Category Archives: Religion

West Coast rumble?

Screenshot 2016-03-17 03.07.06I’ve covered plenty of revivals in my time but what happens when one starts at your own church? Most are calling it the “West Coast Rumble” and naturally, it has its own Twitter handle already. Yep: #WestCoastRumble. Two 30-something pastors are key to the events here. The meetings started the last weekend in February and they haven’t stopped yet. First, some background. Last fall, I began attending a charismatic church called Seattle Revival Center that’s in a suburb called Newcastle across Lake Washington from Seattle and about nine miles from where we live. Chelsie, a woman who has special needs kids befriended me and (my daughter) Veeka, which was an enormous inducement to continue attending there.

Charlie Shamp's preaching and healing services are what helped start off the current revival services in Seattle

Charlie Shamp’s preaching and healing services are what helped start off the current “West Coast rumble”  just east of Seattle.

Starting Feb. 25, the church had a revival weekend – a “declaration” conference they called it – that I didn’t attend, as I had another conference in town that was more important for me to be at. Nashville evangelist Charlie Shamp, the Sunday morning speaker, got such a good reaction that they had a Sunday evening meeting as well. I had listened to Sunday morning online off the church’s website as my daughter wasn’t feeling great. I found the service rather underwhelming, to be honest, but others didn’t and so many people were said to be getting healed of various ailments, they extended meetings to Wednesday. I dropped by briefly that Wednesday night, but Veeka’s early rising hours the next day meant I couldn’t stay.
So I began watching services each night on the live feed from the church’s web site. What’s kind of fun is the chit-chat between those of us watching it (one can log in and leave comments and they have Google translate for non-English speakers) and the folks in the service will actually pray for petitions you email in. Some folks have contacted the church to say they’ve been healed while sitting by their computer watching it all. There’s no way to verify a lot of that but I’ve never heard of revival services incorporating various devices the way this one does.

Darren Stott (right) pastors SRC. Charlie Shamp is to the left.

Darren Stott (right) pastors SRC. Charlie Shamp is to the left.

That Thursday night (March 3), Shamp was being handed cell phones by some of the congregation whose friends had called in asking for prayer. On Friday night, Shamp asked audience members to call people right there and pray for them with their cell phones lifted up. I am sure this evangelist had only planned to stay in Seattle this one weekend and he wasn’t expecting a revival to spring up around his preaching, but as folks kept on showing up at the church, he’s remained in town. I’m not sure whether his wife has had to Fed Ex him a suitcase of clean clothes, but I think he turned 34 while all this was going on.
The pastor of Seattle Revival Center, aka SRC, is called Darren Stott and he too just had a birthday – I think that too was his 34th. He’s a pretty hip dude who gives some profound sermons but I don’t think even he was expecting something to blow up at his church. My grasp on some details is a bit foggy, but beginning in January, there was a revival at another church in San Diego that had the SRC folks all excited. Some even flew down to experience it, as they said there had been prophecies of a revival going up the Interstate-5 corridor from San Diego to Vancouver, BC (which is technically not on I-5 but we won’t argue over details).
Here is this Darren’s explanation of these meetings. One of his better quotes: “It feels like God has flown through the windshield of our bus, knocked us out of our seat, hijacked the bus and taken us to a new place we’ve not been before.”

Charlie Shamp praying into a cell phone.

Charlie Shamp praying into a cell phone.

Another moniker they’re applying to this event is “apple wine;” Washington state being the country’s largest producer of apples, exporting some 125 million boxes a year. So, there’s always an apple sitting by the podium during the service and there’s even a prophecy (from the San Diego folks) about God releasing apple wine over Seattle and the entire state. Which is pretty funny considering how secular a place this is. Politically, it’s bluer than blue. Culturally…let’s just say that when I take my many religion books to Half Price Books, a well-known local used book retail outlet, they just stare at me and explain how there’s no demand for books about God. In terms of religious movements, at least Los Angeles had Azusa Street (a famous 1906 revival that lasted four years) but nothing like that has happened further up the Left Coast.
In one of his taped messages a week or two into these meetings, “I feel like in the Northwest we are giving birth to a baby and it needs to be nurtured,” Darren said. “The Pacific Northwest is one of the most difficult places to be a pastor. Churches are closing down all over the place…(but) this is what I was born for!” That said, he added that he’d had 15 hours of sleep in three days, as people were flooding the place.
It’s sure been interesting to see how SRC has marshaled resources  to try to meet the demand. I talked with one couple who said they were experienced at handling revivals and they’d quickly shown up to offer their services at managing things. The church’s website was ramped up to provide some history of the past three weeks plus new graphics have been added plus links to videos of the meetings. Whoever’s doing the camera work for the services is pretty good although I know the church staff is stretched to the max and there’s been announcements asking for members to help out more. Soon after the meetings started, they put a black taped line around the perimeter of the sanctuary as a place for people to stand when they want prayer. It’s an efficient way to manage a lot of people at one time.

