Appalachia

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

To put things in country-music terms, this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that) is about pain, sorrow, alcohol, divorce, blue-collar families, coffee, hard times, opioids and God.

Oh, and waffles.

If you don't live in Waffle House America, let me explain. We are talking about a chain -- in 25 states -- of old-school, Southern-style dinners that serve breakfast 24/7 and attract large numbers of workers and rural folks who don't work normal schedules.

If you want to laugh about the Waffle House world, you can listen to the country-fried tribute song by Stephen Colbert (a native of South Carolina) and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson, entitled, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads."

But the podcast isn't really about laughter. It's about the complex issues that affect ministry to many hurting people in this slice of the American people.

My chat with host Todd Wilken focused on my "On Religion" column this week -- which is about a United Methodist pastor in Alabama who is doing some interesting things while trying the reach working-class people. His name is Pastor Gary Liederbach and he uses his local Waffle House as his unofficial office on weekday mornings.

This anecdote sets the tone:

One recent morning, Liederbach sat down at the diner’s middle bar, where the line of side-by-side chairs almost requires diners to chat with waitresses and each other. He didn’t see the empty coffee cup of a rough, 50-something regular whom, as a matter of pastoral discretion, he called “Chuck.”
When Chuck came back inside from smoking a cigarette, he lit into Liederbach with a loud F-bomb, blasting him for taking his seat.

 

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Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

After President Donald Trump’s victory last year, not a few journalists traveled to the hinterland to find out just where were those disenchanted white folks who voted Republican. Who were these people and was it possible to get inside their heads?

The Washington Post has come out with three lengthy pieces about these folks, one of which was set in Grundy, Va., a town I stayed in six years ago when I was researching serpent-handling Pentecostals (which also ran in the Post). This section of Appalachia is where a lot of these believers live. The photo with this story is one I took in a town in Tazewell County, Va., just down the road from Grundy and where one in six working-age residents are on disability.

Would this series, I wondered, mention the faith that sustains many of these residents, who have little else in life to live for? The answer, I found, was yes and no.

The first part of the series, set in Alabama, focused on the stunning percentage of adults who are on disability across the country.

Across large swaths of the country, disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks, according to a Washington Post analysis of Social Security Administration statistics…
The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether. For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.

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Strangely faith-free story about ministry to feed the poor

For the past two decades, I have spent quite a bit of time driving the back roads of the Southern Highlands, which is one of the many names that locals use to describe the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

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