Little Middle, Gray Hair, and Jake

Allan's Journey, Central Church Family, Texas, Valerie No Comments »

A quick hit from Arlington as we wrap up the final leg of our family vacation. We had a marvelous lunch today with Valerie and the sweet family who is housing her while she serves as a summer intern for the student ministry at Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ.

Our old friends, Mike and Traci Thatcher and their daughter Bella, actually signed up to keep Valerie this summer before anybody made the connection that she belonged to us. We ran around with the Thatchers for a while during our brief stay in Arlington while I was working at KRLD during the early 2000s. We were actually the first babysitter Bella ever had! Now she and Valerie are sharing living space and really forming a wonderful friendship. Carrie-Anne and I are so grateful and feel so very confident that when Val’s car won’t start or the youth minister announces to the church that he’s taken another job in Abilene, Mike and Traci are there to take care of our little middle. (I have no idea why Valerie insists on wearing that Kappa shirt in the photo up there; she was wearing it before she met Mike, so I can’t blame him.)

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While we’ve been away, John Mark Beilue, the highly respected columnist for the Amarillo Globe News, wrote a really nice story about Jake and Stevie Reeves’ hospital room wedding. You can click here to read his column. By the way, Jake is home now recovering from his surgery, learning how to manage his newly-diagnosed diabetes, and trying to tolerate diet root beer.

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My once-every-five-weeks faith column for the Amarillo paper was also published last Saturday. It’s about ear-hair and God’s promises in Isaiah. You have to read it to understand.

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And I’d love to recommend to you two books I’ve read during this ten-day vacation. They’re both excellent.

First, the largely untold and completely forgotten story about the world’s first-ever serial killer, in Austin, Texas during the mid-1880s. The book is titled The Midnight Assassin, written by Skip Hollandsworth, the famed editor of Texas Monthly magazine and the writer of the screenplay for the excellent movie “Bernie.” Skip did his research for almost two decades — and it shows. The book is a fascinating study of the events surrounding a dozen killings in the capitol city of mostly African-American servant girls. The murders were all extremely gruesome — one every couple of months — carried out in the middle of the night in the exact same way, and caused a panic throughout Austin that spread to all parts of the state from Gainesville to Galveston. The murderer was never caught. The mystery was never solved. And less than two years later, prostitutes were being killed in the middle of the night in London. Yes, Jack the Ripper! And, yes, most people at the time believed that Jack the Ripper and the Austin Assassin were the same guy! At the very least, most agreed that Jack the Ripper had been inspired by the Austin killer.

Hollandsworth produces hundreds of quotes and clippings from 130-year-old newspapers, police records, court documents, and journals that link the two. He also examines the question “Why do we know so much about Jack the Ripper but almost nothing about the Austin killer?” from every angle. And he pays very careful attention to the historic detail of every scene. These Austin murders were taking place during the construction of the capitol building, during the time when electric lights and telephones were transitioning from experimental to commonplace, during the construction of the very first dam on the Colorado River, and during the world expo in New Orleans when business leaders first began billing the wonders of our state with the slogan “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” The politics of all this was directly impacted by these murders that hung over the city and the state and had to be carefully managed. It’s so interesting. And, if you’re familiar at all with Austin, maybe you’ve wondered about those 130-year-old light towers that are scattered all over the city. Yep, they were erected in reaction to the midnight murders. If you’re a Texas history buff or a murder mystery fan, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this one.

And, Love Does by Bob Goff. I’d like to describe to you what it was like listening to Bob Goff’s 40-minute keynote address at the Pepperdine Lectures this past May. But it would be impossible. All I can accurately communicate in this space is that Goff loves God and he loves people. Passionately. Frantically. Maniacally. Hilariously. If you read his book, you’ll agree. If you read his book out loud, at double-speed, laughing at yourself after every fourth sentence, then you’ll have a better idea about his keynote.

