Doctor, Cavalry Officer, Baptist Minister: Isaac Woolsey Defends His Honor

Isaac Gray Woolsey was the captain of Company C, Eighth (Dibrell’s) Tennessee Cavalry, the same company that included my great-great-grandfather, Bvt. 2nd Lt. Andrew Jackson Lacy. Captain Woolsey submitted his resignation to Col. George Dibrell in August 1863, only two weeks after Andrew Lacy had vanished, never to be heard from again.

But before Captain Woolsey’s resignation could be approved, the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry was one of many Confederate regiments engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga. On September 19, 1863, Union forces were preparing to attack Gen. Cheatham’s division, of which the Eighth Tennessee was a part. As the Eighth moved to repel the attack, Woolsey was shot, wounded in the right bicep. Once the battle ended, the wounded could not be transported by railroad cars because Rosecrans’ forces had destroyed part of the railroad. Instead, the wounded were trundled by wagon to Burnt Shed, near Ringgold, Georgia, twenty miles east of the battlefield, where they could await transportation by railroad cars.

Within a month of the battle, Woolsey had met and married Arvazenia Hutcheson, a widow from Cleveland, Tennessee, just northeast of Chattanooga. She may have been a nurse at the hospital where Woolsey was convalescing. Once he was discharged from the army, Woolsey and his new wife began a new life. By April 1864 they had settled in northern Georgia and Woolsey was ordained as a Baptist minister.

Prior to the end of the war, as well as several years after, Woolsey served church congregations in counties across the Atlanta region before resigning his pastorships to move to Texas. He and his wife returned to Georgia in the autumn of 1873. It was here, in 1874, that his past life as a Confederate officer caught up with him.

Woolsey was held in high regard by the citizens and church leaders in the region of Griffin, Georgia where he preached, but a business transaction with another minister, Rev. H. T. Dicken, unfortunately led to arbitration. Dicken, angered by the outcome, dug up some dirt on Woolsey. He discovered Woolsey had served under Scott Bledsoe during the Civil War, prior to serving under George Dibrell in the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry. Bledsoe was a young attorney who led an independent company of Confederate cavalry and later served in the regular army. Trapped behind enemy lines, for several months in 1863-1864 Bledsoe was a key figure in leading raids against Union soldiers and sympathizers. He was denounced by his enemies as a guerrilla.

There is no evidence that, while Isaac Woolsey served in Bledsoe’s independent cavalry early in the war, he was involved in guerrilla warfare. But because of his association with Bledsoe, Rev. Dicken publicly denounced Woolsey as a horse thief and a guerrilla, with no legitimate credentials as a minister. Dicken’s actions caused great strife in the local churches, and the Flint River Baptist Association, to which these churches belonged, was compelled to convene a special meeting to address the conflict between Woolsey and Dicken. Dicken had gone so far as to solicit letters from former Union guerrillas who claimed damning knowledge of Woolsey’s Confederate service.

In the end, Woolsey was exonerated, held up as a shining example of a good Christian man, while Dicken was castigated and ordered to apologize, cease, and desist. Woolsey would go on to build a reputation as a well-loved member of the community, but Dicken would continue to sow seeds of contention and eventually be expelled from the church. There is no record that the two men were ever reconciled.


Sources:

Compiled Service Record, I. G. Woolsey, Confederate, Tennessee, Eighth (Dibrell’s) Cavalry

Kate Cumming, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, from the Battle of Shiloh to the End of the War: with Sketches of Life and Character, and Brief Notices of Current Events During That Period (Louisville, KY: John P. Morgan, 1866), 94.

Samuel Boykin, History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia: with Biographical Compendium and Portrait Gallery of Baptist Ministers and Other Georgia Baptists (Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison & Co., 1881), 602-603

“Rev. Dr. I.G. Woolsey's Death Causes Sorrow,” Atlanta Journal, September 16, 1902.

Proceedings and Report of a Special Committee of Investigation Appointed by the Flint River Association, Griffin, Georgia, December 2, 1874.

