Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas 2011

Wishing you light in the darkness and shelter from cold. May you find comfort and joy wherever life takes you. Much love. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Indie Redneck?

"Prejudice against Southerners is generally socially acceptable among people who should know better." - Allan Massie

NPR is an unlikely place to find relevant cultural commentary on the American South, but their review of "Redneck TV" is spot-on. The South of reality television appears to be populated only by stupid white people wearing hats. They hunt. They fish. They talk funny.

The article left me wondering were to find depictions of the other American South -- not Nashville, not NASCAR -- but the strange, half-haunted landscape that I left behind three years ago. Now that director David Gordon Green has moved from George Washington to Pineapple Express, what else is out there? My top picks would include documentaries like Benjamin Smoke and Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the gentle comic surrealism of Dorne Pentes' The Closest Thing to Heaven, and indie narratives like Winter's Bone. Granted, it's easy to romanticize subcultures birthed from poverty and decades of isolation...far more challenging to render them convincingly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rest In Peace, Zondra Douglas

Zondra Douglas passed away this week from cancer. When I interviewed her six and a half years ago, she was 25 years old. She was young to have so much responsibility: mother of two daughters, single parent, college student, employee at the Chick-fil-A, and a church Elder. She is young to be gone now. Prayers and best wishes for all of her family and loved ones.

We belonged to the same church: Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, next to the now-demolished Piedmont Courts Housing Project, where Zondra grew up. She was gracious enough to let me interview her for Southern Cross.

Below are some brief excerpts from that interview:

What would you say to somebody who is from the suburbs and has never really interacted with somebody from a different socioeconomic group?

I think that everybody needs to get out of their environment. However you have to do it. You need to find out what’s going on where somebody else lives. Because then you know what’s going on in the world.

What would you describe as moral values?

Just being honest and real. Like being able to tell people stuff even if it’s not something they want to hear. Like my friends don’t like me, because I say, well, you shouldn’t have called me if you did not want to know the truth. Because I’m gonna tell you, whether you want to hear it or not.

I mean, we just got to be that way. I’ll listen to you whine for a little bit, and I’ll let you get some stuff off your chest that you need to get out, and then I’m gonna tell you, well, why are you still doing that?

I try to be kind when I’m saying stuff.

I’m also asking all my interviews subjects, do you consider yourself an evangelical Christian? Why or why not?

Hmmm. I guess yes, and no. I don’t carry my Bible around and preach to people, in that sort of a way, but I try to treat people the way that I want to be treated. Like I just show how you’re supposed to be.

I don’t go around saying, the Bible says this, the Bible says that, but I really try to be genuine. Like, not hurting people and not doing mean things to them, and just showing them that you need to be godlike, not just preaching to them all the time.

Because even if I’m preaching to them and I’m being mean and hurtful, that’s not going to help them to want to be a Christian. Now I do tell people to go to church all the time! Or I try to invite them to come to church with me. I am definitely an advocate of people going to church, and saying, “You need to get out of bed Sunday, and go to church!”

So I do that, but I don’t go around all the time saying the Bible says this and the Bible says that. I’m just kind of me.

One thing that I’ve noticed about you is that you have a lot of confidence. You’re very clear in what you think and you say things with a lot of conviction. Where do you think you learned that?
Probably my grandma. My mama too. They talk a lot. It’s just kind of, we say what needs to be said. So I got that from them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

one wish

They say if you name your wish, it won't come true.

I am not sure the same is true of prayers, but why take chances?

This one is important. I hope somebody is listening.

Monday, September 26, 2011

R.I.P. Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize, passed away on Sunday night. She had been fighting ovarian cancer and was 71 years old.

An excerpt from her obituary:

"Her work with voluntary groups alerted her to the struggles of women in rural Kenya, and it quickly became her life's cause. Noticing how the rapid environmental degradation was affecting women's lives, she encouraged them to plant trees to ensure future supplies of firewood and to protect water sources and crops.

"Maathai's agenda quickly widened as she joined the struggle against the repressive and corrupt regime of Daniel arap Moi. Her efforts to stop powerful politicians grabbing land, especially forests, brought her into conflict with the authorities, and she was beaten and arrested numerous times. Her bravery and defiance made her a hero in Kenya."