Peace,

Allan

Ten Years Blogging

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Ten years ago today, on June 4, 2007, I wrote my very first ever blog post on this website that Kipi Ward, our children’s minister at Legacy, helped me set up. It was the morning after my first sermon as the full-time preaching minister at Legacy Church of Christ, my first full-time job in congregational ministry. I can only hope my sermon that day wasn’t as boring as the blog post the next morning. In that post I expressed my desires for this website: to encourage and exhort the members of our local congregation and the Kingdom of God abroad, to update readers with what’s happening in our family, and to serve as an outlet for the sports thoughts and opinions that back up in my brain.

That was ten years ago. And I’m happy to report that the Kingdom is advancing forcefully, the kids are growing up quickly, and the Cowboys are sinking further and further into the longest and worst irrelevance drought in franchise history.

Since that Monday morning in June 2007, I’ve written 1,676 posts, read 2,471 comments, experienced two significant site crashes, and changed churches once. In those early days I experimented with different pages for sermon outlines and bulletin articles, Lord’s Supper resources, and interactive discussions about football jersey numbers. For two years I maintained a KK&C Top-20 College Football poll with a panel of voters from all over the southwest. That was back when a blog generated lots of readers and lots of comments. Every now and then a real discussion would break out, a back-and-forth conversation with five or six different parties chiming in several times throughout the thread. Those days seem pretty much gone. Long-form blogging and discussions have given way to shorter posts and comments on Facebook and even shorter content on Twitter.

Several times over the past three or four years, I’ve thought about giving this up. But I can’t. I love to write. Writing helps me articulate what I’m trying to say. It allows me to see and hear what’s going on in my head. It serves as a reliable outlet. It’s cathartic in many ways. I hope it allows people in our congregation to get to know me a little better. And, yeah, I still believe that every now and then, our mighty God uses this blog to speak to somebody who really needs to hear his loving voice.

To celebrate ten years of blogging, I want to provide you with some links to what are some of my all-time favorite posts — ten categories for ten years. If you only choose to click on one of these links, make sure it’s the last one I mention, at the bottom of this post.

Personal – This blog is written by me, from my perspective, about things I’m interested in, so, yes, this whole enterprise is very personal. But some of the posts are more personal than others. Every now and then something will happen that causes me to reflect on me. The closing down of Big Town Mall in east Dallas County last year prompted this nostalgic post recounting my childhood memories there. Jim Martin’s funeral in December 2013 compelled me to write about his giant influence on me and my family with much appreciation. And a Dallas Morning News story in 2010 about American theologian Stanley Hauerwas being from Pleasant Grove was the occasion for a blog post about my own growing up in that southeast Dallas community. That post, “Can Anything Good Come Out of Pleasant Grove?” is still generating comments, the latest just last month. More people on the internet for more of the time using more sophisticated search engines means people show up on my blog for the most random reasons. People who come here looking for P-Grove always leave a comment. And, it doesn’t get any more personal than writing a post the day after I’m given a senior discount at an Abilene restaurant. She didn’t even ask!

Preaching – I’m a preacher. A lot of this blog is about preaching — the highs and lows, the hard work and the blessed honor, the weekly triumph and failure. I’m hopeful that the posts about preaching give readers some real insight into the twisted and tortured minds of God’s bold proclaimers. And I hope it gives other preachers who might read some comfort in knowing somebody else is going through the exact same things. For a sample of these kinds of posts, you might check out “Ordained by the Community of Christ” and/or “The Sunday Sermon is Brutal.” As you might guess, these could also easily be classified as personal.

Family – I’m a husband of 27-years to an amazing woman and a father to three spectacularly wonderful daughters. And this blog is testimony to how these four ladies bless my life. A reader here never knows if he’s going to encounter an article about Carrie-Anne disrupting a Third Day concert, a play-by-play account of my trip with Whitney to New York City, a personal letter to Valerie as she leaves home for college, or the account of Carley and I waking up at 4:00am to welcome the Blue Bell trucks back to Amarillo after the listeria thing. The girls don’t always appreciate that I write so often about them. They worry about the pictures I post. My hope is that my words about them and to them will mean more later.