Civil War Guerrillas and the Burning of Hale's Mill

Fearing for their lives, Unionist Jonathan Hale and his family fled across the Tennessee state line to Albany, Kentucky in July 1861, leaving behind a substantial settlement in Fentress County, Tennessee. A little more than a year later, Hale’s abandoned property was put to the torch by Confederate guerrillas.

Everything Hale owned was incinerated. His home and his livelihood went up in flames. The main buildings, including the house and the mill, as well as the out-buildings, burned as the sun set on a crowd of Confederate sympathizers. Virtually nothing survived the inferno. Hale’s dwelling and its furnishings and a large library, destroyed. The mill, used as both a grist mill and a sawmill, and the machinery within the mill. The barn, the stable, the cabin for Hale’s slaves, a blacksmith shop. Two acres of ground covered by at least two hundred thousand board-feet of seasoned lumber, a dryhouse and sheds full of lumber. And a hundred bushels of corn, some oats, hay, and rye. By the time the flames had died to embers and the smoke began to clear, only the corn crib and the schoolhouse had escaped the conflagration.

As soon as Union troops began to establish a more or less permanent presence in the Upper Cumberland, Hale sought the help of the nearest Union provost marshal in seeking redress for his losses. Over the next three years, the accuser and the accused exchanged facts and fancy like gunfire. What led up to the destruction? Who exactly was responsible? Who should pay for damages?

Not surprisingly, most of the explanations proffered led back to the infamous Confederate guerrilla, Champ Ferguson. The instigating factor in the burning of Hale’s Mill, it was said, was the death of young “Fate” Allen, a member of Champ Ferguson’s band. One version of the story maintained that Allen was killed by a sniper firing from Hale’s abandoned home. This was denied by Hale and his Unionist friends. Another version claimed that Champ Ferguson’s band was in the Three Forks area of northeastern Overton County, allegedly driving stolen cattle. Rufus Dowdy and his men lay in wait near Hale’s Mill, hoping when Ferguson came along they could scatter the stolen cattle. As Ferguson passed by Hale’s abandoned settlement, Dowdy’s men opened fire and scattered both the cattle and the Confederate guerrillas. When the Confederates regrouped, they discovered that Fate Allen was dead.

Enraged at Allen’s murder, Ferguson’s men and many Confederate sympathizers gathered, plotting retaliation and destruction. Jonathan Hale was hated by the secessionists. It was bad enough that he had recruited Union scouts, but for Union guerrillas to use his property as a base of operations could not be allowed. And so the fires were set.

Once Hale began to press his case with the Union provost marshal, authorities took statements from him, Dowdy, and others who provided a list of dozens of local citizens who allegedly participated in starting the fires or watching and shouting their support. The list included Champ Ferguson, Ferdinand Daugherty, Alvan Cullom, James McHenry, and McHenry’s father. Hale and his friends also documented the value of what was destroyed. Virtually no documentation was gathered from the men accused of this arson. Each of the accused was held liable for an amount of damages proportional to his net worth.

Samuel Matheny was one of those present who was assessed for damages. Samuel was the uncle of my great-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Lacy, who disappeared during the Civil War. When the Federal government began rewarding veterans of the War of 1812, Samuel received a bounty warrant and a pension for his service. But in the early 1870s he was faced with having to defend his loyalty to the Union during the Civil War. This was a new requirement for continuing to receive a pension. Someone – likely Jonathan Hale or his wife – informed the U.S. government of Samuel’s alleged participation in the burning of Hale’s property. Federal review resulted in Samuel being dropped from the pension rolls. Matheny claimed that his loyalty to the Union was sufficient to give him voting rights immediately after the war. That information was ignored by the pension bureau. In the process of attempting to renew Samuel’s pension, several friends provided affidavits of his loyalty. Staunch Unionists and Union officers like Maj. John A. Brents and Col. Abraham Garrett claimed that Matheny was always a Union man and had aided the Union cause on many occasions, including providing Federal officers with information on the whereabouts of Confederate troops and guerrillas. But other Unionists claimed Samuel was a loyal Confederate, and that he had taken pains to support the Southern cause.

