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Ghost Stories

“The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.”

I’ve heard a good many ghost stories in my life, some of which kept me up all night. If you’re interested I’ll give you the tried and true formula for telling the perfect ghost story. This works 100% of the time, if you’re in the third grade. Once you know the formula, you can take turns making up ghost stories on the spot with your friends the next time you have someone “spending the night” with you. If you’re a grown up it’s probably too late since you lost most of your imagination somewhere before you started caring about the opposite sex and after you realized that using deodorant and brushing your teeth might not just be for the weekends.

Rule number one for telling a good ghost story is establishing when the story happened. You don’t want your audience to be so worried about when the story might have taken place that they miss major plot developments.  For a solid opening, I like to use “Once upon a time.” After vaguely establishing the time, it’s good to pause for a dramatic effect before coming in more intensely with where the story might have happened. I usually go for “In the deep dark woods.” I’m getting scared just writing this right now. Now that we’ve created the perfect spooky setting your audience should be sufficiently hooked and want to hear the rest of your story, now it’s time to real them in with the details. For our next line we need to establish who or what the story is about. A ghost story is only as good as it’s villain. You might try a line like “There lived a man.” You might even throw an adjective in for good measure, “There lived an old man.” The more time you spend on describing the villain the better your villain will be, but don’t spend too time with details, you want to make them wonder. We’ll give him long bushy eyebrows, a lazy eye and bad leg that causes him to limp. Now would be a good time to practice your onomatopoeia as you describe the sound made when he walked across the dirty floor in his decaying cabin. For extra credit you can describe how he received the bad leg, “In a gunfight”, or “on the railroad”, are always good choices if you get stumped. Our next step requires action, what did the old man do? Did he collect toenails, kidnap dogs and cut off their ears, or just knock on doors and run away? Whatever he did, it needs to be something that relates to all of your audience. We’ll go with “Turned off the lights whenever you went to the bathroom.” Now you can wrap up your story with, “And if you’ve ever been in the bathroom and the lights go out, you’ll know it was the old man!” Maybe throw in a little scream at the end for good measure. It helps if later during the sleepover you can cut off the lights while someone is going to the restroom.

It seems humorous writing about it as an adult, but I remember being genuinely scared of improvised ghost stories, even if I was the one telling them. It’s good to know when to stop telling ghost stories and go to bed so you won’t be too scared to sleep. My rule of thumb is to stop whenever I start getting scared at my own story telling. The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.

I remember being quite upset by a ghost story on the 5th grade field trip to a camp in North Alabama. The camp counselor told us that the cabins we were sleeping in were built on Indian Burial mounds that had to be excavated before they were able to start building the campgrounds. During this excavation they found a skeleton that was missing a hand. No one knows for sure, but they think that this hand was lost during initial excavation when they discovered the burial mounds. The counselor told us that every once in a while they saw a skeleton hand, supposedly searching for the missing body. Every time that they had seen the hand they had also heard the Chickasaw Death Whisper. The counselor had been gradually lowering his voice and we were on the edge of our seat with anticipation. He said, “This is how the Chickasaw Death Whisper goes,” and after a slight pause he yelled at the top of his lungs.

A little unconventional, I know, because he deviated from the usual ghost story formula, but I was so scared that night that I eventually got in the bunk with my friend and I didn’t care what anybody said. Perhaps my imagination was a little over active from not having a television in our home. Many of the other students laughed harder than they had screamed once they got over their initial fright. Feel free to tell this one some place I’ve never been.