Cowboys – It’s in the title. I write a lot about the pro football team in Dallas. 198 of my posts have mentioned something about the Cowboys. My mantra here is that if I can’t say anything critical and mean about the Cowboys I don’t say anything at all. But regular readers are aware that I do compliment the players and the team when they deserve it. The truth is I have a complicated love-hate relationship with my hometown team: I loved them from the date of my birth until the day Jerry Wayne fired Jimmy Johnson and I’ve hated them ever since. What kind of person must you be to fire your coach after he wins back-to-back Super Bowls? What kind of person must you be to hire Barry Switzer? Here’s a post that really illustrates the love-hate nature of my feelings: the day after Jerry released Terrell Owens. It’s interesting that I thought it might be the start of some kind of turnaround. It’s interesting that I thought maybe Jerry was realizing that winning is more important than making money and headlines, that his legacy would be determined by championships and not sponsorships. It’s disturbing that it was eight years ago! And I was wrong. I wrote this post a year-and-a-half ago on the 20th anniversary of the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl appearance. And I wrote this three months ago when Jerry was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the basis of his sponsorships and money.

Lord’s Supper – The sacrament of the communion meal is a real topic of interest for me. I generally write about the multiple facets of the Lord’s Dinner that we typically neglect, the long and sordid history of the communion meal, and the need to re-imagine the way we celebrate the Eucharist in our worship assemblies. But three years ago I wrote this post about the, um…, extra “potent” grape juice we were all subjected to on a Sunday here at Central. It happens, right? Every now and then something gets messed up somewhere and the juice goes bad. And it was rank on this Sunday! You could smell it when the tray was still three pews away. And you could see it on the faces of every person in the worship center who took a sip. As soon as that service was over, one of our more clever teenagers texted me: “It was either the wine or the sermon, but one made me sleepy.” I received an email the next morning asking me if we needed to raise the traditional Church of Christ “age of accountability” to twenty-one.

Church of Christ – I am eternally grateful for the CofC tradition in which I was raised. I received the Christian faith in the Church of Christ and the Church of Christ has shaped me into the follower of Jesus I am today. I unapologetically laud the strengths of our movement: our unwavering commitment to Scripture, our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Dinner, our high view of baptism as the initiation rite into God’s Kingdom. But, as with all streams of the faith, ours also has some baggage. In 2012 Leroy Garrett wrote a short book called “What Must the Church of Christ Do To Be Saved?” in which he makes 20 suggestions for rescuing our movement from a future extinction. I engaged the book chapter-by-chapter for nearly a month: women’s roles, division, sectarianism, repentance, instrumental music, all of it. I started with this post “Confess That We Have Been Wrong” and went from there. It was a great exercise for me and it prompted important discussion among the readers. If you want to access all two dozen of these articles, search “Leroy Garrett” on this site and you’ll get the list.

Christian Unity – I believe in Christ’s prayer in John 17 for the unity of all his people; I believe that Jesus died on the cross to destroy the barriers that divide his people; I believe Christian unity is the best witness to the power of our Lord; and I believe it is God’s will that his Church work hard to come together. On May 23, 2013 Central’s elders and ministers met at Polk Street United Methodist Church with their elders and ministers and the elders and ministers from First Presbyterian and First Baptist. We prayed together for a couple of hours and began that night what would become “4 Amarillo.” I wrote this post in anticipation of that evening and this post the next morning, full of hope and enthusiasm for what God might be doing in and through our churches for the sake of the city. In the past four years, “4 Amarillo” has become a powerful force for God’s Kingdom here. I can’t tell you how privileged I feel, how blessed by God, to be in on this cooperative effort among our churches.

Christ and Culture – God’s will is that we become more like his Son, that we reflect more of his eternal glory in every part of our lives. From the beginning of time — every period of history, every era, every context, every part of the planet — God’s people have wrestled with how to be faithful in a culture that’s not. It ain’t easy. It’s swimming upstream with the wind in your face and ankle weights on your legs. But it’s our calling. This post about holy emails, written in 2010, asks questions about the nature of the emails we receive and the thought process we take or don’t take before we decided to mass forward them to others. I write about violence, cell phones, war, media, national politics, and language and try to offer reflective suggestions on how Christians are supposed to behave in ways that honor God and point to his risen Son.

