The Day the Fire Came

Allan's Journey, Texas No Comments »

I want to draw your attention to a fantastic piece of writing in the current issue of Texas Monthly. Skip Hollandsworth has outdone himself in the way he tells the story of the wildfires that ravaged the Panhandle this past March. The piece is titled, “The Day the Fire Came: A Tale of Love and Loss on the Panhandle Plains.” You can read the whole story, view the outstanding photographs, and see the beautiful videos by clicking here.

Thirty-two different wildfires raged across the Panhandle on March 6, scorching 1.2-million acres, burning to death more than two-thousand cows, and doing tens of millions of dollars in damages. The fires also claimed the lives of four young Texans: 20-year-old Cody Crockett, a cowboy on the historic Franklin Ranch near Lefors; Cody’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Sydney Wallace, a nurse at Amarillo’s BSA Hospital; 35-year-old Sloan Everett, Cody’s boss; and 25-year-old Cade Koch who got caught in the smoke and the fires while driving from Canadian to Lipscomb to check on his pregnant wife.

It was a tragic day. The three main fires that did the most damage each measured up to three miles wide, with flames more than 20-feet high, moving across the plains at upwards of seven-miles-per-hour. It was devastating.

Hollandsworth tells the story through the eyes of those at Franklin Ranch who knew and loved Cody, Sydney, and Sloan — their parents, best friends, church friends, co-workers, classmates. The families gave Skip unlimited access to every facet of the stories. And he writes it with compassion and heart, capturing the grit and the glory, conveying the pride and the pain.

You’ve got to read this story.

We didn’t see any flames that day here in Amarillo, but we saw and felt the smoke. For a couple of days we experienced the smoke and felt the anguish of what had happened just a few miles away. And for the next several weeks, all of us were inspired by the outpouring of love and support from seemingly every rancher in all 26 Panhandle counties. The Canyon E-Way and I-40 were jammed with massive trucks bringing bales of hay and even, in a few cases, some head of cattle to the affected ranchers. It just kept coming. We shared Bell Avenue and Coulter Street red lights and intersections with these ranchers who drove two or three hours to donate their own goods and supplies to help those who had been harmed by the fires. And I was moved.

I was also moved by Hollandsworth’s story.

You know, I’m not a cowboy. I’m a city Texan. I’m as urban as they come. The last time I rode a horse was when I was nine or ten-years-old, on my granddad’s farm in Canton. He would walk along as my sister and I rode his old nags, Dollie and Sookah, around in a slow circle. I’ve only owned one pair of cowboy boots in my life — a pair I received for free as part of a promotion from a Dallas tire dealer when I bought a set of tires for my 1974 Monte Carlo. The boots were uncomfortable. I only wore them once or twice a year as part of a costume or special dress-up day at school. I threw them out when I went to college and can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d ever own another pair. I’ve never roped a calf, I have no appetite for country music, and I think I would absolutely freak if I ever saw a rattlesnake in the wild.

I feel like an outsider in the Texas Panhandle. I have for the past six years.

But let me tell you this. There is something romantic, something transcendent, something unique and extraordinary about the rugged beauty of this place and these people. I appreciate it, and them, more and more every day. Hollandsworth’s story about those fires and the men and women who survived and the four who didn’t brought out of me some strong and surprising emotions.

I first read the story online — I check Texas Monthly’s website at least once a week. Then I read it again last week when my issue arrived in the mail. And I was blessed by a bonus that only subscriber’s to the magazine get. Jeff Salamon gives us five paragraphs, in Hollandsworth’s own words about Hollandsworth’s experience while interviewing real Panhandle cowboys for the story. Here are his last lines:

“It’s easy to buy into the myth that the cowboy life is gone. But in fact, it’s thriving in the Panhandle. There are so many kids whose lives are devoted to becoming a cowboy. Texas has become such an urban and suburban state. But no matter how interesting people are in our cities, there’s nothing like a Panhandle cowboy. They are real and unyielding, and as the story points out, they are honorable. The question I had going into this piece was, ‘Why would these three young people run toward the fire to save those cattle?’ And the answer to that question is what this story is about: the love of, and devotion to, the cowboy way.”

It’s a good story. You should read it.




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.)


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.


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.


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.



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.



Short Week

Central Church Family, Texas, Texas Rangers, Thanksgiving No Comments »

It’s Tuesday. Feels like Monday. Tomorrow’s Wednesday. And I’m running behind. We concluded our “Marriage Matters” sermon series on Sunday with “Sex and Marriage.” I’d like to reproduce a lot of that sermon in a series of three or four posts here in this space, but it’s probably not going to happen this week. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let me share a couple of links with you.

Erica Grieder has written a column in the current Texas Monthly about the San Antonio Spurs, claiming that they are not only the best franchise in the NBA, but the best professional sports team in the history of the state of Texas. She makes a pretty good case and she taunts Cowboys fans with a parenthetical “Prove me wrong!” You can read her column by clicking here.

Jim Martin has written an excellent post about being grateful on his blog “God Hungry.” As always, he makes a point that hurts: sometimes we say “Thank you” to everybody in our lives except the people we love the most. You can click here to read his post.


We took our annual Central Boys Night Out trip to the Ballpark in Arlington last Friday to see the home team get clobbered by the Pirates. Didn’t much matter; we had an absolute blast. Dale won the homerun pool, I took home the double-play pot, and Speck lucked into the final-out bucks. Lou went to his first big league game, Andy wore an orange bandana around his neck, and we made Greg wear an Adrian Beltre shirt. We also learned that if you’re a cop, like Doug, you don’t have to go through the security line like everybody else. On the way we saw where Bruce grew up in Quanah, and on the way back we quietly lamented the idiocy that would destroy the baseball temple in Arlington and rebuild it next door with a retractable roof. And we all ate for the cycle.



