Brothers and sisters, if ribs are not a religion in Memphis, then Memphis does not have a religion (cue: church organ trills). It's like talking about barbecue sauces and the doctrines they imply in East Tennessee. I'm in Nashville at the moment, in central Tennessee, and there are even people here who claim that they know a thing or two about barbecue. Heresy.
My former editor at the Scripps Howard News Service -- a man who loved Memphis with a passion -- used to say that you either hear the music in Memphis or you don't. There's no way to explain that city to outsiders and that includes its powerful religious traditions and communities.
Well, the fine scribe David Waters of the The Commercial Appeal was one of the only people who ever had much success explaining the faith of Memphis to readers outside of West Tennessee. But then Waters came to Washington, D.C., to run the "On Faith" website project at the Washington Post. He was a strong voice in favor of working more news content into that mix and I, for one, wish that he had been free to spend more time writing during his time inside the Beltway.
Now Waters has turned around and headed back home. I thought GetReligion readers would appreciate a chance to read some of his comments on why he did that, thoughts offered as he begins a new religion-news project that sounds rather interesting.
Basically, Waters hears the music. Smelling the ribs doesn't hurt either. Here's the opening:
On one of my first mornings back in Memphis, I was standing in line to buy coffee when two women behind me starting praying. People in Washington, D.C., pray, too, but not out loud, with eyes closed, hands raised to heaven, in front of God and everyone at Panera.
It's good to be home.
I left The Commercial Appeal in 2007 to take a dream job at The Washington Post. It was an exciting place and time to be a journalist. I loved nearly every minute of it. My wife and I met wonderful people. We had unforgettable experiences. We never stopped being homesick.
As you can tell, this is going to be a love song. As Waters noted, "Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. We left our souls in Memphis."
But what is he going to do now? That's the question, especially if one cares about the kinds of WWW-friendly projects that could take serious religion-news writing into whatever business model comes next.
I used to write a column for The Commercial Appeal called Faith Matters. It was a fine name, but I always thought it was a bit too generic. At the Post, I edited and wrote for a section called On Faith, which is even more generic.
Starting today, I'm going with the hometown brand.
Faith in Memphis is the name of my new weekly column, which you can find on the cover of today's M section. It also will be the name of a website we plan to launch soon.
Not everyone in Memphis has faith. And, as Forbes magazine reminded us earlier this year, not everyone has faith in Memphis. But plenty of people do. This community is filled with people who show their faith in Memphis every day by what they choose to do, where they choose to live, what they choose to believe, and who they choose to be.
It will be interesting to see how this new hyper-local project turns out, with its combination of news, analysis and human-interest features. I'll keep watching (readers can help) to see when the online page gets up and running. Meanwhile, here's another recent Waters column.