Nationalism – Under the umbrella of the Christ and Culture category is the realm of nationalism: equating the Empire of the United States with the Kingdom of God, believing the two are inseparable, confusing our loyalties. The clearest and most recent example is with the current debate over the Johnson Amendment. I addressed that in this post just four months ago. For an older example, I would point you to these three posts I wrote just before the U.S. presidential election in 2008: Church As State, Holy Polis, and Church As State: A Little More. Take your time, read these in order, and pay attention to the compelling conversation in the comments, too. This little series is one of those blog discussions that just don’t seem to happen anymore.

Unexpected Random Greatness – The greatest post in the ten year history of this blog was written on February 6, 2008. That was the day after I accidentally killed Valerie’s birthday gerbil. The post is titled “R.I.P. Cookie” and it’s stinkin’ hilarious. It quotes from WKRP and includes a really funny line from a nine-year-old Carley. To this day, no other post on this site has generated as many comments. Those 35 comments include sadistic requests to knock off other people’s pets, a link to a Super Bowl ad that shows gerbils being shot out of a cannon into a brick wall, and a conciliatory rant that takes off on Allen Iverson’s famous “practice” speech. This is the gold standard of blog posts on this site. Do yourself a favor. Check it out right now.

I’m surprised that this blog, this on-line journal, this forum for sharing observations about our Father and our life with him, is already ten years old. Maybe this thing will go another ten years, maybe it won’t. Whether you’re a regular reader (Hi, mom!) or you got here accidentally because you were searching “Ted Nugent” (sorry!), thank you for reading. And, as I wrote in this space ten years ago, may our God’s will be done through this blog just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

ZZ Top in Amarillo

Allan's Journey, Carley No Comments »

“We’ve been coming here to Amarillo for five decades! Same three guys! Same three chords!” ~Billy Gibbons, founder and lead singer and lead guitarist for that little ol’ band from Texas, about halfway through ZZ Top’s first set during Friday night’s concert at the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium

One of the things I miss about living in Dallas is the live music concerts. Big bands just don’t swing through Amarillo. So we didn’t hesitate when it was announced three months ago that ZZ Top was extending their Tonnage Tour with a stop in the panhandle. Carley and I got our tickets quickly and she asked a couple of her friends on the Canyon High School golf team — Kayla and Makenna — to join us.


I’d seen ZZ Top three times prior: twice at Reunion Arena during my college years and again about ten years ago when they opened up for Aerosmith at Starplex. But this show was going to be extra special — I was going to share it with my youngest daughter and it was going to be in the tiny Civic Center Auditorium that only seats 2,300. I can’t believe they’re playing this tiny venue!

And, yeah, the whole experience was classic ZZ Top — a stripped-down stage, the bare-minimum on lights, simple chords, easy lyrics, understated choreography, fuzzy guitars, obligatory references to Amarillo and Texas… and super LOUD! What a blast! I reminded Carley and her friends that when ZZ Top’s biggest album came out — Eliminator, the album that put them on the mainstream map in 1983 with those catchy songs and tongue-in-cheek videos — I was a 17-year-old junior in high school. Just like them. And then we sang those hits together with Reverend Billy G, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard in our little civic center auditorium. “Got Me Under Pressure.” “Sharp Dressed Man.” “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” How cool is it to pump your fist in the air with your daughter and shout together, “Go get yourself some CHEAP SUNGLASSES!!!” They also covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and surprised us with “16 Tons” and “Act Naturally,” featuring a guest steel guitar player whose name I didn’t get.


The girls got their t-shirts. I got to see one of my favorite bands again and didn’t have to drive six hours one way to do it. And I got to share it with Carley. That’s a pretty good night.

Peace,

Allan

April Snow-1, Apricot Tree-0

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“Don’t plant anything up here until after Mother’s Day.” “We’ve had ten-inch snows in May before.”

We’ve survived six winters now in Amarillo and I’ve heard the above statements at least a million times at the end of each of those winters — friendly warnings from people who’ve lived her a long time. I’ve generally nodded kindly as a response but I’ve never waited until after Mother’s Day to plant. Snow in May? No way! A hard freeze at the end of April? Give me a break. Maybe way back then, but not recently. April 15 has been my magic date to do my spring planting and, so far, I’ve not had any problems.

