Dan Theo Wells, 1935-2021

Ology is often translated as the study of. It is from the root word logos, word in Greek. It is more accurately translated as what can be said of.

Theology- that which can be said about God.
Psychology- that which can be said about the mind.

What can be said about Dan Theo Wells?

We must first establish his identity. Who is Dan Theo Wells?

He is a man of many titles: Bub, Slim, Pop. I suppose that some of my cousins could say that they lost Uncle Bub, Uncle Slim, and Uncle Dan and elicit treble condolences from sympathetic friends.

But when the roll was called in the Army only one name was read out, Dan Theo Wells. After a moments hesitation, Slim and Bub both stepped forth.

I knew him as Pop. My paternal grandfather. And really the only grandfather I knew. Tinker Reynolds- or Brant Douglas Reynolds, both one and the same- died when I was only two years old.

Most people knew Pop as Slim. But unless you were one of my cousins from Chicago, it only sounds right if you say it with a Southern accent. For anyone who struggles with a Southern accent, when in doubt make the vowel a diphthong: Slee-um.

Pop was incredibly economic in his elocutionary endeavors. I have ridden from Sterrett to Irondale and back with Pop and said fewer than three sentences.

Throughout my life, Pop was not a church-going man. I used to screw up the courage to invite him to church from time to time.

“Pop, you ought to come to church with us tonight.”

“I know son.” He would sigh.

I remember reading James 1:27 as a teenager and immediately thinking about Pop.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
‭‭James‬ ‭1:27‬ ‭KJV‬‬

In part, Pop was a deeply religious man. He always kept a substantial garden. Perhaps it may seem a small thing to many, but he grew it to share. I guess you could say that he visited the widow of Tinker Reynolds in her affliction. Among many others.

Pop was also a man of principle. Pop never allowed alcohol at any of the barbecues he hosted. In his way, he more than once warned his employees in the hay business-Zach and me- about the dangers of alcohol.

“I took one drink when I was young and it tasted like horse ?¡$ś.”

I always thought that sounded pretty dangerous.

I think that because he was a man of principle he had an excellent reputation in his community. Integrity doesn’t require wealth or education, integrity requires character. Pop had character.

Around 2012 I think, Pop had an accident on an old Farm-All tractor. He started the tractor before he was fully seated and the tractor was already in gear. The sudden jerky motion threw him off balance and he fell off but his foot hung on one of the pedals and he was trapped in front of the engaged rear wheel. The tractor drug him a few feet until the barn post stopped the forward motion, but the huge tractor tire continued completely tear off his left quadriceps.

Nonna eventually heard him screaming and she ran out to the barn.

“Turn off the tractor!” He said.

It was the hand of God that Dennis Brasher-I think this is the right name, forgive me if I am wrong- happened to be driving by listening to the police scanner. He instinctively knew that the call was for Pop.

“Slim, I’m sorry this is going to hurt.” He said as he applied pressure to the gruesome wound. He kept his hands on what was left of Pop’s thigh for the whole ambulance ride to Birmingham. it is a testimony to Pop’s toughness that he remained conscious for the entire ordeal.

I honestly thought Pop was going to die then, so I got on an airplane and flew to Alabama from Virginia. But he was made of tougher stuff than I thought and lived another nine years out of spite I believe.

Time would fail me to recount a lifetime of fond memories of Pop. Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Pop, is that he had a good name. Even if few used it and even fewer knew it.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭22:1‬ ‭KJV‬‬

The last time I saw him coherent was October 27th. He and Nonna had soundly whipped COVID-19 much to my surprise and delight, but something had interfered with Pop’s Parkinson’s medicine and he had begun to hallucinate.

One moment he would be talking to me as clear as he was capable and the next moment he would just be talking to himself, or to whoever would listen about something that happened 40 years ago. Then he would be in the present 40 years ago, or perhaps in a dream.

But he knew who I was when I walked in.