I remember telling ghost stories with our neighbors, Jared and Creed numerous times. Jared and Creed had a popup camper that they would take on vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. I know they went to the Great Smoky Mountains because while they were gone I fed their Blue Tick hounds and I still have a pack of Great Smoky Mountain playing cards that Jared brought back as a thank you gesture. I’m sure Mr. McDaniel appreciated the break from his shift work for Alabama Power at the Logan Martin Dam. There was a leak in the dam and his job was to pump concrete into the hole. He’d been pumping concrete for about 30 years. Whenever they got ready to go on vacation, they would air out the popup camper in the basement and this was the perfect place to tell ghost stories. We all four piled into the camper and began the time honored swapping of improvised ghost stories. Zach told one and we all laughed, he was always to jolly of a story teller to be all that scary. Creed told one and it must have been pretty scary, because Jared moved to the back of the camper where Creed and Zach were, leaving me in the front. Now it was Jared’s turn to tell a story. I think he was still doing character development on his villain when I decided that it would be a little safer on the other side of the camper with the other three boys. As I crossed over to the other side the trailer tipped swiftly backwards and the tongue banged against the ceiling of the basement right beneath the living room where Mr. McDaniel was trying to catch up on his sleep in the recliner. Mr. McDaniel was jarred awake by the commotion in the basement and stormed downstairs. We were more afraid of Mr. McDaniel than any ghost story villain our imaginations could drum up, mainly because Mr. McDaniel was real, and at the moment, he was “real mad”. He looked at each of us in turn as we were piling out of the camper, then he said to Zach and Me, “Boys, it might be a good time for y’all to go on home.” We quickly obliged him. I hope his vacation brought his blood pressure down.

In the rural community that I grew up in legends were still very much alive. These legends spawned grown up ghost stories that were terrifying to children. What’s even scarier than that is that many adults still whole heartedly believed that they were true. One example that comes to mind was the legend of The White Thang. I’m sure I should spell it “Thing”, but that isn’t how I heard it spoken. The White Thang was a fantastic white creature that lived on the mountain and terrorized the community. Sort of. No one ever fully saw the White Thang, they just described it as a flash of white. What people were able to describe in detail was the ear splitting noise that the creature made. Some said is sounded like a woman screaming, or a panther. It was taken so seriously by the community that I remember it making the newspaper at least three times in my life. There isn’t much to tell, maybe that’s why it was so widely believed and what makes it so scary, the fear of the unknown. All of the stories about the White Thang were pretty similar. Someone was on the mountain hunting and they heard a scream like a woman and saw a flash of white, or someone was fetching wood late at night and heard a wild screech and saw a flash of white. It may have been an albino panther or mountain lion. There was never enough moon light for anyone to get a good glimpse of the creature. More likely there was too much moonshine. Whatever it was, many people of Sterrett, Alabama swore up and down that it was real and they had heard it and seen it, or at least a credible relative you had seen it. The White Thang might be more believable than some people’s credible relatives.

I haven’t told or heard a good ghost story since the last time I went camping as a teenager. I think I finally realized that I don’t like being frightened. These days I shy away from ghost stories in general because real life is scary enough.

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What I Liked About My Dad

I got a message this week from one of the ladies at church.

Would you mind sharing with me what you liked about your dad, for Father’s Day presentation?

This is the answer I gave her.

I suppose I would be lying if I said I liked everything about my dad. There are the things that he and I share in common that I have to constantly keep in check and I wish I could change. But these kind of things, and more importantly how we deal with them, are a part of what makes up a person’s character. Thankfully, the shortcomings alone of a man are not what define him.

The characteristics that I admire most about my Dad are as follows:

Faithfulness

Most will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6

I never wondered where my Dad was. He was faithful to his wife, his family, his church, and his God.

Love

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chaseneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

Now that I am trying to raise my kids I can relate to the frustration Dad had trying to raise me. I realize now that the driving force behind everything he did was love.

Integrity

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. Proverbs 20:7

As an adult I realize now how rare integrity is.

Love for Truth

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4

Dad had a deep love for truth. He was always quoting Proverbs 23:23 Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

Communication


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Dad may not have necessarily been a powerful orator, but he was an excellent communicator. A critic once accused Mark Twain’s work as water compared to the fine wine of higher literature, mark Twain replied, “But the people drink water.” Dad was a master at the art of conversation. He could talk to anybody.