The garden went in two weeks ago — three kinds of tomatoes, two varieties of jalapenos, okra, squash, radishes, cucumbers, and zucchini. The Begonias went in and my hanging baskets went out.

Then last Monday they started talking about freezing temperatures Saturday night with some snow. By Wednesday they were predicting lows around 30-degrees and maybe an inch or two of snow in Amarillo. By Friday nobody was saying “maybe.” And when I woke up yesterday morning it was 35-degrees and snowing. The radar was showing snow all day Saturday, all night Saturday night, and right on through Sunday morning. And the lows were going to be right at the freezing mark.

So, in the freezing wind and the blowing snow, I worked for about an hour to cover all my tender shoots and vegetation with old paint buckets and trash bags. Then I laid two giant tarps over the entire garden and secured it with about two dozen bricks around the edges. I also covered up the Begonias and brought in the hanging baskets. Disaster averted. Adventure had. The madness of the panhandle weather was not going to beat me!

And it kept snowing. And kept snowing. All day. All night. The temperature never got below freezing — the official low at the Amarillo airport this morning was 33-degrees — but it snowed so much that everything above ground was affected. Lots of tree damage in our Puckett neighborhood this morning, including the total loss of our backyard apricot tree.

The tree is over 20 feet tall. Not the prettiest tree on the property. Weird branches sticking out at strange angles. It always oozed a weird, thick, brown sap that dripped on part of the sidewalk and fence. But the weight of the snow and the force of the 45-mph winds snapped it off at the ground sometime between 6:30 and 8:30 this morning. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not from snow.


Lots of people lost some really big branches last night and early this morning. I’ve seen some trees today split right down the middle by this fluky early spring snow. But so far, mine is the only whole tree I’ve seen snapped off at the stump.

The snow is melting quickly today. It’s up to 43-degrees right now at 3:15pm and the sun is out. I’m getting ready to pull the tarp off the garden and uncover the Begonias so they can soak up some warmth and get their core temperatures back up. Hopefully, I did everything right and saved most all I had planted. By that, I mean, everything short of waiting until after Mother’s Day to plant.

Peace,

Allan

 

Zoo Freak-ing Out

Allan's Journey, Texas No Comments »

I was one month shy of my seventh birthday in the fall of 1973 when “The Zoo” hit the Dallas airways with its brand new album rock format. It was all rock-and-roll. And not just the hits. The Zoo played B-sides and deep cuts. And for an entire generation of people who grew up in Dallas, people who are today in their 50s, it was THE radio station.

I don’t remember ever NOT listening to The Zoo. I was introduced to Van Halen and Aerosmith by The Zoo. When I got my huge AM-FM stereo and turntable for Christmas right after my 11th birthday, one of the first things I did was slap a Zoo sticker right in the center of the smoky gray dust cover. I had a Zoo sticker on the mirror in my bedroom and on the bedroom window that faced Jennie Lee Lane and greeted every person who entered our cul-de-sac. I put Zoo stickers on my locker at school and on my notebooks. The Zoo was cool. And I was what we all called a Zoo Freak. I listened to LaBella and Rody’s “Morning Zoo” from the moment I woke up every day until we walked out the door for school. And I would beg my dad to tune the car radio from KRLD to The Zoo, which he would do as soon as Brad Sham’s “Cowboys Report” concluded. I fell asleep every night during those years listening to The Zoo.

The elephant trumpet in between songs. The “Rot Your Brain” Zoo posters we got for free at Sound Warehouse. Two-Fer Tuesdays. “Morning? Morning!”

My friend and fellow Zoo Freak Todd Adkins and I cut school twice to attend the “Morning Zoo’s Breakfast Club” at Monopoly’s in North Dallas. We were too young to get into the club legally, so we’d wake up extra early and sneak in at about 5:00 while the roadies were setting up. I still have a couple of “Breakfast Club” buttons here in my office. Somewhere in a box in my attic is a Mike Rhyner (he was the “Morning Zoo’s” sports guy) autographed picture that says “Nice Huey Lewis t-shirt!” in reference to my wardrobe that first day I met him. My old Zoo pin is prominently displayed in a shadow box in my home along with lots of other treasured items from my childhood.