Charlie Shamp praying over one of many people who come forward for prayer.

Charlie Shamp praying over one of many people who come forward for prayer. Notice the catcher in back of her.

Anyway, on Saturday night (the 5th), a guest pastor named Suri came up to do the prayer for the offering. He called up two SRC pastors and then the three of them collapsed to the ground convulsed in laughter. So we watched the three of them roll about on the floor (one holding an apple) as everyone walked up and put money into the collection baskets. There’s a lot of talk about getting “drunk” on this apple wine of the Spirit at these meetings and some take that literally.
The truly funny moment (to me) was when Jeannette Wuhrman, the female half of the couple that helps out with revivals, got up to say announcements. She gave instructions on leaving one’s email near the back so they could be updated by the church on what’s going on “as soon as we know what that is.” That doesn’t sound funny but it actually was, because of course the church doesn’t have a clue what the end result of these meetings will be and they seem to be making it up as they go. Which lends an endearing quality, actually, as nothing is worse than something that’s obviously produced.
Most of the meetings are centered around Shamp calling out healings that he believes are happening among people there, or among those listening online or even among folks who know nothing of these meetings but have some connection with those attending or listening in. The church has posted one set of X-rays by someone claiming healing from cancer. There was one woman who got up at a service to say she was healed and then I saw her a few days later back in her wheelchair. Hmmm. There’s been echoes of 1990s Toronto revival stuff at these meetings; people claiming that God has given them gold fillings in their teeth (SRC has actually posted a photo of one such person’s mouth) plus reports of feathers drifting through the air. I’ve not seen any of the latter.

The children line up for prayer during a March 9 service at SRC.

The children line up for prayer during a March 9 service at SRC.

I finally did get to attend an entire meeting on Saturday the 5th on a rainy night. I’d say the sanctuary was about two-thirds full but not packed by a long shot. My daughter came with me and soon after we arrived, we went to the front and were prayed over briefly by the evangelist but nothing seemingly happened, so we repaired to a seat near the back. Next, there were several baptisms. I was noticing that the worship team had been playing pretty continuously since 7 pm and they had to be exhausted. There’s been a different worship team each night. This group came from elsewhere in the state, so apparently someone’s been calling around to bring in reinforcements or bands are calling the church to volunteer their services.
At around 10:30 p.m., everyone who wanted prayer lined up on the aforementioned border of black tape that had been placed around the sanctuary. Easily 70 or so folks lined up. As the evangelist and other ministers moved around the perimeter of the room, most of those being prayed for – like 99% – fell back to the ground in a faint-like trance known as being ‘slain in the Spirit.’ When they prayed for Veeka, she dropped to the ground and said later that she felt faint and overwhelmed, albeit in a good way. Unlike nearly everyone else, I did not fall. Believe me, I’ve been prayed over by the best of them – from Rodney Howard Browne (here’s my essay on what that was like) to the folks at the Toronto Airport Vineyard – and it simply doesn’t happen to me and I’ve stopped stressing over it. Veeka felt convinced that something deep had happened to her during the service and she had great hopes of being healed.

Jeannette Wuhrman giving announcements.

Jeannette Wuhrman giving announcements.