Maybe this was more than she was wanting, but I have been thinking about Dad more than usual this week and I didn’t want to give her a generic answer.

These are some of the characteristics that I am striving to master in my own life. More importantly, I want to instill them in my children.

Claude Cornelius Cooper

On the wall in a spare bedroom at my wife’s grandmother’s house hangs an old portrait of a sailor. It was the kind of portrait that was made on black and white film with color added by hand as a part of the development process. I always stop and look at this picture whenever we are visiting Grandma Mattie.

Claude Cornelius Cooper

“That was my father, Claude Cornelius Cooper.” She told me at my first visit.

Mr. Cooper had been a sailor in the 1930s. He got out of the Navy and came back home to south Alabama where he purchased a farm from a cousin or uncle. It was during these last years of the Great Depression that he realized he could reenlist to the Navy for a few years and be able to pay the farm off. So he did just that.

He was on the USS Neosho on December 11th, 1941. The oiler was able to successfully escape the harbor and the destruction of that day of infamy.

It was at the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 11, 1942 that the Neosho was attacked and set afire. A destroyer rescued the surviving crew and then scuttled the Neosho.

Claude Cornelius Cooper was not among the survivors. He left behind his wife and children and the farm.

I read a lot of books about war. Perhaps it is the little boy in me that finds this history so interesting. More likely I find it interesting because I have never experienced the hellish nightmare of combat. One thing that is inescapably painful to me as I read these histories is the massive cost in human life that war demands.

Memorial Day is a day set aside for remembering. We remember the thousands upon thousands of individual Americans who have died in the name of freedom. It is a heavy and somber day. A day when history becomes personal.

Who are you remembering today?

Canoeing

There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

My father-in-law gave me an old canoe last year. We hauled it the three hundred miles back home tied to the top of our minivan. There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

Not far from the house is the perfect place to take a canoe: Duck River. It’s a relatively new reservoir with three boat landings and a 17 mile hiking trail around the perimeter. The whole family has gone to the hiking trail countless times, but only Wes and I have ventured out in the canoe. The first time we only had one paddle.

Like anything, there is an art to canoeing, but you’ll have to read someone else’s article if you want to know more about that. I do understand, because of firsthand experience, that the canoe is keelless and can be turned with just the slightest stroke of the paddle. If you are located more or less toward the rear of the vessel, you’ll quickly get a handle on how to maneuver the boat with a single paddle. This is what we call, faking it.

The second time Wes & I took the canoe out we each had a paddle. Initially, I decided to sit in the back so I could steer the canoe. It became immediately apparent that the weight in the boat was not equally balanced, so we pulled ashore opposite our launch and redistributed the weight. Which means we swapped seats. Then we realized that since we were facing each other it would be difficult for Wesley to help paddle. So we rearranged the seating once again with Wesley aft and me fore. This was the position I was trying to avoid, because it meant that Wesley would have to be responsible for the main steering of the canoe. But he is good at following instructions, so I gave him a crash course in using his paddle as a rudder and we shoved out into the water again.

It is a funny thing, communication. Something so glaringly clear to you can become a convoluted mess whenever you try to put it into words and convey it to anyone. Especially a child. And if you’re in a hurry.

It was so frustrating to exert a lot of energy paddling only to watch the canoe turn in a wide circle. I looked back and saw that Wesley was steering us the wrong direction. I wanted to be mad at him, but I realized that in my haste all of my instructions had been opposite of the right instructions.

After about the third loop we made, and some heated dialogue, Wesley exclaimed very clearly, “I don’t know what you want me to do! If you tell me exactly what to do I’ll do it!”

After this, I pulled up next to the shore and turned the canoe around backwards so I could show him-in detail and patiently like I should have done in the first place-how to use the paddle as a rudder. It really was quite amazing the canoe instantly responded to such subtle movements of rudder. From then on, we had no more trouble steering the boat. We even executed a couple of loops on purpose in order to get a better look at some water snakes.