The truth of Matheny’s culpability was never settled. But in March 1878 the loyalty requirement for a War of 1812 pension was removed. Matheny’s pension was then restored.

For more on Jonathan Hale and Confederate guerrillas, see MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee’s Confederate Cavalry.


Sources:

J. D. Hale and John D. Hale files, in NARA. Papers Relating to Citizens, compiled 1861-1865. Microfilm M345, Record Group 109 (Washington, DC: National Archives Microfilm Publications, 1967. Online version, Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Citizens, Fold3.com, 2011).

Samuel Matheny, in NARA, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, compiled ca. 1871- ca. 1900, documenting the period 1812 - ca. 1900, Record Group 15, Roll RG15-1812PB-Bx2355 (Washington, DC: National Archives Microfilm Publications, n.d.; Online edition, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Fold3.com, 2011).

 

POWs as Human Shields in the Civil War

Ardent secessionist Ferdinand H. Daugherty had run out of luck. As the lieutenant colonel for the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry, Andrew Jackson Lacy’s regiment, he was sent back behind enemy lines in the Upper Cumberland of Tennessee in August 1863 to retrieve men from his regiment who had become trapped. Then, finding himself trapped behind enemy lines, but eager to wreak havoc, he led bands of men on raids of Union supporters and their households. When the bitter winter of 1864 convinced him to disband his men until warmer weather came along, he returned to his home in Livingston, Tennessee, to lie low and hope Union troops pursuing Confederate guerrillas would not discover him. Alas, Daugherty was found in February 1864, allegedly hiding on top of his smoke house.

Following his capture, Daugherty was sent to Louisville, Kentucky for exchange. But no exchange took place. Instead, Daugherty was transferred to Camp Chase, in Columbus, Ohio, and a month later, to Fort Delaware on the Atlantic coast. The exchange of prisoners had been stopped by Federal authorities.

Throughout the war, Abraham Lincoln had been keen on not adopting any policy which might – through its application – suggest acknowledgment of the Confederacy as a sovereign nation. Lincoln had not been in favor of exchanging prisoners, for this reason, but under political and international pressure, he had reluctantly agreed. Yet, as the war dragged on, some voiced the opinion that exchanging prisoners was only placing Confederates back on the line of battle, while Union soldiers, once released from Confederate prisons, frequently did not go back into battle because their terms of enlistment were up. Ironically, in late 1863 when Gen. Benjamin F. Butler took over as the Federal agent for prisoner exchange, his orders were to not arrange or permit any exchanges, and instead, find excuses. U.S. Secretary of War Stanton, Gen. Henry Halleck, and General Grant were influential in not only establishing an end to prisoner exchange but also, considering alleged atrocities in Confederate prisons, to favor retaliatory moves.[i]

The collapse of the exchange agreement between the Union and the Confederacy resulted in growing populations in the prisons, more and larger prisons, and an almost impossible task of maintaining the prisons, particularly for the Confederacy, who, because of battles and blockades faced severe shortages in food and medicine.

Shortly after Union forces took Morris Island at the entrance to Charleston Harbor in July 1863, the city was placed under siege. Union forces shelled Charleston indiscriminately, without regard to military or civilian targets. Nearly a year later, Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, commanding the Department of South Carolina, placed fifty captured Union officers in parts of the city still occupied by citizens, and notified his Federal counterpart, Maj. Gen. John G. Foster, the next day. This provoked an angry exchange of words. Foster condemned Jones’ action as cruelty and claimed his bombardment of Charleston was directed at military targets only. Jones contended that the bombardment has been random, with the intent of destroying everyone and everything.[ii]

