Edible, but Not Food

And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:7 ESV)

According to Maslow and common sense, a person needs some things more than others. Food and water are at the top of the list, and if you don’t have those, the rest won’t do you much good. A connection to God is more difficult to rank using only our senses and immediate survival, but it is even more important in the long run.

When we don’t eat, we get hungry. When we don’t have the right balance of nutrients in our diet, we experience cravings or illness, and we fulfill those needs by eating more food or more variety of foods. Our feelings of need are usually satisfied in the short term by just about anything we can stuff into our mouths that meets the minimum requirements. If our bodies need calories, then a candy bar will suffice. However, that’s not necessarily the best option available. Certainly, the sugar and fat will supply calories, but usually in the wrong proportions or in undesirable forms. An apple or handful of nuts would be a better choice because it satisfies the immediate craving while providing for longer-term nutrition needs and not doing any damage.

God didn’t say anything to Moses about candy bars because the ancient Israelites didn’t have access to them, but He wasn’t silent about diet. For example, He told us not to eat blood and He even told us why (because the life of an animal is in its blood) even if His explanation is incomprehensible to modern medicine. Contrary to some recent diet fads, He told us that bread is perfectly acceptable so long as it isn’t the only thing we eat. He also told us that some animals (pigs, bats, spiders, etc) shouldn’t be eaten and neither should certain parts of even the good animals. Bat meat things might supply the body’s basic nutritional needs–in fact, it might be excellent sources of some nutrients–but, just as a nutritionist might say that many edible substances aren’t food, so does God. Pigs and bats might be perfectly edible and provide perfectly usable nutrition, but there is something else about them that makes them non-food. God didn’t tell us exactly what makes them off limits; He just said that they are. He designed both them and us, and told us that we shouldn’t eat them whether we understand why or not.

Our need for spiritual connection with God is very similar to our need for food. Voltaire wasn’t so far off when he said that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” We have a deep need to worship and serve something greater than ourselves. Every human society throughout history has worshiped and theologized. Not even alcohol has been as widespread as religion. Unfortunately, just like when we eat a Snickers instead of an apple, we frequently follow our spiritual urges without any real understanding of what we need. We know instinctively that prayer, singing, dancing, and offerings are all good and necessary, but like children in a grocery store, we don’t know to take more of the green stuff and less of the pink and gooey. Like candy, there are religious practices that sooth our cravings, but don’t provide good spiritual nutrition. With that in mind, it’s not too surprising to find McDonalds “restaurants” in churches. There is a right way and a wrong way to relate to God, to worship and serve Him, and just as with food, He gave us some substantial direction in the Scriptures.

God linked food and religion, and Moses made that link clear. In Deuteronomy 11 & 12, Moses said, “You will not worship like the pagans do. You will destroy the places the pagans used for their worship, and you will wipe out the names of their gods. You will not offer sacrifices just anywhere you want, but only in that place that God chooses for His name. You will not eat blood, and you will only eat those animals that God has declared food. And, don’t forget, you will worship God in His way, not in your way, nor in the ways of the pagans.” God left a lot to our tastes and aesthetics, but He gave us some important ingredients to a healthy spiritual life that we ignore to our own detriment.

An Invitation to Behold

“Behold, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse…” (Deuteronomy 11:26 ESV…sort of.)

We are all sufficiently able to understand God’s commands to keep them by simply hearing them. They aren’t complicated. They were intended to be understood and followed by poorly educated laborers and herders. As Moses said later,

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV)

None-the-less, there is more to Torah and to the blessings and curses that it contains than is easily discernible in a strict, literal reading. There are treasures to be found if you look closely.

Every single parsha* tells of the Messiah and his role as the redeemer of all mankind, but Moses didn’t highlight those bits with a yellow marker. You have to look under the surface text. You have to see, to behold. Many passages contain layer upon layer of meaning bringing guidance and understanding to our relationships with each other and with the Creator. To discover those layers, you have to look closely and from different angles.

This is a command to pay attention to the blessings and curses, but beneath the plain text, it is also an invitation to search the Torah more deeply.

* Thousands of years ago, the Pentateuch (aka Torah) was divided up into portions called parshim (plural) or parsha (singular). Each week almost every Jewish and Messianic congregation around the world reads and studies the same parsha.