A map of our canoe route shows a clear difference between the crooked trip out and the straight trip back.

As I was sitting in that spinning canoe frustrated at myself for rushing out into the middle of what could be a stressful situation and expecting my seven year old son to read my mind as well as react like an adult this verse came to mind.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithsoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things… James 3:3-4

No matter the amount of fierce wind-or in our case how hard we paddle-the direction will be set by a small rudder.

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

I am of the firm belief that only God can tame your tongue. Until then, regardless of how much energy you put into your life, an untamed tongue will be steering the ship.

About Time

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?”

“I’ve always thought skydiving would be fun. I’ve just never found the time or money to do it.” I said this to a friend who skydives all the time.

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?” He asked.

It is true. You can get a lot of things done when you have a lot of time and money. Everyone may not have the same amount of money, but we all are given the same amount of time. The difference is, if you have a lot of money you can buy other people’s time. When I write it out like that it makes me wonder if I’m selling my time too cheaply.

“What’s time to a pig?”

Sean’s grandfather

I had a conversation recently that on the surface was about organization of a daily routine and getting better sleep. At the core though, this conversation revolved around time. And more specifically, the frustration and guilt over the mismanagement of time. In an effort to help my friend, I shared my thoughts about time. It was nothing new, but I think it helped him. So I’m sharing them with you.

Time is currency. We spend it, waste it, or invest it.

Each of us is given and indefinite amount of this currency made payable only in the present. We can make plans on how to use our time just like we make plans to use our future paychecks. We’re not really sure when our time will run out. And we know that at a single instant everything could change. But we do not like to retain this in our knowledge. If dwelt upon, the uncertainty of time is unnerving.

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:1‬

The gift of time is a great responsibility. If time is indeed currency, or money, I want to get the best deal for my hours and minutes. Perhaps it comes with age or possibly is a byproduct of sheer laziness, but economy of time is very important to me. Let me explain.

I am allotted one hour for lunch. Lunch can cost me the full hour, or I can choose to only pay five minutes for lunch and then have fifty five minutes to spend practicing guitar. If I do this five days a week, that is four hours and thirty five minutes of practice gained.

Currently I have precious time bound in my commute to work. In order to make the most of that nonnegotiable hour in the truck I listen to audiobooks. Which means I can read a book a week on my commute alone. If I adjust the audiobook speed I can sometimes squeeze in two books a week.

There are some times when I’m less concerned about how quickly a task can be completed, or rather how cheaply I was able purchase an activity with my time. Some things are worth however long it takes. I am thinking of the time I invest with my wife and kids. I do not believe that all moments are equal. Five minutes on my lunch break is not worth the same amount as a five minute conversation with my five year old.

Then there are the truly priceless moments of opportunity that can never be regained nor renegotiated. How can we measure their worth? These are the moments of decision in life. It may be possible that they can be anticipated by the wise, although they often go unrecognized by the foolish. These are the moments that if missed will be a source of regret and anguish, if acted upon will be a source of strength and resolve.

So what are you doing with your time? If the Chronological Examiners Board showed up at your door to do an audit could you endure their report?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would take time to address the areas in your life that are of eternal significance. Thank you for your time.

Glasses and Worldview

When I was two years old my mom noticed that my left eye was turning in towards my nose. Thankfully she panicked and took me to an eye specialist. I cannot remember not wearing glasses, but I do remember my first eye doctor visit with Dr. McKinnon.

Dr. McKinnon had an Old South accent.

“Which lens is clearuh?”

“The educated southerner has no use for the letter ‘r’ ,except at the beginning of a word.”

Mark Twain

It turns out that I was farsighted. I always get confused when people start trying to tell me the difference between farsighted and nearsighted. They say things like, “If you’re farsighted you can see far away without your glasses.” Or something like that. I probably got it wrong because I can’t see anything without my glasses. The quickest way to tell if someone is farsighted or nearsighted is to look through their lenses. If their eyes or face look smaller through their lenses they are nearsighted, if their eyes are bigger through their lenses they are farsighted.

