Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TJ5: Moses, Mt. Sinai, and Me

Scooter gave out copies of The Story for Christmas this year, with the idea that reading one chapter a day would allow a person to get through the entire Bible every month. I'm not sure yet if I'm a fan of the book ... admittedly, it is an easy way to see the Biblical narrative all at once, in chronological order, with some integration of Old and New Testament passages. However, in the editorial process, Lucado and Frazee were forced (inevitably) to choose which parts of that narrative to omit. The end result: the reader gets part of the story rather than "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." (As anyone who has read Avi's novel Nothing but the Truth can tell you, a partial truth is often no better than an outright lie.)

Regardless, I agreed -- as part of Scooter's advisory team -- to read through the book and be prepared to share my insights at our monthly staff meeting. This week's reading focused on the life of Moses, including the Exodus account (chapter 4), the receiving of the covenant at Mt. Sinai (chapter 5), and all forty years of Israel's wilderness journey (chapter 6). Whew. Four books of the Bible summarized in forty-five pages. At least Lucado and Frazee cut out all the census passages.
Side Note: The first time I read through the entire Bible, I came to the conclusion that the word Deuteronomy meant "Thank God, I am finally through with Numbers."
Moses at Mt. Sinai
But I digress. The reason I am blogging about all this stuff in the middle of my Tour Journal is, of course, that these passages describe the lands I will be visiting in just a few days now. Egypt. The Nile. The Red Sea. Sinai. Even a pre-dawn climb up Mount Sinai. In theory, at least, we will be retracing the route that Moses took when he led the Hebrews out of slavery.

Now there's something to ponder. A mountain so holy that any living thing that touched it was to be put to death -- and not just any death, but a death that did not allow the executioner to touch the victim. (Lucado and Frazee chose to keep that detail in their Exodus synopsis.) And you want me to climb it? Glad that part of the tour is optional. No, seriously, I plan to make the ascent, but only because I don't believe this (Gebel Musa) is the same Mt. Sinai where God rested his glory for so many months. (I certainly could be wrong, but I prefer the Wyatts' still-scorched Jebel al-Lawz, which lies farther east in Saudi Arabia. That's the setting I chose when writing The Voice.)*
Jebel Al-Lawz, Saudi Arabia
Tradition says Gebel Musa is Mt. Sinai, but the tradition dates to two thousand years after the actual incident, so it is a tradition that leaves a lot of room for skepticism.

And here's the second part of my internal war over this tour. How much of what I will be shown is genuine, and how much is Constantinian-traditional? Back to my desire for a time machine. But that isn't going to happen, so I will find myself constantly analyzing what I am seeing and comparing it with the various theories I've researched over the last twenty years. I wish I could just shut down my internal skeptic (note I said "skeptic" and not "cynic" -- like Thomas, I am willing to be convinced if the evidence is compelling) but "just believe" has never been one of my mottos. I see no virtue in blind faith. I am grateful that I serve a God who commands me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. 
Side Note: Jesus added that mind part to the original command in Deuteronomy, probably because he was speaking to a post-Hellenic audience who had adopted a Greek mindset -- the same mindset of the culture in which I grew up.
I could go on about this all day, but I think I'm just going to end it here. 

*For a detailed explanation of the reasons for preferring this site, see Mary Neil Wyatt, "Mt. Sinai," at http://www.british-israel.ca/sinai.htm.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

TJ4: Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid...Or Not

So, realizing that my previous post is all about being afraid, I've been waiting for well-meaning "brothers and sisters in Christ" to quote Bible verses at me ... you know, those "comforting" verses about how we aren't supposed to be afraid because perfect love casts out fear and we haven't been given a spirit of fear, blah blah blah.
Side note: I am not in the least afraid to travel to the Middle East, though some of my friends seem very concerned for my well-being and have, like Agabus, tried to discourage my from going on this trip. The violence that erupts there, in my opinion, is no more likely to kill me than the violence that erupts in the town where I live. However, if it turns out that I am wrong, I don't mind leaving this world while doing something I've dreamed of for years. It seems to me a much better death than being hit by a semi on the interstate.
Where was I? Oh, yes, pondering the fact that I am afraid I will fail to enjoy this trip because I am (still) so worried that it isn't really going to happen. And feeling a bit guilty about this fear. Waiting for my friends to chastise me with "comforting" Bible verses. I've been blessed with friends who are a lot more sympathetic and forgiving than Job's friends were, however, so this anticipated barrage hasn't happened. My reaction to the silence? I opened my favorite online concordance and began looking up all the scriptures that contain fear or afraid so I could beat myself up. In the process, I saw all the familiar verses, but I also found quite a few that are less-frequently quoted. Here is a collection of ones I found especially interesting in light of my upcoming trip.

"Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there." (Genesis 46:3) Egad, I hope not. Sarah can keep that particular miracle all to herself--I want no part of it.

"Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again." (Exodus 14:13) Probably true, considering that I have no foreseeable plans to visit Egypt again. 

"You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful." (Deuteronomy 2:4) Oh dear. I had no idea the Jordanians would be afraid of me. I will be very careful.

I am well aware that I am taking these verses out of context. On a more serious note, I did find myself heartened by the reminder that the only fear I need in my life is a fear of God. More important, I was reminded that God himself is understanding and forgiving of my other fears: 
I took you from the ends of the earth,    from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’;    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear, for I am with you;    do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  
(Isaiah 41:9-10)    I think I'll hang on to this one for a while.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TJ3: When Reality Strikes

It just hit me: the reality of this trip still hasn't hit me.

Langston Hughes said it best:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat? 

Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Or does it, perhaps, remain a dream and only evermore a dream? 
Does it refuse to enter the realm of the real?

I hope, in my case, that reality hits BEFORE the trip is over. I've dreamed of this trip for so long, saved and planned only to have my plans come to nothing, that I'd given up on it ever happening. Even now, something deep inside me is afraid to hope, afraid of a last-minute change in plans, afraid that my dream will once again be deferred. Not until my feet are on Israeli soil will I relax, will I believe.  

I do not want to emulate Thomas. Like me he avowed, "Not until I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, will I believe" (John 20:25). Poor Thomas, who was so afraid of disappointment that he missed the joy of the Resurrection as he wasted precious days languishing in sorrow and despair. 

But it would be even worse to suffer the fate of those who waited all their lives for their Messiah and then went to their graves still waiting, still dreaming, unaware that their dream had been fulfilled. As Jesus said to those inhabitants of Jerusalem so many years ago, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes....because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you" (Luke 19:42-44).  

What a shame it would be, if I were to miss this entire experience because of a refusal to recognize it for what it is!

Friday, December 27, 2013

TJ2: Luggage Theology

Yesterday's blog was all about the "practical" preparations for my upcoming journey to the Holy Land -- mostly about packing my bags. I promised that today I would focus more on the theological aspect of the trip. One thing Asbury Theological Seminary has taught me, however, is that theology is intensely practical. So perhaps the packing of my luggage was a good place to start this reflection, and I want to take a moment to revisit it.

Check-in, carry-on, and personal
item ready to go!
First, ponder the significance of packing three bags. Those who are into Biblical numerology know that three is the number most often used to represent the nature and fullness of God, who is depicted throughout the New Testament as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even in the Old Testament this number is associated with God, especially when he is interacting with humanity (take, for example, Genesis 18:1-5). Three bags are the ideal for any trip involving use of a commercial airline: one large bag to check in and reclaim later, one smaller bag to stow in the overhead compartment in case the larger bag gets lost, and one personal item (e.g. purse or briefcase) for things that will be utilized during the flight. 

Not to take the analogy too far, but the check-in bag is like God the Father (who is sometimes mistakenly viewed as "watching us from a distance"): he has absolutely everything I need to get through life, but sometimes I push him to the periphery of my life and forget to go to him as often as I should. (Maybe I put him in the baggage hold because my life is just too crowded to squeeze him in...something else to ponder. Have I put weight and size restrictions on God?) Sometimes, when we've been apart for a while, it is hard for me to recognize him in my life...rather like staring at the baggage carousel waiting for my bag to appear. The carry-on bag is like God the Son, who seems much closer and is more easily approached, the very image of his Father but come to earth in the flesh to experience life in the same way we do...flying along with us in coach, and just as cramped there in that overhead compartment...yet without sin. (I will be stuck in the center seat from New York to Frankfurt, and I am still grumbling about that, but I have a feeling my carry-on bag will not grumble.) And the personal item is like the Holy Spirit, who dwells in me and guides me moment by moment throughout my daily wanderings, giving me specific gifts for specific situations...in this case, a Kindle reader with enough material loaded on it to keep me occupied during nine hours of flight and seven hours of airport layovers.