Jon Dillon was the midday personality on The Zoo, part of the original on-air lineup in 1973, working at KZEW until it went off the air in 1989. His was the voice that went in and out of the Fleetwood Mac and Eagles songs I listened to while doing my homework. He was the one who told me how hot it was and it was a “skosh” past 4:00 as I drove home from school. In a day when radio wasn’t nearly as researched and formatted, when DJs themselves — not a corporate play list generated in New York or California — decided what records they would play, Jon Dillon would sometimes talk for several minutes between songs. He gave me the background stories to the lyrics and the bands. He knew the guitar players, he was hanging out with the lead singers. He knew Tom Petty and Randy Bachman and Don Henley and Ted Nugent. Listening to JD introduce a ZZ Top song (“that little ol’ band from Texas, how, how, how!) was a tremendous joy.

The Zoo was the soundtrack for my formative years. From the time I was seven until I graduated college, The Zoo dominated the Dallas airways and I never listened to anything else. My deep love for local radio is directly tied to The Zoo. My deep lament for local radio also connects sadly to The Zoo.

And now it’s back! The Zoo is back!

George Gimarc, another original Zoo jock from ’73, has rounded up Rhyner and Rody, Jon Dillon, Nancy Johnson, Chaz Mixon, and others to resurrect The Zoo in a new on-line format called Vokal. They’re using the original KZEW playlists, they’re playing old station and concert promos and local commercials that Gimarc’s kept in boxes since day one, and it’s great! Just since I’ve been typing this post, they’ve played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” I’ve heard The Who, Neil Young, and The Stones. But they’ve also played David Lee Roth’s “Tobacco Road” from his “Eat “Em and Smile” album and Z Z Top doing “Francine” in Spanish! The unexpected B-sides and the delightful deep cuts! The familiar voices and sounds of my youth! I just heard Dillon say, “We’re getting the band back together, don’t tell anybody!”

It may not be for you. They used to say The Zoo’s not for everybody and everybody’s not for The Zoo. But, if you want to listen to Dallas rock radio the way it was when I was a kid, click here. It’s streaming live for free.

Or, just step into my office. It’s my new-old soundtrack.

Peace,

Allan

Blessed at Central

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CentralPreachersI don’t know all my sins and shortcomings. I don’t know all the many ways I’m sure I fail as a proclaimer of God’s Word. I’m not aware of every single way I most surely disappoint the people in our church. I don’t know all the variety of things I do and say that are just not enough, things that could be done and said much better by a better person, a guy with more talent, a person better equipped.

But I do know a lot of those things. I am well aware that I fail often, that I disappoint plenty, and that my efforts are usually not enough.

When I’m alone with God in this beautiful 90-year-old chapel at Central, I become acutely aware of my own unworthiness to be in a leadership role with this great and faithful church. Who am I? What am I doing here? I feel incredibly blessed just to be in the middle of these wonderful saints. I feel so privileged that God would let me be a member of this church family. But he’s made me the preacher! What a joke!

Who am I to pray in the presence of this godly group of shepherds? Who am I to lead this incredibly talented and dedicated company of ministers? How can I further inspire this gathering of Christ-minded disciples who for years have been serving and ministering with power and grace throughout this city and around the world?

I have no business being the preacher with these people at this place.

It’s hilarious!

CentralWorshipCenter1980sOur Lord proves to me over and over every day that his grace is sufficient. He reminds me every week that his strength is made perfect in our weakness. He continually shows me that he arranges the parts of the body exactly the way he wants them. And he makes it work here at Central.

Thank you, Father, for moving me to Amarillo to be blessed by this faithful body of your children. Thank you, God, for the difficult challenges and the easy lay-ups, for the incredibly high mountains and the devastating valleys, for both the really good times to keep me encouraged and the really tough times to keep me humble. I need all of that. And I need to experience it with a generous, gracious, patient, forgiving, loving community of Christians.

I ask myself often how in the world I ever wound up at Central. And then I fall to my knees in humble gratitude and praise.

Peace,

Allan