In short order, Foster brought fifty captured Confederate officers from Fort Delaware so he could place them in the line of Confederate fire upon Morris Island. Before they could be placed in harm’s way, however, the two parties agreed – in defiance of the orders of their respective governments – to a prisoner exchange. But within days, Jones received word that a large number of prisoners were being sent to him in Charleston because of Union raids near Macon and Andersonville in Georgia. He tried and failed to get his superiors to reverse this decision. His facilities for prisoners were overcrowded, and when the prisoners arrived, they were placed in several locations around the city, while the officers were accommodated in residential areas much like the original fifty officers who had just been exchanged. When Foster learned of this, he was livid. Assuming the Confederacy was once again using Union officers as human shields, he asked Major General Halleck for six hundred rebel officers.[iii]

On August 15, 1864, Foster informed Jones that six hundred Confederate officers would once again being placed under fire because of Jones’ actions. Jones insisted this was only a temporary arrangement, and offered to exchange prisoners at once, but Foster had been ordered by Halleck not to conduct any exchanges without explicit approval from Washington.[iv]

Thus, six hundred officers imprisoned at Fort Delaware – including Lt. Col. Ferdinand Daugherty – were singled out for what they hoped would be an impending exchange. In the coming weeks, they would be disavowed of all hope. They departed Fort Delaware on August 20 onboard the sidewheel steamer Crescent City, headed for Hilton Head in South Carolina. The following day, Grant ordered that none of the six hundred were to be exchanged under any circumstances. At Hilton Head, only a small number of the sick were released and sent ashore; the remainder sailed back up the coast to Charleston. On September 1, the ship reached Charleston Harbor and the six hundred, who would come to be called the "Immortal Six Hundred", were placed under fire while a stockade on Morris Island, on the south shore of the harbor, was completed. On September 7, they went ashore, and on October 21, they were moved to Fort Pulaski, Georgia, at the entrance to Savannah's harbor. On December 15, 1864, thirty-one of the men at Fort Pulaski - including Ferdinand Daugherty - were returned to and paroled at Charleston Harbor. The remainder would eventually return to Fort Delaware.[v]

[i] Lonnie R. Speer, War of Vengeance: Acts of Retaliation Against Civil War POWs (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002), 131-132.

[ii] Speer, War of Vengeance, 95-99.

[iii] Speer, War of Vengeance, 102.

[iv] Speer, War of Vengeance, 102, 104.

[v] Speer, War of Vengeance, 105, 108, 112-113.

 

Four Ministers and a Confederate Colonel (repost, revised)

I recently posted the news that my latest book, MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee’s Confederate Cavalry, is now in print. A significant resource I tapped in writing this book was the collection of letters between Lieutenant Lacy and his family. In a letter he wrote a month after joining the cavalry, Lacy spoke of going to church and hearing "Dr. Pendergrass" preach. While the chaplain of the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry was Charles Wylie Witt, 39, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, "Parson" Witt's nephew, Travis Witt Pendergrass, 35, accompanied the regiment for several months, attending to the needs of both body (surgery) and soul (exhortation). Like his Uncle Charles, Travis Pendergrass was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. His three younger brothers were all in the same company as Lieutenant Lacy.

A few months after Lacy heard Pendergrass preach, his regiment was sent to Florence, Alabama. There, Pendergrass was surprised to run into a fellow Cumberland Presbyterian minister, Thomas Fletcher Bates. Then, to his further surprise, Pendergrass encountered Rev. Robert A. Young, a prominent preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South who was currently serving as president of the Wesleyan University in Florence (now the University of North Alabama). Pendergrass had met Young in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1853, shortly before Young was reassigned to a pastorate in St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1846, Rev. Young had met the "plain, quiet" son of a friend, Anthony Dibrell. That son, George Gibbs Dibrell, was now a colonel commanding Lacy’s regiment, the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry. Of Colonel Dibrell's religious convictions, Young said "When [Dibrell’s] chaplain preached to his command, standing between two tallow candles, one of his most devout listeners was the commander in chief." The chaplain he refers to is most likely Charles Witt.

