Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Perverse? Yes. Blasphemous? Maybe. But not irreconcilable. To contemplate the meaning of Jodeci is to grasp at the intersection of religion and excess, of devotion and abandon, of agape and eros—a space where holiness and hedonism coincide. Sacred and erotic poetry, after all, are not dichotomous, but rather the most intimate and ancient of bedfellows, from Sufi mysticism to Ovidian elegy. The meme may be “If the Love Doesn’t Feel Like ’90s R&B I Don’t Want It,” but literary history knows that Jodeci’s ars amatoria continues a millennia-old poetic program that welds the object of affection to something of the divine, a slippage between the beloved and the god, which the poet-scholar L. Lamar Wilson describes as “sacrilegion,” a never-ending hunger for the unattainable object of erotic perfection.
The Old Regulars sing loud. “You can’t whisper it, it needs to have zip,” one told me. Another: “If you can’t shout down here, what are you gonna do when you get to Heaven?” There is an orderliness to their singing, a formal quality—it has the shape and thrust of liturgy. But it is also indisputably wild.
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.
Thick with sludgy green water and mud, the pond was a rundown neighbor to the white bungalow next door. But Pastor Jerel Keene, whose Louisiana Church congregation uses the bungalow as an office, envisioned a mission for the land the pond occupied, so he hired someone to dump red clay into the water and waited four years for it to settle like cement. He planted grass to reclaim the earth it became.
Hebrews 12:1 reads: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Coleman's project A Cloud of Witness, asks how much pain has this land born witness to? What scars—and what joys—do these buildings still hold?