top of page


Where Do the Words Come From?

“Don’t keep your light under a basket.”

I was enamored of Ruth, who cautioned me thus. To her, I had just revealed my fear.

I asked, “That’s biblical, right, that light and basket thing? But what do you think he sees in me?”

The director of the show had awarded me the lead part in his upcoming production. Yes, I had read for that part. I had gotten it, but I had not expected to get it. Other and better men had read for it, too.

Here’s what Ruth said next. “There is a core truth inside anything that comes our way, anything in our lives that is big and troubling. That’s what I believe. We should keep our attention on that core.”

I smiled. “Then my core truth is that I want that part, but I’m scared.”

“So that’s it.”

“That’s what? The want, or the scared?”

“That you want it. Concentrate on that. That’s the core. That’s how you’ll pay it forward for him. To make it come real, what he saw in you.” She smiled. “And I’m so pleased for you.”

Ruth was making soup – since it was the end of August, it was tomato soup, with corn and shallots built on her rich chicken stock. Now and then, she would turn aside and muddle dried herbs in her mortar with her pestle, toss them in.

“How’s your wrist?” I asked.

“Better than three days ago. I’m not using it much today. Not stressing it. The swelling’s down. Still hurts.”

She had stumbled recently, fallen and sprained her wrist. Her forearm was wrapped in a tight bandage.

She went on, “I saw this show last night, about the disciples of Jesus, called The Chosen.” She smiled at me. “It’s a good show. You’d like it. Very well written. Anyway, one of the scenes shows this long line of people with health trouble waiting to get in front of Jesus so he’ll heal them.” She lifted up her bandaged wrist. “I kinda wanted to be one of them.”

I smiled. “Looking for a laying on of hands?”

“Just looking for a connection with him.”

As Ruth and I had gotten to know one another, sometimes we talked about her Christian belief. I admire that belief in her. She grew up Jewish and “came to Christ,” as she puts it, in college.

She has told me about the turning point for her, from Judaism. The turning point was when she got it – really got it – that the Jewish scripture, what we call the Old Testament, required the New Testament.

The Jews, she said, everyone she had known at her synagogue, they thought the Law and the Prophets is complete in itself. But how could it be complete?

This is what she got. Every verse, she said, even every word, demanded completion … and the completion that was demanded came through Jesus.

I had grown to like Ruth, a lot. I mean…really a lot. Of course, she’s beautiful. Anyone – you, anyone else – you all can see that for yourselves. And she’s funny, and smart. And she can cook. But the main thing is that she takes all this about Jesus seriously. It matters to her. I haven’t known many women like her.

Me? I act. Certainly, I act. What else can I do?

But about God? Whoever God is for me, I suppose I feel closest to God when I am privately perfecting a part – how closely am I being this other person, this other person who is not me? I’ve come to believe I have a gift.

Ruth helps me by considering that my gift is from God. But thinking about her help leads me to the bad of side acting. Shall I spend my life perfecting the art of being someone other than myself? What had Ruth just said about hiding the light under the basket?

I mustn’t reject Ruth’s kind support. Whose light am I hiding? The character’s light? Mine?

The words I use on stage aren’t mine. The playwright wrote the words with the intent of seducing the audience into experiencing the grandeur, or the irony, or the humor – or whatever it is – intended by the script. My skill, you see, is intermediary. It’s useful, but I’m between the truth of the words and the creativity of the author.

And where do those words come from?

One time I asked that question of Ruth.

I like it that Ruth is the sort of woman who has just the right sentence in her mind to read to me, right then, and she can lay her hand on the right book immediately. The book she pulled out that time recounted the stories of a missionary woman who had lived in Africa for 25 years.

Ruth found the page, smiled at me, and read, “A passionate pursuit of God draws me closer into his light.”

She closed the book and smiled at me. “That’s where they come from, the words. It’s about the honest pursuit in the writer and about the light that is truly found by that passionate pursuit.”

Today, Ruth tasted her soup. She gestured toward one of the cabinets. “Get me more salt, would you please?”

I stood and found the salt cellar and handed it to her. “Ha ha,” I said. “Salt and light. Even more biblical.”