Before Lacy's regiment left Florence and returned to Tennessee, Charles Witt resigned as chaplain, complaining that the varicose veins in his legs made riding very uncomfortable. Pendergrass signed off on a medical discharge for his uncle. When Witt left Florence for Jackson County, Tennessee, he delivered to Lacy's family an accounting that Lieutenant Lacy had kept of all the operations of the Eighth Cavalry up to that point. The family owns that document today.

(1) http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pendergrass/pics/travis/pics_travis.html

(2) Young, R. A. Reminiscences. Nashville, Tennessee: Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1900. https://readux.library.emory.edu/books/emory%3A7sv2p/pdf/

MISSING IN ACTION, 1863 - New Title Published by Mark Lacy!

My book on Andrew Jackson Lacy in the Civil War is finally finished and published!
MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee's Confederate Cavalry.

In the summer of 1863, my great-great-grandfather, a young lieutenant in the Eighth (Dibrell’s) Tennessee Cavalry (CSA), disappeared and was never seen again. He left behind a grieving family, including a young wife and infant son (my great-grandfather). Once the war ended, and the remnants of the Confederate army headed home, including prisoners released from Union prisons, Lieutenant Lacy’s family waited anxiously to see if he might return. He did not.

This was a 150-year-old missing-persons cold case. I had to investigate. Did I find him?

(Spoiler alert!)

The honest answer is no. I have pursued this mystery for decades, searching for needles in all kinds of haystacks. I started with the many letters that Andrew Lacy wrote to his family during the war, and the letters they wrote to him. (How the family happens to have letters written to him is another mystery surrounding his disapperance.) I spent many hours (even days!) in front of microfilm readers at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, went cross-eyed following the tiniest bread crumbs across the internet, and searched through dozens of books on the Civil War. I researched the men he served with on the remote chance that one of them might lead me to him, and accumulated notes on over 2000 men in the process. I studied the movement of troops and the rise of guerrilla warfare in Middle Tennessee. My conclusion, as explained in the last chapter of the book, is that he probably died sometime in the last half of August 1863, within 25 miles of home, likely at the hands of guerrillas.

I must be an optimist because, while the book is finished, I can't help continuing to look for him. Someday maybe I'll stumble across what we need to know.

If you’re interested in the Civil War, historical detective work, or genealogy, you’ll be interested in reading MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee's Confederate Cavalry.

Life Comes At You Fast

“Life comes at you fast” is a phrase often appearing in commercials for Nationwide Insurance. It comes to my mind when things get hectic and feel out of control. It also happens to explain why sometimes I find it difficult to find the time to post to my blog. The past nine weeks have included, among many other things:

  • formatting and preparing a new book for publication (this does not count as writing!) (more news on this coming soon!)

  • caregiving - getting my mother moved into Memory Care at her assisted living facility

  • illness - two bouts of upper respiratory “crud,” my mother’s hospital stay for norovirus, herniated disc issues, family sharing upper respiratory infections with one another, doctor visits, physical therapy, and an MRI

  • travel - driving to Florida, flying back to Cincinnati and returning to Florida, several days out of the country, multiple trips across Central Florida, seven different airports in one two-week period

  • automobiles - repairs as well as out-and-out replacement

  • home - renovation work

  • income taxes done - assembling and submitting documents to have our taxes done, as well as my mother’s

None of this is excessively worrisome, in and of itself. But when these things are concentrated within a short time period, it leaves my head in a whirl.

Writers are often advised to not let anything interfere with their writing time. To squeeze in writing wherever possible. Sadly (!), writing magazines and websites abound with stories of Super-Writers who can crank out best-selling novels while running a household and holding down a fulltime job outside the home and changing diapers and volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter and teaching Sunday School at their church etc. etc. On the other hand, writers are also advised to not beat themselves up over whether they’re putting in enough time in front of the computer screen cranking out their work.

Today, I pledge not to beat myself up over how much/little time I spend on writing.

