Documenting the Blues in the Mississippi Delta

20150326-lens-margo-slide-GVSC-superJumboBy Fayemi Shakur

“Although Margo Cooper did not know it when she began more than 20 years ago, she has followed that tradition and produced a documentary project that archives the oral and visual histories of blues musicians, their families and communities in northern Mississippi and the Delta.

“Her project, “Deep Inside the Blues,” includes B. B. King, Sam Carr, Bobby Rush, R. L. Burnside, Otha Turner and many others. It is, for her, a love letter to the people she befriended in the Deep South. It is also, for her, a love letter to the genre that entranced her when she was a teenager. What started simply as a passion for the blues in high school developed into something deeper, as she discovered love and suffering, survival and self-determination, joy and pain, a light in the darkness.”

To read the entire profile of her work, click HERE.

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Elvis is Everywhere

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.26.42 PMBy John Leland, The New York Times

“Let’s be frank here: Elvis devotees are a lot like fish in a barrel. Anyone can shoot them, with reliably satisfying results. Their reverence almost invites intrusion. So the measure of a portfolio of Elvis believers is not the colorfulness of the characters – that much is a given – but the empathy of the photographer. Anyone can capture the tribe’s signature plumage. The trick is teasing out the individual humanity underneath.”

Photographer Clémentine Schneidermann began to chronicle the passion of Elvis fans in the “small Welsh town of Porthcawl, where pilgrims in shaggy sideburns gather each September for an Elvis festival. By then she had questions. Why Elvis? Why Wales? What are the parameters of devotion, and the rewards for those who don the rhinestones?”

From the NY Times story:

“The project is not about Elvis, but about how these people want to escape,” she said. “Most are from a working-class background, and they don’t have much money, and Elvis helps them cope with reality.”

Fans were only too happy to invite her into their homes to see their artifacts, often gathered at some expense. In lives buffeted by the four winds, Elvis provided a direction and sense of possibility.

“Every time I asked them, why Elvis, they didn’t talk about the music,” Ms. Schneidermann said. “They were attracted by the American dream, an image of America.”

In her photos, taken in South Wales, the subjects wear their dreams quietly, but in defiance of whatever mundane concerns shape their lives. Escape isn’t easy – for most people, it isn’t even possible. But faith takes strength as much from setbacks as from triumphs.

To read the entire story, click HERE.

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The sting of Easter

The finding of the Empty Tomb of Christ, 'Sacro Monte di Crea.' Statues by Antonio Brilla, 1889. (Public domain).

The finding of the Empty Tomb of Christ, ‘Sacro Monte di Crea.’ Statues by Antonio Brilla, 1889. (Public domain).












By Steve Beard

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'” (I Corinthians 15: 54-55).

That poetic and electric passage from Saint Paul has long been associated with my Easter tradition. This past Sunday, however, it did not soar in my soul like it had in the past.

Like all believers who are actively living between what theologian George Eldon Ladd referred to as the “already and the not yet” of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, I found myself heavy hearted as I staggered between the empty tomb and the freshly dug graves of young Christian martyrs in Kenya.

“The mistake they made was to pray to Jesus,” began the Reuters news report. An eyewitness described the gruesome execution of three female students at the hands of bloodthirsty and suicidal Islamic terrorists on a Kenyan university during a Maundy Thursday massacre.

“The mistake they made was to say ‘Jesus, please save us,’ because that is when they were immediately shot,” Reuben Mwavita, 21, told the news agency.

“The attackers were just in the next room, I heard them ask people whether they were Christian or Muslim, then I heard gunshots and screams,” Susan Kitoko, 24, told reporters.

Many of the victims were students associated with the college’s Christian Union that were attending an early morning prayer meeting. “They killed all my friends. I was praying with them when we heard gun shots and two guys who wore hoods and carried long guns came in. I escaped because I was standing next to the rear door, so I dashed out with one other friend,” said Kenneth Luzakula, a Christian Union student.

“I could hear my friends still praying loudly and calling the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Others were screaming. I heard gunshots repeatedly from the toilet nearby where we had hidden. They killed my friends but I know they are all in heaven because they died worshipping God.”

Family members and friends who grieved on Easter Sunday were assured that that the young martyrs would “rise again with Christ.” As a parent, I can only imagine how long that spiritual reality will take to sink in for a mom and dad forced to bury a child.

