Great Smoky Mountains

Fine Washington Post story about Dolly Parton (but try to guess what part got left out)

Fine Washington Post story about Dolly Parton (but try to guess what part got left out)

Quite some time ago, the world-weary team of journalists at Entertainment Weekly produced a surprisingly serious and well thought out list of the most important women in the history of the American entertainment business.

I wish I could give you a URL for that article, but I have never been able to figure out that magazine's approach to digital content. 

Anyway, my memory is that Lucille Ball was No. 1, in large part because of her revolutionary role in managing her own career options. Oh, and she was a brilliant comic actress.

Dolly Parton was No. 2 for pretty much the same reason. Bluntly stated, she was and is a brilliant businesswoman who has opened all kinds of doors for other women in Nashville and the entertainment biz, period. She is also one of the most underrated songwriters, and stage performers, of all time.

I bring this up for a simple reason. Dolly is always news here in East Tennessee, where she is to our culture sort of what the Queen is to England -- only Parton has tons of business clout to go with all of her earth mama of the Smokes symbolism.

Now Dolly has gone and done something really important linked to the wildfires that ravaged our region a few weeks ago. You may have seen one or two short items about that on the national news. Maybe. For elite media, this was kind of like the Louisiana floods 2.0, as in something going on in red-state land that really didn't matter that much. Maybe if Donald Trump had paid a visit?

Parton has pledged, through her foundation, to give every family that lost a home -- 700 homes and businesses were destroyed -- $1000 a month for six months to help get them back on their feet. Her do-it-yourself TV telethon raised about $9 million to help out, too.

You can imagine the local coverage here in East Tennessee. However, Dolly's crusade also caught the eye of editors at The Washington Post, which printed nice, long, highly detailed feature on her. However, anyone want to guess what part of Parton's story the Post pretty much ignored?

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In ruins of the East Tennessee fires, CNN & Co. spot a kind of miracle (maybe)

In ruins of the East Tennessee fires, CNN & Co. spot a kind of miracle (maybe)

Here's the news from East Tennessee, for those who are still following the story of the worst in a century wildfires that threatened to take all of Gatlinburg, a resort town east of Knoxville.

First things first: the death toll remains at 13, as workers carefully pick their way through the 1,000 businesses, homes, etc., that burned or were damaged. One of those lost was the Rev. Ed Taylor, the man who pretty much put this lovely corner of East Tennessee on the map as a site for weddings.

The other news is that we are in having a long, stead, soaking rain here and there is more rain in the forecast. The winds remain rather high, however, and the local authorities stress that the fires in the Great Smoky Mountains burned deep down into the ground cover and roots of these old forests. (For those who missed my earlier post on this topic, my family lives in Oak Ridge, which is up against the face of the Cumberland Mountains to the west of the fires.)

As you would expect, here in Bible Belt territory, there continue to be religion angles in many of the stories linked to the fires.

A reader sent me this CNN report, which I thought was interesting -- but had a rather important factual hole in it. The grabber headline proclaimed:

"Statue of Jesus only thing left standing in house burned by Tennessee wildfire."

Now, I grew up in tornado alley along the Texas-Oklahoma border and I have seen some rather strange -- some would say miraculous -- things in the wake of storms and other powerful natural disasters. I have seen (with my young eyes, in this case) a whole neighborhood leveled, except for the undamaged church in the middle. Or then there's the house that vanishes, except for the closet containing three children hiding under a mattress.

Well, in this case we are talking about something else:

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Fires in the mountains: About that haunting Bible passage that was blowing in the wind

Fires in the mountains: About that haunting Bible passage that was blowing in the wind

First, a word of thanks to those who sent messages about the wildfires here in East Tennessee, asking if all was well here in the tmatt.net corner of the hills.

It helps to understand that the Tennessee Valley is about 40 miles wide here near Knoxville (click for map) and the worst fires have been in the East, in the Great Smoky Mountains. I live in Oak Ridge, which is up against the face of the Cumberland Mountains in the West. There is quite a bit of land, and often water, between the two ranges.

Still, everyone here knows people, or lots of people, who have been caught up in this story. I have been wondering -- given the culture in these parts -- when some kind of faith-centered story (other than people of faith jumping into the action at the level of volunteers, aid, etc.) would emerge from the flames.

If you've seen images from the Gatlinburg and Dollywood area fires, you know that hotels, lodges and rental cabins were hit hard. Can you imagine how many Bibles there were stashed in bedside drawers in all of those rooms, not to mention in the possession of the local residents?

That leads me to this interesting, and rather haunting, story that ran in The Knoxville News Sentinel and then was picked up by Religion News Service. To be blunt, the local headline doesn't do much to hint at what's really going on here: "Dollywood employee finds burned Bible page after wildfires."

The main difference between the News Sentinel and RNS versions of this story is that the team that worked on the original made the unconventional, but wise in my opinion, decision to put the Bible passage on that charred page right at the top of the text. Thus, the overture looks like this:

"O Lord to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness." -- Joel 1:19-20, King James Version

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