Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Well, another year down and one day closer to dying. I know that doesn't sound fun but, it's true.

This morning I got up around 5:10 AM grabbed my camera and headed to the mountains. After a short conversation and a kiss to my wife, I was driving down the highway. I really had no idea where I was going, but I thought I might find something up the Tumwater canyon.

I tried to keep it simple since I realized no one really knew my exact location, and a fall from a mountain resulting in injury or death would have had people searching for months.

As I exited my car and left the tune, "Beautiful Day," I grabbed my cameras and headed out... alone. What a peaceful time. Sounds of rushing water, birds and other critters I could only hear, singing, "Happy Birthday to YOU!" How nice.

I got down and dirty getting up close to some glacier lilies and some other flowers I have yet to identify. I wish I had my book with me, but alas, homework for later.

Anyhow, I really didn't want to talk about my birthday but rather, my midlife crisis...

It's hard to say this here, but I've given it a lot of thought and feel now is the time to let everyone know... I've been cheating on the side and I can't stay here anymore... There, it's out... Finally!

Since I first started with Blogger in September of 2005, I didn't know what kind of relationship blogger and I would have... I love blogs and the communities therein... However, I've worked around ridged blogger approved templates and longed to bring more of my personality to blogland. I had seen others using garbage like "myspace" "facebook" blah, blah, blah... But one caught my eye... WordPress. She wasn't perfect, but then neither was I. I heard that you could host WordPress on your site and with some modification you could really stretch your creativity and not look so much like everyone else.

I think Blogger, found out I was looking, because she made several changes. However, the changes she made, made me more confused that I was before. Don't get me wrong... I love blogger. I cut my teeth on blogger. But, now it's time for me to take the next step.

If you come to this site via http://road2gaza.blogspot.com/ , you'll continue to see this same old post, over and over again.

However, if you visit this spot via, http://www.johnathanthomas.com , you'll be pointed to the new site, that looks a lot like this site, just easier for me to manage.


So, there you have it... My mid life crisis.

I love you blogger. We will always be friends, but it's time for me to go.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

hear O Israel... Part 3

(Panorama taken from the top of Mt. Tabor)

It has yet to cease in it's amazement the fury and pace of my time in Israel. I have had more thoughts and questions, insights and renewed conviction than ever before in my life. I think it's what draws this story line out. It seems to be more and more a part of my daily life.

Photos do tell a story. I guess that's why I love photography. Jesus told word pictures called parables... "The Kingdom of heaven is like..." a man who... a woman who... a mustard seed... a treasure... a net... king... a landowner... Jesus had a way of drawing the crowd into a physical thing to reveal a spiritual thing.

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What an image... Children? hmm.

In Israel, things are very physical. I know that sounds like a stupid statement and it probably is. However, growing up in a protestant/restorationist movement, I was always taught physical wasn't the point. We don't worship idols or anything physical because God is spirit and we only worship in spirit and truth. It was the scripture that said, "you believe because you've seen, blessed are those who believe but have never seen." So for me the physical Israel vs. the Spiritual Israel, started to clash in my system... and I had been in Israel less than 24 hours. Everything that I had read about, that I believed about I was seeing. My photos and my eyes began to capture glimpses of the kingdom of heaven.

After leaving Nazareth, Nir and I headed further north to Mt. Tabor.

Mt. Tabor sits at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, 11 miles (17 km) west of the Sea of Galilee. Its elevation at the summit is 1,843 feet (575 m) high and believe me, it seems higher. It is used in Scripture as a symbol of majesty. Jeremiah 46:18 (NASB) “‘As I live,’ declares the King Whose name is the Lord of hosts, ‘Surely one shall come who looms up like Tabor among the mountains, Or like Carmel by the sea’” It is majestic.

As we made the climb, in our vehicle not with our legs, I was amazed at the view. It is no wonder early church fathers would have considered this to be a place of importance and claimed it for the majesty of Christ's Transfiguration. And that is what lies at the top of this mountain, the Basilica of the Transfiguration.