12 Sources of Life in the Promised Land

In Deuteronomy 8:7-9 God lists twelve things that the Hebrews would find when they finally arrived in the Promised Land.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
(Deuteronomy 8:7-9 ESV)

Why does he pick out these things in particular? What about the pastures or the fish in the Kinnereth? Honestly, I can’t tell you why God didn’t specify other things, and I can only guess at what He meant by the things He did list. One thing I can say for certain is that His selections were not random. God does nothing without a good reason. In fact, He usually has more reasons for everything He does than we could possibly comprehend. One clue that they are not intended to be understand merely as a random sampling of the Promised Land’s good qualities is their chiastic arrangement:

A. Brooks of water/Fountains and springs out of the valleys and hills. (Water that comes from the ground.)
………B. Wheat/Barley (Raw ingredients for making other food.)
………………C. Vines (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………………………D. Fig trees/Pomegranates (Fruit trees whose produce is usually eaten raw.)
………………C. Oil olive (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………B. Honey/Bread (Processed foods, one the product of the labor of bees, the other the labor of men.)
A. Iron from stones/Bronze dug from the hills. (Metals that come from the ground.)

It could be argued that chiastic structures such as this are simply poetic devices. While it is true that they can be found in the literature, both religious and non-religious, of many cultures, we believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and it seems unlikely that God would employ such devices without purpose. Let’s examine each of these items to see if there is further meaning that can be drawn out.

1. Brooks of Water

The Hebrew word translated as “brooks” is nahal (נחלי) and refers to the seasonal creeks that are commonly called wadi today. Like the arroyos of the American Southwest, these brooks are dry for much of the year, only filling up after a good rain, and only flowing steadily during the rainy season in winter.

  • In Genesis, Jacob wrestled all night with God at a ford of the brook Jabbok. (Genesis 32:23-32)
  • Throughout the Torah, histories, and prophets, brooks are used to mark the borders of various lands.  (E.g. Numbers 34:5, Deuteronomy 3:16, etc.)
  • Brooks are also another sort of border, but a border to be crossed. They mark a transition from one phase to another. (E.g. Genesis 32:23, Deuteronomy 2:13 & 2:24)
  • Job referred to his friends as brooks, meaning that they are an unreliable source of support, providing water only in the rainy season, and having nothing useful to offer when life is harshest. (Job 6:15)
  • Brooks are places of hidden water that must be uncovered. Frequently, if you dig at the lowest point of a dry creek bed, you can find water. Large trees can thrive next to a seasonal creek either because they are able to withstand long droughts or because their roots can reach the water that is below the surface. (E.g. Genesis 26:19, Job 40:22, etc.)
  • Elijah was fed by the ravens at the brook Cherith. (1 Kings 17:3-7)

If I had to take some meaning from these things, I would say that brooks of water are symbolic of seasonal refreshment or relief after a long struggle in preparation for the next long struggle. Life in the Promised Land was never intended to be a life of ease, but one of predictable rewards after honest, hard work.

2. Fountains and Springs from the valleys and hills

The Hebrew word translated as “springs” in the English Standard Version is tehom (ותהמת), which is frequently translated as “depths” or “the deep”. They are underground reservoirs (e.g. Genesis 7:11) and the deepest places of the seas (e.g. Exodus 15:8). These are mysterious places that men cannot visit, measure, or know, the domain of God alone. In connection with “fountains” (Hebrew ayin (עינת), which can also be translated as “eye”), this seems to describe natural springs. Short of a major engineering project, there is nothing you can do to create a spring. It comes out of a mysterious source below the ground or it does not.

I suspect this refers to one of two things:

  • Supernatural provision from God that flows regardless of the season. Sometimes God simply provides for us, whether we have worked for a reward or not. The sages say that wealth does not necessarily come to those who work hardest, but to those who are most ready for it.
  • The moving of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus (aka Yeshua) said in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Seven Species of Deuteronomy 8:8 (image from Wikipedia)

3. Wheat

A good wheat harvest is the result of prolonged hard work. It is a source of wealth and, since it stores well, also of ongoing nourishment.  In more spiritual terms, it is the result of sustained evangelistic efforts, of preaching, teaching, and living exemplary lives. It sprouts long after the barley and is harvested later still. (See Exodus 9:32.) Wheat is a picture of delayed rewards multiplied many times and of the righteous in the last days before the final harvest. (See Matthew 9:37-38 & 13:30.)