I say I can’t see anything without my glasses, but that is only partly true. If the conditions are right I can focus my eyes much like you would focus a manual camera lens. But it’s getting harder to do that.

Not only was I farsighted, I had a lazy eye. Dr. McKinnon had me wear a patch over my good eye to strengthen my weak eye.

The eye patch

Dr. McKinnon told me, “Zane, just tell ’em you have a rabonic eye and if you take the patch off you’ll see right through ’em.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever worn a patch on one eye all day, but it is an interesting feeling. It is even stranger when you take the patch off later in the day and one eye is dilated and the other is accustomed to the light. But the patch worked and my eye no longer crosses.

When I was about fifteen I noticed that it was getting harder to focus my eyes and Dr. McKinnon prescribed my first pair of progressive (lineless trifocals) lenses. Aside from falling down the stairs at the high school entrance the first day I wore them, they turned out to be fantastic.

But progressive lenses are expensive, and when I moved out on my own I realized that I could save a few hundred dollars by just getting single vision lenses. And I started wearing contacts. Which was great because I was able to wear sunglasses. Dr. McKinnon never mentioned contacts because he had been wrestling me down for fifteen years trying to give me eyedrops.

If I am honest with myself, I have never really seen very clearly with contacts. So for the last fifteen years I’ve been squinting through life just so I could wear sunglasses. I think that not seeing has influenced my thinking. For instance, because I can’t see detail on people’s faces in a large room, I think that no one else can see me either. Perhaps this makes me a little less self conscious in front of a large crowd.

A couple of weeks ago I went back to the eye doctor and requested the progressive lenses again. It has been a long time since I have had a prescription this correct, and I am seeing details that I forgot were possible.

Anyway, I wrote all of that about glasses to talk about this. There are some things that you can only see with spiritual eyes.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭KJV‬‬

I heard a lot about worldview when I first went to college years ago. Worldview is particular philosophy of life, or a conception of the world. Worldview is shaped by a lot of things from how we are raised to our experiences. It is very difficult to divorce a worldview and adopt another. It takes a miracle.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
‭‭John‬ ‭3:1-3‬ ‭KJV‬‬

The Bible is full of themes of spiritual blindness and I could rattle a bunch of them off and hope that you could catch some of it. But “The kingdom of heaven cometh not by observation.”

You have to experience it before you understand. Which may seem against your nature.

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭34:8‬ ‭KJV

Give it a taste, then you’ll see.

VED DU HVAD OCH GOD GLAD

When I was a kid we had an old rusty Ashley wood stove in the living room. It was huge. Dad would load it with wood he had split with a maul in the backyard. Eventually they moved the old wood stove out of the house because I think it rusted through. And probably so us babies wouldn’t burn our hands off. Or maybe it was because the the old house was built out of heart pine a hundred years ago. In essence, the foundation and frame of the house were kindling wood. Dad told us more than once that if the house ever catches on fire, get out immediately because it was going up quick.

So with the big wood stove gone, we were left with a large sealed fireplace with a hole in the center where the stove pipe went, but mom didn’t want to get rid of the mantle. So for years she hung a piece of decorative fabric over the stove pipe hole, and for as long I can remember she had a curious little saying painted under the mantlepiece:

VED DU HVAD VER OCH GOD GLAD

She repainted it every time the living room got painted. I’ve lost count of how many times. She was forever redecorating. For a while it was green. Then later gold. But it was always there.

She told us that it was Danish and meant I tell you what be good and be happy.

I think the translation is closer to You know what be good and happy. Of course I may be remembering it wrong and she may have spelled it wrong, but the thought is clear enough. It was a great conversation piece, but it was also the idea that set the atmosphere for our home.

