that some will have heard before, but which is not considered as much in the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms.  We are used to Jesus setting things in parallel for our understanding and have grown accustomed to metaphor and hyperbole in his teachings, but this section requires a little more literary insight to fully appreciate the message.
Let’s begin with antithetical parallelism.  There’s a term we don’t use much in daily conversation, but with which the Jewish people would have been very familiar.  It is to define, explain, or otherwise describe something by what it is and what it isn’t in parallel verses. There is nothing uniquely Jewish about defining something by what it is and what it is not.  The great Greek thinkers did this frequently, but often in extended discourse for what is and what is not.  The literature of the Hebrews is unique in adding the parallel construction to this genre.
Let’s examine this style further.  I might describe my drive to the office in two parallel sentences.
My drive to the office is a short one.
The daily trek is not so long.
The Psalms and Proverbs are full of this type of literature.
Consider the blameless,
observe the upright;
there is a future for the man of peace.
But all sinners will be destroyed;
the future of the wicked will be cut off.
Psalm 37:37-38
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22
If you have ever tried to study the proverbs, you have probably read several verses and remarked to the group or to yourself, “it seems like it just said the same thing two or three times in a row.”  That’s because it did.  That was the literary style of God’s people through several centuries. 
The next literary tool we need to experience is called Chiastic construction.  That is to build to the middle.
The most notable chiastic construction in the Old Testament is probably the story of the great flood.  It begins in Genesis 6:10 and ends with Genesis 9:19.  The story begins with Noah, his ark building, being shut in, and the flood.  The poem continues from the flood, to the receding waters to Noah on dry land once again.  In the middle of this poetic account is a single statement:  God remembered Noah.  The crux of the story lies in the middle.
We see similar construction at the beginning of John’s gospel, this one much shorter and having two parallel thoughts in the middle.

In the beginning was the Word,
            and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
  He was with God in the beginning.
John 1:1-2

Let’s begin our journey through the Good Shepherd Discourse. [View Color contrasted scripture].

The discourse actually begins at the end of the 9th chapter of John.

 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Jesus has just slammed dunked the Pharisees.  The Pharisees have cast out one of their sheep because Jesus healed him and the man who was blind spoke the truth to them.  The Pharisees believed themselves to be the shepherds of the Jews. 
When Jesus deals with the Pharisees, we see two distinct styles.  In one, Jesus answers question with question, usually until the so called shepherds of the Jewish people give up or at least retreat to regroup.  The second is to launch into an extended discourse that puts the Pharisees back on their heels.  The time for questions is over and the Teacher teachers until he is finished.  The latter is the case in the Good Shepherd Discourse.
Jesus would first explain what a shepherd is and is not—that’s the antithetical parallelism--and leave the analysis and application to the Pharisees, his disciples, and probably to the crowd that had formed following the excitement of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth.
He begins by explaining who the shepherd is not.  He is not the one who comes in any way but by the door or the gate.  The shepherd does not climb over the fence.
Those who come in any way except the gate are thieves and robbers.  Why the two terms?  Thieves steal by stealth—often at night, and robbers steal in broad daylight usually with violence. 
But the one who comes in by the door is the shepherd.  The doorkeeper—often an undershepherd—would open the gate for the shepherd.
The next antithetical pairing begins with who the shepherd is.  He is the one who call his sheep by name and they hear and recognize his voice.    The shepherd goes before the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd.
Next Jesus explains who the shepherd is not.  He is no stranger.  The sheep will not follow the person or voice of a stranger.  They will flee from the stranger.
You might think that with a crowd following Jesus and not much interested in hanging out with the Pharisees; the analogy would have been crystal clear.  It was not.
What to do?
Jesus moves the discourse into the first person but keeps the antithetical genre intact.  He says I am the door of the sheep.
In contrast to the next line—who ever came before me are thieves and robbers.
Then back to the door in the next line.  I am the door.  Anyone who enters through me will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.
Then back to the thief.  He comes to kill and to destroy.

Jesus continues in the first person.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. 
This is in contrast to the hireling—the hired hand.  He is not the shepherd.  He will not die for the sheep.  In fact, he deserts them at the first sign of trouble.
The hireling is further described as one who does not care about the sheep.
Jesus concludes this antithetical set by again saying I am the good shepherd.  I know and am known by my sheep.