We returned the following Wednesday night (the 9th) where they were having a special prayer time for kids. Veeka went up for prayer, but felt nothing and didn’t drop to the ground as she had before. Plus, she was distraught over having prayed for healing on Saturday and then Wednesday night, only to have nothing happen. Kids don’t process too well not being healed when the preacher is stating that folks are getting delivered of everything from bladder problems to cancer via their cell phones, so I’ve not taken her to any nightly services since. Adults can better handle such disappointment, but kids don’t. I will say she likes listening to the nightly services on her iPad at home, so you never know.
I went back last night (the 16th) briefly. There were about 100 people there when the service started and maybe 125 when I had to leave to pick up Veeka from the Awana meeting, then went home to listen to the rest of the service online. Shamp was calling out specific healings, ie a woman listening in online who was hooked up to a breathing apparatus and a man with the last name of MacDonald. When people come up to the front to be prayed over, he places a hand on their forehead, blows on them and 9 out of 10 will crumple to the ground.

Suri (a visiting pastor) and two SRC pastors lie on the dias during a service laughing hysterically or "drunk" with "apple wine."

Suri (a visiting pastor in the white shirt) and two SRC pastors lie on the platform during a service (choose one) laughing hysterically or “drunk” with “apple wine.”

“Wheat God reveals, He heals,” he said – or maybe it was Darren who said that – can’t remember. “How many of you know it’s a done deal?”
It got very weird at one point last night when Shamp was asking everyone to say “Yum, yum” (in reference to the apple wine, I guess) and believing the Spirit would fall on them if they did so. “Less thinking, more drinking,” he would tell folks as a number of them were strewn about on the floor. I’m guessing SRC has had to requisition every able-bodied male they can find on the church rolls to be “catchers” for all the falling bodies.
So, what do I think? I’ve reported on and attended a bunch of these revivals, ranging from Toronto to Brownsville, many of which had petered out or ended badly. I remember interviewing the two pastors at the head of the Brownsville meetings and I asked them what was the most unexpected thing about having such an event at their church.

Shamp prays for a congregant. Stott is the catcher in the blue shirt.

Shamp prays for a congregant. Stott is the catcher in the blue shirt.

“Toilet paper,” they said. When the crowds show up, you can’t get enough of it. God knows that folks here in the Northwest have felt at the periphery of spiritual renewal. Other than pioneers like Dennis Bennett, this area is not a place known for its great spiritual life although the meteoric rise (and fall) of Mars Hill Church showed that the local populace will attend a house of worship if they find it engaging enough.
I’m certainly not on any inside track at this church, so I don’t know what sort of discussions are going on about the coming weeks. Judging from the online comments during the service, people are tuning in from around the world and there is a procession of local pastors visiting the place. One of them there tonight was a Nazarene, which amazed me, considering that his denomination is not known for being open to charismatic phenomena.

Of dogsledding and ice carving

First you have to get positioned on the musher's tracks

First I had to get positioned on the musher’s tracks.

Although it is March here, it seems like we’ve had more snow than ever these past few days. Which is good for us in that tomorrow, the Iditarod (a famous 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Nome by dogsled) will take place and for that they need snow. Usually it starts near Anchorage, but this year’s warm temperatures up here has made Anchorage a no-snow zone. So the race start was switched to Fairbanks. I’ll be with my daughter’s class tomorrow helping to chaperone – and for selfish reasons – because I figured that school buses will be able to park closer to the starting line than the general public will. To get in the mood, I did some dog mushing myself a few weeks ago. Someone brought a team of dogs to UAF to let students have a run around a field next to the rec center, so that’s me in the

Then - off you go!

Then – off I went!

very back, in the white jacket. Once you get the hang of balancing yourself on the runners in the back, it’s a lot of fun.
I’ve been filling my days with several classes, one of them a Scandinavian history class I’m taking for fun. Hadn’t realized how many Danish kings were called Christian or Gustav or Carl; ditto for Sweden. Did not know a thing about the history of that part of the world, except I am sort of the class expert on Iceland, having been there twice. Now we’re reading The Emigrants to get a feel for 19th century life in Sweden, which was grim.
For the religion reporting class that I am teaching, I’ve been having a steady stream of guest speakers. So far there’s been a Catholic priest, Baptist minister, Jewish writer, a Muslim grad student and a UAF professor who practices Zen Buddhism. Because of the influx and outflux of military residents, the Baptist church has a turnover of 50% every five years, its minister told us. They average 80 visitors each Sunday, a surprise to me, as I have seen some real lacks in their outreach to visitors. The median age there is 28. Fairbanks has lots of independent churches, he said, and the incidence of sexual abuse among the general population is so high, they have to have extra-vigilant tests for childcare people. The Muslim speaker said there were 120-150 Muslims in Fairbanks (which I thought was a high estimate as there were only a handful at one of the services a student attended) and 3,000+ in Anchorage.