The date of the earliest churches on Mt. Tabor is unknown. The Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza saw three basilicas in 570. Willibald, 8th Century, mentions only one church dedicated to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The current church was built in 1924 and belongs to the Franciscans.

There were a few pilgrims there... some were re-reading the accounts from their bibles Matthew chapter 17 or perhaps Mark 9, and I found myself having a hard time relating. My mind and my teaching was screaming, "THIS IS NOT THE PLACE!" "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

My spiritual instruction taught:
Mt. Tabor is probably not the location for the Transfiguration: 1) Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi just prior to the Transfiguration. 2) The general location of the mountain is not isolated. Much traffic passed by through the Jezreel Valley below. 3) A military fort was located on top of the mountain and was clearly in use during the Hasmonean period and the time of the Jewish Revolt, and likely would have been in Jesus' day as well. Lastly, we just don't know.

For a moment it felt like I was standing on a mental soapbox screaming, Christmas is not Jesus' birthday... We don't know when he was born." instead of embracing the memory of Peters words, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here."

As I stepped into the church, it seemed to be more simple than I would have thought.

The monk was eyeing Nir and I... I was scared that he might tell us to stop shooting pictures. However, he never said a word.

I noticed a room set off in the back of the church, almost hiding... I'm not sure what the room was for but it's contents were simple.

a small cross atop a table. What struck me was the simple physical presence of the cross, almost begging me to come and sit at the table.

As I left the room, I found a back pew with a bench for kneeling in prayer. (side note, why don't we have those in our churches today?) I knelt down and asked for forgiveness and grace.

Christ was 100% man, physical and 100% God. I cannot embrace only half of that message.

I'm still not sure if this is the place we read about in the bible... most likely it is not. However, it is holy ground. "For where two or three come together in my name," Jesus says, "there I am with them."

As we went down the mountain, I know Nir wondered my thoughts... He asked several times. It seems like I could never really express them because I was overwhelmed at so many points. I hope the times I spoke were clear enough. I remember a question he asked often, "Is this an important place to you?" His hospitality on a scale of 1-10 was 11+.

As we made our trek into Tiberius we arrived at the sea of Galilee for the night. I was low on laundry and needed to drop them by the cleaners. Nir's unfailing GPS "girlfriend" got so mad at us she stopped talking and led us into empty back ally ways. she kept telling us to turn right. "Yamina" I'm sure I've misspelled it. a few phone calls later, my laundry was in the proper hands.

We had a wonderful dinner and returned to the YMCA hostel for a good nights rest.

The sun came early, the weather was wonderful and a new day was about to begin.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Once again, I found a video, most likely seen by everyone but me. I had to post this video for my friend Jason and any others who enjoy having a family dog.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hear O Israel... Part 2

It's hard to imagine it's been three months since my trip. So much has taken place since then. What seems to have been so near, now seems so far away. As I revisit my photographical journey, I seem to have more questions, thoughts, joys and some regrets. Regrets in only that I could have done more, asked more or said more. Ever have that feeling?

Again, much thanks and love to friend, Nir and his family. Without their contribution and generosity none of this would have happened.

As I arrived in Israel, I new I was not in Kansas. I gathered my luggage and before I could walk through the exit, a plain clothed man approached me and said something in hebrew... (Oh if only I had taken hebrew in college and not ancient greek)

He soon realized, I guess by the dumbfound look on my face and my response of, "what?" that english was my primary language. He then asked what I had in my luggage create, where I was traveling from and a few other things... of which I was still trying to think of all the gifts I had brought from Africa... "Gifts, dolls, baskets, headlamp, water bottles... I was going down the list trying to be as detailed as possible, until he said, "OK GO!" I think he must have thought, "This guys to stupid to be a threat."

As I exited into the arrival terminal, I was eagerly looking for a face that I had only seen via the internet. Do you every remember the first time you met someone and saw them for the first time?