Jesus continues in parallel without the antithetical.  That is, he no longer needs to describe what he is or is not as he talks of his relationship to his Father. 
The Father knows me and I know the Father.
I lay down my life for the sheep.
But not just these sheep--there are other sheep.
They will hear my voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
The Father loves me because I lay down my life that I will take it up again.
Then briefly back to the antithetical.
No one takes my life.
I have the power to lay it down and take it up.
Then Jesus ends this pericope when he began it, with the Father.
This command, I have received from my Father.
What is the result of this discourse?
There was division among the Jews.  Surely some of these were Scribes and Pharisees.  The rest surely were vested in the doctrine and dogma of their religious leaders.
We have surely ended where we began, with the blindness of the Pharisees.
It’s good to have someone to point a finger at.  The Pharisees make an opportune target.  We can study this lesson and say what a bunch of knuckleheads and not have to apply the lessons of this discourse to our own lives. 
We can understand the literary construction and admire the gospel writer for recording this wonderful discourse so poetically.  Again, we can enjoy this passage without having to apply this to our lives.
It’s sort of like a get out of jail free card.  We get to look at a part of the Bible that just seems to apply to somebody else. 
Except, there was one sentence in this exegesis that I left out.  This discourse began with the blindness and confusion of the Pharisees and ends with the same.  In general terms and in the first person Jesus describes who the shepherd is and is not.  We get all of this literary excellence, but when we look to the middle of the discourse—yes this is where we bring in that Chiastic term and see how the story builds to the middle—we find a single sentence. 
It is a purposeful sentence.
It is not cloaked in literary tools.
It is there for all to see.
It speaks to us all.  There goes the get out of jail free card.

I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.

Is there a good versus evil theme in discourse?  Certainly.
Are there words of caution for God’s people?  Surely there are.
Should we be on the lookout for the Pharisees of our age in the doctrines and dogma that have somehow superseded the very word of God?  You betcha!
But we must also recognize that these are all secondary or even tertiary to the very direct and very purposeful statement of Jesus.  He came to give us life.  He came to give us a way to live that life to the fullest extent possible.
Are there forces and people and words that are working against us?  Yes.
But they cannot get into the fold.  They are not permitted in the sheep pen. 
Paul would later describe our relationship this way.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39
So we can have abundant life!
So we can live life to the full!

But what is abundant life?  What do we know about abundant life?  Let’s look to the words of Jesus as to what we should expect.

Jesus came to save not to condemn.
Jesus said those who followed him would be persecuted.
Jesus said all who left family and possessions to follow him would receive many times in return in this life and the one to come.
Jesus after showing us what a neighbor was in the parable of the Good Samaritan and showing us how to serve each other by the washing of the disciples feet told us to do likewise.
Jesus told his disciples they would drink of his cup of suffering.
Jesus told his disciples that he longed to eat a special meal with them.
Jesus told his disciples that his yoke was easy and his burden was light.
Jesus told his disciples to watch, be alert, not to fall asleep.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow has enough troubles of its own.
Jesus promised that trial would come upon the world.
Jesus promised that a Helper, a Comforter, a Spirit of truth would come to us.
Jesus told a parable of a wise man who built his house on a rock foundation.
Jesus said he owned no real estate—he had no place to rest his head.
Jesus longed for his Father to take away the cup that was the hour of his trial.
Jesus desired to do his Father’s will and to be the very sacrifice for which he came.
Jesus told all who were weary and heavy laden to come.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world.