Related Posts: Go and Do Likewise

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What part of Acts 4:32 did you not understand?

Personally, I am enthusiastically in favor of class warfare, but this is still a pretty good article.

It’s not ‘class warfare,’ it’s Christianity

Washington Post, September 20, 2011
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

"... the complete breakdown in the United States these days of realistic thinking about how markets and financial systems actually do work has three sources: “homage to financial assets,…market efficiency” and “evangelical, fundamentalist, and Pentecostal Christianity, infused with a millennial preoccupation with terrorism, evil, and Islam…” These are the three legs of the stool that caused the “de facto anesthetizing, over the last twenty years, of onetime populist southern and western” regions. It should be noted that these are the same sections of the country that are demographically the regions with the highest Tea Party concentration, especially the South."

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Best Answer I Can Find to Religion

Many summers ago, as a teenager staying at my grandparents' farm in Suffolk County, Long Island, I read this short story by Ursula K. LeGuin: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" It was just a few pages out of an immense stack of paperback library books, mostly fantasy and science fiction. Looking back, years later, this parable is still probably the best and most concise answer I can find to dilemmas of religion, morality, and ethics.
"These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."
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all you need

You know that tired old saying that you can't love anybody else, unless you also love yourself?

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Prayers for the People of Norway

I read the news headlines this morning with sadness and dismay: an apparent right-wing fundamentalist Christian in Norway who killed 92 people with a bomb and a shooting spree.

I wonder how many sermons will touch upon the atrocity tomorrow? I wonder what their conclusions will be. It seems fairly trite to say that real Christians do not murder people, any more than real Muslims or real Buddhists do (whoever gets to define "real"). I know almost nothing about the suspect's life or beliefs, or about the sociopolitical backdrop in Norway. It strikes me that people who really are that angry, that despairing, that deranged, will find some excuse to get their guns or their fertilizer and that it is the job of law enforcement to stop them. Mostly.

All I would ask is that for one minute Christians put aside their moral superiority and remember that there is venom in the Bible as well as healing. The venom is mostly what people outside the church see and react to, in fact. Don't let that portion of hate sit alongside the scoop of lovingkindness. You never know whose mind it will poison. You never know what child or bored adolescent might take it to heart. You can't love your neighbor while hating Barack Obama, the government, gays, Muslims, immigrants, you name it. You just can't.

You can't love your neighbor while hating right-wing Christians, either. I am writing this blog entry for the two or three evangelicals who might still be reading this blog, but just as much for the progressive and mainline Christians who cherish their separateness. Complacency and smugness breed contempt. Contempt is another name for hatred.

Would 92 more people in the world still be alive had Anders Behring Breivik encountered a few more Christians who preached decency, respect, and tolerance toward those who believed differently, and a few less who preached hatred and violence? I have no way of knowing but next time around do you really want to take that chance?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No Rapture Story Here

This story from the New Republic basically sums up how I feel about the whole subject.

Talk about your straw men and your fish in a barrel...

On a different note, I found out yesterday that a high school classmate and an old coworker each passed away very suddenly, under totally different circumstances, within a few hours of each other. I found out through Facebook, which was jarring and dislocating in its own way.

Prayers for Ed Murratti and Elizabeth Christian Parker, and for their friends and family.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thanks everyone for tuning in last night!

Here is the episode archive, in case you missed it:

Listen to internet radio with God Discussion on Blog Talk Radio

(My segment begins about 45 minutes in.)

You can also download the free mp3 podcast at itunes.

Episode title: "World Healing Day and Adventures in the Bible Belt," aired 4/28/11

And thanks to Deborah at The God Discussion, for putting together a phenomenal site and show. Check it out, if you haven't already...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

sending prayers

With over 200 people dead, yesterday "may have been the deadliest single day for tornadoes in the U.S. since April 3, 1974, when 310 people died. " (Bloomberg)

Prayers for everyone affected by the storms and tornadoes this week in the South.


Tonight, Thursday, I'll be a guest on The God Discussion. Show begins at 9 PM EST/ my segment begins at 9:30 pm.

"Tess Gadwa, author of Southern Cross, will take us on a journey along the back roads of the Bible Belt, where we’ll hear true stories of miracles, visions, voodoo, snake handling, civil disobedience and Tess’ search for existential answers.