Layers of Secrets: Joseph Kanon's "Los Alamos"

New Mexico. Ancient ruins of vanished Native Americans. Desolate spaces and tumbleweeds crossing the highway. Snow-capped mountains. Little bars with menus listing hundreds of different brands of tequila. And two of our country’s national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. Los Alamos was established as a secret center of research for atomic weapons during World War II. In the years following the end of the war, Sandia was established for further weapons testing, but its mission is now focused on developing and testing non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. The mission of Los Alamos is now one of supporting a broad range of interdisciplinary research covering national security, nuclear fusion, supercomputing, and other areas.

Secrets permeate these facilities as easily as unshielded radioactivity, and are just as invisible to the naked eye. And they can be just as dangerous. In Joseph Kanon’s literary thriller Los Alamos, set in the final months of World War II, the secrets are not all military. There are clandestine meetings with Communist sympathizers, lover’s trysts in the desert, and personal histories that many would like to keep from the watchful eyes of government security. I was drawn to the book, and willing to give it a go, because I’ve visited New Mexico’s national labs. I’m familiar with the countryside, from the urban sprawl of Albuquerque to the views from Sandia Peak, from the historic Plaza of Santa Fe to the Anasazi ruins at Bandelier National Monument (the location of an unpublished story of mine). Sure, it’s fun for a fantasy reader to be plopped down in the middle of an invented landscape, but sometimes reading a story where you know the locale well can be even more fun.

Kanon gives us a murder mystery based largely in Los Alamos during the final stages of the development of the bombs that would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bring World War II to an end. Needless to say, neither the scientists nor the military involved in developing the atomic bomb were pleased to know that one of their own could be murdered. The story of how this mystery is solved spans many pages but kept me glued to the page - not a requirement for me to give a book my blessing, but certainly an indication of how much I enjoyed reading it.

Highly recommended.

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First


Over the past few weeks we have moved my mother from an assisted living facility to a memory care facility. This transition was, not surprisingly, stressful, both physically and emotionally -- not just for her, but for me as well, as the quarterback for her care team. I could not have done it without the other people on the team: my wife, my aunt, our paralegal, our "facilities-finder," the staff of each facility, and many others. In hindsight, it all went rather smoothly, even if it was a very busy and tiring time. There were papers to sign, a move to coordinate, cleaning out all the junk from Mom's last room (including trips to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the county dump for donations), learning the why's and wherefor's of coming and going from a Memory Care Center, assuring the continuity of medications, meeting new staff members, and always being vigilant to my mother's needs. We expected the move to feel disruptive to her, but she took things in stride, and accepted our "story" that she had to move to this new apartment because the old apartment had to be renovated.

But just as Mom was getting settled in, there was an outbreak of norovirus in her facility. She wound up in the hospital for a few days, confused and disoriented. When she was able to return to her Memory Care facility, she got sick again, just as I discovered - painfully - that I have an issue with my lumbar spine.

Setting priorities as a caretaker can be a major challenge. My late father-in-law grew up working on a farm and passed along a piece of wisdom: always feed your animals first. Do that, and then you can think about sitting down in the kitchen for breakfast. This is important when you live on a farm, because those animals provide a substantial part of your livelihood. But the role of caretaker for an elderly parent has to be approached differently. If you, as a caretaker, do not take care of yourself first, you will be no good in taking care of that parent. Just like when you board a plane and the flight attendant explains that if the oxygen masks come down because of a loss of cabin pressure, you should put yours on before you assist your children.

At the moment, I'm having to step back and let the rest of my mother's team focus on her care. I have to see a specialist to see what must be done so I can get back out on the playing field. This is difficult for me to do, but I will be no good to my mother if I don't take care of myself first.

Caretaking is one of the most demanding jobs on the planet. If you are a caretaker, please do not neglect your own health - both physical and mental.

When We All Get to Heaven: John Eldredge's "All Things New"

I am a very self-conscious person. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general I don't like to draw attention to myself. Hence, reluctance to step out on the dance floor with my wife. Or perform a karate kata in front of my class. Growing up in the Baptist church, no one raised their hands to God in praise as they stood with closed eyes and swayed gently back and forth with the music. (I'm guessing that would've been considered too showy, maybe even irreverent.)