“Is that Zane? Set me up.”

“I’m sorry you got to see me like this.” He said referring to the hospital bed.

“I’ve been worried about y’all’s sugar so I brought y’all some peach pies.”

We chatted for a little bit. Before Pop said, “Give me one of them pies.”

“The more I eat it, the better it gets.” He said with a grin

I must confess that this is not how I want to remember Pop. Sure the hat is there and those look like his hands. But I want to remember the Pop who hit a charging cow with a 2×4. And the Pop who lifted me with one hand into his Toyota pickup truck because I was too little to climb in by myself. And the Pop who brought me a cowboy hat one night after his trip to Tennessee. And the Pop who would bring all of us grandkids an Icee.

Dan Theo Wells

I want to remember this Pop. And I hope you do too.

I love you Pop.

Dan Theo “Slim” Wells, was born on April 16th 1935 to Daniel Webster Wells and Dovie Dunnaway Wells. He served the United States Army in the 3rd Armored Division from 1958-1960. He married Nola Mae Brasher. They had three children Perry Charles, Melvin Johnny, and Jason Theo.

Mr. Wells began working for Stockham Valves and Fittings shortly after his discharge from the Army. He retired from Stockham in the mid 1990s before the plant closed. During his time at Stockham he helped cast many of the valves for the Alaskan Pipeline.

Dan Theo Wells passed from this life in his home on November 12th, 2021.

Sunday Afternoons

Sometimes I wonder if people who don’t go to church on Sundays still take a Sunday afternoon nap. My parents always took a Sunday afternoon nap between church services. When I was little kid, I didn’t fully appreciate this practice. Instead of napping, I would read the Sunday comic page. Or that was always the first thing I did instead of napping. The Sunday comics were special because they were in color, and many of the strips followed a different story line on Sunday. Some comics only appeared on Sunday, like Prince Valiant. Which I read religiously even though I always felt like I started in medias res and that the only way to get the back story and fully understand what was going on was to have started following the comic back in 1937. But the artwork was good so I toughed it out while Mom and Dad settled in for their nap.

We had to be quiet during the nap, or at least until they fell asleep. Being quiet meant not stomping around or yelling. You can only read the comics for so long and then they are done and you have to look at all of the photographs and read the captions in the various articles until you find something that might be interesting. Then you could read the whole article, or until you got lost in all of the Balkan names. The 90s offered us a lot of good news content. Kosovo, Princess Diana, Monica Lewinski, Elian Gonzalez. Even world events get boring after awhile and I’d go find something else to do, but the newspaper ritual continued as long as I lived at home.

When I started playing guitar I would go back to the church on Sunday afternoons and hang out with Jacob, a friend who was also learning to play guitar. Perhaps that’s misleading, he was learning, he already new how. He was a gifted musician. If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably wouldn’t have started playing guitar. Initially I wanted to play the bass. But Jacob got a bass before I did, so I got a guitar.

He was always saying, “Go get your guitar.”

We’d meet back at the church after lunch and hang out until the next service. I suppose the statute of limitations has expired so I don’t mind telling you that we raided the Sunday School refrigerator and snack cabinet quite a few times. I don’t think they missed that forgotten vanilla ice cream though.

We would spend the afternoon all of the guitar riffs that we new and some of the ones that we didn’t and we couldn’t tell the two apart. It was great fun. I still kind of do the same thing now at band rehearsal. We just don’t raid the Sunday School snack cupboard. And we are practicing church songs that we are going to sing for the evening service, and not trying to perfect Lynyrd Skynyrd licks.

Jacob was notorious about waiting until I had just finally got handle on a rock’n’roll guitar lick enough to make it remotely recognizable when he would suddenly say, “Sir?” while looking toward the front door of the church. It never failed to scare the daylights out of me.

On rare occasions, probably due to impending weather, we would help Pop haul hay on a Sunday afternoon. There was always a tangible unspoken urgency to hurry through the chore in order to make it to church in time for the six o’clock service.

