Shokai Steven HartShokai Steven Hart
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.
At the end of the final zazen session, two gongs signal the group to stand up, face each other, make three bows, and then chant the Four Vows. “Beings are numberless, I vow to free them…” The silence that has been maintained is now broken by the group’s friendly interchanges. They will be back on the black cushions next week.
Teachers of the Chosen
By Louis Lee
Rabbi David Cantor is part of the congregation B’nai Zion in Chattanooga. The words “part of” are carefully chosen, as Rabbis are not necessarily “leaders” in the synagogue. The word “rabbi” translates as “teacher.” As teachers, rabbis educate the congregation and verify that things are “kosher.” The rabbi is also responsible for interpreting the Torah and other holy books.
Jews trace their theological roots to Abraham. In the Hebrew Bible, God promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation. The bloodline that follows from Abraham means that Judaism is not merely a religion, but a birthright. One can be a non-practicing Jew, or even an atheist, but will always be a Jew by heritage.
Services are held Tuesdays and Fridays with Sabbath service on Saturday. These include the singing of prayers, reading from the Torah and personal prayer time. The Torah is central in the Jewish service, not only because it is their holy text, but the Torah itself is special. Each one is hand-lettered by a scribe on parchment (animal skin). It is a continuous scroll that is covered and decorated and kept in an ark. A special pointer is used when reading the Torah to keep it undamaged.
Other Jewish congregations in Chattanooga include Mizpah Congregation and the Beth Shalom Congregation.
By Mike Chambers
Alvin Cummings, Pastor of Lookout Mountain Missionary Baptist, is a lay minister who says he was “called” to the ministry. A carpet-industry manager by day, the Ringgold resident was received by unanimous consent to take over the pastorship of the Lookout Mountain church back in 2003.
The former pastor of a East Ridge congregation, Rev. Cummings believes firmly in principles of the Baptist faith, which emphasizes saving one soul at time. At the same time, he’s also a believer in spreading the word of Jesus Christ as the savior of all mankind not only locally, but also across the country and around the world.
And as the name implies, the Baptist faith is centered in the act of baptism itself, believing that baptism should be performed only for professing believers, as opposed to infant baptism as performed in other faiths and Christian sects.
The specific Protestant faith, as practiced by Rev. Cummings and his congregation, dates back to Amsterdam around 1609, from where it quickly spread to England and then, through several “great awakenings” to the United States in the mid-18th and early-19th centuries. It has become one of the dominant faiths in the country, especially in the South.
Shoes of the Fisherman
By Louis Lee
Reverend Father James Vick is the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church (OLPH) in Chattanooga. The Catholic Church is widely accepted as the first Christian church, founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul shortly after the death of Jesus Christ.
Catholics enjoy an active religious life, with services called masses available to them every day of the year, if they wish. The primary day of worship is Sunday. The Catholic Church in Chattanooga has reached out to a growing population of Hispanic immigrants, At OLPH, each day there is also a mass conducted entirely in Spanish. Bible study is also available for the Hispanic community in their native tongue.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church includes priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope. After Pope John Paul II’s death in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was elected by the College of the Cardinals to succeed him. The pope is the head of the Catholic Church and, according to church doctrine, the direct successor of Saint Peter.
Masses in the Catholic Church include the singing of hymns, a homily (or sermon), and celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, in which parishioners receive the “Body and Blood of Christ” in a ceremony reminiscent of Christ’s Last Supper. Communion involves the consumption of “communion wafers” and wine or a grape drink.
At each mass there is also a collection taken. Catholic charities are among the most generous in the world, funding outreach programs and caring for the sick and homeless.