Sometimes we think that the abundant life is the luxurious life, but it’s not.  Sometimes we mistake the abundant life for the pain free life, but it’s not.  Sometimes we mistake the abundant life for the trouble free life, but it is not.
A life without any need, or without pain, or without challenges is not really life.  Think to the end of the New Testament and the words of Jesus to the Angels of the Churches of Asia.  He told of wonderful outcomes for him who overcomes.  How can you be an overcomer if there are no challenges?
Sometimes we think that the abundant life is the life that follows this one, and it is. 
We think one day life will be good, and it will be.   
These statements both are true but we treat them as restrictive parameters.  We see the abundant life beginning at some future point but Jesus calls us to live life to the full now.
He calls us to live in purposeful relationship with him now.
When we do that, the pain and suffering as well as the joy and celebration are all part of an abundant life.  The gifts and rewards from a righteous God and the sacrifices we make with what he gives us are part of living life to the full.
It doesn’t matter if we are coming are going—and in today’s busy world it is sometimes hard to tell the difference—we are to live life as fully as possible.
What makes life abundant are not the things we accumulate or the events we schedule but that we have these things and participate in the events of our life in purposeful relationship with Jesus.  Living to the full is in that we live with Jesus as Lord and Savior but also as brother and friend.  That the verbs to live and to love become nearly synonymous.
John’s gospel is very reflective, probably the most reflective of the four that are canonized.  Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of abundant life.  Let’s put it in something we Okies can understand—sporting events. 
The worst thing for me that I can think of in a sporting event is not an injury.  It is not striking out three times in one game—though that’s not much fun.  It is not missing a tackle or missing a shot at the buzzer.  It’s not losing by one run or losing by five touchdowns.
The worst thing that could happen to me at a sporting event would be to come home with a clean uniform.  A uniform should have a little sweat, dirt, or even blood on it at the end of a contest. The worst thing would be to not have had a chance to dive for a line drive or slide into home.  The worst thing would be not to have the chance to make the tackle or make the shot.  I guess if I were a hockey player, I would say the worst thing that could happen would be to come home with all of my teeth.
In the late 1990’s while living in Orlando, Florida, my son and I were headed to a Solar Bears hockey game at the Orena.  We left in plenty of time and avoided the parking lots disguising themselves as highways.  That is to say, we took the toll road.  But as we neared the event, traffic was very backed up.  It seemed that there was a tractor pull at the nearby Citrus Bowl and exits of the toll road serviced both locations.
We arrived in our seats with 1 minute and 21 seconds elapsed in the first period.  I asked the person next to me if we missed anything.
She said, “A goal and two fights.”
Now that’s abundant life!  Eighty-one seconds elapsed and we missed a goal and two fights.  Could you pack much more into this extended minute?
We are a count and measure society and we like to think in terms of what things will be waiting for us in heaven and we forget to live along the way. 
Jesus didn’t come to shackle us until time for trial.  The trial is over.  We were found guilty and sentenced to death, and Jesus stood in our place.
Do you think he did this so we could go back to business as usual?  He did this so we could live—beginning here and now—life as God intended it to be. 
Jesus said, I came so you could live life to its fullest.  I wish he would have added four simple words: get on with it!
We are God’s people and we need to get on with living.  Loving, serving, healing, teaching, listening, helping, guiding, giving, enjoying each other, being ridiculed for believing God loved us enough to send Jesus to the cross, hurting when we lose someone close, rejoicing when one comes to know Jesus, resting from the busyness of the world, thanking God for more things that we can count, asking him for what we need, reaching for things beyond our grasp and sometimes falling flat on our faces, and other times achieving more than we thought possible and not having to ask how that happened.
When we go to bed at night, we should do more than just say, “Man, am I tired.” 
We should say, “Lord, I used everything in my tank.  I’m empty.”  Then we can say, “That was a day lived to the full!”
Perhaps the abundant life is known in a paradoxical antithetical parallelism.

Lord, my tank is empty.
I have lived this day to the full.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Good Shepherd Discourse in living color

The tenth chapter of John gives us a chance to look at the scripture that we know as the Good Shepherd Discourse from a literary point of view. 
I have added blue and red text coloring to accentuate the antithetical parallelism in much of the text.  Note that the discourse actually begins at the end of the ninth chapter of John.
While few others would note a chiastic construction here; I ask you to consider if the sum of the narrative does not build to the middle.  The central message amidst the antithetical parallelism is a very direct statement from Jesus.
I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
The account begins and ends with the blindness and confusion of the Pharisees.  Astride this central mission statement are a general account of the sheepfold, shepherd, and his sheep and a first person account of the Gate, the Good Shepherd, and his sheep.
The parallelism continues near the end, but without the antithetical twist as Jesus compares himself to the Father; however, central to the entire discourse is the statement, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

The Good Shepherd Discourse
John 9:41 – 10:21 (NIV)
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
 1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

6Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
   11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.
 Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd;
 I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
This command I received from my Father.”
 19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”  21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gone: A Screen Play

Scene I


EXT.  Black Ford Taurus driving down two lane road in Florida.  It pulls into a gas station and convenience store and moves quickly to a parking place near the building.  In the car are a man, Jim Kemper and his wife Lynn.  In the back seat is his 13 year old son, Nixon.

Jim:  I just need a quick pit stop.  Anybody else going in?

Nixon:  I guess.

Lynn:  Sure, I need to stretch my legs.

Jim:  OK, lets just make it quick….and not buy a lot of junk.  I want to make it to the beach by noon.

All get out of the car.  Jim double checks the locks and starts to enter the store.  A man in ragged clothes comes up with a copied photo and hands it to Jim.

Jim:  No thanks.  I’m not interested.

Man:  It’s my son.  He’s missing.  Please tell me if you’ve seen him.

Jim quickly looks at the paper and hands it back to the man.

Jim:  Haven’t seen him.

Man:  Please take it with you.  Please it has my phone numbers…in case you see him.

Lynn (taking the paper):  We’ll look for him.

Jim puts his arm around his wife and son and escorts them into the store.   The man sees another car pulling in and heads in that direction.

Jim (to Lynn):  Throw that away.  We don’t need to subsidize bad parenting.  It’s a dangerous world and parents must take proper precautions.