Anyway, that's enough luggage theology for one blog. I was just trying to make the point that God shows up in all the little things we think and do if only we have eyes to see. For theology is simply the way we think about God. Everyone is a theologian to some extent because everyone has some opinion about God -- even atheists are theologians

Tomorrow, more spiritual stuff!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TJ1: Packing Up

Welcome to TJ1: the first "official" entry in my travel journal for Dr. Tuttle's MS685 class, which just happens to center around a two-week excursion through several of the lands described in the Bible -- Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Since MS685 is also my final class at Asbury Theological Seminary, I definitely want to complete all my assignments on time and with excellence; therefore, I will be posting daily journal updates for an entire month.
SIDE NOTE: For those of you who think this might be an invitation for you to burgle my apartment in my absence, let me state that I feel especially sorry for you, since the only thing of value in said apartment is my Mac laptop, which I will be bringing with me on this trip. (Furthermore, my next-door neighbor is not only a police officer but also the security guard for the entire complex, and my landlord lives right upstairs. Both of them know that I'm leaving town, and both of them will be only too happy to make your acquaintance if you try to break into my apartment while I'm away fulfilling the dream of a lifetime.)
Carry-on, checked bag, and "personal item" tagged and
ready to go! All I have to do is add this laptop.
As you can see from the photo, I am currently in the process of packing for my trip. To be completely truthful, I have been packing for several weeks now. This made holiday travel a bit of a challenge, since most of my clothing and toiletries are already packed and I didn't want to risk unpacking them and forgetting to repack them. My mother and I have a holiday tradition, which is that I forget half of my things at her house and don't get them back until my next visit (usually Spring Break). So to make sure I could honor this tradition and still brush my teeth in Israel, I went out a few weeks ago and bought "back-ups" of everything.

I also bought several things that will make me a more amiable roommate, since I will be sharing a room with a woman I have yet to meet. Breathe-Right Nasal Strips are imperative in such situations (in case I snore) as is Lunesta (in case she snores). These imperative items -- along with three days' worth of clothing and a Bible -- are packed in my carry-on bag because the careful traveler always assumes the airline will lose her luggage. Then there are the things that I will carry in my "personal item" for use during the trans-Atlantic flight: laptop, earphones, Kindle, wallet, and Poo-pourri (travel-size).

Clothing presents a bit of a challenge, since it is so dependent on weather conditions. It turns out that Egypt and Israel will both be a bit colder than Florida (who knew?) so I had to go out and buy some more long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Layering is the key, or so I've been told, so instead of a thick winter coat I have a sweater and raincoat combo (yes, I am from Florida). I'm just wondering what to do with those extra layers while I'm sitting on the plane. Guess I'll find out somewhere between New York and Frankfurt.

I've read the "travel tips" posted on the EO website at least a dozen times and have sought additional advice from friends who are more experienced travelers than I am. My quart-sized clear ziploc bag is filled with smaller-than-3-ounce bottles of shampoo, body wash, deodorant, and toothpaste. My passport and other photo i.d. are up-to-date and easily accessible. I have sufficient cash for "love offerings" (a.k.a. tips for the guides) and a Visa card for lunch and souvenirs....
About now, I'm thinking that this journal is probably not what the professor has in mind, since it is so devoid of references to prayer and theology and stuff. What can I say? Maslow's Hierarchy is clear that human beings simply can't think about higher, spiritual matters until their basic physical needs are squared away. Right now I am so excited about leaving the USA for the first time in my life that I can't think beyond basics like "will I have enough underwear for two weeks abroad?" (I'm probably not supposed to mention underwear in my journal either, but that's how I roll.) Tell you what -- tomorrow I will talk about the spiritual stuff, okay?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

19 Days and Counting

In 1996 I began to write novels set in the Holy Land. At first, these stories were simply a way for me to help myself better understand the Bible narrative; by putting myself in the position of various people in the Bible, I was forced to examine more closely the original context of the scriptures rather than blindly accepting modern translations and interpretations. In order to grasp the nuances and complexities of the cultures in which the stories were set, I plunged into primary and secondary historical resources such as Josephus. I learned much. However, there was one glaring void in my knowledge, and that was first-hand experience of the geography that gave birth to these cultures. Write what you know, the adage goes, but all of my knowledge was second-hand.
Thank you, Google maps!

Using modern technology, I was able to visit Israel, Jordan, and Egypt “virtually.” I flew from the Nile delta to the Jordan River using Google Earth, and spent hundreds of hours poring over aerial maps, video travelogues, and photos. These resources allowed me to describe locations, but only visually. For sensory details, I still had to rely on the reports of others. What I needed was to travel to these lands myself, but with my limited income this dream became a “bucket list” item and was set aside time and again. Next year in Jerusalem, I whispered each spring, along with millions of Jews worldwide.

In 2008, I shared some of my writing with a few close friends, and their response surprised me. I had grown to understand the gospels better as I researched the cultural context in which Jesus delivered his message; now my friends declared that they, too, had been drawn to a deeper relationship with Christ and his word as they came to know his culture through my novels. Encouraged by this response, I began to publish the stories, and I have received similar feedback from many people worldwide. With greater influence, however, comes greater responsibility; I might be lax in my accuracy when writing for myself, but I do not want to pass my errors along to others.