Happy 180th!

Church, Stanglin Family, Texas No Comments »

TexasFlagDetailBetterOn March 2, 1836 — that’s 180 years ago today — fifty-nine courageous pioneers signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, forming forever the great Republic of Texas. I’d like to invite you to celebrate this Texas Independence Day with your favorite plate of barbecue or tacos, listen to your favorite Willie Nelson or ZZ Top album, and praise God you weren’t born in Arkansas or West Virginia or some other awful place like Oklahoma.

I’d also like to ask you a question: Do you know our state song? Do you know the title? Do you know the lyrics?

If you immediately answered “Texas, Our Texas,” give yourself a pat on the back. If you can sing the song with all the right words in the right order, then give yourself a standing ovation and use what’s left of your lunch hour to design and print an official-looking certificate to honor your achievement. Up until last weekend, I wouldn’t have thought that knowing and being able to sing on demand our official state song was any kind of special accomplishment for anyone born and raised in our great state. But a troubling article in the current Texas Monthly brought that assumption into serious doubt.

TexasOurTexasChristian Wallace has written an informative and highly entertaining piece on the colorful history of our state song. His premise is a provocative one: our state song is a terrible song. No one knows it, no one remembers it, and no one ever sings it. Our state is too great to have such an awful state song. While Wallace makes a decent argument, I was most struck by his initial evidentiary proof. He claims to have conducted many informal surveys among friends and neighbors, passersby and strangers, and the overwhelming majority of them are unable to name our state song. Nobody can sing it.

I was offended by the very notion. Why, we sang it regularly in elementary school choirs and special programs and learned it again in 7th grade Texas History class. It’s our song! While driving back and forth across the Red River for a variety of reasons during my teenage years, I never failed to turn the radio down so I could belt out “Texas, Our Texas” as I crossed the border. “All hail the mighty state! So wonderful, so great!” Didn’t everybody do this?

Apparently not. I’ve conducted my own informal surveys this week with friends and co-workers, cashiers and waiters and passersby. Nobody knows our state song. A lot of people guess “Yellow Rose of Texas.” One lady argued with me about “The Eyes of Texas.” Some folks wrinkled up their faces and said, “We have a state song?” It pains me to say that Wallace is on to something.

I highly recommend his article. You can get to it by clicking here.


KeithSermonSeminar2013Today is also my brother Keith’s birthday. He’s not 180. And I don’t think he has his own song. If he does, it might be “The Rover” from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. If you wanted to celebrate his birthday, you might watch Naked Gun tonight, careful to skip past the scene on the ledge and to watch the balls and strikes scene at least twice.

Keith is an outstanding theological thinker, faithful follower of our Lord, and devoted servant of God’s Church. His article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” from the Christian Studies journal he edits is a classic work on the complicated relationship between Churches of Christ and the whole of pre-restoration church history. I highly recommend it, too. He takes head-on our Cambellite creed of “nothing not as old as the New Testament” and introduces us to the concept of “retrieval theology” that seems very helpful:

“This is not a call to re-create or ape the faith and practice of a specific time or place from the past; not every thought or practice in church history is equally good or relevant for us. It means learning from the wisdom of our ancestors and appropriating the best that it has to offer for the sake of the church today.”

You can get to it by clicking here: KeithStanglinRestorationism

Happy Birthday, Keith. I’m very proud of you and very honored to be your brother.



Blue Bell for Breakfast

Carley, Texas No Comments »

BlueBellDadIt wasn’t quite the fanfare the drivers of the Blue Bell delivery trucks experienced several weeks ago when they reintroduced our state’s most beloved ice cream to the stores in Austin and Dallas and even Wichita Falls. Let’s be honest: it wasn’t even close. There were long lines at those supermarkets in the Hill Country, limits of two half-gallons per customer in DFW, large crowds and colorful banners and creative cheers — certainly the appropriate level of hysteria that should properly accompany the return of Blue Bell after a nearly nine month famine.

A little bit of a different story here in Amarillo. Carley and I were there at 4:45 this morning to greet the Blue Bell truck at the United Supermarket at 45th and Bell. But… I think we were the only ones. We photographed the truck and took selfies with the drivers. We were warmly greeted by the cashiers and stockers who looked like they were anticipating a bit of a larger crowd. But… I think everybody slept in.


Carley and I walked to the freezers at the back of the store and beheld the glory of the stocked cases, the gold rims almost mesmerizing atop those perfectly aligned cartons of wonderfulness. Truly beautiful. While we were taking pictures and deciding if Carrie-Anne would really eat a full half-gallon of Butter Pecan by herself, a pre-teen girl grabbed a couple of cartons and another woman who was doing big grocery shopping impulsively grabbed a couple of half-gallons herself. I don’t think it was on her list. So, yes, the cashier was happy to tell us on the way out that we were indeed the third Blue Bell customers of the day.


On to the house, where Carley and I grabbed the biggest spoons we could find and dug in to the Cookies and Cream and the Peppermint. Blue Bell for breakfast. At 5:30 in the morning. Ted, yes!

Carley’s the one who’s generally up for something fun and weird with me at crazy times of the day or night. She was the one who went with me to see Texas Stadium imploded while the rest of the family slept. She and I were the only two in our family to hike to the rim of Grand Canyon to see the sunrise while the rest of the family slept. She builds snowmen with me in the front yard when the rest of the family is inside watching TV in front of the fireplace. And, today, while the rest of Amarillo was sleeping, she and I were stalking Blue Bell drivers from Wichita Falls and eating ice cream for breakfast.

BlueBellBreakfastToday, Amarillo is a little more like really living in Texas.