Lynn takes a few steps towards a trash can.  There is a bulletin board above it with several papers of missing children.

Lynn:  I know.  I just feel sorry for him.  Look, there’s more.

Jim:  That’s a lot.  (Flipping through overlapping papers).  Some of these were within a day or two of each other.

Lynn:  This one’s four years old.  The little girl is so cute.  I hope they found her.

Jim:  There’s a pattern here, but I just can’t pick it out.  I’m sure the police have already analyzed any patterns.  I don’t even know why I’m looking at this stuff.  There’s nothing I can do about it.

Nixon (walking up with a half gallon carton of milk):  Here’s what I want.

Jim:  Nix, that’s a little much for a ride to the beach.  What you don’t drink will go bad.

Nixon turns the carton around to show a picture on the back.

Nixon:  See, he’s gone too.

Lynn:  Yes, dear.  Maybe somebody will find him and call his mother.  Go pick out something just a bit smaller please.

The three meet at the front checkout counter with a few more items that Jim had planned on.

Jim:  OK, OK, just put it up there and we’ll get it.

The woman at the counter is chewing gum and smoking a cigarette.

Woman:  That be all?

Jim (fanning the smoke away from his face):  Yes.  That’s all.

Woman:  You got gas with that?

Jim:  No, just this.

Woman:  $12.92.  You interested in those missin’ kids.

Jim:  No.  Just surprised how many there were.  Gives you sort of a strange feeling.

Woman:  The boss thinks it runs off customers.  He’s talkin’ about takin’ it down.  Wanted me to ask folks if it bothered them.

Jim:  You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Woman (marking on the pack of a small paper bag):  I’ll put that down as a bothered.

Jim:  How about just leaving us off the survey. (Picking up bag of purchases).  Have a nice day.

The family all exits the store.

Lynn (To Jim):  That place seemed weird.

Jim:  They probably can’t find too many people to work there that you would call normal.  This isn’t exactly the part of Florida they advertise on TV.

Lynn:  Well, thanks for taking Monday off so we could have a long weekend.

Jim:  I used to get this as a freebee.  But now only federal employees get MLK,  Presidents, and Memorial Day.  The 4th of July and Labor Day are the only bennies left to anyone with a real job.

Jim drives the Taurus out of the parking lot, looks in the rearview mirror and sees the man he first met outside holding up his copied picture of his son.  The Taurus drives away.

Scene II

Highway 520, 15 minutes from Cocoa Beach.  Jim, Lynn, and Nixon in the car.  Passing a sign reading Ron Jon’s 10 Miles.

Nixon:  Can we stop at Ron Jon’s?

Jim:  Maybe.  But we’re not spending a fortune on shirts and shorts just because someone tacked the store name on it.

A semi passes by the car going the other way.

Nixon:  Did you see that?  There was a kid in the cab.  Do you think he could be one who was missing?

Jim:  You know that’s all I’ve heard since we left that gas station.

Nixon:  Well, it could have been.

Jim:  Yes, it could have been, but it probably wasn’t.  Lot’s of families travel in trucks anymore.  They make sleepers big enough for beds, refrigerators.

Nixon:  But what if…

Jim:  Nix, we just can’t do anything.  OK.

Nixon:  OK

Lynn:  Look out here.  We’re about to go over the Intercoastal Waterway.


Scene III


Cocoa Beach.  Jim and Lynn in bathing suits stretched out on towels.  Nixon in waste deep water.  Lynn rolls over and gives Jim a long kiss.

Jim:  We’re going to have to hire a sitter and go to the room if you keep that up…not that I’m complaining.

Lynn:  I don’t think Nixon would go for a sitter…

Jim:  No.  Besides he’s been saying I know what you two are doing when we close the door at home.

Lynn:  He’s growing up too…

Jim sits up abruptly.

Jim:  Where is he?

Lynn:  He was right there (pointing to the water right in front of them).

Jim (standing and looking):  Where is he!

Nixon surfaces and flips his wet hair back out of his face.

Lynn:  There he is.  Right where he’s supposed to be.

Jim (sitting back down on his towel):  Man, am I jumpy.

Lynn:  That stop at the station?

Jim:  No.  We’re protective enough we won’t have to deal with that.  Those people just weren’t good parents.

Lynn:  The man at the station seemed to be sincere in his efforts to find his son.

Jim:  Maybe he should have invested a little more effort in his duties as a parent and his son wouldn’t be missing.  We need to head back to the motel soon if we’re going to get up early and get to the other side of Orlando by the time the parks open.  We’ll get enough standing in line once we’re inside.  I’d like to at least miss the line to get in.