4. Barley

Barley sprouts and is harvested earlier than other grain crops. It was used as a standard to measure the value of land and other property. (See Leviticus 27:16.) Barley has always been considered an inferior crop, courser and of poorer taste and nutritional value. At times it was thought only good for animal fodder. Revelation puts the price of a measure of barley at one-third that of wheat. (See Revelation 6:6.)

Despite its humble status, Yeshua used barley loaves to feed the multitude in John 6:9. Barley sustains the people until the later grains are ripe, makes a more plentiful food for the poor, and has been used to brew mild alcoholic beverages since long before the Hebrews left Egypt. Barley is a picture of the simple, first adopters of faith. It is the Hebrew rabble that first left Egypt, David’s Mighty Men who were debtors and running from trouble, and the twelve disciples who were commoners and a tax collector.

5. Vines

The grape vine is associated with family, children, lineage, and inheritance. It is the source of growth in progeny and ideology. It is a picture of unbroken inheritance. Psalm 80:8 speaks of nations in terms of vines. Genesis 49:11 contains a prophecy of the Messiah coming from Judah’s line. On the surface, it tells of Judah’s rich inheritance in the land. On another level, it appears to says that the Messiah will come from Judah’s descendants, his vine. Princes in times of peace rode on donkeys, and Zechariah 9:9 says this is how the Messiah will appear. Judah binding the ass to his vine is an image of the future King of Judah entering Jerusalem on the colt. (See Matthew 21:1-11.)

But the vine is more than an image of physical descendants.

In Deuteronomy 32:32, Moses gave another dual prophecy simultaneously calling the Israelites and their enemies the heirs of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this prophecy, God predicts the apostasy of Israel and their defeat at the hands of their enemies.

For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
(Deuteronomy 32:32 ESV)

On the one hand “they” in this verse refers to Israel who has adopted the ways of those perverse people and inherited much of their fate with it. But on the other, “they” refers to Israel’s enemies who are even more the spiritual descendants of Sodom and possibly even the physical descendants who have misunderstood their victory over Israel as evidence of their own strength rather than God’s discipline of the people He loves.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a grape vine used to illustrate a spiritual or ideological inheritance is found in a lengthy teaching that Yeshua gave just before His death:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
(John 15:1-6 ESV)

6. Fig Trees

Fig trees are an image of prosperity, contentment, and security, the well-deserved product of honest business. They provide sweet fruit, income, and shade long after the work required to establish them has been completed. The man who dwells beneath his own fig tree has no wants or worries. (See 1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31, etc.)

7. Pomegranates

Vines, pomegranates, and figs go together in scripture for a total picture of peace and prosperity (See Numbers 13:23 and Numbers 20:5.), and appropriately so. All three are symbols of fertility and prosperity, but of these three, because of its large number of seeds, the pomegranate is more associated with fertility than the others. (Figs are also considered fertility symbols, but not as strongly as pomegranates.) Tradition places the number of seeds in the fruit at 613, which is also the traditional count of individual commands in the Torah. The implication is that keeping God’s commands makes one fruitful, both in body and in enterprise.

Like the fig tree, most of the labor is required long in advance of the extended reward.

8. Olive Oil

Olive oil brings to mind the anointing of priests, prophets, and kings, and is symbolic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It was used to fuel the Menorah in the Tabernacle, which is also a picture of the Spirit. Olive oil is a source of light, while the Spirit is a source of enlightenment. The oil was used in cooking, as a base for perfumes and incense, as skin care, and for countless other uses.

9. Honey

(Note: An alternate interpretation of “honey” is the date palm because of its syrupy juice.)

Honey was the sweetest thing known to the ancient Israelites. The idiom “land of milk and honey” was frequently used to describe a near paradise. It was used as a gift, as a special treat, and those who over-indulged were thought decadent and corrupt. Honey has two distinct qualities: First, it is very sweet. Second, someone else does all the work to produce it. Honey, like all of the sweetest things in life, is best taken sparingly lest we lose our taste for anything less, and fall into the habit common to all libertines of constantly searching after the next high.

There is nothing wrong with honey and fine things; they are a gift from God. But they are a gift that is easily abused. Remember that most things worth having don’t come easy.

10. Bread

Since wheat, barley, and olive oil are already listed, it seems odd to add bread, but there is a difference. The raw ingredients have nearly indefinite shelf lives if they are protected from vermin, but no so bread. It goes moldy or stale very quickly. On the other hand, the raw ingredients aren’t easily eaten or digested on their own. They require a certain amount of processing. The end product was treated as the single most important part of any meal.