The already and the not yet. “How long, O Lord, how long?” they asked in the Old Testament. “Let this cup pass from me,” we read in the Gospels. The living between two worlds, two realities, is the journey set before us. Lord, help us.

“To witness is to be a martyr,” said Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, on Easter Sunday. “I am told by the Coptic Bishop in England that the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last month died proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are martyrs, a word that means both one that dies for their faith and one that witnesses to faith.

“There have been so many martyrs in the last year. … These martyrs too are caught up in the resurrection: their cruel deaths, the brutality of their persecution, their persecution is overcome by Christ himself at their side because they share his suffering, at their side because he rose from the dead.

“Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the cruel are overcome, evil is defeated, martyrs conquer.”

Martyrs conquer. That is a gospel of flesh and blood. That is a gospel I can affirm. That is a gospel that rings true.

Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck Media. 

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Keeping It Real: An Easter Sermon


By Kenneth Tanner

If you were inventing a story that you wanted people in the ancient world to believe as fact, the last thing you’d want to do is start with a woman seeing someone walking around alive whom everybody already knew was dead as a doornail.

Almost no one in the ancient world accepted the word of a woman as an eyewitness: not in court, not in a family dispute, not in everyday life. They were not considered reliable.

Silly of the ancients to be that way about women but that’s the way it was. And it’s one of the reasons the gospel accounts of the resurrection are believable.

Mary Magdalene—from whom Jesus cast out many demons before she repented and followed him to the bitter end and beyond—is the first disciple to whom Jesus appears.

Not just a woman but that woman, a woman who was possessed … ‘don’t you remember?’ some must have said. Folks in Rome or Jerusalem or Athens or Corinth were supposed to buy this story? No, these eyewitness accounts aren’t made up. They tell it like it was—like it is—and leave belief to us.

Now, they had beaten Jesus so badly before they nailed him to the cross that he would likely have died anyway. He lasted in extreme agony for three hours on the cross. He bled out before they put a spear through his dead heart. The cross was overkill: brutal, nasty, unjust, and inexcusable. But it’s what we humans do when God shows up.

To read the rest of the sermon, click HERE.

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The Christian militia defending refugees, livelihood against Islamic State in Iraq

imrs.phpMore than 100,000 Iraqi Christians, already a tiny minority, are fleeing the Islamic State. They are torn between staying in a war zone or abandoning their 2,000-year-old cultural roots.

Times are dire for the last remaining Iraqi Christians. “Twenty years ago, we were 1.5 million. Now, the most optimistic figures are speaking about 350.000,” states Archimandrit Emanuel Youkhana, head of Iraq’s largest Christian relief organization, CAPNI. Youkhana is not a man of endless lamenting. Throughout the past decade, he tended to his community and tried to weather the years of civil war. But now, with the rise of the Islamic State militant group, his words have become hard and bitter. “This disaster broke the co-existence, the links between the different religions. Wherever you go, ask a Yazidi or Christian. They feel they have been betrayed by their next-door neighbor.” The Islamic State — also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh — declared Mosul, about 20 miles from the Iraqi Christian heartland in the Nineveh plains, its capital in June.

One specific Christian community from the Nineveh plains, the Assyrians, cherish a culture much older than Christianity — and it is their historic sites in Nimrud and other places that the Islamic State has been destroying relentlessly.

To read the rest of the Washington Post story by Nicole Crowder with photo essay by Andy Spyra, click HERE

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St. Vincent, Sufjan, and the Mothers That Made Them

st_vincentBy Jeffrey Overstreet

I never heard her pray.
She didn’t cuss.
. . .
She didn’t interfere the time Dad beat the breath out of me for something I didn’t do.

Those are just three of the vivid memories recorded by author Laura Brown in her stunning essay “Fifty Things About My Mother.”

Since I first read it a year ago Brown’s essay has haunted me. In it, she stacks up poignant, piercing, personal remembrances of a mother-daughter relationship that could inspire a whole memoir. (In fact, it sparked Brown’s book Everything That Makes You Mom.)

It will spur you to reflect upon your relationship with your own mother, and how that has shaped your head, heart, and soul. And what better time than now, in this month leading up to Mother’s Day?

Right about the time I read Brown’s essay, I heard St. Vincent open a song with this jarring announcement: “I prefer your love to Jesus.” It quickly became clear that she wasn’t singing to her audience: She was singing to her mother, thanking her for her tenderness, guidance, and example.