Scene IV

Motel room near I-95.  Nixon is still wrapped up in covers sleeping in one bed.  Jim comes around the corner from the sink area and puts his shaving kit in the suitcase.
It is still dark outside.  One lamp is on in the room, which is still partially dark.  Lynn is on the phone.

Jim (picking up suitcase):  I’m taking this to the car.  Who are you talking to.

Lynn:  Mom.  I ‘m just telling here where we are going.

Jim:  You’re going to wake her.

Lynn (waving him off):  That’s OK   (to phone):  Did I wake you?

Jim (grabbing one of Nixon’s legs and shaking it):  Time to get up and load up.  Get moving.

Jim picks up a small duffle bag and carries it and the suitcase to the car.  He turns left and walks down a dimly lit inside passageway.  He puts the luggage in and gets in to start the car.  He squirts washer fluid on the windshield and uses the wipers to get some of the bugs off.  He tunes the radio to a talk show, turns off the car, and picks up some of the trash in the car.  He gets out, fumbles with the keys and trash but manages to get the car locked and starts back to the room.

Jim enters the motel room and Lynn is still on the phone.  Jim rotates his hand signally she needs to hurry up.  Jim reaches over to the covers in Nixon’s bed to shake them again.  He grabs nothing but covers.

Jim:  Nixon?

Jim takes a quick walk to the bathroom and finds it empty.  He comes back to the bed and pulls the covers all the way back.

Jim:  Nixon!

He looks on the side of the bed with the wall—nothing.

Jim (to Lynn):  Where’s Nixon.

Lynn (covering mouthpiece of telephone):  He went with you silly.

Jim:  NO,  He didn’t!

Lynn (back to phone):  I’ll call you back.

Jim:  I was at the car for almost 10 minutes he wasn’t there.  He was right here (pointing to bed) when I took the luggage out.

Lynn:  I heard you say let’s go, so I thought he was going with you.

Jim:  He was asleep!

Lynn:  Are you sure he was even there when you went out?

Jim:  Yes, I grabbed his leg.  You were in the room.  You didn’t hear him get up or open the door or anything.

Lynn:  I was on the phone.  Do you want me to go look for him!

Jim:  No.  I’m going.  You stay here with the door open in case he’s looking for us and can’t remember the room number.

Lynn:  Where will you be if I need to find you.

Jim:  You don’t find me.  I’ll come back here.  Just keep looking out the door for him.

Lynn:  I’ll call the front desk…

Jim:  No.  Stay here at the front door.  I’ll go to the desk after I check the car again.  Stay here!

Lynn:  Don’t yell at me.

Jim (a little calmer):  Just stay here.

Jim goes out the door and back to the left.  He runs quickly to the car and goes around it twice.  He backs up into the parking lot.  He now starts a very quick paced walk around the perimeter of the motel, checking each hallway and under stairs.  The sound of semi trucks running muffles Jim’s calls of Nixon!  Nix!  Nixon!  He makes it around to another hallway and looks down it to see Lynn’s head sticking out looking the other way.

Jim (shouting down the hall):  Anything?

Lynn (now more panicked):  No.  Did you try the front desk?  I’ll call the front desk.

Jim:  Please just stay at the door where he can see you if he comes by.

Jim exits the door he way yelling through and continues along the building’s perimeter finally getting to the front desk.  There are two people in line and one receptionist.  He pauses only momentarily and then goes up to the woman working the counter.

Jim:  (To the people in line):  Excuse me.  (To the woman at the desk):  Did you see a 13 year old boy about this tall (holds his hand up to his chest):  Brown hair, brown eyes, probably looking lost?

Woman:  No.  These are the only folks that have been in here since I came on at 6 this morning.

Jim:  Please call me if you see him (turns to head out the door, then turns back):  I’m sorry.  I’m in room 147.  Please let me know if you see him.

Woman:  OK.

Jim heads out the front of the motel and sees two semi’s pulling out onto the road.  In a dark portion of the parking lot he sees a child walking back from the direction of McDonalds.  Jim breaks into a sprint.  He gets a few paces in front of the boy and starts to slow down.

Boy:  Dad!  Dad!

A man steps out of a car and steps in front of Jim.

Jim (almost running into the man getting out of the car):  Nix…..(disappointed, now with the hand of the man in his chest):  Sorry, I can’t find my son and I thought.

Man (with a push against Jim’s chest):  Yeah right!  All you did was scare my son.

Jim:  Sorry.  You haven’t seen a boy about 13 with brown hair.

Man:  No.

Jim (to the young boy):  Have you!

Man:  You’ve scared him enough.  Learn to take care of your kids buddy.

Boy (Handing a Styrofoam cup to his father):  I’m OK, Dad.  No mister.  I didn’t see any kids.