"With a mesmerizing and colorful writing style, Gadwa chronicles her 10,000 mile road trip that documents the spiritual journeys and struggles of ordinary people in the American South."

Or something like that.

Read more

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter Monday!

Hope you had a good holiday. I very much did, thanks to an amazing group of friends.

Wanted to let folks know that I will be a guest on a show called The God Discussion this Thursday evening. The interview will be broadcast over Internet radio, starting at 9 PM EST, Thursday, April 28.

Tune in if you can. We will be taking questions...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For Lent this year, I am giving up church.

I still have a strong faith. This isn't about rebellion or making a statement. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the church I was going to. I just didn't feel a strong connection to the community there. After two years, I'll take that as a sign.

Instead, I'm working on a new project. The goal is to post something every day for 40 days. Certified 100% dogma-free.

(It's on tumblr and that's as much as I'm saying.)

P.S. You can now order a print copy of Southern Cross. Whoo hoo!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shallow Social Justice

My friend Laura Massie forwarded me this article, and it really struck a chord. A commitment to social justice is a wonderful thing -- complacency and self-righteousness considerably less so.

"Daily we read treatises of shallow liberation, trying to fit the causes of the We’s into the model of the Church (us) and the poor (them)...

"And well supported though these missions may be in the our sacred texts, they do not sufficiently answer the cry for liberation that Jesus inspires in the hearts of those who are captive. Lila Watson’s qualification to those outside of her community is the essential invitation we are each faced with in this moment:

"If you have come to help me, go home. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let’s work together."

Read article...

Monday, January 17, 2011

At the MLK Monument - June 16, 2007

Fred Dunham, Eric Wilson, and Nick Clifton (left to right)

At the beginning of my road trip through the Deep South, I stopped in at the Martin Luther King Jr. historic site in Atlanta, Georgia. Here is a brief excerpt from that visit:

The King tomb is made of white marble, surrounded by a long and narrow reflecting pool. After some time has passed, I introduce myself to the three African-American men standing next to me and ask what brought them here.

Fred tells me that he is here with his son and grandson, to pay their respects. He is 62 years old, a retired garment worker and a Vietnam veteran, born and raised in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. As a teenager he went to Ebenezer Baptist Church and participated in sit-ins at McCrory’s department store.

“He was an articulate man, and he spoke very well,” Fred says of Martin Luther King, Jr. “We had to get someone of intellect, who could speak for us all without a lot of rigmarole. He was the one that was chosen to lead the movement.”

Fred remembers a time when Atlanta public parks were segregated, remembers seeing his mother give up her seat on a public bus when he was nine years old. Tomorrow is Father’s Day and he is hoping to share a little bit of his past with the generations after him. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have not reached his full dream,” he reflects.

A few minutes later, inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, I run into the three of them again. “Something moved in you when Dr. King spoke,” Fred tells me. “It gave you hope. All your fears, all the prejudice and hatred, went out of you when you sat in this sanctuary. It was a place of peace and love. You went out and shared it with other people. So it began to grow.”

He remembers his training in nonviolent protest by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “If you had a quick temper, they wouldn’t take you,” he says. “People was chosen for these tasks. You had to be willing to wait and not hit back, until they got tired of hitting.”

Until now, Fred’s adult grandson Nick has been reserved to the point of hostility. He abruptly announces that the real force for change was corporations realizing the buying power of African-Americans. Altruism had nothing to do it. “People learned that black dollars and white dollars were the same thing...” he insists. “That’s what led to the change, more than anybody having a guilty conscience.”

Fred and I chat for while longer about his experiences in the movement. At the end of the interview, his grandson stops me again. He wants to clarify his earlier comment. Says Nick, “We should never forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. We need to respect everything they’ve done to get us here.”

Tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Southern Cross: The Remix

This past December I printed up a small number of manuscript copies as gifts for friends and family. It was a nice opportunity to rearrange the text and experiment with a less chronological narrative.

Several people have asked how they could get their hands on a print copy. This edition is coil bound, on 8 1/2 by 11" paper and contains 13 original pen-and-ink wash illustrations. Click here to purchase.