“Yeah, but in those days they weren’t always complaining about having too much salt. Know where our word salary comes from? The Roman legions were often paid in salt – salt was their salary. The legionnaires always wanted more salt.”

“What about the light side of it?”

She looked at me; had something to say. “I mentioned that show, The Chosen? A thing that really strikes me in the show is how dark it is at night – when there’s a night scene. Like two or three candles and maybe an olive oil lamp. But that’s it. Otherwise, the scene is dark.”

Ruth measured out a small amount of salt and added it to her soup. She stirred and then tasted and then smiled. “Good.”

“The dark?” I prodded.

“Here’s what really blew me away. You asked once about where the words come from. Listen to this.” Her eyes shone. “This is really exciting.”

Then she told me something that excited me, too.

“In the show, there’s a scene when Jesus has agreed to meet with Nicodemus, who’s the chief priest among the Sanhedrin, but they’ve decided to do it at night, in the dark, to protect both of them from being observed.”

“Did that really happen?”

“Scripturally, yes. But as the scene is written for the show, two of Jesus’ disciples plead to go along, as bodyguards. At first Jesus refuses to have them, but then he relents. However, he makes a rule. The two disciples will be allowed to come to the meeting, but they must stay outside. They can watch and listen from a window, but that’s all.

“As the scene is filmed, it’s very dark. Jesus and Nicodemus are on a roof, which is surrounded by a wall. The wall has an opening in it, like a window – no glazing, empty space. There are candles on the table where Jesus and Nicodemus sit across from one another. That’s the whole of the lighting. It’s dark nighttime. It’s really dark.”

“Sounds evocative.”

“I was enchanted.” Ruth’s eyes were sparkling. “The way they film things in this show are so provocative. You’ve really got to watch it. You’d love it – you, of all people, actor that you are.

“So, the camera shoots some longer shots and then comes in very close, focusing back and forth on the faces of the two men as they talk back and forth.

“Nicodemus has many questions. He’s really trying, really very urgently, to understand this man who makes miracles occur. But he has a hard time fully getting what Jesus is trying to tell him.

“In the end, Jesus pauses, thinks. Then he takes a deep breath and speaks again, summing it up. Now the camera is very tight on his face. ‘God loved the world so much,’ Jesus says, ‘that he sent his son into the world, so that anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life.’”

Ruth stared at me. “Get it?”

I shook my head.

“What’s the single most famous line in the whole New Testament?”

“That line?”

She smiled. She nodded. “I confess it passed me by. I heard it, but it passed me by. I knew the line so well that it just rolled right out inside my head. And I was just so totally much into their conversation, the two men, and Jesus was so earnest in his effort to help Nicodemus understand.

“Then suddenly I thought, Wait, wait, wait – who are the disciples outside the window listening?

“Not – not…John?

And the camera cuts to the disciples, and one of them is John. And he is scribbling in a notebook.

Ruth came over and knelt down before me. She took my right hand and held it with her good hand. “A shiver ran through me,” she said.

She went on. “Where do the words come from? You want to know where the words come from? You want to have light shining from the actual words? Not cover them up with a basket? Have the actual people speak the actual words? You want to focus on the core truth that resides in those words?”

She took a deep breath and blew it out sharply. “The Chosen is fiction. It’s not the Bible. But what an idea! What a brilliant writerly idea they’ve put across! What if the single most famous line in the entire New Testament is an actual quote from the Son of God? What if it was, and not something made up by the author! What if it was?”

Her excitement radiated through the kitchen. It radiated within me. Ruth was lavishing for me the magnificence of art…and showing me the core of the New Testament all at once.

That may have been the moment when I realized – for my life – that I must subsume myself within the very core mystery of Jesus … and perhaps then I might even marry this woman.

I mastered my big part, with its words and its light.

And since all of you know my wife Ruth, clearly you can guess about the rest.

28 views0 comments

Dikkon Eberhart

Sometimes people wonder to me where a writer's stories come from. Stories are everywhere. There’s no end of them.

I can’t remember where I got this image. It’s been my screen saver for a couple of months. I like it as a screen saver because having it means that each time I boot up, I pause for a moment before going along to email and think “Who are those guys?”