Jim:  Thanks…sorry…I’ve got to go find him.

Jim heads back towards the motel looking between cars and then back at the road as a black truck leaves the hotel.  He runs towards the truck, but can’t see the tag.

Jim (outloud to himself):  Black Chevy truck with tool box.  Black Chevy with tool box.  Remember, Chevy with tool box.  What were the markings on those semi’s that left early.

Jim continues around the perimeter of the hotel almost to where he started.  He sees a sign that says pool, stops and follows the directions to the pool.  The pool is in an interior courtyard.  A man is at the pool cleaning it.  Jim opens the perimeter fence and enters.

Man at pool:  Pool’s closed ‘til 9 mister.

Jim:  My son’s missing.  Have you seen him?

Man at pool:  Nobody’s been through here this morning.  Looks like there was no shortage of after hours folks though (holding up beer bottles that he pulled out from under some pool furniture).

Jim:  I’m in 147 if you see him.  Brown hair, this tall, probably scared by now.

Man:  What’s his name?

Jim:  Nixon.

Man:  Nixon, room 147.  Got it.  I’ll take him to the front desk and call your room if I see him.

Jim:  Thanks.  I’ve been everywhere on the ground floor.  Are there corridors on the second story.

Man:  Nope.  Everything up there opens to the outside.  All the inside passageways are on the bottom floor.

Jim runs back to the outside of the motel and starts walking the perimeter through the middle of the parking lot.  A car’s headlights illuminate him.  Jim waves his arms back and forth trying to signal the car to stop.  The car slows and the driver rolls the window down just a little.

Jim (through crack in window):  My son’s missing.  Have you seen him?

Man in car:  Sorry.  I just drove halfway around the parking lot and didn’t see anybody.

Jim (panicked, tries to look into the back seat through the crack):  Nix!  Nixon!

Man:  He’s not in here either buddy so get you nose out of my car.

The window goes up and the car speeds off for about 20 yards then slows to a normal speed. 

Jim (talking outloud to himself):  Tan buick. Man, woman, maybe kids in the back.  Tan buick, Black pickup with tool rack…tool box.

Jim continues down the parking lot trying to see everything he can on the first and second floors.  He arrives back at his car.  Looks inside once more, and then runs back to the room.  Lynn is looking out the door and sees him as he turns the corner.

Lynn:  Did you find him.

Jim (running towards her):  No.

Lynn wraps her arms around Jim:  Where is he! Where could he be!

Jim:  We’ll find him.

The room phone rings.  Jim rushes in the room to get it.

Jim (in phone):  Hello! Did you find my son.

Woman’s voice through the phone:  No we haven’t seen him, but I just checked out some guests that said they were stopped by a man looking for his son.

Jim:  That was me.

Woman:  Sir you can’t go around stopping our guests.  You’re scaring them.

Jim:  I’m sorry, but you would be scared too…

Woman:  Sir, You can’t scare off our guests because you can’t keep up with your children.

Jim:  I think this is something of an emergency.  What if he’s in one of the rooms!  What if one of your guests has him! 

Woman:  Sir, you’ll have to stop intimidating our guests or I’ll have to call the police.

Jim:  Good.  Call them.  Call them NOW!  My son is missing.

Woman:  You’ll have to report that yourself, sir.  Silence followed by dial tone.

Jim (to Lynn):  Lynn, call 911.  I’m going to make another trip around this place.

Lynn:  Should we call already.  What if…

Jim:  Please don’t try to discuss this.  Just call.  Just call.

Jim heads out the door and Lynn moves to the phone.  Jim is starting around the motel again.  Zoom out to show an angled overhead view of the motel.  Zoom out more to show the motel in the context of the early morning city and interstate traffic moving near it.

Scene V

Motel room 1015 a.m.  Lynn is seated on the bed.  One police officer is using the phone in the room and the other is talking to Jim.

Officer Malloy:  We put out a notice to the city and county folks.  I think we can get it on the wire nation wide before the normal waiting period considerering…

Jim:  Waiting period?

Malloy:  Yeah.  A lot of these resolve themselves within the first 24 hours.

Jim:  What does resolve mean?

Malloy:  Normally, it means the kids come home on their own.

Jim:  But we’re nowhere near our home.

Malloy:  That’s why I say we should be able to get at least a statewide alert out today.

Jim:  You also said normally…

Malloy:  Try to stay optimistic without getting too anxious.

Jim:  Right.

Officer Johnston (putting the phone back in the cradle):  The state patrol said they would check the ramps on I-95 and the bigger truck stops.  If he’s hitchhiking, there’s a chance we’ll spot him there.  Do you have that photo.