Appreciation for a Sunday afternoon nap comes with maturity. Just like having a steady job comes with maturity. Perhaps the shiftless can enjoy a Sunday afternoon nap, but they didn’t earn it.

There are a lot of differing opinions on the art of a Sunday afternoon nap. Clothes or pajamas? Recliner or bed? Post nap shower or no? I’m a pajama-bed-shower man myself. But sometimes the nap is so good you just have to get up and get to band practice and hope for the best.

“That was a good nap huh?” Adam will say if I ever skip the post-nap shower.

“Yes. How’d you know?”

“You got that nap hair going on. Hehehe.”

I don’t always get a Sunday afternoon nap these days because we have a one year old who can’t entertain herself by reading the Sunday comics yet. But as soon as she can read, I’m taking a Sunday afternoon nap.

Lifestyle Change

There are certain things that, if you really want to do them right require a lifestyle change.

“I’d like to take up the guitar.”

I hear this from time to time and I always get a little tickled. Playing guitar is not something that you simply take up. It takes the kind of lifestyle change that will make a kid who throws fits about having their fingernails clipped start cutting them every five days. In living for God we call this kind of lifestyle change a conversion. You can’t have Christianity without conversion and you’ll never be really good at guitar without a major lifestyle change.

Sometimes people aren’t really ready for a change, they just like the idea of the results the change brings. That’s how I have always looked at being healthy.

“Man, I’d sure like to be fit.” I’d catch myself thinking as I loaded up a second portion of barbecue at one of the feasts that most of my memories are centered around. The fact is, I enjoy eating good food. It has been a part of my lifestyle since I can remember. We ate to celebrate, we ate to mourn.

I love food.

I have been slowly chipping away at college work over the last couple of years. I have always been impressed at how disciplined I can be when someone imposes upon me a syllabus and deadlines. So I decided to do an experiment. I wrote out a set of health/fitness goals and a ten week plan to see what I could achieve. I picked this number partly because it matched my summer semester and partly because I had a Doctor’s appointment at the end of that ten weeks. I want to share with you the plan and the results.

Me and Hollynn, who hardly ever lays her head down on my shoulder. I’m about 235lbs in this picture.

May 22, 2021

I weighed 232.4lbs. My waist measurement was 35″. I had a bike but I wasn’t a consistent cyclist.

Health Goals 5/22-8/02/2021

  1. Take in my belt two notches
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably
  3. Weigh 200lbs
  4. Cycle 500 miles
  5. Waist 30″

Health Plan 5/22-8/02/2021

I suppose this may be the most important part, otherwise those goals are just nice thoughts. This is where the lifestyle change comes in.

  1. Ride or run daily
  2. No snacks, only meals
  3. No sugar
  4. One helping at supper
  5. Avoid fried food
  6. Pushups daily
  7. Weigh in at the end of every week

Results

WeightWaistMiles Ridden
Week 05/22/2021232.435″50
Week 15/29/2021227.432″65.66
Week 26/5/202122932″51.02
Week 36/12/202122932″53.76
Week 46/19/202122531 7/8″101.7
Week 56/26/202122331 3/4″72.27
Week 67/3/202122331 3/4″3.99
Week 77/10/202122331 3/4″86.39
Week 87/17/202122063.07
Week 97/24/2021219.472.92
Week 107/31/2021217.685.2
Dr. Appt8/2/2021215.6Total705.98
  1. Take in my belt two notches-I took it in three
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably-Achieved
  3. Weigh 200lbs – This may have been a tall order. Losing 32.4lbs in ten weeks may not be healthy. I am satisfied with having lost 16.8lbs.
  4. Cycle 500 miles-I rode 705.98 miles.
  5. Waist 30″- I quit measuring after week 7, because after looking closer I think the tape had a manufacturing flaw.

Observations

During week 6 I went to Youth Camp, I ate fried food every day, and staid up until 2:00am every night. The only reason I cycled any is because I rode my brother’s bike. Even so, I didn’t gain any weight that week, which was surprising.

Me at youth camp playing a Bsus4 chord at 223lbs

In week 7 I bought some lights for my bicycle and I started riding before work and before I ate anything. You can see that weight loss is more consistent from that time on out. It was around this time that I also noticed that I was waking up before my alarm clock.

I tried to do some running, but I only managed to get three miles. Running is a lot harder than cycling. I’ll have to tackle that in a different plan.

I have noticed that if I eat much later than 7:00pm I will fill sluggish in the mornings.

I have avoided sticking to a hard diet like Keto, because I feel like I would crash and burn. I did however try to eat more whole foods instead of processed foods.

I asked my doctor about nutrition at my appointment. He said that I was already doing a good job.

“If you are doing it right, it is going to take a long time.”

Sarah and Me on a date. I’m weighing about 216lbs here.

Conclusion

So why am I writing about this?

Anytime someone decides to make a lifestyle change for the better, there are people who will wait for them to fail.

“Oh she’s going to church now? She won’t make it three months.”

“He’s learning the guitar? Hahahah! What a waste of time.”

“He’ll be off that diet come fourth of July.”

People don’t mind telling you what they really think. Some-not all- will comment in hopes that you fail no matter what you’re trying to do.

This is part of a real conversation I had about my health plan.

“You ride that bike on the road? Man that’s dangerous!”

“You’re right, but you know what else is dangerous? Congestive heart failure and diabetes.”

So I am here to encourage someone today. If you are trying to make a healthy lifestyle change, you can do it. That is, if you really want to. Anything worth doing is probably going to be hard.

There are some lifestyle changes that carry a greater pay off than others.

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. I Timothy 4:8

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?

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.

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.

Pecans

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be.

I have two pecan trees in my yard. Hurricane Zeta knocked all of the pecans out at one time. They’re good pecans too. We picked up half a five gallon bucket just off the porch. I’ve tried to inspire the children to pick up pecans, but I don’t think they’ve caught the vision yet.

I grew up in the remnants of a pecan orchard. At one time there were probably thirty or forty trees behind our house and the next three neighbor’s houses. By the time I was a kid there were only about seven left. Over the years some of those pecan trees were blown down in different storms. We’d play on a fallen tree for days until someone came over with a chainsaw and hauled it away. Dad used a lot of that wood to grill and barbecue.

Very ofter Dad required us to pick up a five gallon bucket of pecans before we could go gallivanting around town with Jared and Creed. I can’t lie and say that picking up pecans is fun, or has ever been fun. But we did it. We would sell them to the local grocery store Smith’s, where I’m sure some grandmother would buy them, shell them, and make with them a delicious pecan pie. Nowadays we would have marketed them as handpicked, and it would’ve been true since we threw the pecans with wormholes into the kudzu patch.

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be. I used to think that it was the only pleasant way to eat a pecan. Fresh pecans cracked in your hands- take two pecans in on hand and squeeze with all your might until one of them cracks-have always had a slightly bitter taste to me. I still do it out of nostalgia though, and to impress my kids, but pecans are ingredients, not stand alone snacks.

Pecans need some love, or sugar as we say in the South, to really come alive. Candied pecans, praline pecans, cinnamon and sugar pecans-they all taste great even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you how to make them.

For all they’re bitterness, I still love pecans. It makes me think about being a kid. I also think pecans are pretty with their dark streaked shells and their orange to yellow meat inside. I like the smell of pecans, and the oily feel of the fresh meat.

I think I finally understand why Dad wanted us to pick the pecans up. The harvest was just laying on the ground, all we had to do was pick it up. As an adult, waste bothers me. So I’ve been picking up pecans when I get a chance. When I get an afternoon where I don’t have a deadline approaching I’m going to figure out how to make something sweet out of those bitter pecans.