Bread was a fundamental element of hospitality. Abraham offered bread to his three divine visitors (Genesis 18:6), and Abigail presented David with two hundred loaves of bread as part of a peace offering to prevent the death of her husband (1 Samuel 25:18).

The Showbread Table in the Tabernacle held twelve loaves of bread, one for each of the tribes of Israel. It is a picture of the Messiah, who called himself the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
(John 6:35 ESV)

His body, striped by the centurion’s whip and pierced by the crown of thorns and the nails of crucifixion, is illustrated to this day in the matzoh eaten at every traditional Jewish of Passover. Just as bread made with grain and oil was fundamental to the Hebrew physical diet, so is the Bread of Life fundamental to our spiritual life. There is no spiritual life without Yeshua.

The last two things prophesied to be found in the Promised Land are a little more enigmatic. All of the previous items were things that you put into your body: water and food. The following are metals that are transformed or taken out of something else, and I believe the sources of the ores might be as significant as the ores themselves. Forgive me if I seem to be indulging in so much speculation in these last items, because I am. My opinions here are not cast in iron or set in stone, and they are certainly not so well polished as a brass mirror. (Also, please forgive the bad puns. I can’t help myself.)

11. Iron from Stones

Stones have a very complex representation in Scripture. Spiritually calloused and rebellious people are said to have hearts of stone. Stones can represent individual people or groups of people. They are the foundations (as altars), media (as tablets), and witnesses of covenants. They are instruments of punishment, markers of wealth, ornaments, and most significantly, they are used to represent the Messiah.

Iron is very similar to stone, but where stone is hard, iron is unbreakable. Where stones can be symbols of wealth, iron signifies strength, power, and punishment. It is unyielding, impenetrable, and forged into weapons of war.

I imagine two possible meanings of “a land whose stones are iron”:

  • The Lord disciplines those He loves, and His harsh discipline transforms hearts of stone into hearts of iron.
  • Even the common people of Israel are iron to their enemies.

12. Bronze Dug from the Hills

(Note: The word for bronze is sometimes translated as copper or brass.)

Hills appear to be as symbolically versatile as stones. They are places of refuge from disaster and points of connection between Heaven and Earth. They are platforms for prophecy and divine pronouncement. Armies gather and fight in the hills. Finally, hills are symbols of strength and permanence.

Bronze, unlike iron, is used extensively in the Tabernacle and Temple, and is usually taken to symbolize judgment and the process of purification. (Think of the bronze laver, in which the priests were to wash before serving in the Tabernacle.) It also has military uses, in weaponry and armor. Bronze and iron were often paired in prophecy to represent a harsh and unforgiving land or a hard and unrepentant people.

I have only one good thought about the bronze:

Hills can be dangerous, wild places with any number of hiding places for shelter or ambush. Primarily, they are a place where people in fear of the wrath of God flee in search of futile protection. Bronze, however, is an image of God’s refinement of his people. Through God’s judgment and Law, His people are brought out of the hills into which they have fled, exposing their sin to that refining fire. God’s people have been scattered throughout the world, many forgetting even that they were ever chosen. But God knows them and where they have hidden themselves and been hidden. He has prophesied their repentance and has promised to bring them back again from all the places they were driven.

God knows you. He knows all your hidden sins, and you can’t hide from His law or His call.

America is not Israel, and we cannot automatically claim all of the promises made to the Hebrews simply because we worship the same God. But believers in Yeshua of whatever ancestry are none-the-less God’s people, grafted into the tree of Israel. We are not in the Land of Israel, but I strongly believe that God’s Laws are universal and founded on Natural Law. The promises God gave to Israel for obedience are in large part an expression of cause and effect. If any person keeps His law with a right heart, they are bound to benefit in many ways. (Trying to keep God’s Law with evil intent or in a misguided attempt to earn your salvation will likely do you more personal harm than good.) Throughout history, nations that keep more of God’s Law benefit from it, while those nations that reject it suffer by their rejection. We can learn from the principles described in this passage. In keeping God’s Law–not for salvation because that’s impossible–we will undoubtedly become a stronger, healthier, wealthier nation.