Jim (handing over photo):  It’s a school picture, but it’s a year old.  He died his hair blonde that year.  I don’t have this year’s with me.

Johnston (taking photo from Jim):  We’ll scan it and get it out as soon as we can. 

Jim:  And what do I do in the mean time?

Johnston:  Let us know where you will be so we can contact you.

Jim:  I already told the desk that we would stay for another day.

Johnston:  They weren’t too happy about you rousting their guests, but if you’ve worked that out with the motel, that’s your business.

Jim (shaking his head back and forth):  I wasn’t rousting.  I was excited, but…

Johnston:  I understand.  Just try to stay calm.

Jim:  Stay calm.  Just sit here and stay calm.  I need to be part of the solution.  What can I do?

Johnston:  I found that prayer is good at times like these.

Jim:  I don’t need prayer.  I need people looking for my son!

The two officers walk to the door.

Malloy:  We’ll be in touch.  Just let us know if you change motels.

Lynn:  We will.  Thanks.

Jim shuts the door behind them.

Lynn:  Do you think it’s worth a try.

Jim:  What’s worth a try?

Lynn:  Praying.

Jim:  Pray to whom?  We don’t go to church but twice a year, and even then I’m uncomfortable with it.

Lynn:  We could try.

Jim:  The last thing I need in a crisis is weakness.  I’ll find him.  I’ll find a way to find him and I don’t need a God I’ve never seen and don’t support with my money to find my son.  Where’s my notebook computer.

Lynn:  You kept it locked in the trunk last night.  What are you going to do?

Jim:  I’ve got digital pictures of us on it.  I’ll email them to every truck stop, gas station, moving company, restaurant company, and TV station I can find on the web. (Jim now walks out the motel room door):  I’ll find him.

Scene VI

Several hours later in the hotel room.  Maps are spread out across the beds and Lynn is sitting at the desk with the notebook computer plugged into the phone line.

Jim:  Just keep looking for sites like these and paste this message and attach these photos and send them.  I got us two cell phones and gave the numbers to the police.  Keep yours on and charging.  The computer is tying up the line coming in.  I knew we should have booked something with DSL or wireless.

Lynn:  What if Nix calls the motel from somewhere.

Jim:  I’ll leave the cell numbers with them too.  I’ve got to get going.

Lynn:  Do you think you’ll find anything there?

Jim:  I don’t know.  I just know there was a pattern to what I saw on those sheets.  I have to try.  (Jim kisses his wife on the forehead and leaves):  Stay after it.  We’ll find him.

Scene VII


Black Ford Taurus driving down two lane road in Florida.  It pulls into a gas station and convenience store and moves quickly to a parking place near the building.  This is the same station visited earlier, but this time Jim is alone in the car.  He enters the store and goes straight to the bulletin board.  He finds that it has been cleaned off and moves quickly to the checkout counter where a man is waiting on another man buying cigarettes.

Jim:  Where’s the missing children sheets?

Man behind the counter:  I’ll be with you in just a minute.  (to his customer):  Sixteen dollars even on the gas and two packs of cigarettes, that’ll be…

Jim (interrupting):  Please just tell me where they are.

Man behind counter:  Just a minute, please.

The man finishes ringing up the customer and turns to Jim.

Man:  I took them down last night.  I thought they were running off customers.

Jim:  Do you still have them?

Man (pointing out the window):  Dumpster folks don’t come for another two hours…sometimes later.  You’re welcome to look, but don’t make a mess.

Jim rushes out the door and heads to the dumpster.


Scene VIII

Hotel Room, 2:55 a.m.  Jim is arranging papers on the bed.  Lynn is nodding off at the computer.

Jim:  I think I’ve got it figured out.

Lynn:  What….sorry.  I’m just.

Jim:  I know.  I’m exhausted too.  Just look at this for a minute.

Lynn rubs her eyes and moves towards the bed yawning.

Lynn:  What do you have, dear?

Jim:  I knew it was something, but I kept getting hung up on geography.  It’s not geography, its holidays.  Look, of the 18 papers I could find, 15 of the kids disappeared on holidays.

Lynn:  Is that unusual.

Jim:  On federal holidays.  It must be a federal employee who’s taking them.

Lynn:  Don’t say taking.  Please don’t say taking.

Jim:  OK.  But I have to follow this up.

The two embace as the camera FADES OUT.

Scene IX


Three weeks later.  FBI Headquarters, near Washington DC.  Jim is being signed in by Agent Bart Paxton. 

Paxton:  Come with me please Mr. Kemper.

Jim:  Just Jim, please.

Paxton: OK, Jim.  It’s just one floor up so we’ll take the stairs if you don’t mind.