My friend Mark Adams thought it was funny, when he and I went to see KISS and Def Leppard in concert, that I stood there in the crowd with my arms folded across my chest while he shouted and fist-pumped with excitement. Vicki Dudash thought the same thing while she was rocking out to the sounds of Elevation Worship. Nevertheless, in both cases I was enjoying the music and focusing on how the guitarists were playing. (My crossed-arms body language frequently confuses my wife.)

In the old hymn, "When We All Get to Heaven," we sing, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the jubilee!" I'm thinking when I get there I'll be in the back (where all Baptists and former Baptists like me tend to sit in church), kneeling, relieved and just thanking God for his promise of eternal life - while glancing at St. Peter and whispering my thanks for letting me slip through the Pearly Gates.

Don't get me wrong ... there are lots of things I hope to do when I get to heaven. Reunite with friends and relatives. Discover the true fate of my great-great-grandfather who disappeared in the middle of the Civil War. Have God show me how he came up with the fabric of reality and set things in motion so his Creation would evolve over time. Explore the universe. Discover who really shot JFK.

In his book, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love, John Eldredge tells us that too much of our imaginings of heaven don't do it justice. It will not only be a glorious place -- it will be somewhere where we are rewarded for having striven all our lives to be good Christians, for the sacrifices we made in the name of doing what's right, for persevering when it might've been easier to give up and give in to temptation.

I'm not sure I quite agree with all of John's theology. After all, the way I was raised, since we only receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, who redeemed us through his sacrifice on the cross, and that this is a gift we don't deserve but receive because of God's mercy, it seems like what we ought to do when we get to heaven is spend all our time thanking God for his mercy and worshiping him. It's as if we should just be grateful that we even got to heaven, period. But John Eldredge says there is more to it than that. There will be rewards we receive for having fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7). The Bible is clear that we can't earn our way into heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9), but it is also clear that there will be rewards beyond simply the joy of being in God's presence. 

Another old hymn (by the same person who wrote "When We All Get to Heaven") says "Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown?" When I get to heaven, will I have earned any rewards? Some of those who we see in heaven will have done more for the Kingdom of God than others. Some will have given up more than others, in order to follow Jesus. Each will be rewarded in kind.

"Jesus teaches that his people [will] receive rewards in heaven based on their faithfulness ... Our reward in heaven is based not on the amount of work we do, but our faithfulness in doing what we are called to do."

Patricia McKillip, Fantasy Author and Prose "Sorceress"

I can always tell when a book speaks to me and I need to hang onto it (and not give it away) by the number of times I highlight passages in the book. The more lines and paragraphs that catch my eye, the more I feel engaged with the writing. This usually occurs when I’m reading non-fiction, but it will sometimes happen with fiction too. I highlight passages that I want to come back to.

Recently I picked up an abused copy of Patricia A. McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn. She is well-known for her “Riddle-Master” trilogy (The Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind) as well as many other works. Many years ago I read the Riddle-Master trilogy and enjoyed it very much. I’ve even gone so far as to re-collect these books after letting them go years ago. (I seldom reread books - not because they aren’t worth rereading but because I have a Pile of Unread Books Waiting that grows week by week.) I began reading Alphabet of Thorn and realized very quickly there were examples of beautiful writing that struck me. So much so, in fact, that I purchased a new copy of the book so I could begin highlighting these examples. Here are just a few:

  • (page 2) “He carried a manuscript wrapped in leather that he laid upon the librarian’s desk as gently as a newborn. As he unswaddled the manuscript …”

  • (page 7) “[As a toddler in the library] Nepenthe had drooled on words, talked at them, and tried to eat them until she learned to take them into her eyes instead of her mouth.”

  • (page 9) “The world was so still that it might have vanished, swallowed by its own past or future.”

  • (page 13) “Dawn mists were shredding above the water, tatters and plumes of purple and gray.”

While “plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery,” writers are often advised to study the writing of authors they admire. If I could only do sorcery with prose like Patricia McKillip does, I would be thrilled.