A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
The songs I heard growing up, sung at family gatherings, and later as I documented music in recordings at Lumbee churches, ring with longing and sometimes nostalgia. They were standard Protestant hymns, Southern gospel tunes, or shape-note classics, straight from the Broadman hymnal or from J. D. Sumner or the Gaither family: “I Feel Like Traveling Home,” “Hard Working Pilgrim,” “I Am His,” dozens more. The talented ones in my family often learned them not by reading the music but playing by ear, molding and adapting the arrangement and harmonies to suit our preference. Not so much the songs themselves, but the way we sing, especially the emphasis on harmony and blend—the need for every person to have a part but no one to stand out—is what demonstrates our togetherness and uniqueness.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue.
Well, then, this is what I am: adopted Southerner; no longer a part of the church in which I was raised, but still Protestant, albeit an increasingly reluctant one; saddened by what the “church” has become, both the right-wing fundamentalist variety and the watered-down, meaningless palaver that will have nothing to do with Christ or orthodoxy or even the Bible itself; grieving the shuttering of historic places of worship and hoping to document their histories before they become lost.
A feature essay from the Spring 2020 issue.
I wanted to get away from the noise, but I had nowhere to go. This ended up being a good thing, as I was desperate in writing a story of a religion that was at once immeasurably old while still in its infancy. An unlikely synergy started to form between Felix and me. We were both mixing what raw materials we had. He was throwing coconut shells; I was pounding a keyboard. The noises they produced didn’t sound much different.
A story from our spring 2013 issue.
You see the painter standing outside the book store, smoking, one hand shoved into the pocket of his jeans, a hooded sweatshirt giving him the squat, neckless look of a bodybuilder. But you know, from the opening/reading the night before—he wore a short-sleeved, double-pocketed shirt like the one your father used to wear bowling—that his arms are thin, muscle tone soft. Four months later, when he sends you a picture of himself naked, six muscle-pounds heavier, leaning back in his office chair to better display (you assume) the newly articulate abdominal lines, you will tell him you remember noticing, that first night, the paunch of his stomach beneath the bowling shirt.
A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.
One morning in the summer of 1996, Damian Hart was standing naked on a pier in the Aegean Sea. The sun was bearing down on Mount Athos, one of several craggy peninsulas that extend like claws off the coast of northeastern Greece. Hart, an American priest, was a guest at Agiou Pavlou, or St. Paul, one of twenty-odd Greek Orthodox monasteries that occupy the land. For Greek Christians, the peninsula is a holy site, perhaps the holiest in the world.