Jim:  Fine.

Paxton (opening door to stairway):  You  are one persistent individual.

The two go through the door.

Enter a large room with maps, status boards, and some cubicles along the left side.  Paxton leads Jim into one of the cubicle offices.

Paxton:  Special Agent Melrose, this is Jim Kemper.

Melrose (extending hand):  Pete.

Jim (shaking hand):  Jim.

Melrose (holding up letters):  You’ve been busy the last couple of weeks--two congressmen and a judge. 

Jim:  I’d have rather been here two weeks ago and not had to fight to get an appointment.

Melrose:  We got you faxes and overnight packages with the info you sent us.

Jim:  Have you found anything that would lead you to my son…to any of these children?

Melrose:  Nothing we didn’t have before..

Jim:  But there’s a pattern here.  I know it’s a federal employee.  Maybe from Orlando or Cape Kennedy or..

Melrose:  There’s a pattern all right.  In fact there are lots of them.  Unfortunately, what you have are the results of other agents’ efforts to follow the same pattern.  The reason those notices were all disappearances that occurred on federal holidays is because six months ago we execute a massive operation in the Central Florida area based upon a suspicion that we might have a federal employee abducting children.  We came up empty.  Some of the places we posted these just left them up on their boards.  The few that you found that did not fit the pattern were put up by individuals, not our agents.

Jim:  I thought they all were from individuals.

Paxton:  In a lot of places they are.  You just found one that had mostly our postings.

Jim:  But you’re still following up?

Melrose:  As much as possible.  As of last week, we had over 212 viable patterns to these disappearances.  Interstate, geographical clusters, time of day, grading periods, recently divorced parents, child abuse, and of course those tied directly to drugs and crimes.  We’re working as hard as we can to find everyone of these missing children, but I’m afraid what you have given us puts us no closer to finding your son or anyone else.

Jim collapses into a chair.

Paxton:  I know you’re disheartened, but we tried to tell you this over the phone.

Jim:  I guess I just wouldn’t let myself believe it.

Melrose:  You’re going on a month.  A lot of these things resolve themselves by the 30 day mark.  Maybe Nixon will just call home.  You are home now aren’t you?

Jim:  Yes.  We stayed at the motel a week and then went back to Richmond. 

Melrose:  Let me try to make your trip worthwhile.  Keep in touch with us, but don’t go chasing every lead you think you have.  My guess is that you’re fairly well off in that you have a decent job and some equity in a home.  Don’t liquidate everything and go on your own quest.  The overhead in this type of operation is unbelievable.  (Handing Jim a business card):  Here’s my card.  It has an e-mail address and fax number that you can use any time of the day or night.  Somebody will read it and see what they can do with it.

Jim:  Thank you.  One more request please.

Melrose:  Depends on what it is.  We are very strict about who sees personal information. 

Jim:  The other patterns.  Can I see them?

Melrose:  We can do that.  Bart, show Mr. Kemper the boards.

Paxton and Jim step out into the larger room.  The walls are covered with maps with different colored lights, calendars with colored dots on specific days, charts showing numbers by day, month, year, and decade.  The information is overwhelming.

Jim:  Which ones are for missing children?

Paxton:  They all are.

Jim is awestruck with the magnitude and stands silently and motionless and just stares.  Zoom out and show the entire room that dwarfs Paxton and Jim.  Dozens of desks cover the center of the room, and the boards cover every inch of wall.  Phones ring continuously.


Scene X


A Blue Dodge Stratus pulls into a gas station on a two lane road in Central Florida.  A man and his wife and two children get out.  The man uses the automatic door lock on the key chain then physically checks with a pull on his door handle.

The family approaches the entrance to the store and a man in worn clothing with several days’ growth of beard approaches them and hands them a sheet of paper.

Man in worn clothing:  Please take one.  My son is missing.

Man from car:  No thanks.  Not interested.

Man in worn clothing (again offering the paper):  Please, just in case you see or hear anything.  My phone number is below the picture.  Please take it.

The woman from the car:  How long’s he been gone?

Man in worn clothes:  Just over two years now.

The woman from the car:  What’s his name?

Man in worn clothes (turning paper towards the couple):  Nixon.  But I just called him Nix.

ZOOM OUT to show Florida and the United States from space.


Those of us comfortable in our well-ordered lives can seldom comprehend the anxiety of losing a loved one without a trace.  Souls calloused by years of indifference to the plight of those left behind enter a world of agony where wealth and comfort are of no value.  Those with no faith in a divine being have only themselves to turn to, and having never known forgiveness can never forgive themselves.  They are forever doomed to search for the one they loved between the elusive extremes of reunion or death.

First copyrighted 2000