Democracy of the Dead - Snow Traditions

inter is over and it's time to pack away the shovels, down jackets, insulated boots and mittens until next year. The changing seasons teach different lessons and, this winter, I was reminded of a great truth about life. It goes something like this: There is a right way and a wrong way to shovel snow.

Perhaps you saw the headlines about the massive storms that hit the nation's capital, this past winter. Right after everyone calmed down from the Y2K scare, we were reminded that there are other ways to bring an entire region to a screeching halt.

Or, perhaps you had to dig your way out of record-breaking drifts in some other corner of the country, this year. Or perhaps you live someplace where it's normal to see several feet of snow. Perhaps you're a pro.

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, which is hardly a great place to learn how to handle snow. We were masters of mosquito control.

But, after college, I found myself in the frozen Midwest, where shoveling snow is an art -- right up there with boiling corn and planning tailgate parties. The snow started about Thanksgiving and, before long, I realized that it wasn't going away on its own.

Several weeks, and several backaches later, I started watching the local talent. This is when it hit me: I was not the first person in the history of the world to shovel snow. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel. There I was, a youngster, slumping to the side of the path in exhaustion while gray- haired neighbors soldiered on.

What did they know that I didn't know? Well, yes, there were different kinds of shovels and different kinds of techniques and some folks were more doctrinaire than others. But there were common themes, such as bending your knees, not getting the shovel TOO full and never flinging the snow into the wind. There was a right way and wrong way to face this challenge and, I decided, only a fool would go it alone.

Eventually, I humbled myself and started asking questions. The elders took me in, showed me the ropes and handed down what they had learned -- a kind of oral snow-shoveling Tradition.

Bibliography on the church, media and popular culture

DATE: January, 1997
FROM: Prof. Terry Mattingly
TO: Arrow Leadership Program participants
E: Bibliography on the church, media and popular culture


On one level, we are all experts on American popular culture. We breathe it in day after day. We can sing along with our favorite songs and quote the crucial lines of our favorite movies. We know the intimate details of the lives of our favorite media superstars and, often, we can quote a few of the jokes we heard on talk shows during the previous 24 hours.

Entertainment and news, or info-tainment, are important to us. Each year, we devote thousands of hours and dollars to media. Glance at our checkbooks, or at our unwritten schedules for daily lives, and you will see signs of the power of the secular media.

One of the only places a modern American can avoid hearing about media and popular culture is in seminary classrooms, and, thus, in church pews.

Thus, it isn't surprising that the shelves of most seminary or church book stores contain very few books about how to understand or interpret the media. A few books have been written -- most of them valid -- that focus on frightening trends in media and popular culture, especially trends that affect young people. But it's harder to find books that offer positive insights or that address the role that we allow the media to play in our lives.

Why I Am No Longer A Southern Baptist (1982)

Several weeks ago, I burned a bridge in my head and in my heart. I made a decision that only sounds simple. I have decided that I will never join another Southern Baptist church.

Being a Southern Baptist has always been a major part -- perhaps the major part -- of my sense of identity. I am a Southern Baptist preacher's kid. I am a graduate of the world's largest Southern Baptist university. I was ordained a deacon in a Southern Baptist church while in my mid-20s.

Not long ago, I returned to Baylor University in Waco, Texas. While walking around the campus, I felt like I might as well have been at Brigham Young University.

In the years since I left Waco, I have changed and Baylor has changed. I expected that. But, during my short visit, another set of feelings washed over me. By Southern Baptist standards, Baylor is an open -- and to use an SBC buzz word -- "moderate" campus.

What I was feeling was stronger than the musings of a disenchanted graduate wishing for a return to the good old days. I realized that if I was rejecting Baylor, and Baylor rejecting me, then I was much further out of the mainstream of Southern Baptist life than I had ever dreamed. I asked myself, "If Baylor is left of center in the SBC, where does that leave me?"

I began to try to fit my thoughts and feelings into some kind of mental and emotional structure.

What was I really feeling? What is -- what will always be -- most important to me as a Christian? At some point could my struggles against the majority in the Southern Baptist Convention hinder me, or warp me, as a Christian?

The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets (1983)

Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets 
By Terry Mattingly

(Copyright) The Quill:

The Society of Professional Journalists
anuary of 1983

As was often the case, Lou Grant was working on two problems at once. At first the problems seemed unrelated.

The Los Angeles Tribune had lost its religion editor. City editor Grant had searched far and wide and, of course, no one was interested in the position. After all, what self-respecting journalist would want to be stuck with the religion beat?