To read the rest of Overstreet’s brilliant essay at Christ and Pop Culture, click HERE.

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Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

updikeMake no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

—John Updike, from Telephone Poles and Other Poems

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How ‘Wolf Hall’ will entertain millions — and threaten to distort history in the process

wofl;hallBy Gregory Wofle

When the BBC miniseries “Wolf Hall” debuts on Masterpiece tonight, the American public will once again be enthralled by a superb British costume drama. Think “Downton Abbey” and “House of Cards” with a King Henry VIII twist.

Based on award-winning novels by Hilary Mantel, the series chronicles the political and religious intrigues surrounding King Henry VIII’s effort to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.

This is well-worn, if fertile, ground for historical drama. What makes “Wolf Hall” fresh and distinctive, however, is its choice of protagonist —Thomas Cromwell, who rises from humble origins to become Henry’s chief minister.

Before you watch the show, you need to know about three historical figures hotly debated among scholars, because all three were embroiled in one of the fiercest church/state battles of all time: Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More and Cromwell.

The pope’s refusal to grant Henry’s request for an annulment of his marriage puts him on a collision course with Rome. More, lord chancellor to the king and a devout Catholic, decides that he must resign when it becomes clear that Henry intends to pass a bill naming him as supreme head of the church in England, breaking his allegiance to the pope.

Click HERE to read Wolfe’s entire article in the Washington Post.

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Why ‘The Walking Dead’ zombie apocalypse is like faith and rooted in a hope for humanity

walkingBy Kelly J. Murphy

Scholars who think about monsters have long noted that vampires and zombies reveal something to us about ourselves and about our humanity. And during AMC’s “The Walking Dead” Season 5 finale, viewers will have an opportunity to ponder life during a post-apocalyptic world.

Flashing back to an earlier season, though, a profound scene captured the existential quandary that survivors face in an upside-down world. During an episode in the second season, a herd of “walkers” (read: zombies) had just destroyed Hershel Greene’s family farm, where his family and Rick Grimes and his people had managed to establish a community free of flesh-eating zombies.

Standing on the highway, crowded by abandoned cars and rotting corpses, Hershel urges Rick to find a safe place for his son Carl. But Rick turns to Hershel — a self-professed Christian — and responds, “You’re a man of God. Have some faith.” Hershel replies, “I can’t profess to understand God’s plan. Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.”

Hershel’s sentiments reflect an obvious reality: The resurrection of the dead means something entirely different in the biblical texts than it does in the context of a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic Georgia.

Sure, the book of Ezekiel brings to life a valley of dried bones (Ezekiel 37), the book of Daniel promises that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2), and Jesus revives Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Most famously, all four gospel accounts say that Jesus appeared in resurrected form following his death.

Still, there are no almost-but-not-quite human monsters hungering for flesh in the Bible. Neither Lazarus nor Jesus, nor any other biblical character, is a zombie. The idea of a zombie (in the Western brain-eating sense) dates long after the worlds of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. A zombie, after all, is a word that derives from a specific historical context — slavery and colonization, especially in Haiti — and a different religious tradition — voodoo— than either the religion of Jesus or the religious tradition that emerges from his followers.

To read Murphy’s entire article in the Washington Post, click HERE.

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Homeless to visit Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums

(Vatican Radio) The Office of Papal Charities has organized a special visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for a group of 150 homeless people. On Thursday, March 26th, through the initiative of the Papal Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the artistic treasures of the Vatican Museums will be opened up to poor, who usually only see the steps of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

The visit is set for the early afternoon. After arriving at the Petrine entrance, the guests will be divided into three groups for guided tours. Before arriving at the Museums, the groups will enjoy a privileged visit to grounds of Vatican City, passing by the Casa Santa Marta and behind the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Their first stop in the Museums will be at the newly re-arranged Pavilion of the Carriages, where historical papal carriages and automobiles are on display. Afterwards, the groups will visit the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of the Maps on their way to the Sistine Chapel. The viewing of Michelangelo’s masterpiece will be a private showing, reserved solely for the guests of the Papal Almoner; the Chapel will be closed to the public during the visit.

Finally, after the explanation by the guides and a common prayer, the group will be treated to a dinner hosted by the Office of Papal Charities.

To read full article, click HERE.

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