During my studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, I have gained additional understanding that has helped me keep my writing both historically and spiritually accurate. To visit the Holy Land as part of an Asbury team, rather than with a general tour group, will add a dimension to the experience that I cannot begin to imagine. What are my expectations? Everyone I know who has taken a trip of this sort has told me that the event was pivotal in their spiritual life. I expect God to use this journey to change me in some way, though what that way may be, I dare not even guess.

What questions do I have? Not many, if by questions I limit myself to facts and figures. I’ve watched so many programs based on other people’s tours of this region that I can quote numerous “authorities” regarding the history and geography of the Holy Land. The questions that I bring are purely subjective, intensely personal, and some can never be answered because the distance between me and the land I so long to visit cannot be measured in miles only, but also in years. What did it feel like, to walk these roads? That is the question foremost in my mind. Until time travel becomes commonplace enough that someone like me can afford it, however, I will have to settle for What does it feel like, to walk these roads? This question, at least, I hope finally to answer for myself in a few weeks.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Having made the choice to go by my first initial since the age of 17, I have been "D" for so long that I've almost forgotten the sound of my given name. For writing purposes, however, I became "DL," and I was just toying with the idea of asking people to call me "DL" rather than "D." This thought led to a train of thoughts that now has me giggling.

When I write out my name (for instance, on a name tag), I write "Dee" rather than "D" so that people will know how to pronounce it. So if I want people to call me "DL," I'll probably have to spell it Dee-El (since Deel is just begging for trouble).

This implies a relationship to the famous -El clan of comic books and movies. Those of you who are into that sort of thing probably saw the connection before I mentioned it. For the rest of you, a little visual aid:

Kal-El, son of Jor-El (from Man of Steel)

Does that make me a "super"?
Maybe I should just stick with Dee.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Qayah Qlalah and Q---!!!

A few years back, one of my colleagues agreed to help me with a revision to a story that is now being released as Talmid. She commented that some of my expletives sounded too modern and suggested I find some good first-century Aramaic cuss words to replace them. I enjoy a challenge, so I attempted to find a few.

Tonight, thanks to the gremlin that has decided to move into my laptop, I have been using those words. Not in the novel—in my living room. Good thing there's no one else in the apartment tonight. (The snakes don't count since they don't understand Aramaic.) Been trying all week to upload book two of Talmid to the publisher, but my proofs keep coming back with blank pages interspersed randomly throughout the novel. That's a distinct improvement over last week when the proofs were  forty pages short, but it's still making me want to utter deletable expletives.

One of the fun things about Aramaic cuss words is that they all seem to start with the letter Q. At least, all the ones I use in my novels start with Q. I find them a refreshing alternative to English cuss words. You know the ones I mean. There's the A-word, the B-word, the C-word, the D-word...and of course the ever-increasingly-popular F-word. But English doesn't seem to have a Q-word.
Side note: Ten years ago I was babysitting a friend's first-grader and he wanted to watch a certain TV program, but I didn't think it was age appropriate so I wouldn't let him watch it. He confessed that his mom wouldn't let him watch it either, "because they use the S-word and the E-word." If you are baffled, don't feel bad. I spent hours trying to figure out the E-word. Later I asked his mother and she told me the E-word is "idiot." (He was raised in Miami.)
Anyway, some people might object to the fact that the characters in my novels cuss. My philosophy is simple: except for Yeshua, every character sins, because every character is human. Sometimes this means they say naughty things. If I were writing for children, my characters would use the E-word, but since I am writing for adults, they use the Q-words. On occasion, they use select English cuss words (usually the D-word or the S-word but never the F-word). They also use Biblical allusions. My personal favorites: "Balaam's ass!" (Katan, Brothers) and "Job's boils!" (Yochanan, The Voice). The Q-words are particularly useful because they allow my characters to lose their tempers without too greatly offending my readers.

An unfortunate side-effect of my discovery of the Q-words is that I have become aware of ironic homonyms and sometimes giggle inappropriately...for example, when someone refers to "men's cologne" I cannot keep a straight face.

