Watch my interview by the Hellenic Writers’ Group

The president of the Hellenic Writers’ Group of Washington, DC, read my book, The Storyteller from Kalo Chorio. She loved the story and arranged to interview me on a Zoom call during a scheduled meeting of the Hellenic Writers’ Group. I encourage you to watch the video of this interview. You will gain a lot of insight into why I wrote the book.


Color photos for The Storyteller from Kalo Chorio

This week, I received copies of The Storyteller from Kalo Chorio. The formatting of the book is nice, but the clarity of the photos is disappointing. I provided clear black-and-white photos, but print-on-demand does a poor job of reproducing these pictures. I wish the photos in the book were better, but by publishing through Kindle, I was able to keep the cost of the book low. To see clear, color versions of the photos, go to the following web site:

Then click on the blue box that says “Full-color versions of the book photographs.” That will take you to the photos page. Enjoy the book. This story of Dafnis will make you laugh, cry, and ponder significant issues of life.

In two minds about travel

Okay, I admit I am of two minds. On the one hand, when traveling to new places, I like the freedom of choosing where I go and how long I stay there. On the other hand, I enjoy being with a group of interesting people and letting a knowledgeable tour guide decide the itinerary and take care of housing and transportation.

When my wife and I have our own adventures in other countries, invariably we get lost and frustrated. We sweat and fret and try not to get too frustrated when dealing with the difficulties that always arise with transportation, locating places to stay, finding places to eat, and in general navigating cultural differences—including language barriers. I hesitate to estimate how many times I have been frustrated at taking the wrong road, wandering aimlessly trying to find a café, or finding a museum and paying museum fees—not to mention remembering to drive on the left in Cyprus. But we have had some wonderful, memorable, serendipitous experiences amidst the messiness of navigating other cultures—things that simply could not happen if we were part of a tour group.

We have also had very positive experiences in countries such as Israel and Turkey while being part of a tour group: relaxing in a bus while an experienced driver took us to set destinations, not having to decide where we were going to spend the night or where we would eat (and negotiating prices), and having a guide explain where we were going and then leading us around each site. No worries. Just enjoy the trip. Of course, I have to conform to a schedule set up by someone else, which limits my freedom of how long I will roam around the sites we visit. I have griped about that more than once.

I have decided that, for the first exposure to another country, being part of a tour group has a lot of advantages. Then, if I want to return and explore the country at my own pace and go to places that are not on the main tour routes, I can return and do my own thing with more confidence and less initial frustration. I wish I were independently wealthy and could afford to travel more now that I am retired. I also wish this COVID pandemic would end so that making travel plans could be more predictable again. Soon! Let it be soon!

We got stuck in Boaz, a rundown town in Turkish occupied northern Cyprus. Not one of our pleasant memories. This collapsing structure in Boaz was once part of a nice beach community.
Walking around Famagusta in the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus, photographing St. Nicholas Cathedral and other ancient buildings, was a lovely experience. We took our time and walked on top of the fortification wall, etc.—a nice memory, except for the fact that I got dreadfully sick from our lunch on that outing. I will not divulge the details!

Pictures of a Dead, Eastern Orthodox Monk

In 2011, I interviewed the abbot of the Monastery of Archangel Michael in Cyprus to ask about his beliefs regarding Saint Barnabas. Prominently displayed on his office wall were photos of a smiling monk in a casket. My wife commented that the man had a pleasant look on his face. Delighted that we noticed, our host—a monk from Mt. Athos—explained that shortly after his friend died he got the beaming smile because of what he was experiencing. I could not help but think I had never seen pictures of smiling dead preachers on the office walls of pastors in the United States, although tortured depictions of a dead Jesus on a cross are plentiful.

After our interview of the monk ended, our translator further explained Eastern Orthodox beliefs about joy and suffering: “The more you approach Jesus, who is Love, the closer you come to the cross. The more you love, the more you suffer. When you see others suffering, if you love them, you also suffer. Yet suffering brings happiness. It is not logical, but it is true. Monks are happy people. People may prosper but not be happy. In society, the loneliest people are those in the crowds of the city, not those in the isolation of the monastery. Monks do not suffer from loneliness.” He said that we should not avoid suffering but rather embrace it, for the more we share in Christ’s sufferings the more like him we become. He added that this view fundamentally differs from the health and prosperity preaching of many T.V. evangelists in America. So very true.