Miss Sunglasses Cool poses by an ice house sculpture

Miss Sunglasses Cool poses by an ice house sculpture

Last Sunday, we visited a real treat: the World Ice Carving Championships, which are here. There was a children’s park of ice houses and sculptures you could slide down or climb on, then a forest full of single-block sculptures done in the most beautiful fashion. I have no idea how some of these folks carved the mermaids, dolphins, horses and other shapes there were. When we visited, the folks carving the multi-block sculptures were just getting started with their chain saws and chisels plus a backhoe to haul in all the ice blocks. It was a sunny afternoon when we visited and it was so much fun.
One announcement: A few weeks ago, I was asked to be one of several contributors to getreligion.org, a 10-year-old blog that critiques religion writing from around the country. I started March 1. My introductory post was here and subsequent posts have been here and here. I’m concentrating on media from Denver and points west and my first piece was on how the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angles Times have treated Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Thanks to low news budgets and massive layoffs, there are several states without one religion reporter and some of the major media have no one on staff covering the beat that I can figure out. I’m very happy to be joining a really good group of analysts and getting paid for reading religion news pieces.

Seen in the twilight, this lovely ice carving of a horse's head caught my attention. It was an entry in the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks.

Seen in the twilight, this lovely ice carving of a horse with its foal caught my attention. It was an entry in the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks.

Jamie’s death

Most of the people on our bus trip at Reelfoot Lake wanted to see the bald-headed eagles nests. A ranger (in green) was showing us how

Most of the people on our bus trip at Reelfoot Lake wanted to see the bald-headed eagles nests. A ranger (in green) was showing us how.

The forecast for President’s Day Weekend said it might be in the 60s, so I made a reservation with a bus tour at Reelfoot Lake, a large body of water in the far northwestern corner of Tennessee. Veeka and I would drive there right after church – it was about 74 miles away – snag the early afternoon tour and hopefully see some eagles’ nests. The place was known as a huge sanctuary for many bird populations, including bald-headed eagles that made their home there.
We were bouncing along on an old school bus through snowy fields – apparently this section of Tennessee was somewhat colder than Jackson, I was learning – when I glanced at my iPhone and just on a whim clicked on my email. I saw an email from a friend with a newspaper headline: Jamie Coots was dead.

Not the most complimentary photo, but this is what my daughter took of me as I was frantically working my iPhone on this trip.

Not the most complimentary photo, but this is what my daughter took of me as I was frantically working my iPhone on this trip.

Now I know what they mean about your world going temporarily black when you get bad news. Jamie Coots was one of two co-stars on the reality TV show “Snake Salvation” and an elder statesman (at the age of 42) of the serpent handling movement. I had interviewed him several times and visited his church. As the other people on the trip chattered about seeing various flocks of snow ducks and the occasional eagle, I sat there in a fog.  I could not think. We were 30 miles north of Dyersburg, the nearest city of any size and a good 70 miles north of Memphis, so the Internet was agonizingly slow. I was getting flashbacks to Memorial Day 2012 when I learned that Mack Wolford, another famous serpent handler, had died the night before of snake bite. I called the Washington Post, for whom I’d done a story about Mack several months before. Yes, they wanted a story on the death. I sent them the story Monday night; by Tuesday morning everyone in that newsroom was back from the three-day weekend and someone had decided the story would go atop their Style section. I was told to rework the story. I got it in early that evening and they had it up by 9 pm. For the next 36 hours, it would sit atop their web site. It went all over the world and so did my byline atop it. Only me and the photographer who’d shot the earlier story had contacts in that region, so all the rest of the media could do is quote the Post. It was probably the biggest story of my career. But this time was different. My decision to take Sunday morning “off” from social media had really cost me as tons of reporters were already on the story about Jamie. Because of “Snake Salvation,” images of Jamie were plentiful and lots of media had interviewed him when the show premiered last September. I managed to find a story from WATE TV on my iPhone plus a Facebook post by Cody Coots, the 21-year-old son. Counting backwards, I figured he posted it at about 3 a.m. his time.