I don’t know yet who they are, where they’re headed in their boat, why they’re going that way, whom they left behind, what they will find when they get to their destination, and what problems they carry with them as they plow through the sea.

This image already is a story; I just don’t know what the story is.

But I have ideas. Having ideas is what makes me a writer.

From the design of the boat and from her rig and sails, I can speculate about time and geography—perhaps 18th century, maybe Dutch.

From the apparent calmness of the two sailors, I speculate that this trip they’re on might be a routine voyage -- maybe a cargo transfer. But what cargo and, more importantly, will their delivery or pick up proceed as expected, or will a problem occur? What might the problem be? For there to be a story at all, there's got to be a problem.

On the other hand, from their apparent indifference to the lack of trim of their flying jib, I speculate either that they may be engaged in some intense discussion or argument right now and have not noticed the lack of trim, or that a sudden squall has caught them by surprise. In either case, this illustration might be the snap-shot of a possible crisis in itself. Is it a crisis in human relations? In commercial expectation? In nautical competence?

Are the sailors men? I assume so—that’s a massive, unwieldy rudder and tiller to manage, and lots of sheets for trimming the boat’s five sails (only four of them set at the moment). Women could sail this boat, but it would be less common than for the sailors to be men. If the sailors are men, where are the women who fit into this picture—possibly below decks? Ashore with children? Nonexistent?

What are the ages and characters of the two men? Are they young and energetic and beginning a commercial or fishing career? Are they old and tired and rheumatic from endless cold and wet and wish this all were over? Is one older than the other and more experienced than the other? Did the younger marry the older’s daughter and does he angle to inherit the boat?

I’ve glanced at this image many times. Dozens of stories are there about the men, each of which could be told and probably never will be.

​I used to write fiction. When I desired to read a novel about a story such as any of those speculated above, and when I couldn't find such a one, I'd sit down and write it myself.

What stories excite you enough to write them out, taking the time and exercising the discipline to follow whatever literary path along which they take you?

Don’t allow 2022 to pass by without writing at least one of those stories through to its end.

My two cents.

30 views0 comments

My Kairos Prison Ministry brothers and I, who visit with inmates and have fellowship with them, have freedoms because we are on the outside that they do not have since they are on the inside. But—just like them on the inside—we are confined by walls. Just like them, we are confined by the walls of our sin.

Yes, we can walk out our front doors, get in our cars, and drive up into the mountains in order to walk miles through a forest and listen to birds sing. They can’t do that.

But I tell you, readers, we may drive back to our houses and park our cars and walk back in through our front doors and find ourselves confined by the walls of our sin.

Inside our houses there may be relationship problems with our wives or our children that are persistent. There may be a health problem that frightens us. There may be a financial problem that wears us down. There may be a work problem we have no knowledge how to fix. There may be an addiction problem that forces us to act in a way that is disrespectful of God.

Inside our houses, inside that wide world that appears to be open and free to us, we are confined by the walls of our sin.


We Christians know that Satan exists. He’s why we are confined by the walls of our sin. Satan has existed since the Garden of Eden, and he will exist until he is thrown down in fire by Jesus at the end of the world. His purpose is to create pain and discord and hatred—and then, having been successful, to create even more pain and discord and hatred—among all of the people.

Ultimately he seeks to overthrow God Himself. He wants to BE God.

He cannot overthrow God because God wins. He cannot BE God because God already IS…and because God wins. But in the meantime, Satan can make us writhe with pain and misery and make us blast out at one another in sin-filled ways.

Satan’s power is formidable. But ultimately he is a loser.

All he can provide is hatred and fear and pain. Hatred and fear and pain LOSE in the face of what the Christian Trinity provides, which is love and forgiveness and peace.

So why are we confined by the walls of our sin?

Because there is—and there will be—a struggle within us to do good when we are enticed by Satan to do bad.

Until we find salvation in Christ Jesus, we feel an URGENCY to do bad. It is an URGENCY to hurt—either other people, or ourselves, or God Himself. When we do find salvation in Christ Jesus, immediately our URGENCY disappears.

We still sin—I DO—but our URGENCY to sin disappears.

We are still confined by the walls of our sin—but we are safer, as saved people, within those walls than we were before we were saved.

48 views1 comment
bottom of page