New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

Growing up Baptist in East Texas, I learned a whole lot about fried catfish. Mostly, I learned that this was an important, even symbolic, food in rural communities and in black churches.

Later, when I married into a Baptist family in Georgia, that meant spending time in a region in which I learned, once again, that catfish was a part of life — in some parts of the community. The same thing’s true here in East Tennessee (along with barbecue, of course).

Even in Baltimore, we lived near a catfish joint that was jammed on the weekends — with African-Americans picking up stacks of take-out boxes for home and for church get-togethers.

So my eyes lit up when I saw this evocative double-decker headline in The New York Times, of all places:

Celebrating the Fish Fry, a Late-Summer Black Tradition

Catfish, hot sauce, a few sides: For many African-American families, these are makings of a time-honored gathering that feeds a sense of community.

Oh yeah, fried catfish, but also tilapia, snapper and “whitefish” — with lots of hot sauce. Then you had hushpuppies, of of course, with potato salad, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, greens and, maybe, french fries. And underneath the fish, to soak up some of the hot oil, there’s usually a slice or two of white sandwich bread.

Now, lots of good info about the food and black-family traditions made it into the Times piece, with the help of “food historian” Adrian Miller. And there’s a hint at deeper ties that bind in this key passage about this legacy of frying fish on weekends:

… The tradition took on a different meaning in the South during the era of slavery. “The work schedule on the plantation would slow down by noon on Saturday, so enslaved people had the rest of that day to do what they wanted,” Mr. Miller said.

Those who finished work early could go fishing and bring back their catch to be fried that night; plantation owners didn’t mind, Mr. Miller said, because it was one less meal they had to provide. “So the fish fry started as a Saturday-night thing on plantations, and it was like an impromptu get-together,” he said.

In the decades after Emancipation, the tradition became a business for many African-Americans, who brought fish fries with them as they migrated from the South to other parts of the country. … The fish fry was also used as a popular tool to raise money for churches.

Food for raising money? That’s all there is to it?

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Talking Pat Summitt: Down South, it matters whether you're Baptist or Methodist

Talking Pat Summitt: Down South, it matters whether you're Baptist or Methodist

If you grew up in the Bible Belt, then there's a good chance that you know the punch line to this old joke.

Question: How do you tell the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist in a Southern town?

Answer: The Methodist will say "Hi" to you at the liquor store, while the Baptist will stay silent.

That joke links up pretty well with another old Southern saying. In the typical Southern town or small city, church ties were supposedly linked to education. If you graduated from high school, you were a Baptist. If you had a college degree, you were a Methodist. If you had a law degree (or a sheepskin from a medical school) you were an Episcopalian.

Why bring all this up in a post linking to our new "Crossroads" podcast about University of Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, the trailblazing czarina who built the Lady Vols hoops empire? Click here to tune that in.

The link is actually pretty complex.

When I wrote my first post about the coverage of Summitt's death, at age 64 -- "The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism" -- I noted that the mainstream press had missed an important passage in the official obituary posted at the Pat Summitt Foundation website, focusing on her faith and her relationship with her son Tyler (an only child, after six miscarriages).

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What do Seattle, San Diego and West Virginia have in common? Right now, it's revivals

What do Seattle, San Diego and West Virginia have in common? Right now, it's revivals

Several months ago, a church in Seattle had a weekend revival. Then the meetings from that event carried over into the following week. And the next week after that. By the time they hit the fifth week, the church was getting bigger crowds, the event had its own hashtag (#westcoastrumble) and the nightly meetings were being broadcast online.

Similar revival meetings in San Diego were making this look like a regional phenomenon. By the eighth week, I decided this just might be news and so I started pitching a story about it. Religion News Service was interested and my story ran April 19.

This got me to thinking about revivals, mass meetings and movements, all of which are notoriously hard for a secular newspaper to cover well. Just what does constitute a large religious movement? Crowds? Miraculous healings? The fact that it’s spread to other locales?

Which is why I was interested to hear of a similar revival happening in West Virginia. The religious media, in this case CBN, were the first to arrive on the scene after a mere three weeks. CBN began with:

MINGO COUNTY, W. Va. -- There's a new sound coming forth from the hills of southern West Virginia - a sound many prophets have foretold but haven't heard until now.
For the past three weeks, the large sports complex in the small coal-mining town of Williamson, West Virginia, has been filled to the rafters with people crying out for God

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