Bad moods were not encouraged in our home. You weren’t allowed to keep one very long before Mom or Dad would deal with it. My parents believed that no one had an excuse to not be happy, at least for a reasonable season. To many people, especially those to whom life has dealt some pretty miserable cards, this may be a hard doctrine to accept.

Nevertheless, I watched broken people come and sit in that living room and visit. They’d come in downcast and leave, many times well past midnight laughing.

I believe that there is a time to be angry, and a time to mourn. We can write about that another day. But right now we’re talking about being happy.

“…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Philippians 4:11

I believe that happiness-or contentment- is a learned characteristic. Like any skill that is learned, being content takes practice. If you want to be good at anything you have to practice. Some people never get good at anything because they don’t practice anything. I won’t lie to you and say that practice is always easy either.

“People who are miserable over nothing will probably be miserable with everything.”

Now that I have a household, although we don’t have a folk saying in a foreign language painted above the fireplace telling you to suck it up and smile, we do strive for to create the same atmosphere. I have three children, and I didn’t have to teach a single one of them how to whine and pout. They knew how to do that from that first day. A large part of my duty as a parent is teaching my kids how to act. Or “How to don’t”, as Uncle Remus admonished. Learning how to act when things aren’t going your way is pretty important life skill. If you’ve lived long enough you will agree that much of life is dealing with things that don’t go our way.

It is a painful fact that life can be straight cruel. If you allow it, life can suck all of the joy out of, well, life. But if you practice you can learn to be content no matter what. So the next time you’re just about worn out from dealing with life and you need some inspiration, I’ll tell you what, be good and be happy.

Voices

We endure a fool’s speech not because they have some wisdom to offer, but because they may say something so incredibly ridiculous that it becomes entertainment.

I am thinking this morning about voices.

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

I Corinthians 14:10

I learned how to talk in a large extended family of loud talkers. So I acquired some of the critical communication skills necessary to be a successful boisterous politician just by going to my grandparent’s house once a week. There are two basic ways to get heard. The first tactic that you learn very young is how to talk someone down. At its basest essence, talking someone down means that you interrupt them and talk louder than them until they shut up and everyone starts listening to you. At its more refined nature it is the ability to successfully address an entire room.

“Zane, you ain’t never heard a story you didn’t think needed interrupting.”

Zach Wells

I admit, interrupting is a bad habit that I am actively trying to fix. But sometimes you must interrupt to rescue people from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. My Dad called these people blithering idiots. We’ve all been trapped in endless conversations-rather monologues- with people who don’t know how to be clear and concise. We’ve all needed to be freed by someone who isn’t afraid to talk them down. That’s how I justify interrupting anyway.

“We endure a fool’s speech not because they have some wisdom to offer, but because they may say something so incredibly ridiculous that it becomes entertainment.”

The second way to insure that you will be heard is to have something to say that is worth hearing. When you have something worth hearing, you won’t need to talk anyone down. There are people that can walk into a room and almost whisper and everyone will hush, straining to hear what is being said. These are the kind of voices that I have been thinking about.

But the world is full of all kinds of voices. Voices on the radio shows, podcasts, and blogs. Voices on YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, and Instagram. Voices you only hear on infrequent phone calls. Voices from the pulpit. Voices on your TV. Voices in your college classrooms, discussion boards, textbooks. All competing with each other for our attention. It gets loud at times. Sometimes you need to take stock and silence some of those voices. But make sure you don’t silence the wrong voices.

From time to time I like to ask myself these questions:

What is the loudest voice in my life? What is the most significant voice in my life? What voices are in conflict? What voices are making me worry or angry? How did this voice make its way here?

I am thinking of my Dad’s voice. Although he’ll never again talk to me in the life, I still hear him loud and clear. I remember him preaching about Herod the Tetrarch, who had the head of John the Baptist presented on a platter. Hell tried to silence “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And when Jesus stood before Herod “he[Jesus] answered him nothing.”

You cannot silence the voice of the man of God and still expect to hear God’s voice.