Disclaimer: If I have offended you with this post, I am extremely sorry. I've been up 'way too late trying to finish the revision and I am getting a little punchy. But like my characters, I am a human being and sometimes I say naughty things, especially when I've been immersing myself in a character who is going through a naughty phase, such as Yuannan goes through in Talmid: Bread. (He is very naughty in this book, I am sad to say, but the Holy Spirit will straighten him out eventually.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

She's Baaack

In 2012 and 2013 I've broken just about every rule of blogging. Consistency? Fresh content? Not gonna happen. That's why my masthead warns that I might periodically drop off the face of the (virtual) earth. While I hate to disappoint any loyal readers I may have, I don't feel too guilty about this. Face it, I am not trying to build The Huffington Post here. I'm just sharing my thoughts in between books, but for the past year the only thoughts going through my head have sounded something like this:
I have a paper due for Missional Anthropology in three days and I still haven't finished reading The Diffusion of Gospel Music in Postmodern Denmark. I'd better get busy.
My group project for Dr. Smith's class is due tomorrow and I can't find the video adapter for my Mac. It's not in my laptop case, it's not in my office, it's not at the church, it's not in the car, it's not in the pantry... I can't find my video adapter and it cost $23.95 and I can't afford another one and the group project is due tomorrow...
Okay, according to iCal, today I am leading a kayak trip from 8am-2pm, working at International Space Camp from 3pm-9pm, and writing the paper for Dr. Russell's class that's due before midnight. Easy day.
Something smells funny. Did the snake poop on his heating pad again?
So you will forgive me (I hope) for not keeping my blog consistent and fresh. I didn't really think this was the sort of stuff people would want to read. (Maybe I'm wrong. If so, let me know and I will start posting copies of my school assignments.)

I did have one week off between spring term and summer term, and during that week I completed a rewrite of the first part of my first novel, which has been in revision off and on since 1997. It was 'way too long, so I decided to emulate one of my heroes, J.R.R. Tolkien, who was obviously a better writer than I am (that's why he had THREE initials and I merely have two), and publish the story as a trilogy. For those unacquainted with the reason The Lord of the Rings was published as a trilogy, it has to do with the paper shortage in England following WWII. As far as I know, there is no paper shortage in the USA at the moment, but thick books are expensive books so shorter books are easier to sell to publishers. You will have to wait for parts two and three, however, because I am still revising them.

I do want to take a moment to thank everyone who has bought one (or more) of my books this year. Thanks to you, I was able to pay my rent last week instead of getting evicted. This is always a good thing, since our nation has more than enough homeless people and I don't want to add to the problem. So keep telling your friends about my books! There are links at the top of the page that will take you directly to the publisher of the paperback versions, and you can follow the link to my Amazon page to buy digital copies. (Save paper, save money.)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shabbat Shalom

Today, according to some, is the Sabbath.
Tomorrow, according to some, is the Sabbath.
Every day, according to some, is the Sabbath.
No day, according to some, is the Sabbath.

So who is right, and does it matter?

That's opening a huge can of worms, I freely admit it. A friend of mine decided to survey those professing a belief in God, asking them what "keeping the Sabbath" means to them. The results aren't in yet, but one thing I can predict with surety: she is going to receive a LOT of different answers.

I just want to throw one thought into the discussion. If (as some maintain) every day is the Sabbath for Christians and so it is no longer necessary to set apart one day in seven as more special than any other day (using as a Biblical justification, perhaps, Romans 14:5 or Colossians 2:16-17) . . . if this is true, then what does it mean to keep every day as the Sabbath?

The purpose of the Sabbath, which God instituted in practice long before he wrote down the Law for Moses, is twofold. First, the Sabbath is to be "holy," which means it is to stand apart from the rest of the week. It is to be devoted to God.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20:8)
I agree that, for those who are following Christ, every day should be dedicated to God. Every day should be holy. As Paul wrote, we should remember that we are serving the Lord in everything we do, not just in church services but in the trenches of day-to-day life (Romans 12:1, Colossians 3:23-24).

 Second, the Sabbath is to be a day of rest, not only for those who believe in God, but for everyone.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore theLord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:9-11)

This, sadly, is where the "every day is the Sabbath" theory falls apart if put into practice. Notice, first of all, that this is not simply a matter of "Jewish Law" . . . the principle for Sabbath-keeping goes back to creation. We are supposed to take a day off from work. Every week. And we are supposed to let everyone else have a day off, too. Everyone.  So, if every day is the Sabbath, then we should never work . . .

I submit that we should work six days a week, but that we should remember that we're working for Jesus. Every day should be holy in that respect. But one day a week needs to be Holy. Separate. Different. 

Isaiah summed it up nicely.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Or, as Jesus reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It is God's gift to us. Let's not insult him by throwing it in his face and telling him we don't need it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tattoo v. Tallit

Someone recently asked me an interesting question. "In Revelation 19:16 it talks of his name being written on his robe and thigh... Is this Jesus?... And does this mean Jesus has a tattoo?"

Great questions! Aside from the fact that no one knows for sure what is going on in Revelation (since it is a very complex series of visions and contains a lot of symbolism), a knowledge of Jewish customs is very helpful in understanding what the writer (a Jewish man, self-identified as John of Patmos and traditionally believed to be the Apostle John) was trying to convey in this passage. And what he was not trying to convey.

