religion

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/

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."

First, the Good News. Then the Bad. And the Importance of a Free Press.

Years ago, when Tylersville Road Christian Church in Mason, Ohio, held it’s annual Live Nativity, our pastor, George Reese, dressed as a shepherd, would begin his monologue with “Have you heard the good news?” The good news, of course, was the birth of Jesus Christ. Perhaps George should have asked whether we’d heard the best news. There has never been better news than this!

At the end of a calendar year it is customary to look back and consider what’s happened over that year. The year 2018 was marked by many noteworthy things, many of which could be labeled “bad news.” As news consumers, we have an interesting relationship with news producers. In a 1979 study titled Changing Needs of Changing Readers, author Ruth Clark speaks of a social contract between news consumers and producers. This is an implicit relationship based on what consumers expect from the news and what producers pledge to their viewers and readers. While much is always said about a desire to see more good news on TV, it is important that we not be shielded from bad news. It would be impossible to address the negative things that happen in the world if we were never to learn about them. News producers not only have responsibilities in educating us about events in our communities, our country, and around the world, but also for objectivity and truthfulness and fairness.

I recently watched the movie The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, which is based on the exposure of secret government policies about the war in Vietnam by Daniel Ellsberg, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. This information, nicknamed The Pentagon Papers, was leaked to the public to inform the country of the true facts of the involvement of the U.S. government in Vietnam. The news, of course, was far from good. But news organizations felt they owed it to the American people to share the news, even if it meant journalists risking incarceration and the collapse of The Washington Post to make it happen.

The controversy over the Pentagon Papers presaged the exposures of government secrets by WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. It is not my intent to dive into the pro’s and con’s in each of these cases. But I do support the concept of a free press. The press comes under attack on a daily basis, it seems, because it presents news that is not always favorable to people in power. Is every news item truthful? Is the press infallible? Of course not. Do we see a subversive infusion of “fake news”? Yes, we do, and because of that, citizens have a responsibility for carefully examining the veracity of news stories, particularly those that are inflammatory in nature. (See Bruce Bartlett’s The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in its Tracks.)

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Nothing could be more patriotic than defending this freedom, and all the others spelled out in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Mysteries in Religion, and in Fantasy and Science Fiction

This time of year is one of several during the year sacred to Christianity or Judaism. One thing common to yearly observances of religious "holy days" is the aspect of mystery. The foundations of Christianity are based on events that go beyond miraculous - there is a deep mystery behind each one. How is it that a supernatural being chose to split part of himself off to become incarnate through the birth of a boy to a humble Hebrew virgin? How could the gruesome killing of the man that boy later became serve as a gateway for a renewed relationship between humans and their deity, with a consequent promise of life after death? How could that crucified man, both human and divine at the same time, rise from the dead and visit his disciples before returning to heaven?

Some of the most profound stories in fantasy and science fiction have great mysteries at their core. Who placed a monolith on Earth to influence the evolution of Homo sapiens, and another on the Moon to signal when humans first achieved space travel (2001: A Space Odyssey)? What is the meaning of the "star child" at the end of the movie? How are prophecies revealed? How was a hero's destiny created in time past, and by whom? How were the means by which the prophecies are fulfilled come into being? 

In some cases, sufficient research by characters in a story may elucidate these mysteries. Ancient ruins on other planets may be studied to understand the civilizations that left them behind. But in other cases, the mysteries run so deep they can never be understood, for they go well beyond what science can ever explain. They are literally of mythic proportions, and may form the basis of a fictional world's religions.

Have a good example of a fundamental mystery in a fantasy or science fiction story? Leave a comment and share with us!

Four Ministers and a Confederate Colonel

{research}In a letter he wrote a month after joining Tennessee's Confederate cavalry, Second Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy spoke of going to church and hearing "Dr. Pendergrass" preach. The chaplain of the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry was Charles Wylie Witt, 39, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. But "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, Pendergrass was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. His three younger brothers were all in the same company as Lt. Lacy.

A few months after Lt. Lacy heard Pendergrass preach, the Eighth Cavalry 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, he encountered Rev. R. A. Young, a prominent preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, currently serving as president of the Wesleyan University in Florence. 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 the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry. Of Col. Dibrell's religious convictions, Young said "When his 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 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 Lt. Lacy had kept of all the operations of the Eighth Cavalry up to that point. The family owns that document today.

See (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/