Introduction by Gary Poole
“Welcome to the Bible Belt, Y’all” stated a bumper sticker I saw on my way home the other day. It was attached to an older-model American-made pick-up truck with a Walker County, GA, license plate and shared space on the tailgate with other stickers proclaiming a love for America, Jesus, guns and George W. Bush. Considering the part of the world we live in, not a very surprising or out-of-the-ordinary vehicle or collection of sentiments.
But it did get me to thinking, are we really the “buckle of the Bible Belt” as I have heard many say during the decades I’ve made this region home. My great-grandfather, who spent many years traipsing back and forth from Knoxville to Chattanooga in his profession as a newspaper editor noted even at that time that the differences between the two cities, and the towns and villages in between, were based on religion. Or rather, the variety of religions to be found in the Chattanooga area—and not seen very much elsewhere.
A history of the Deep South often reads like a history of the Baptist Church (Southern Baptist division, to be precise) in which town after town, city after city, fell under the religious and political control of the influential and very well-organized Protestant sect. But not here in Chattanooga. While the Baptists have a well-placed seat at the table, they have had to sit down with many other sects and other religions.
In the pages to follow we present a pictorial look at some of the “old-time religions” that call Chattanooga home, in collaboration with a radio series developed with our colleagues at News Talk 95.3 WPLZ that will air November 28 through December 2. And even so, we will barely touch the surface of the variety of faith and worship found in the Scenic City. So, be you a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim or something else, chances are you have found a happy home here in the “buckle”—regardless of what book the belt is wrapped around.
In Quest of Zen Mind
By Janis Hashe
In a small, dimly lit room in the back of ClearSpring Yoga, a group of people sits cross-legged on black cushions, facing the wall. A faint smell of incense drifts in the air. At the sound of three gongs, each person makes a small bow and begins a session of zazen, the meditation period of Zen Buddhism.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama, born in what is now Nepal, began asking himself, “Why does suffering exist?” His journey to find the answer to this question led to his awakening to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: Suffering exists; attachment and delusion are the causes of suffering; suffering can be ended; the way to end suffering is through the Buddhist Middle Way.
Gautama began to teach and his followers began to call him “The Buddha”, or “One Who Has Awakened.”
But Buddhism is a nonthesistic religion, which means practitioners do not worship a god. The Buddha is considered a great teacher, but only one of an infinite number. In the centuries that followed his life, Buddhism spread across Asia and into many forms, of which Zen is one of the most popular in the US. There are believed to be 400 million Buddhists worldwide and around six million American Buddhists.
Zen teaches that “just sitting” in meditation is the most important way to access awakening. Meditators focus on their breath and on being present in the moment, something that carries over into everyday life.