This is the view from my friend Nir... I can only wonder what he was thinking as he fired away with his camera. What a joy it was to see a familiar face.

As we made our way out of the airport in the early morning, I knew the journey of a lifetime was taking place... and I knew I needed coffee.

We drove north to Galilee talking about my time in Africa and the discussing the detailed itinerary Nir had worked so hard on. Nir was very thoughtful about making sure I got to see everything I wanted to see. The truth is... Had I only had a short layover and had coffee with my friend, I would have had everything I needed. SO, everything else was a bonus.

As we drove north, we saw the sign for Megiddo, known to Christians as Armageddon. Why not. How many times in ones life do they get to visit the final battle ground between good and evil. Although I have a bit of a different take on the writing of the apostle John than most premillinialist, I still thought it would be nice to see.

Ruins of Megiddo

View facing Nazareth. City on left side hilltop

a tunnel that led to water, which kept Megiddo strong while under siege."

reconstructed map room of Megiddo

In all a very impressive location. What really struck me was the beauty of the surrounding area. I didn't think of war or battles, I thought of peace.

As we made our way further north we drove to Nazareth.

I kept thinking of the story of Philip and Nathanael, John 1:43-50

Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, "We've found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It's Jesus, Joseph's son, the one from Nazareth!" Nathanael said, "Nazareth? You've got to be kidding."
- the Message

I've always wondered about that verse. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nazareth? You've got to be kidding. The funny thing is, the first thing I really saw was a KFC. You've got to be kidding. The stomping grounds of Jesus' youth... KFC. Not only KFC but a Toys 'R' Us. It was getting worse as we drove further into the city.

But the faithful guide that I had, led me not to fast food chains or Junk '4' Them, rather, he took me to the ruins of "Mary's" home which has a church built around it.

"Basilica of the Annunciation"

WOW! my first old "church" building. Now, as a "restoration" kid, one who has tried to eliminate 2000 years of human intervention and legal tradition of Christendom, a church building is just a building. The people make it holy. As I took in the sites and firing away with my camera...

"mosaic image at the Basilica of the Annunciation church"

a man approached us, speaking quickly and in a angry tone and of course, not in english. Nir approached him and listened. Returning to me, Nir's first words were, "OK, this man was very rude, and..." Great! My first interaction with a church person and he's rude. We were told we could not bring in our "big" cameras and if we wanted to take pictures we could only use small point and shoot's. What the? He didn't even ask our names, he didn't say welcome or praise the Lord you are here. He assumed, demanded and was rude. None of which I find in the "fruit of the Spirit." Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control. What really hurt was this, my friend Nir respects my faith, but it is not his belief. He's taken time away from his family to show me some "holy" sites and this is the message the church gives to strangers. I was ashamed.

Now this is why this story comes in so many parts. I've struggled with questions of how we in the US, treat people who step on our holy ground. Not just in our building, but in our lives. Have they been close to the presence of the Messiah, the one who lives in you, only to be shut down or shut up? My feeling is that we have been guilty of the same assumptions in the church. Not church buildings but the church people... the body, the community of believers. Where is our repenting? Where is our memory of salvation and grace in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us?

As we entered into the "church building" it seemed that mass was taking place. Knowing what I do know, I'm surprised they even let us in during communion. This is what I saw:

silent angel

Mass behind closed gates

an elegant building with empty pews

a small window to heaven

I'm not sure if you are thinking the same thoughts that are running though my head. But it was not anything like the Jesus I had read about or the church that I've read about.

people on the outside not sure if they could come in. I guess that's why Jesus went out to the mountainside... to find people.

Of course you may note, we did use our cameras inside when no one was looking. My apologizes to the owner.

As we left, I realized I want to be less critical and more loving. Love God, Love your neighbor.

I want to stop making it hard for people to meet Jesus.

bars above the gate to the church


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Happy 9th Birthday Miriam!

:full slideshow here:

Yesterday was a GREAT day. Miriam celebrated her 9th birthday on April 9th. When your age matches your birth date, it's a special time. GOLDEN.