Bible Study Principle #1: Common sense is a big help in studying the Bible.  Just as a realtor will tell you that there are three key factors in selling any property -- location, location, and location -- so the serious student of scripture needs to remember the three key factors in interpreting any verse: Context, context, and context! If something doesn't make sense, you may be taking it out of context.

The first and BIGGEST context issue is: Who wrote this?

Consider for a moment the following sentence:
I eat bacon at least three times a week.
If a Moslem writes this, it is a confession of grievous sin. If written by the owner of Hormel, however, it is merely an endorsement of his product. If a cardiac patient writes it, it is an admission of foolishness, and if written by a vegetarian, it is hypocrisy. But when written by a two-year-old child, it becomes a sign of budding literary genius.

Context, context, context.

Revelation was written by a first-century Jewish man.* So let's investigate what a first-century Jewish man means when he writes,

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords. (
Revelation 19:11-16, NIV)

In answer to the first question asked ("Is this rider Jesus?"), YES. Even if the rest of the book didn't make it clear, the key is in verse 13: "his name is the Word of God." John used this term for Jesus in his gospel (John 1:1).

The answer to the second question ("Does this mean Jesus has a tattoo?") has to be NO, if we keep in mind that a first-century Jewish man wrote Revelation. Presumably (here we go with common sense again) God is going to give people visions that make sense to them in the context of their own cultures. For example, it's highly unlikely that God would give me a vision in Mandarin Chinese because I don't speak that language and the vision would be meaningless to me. So when John writes about a rider whose name is written on his robe and on his thigh, he is describing something that he recognizes, something that makes sense to him.

When someone from my culture thinks of writing on clothing, the image is probably of embroidery or silkscreen art, am I correct? You may be picturing a uniform with a name tag, which (according to the leadership seminars I've taken) should always be displayed on the right side of one's chest and most definitely NOT on one's thigh. Face it, when someone is meeting you for the first time and trying to read your name tag, you do not want him staring at your thigh. Likewise, when someone from my culture thinks of writing on the thigh (or any other body part), the image is probably of a tattoo.

But what would a first-century Jew be imagining?

To answer this question, you need to go back to the beginning of the Bible, to the Torah, where God lays out some pretty specific instructions for how his people are to act and dress. Key to understanding the Revelation passage is Numbers 15:37-39.
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.
For centuries after this commandment was given, including the time period when Revelation was written, men commonly wore four-cornered garments similar to a blanket or poncho, and Jewish men added a tassel (tzitzit) to each corner in obedience to this command. (Observant Jews still observe this custom.) The tassels were tied in a distinctive pattern that symbolized God's character -- and thus, in Hebrew thought, his name -- and served as a constant reminder of God's presence. The blue thread, in particular, signified the "oneness" (ehad) of God.

To see how this relates to the Revelation passage, do this quick at-home experiment: Take one of those throw blankets that people usually keep near the living room sofa for chilly nights in front of the TV. (A Snuggie™ works, too, but only if you don't put your arms through the sleeves.) If you don't have one because you live in southern Florida or some other tropical paradise, use a really big beach towel instead. Wrap it around yourself, over your shoulders, like Granny's shawl. (See illustration.) Now, sit down. Where do the corners of the blanket fall?

If you get the same results I get, you'll notice that two of the corners are draped across your thighs. Of course, first-century Jews weren't wearing beach towels or Snuggies, or even Mexican throws. They called the garment a tallit (which means "little tent"). The Bible speaks of Jesus wearing such a garment (Luke 8:44, John 19:23), which is quite appropriate since he was a Law-abiding Jewish man. When a man wearing a tallit was seated (as the rider of this Revelation horse would be), two of the tassels would lie across his thighs. So when John speaks of the name of God written "on his robe and on his thigh" he isn't talking about embroidery or tattoos, but about the traditional clothing of a devout Jewish man.

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2)
The corners of the tallit are commonly referred to as "wings." Something else to ponder!

*Even if someone other than John the Apostle was the author, it was someone from the same time period and culture. However, the earliest church fathers (Polycarp--who was John's disciple-- Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, etc.) agreed  that John of Patmos was John the Apostle. This identification was not questioned until the 4th century. Since Polycarp was there, I'm going to take his word for it. And yes, technically John was a Galilean but I am using "Jewish" in the ethnic sense; the Jews and Galileans had a similar culture, much like New Yorkers and Floridians.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Place Like Home (conclusion)

Dorothy was right. There's no place like home. Or, as musical artist Chris Daughtry put it,
I'm going home, back to the place where I belong / where your love has always been enough for me.
But can a person who has never known the sense of belonging, family, and unconditional love that we associate with being "home" ever really hope to go back there?