Hell is still trying to silence the voice that cries “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” It’s an offensive thing preaching. It comes at us without regard to our feelings. It is an assault on our carnal nature. It is foolish, but “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” I Corinthians 1:21

Of all the voices in my life-and none of them without signification-I need most of all the voice of a preacher. And so do you. Please don’t silence the voice of the preacher in your life.

Politics & Religion

How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?
‭‭Job‬ ‭6:25‬ ‭

“You know they say we ain’t supposed to talk about politics and religion?” My coworker said this to me a few weeks ago as we were having a conversation that was rapidly approaching politics and religion.

“Who is they?” I asked. He couldn’t really tell me offhand, but I knew what he was talking about. Because I’ve heard this most of my life-although not from my parents- but from well meaning magazine articles, teachers, and etiquette experts. “Don’t talk about politics and religion.” And “Go along to get along.”

“The problem with what we’ve been told,” I explained to him, “Is that politics and religion are very important topics that need to be talked about.”

Please don’t sue me Bill Waterson

Unfortunately, many times if people get the courage to talk about politics and religion, they take their cues from the TV news people, who instead of speaking with a civil tongue, spit venom all over one another. Many people have allowed some talking head to speak for them while being told they aren’t allowed to speak for themselves. Social media doesn’t help either because it allows people to say harsh things without having to come face to face with their audience.

How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?
‭‭Job‬ ‭6:25‬ ‭

My politics-along with everything else in my life-are informed by my religion. In fact you could just say that my politics and religion are one and the same. I am part of the eternal Kingdom of God.

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭33:22‬

I’m not concerned about American politics. Or even World politics. Because God is not concerned about them.

All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:17‬ ‭

I try to pray about America, but I usually can’t make it past “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Anyway, I just wanted everyone to know that I am more than willing to talk about politics and religion to anyone that is interested in a Bible Study.

2020 Booklist

According to my Reading Specialist Mother-in-law, “The same area of your brain is used whether you are reading or listening.”

I listen to a lot of audio books during my daily commute and while performing menial tasks. Although I worked from home three out of five days for much of the year, according to Audible I still managed to listen to audio books for 23 days 5 hours and 5 smokin’ minutes. Now I know there is a lot of debate over whether listening to a book is the same as reading a book. This is a silly argument. According to my Reading Specialist Mother-in-law, “The same area of your brain is used whether you are reading or listening.” There is nothing like sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet room and reading a real hard back book with typeset printing. Alas, I spend ten hours a week on the road and I try to make the most of that time with audiobooks.

Rather than give you the huge list of books I finished this year-some of which were duds-I’ve tried to narrow it down to the five titles that resonated most with me.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Defender of the Realm by William Manchester and Paul Reid

This was the first audiobook that I tackled back in January. This 53 hour behemoth covers the life of Winston Churchill from 1940-1965. Which is to say that it covers world history from that time period. It inspired me to listen to several of Churchill’s speeches and read a host of other books about World War II. If I could only recommend one of those books it would be The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan.

While the book obviously focuses on Churchill, it goes into great detail about his relationships with other world leaders like Stalin and Roosevelt. I found it interesting how Roosevelt, ever the politician, slowly and steadily dismantled the British Empire.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I love Charles Dickens. His books are fun to read, but there is something marvelously appealing to me about listening to a great narrator read in all the Dickensian accents. I like to listen to Dickens whenever I finish a truly heavy work of non-fiction like Night by Ellie Wessel.

Why Little Dorrit made the list is not because of the great storyline-it’s good, but it’s not Dickens at his best to me. This book made the list solely because of his invention of The Office of Circumlocution. Anyone who has ever been frustrated with inefficient government bureaucracy will appreciate Dicken’s satire. It is worth thumbing through if only to read those passages.