Left to right: Me, the abbot of Archangel Michael Monastery, and Dafnis Panagides, our translator.

Vehicular Mayhem in Cyprus

Cypriots are laidback people—unless they are driving. Then most morph into maniacs. For me, driving on the left side of the road initially posed a challenge, but that paled to adjusting to the mayhem of roundabouts when folks were headed home from work! And that was only the beginning. The narrow, downtown lanes were built when donkey carts were the heavy haulers. Now, cars careen down these alleyways, dodging around cars that are parked on the sidewalks—the norm in Cyprus.

The psychology of driving in Cyprus reminds me of paddling whitewater in my kayak. When I am too timid, I get in trouble. The way to navigate challenging rapids is to be aggressive. After driving in Cyprus for a while, I adopted that attitude, “Get out of my way! You don’t even know who you are messing with!!” I found it to be safer.

Cypriot motorcycle riders capture the prize when it comes to absolute disregard for life and limb. At traffic lights, motorcyclists squeeze between cars with inches to spare, weaving their way until they get to the head of the line, and then often go through the red light anyway. Drivers seem unconcerned by this behavior, and I got used to it.

What was truly terrifying was watching young people riding motorcycles on mountain roads. Many of the ancient, tiny churches that we visited as part of my research on Barnabas are tucked away in the mountains. On one excursion, I was driving down a mountain, heading back to our flat in Limassol. I was going the speed limit of 80 km per hour down a narrow, two-lane highway—being careful of drivers who frequently cut over the middle line of the road when going around curves. Suddenly, I heard the roar of a motorcycle, and a young driver blasted past me as three cars in the other lane were going up the hill in the opposite direction. He never even hesitated as he shot between the oncoming cars and me. His girlfriend was desperately hanging on to him. Neither wore a helmet. I shuddered at what would have happened if for any reason I had veered even a few inches to the right.

As I shook my head at the pure insanity of what I just witnessed, I heard the roar of a second motorcycle blasting past me with another young driver and his girlfriend. He was racing the guy on the first motorcycle and managed to pass him. Little wonder that the death rate for young Cypriot motorcycle riders is so high.

I am very accepting of cultural differences and usually am able to appreciate customs that differ from what seems normal to me. But I doubt that I will ever stop complaining about vehicular mayhem in the Middle East. I am grateful that, during the educational tour that my wife and I are leading in November 2022, we will have a capable Cypriot bus driver who is totally comfortable with the rules of the road in Cyprus.

Note the cars parked on the sidewalks located just below our flat in Limassol. This practice is common on narrow streets.

What got me so interested in Saint Barnabas?

While writing a textbook on the Apostle Paul, Apostle on the Edge (2009), I became increasingly aware that his mentor, Barnabas, was one of the most significant leaders of the early Christian movement. Two things intrigued me about Barnabas. First, very little scholarship exists on the man. Second, his identity has changed radically over the centuries. The New Testament depicts Barnabas as a man skilled in resolving ethnic conflicts in the early church; but today in Cyprus, the island of his birth, Greek Orthodox Cypriots view him as a warrior saint. How could his identity be so totally altered?

In 2011, I journeyed to Cyprus as a Senior Fulbright Fellow to conduct research on Barnabas. I did not know what I would discover, and I had no thesis that I was trying to prove. I set out to determine how, over the centuries of the Church, traditions about Barnabas morphed his identity from a bridge-building conflict negotiator to a bridge-burning nationalist. Slowly, I pieced together the evidence I gathered from two millennia of Christian history. But how would I tell the complicated story with all its twists and turns? I decided not to publish a technical monograph for scholars. The implications of the history of how church traditions slowly transformed Barnabas were too significant to be available to a small audience. I chose to write a lively account that any intelligent reader could enjoy. If you are interested in the intersection of religion and politics, are concerned about resolution of ethnic conflicts, and relish a good “Who done it?” you will enjoy the recently released, second edition of Creation of History: The Transformation of Barnabas from Peacemaker to Warrior Saint.