This Cody coots dad past away yesterday I’m miss him so much and love him please pray for use we have no live insurance on him if any one has anything to give to help would be greatly appreciate RIP dad i love hope to see you on the other side on day.

Here's a photo I shot of Jamie, in a red blazer, with his wife, Linda, to his left in black. The other folks are friends. This was taken Nov. 15 during Andrew Hamblin's first court appearance.

Here’s a photo I shot of Jamie, in a red blazer, with his wife, Linda, to his left in black. The other folks are friends. This was taken Nov. 15 outside the Campbell County courthouse after Andrew Hamblin’s first court appearance.

The WATE story said that an ambulance had shown up at the church some time after 8 but that Jamie was dead by 10 pm. My goodness, I thought, this was nothing like the agonizing eight to 10 hours it took Mack to die. And what is it about these folks that they always choose to die over a three-day holiday weekend?

I emailed the Wall Street Journal, for whom I’d done four stories September-December about the reality show and the arrest of Andrew Hamblin, the young snake handler who co-starred with Jamie. Sure enough, they wanted a story on Jamie. By the time the bus tour ended and I got home, it was 6 p.m. and the story was nearly 24 hours old. TV crews had shown up at Jamie’s church that afternoon with quotes from Cody and another member known as “Big Cody” Winn. For the next four hours, I worked the phones and combed through Facebook. None of my contacts were answering their phones. Andrew, who had been there when Jamie died, was refusing to do interviews. I’d spent months getting cell phone numbers for folks at these churches, only to have them not pick up when I needed them to. From various media I quickly learned that Jamie had been bitten by a cane break rattlesnake on his right hand; the same hand that had lost a finger several years ago. I called the Middlesboro police and learned they’d gotten the first call around 8:24 p.m., but whoever made the call was not a member of the family. Jamie’s services usually started at 7 p.m., so it’d been well underway by then. According to the Knoxville station WBIR, which seemed to have the most details, Jamie had been bitten on the back of his hand. He dropped the snakes at that point, then picked them back up. After a few minutes, he headed toward the men’s room with Andrew and another handler because he was sick. And then after exclaiming ‘sweet Jesus’ to Andrew, Jamie passed out. At this point, the service must have come to a halt with Jamie being packed up to go home. It took five men to carry him. Cody told the TV station they thought it’d be like before with the eight other bites Jamie had gotten. He’d go home, feel sick for awhile and then get better.

The one photo I shot of Jamie's church - from the front - in August 2012.

The one photo I shot of Jamie’s church – from the front – in August 2012.

Jeff Sharpe, the local police chief who happened to be working when Jamie died, returned my call at about 9:40 p.m. his time. He was plainly exhausted. One of his lieutenants had told me he’d been answering press calls all day, so I was probably #70 at this point. He had some interesting details I’d not gleaned from the TV. When Sharpe arrived at the Coots home, it was full of church members and family holding vigil. Jamie was seated – even though he was unconscious and dying – in his favorite chair. Meanwhile, Linda Coots – his wife – and Cody were signing a form waiving medical treatment.
“He’d already said before they took him home that he didn’t want to be treated,” Sharpe said. “He’d made his feelings very, very clear about what should happen if he was bit.” Officers left the house at 9:10 p.m., he said, and less than an hour later, they were summoned a second time. Coots had died. And so the chief returned with Jason Steele, the local coroner in tow, he told me. I had a feeling that the chief knew that Coots’ death would be a huge deal, which is why he showed up twice at the house but he said that he made it his practice to show up at the scene of every unusual death.
I told the officer a bit about Mack’s death. Sharpe said, “Something made this happen faster than normal.” I asked him how many press have called. “Lord,” he said, “I have no idea.”
I went back to the Facebook feeds. of Andrew and his wife, Liz. In need of prayer, Elizabeth had posted some time around 11:30 p.m. Saturday. I looked at jamie like a daddy figure he has always been good to me and my family.I love u and miss u so much already.
She got several dozen replies and grief-stricken expressions and 227 likes.
I honestly feel like I’m in a bad dream and can’t wake up, she then wrote.

