Sunday, July 1, 2012

Interfaith Ministry

Note:The following is a fiction story I wrote a while back that has never before been published online. Seeing as PhilAsify 101 is my own personal hub for not only benefiting you all from reading my thoughtful content but also to motivate and put on display my love of creative storytelling and fiction writing. So sit back, relax and take 10 minutes out of your day to read this short piece. And if you're feeling extra generous, share it! :)


The dreaded workweek has finally taken its final breath. For some this would signify movies, surfing, club hopping and plenty of other unadulterated fun— especially in the peak of the blistering summer heat. But for an elite group of individuals, the ministry would once again commence. The ritual has been a long celebrated tradition that originated during Rashad’s senior year of high school and has lasted all the way through the pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree.
 

Rashad Ahmed had recently earned a degree in business administration but his passion—and minor— is creative writing. Ever since he was younger, rather than just simply play with toys, he’d orchestrate full-length feature films with members of the Justice League and the X-men. Rashad would create hysterical sitcoms and riveting dramas which consisted of oddball pairings like his Hulk Hogan action figure and his younger sister’s Barbie doll. His most successful series was a sitcom entitled “We Are Family” starring a Darth Vader action figure, Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Chompers, the Beanie Baby shark. Rashad could construct a story out of anything yet his parents wanted him to focus his energies on skills that would actually generate revenue and allow the family to live comfortably. That was the reason why Rashad’s folks had immigrated to the states from Egypt in the first place.


For some reason that was never fully explained to him, the only career worthy of striving for, according to Rashad’s parents, is either a doctor or an engineer. It didn’t really even matter what specialty since it would just be mentioned as part of a quick boastful sentence among conversations with old friends and relatives, “Rashad’s a doctor.” Cue the oohs and ahhs as Mommy and Daddy soak in the compliments, drunk from a nauseating fusion of conceit and chai tea. Rashad’s dreams of being the next James Cameron would draw only the chirps of crickets if he ever conveyed it to them. Declaring business administration as his area of focus received a few raised eyebrows but it was sufficient enough to please his parents.

With the economy in bad shape, Rashad had to settle on a job at a call center doing technical support for T-Mobile. He does occasionally write screenplays and brainstorm TV programming ideas in his spare time—most of which could certainly be deemed Hollywood gold—but for the most part, his creative works languish in the hard drive of his laptop. Life certainly was not going the way Rashad had hoped but the thing that kept him sane during troubling times was his strong faith in Islam and of course, the ministry.

The ministry gathers every Friday night for its deliberation. At first, the meetings would take place in Rashad’s room at his parents’ two-story home but have since moved to a low-rent apartment right outside of downtown. Rashad would play host to the delegation which consists of Tim, Adam and Calvin. Rashad has held these get-togethers with Tim and Adam since the summer after High School while Calvin came aboard through Adam about a year later. Adam is notorious for his sporadic attendance and has not been at a gathering since last year. That’s because Adam’s post-secondary education led him to go to New York University to study Jewish Theology. Adam left Houston a wise-cracking goofball and would return a certified Rabbi. So far tonight, only Tim has arrived to the session, seated beside Rashad in a birch bentwood lounge chair as they engage in their first order of business for the night: FIFA 2010 on the Playstation 3.

image:geniusbeauty.com

“Why do you only choose Barcelona when we play this damn game,” Tim grits through his teeth while mashing buttons. “Pick someone else for Christ’s sake!”

“I’ll change teams when you beat me,” Rashad snickers. “And what did I say about using that phrase in a Muslim household?”

“Oh whoops! Pardon my Arabic, you oil hoarding desert monkey! Ahhh damn it! You got me again.” Tim throws the controller onto his lap in frustration then slouches back in the chair and wipes his face.

“Haha, of course. Round 2 of the crusades has gone in favor of Islam! Things are not looking too peachy for Christianity. Maybe you need to do that thing before the next kick-off.”