Conquistadors by Michael Wood

Of the five books I completed this year in this area of study, this title is an excellent sampler. I found this subject so interesting that I’ve started studying Spanish again after I realized that all the hard words were Nahuatl anyway. This book focuses on Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizzaro, Francisco de Orellana, and Cabeza de Vaca. It also spurred my curiosity to learn more about people like Father Sahagun, and Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, and events like the Valladolid debate between las Casas and Sepulvida.

It is amazing how these conquistadors were all more than a little bit rogue. Hernan Cortes was actually fleeing from the governor of Cuba when he began what became the conquest of Mexico. Orellana led a rebellion from a failing expedition and became the first European to sail the Amazon River- from West to East no less.

Perhaps most interesting though is the story of Cabeza de Vaca, who washed up on an island off the coast of Texas after the ship returning from an aborted expedition into Florida sank in a storm. The natives that rescued him insisted that he could heal people. He attempted to refuse, but then eventually began to pray for people when he realized that they would not take no for an answer. For the next few years he walked to through Texas and Mexico healing people on his way back to Spanish civilization. There were even reports of the dead being raised.

This book had one statement that stood out to me. I am paraphrasing, ‘The native peoples were unfamiliar with the concept of separation between the natural and spiritual worlds. They believed that the spiritual world could break in on the natural world at any moment.”

As a Christian, I strongly share this feeling.

The Sultans by Noel Barber

This book helped fill a large gap in my knowledge about the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks often receive praise for being efficient administrators of such a vast empire, but we must remember that they did not establish their empire. They overtook a fully functional empire from the Byzantines, who called themselves Romans, who received it from the Greeks, who won it from the Persians, who took it from the Babylonians. In essence the Ottoman Empire-and a lot of the rest of the world-is the scrappy leftovers of the most glorious empire in history: Babylon. (See Daniel chapter two)

The book follows the Sultans from Sulieman the Magnificent, to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). The Sultans were a colorful lot as far as characters go. Their biographical sketches read like fantastic story book material, albeit not for children. For all their piety many of these Sultan’s exemplified the basest elements of human nature. I suppose a few could be called supervillains. It is a fortunate thing for western culture that the Ottoman empire slowly self-destructed by fratricide.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

My brother recommended this book to me. Aside from the Bible, this is the most important book that I have read this year. Dr. Frankl was already an established psychiatrist prior to World War II. He survived a number of concentration camps during the war, although many of his family members did not.

In this book he argues that as long as man has meaning-something to live for-he can endure the worst circumstances. He uses his harrowing experience in the camps to support this idea. Without meaning, man loses the will to live and will die. Dr. Frankl states that every person’s meaning is different, and it is up to the individual to find that meaning.

I believe that there is an ultimate meaning that supersedes the elusive personal meaning that Dr. Frankl is describing.

That ultimate meaning can only be found in serving Jesus Christ.

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:8-12‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Caroling and Such

Merry Christmas

We used to go Christmas Caroling when I was a kid. A group of us from the church would pile into a trailer filled with hay, wrap up in blankets and drive all over the town surprising elderly people with a few Christmas Songs. It was a lot of fun.

Pop and Marion used to have a couple of Percheron horses, Hawk and Holly. Aside from the occasional parade, I think their sole purpose was to pull Santa Claus in a wagon around Vandiver and Sterrett. Santa Claus would hand out candy to children. If you still believe in Santa Claus I’d like to warn you to skip the next sentence. The last year they did this I’m pretty sure my brother had to be Santa Claus, and he was pretty sulky about it too.

I still like to sing Christmas Carols, without or without a hayride, or hot chocolate to burn your tongue. Every song is better when someone sings it with you. I’m fortunate to have a little songbird for a daughter. This year we sang together at the Christmas Concert at our church, Cornerstone Revival Center. I know my parents would’ve been proud. They’d have loved to be there holding Hollynn while they listening to Miriam lay that vibrato on thick.

I wish I could pull up to your house in a horse drawn wagon and sing you some Christmas Carols, but this is the best I could manage this year. Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.