I hope you never forget the wonderful day you had... I love you.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hear O Israel... Part 1

The long awaited story begins...

It's been a while since my last post. Yes, I still need to share about my trip to Uganda, however, I want to start with Israel.

The Talmud teaches that “Ten measures of beauty descended on the world—nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world. There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.

“The sights are too many. They swarm about you at every step; no single foot of ground in all Jerusalem or within its neighborhood seems to be without a stirring and important history of its own.”
-Mark Twain

This is just how I feel about all of Israel. I cannot count the blessings I have had poured out on me during the last months. If I could share completely with you what has taken place in my life, you would understand my absence in blogger land. So, dust off those RSS readers or at least add mine back to your list and I will try to pick up this thing called blogging again.

Every life is a story. I would ask you, "what's yours?" but that would be something for your blog. Mine is an adventure. It is abundant and overflowing. Thank you Lord.

About 4 years ago, I had entered a picture into Kodak Picture of the Day. I had learned about the POTD through dgrin, a photographers forum sponsored by Smugmug. Through that forum, I met many wonderful people... Andy, who took a picture of my picture displayed in Time Square, Ginger, a wonderful lady and photographer who passed away summer of 2007... The list goes on and on.

But there is one more... Nir Alon.

Nir and I first started our conversation over an article he had written on Ein-Karem, the traditional birth place of John the Baptist. One email lead to another and another and another. An internet friendship was born.

It's funny... Meeting Nir's wife, Dorit, for the first time, she said she had a hard time explaining to her friends that her husband was spending three days in northern Israel with a man he met on the internet. (I still laugh every time I share that) I apologize Dorit.

Anyhow, an internet friendship was born. The truth is this, I would not have made my trip to Israel such a priority had it not been for the friendship developed with Nir and his family.

Nir is a very talented photographer of which he will disagree because he is also humble. He has highly recognized by his community through projects like "In Spite Of" and his current project, Malkis Legacy. On top of all this, he is a Husband and father of three. Although his oldest, Uri is out of the house serving in the Navy, his two daughters, Tamar (17?) and Hila (13) are keeping him on his toes.

It was a wonderful time. Although Nir and I have different views on Faith, it didn't stop our conversation. It was a joy to share my perspective on faith in his land and also to hear of his perspective on the state of Israel. (So many have given their lives for Israel... It's a beautiful place because the cost is high). Meeting Nir and spending time with him on the "road" fulfilled more than both he or I could ever know.

My blog title is "road to gaza" which Nir tells me, "Gaza could be interpreted as 'Hell.'" Nice, the "Road to Hell" Never thought about it that way. I of course took the name from the book of Acts and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian conversion. The point was inspired by people you meet on the road not the destination. (Although, having said that, I meet a lot of people who's lives are a road leading to hell... They are harassed, helpless and without hope) Nir and I traveled a road... not to Gaza, which is a good thing since the time I was there, conflict was heavy and still is as of the writing of this blog.

No, our road led to different places...

Jerusalem, City of Gold and the home of Nir Alon. I'm not sure what seeds fell, where they fell or how much yield will come from the crop of our journey together. I only know what has started to grow in my life because of my friendship and my life is changed for the better.

As I continue to share in future parts of this story, you will hear my questions and thoughts about the physical vs. the spiritual, the traditional vs. the mystery and the humanity vs. the humanity. It was a lot to take in. I only know I missed most of it. Yet, what I did manage to capture will stay with me forever. Some are photos, some are thoughts... all of it is heart.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Pearl of Africa

I've uploaded my first set of photos from my trip to Uganda. These are the few I thought made the "cut."
I do have a few more from the G9 I haven't gotten to yet. I'll let you know when those are up.

Here's the "SLIDESHOW"

Here's the "GALLERY"

I have others that didn't make the "5 Star" cut and I also have the game park and Israel pictures to post.

More to come.