When asked what the greatest commandment in all of Scripture was, Jesus replied, "Love God with all your heart" (Mark 12:30). We have a saying, "Home is where the heart is." So if you are loving God with all your heart, then your home is with him. In other words, God is saying to you, "Mi casa, su casa."

Jesus was pretty clear about this in his farewell speech to his disciples around the dinner table (John 14:2-3):
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
That's right, a room of your own in God's house. Fairly cool, if you ask me. Think "Extreme Home Makeover" with God as your personal designer! The One who created you, who knows you better than you know yourself, is preparing a place specifically for you ... talk about belonging! And you won't be there alone; you'll have your real family with you: your Bridegroom (John 3:29), your Big Brother (Romans 8:29), your Father (Romans 8:15), and a huge extended family (Matthew 19:29).

As for unconditional love, no one does it better than God, who embodies the concept so totally that when you look up the word "love" in the Unabridged Dictionary of Eternity, you see God's picture (1 John 4:8). Well, that's not totally true. There is one small condition attached to God's love . . . you have to actually accept it (John 1:12). Let him love you.

And then you will begin to understand what it really means to be home. We aren't there yet, but one day we will be. He promised.

You know, I have a feeling that the room Jesus is preparing for me will contain (among other things) a Franklin dollhouse kit. And when I get there, I will finally open the box and put it together!

Friday, January 18, 2013

No Place Like Home (part 3)

Homelessness leads to hopelessness.

And that's what I was feeling not too long ago. Hopeless. Homeless. Whether I lived under a certain roof for three months or three years, it simply didn't feel like my home. Why not? What is it that makes a place "home"?

Home is where the heart is. Or so they say. For some, home is where the hurt is. But that's not the way it should be. Ideally, home is about . . .

. . . belonging.
Home is the place where I belong, and it is also the place where I have my belongings around me.  Dorothy wasn't in Oz very long before she realized that she simply didn't belong there. (She wasn't a good witch or a bad witch -- she wasn't a witch at all!) And the prodigal son certainly didn't belong in a pig sty. You might say, "Make yourself at home," or "Mi casa su casa," but the truth is, if I have to bring a suitcase and a toothbrush with me, it isn't my home.

. . . family.
Home is the place where my family is. That's why people talk about going home for the holidays, and then leave home to travel halfway across the country. Dorothy missed Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. The prodigal son missed his father. If I'm not with my loved ones, then I'm not really home, even if I do have a key to the door and a deed to the property.

. . . unconditional love.
Home is where I can be myself, mess up, and still be welcome. Try that on the job and you will soon find that "your" office is not really yours at all. Auntie Em welcomed her little runaway back with open arms. The prodigal son received an extravagant welcome from his father. If I don't feel loved for who I am, then I can't really relax and be at home in a place.

When these three things are present -- belonging, family, unconditional love -- then I am home. When any of them is missing, I am unsettled, transient, spiritually homeless. But how many of us can honestly say that we have all three of these things under one roof?

Dorothy hoped to find such a place "somewhere over the rainbow." Many go looking for those blue skies and green grass on the other side of the fence. The prodigal son sought it in a hedonistic lifestyle. But the moral of the story is the same each time: you don't need to go looking farther than your own back yard.


(Next installment: yes, really.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

No Place Like Home (part 2)

So Dorothy returns home ("Oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home!") and the Prodigal Son returns home ("Fire up the barbecue!"), but can someone who has never really had a home ever find a happy ending?

Years ago (not too long after Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star), I bought a dollhouse kit. I was working in an upscale toy store at the time and was fascinated by all the intricate miniatures that were available. We even sold individual clay roof tiles in 1/12 scale. The kit I bought was called "The Franklin" and retailed for $99. I saved up for it for two months, and even put some furniture on layaway.

When assembled, the dollhouse would be 31 inches long, 19 inches deep, and 34 inches high. Since I was living in a college dorm when I bought it, I made the decision not to open the box until I was home. This beauty was going to take a while to assemble, and then the fun would start as I added all the custom features not included in the kit. This was my dream home, and I was going to make it extra special. We are talking labor of love here, folks. Not something to be rushed. Definitely not something to be thrown together in haste and then moved from place to place. No, I would wait until I was settled in a permanent location and then I would build it.

But life didn't go the way I had planned that year, and I had to move twice. Each time, I carefully loaded the cardboard box (which weighed about 20 pounds) into my car and brought it with me, still unopened. One year turned into two years, and then five years, and then ten years, and still I was not living in a place I considered "home." The Franklin remained in its box, moving from closet to closet to attic to garage . . .  and then one day, after I'd been moving around for twenty years, I realized it was never going to happen. I was never going to be "home" no matter what house I lived in. As I loaded my possessions into a moving van for the dozenth time, I pulled that battered cardboard box down from the rafters of the garage and tossed it into a garbage can. Why? Simple. I'd lost hope.