Bumpersticker from car in front of Jamie's church.

Bumpersticker from car in front of Jamie’s church.

Late Saturday night, Andrew posted: really needing everyones prayers tonight. I was there for the last service with him. he was like a dad to me. everyone just keep us all in your prayers. and there will be church tomorrow at 1:00 at tabernacle church of God. remember us when you pray.
About 6 a.m. Sunday Andrew posted: as I set here this morning I try to think of what dad would have said. I miss him so bad. I will never forget how God moved on us last night together for one last time. everyone please keep all of us in your prayers. everyone remember service today at the Tabernacle at 1:00. Mark 16:18 is still forever real. Now Mark 16:17-18 are the verses that serpent handlers quote about believers picking up serpents. The verse does not say they will not get hurt.

Tributes had poured in all day Sunday on Jamie’s Facebook page, which had mushroomed to 2,685 ‘friends’ after ‘Snake Salvation’ ran. At one point, Cody Coots posted a message asking for funds.
Dad passed away yesterday, he wrote. I miss him so much and love him. Please pray for us. We have no life insurance on him. If any one has anything to give, help would be greatly appreciated. RIP dad. I … hope to see you on the other side one day.
A support page for the Coots family had 1,106 “likes” by Sunday night. Fortunately I had been interviewing Jamie here and there over the past two years and had developed quite a respect for him. Those quotes formed the basis of my article, as his home in Middlesboro was 400 miles away and there was no chance I could get there to report from the scene. We had talked in November, which is when he’d told me of the new jobs that he and Cody and his daughter Trina had gotten. He seemed so happy then. He was driving a school bus part time. I got through to the National Geographic spokeswoman who sent me their statement on Jamie’s death. They are planning a tribute to him, she said. I filed the story at 10 pm Sunday and by the time I was up the next morning, it was on the Journal’s web site.

A few more details poured out that Monday, including this report from the Lexington Herald-Leader about Jamie’s last minutes. I realized that reporters must have gone to Jamie’s church on Sunday, then nabbed Cody after the service. That’s the only time I spotted him talking with the press. I got an email, then a phone call from CNN, asking for names and phone numbers and hinting they might need me to speak for one of their broadcasts. I did one radio interview in the midst of a busy day, then sat down that evening to read through Facebook. Liz has posted at about noon that:
the next news media who writes or calls my phone I’m fixing to show them my bad side.sorry jamie is not going to be ur big story and pay day. leave his family alone already !
And … the family asked us not to do interviews or release any info i have to respect his wife son and daughters wishes.
About an hour later, she posted: as I turn over to mark 16:18 its still written in red.the word of God will stand forever. just because jamie is gone doesn’t mean its still not real.I’m still a believer.

Liz Hamblin is the woman in the grey sweater holding a pile of poisonous snakes during this New Year's Eve service six weeks ago. Andrew, her husband, is in the white shirt beside her.

Liz Hamblin is the woman in the grey sweater holding a pile of poisonous snakes during this New Year’s Eve service six weeks ago. Andrew, her husband, is in the white shirt beside her. This is the best I could do with an iPad.

The big news on her mind and that of the 124 people writing on her feed is Westboro Baptist Church’s announcement that they’d be picketing Jamie’s funeral. People discuss which bikers or “good ‘ole redneck boys” they can get to block WBC from getting close to the funeral home.
I know how to scare WBC away, says a truck driver from western Kentucky. Lets all go approach them and offer to hand them a nice fat rattler!!! He then adds: if they go messing with country folks in eastern Ky they will get worse than a beating, Watch the movie Next of kin.
Then, a nurse said – Praise the Lord!!! We just heard back!!!! There are people in route to protect the Coots and the Hamblins from all these horrible people associated with the Westboro Baptist Church!!!
At this point, I switched to Twitter to learn more. Westboro had tweeted: Westboro Baptist ‏@WBCSays Feb 17 WBC will picket funeral of charlatan “Pastor Jamie” Coots, tomorrow, 2/18/14-7:30pm @ Creech FH, 112 S 21st, Middlesboro, KY. Isa 47:10-13.

