A few vehicles dot the parking lot of New Hope Methodist Church in suburban Atlanta, but there’s no sound except the rumble of idling motors. Slow rain becomes a torrent, blowing in wide sheets, obscuring the pastor standing on the church steps as he delivers his sermon. Drivers flick their windshield wipers to life and stare straight ahead. They won’t leave their steel cocoons any time soon. They won’t need to: The sermon booms from their radios like Carrie Underwood.
Liberty Grove, established in 1835, is the type of church typically associated with Sacred Harp. The church interior is unadorned. Bare pine walls. Plain metal fans and naked bulbs dotting the pine ceiling. Worshippers scattered among straight pine pews in uneven clusters, their hands rising and falling in 4/4 rhythm, down on the first beat, up on the third. Feet keep time as well.
Hurricane Katrina drew the curtains on the theater, as well as on Bay St. Louis, two and a half years ago. But the arts community refused to let the lights dim, and today they’re helping revive a town in one of the rare success stories of post-Katrina life on the Gulf Coast.
“I call him ‘Super Spann’ because he does his best to protect us,” says Olympia Hewitt, a Tuscaloosa County resident who watched in horror Dec. 6, 2000, as Spann stood on-screen – sleeves rolled up, wearing his ever-present suspenders – and warned residents of Bear Creek Trailer Park to seek shelter from a tornado. Eleven people died that day, but residents believe the toll would have been higher without his coverage. “He talks like he’s right there,” Ms. Hewitt adds, “telling you what’s happening.”
For a moment, Dockery seems bowed by the sheer enormity, then he squares his shoulders and a faint smile lights his eyes. There were no deaths, and that’s something. A thousand people volunteered to help the very next day, and that’s something, too. Union will rebuild what was destroyed and resume the master plan, more slowly perhaps, but always, always moving forward. “I don’t think we’ve lost hope, and I don’t think we’re Pollyannaish,” he says. “Our deep faith will carry us through.”
Motorcycles clog the sidewalk outside, engines idling. Children play tag while burly, tattooed men sit on the front porch, trading stories. If you poke your head inside and peer into the dark recesses, you may still be confused. Chinese lanterns strung from the ceiling cast a soft glow on card tables below. Mothers dole Cheerios to chubby-fisted toddlers. Adults buy soft drinks from “Moose,” a man with Samson biceps. But looks can be deceiving, and stereotypes don’t fly too well at the Hope Fellowship Church, anyway.
Seated in a plush chair in the couple’s expansive library, a glass of sweet tea in her hand, she commands respect. Ultimately, this is the message she teaches her students, respect for their husbands and for scripture, which she says trumps everything. Drawing inspiration from Titus 2:5, which exhorts women to love their husbands, love their children, and be “discreet, chaste homemakers,” Mrs. Patterson broaches no apology for the course. “These women are going to be pastors’ wives,” she explains. “They need to know this.”
The music is pounding, buffeting the thrashing bodies from every direction as lasers swirl overhead, first red, then green, then melting into a disorienting synesthesia. This is the hottest ticket in Birmingham right now – Tuesday nights at “The Basement.” It draws nearly 5,000 teenagers a week to dance, sing, and pray. That’s right. Pray.
Like all good cowboy stories, this one’s been told and retold, passed down and around, shaped and honed until it shimmers with firelight and the red-orange blaze of a thousand Oklahoma suns. It doesn’t matter if everyone in the room knows the ending. Tommy Morgan’s eyes are bright with merriment, and it’s clear he’s enjoying every minute of this.
“I was at the Tulsa Stockyards when I saw ’em, and my friend said ‘Let’s go over there and I’ll choke the – out of ’em,’ ” the rancher says, demonstrating what his irate buddy would have done to the two guys they suspected had stolen 12 saddles – $18,000 worth – from Mr. Morgan’s barn. “I was yelling, ‘I’ve got ’em, I’ve got ’em,’ flipping through the phone book tryin’ to find someone to call.”
It’s a tough crowd, this assembly of silver-haired Southern gentry. But David Pollick surveys his audience coolly, flashes a megawatt smile, and says something you might not expect to a room full of well-heeled college alums: “Anyone who would aspire to be a college president is a lunatic.” No doubt some have wondered about the sanity of Dr. Pollick, the 12th president of Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), who arrived at the school in 2004. Last year, he and the board of trustees decided sports had become too prominent at the private liberal arts college – a controversial stance in a state where people still revere Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, even though he died nearly a quarter century ago.
Great road trips, like great movies, require a certain suspension of disbelief, and for 24 hours everyone waited on the edge of their seats, enjoying the ride. By now, much of the world knows the spoiler – the starlet’s shine faded, her throaty purr fell silent, the good guys lost and the villain got the girl. It made no difference. For the people of Tulsa, the journey was the destination anyway, and some of the best parts ended up on the cutting-room floor.
The war in Iraq may be a half a world away, but in the age of the Internet it’s as close as the flip of a video switch – making it in many ways the most intimate war in history. Using video technology and the Worldwide Web, soldiers are tying into the most private moments back home – weddings, funerals, birthdays. Today’s soldier doesn’t have to wait for a box of brownies: He can see his 4-year-old proudly making them. Some innovative couples have used the technology to get married, renew vows, or choose an insurance carrier. A father saw his daughter learn to tie her shoes. A brother said goodbye to his dying sister. The age of the interlinked war is raising profound questions: Does it boost the morale of soldiers or add to longings for home and divert attention from the task at hand?