Homelessness often leads to hopelessness.

(Next installment . . . the solution.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

B-book or E-book?

So what do you think . . . are e-books "real" books?

This question jumped out at me a few days ago as I was reading aloud to my son, an avid Rick Riordan fan (thanks to me, an equally avid fan), from his latest Percy Jackson novel, The Mark of Athena. I'd already read the entire book the day after it was released last October, but now my son and I are going through it together a few chapters each week. We've already read seven Percy Jackson books this way.

(Side note: Parents, read to your children, even when they are old enough to read for themselves. If nothing else, it will give you something nonthreatening to talk about at the dinner table.)

Reading through the novel a second time, much more slowly and constantly interrupted by my son's questions, I find myself appreciating the finer nuances of Riordan's storytelling. In chapter XXVII two of the heroes encounter a minor Greek god, Achelous, who expresses indignance when they show him their guidebook. Here's the excerpt:

    "You hate . . . books?" Piper asked.
    "Bah!" Achelous's face flushed, turning his blue skin eggplant purple. "That's not a book."
    He pawed the water. A scroll shot from the river like a miniature rocket and landed in front of him. He nudged it open with his hooves. The weathered yellow parchment unfurled, covered with faded Latin script and elaborate hand-drawn pictures.
    "This is a book!" Achelous said. "Oh, the smell of sheepskin! The elegant feel of the scroll unrolling beneath my hooves. You simply can't duplicate it in something like that." He nodded indignantly at the guidebook in Jason's hand. "You young folks today and your newfangled gadgets. Bound pages. Little compact squares of text that are not hoof-friendly. That's a bound book, a b-book, if you must. But it's not a traditional book. It'll never replace the good old-fashioned scroll!"

The first time I read this, I confess, I just raced through it to get on with the plot. But this time I got Riordan's message and began to laugh. Naturally enough, my son asked what was so funny. "Riordan's not really complaining about books," I explained to him. "He's making fun of people who say e-books aren't real books."

We were reading from a b-book, and the twenty or so bookshelves in my home are loaded up with b-books. But last year I purchased a Kindle for every member of the family in the hope that my sons would read more if they were holding an electronic device. So we could just as easily have been reading this particular story in e-book format.

Why weren't we? Why did I shell out $20 for a b-book? Am I just as prejudiced as Achelous?

My own novels came out first in e-book format because I listened to some people who convinced me that this was going to be the new paradigm for publishing. Also, it is very inexpensive to produce and sell an e-book. I can give away free copies without losing anything except opportunity cost. People I know, however, want something with turnable pages. They want to feel the book in their hands. Until I put The Carpenter into a paperback format, I hadn't really written a book. Or had I?

So what do you think . . . are e-books "real" books? Or will they soon go the way of the 8-track and Betamax?

Friday, January 11, 2013

No Place Like Home

There's no place like home. 
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home....
                   --Dorothy Gale

Most of us know the story.  Dorothy isn't happy at home. No one listens to her, life in Kansas is gray and boring, and mean old Miss Gulch wants to have Toto destroyed. So Dorothy runs away. Before she knows what's happening, however, a whirlwind whisks her away to a place she never meant to go --- a place where the problems come in full Technicolor. She spends the rest of the movie trying to return to Kansas, pursuing one dead-end after another, until finally she realizes that she's had the power all along. She simply needs to want to go home badly enough, and voila! she is back in Auntie Em's loving arms.

Jesus told the same story 1900 years before Frank Baum or MGM thought of it. Luke records the parable in his gospel (Luke 15:11-31). A young man isn't happy at home. Farm life is gray and boring, so he takes his share of the inheritance and goes out into the world to live life on his own terms. Before he knows what's happening, however, a drought and famine drop him in a place he never meant to go --- a real pig sty! He finally realizes that he had it pretty good at home, and voila! he is back in his father's loving arms.

I don't know what goes through your mind when you hear the word "home." For some, it's a warm fuzzy; for others, it's a bit of a downer. There are many people in the world today who have no roof over their heads, no permanent address on file with the post office --- we call these people "homeless." But how many more wake up in the same bed each morning, toss their junk mail in the trash, and wander through the day feeling disconnected from any particular place? How many can be classified, perhaps, as "spiritually homeless"? Dorothy was able to return home; the prodigal son was able to return home; but what about the spiritually homeless? Is it possible to return to a place you've never been?

To be continued....