Tweets poured in, including:
• bo silcox ‏@bosilcox Feb 17
@WBCSays i hope you do come here we the people of middlesboro will run your ass off.
And this one: @WBCSays This is absolutely ridiculous. You pretentious assholes better think twice. I know Middlesboro people won’t put up with this.#smdh.

Of course I was dying to be in Middlesboro for this showdown but I didn’t want to drive 400 miles to the wake and then have someone decide I was only “media” and shut me out of the funeral. I am more than that, but when people are upset, they lash out at whomever’s convenient. Plus, I had an 8-year-old to think of and no one to leave her with. I contacted someone at the Chattanooga paper and they told me they were sending up two reporters and one photographer. I later found their piece on Twitter about what happened Tuesday evening. It sounded like all of Middlesboro turned out for the wake with people lining the main street partly to eviscerate the Westboro people if they dared to show up. They never did. TV crews stayed a respectful distance. WATE wrote this and WBIR filed this report. I got just about all the coverage of the funeral off of Twitter, actually. One thing I’ve found truly bizarre is the near-absence of the Knoxville News-Sentinel from covering this story. All they had from the funeral was this Associated Press story. I couldn’t even find a Twitter presence from them.

The sad conclusion to all this is that Jamie is gone. I can’t say I knew him very well, but he took my calls and clued me in on some of the background stuff going on in his movement. He was compassionate and seasoned; a real pastor. His presence was deeply sought in churches all over Appalachia and I saw the reverence that other people showed him in churches in Alabama and Tennessee; churches he took the trouble to visit even though it was a long drive. I specifically remember one evening in June at the Sand Mountain church where he stood in the middle of the platform and handled several snakes for at least 10 minutes while the rest of us just stared. He had a regal presence and such class. It is not for nothing that the town came to his funeral. As someone called “Poetry Share” said on Facebook: I remembered something brother Jamie Coots once said. He said I had rather die and leave this walk of life from a serpent bite with people standing around me praying as to be in a car wreck with people standing around me cussing. Soooo sounds like Jamie.

Myself as brand


June is certainly ‘bustin out all over’ with steamy hot days, which mean we’ve had the air on for several days straight. It has to be pretty hot for me to resort to AC all day but even the kids in Veeka’s day school are kept in during the afternoons because of the temps.
These days I’m going through boxes of old files from work, realizing that I’ll not be doing stories again on most of these items. It’s kind of bittersweet to go through years of documents over the Episcopal/Anglican breakup, which I chronicled as much – if not more – than any other US religion reporter for the secular media. Then there are the files on sexually abusive priests; also gay priests, gay bishops who hid the activities of their gay priests and sooo much material on church officials whom I – and many other reporters – knew were corrupt but we didn’t quite have enough to go on for a story. Re-reading some of those files made me sad that so many bad people got away with ruining the careers of good priests who dared to speak out against them.
It’s so sad to see the evisceration of the religion beat. So many friends have fled to academia to teach or get doctorates or take refuge in fellowships that allow them to travel the globe. So few hires are happening these days and the stories are as important as ever. Many of these same bishops and cardinals remain in power. The Episcopalians and the Anglicans are still fighting it out in court.
I’ve been working around the house a bit, painting the stone border around the crape myrtle in the back yard. Pictured is Veeka posing atop the stones which took forever to get done. The week I applied the primer was when there was a thunderstorm every afternoon mean that my paint job would get wiped out. Am working on other stuff; just started a “social media boot camp” where you learn how to analyze traffic and demographics on various web sites. Today was my first day and it was sure interesting hearing the lecturers say you can’t just have a presence on the web; you need to stand out. More sobering for my occupation; social media such as Twitter and Facebook have leveled the information-sharing play field that journalists once owned. Now everyone can and does provide information. Whether or not it’s accurate is another thing altogether but the presence of so many citizen-journalists has decimated the ranks of the professionals.
I tried measuring how many people read this site and the number was so low, the counting mechanism showed nothing. Hmmm – I have signed onto a different web site host so hopefully within a new months I’ll have a refurbished site that I’ll have a hand in designing. Guess I’ll recreate myself as a brand, right?