Words Have Meaning

Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

Matthew 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Keeping your word is important to God. The ability to speak, to make agreements, and to make things happen with words is one of the ways in which we were created in God’s image. He created through speech, and He relates to us by speech. When God spoke, the universe was. His interaction with us has primarily been through the spoken word and its fulfillment: the prophets, preachers, and most importantly, through the Word made flesh in the form of Jesus.

When we speak, like God, we make things happen. We create. We can change the universe by opening our mouths. “If you will say unto this mountain, ‘Be moved and cast into the sea,’ it shall be done.” Notice that Jesus did not say if we ask God to move the mountain. He said we can speak directly to the mountain, and it will obey. Our words have tangible effects on the world around us. Even if you speak without intent, there may be power in the mere sounds. The more significant your words, the more significant the consequences are sure to be.

If you say, “This country is going down the tubes,” that might only be your observation of what you see around you, but it isn’t necessarily true. By putting it into words in that manner, you reinforce a negative outlook in yourself and the people around you, causing you to behave as if the country is already lost. You are making a statement of faith that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Don’t say that America is doomed and leave it at that, especially not if you believe it to be true. Rather say, “America is doomed if we don’t repent and return to God and His Law.” You will accomplish three things by modifying your speech in this manner:

  1. You will reinforce in yourself and those around you that there is a way out for America. If Nineveh could be saved, then so can America.
  2. You will reinforce belief in the truth that America’s redemption will come only from God, and that He respects and rewards nations who obey Him.
  3. Your words, spoken in faith, will have power to change reality.

Remember that your positive faith is in competition with the negative faith of millions of others, so it is important for all those who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to speak in unity and in favor of repentance and obedience. We must not allow the voices of unbelievers to dictate our future.

In the end, it is possible that America’s demise is necessary in God’s overall plan. In that case, there is nothing we can do or say to prevent it. Like the national repentance of Israel under Josiah’s leadership, the most we could accomplish is a reprieve. That isn’t reason to give up hope, because we don’t know what the future holds. That generation or two of delay might mean the ultimate salvation of millions and the greater glory of God’s Kingdom.

Be careful what you say. Don’t speak hopeless negativity against yourself and your people. Let your words be full of encouragement and hope and repentance.

Words have meaning, frequently more meaning than we will ever know.

Resolving Conflicts in the Nation and Family

Moses, an example for all leaders

Moses, an example for all leaders

In his comments on Matot this week at Aish, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highlighted the conflict between Moses and the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who wanted to settle on the east side of the Jordan instead of on the west with the other tribes. Although the narrative in Numbers 32 is probably very condensed from the actual events, Rabbi Sacks points out how the story illustrates good conflict resolution strategy:

The negotiation between Moses and the two tribes in our parsha follows closely the principles arrived at by the Harvard Negotiation Project, set out by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their classic text, Getting to Yes.(2) Essentially they came to the conclusion that a successful negotiation must involve four processes:

  1. Separate the people from the problem. There are all sorts of personal tensions in any negotiation. It is essential that these be cleared away first so that the problem can be addressed objectively.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions….By focusing not on positions but on interests, the question becomes, “Is there a way of achieving what each of us wants?”
  3. Invent options for mutual gain….the two sides usually have different objectives, neither of which excludes the other.
  4. Insist on objective criteria. Make sure that both sides agree in advance to the use of objective, impartial criteria to judge whether what has been agreed has been achieved….

Moses does all four. First he separates the people from the problem by making it clear to the Reubenites and Gadites that the issue has nothing to do with who they are, and everything to do with the Israelites’ experience in the past… The problem is not about this tribe or that but about the nation as a whole.

Second, he focused on interests not positions. The two tribes had an interest in the fate of the nation as a whole. If they put their personal interests first, God would become angry and the entire people would be punished, the Reubenites and Gadites among them….

Third, the Reubenites and Gadites then invented an option for mutual gain. If you allow us to make temporary provisions for our cattle and children, they said, we will not only fight in the army. We will be its advance guard. We will benefit, knowing that our request has been granted. The nation will benefit by our willingness to take on the most demanding military task.

Fourth, there was an agreement on objective criteria. The Reubenites and Gadites would not return to the east bank of the Jordan until all the other tribes were safely settled in their territories. And so it happened, as narrated in the book of Joshua…

The history of Israel (and every other people, really) demonstrates that a nation is an extended family with a common history, language, religion, & culture. The makeup of a family, like that of a nation, can change over time, but the family only remains so long as those things which define it as a family remain. Without the cement of common ideals and a common mission, you can’t have a family.