“What thing?” Tim says.

“You know: spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.” Rashad says while mimicking the Catholic Sign of the Cross.

“Very funny, you douche. I don’t even do that. I’m Protestant.”

“Whatever, false is false,” Rashad playfully winks. “I’m sure that’s how some people use that formula to remember how to do it, anyway.”

Tim and Rashad have been friends since their senior year of high school. It’s really a shame they hadn’t known each other before their final year since they would have enjoyed being partners in crime all throughout their high school lives. They both had similar childhoods, and shared the same passion for video games, pro wrestling, Seth Rogan flicks and the Houston Rockets. They were practically brothers if it wasn’t for their different faiths, which they both were quite devout in practicing. Tim was always very involved with his church since he was young and was studying to be a youth minister at Southwest Christian Academy. Tim never really had a close friend that was Muslim, especially one that was practicing no less, and it really helped give him a different perspective on the faith that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“You may have had the better of me in Dynasty Warriors 6 and Super Street Fighter 4—“

“And Smackdown vs. Raw and Soul Calibur 3 and—“

“But! But, FIFA is a whole ‘nother story. I believe it is my destiny to be the greatest FIFA 10 player this world has ever seen,” Tim asserts, causing Rashad to twitch in laughter.

“This coming from the same guy who believes that three gods equals one,” Rashad guffaws and has his controller smacked down by Tim for the temporary advantage.

Tim and Rashad are particularly known for their playful insults toward each other’s religion. Their religious jabs are not limited to just being privately between the two as many a time they have created gasp-worthy moments in front of other people with their repartee. The two take great pride in trying to outdo the other, essentially treating it like a “Yo’ mama” showdown. There have been times when the two have engaged in legitimate debates over the two faiths. Although neither ever really sways the other, they do genuinely respect each other’s beliefs and learn a lot about the other through discussion.

“Alright, it’s two and nothing right now in a best of seven. Islam vs. Christianity, loser must convert to the true religion,” Tim declares.

“Looks like it’s going to be you, Timmy, my man. We’ll be happy to have you.” Rashad smirks.

“Sounding very confident there. Do I sense arrogance?”

“Of course not! That’s a sin. I’m a humble winner, I was just prophesying my inevitable victory.”

“Just like Muhammad, you sound like a false prophet.”

“Well played, sir. Well played.” Tim and Rashad share a chuckle and continue the button mashing. A hush falls over them as they get down to the final minutes of their game with the score tied one to one. A few moments later there is a kick, and the ball sails into the net with the goalie failing to secure it. The roar of the virtual crowd joins with Tim’s yell as he jumps out of his seat with a triumphant fist in the air.

“In your face, Ackmed! This has become a series again.” Tim starts a celebration dance in the middle of the living room, moonwalk and all.

“Oh sit your infidel behind down. We’ve got more to play.” The game screen moves back to the team selection menu, bringing the competitive energy in the room down a peg.

“So, how are those screenplays coming, bro? You got some good stuff. I don’t see why you’re not pimping them out to the highest bidder,” Tim inquires.

“It’s not that simple, man. You gotta first copyright your material, register for the Screen Writer’s Guild, then find an agent, than you hope he likes your stuff and agrees to take you on, and a whole lot of other crap. Press start.”'

Tim presses the start button. “And you haven’t done any of that yet? I know you don’t want to rot on the phones for the rest of your life. Jeez, just grow yourself a sack and tell your parents that this is what you wanna do!”

“I know, I know. It’s just that they’re going to be so disappointed.”
“Didn’t you already disappoint them by not having a PhD?” Tim retorts.

“Ah, you got a point there. But they just want me raking in dough with some high paying job at a hospital or office or something. I’ve never been the office-type,” Rashad said.

“I know, me either. But you have to tell them, man. They have to respect your decision. And what are they going to say when you actually do, God willing, become successful and are having producers trackin’ you down to remake friggin’ Citizen Kane or Super Mario Brothers the Movie or something?”

“True, true. As long as I’m making money and not putting them in a retirement home, they should be cool with whatever,” Rashad smiles and then pounds fists with Tim. “Hey by the way bro, I’m writing up a new screenplay. Wanna hear the synopsis?”

“Yeah sure man, shoot.”

“It’s a science-fiction thriller. You have God, and I mean the God okay? He decides that he wants to go on a top-secret undercover mission as a human being, right? So he ‘manifests’ himself inside of a virgin who gives birth to Him. After that, he lives a pretty mediocre life until he turns thirty when he designs a plot to get himself killed on a cross. Oscar-worthy, am I right?”

“Sounds like it’s been done bef—hey! You asshole.”

“Language?”

“Oh suck on a porkchop, Rashad!”

Rashad’s caught up laughing so hard that Tim scores a goal on him and ties the series at two apiece.“Ahh dang it, someone’s making a comeback.”

“That’s right. In just a little bit you’re going to have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior.”

“I’d rather die,” Rashad says, still laughing.

“Of course, knowing you, you’ve probably rigged the place to blow just in case I take the series. It’s win-win for ya; You prevent ultimate defeat, thus escaping conversion and are able to meet your 72 virgins.”

“Haha. You watch too much Fox News. I have no idea where they got that 72 virgins thing from cause it sure isn’t in the Qur’an.”

“Funny if it were true though, they’d probably all look like Jabba the Hutt or something.”

“No wonder they’re virgins! You sure this isn’t hell?”

Rashad and Tim shake with laughter as they continue to play. Rashad’s chortles die down when Tim takes game five.

“Well, well. It looks like someone is one game away from joining the congregation. Come on Rashad just forfeit and be saved. The whole praying five times a day thing to a black box in the desert of Arabia is a waste of time and excessive, I’d be doing you a favor by eliminating your need to do that.” Tim affirms.

“Hey at least praying to a black box sounds better than praying to something someone supposedly died on. I wonder if it were during modern times, what would be hung up in every church and chapel, an electric chair?” Rashad shot back.

“We don’t pray to the cross, or at least I don’t. Come on, let’s think logically here, one of us is wrong and the other is right. Think about it: if you were God, would you manifest your divine glory to a illiterate merchant in a cave in Saudi Arabia during the 7th century, or as the son of a Virgin, in a manger in Bethlehem in the year zero? It’s a no brainer!” Tim says tongue-in-cheek.
“Ha ha, yes you make the answer so obvious that way—aw you piece of crap, you distracted me by making me think!” Rashad shouts and narrowly avoids being scored on.

“That was my intention, you pork-avoiding sack of crap! Dang it!”

Just then, the sound of a man’s soulful voice crying out the call to prayer in Arabic blared from the alarm clock on top of the TV’s entertainment center. Rashad pressed pause.

“Looks like I’ve been saved by the halftime horn. I’ll be back in five minutes and then behead you—in this game that is, not live on the internet,” Rashad said while getting up and walking to the bathroom to wash up.

“You know, just for that, you’re going to be baptized in a tub of urine.”

“Oh nice. Was that how you were baptized?” Rashad yelled from the bathroom while wetting his hands and feet.

“Oh, just go pray, Saddam.”


 


The two laughed once more while Rashad walked into his bedroom and laid out a prayer rug. The door was open a crack so Tim could see Rashad standing solemnly before bowing down and prostrating with his forehead to the ground. Tim took notice of Rashad in prayer and his complete change in demeanor. Merely minutes earlier, Rashad was dripping with sarcasm, goofing around and being his usual smart-alecky self. Tim looked around for a second and spotted an English translation of The Qur’an resting on the end table. Under it was a copy of the Bible to Tim’s surprise. Tim picked it up and began to skim through it when Rashad returned. 

“Wow. So you’re converting without coercion. That’s nice,” Rashad says, startling Tim.

“No—I was just looking for the chapter on how to properly beat your wife,” Tim replied.

“I think you’re mistaking the Qur’an with the Alcoholic Reader’s Digest.”

“Aw, silly me,” Tim sarcastically states. “But seriously, do you have an extra one of these laying around? I wouldn’t mind checking it out, you know, for research purposes.”

“Oh yeah sure man, take that one. You can keep it,” Rashad smiles.

“Thanks. Where’d you get the Bible, by the way? I noticed it on the table,” Tim inquired.

“I picked it up from the last time I stayed at a motel. Gotta do my research so I can point out all of its contradictions and stuff to you.” Both laugh, “Naw, I just really wanted to check it out since there’s a lot of stories in the Bible that are in the Qur’an as well; I just wanted to compare and stuff.”

“Oh that’s cool.”

Once again the two picked up their respective controllers to continue the game. As the on-screen soccer battle carried on, the two heard footsteps trotting up some stairs and approaching the front door.

“That must be Calvin. Go answer the door. Oh and you can’t pause.” Rashad said.

“Burn in hell,” Tim snapped back.

“We’ll see who burns in hell.” Rashad smiles mischievously then hits a goal to win the game, tying the series at 3-3. Tim groans as Rashad points him to the front door. Tim sulks over to the door and opens it up. It’s Calvin, a long-haired and lanky young man that was wearing tight jeans and a tie dye t-shirt. Calvin, carrying a bag of snacks in one arm, greets Tim with smacked hands and half hug.

“Speaking of burning in hell, if it isn’t the Godless chode.” Rashad yelled from the couch. “Tim get the heck back here and pick up your sticks. Game seven!”

“Alright alright, just hold your camels” Tim looks over at Calvin. “So what did ya bring Atheist McGoo?”

“Well, for Christy McJesus I got pork rinds,” Calvin tosses the bag over to Tim who licks his lips and sits beside Rashad. Rashad grimaces as Tim droolingly stuffs a rind down his gullet.

“For the filthy Muslim I got him the favorite snack of every terrorist: Sour Patch Kids.” Calvin then chunked that package over to a delighted Rashad.

“Great! We now have fuel for the final. Come on, Calvin, you’re about to witness history,” Rashad says.

“Oh my nonexistent God. Don’t tell me you guys are doing another crusades. What’s next, Mortal Kombat to determine whether Santa Claus or the Loch Ness Monster is real?” Calvin snaps.

“You sound like you practiced that line on the way here.” Rashad said.

“I did actually. It was good, right?” Calvin laughs.

“Hey, Loch Ness isn’t up for debate, she is real!” Tim added.

Calvin ignored Tim’s interjection. “But come on guys, there are more pressing matters to determine with a FIFA playoffs than religion, like Team Jacob vs. Team Edward: Who is more awesome?”

“Whatever Mr. Nothing-joined-up-with-nothing-which-created-everything-in-the-world-by-accident.” Tim said as he continued his struggle with Rashad on FIFA.

“Touché. Anyways, I got a call from Adam, today,” Calvin says.

“Yeah? What did Jewy Jewerson say?” Rashad replies.

“That he’s going to be landing in town in about a half hour and needs a ride back from the airport,” Calvin said pseudo-nonchalantly.

“What?” Rashad and Tim simultaneously exclaimed, pausing their crucial game.

“Yeah, he’s back. He told me to keep it a surprise,” Calvin says.

“You know what that means? A 4-way deathmatch on Unreal Tournament for religious supremacy!” Rashad beams.

“What are we waiting for? Lets go get that penny-pinchin’, dreidel-spinnin’, potato latke-eatin’ jerk-off now!” Tim says while getting up to shut off the PS3.

“You left out Menorah-lightin’ and Bar Mitvah-havin’.” Calvin chimes in.

All three of the ministry members laugh in unison as they exit the premises. Rashad shuts off the lights and closes the door behind him as the ministry went on a recess.

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