Problem number two was how to get rid of lazy, often-drunk, no-good reporter Mal Cavanaugh. All through this episode of Lou Grant the management of the Trib had been trying to find a way to get Cavanaugh to resign.

Then, a spark of inspiration. The script is simple:

LOU: Congratulations, Mal. You're the Trib's new religion editor.

Lou sits back beaming. The information seeps in a bit slowly on Cavanaugh, who blinks at Lou.

CAVANAUGH: Religion editor?

LOU: That's right, Mal. And I can't think of a better man to interview the clergy ... take ministers to lunch.

CAVANAUGH: Are you kidding?

LOU: Detail the theological frontiers in this country and abroad.

CAVANAUGH: That stinks! Before you stick me with a lousy job like that, I'd quit.

LOU: Quit? You haven't even given it a chance. You can't quit.

CAVANAUGH: The hell I can't. Just watch me.

Grant's newsroom associates beam as Cavanaugh storms out.

The television audience is left with the impression that Grant's problems are over. The religion editor spot is still empty, but who cares?

One Year As An Episcopalian: A Progress Report (1984)

An Evangelical's Progress Report By Terry Mattingly

58. For Guidance

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It was a hot, muggy Sunday morning in July, 1983. The temperature in Charlotte, N.C., would later top 100 degrees. It was already hot at 7:50 a.m.

I was making an exploratory trip to an Episcopal church service. My wife had blessed the effort, but was at home getting an extra hour of sleep. We would be going to "our" church later.

I should explain that my father is a minister in another denomination, along with my brother and brother-in-law. My wife's background is similar. For reasons that are our own to understand we decided to look for a new church home.

Beat The Devil: Real life on the religion beat (1985)

On the religion beat, you can be your own worst enemy. But sometimes it's your editor 
By Terry Mattingly (Copyright) The Quill: The Society of Professional Journalists April of 1985

“Mattingly!” the editor said.  “There’s too much Jesus in this story.” It was hard to tell if he was joking. I took him seriously and tried to explain that whenever the person I was writing about opened his mouth some kind of faith-soaked religious language came out. His speaking style was part of the story, I argued. The editor was still a little uncomfortable: “Well, okay. Just try to tone it down a little. OK?” I tried to tone it down a little.

When I wrote what became “The religion beat: out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets” (the QUILL, January 1983) I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I had worked for three or four years as a copy editor and reporter (and rock’n’ roll columnist, for that matter). I had not, however worked as a full-time religion writer.  Now, two years later, leaving my first job as a religion writer, in Charlotte, N.C., for my second, in Denver, I have the perspective of personal experience.

Organized religion, like journalism or politics or any other subculture, has its own jargon and a system of symbols encrusted with centuries of history.

American politics can get complex, and its symbols are often strained to the limit. Still, there is one national political system. The nation’s churches and denominations operate with systems of government ranging from the intricate, gray-suited formality of a Presbyterian convention to the spirit-filled, hard-earned dollars-on-the-table freedom of a business meeting in a local Assembly of God church. News events may exist in words openly distributed in a denominational newspaper or in whispered prayers between shouted sermons at a healing rally.

The Moscow Files: Images from the revolution of 1991 (1991-93)

This is a collection of Terry Mattingly's "On Religion'' columns preceeding, during and after the Moscow Project in 1991. They were written for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. Mattingly teaches communications at Milligan College in East Tennessee. Many of these columns were written while Mattingly was teaching as Communicator on Culture at Denver Seminary.  

Can You "Spot The Lie" in TV Ads? (1992)

Written for Discipleship Journal 

On the TV screen, average Joes pop open their beers and ogle slinky women who welcome their stares.

It's impossible to avoid seeing variations on this theme in TV commericals during professional sports events. Which means more Americans need to play a living room game called "Spot the Lie."

Cultural analyst Os Guinness created the game when his son, Christopher, was five years old. The point is to recognize the temptation to uncritically soak up TV commercialism.

The rules are simple: Parents say "spot the lie" when an ad comes on TV. The kid has to pay attention and then find an implicit lie, non sequitur or totally irrational statement in the ad.

Perhaps it's an ad that suggests that men don't love their children unless they buy a particular car tire. Or that women lack self esteem if they don't buy an expensive shampoo. Or that teens can be revolutionaries merely by watching music videos. Or that average Joes are sexy if their drink the right beer.

If the child "spots the lie," the parent hands over a quarter. Parents judge whether the child has succeeded, since its mom or dad who has to pay up. Note: Parents have to "spot the lie," as well as their children. Everyone has to think critically.