Like a national leader, a father must spend a great deal of time and energy resolving conflicts. If he is to be successful, he must decide what really matters and what doesn’t. Since each family is different, with its own quirks and challenges, I can’t tell you exactly how you should govern your family or what specific things you should prioritize. However, I can speak to some things that are common among all families.

A father must keep his family’s first principles in mind, those things which define them as a family: blood, faith, mission, etc.

Everyone in the family must be related by blood or covenant. If anyone is free to walk away when things aren’t going the way he prefers, then he can’t be considered real family.

Everyone in a family should subscribe to the same religion. There can be differences of opinion, of course, even of expression, but the basic tenets of faith must be essentially the same among all individuals, or the family will experience serious trouble in time.

Everyone in a family should be working toward a common goal. Remember that Jesus said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s true of churches, commercial enterprises, nations, and families. Each person must have their own personal missions and aspirations, but they cannot be at odds with each other. If a father’s mission is to teach responsible life skills to inner city children, his wife’s mission cannot be to keep those same people dependent on government handouts in order to use them as political pawns. Or, rather, those cannot be their missions if they desire to remain a family.

Conflicts in themselves are not bad. Like all of life’s challenges, they are the exercises we need to develop relational and spiritual strength. So long as each member of the family is willing to place the needs of the family above their own needs, almost any conflict can be worked out to a favorable resolution. Fathers, remember your family’s first principles. Remember your covenants. Remember your mission. Remember God.

The Man in the Scar

“The Man in the Scar” is now available at Smashwords, iTunes, BN.com, and a number of other online outlets.

Once Velkis fought men, beasts, and demons in the arenas of the great cities of the Empire, but years ago he put down the shield and spear in favor of chisel and file. He wants only to live in peace among the farmers and woodsmen who have settled in the mountainous north far from their ancient homes in the lands of men. Monsters once ruled here, driven out more than a century ago by a great hero of the Empire. But the spells and towers that hold the inhuman hordes behind the Dragon Spine are weakening, and something has returned, hungry for blood. (Novella. ~15k words.)

I first introduced Velkis in the flash fiction “The Man in the Axe,” which was actually the first page or so of this story. Since it didn’t really add anything to the longer work, it became a story all on it’s own.

“The Man in the Scar” was specifically written to appeal to players of Alpen Wolf‘s First Sword game, hence the world is superficially similar to Vox Day’s Selenoth and the antagonist is similar to the three tribes in Day’s story “Qalabi Dawn” from the Wardog’s Coin anthology. If I had to write it over again, I would probably change the Raivin to be a little less cliche, but it’s not bad the way it is now.

I had created a cover that I liked, more or less, but after talking to other writers, it was clear that my rendition was more than a little flat. Someone suggested I try fiverr.com. I could commission a couple of covers there from different creators for $5 a piece. If I hate them all, the worst that could happen is that I’d be out a few dollars. I talked to a couple of the cover artists at fiverr and, while they all said they could make a great cover, none of them were willing to create a realistic image quite like I wanted. For $5, who could blame them? If I had an image they could work with already, that might work. I googled images of spears and found one very similar to my initial drawing at knifecenter.com. The operations manager there was kind enough to give me permission to use the image as long as I gave them credit. I sent that image, my original, and a copy of the story to one of the better fiverr cover artists. After a few days and a bit of back-and-forth over details, the image you see above is the end result. I’m sure I could get a much better cover if I paid $300 or more, but you can’t beat it for $5. The artist has earned a tip.

Enjoy the story. Let me know what you think, good or bad. Sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you a coupon code to get it free.

There might or might not be a couple of silly literary Easter eggs in the story.

Ray Bradbury and the Minority Defense League

In light of the recent controversies over the SFWA’s internal censorship policies, consider these excerpts from the author’s afterword to Fahrenheit 451:

“About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea…to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail…complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I ‘do them over’?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped….

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Every minority…feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blancmange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty…described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever….

If the Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters….If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my ‘Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ so it shapes ‘Zoot,’ may the belt unravel and the pants fall….

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch, I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.

I wonder what Mr. Bradbury would think of an organization of science fiction writers that expels and campaigns against other writers who dare to pen words and ideas that offend some members of some minorities.  Not very much, I suspect.

Here are some other thoughts from prominent SF writers on this topic: