Our Leading Lady’s Lip

When a dog in Mexico ripped off the top lip of our leading lady a few months ago, it wasn’t pretty.

Jacki Arnold Rexford, my niece, plays the leading lady Harriet in our documentary film. I asked her on a whim to try dressing up and see if the camera work we would do around trains that day would also look realistic with a period actress. Jacki walked up while we were at the Railroad Museum that morning and took our breath away. She was perfect.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 6.40.17 AM

Not only that, she is incredibly photogenic and has great presence in front of the camera. She is one of those classic actor/actress types (I directed a bunch of them when I headed up the dramatic productions at Covenant College) who is quite low key in real life, but when given the opportunity comes alive in a performance. (Conversely, the happy chatty types are usually not good at acting.)

Jacki graduated from Cooper Union Art School in Manhattan and moved here with her husband Caleb who works with Fancy Rhino video company. She is a homemaker in their East Lake fixer upper and one of her current of a multitude of talents and activities is fermenting and pickling whatever she can get her hands on.

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One of the shots of Jacki in the train car was so perfect, we used it for the key image and poster for the entire project. Her green eye matches the green background, and her prominent pouty lip adds intrigue to the title, “Harriet’s Secret.”

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Oh, yeah, the lip. So my beautiful niece and her husband Caleb take a quick jaunt to see a friend in Mexico about a month after we finished shooting. As they are eating, his dog comes under the table towards Jacki, somehow gets riled up and leaps up at her and bites her twice in the face. It all happened in a split second. There was blood and an obvious need to head to the emergency room immediately.

Waiting to heal.
Waiting to heal.

Caleb kept telling Jacki it was going to be fine. Meanwhile, Caleb’s friend was in the back seat holding the middle part of Jacki’s upper lip in a jar. He had found it on the ground right after the incident.

Thankfully, the plastic surgery industry in Mexico is pretty darn good. Apparently, a lot of Americans travel to Mexico for those operations. She spent a couple days in the hospital, the docs did their magic, and all I know to tell you is that today she looks exactly the same. She is as beautiful as she ever was. Thank God.

One of Caleb and Jacki's many fun pics and poses.
One of Caleb and Jacki’s many fun pics and poses.

You can see some of Jacki’s great acting in this trailer. I’m so glad to have her as part of the team and the cast.

P.S. 11 days to go. We had four new donors yesterday to reach $2,921. Help us reach $3,000 today! Give at the Kickstarter site here: http://kck.st/1jxKoL5


What’s the End Game?

Give to kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/1jxKoL5 or by check here: http://bit.ly/1hilP8u

So how will you distribute your film? What’s the end game?

I get that question a lot. Sure, it can be a little unnerving when the bottom line answer is, “I’m not really sure.” But I have confidence good things will happen.

As an author, I have never had a “publisher” publish one of my books. I have hundreds of rejection letters to prove I gave it a serious college try. So, my books have been self published. A few have done little, and a couple of them have done really well. One of them, “Old Money New South” about Chattanooga history, was the best selling book of all books at the local Barnes and Noble for one month. It was the best selling book of the year for a local downtown bookseller.
So, by intuition and experience, I know you can do the “build it and they will come” thing for creative media projects. I gave up long ago waiting for some atheist magnate in New York to give me permission to write or film something.

But, to answer the initial question: we will have a cool premiere of the movie in Chattanooga. Details to be announced. We will enter the film into several film festivals. I am confident we will get selected somewhere, although it may not be Cannes or Sundance. (I will try, though!)

We will put it on NetFlix. There is a way to do that, although it’s difficult to find just surfing around. If the project continues gaining traction and is well-received, we will submit it to various cable channels and see if one of them is interested in picking it up. If the general market has an interest (see my previous blog Sex sells), when we can sell it on the DVD market or on demand. Eventually, it will be available for everyone on YouTube.

One thing we have going for us is that the film is good. Each day of editing, I get excited about how it is all coming together. So, while being connected and having super duper marketing strategies are all important, they pale in comparison to having a first rate product. So I’m hopeful. See you at the box office.

12 days to go for the Kickstarter campaign. Please spread the word! Thanks.

Give to kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/1jxKoL5 or by check here: http://bit.ly/1hilP8u

Sex sells

Give to kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/1jxKoL5 or by check here: http://bit.ly/1hilP8u

I’ve decided to start blogging again as I make this film.

The first topic to choose was a no-brainer. My documentary deals a good bit with the topic of sex, and sex sells. It even sells blog posts.

“My great grandparents advocated for communism and free sex in the 1910s and 20s.” That’s the soundbite I use to describe this major documentary I am creating. It always works. Sex sells.
Percy and Harriet straw hat

Percy and Harriet espoused what they called “free love,” along with socialism and atheism, at the turn of the century, even though Harriet was a circumspect Christian from a strong religious family when she first met Percy on a train in 1893.

This was all way before the hippies’ sexual revolution of the 1960s. And the 60s wasn’t a gradual thing. The effort of the Progressives like my great grandparents died rather suddenly with the emergence of World War II. First, I’m guessing, because too much was at stake on a world level to be jacking around back home on moral issues. (Reminds me of the rugby team guys in South America whose plane crashed in the mountains for months. They said there were never any dirty jokes or swear words spoken—they needed God’s help too much.)

The second reason was the exposing of eugenics. Americans were dabbling in it, but the Nazis were deep into human breeding and gene selection, selecting males over females, lighter over darker, and all the things that come along with acting like God.

Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger

The Progressives, like Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, the largest performer of abortions in the world (and a buddy of my great grandparents), were deep into eugenics. “More children for the fit, less for the unfit” was on the masthead of Sanger’s birth control newsletter. I’m guessing that this association with eugenics was part of the reason the sexual views of the Progressives were also left behind for a “Father Knows Best” era until the 60s came along.
It’s pretty clear my great grandfather was running around with lots of young girls. He was a gynecologist in Hollywood, an abortionist (possibly handy on a personal level), and lived next door to the “Denishawn Dancers,” a world class dance troupe. These girls hung out all day at the house (and at night, too, I imagine), and their daughter ends up writing a lot about it in her journal decades later. That’s how we know all about it.

Percy flirts with a Denishawn Dancer (film footage).
Percy flirts with a Denishawn Dancer (film footage).

It’s pretty normal for a cad to run around with various women. But I regularly get asked, “Do you think your great grandmother was sleeping around?”

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect she did not. Her quotes from the journal seem to espouse a kind of high minded “Free Love” that one should be open to for making the world more open. Did she experiment a little here and there? Don’t know. I would think probably a few times to fit in with her radical crowd. But her ultimate reaction to Percy’s philandering—extreme jealousy and depression—indicates to me that she never personally embraced the lifestyle.

Harriet watches from behind. (Film footage)
Harriet watches from behind. (Film footage)

How it all pans out is the point of the documentary, so I will leave a little bit unsaid to keep you on your seat. But one of the points, I think, is a reminder that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Think you or your parents are sexual progressives? Ummm . . . someone’s already been there, done that. And it’s a lot more complicated than you think.

Give to kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/1jxKoL5 or by check here: http://bit.ly/1hilP8u

The Mentor of Lewis and Tolkien

Article with pictures here.

I have nearly finished in two days “A History in English Words” by Owen Barfield.

Barfield was an Inkling, a good friend of Tolkien, a better friend of C. S. Lewis, and a scholar who heavily influenced both of these legendary writers.

As best as I understand it, Barfield explained to them and the rest of the modern world that when language was invented, the world was a magical fairyland of Gods, and most things took their name from the gods.

Owen Barfield

As an illustration, when an infant sees a man and says, “Da Da!”, he has really only one concept: his daddy who is a man. The baby does not yet recognize other men. Not until he gets older will he be able to differentiate between his father and other men.

The same is true with society and language. “Panic” comes from Pan, the greek god of herds. Whatever Pan does to make those herds stampede is the same thing he does to humans when they go “pan-ish-like” or “pan-ic.” Only later, would an emotion known as panic be separated from a ghost who makes you panic.

The Latin word “spiritus” means wind, spirit, and breath. This is because when early man saw wind, he assumed it was a god breathing onto the world.


Who cares, you might say. Well, Tolkien and Lewis came to believe that this enchanted view of our world is much closer to reality than modern man’s sterile, “natural” view of nature. Barfield contradicted another scholar, who said myths were a “disease” of language. Rather, as Tolkien later put it, language was a disease of mythology. To say it another way, the gods came before the words.

Tolkien and Lewis believed the world is teeming with angels of many rank, both good and bad, along with the activity of the Holy Spirit.

If you think this is out of step with the enlightened leaders of the Reformation, think again.

John Calvin, in his commentary on the four living creatures in the early part of Ezekiel, says that “All creatures are animated by angelic motion.”


Calvin’s assertions were so strange that his modern translator argued with him in the footnotes. Nevertheless, Calvin went on to say: “While men move about and discharge their duties . . . yet there are angelic motions underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration.” (pp 334ff).

Modern man has lost his way. Not only is his worldview wrong, it is also boring.

What Tolkien did was bring excitement and mystery, enchantment and angelic or elvish magic back to the universe. People, who have eternity planted in their hearts by God, have been longing for this better version of reality.


| By chattabooks | 8:36 AM

Romney, Mormons, and the end of “Christian America”

The recent “Mormon bashings” on my Facebook page—or what one person called “drive-by postings”—probably deserve a more lengthy commentary. I have written long pieces in the past (books, blogs, etc), but currently the platform of social media seems to have me providing more Krystal bite-sized nuggets. Yet once in a while, more content is appropriate.

A number of you have dialogued and argued with me on these Mormon exposes, for various reasons. I love all of you. (“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” [Pr. 27:6,24:26]). Each of you is willing to provide your thoughts in writing to dialogue toward the truth. Conversely, many people simply hate and say nothing. (Pr. 10:18)

Since Relativism and Tolerance are key gods of our age, let me start with that issue: Many are simply offended that I would be “mean” to anyone, regardless of the situation. That doesn’t seem like Jesus. I agree, in general. But both Jesus and the Apostles could get very nasty when dealing with critical matters where supposed religious leaders are deceiving the good-hearted folks, being “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” what later is called the promotion of “heresy.” There are various forms of heresy, but the nature of Christ and doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation, the starting point, the center of all Christian belief, and when that gets tampered with, Jesus and the Apostles get pretty “mean.”

Jesus told the Pharisees, “You belong to your Father, the devil . . . the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). In Revelation, Christ calls the gatherings led by these same leaders a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 3:9). Not very nice words.

Paul pleads with sinners to repent. He exhorts the Jewish people themselves to follow Christ. He says problems of the flesh (adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc) are obvious failures and offers forgiveness to those who practice them (like the Corinthian guy sleeping with his Mother-in-law). But he doesn’t condemn them with the kind of fiery words of damnation that he reserves for promoters of heresy. He calls these types, among other things, “warped and sinful … self condemned.” (Titus 3:11)

So, there is obviously “a time for everything,” including a time to be “mean” like a mother would be mean toward a predator trying to eat her babies. I don’t think everyone will be able to get past this point since Relativism is so dang prevalent in our culture. (One person already unfriended me over this issue—I have no idea who she was, so I’ll probably get over it.) But I hope most of you can get over the “meanness” thing. Because it’s not the issue.

Oh, one other point here. False teachers screwing up people’s understanding of Jesus being God himself (like Mormons) can make the nicest people in the world become “mean.” In the 4th century, a bishop named Arius was promoting the view of Jesus now propagated by Mormons. St. Nicholas was one of the bishops at the council of Nicaea which attempted to sort through the false teaching of Arianism (not Aryanism, a racial word). St. Nick is Santa Clause (repeat St Nicholas and emphasize the first and last syllable and you’ll get it.) Church tradition tells us Santa Clause was so infuriated by the heresy spouted by Arius that he got up, walked over, and punched him in the face! He went to jail for it. When it comes to Arianism, its nice guys gone wild.

Why emphasize the heresy of Mormonism right before a pro-life, pro-family candidate like Romney might possibly defeat the very liberal Obama? I have answered this question a number of times in the threads but will repeat it briefly here.

Firstly, I care more about upholding, preserving, and championing the divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ than I do about politics.

Secondly, if Mitt Romney were a proven, longstanding prolife advocate like, say, Rick Santorum, that would make some difference. He’s not.

Thirdly, if I thought the country was on the precipice of overturning Roe v. Wade, I would be more interested in Romney. It’s not. The U.S. made its decision in the early 90’s to abandon any relationship between God’s law and civil law. On the most extreme issue of whether it should be legal to chop up a baby in the womb (even to the 9th month), our leaders silently approved, despite the fact that thousands of Christians were arrested blocking abortion clinics. Around that same time, both houses of congress and all 50 state houses openly discussed partial birth abortion, described it in detail, televised it on CSPAN, and the people and lawmakers decided to keep allowing it. Our country has made its decision, and I grieve the choice.

Fourthly, if I thought Romney was a less dangerous choice than Obama, that would also make a difference. I don’t. Seeing that lives won’t be saved by overturning abortion, it would be good to prevent the millions dying from our foreign wars. These conflicts are not about Democracy (when do we invade the Saudis?) but about oil and the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the efforts of desperate Western billionaire bankers to stay on top. Obama seems to reluctantly agree to the schemes of the secular, godless Neo-conservatives, despite the Nobel folks trying to egg him the other way. Conversely, Romney promises to boldly champion the evil machinations of the military industrial complex, the great monster we now face that Eisenhower tried to warn us against in 1960. This monster involves untold corruption. Assassinations, drug dealing (Russia begged the US to shut down the Afghan opium trade, but we refused), 16 intelligence agencies promoting lies upon lies, conducting regular torture, and other abominations too manifold to detail here. For most people, it goes under the category of: “You can’t handle the truth.” Suffice it to say, Ike was right.

The institution of government in America is not Christian and does not look to become so. This crushing blow has let me to another institution that I will discuss in a moment.

Because of my long, slow march toward despair of godly government in America, I have switched my strategy to help “strengthen what remains,” as Christ says to the church of Sardis (Rev. 3:2).

What does remain? There are millions, maybe even a 100 million or more good-hearted, faithful followers of the true Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself in the flesh, one of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Maybe less than millions. Who knows? But they are out there in vast numbers. Now, the Evil One may be attempting to snatch even that away from us. Robbing America of its moral and Christian foundations was not enough. Now it is time to deceive millions of Christians regarding the foundational belief of the Trinity.

You may say Romney is not heading up the church, he is heading up government. I understand. But where are the voices condemning the evils of Mormon heresy? Liberal Christians don’t care. Conservative religious leaders are in a silent political alliance. The Billy Graham organization has just removed Mormonism from their list of cults. For them, politics has become more important than championing the historic Christian foundation stone of the Holy Trinity.

Many ancient Christians were tortured and killed over the Arian heresy of the Mormons. My wife is reading a three-volume history of Byzantium, the empire that started about the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Today people think Constantine legalized Christianity and believers coasted from there, leading to institutional corruption. In fact, just as soon as Arianism was condemned as a heresy, Constantine’s son took over and killed Trinitarian Christians en masse in the name of Arianism. This persecution continued off and on for centuries. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Trinitarians have been tortured and killed for this foundational belief.

We, however, are afraid to offend our “nice Mormon friends.” We, unlike those tortured, are more interested in electing a Mormon to office than speaking out against Arianism.

My father earned his doctorate in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, a great man. I grew up talking theology at the dinner table. Yet, until I became connected to the historic Christian church, I could not have told you that we worship “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” I sing that every week now in the Divine Liturgy, as I have become Eastern Orthodox (more on that later). But growing up we talked about things like Calvinism, the rapture, the millennium, and modes of baptism. It’s not that we didn’t believe the Trinity. We just really didn’t talk about it much. We assumed it was, well, taken care of and obvious.

I say all that for those who think I am barking up a tree of paranoia. No, our evangelical Christian culture, though very well meaning, is really shallow and superficial when it comes to what we believe at a fundamental level. “Hey, if you love Jesus, it’s all good.” Arians say they love Jesus, so it’s really, really, not all good. It’s scary. Our culture is ripe for an Elmer Gantry to step in and lead the sheep to danger and destruction. Our media dominates and is owned by secular, godless people who are at best indifferent, and at worst hostile to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our military is dominated by secular neo-cons.

Is Satan not the ally of those who deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Did Satan not inspire Lenin and the Bolsheviks only 100 years ago to slaughter 8,000 pastors and millions of Orthodox Christians to advance an atheistic empire? Why are we exempt from such dangers?

I am not equating Romney with Lenin. I think the dangers I just laid out are true regardless of who is President. But Romney would make it even more complicated, as the evils of Arian/Mormon heresy will be more veiled and hushed. With Obama, we know we have a guy who promotes same-sex marriages. We don’t confuse him with a nice, conservative follower of Jesus.

So, what to do? On a general level, we must defend Christianity. We must be outspoken and champion the fundamental belief of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, and the Trinity. We must be willing to pay the price for doing so.

My personal decision has been to join the ancient Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy is the second largest Christian group behind Catholicism. Our church is vibrant in all sorts of cultures across the globe. Of those Christians being persecuted and killed in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, many, if not most, are Orthodox.

When dealing with these larger questions, the biggie of them all is this: who is in charge? Who makes the rules? Once this question is answered, it is easier to do the right thing. Just follow the leader. “Follow me, as I follow Christ,” said the Apostle Paul.

Let me provide a brief church history, terribly truncated by me and certainly from my perspective: Jesus laid his hands on the Apostles and actually began the institutional church (now a dirty phrase!) and “the gates of hell have not prevailed against it.” It continues today in the form of the Orthodox Church. In 1000 AD the Patriarch of Rome broke off from the rest of the Patriarchs because he wanted to change the Council of Nicaea. For a thousand years, the church had been “ruled” by hundreds of bishops coming together in a full council to decide the core truths of Christianity. No one man was in charge. They did this less then ten times in 1000 years. From these councils we crystallized the teaching of what books are Scripture, the Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, and other foundational Christian beliefs.

Rome’s break really screwed up Christianity. The other bishops said the councils cannot be changed, and they certainly did not believe one man should be in charge. 500 years after this “Great Schism,” as it is known, the Reformation rightly rebelled from various false teachings and practices committed by a Roman Catholic Church that had strayed from its authority—problems like indulgences, papal infallibility, and crusades. The Eastern Orthodox never committed these false practices.

Unfortunately, Martin Luther let the genie out of the bottle. If one man can break away from the church, he can decide for himself what is right. He can cause a church split. He can lead church in his own home. Hell, he can just have church with himself. Who can tell him different, for the Protestant belief is that he is in charge. Instead of one pope, we now have millions of them.

It is time to return to our forefathers, return to sanity, return to foundational Christian teachings. The Church fathers know better than we do. They know how important it is to sing each week, as has been done for nearly 2,000 years: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” They know how important it is to honor saints on the calendar day after day who lost eyes and limbs, who were boiled in hot oil, and who were ultimately killed for their commitment to the Trinity over Arianism. They understand that championing the Divine Essence of Jesus Christ is far more important than being cool or looking weird. (Funny robes, written prayers, and outdated music are not important issues.)

You can try fighting this battle on your own, but it is not recommended.

As I said at the beginning, I love all of you. I appreciate your vigorous responses. I am serious about this issue. Thank you for letting me discuss it in a lengthy fashion.


Mr. Jones was–no is–an icon

This isn’t Jim Jones but it may as well be.

You all know him. He’s the guy who is there “whenever the church doors are open.”

Jim Jones won’t be attending Grace Church in Roanoke this Sunday, but only because his funeral is today. He was 90.

Okay, he may have missed some services lately due to declining health. I don’t know because I don’t live in Roanoke anymore. But when I went to church there starting in 1966 as a two-year-old (Dad was the pastor), he was always there. Always.

If the church doors were open, whether worship service or Bible Study or Saturday work day, you might wonder how many people were going to show up. But you knew Mr. Jones would be there. Dad, Mr. Jones, and whoever else decided to come.

Jim Jones and wife Emily

According to the obit, he arrived at Grace Church in 1966, the same year I did. I am suspicious of this. Jim Jones has always been in Roanoke, since its founding, and he has always been at Grace Church, since the beginning of time. At least in my mind. I don’t have a conscious memory that doesn’t include seeing him up in the pulpit a couple times a week leading the hymn singing or making announcements or providing some other service or function for the church. When someone else better arrived on the scene to do it, he stepped aside with total graciousness and looked for other ways to serve. He was always serving, always smiling, always appreciating, always believing.

Today they sing cooler songs, praise music and such. But my spiritual formation cannot be understood without including years of my early psyche singing along with Mr. Jones to: Bringing in the Sheaves; When the Roll is Called Up Yonder; Jesus is All the World to me; I’m So Happy and Here’s the Reason Why; and dozens and dozens of other old faithful tunes. While they may not make the canon of all time classics (neither will the praise tunes, probably) they contained a more important element: a guy who really believed them leading the charge. That’s a nice thing for a young kid to observe several times a week in an age craving for authenticity.

The church asked me to speak at their 60 year reunion last year. Before I spoke, Jim Jones was on the agenda. There he was, up in the pulpit, speaking and providing old memories. It had been 30 years since I had been to the church, but, for me, nothing had changed. The world was still stable. Jim Jones was in the pulpit.

You know, the big dogs can be a little volatile, my Dad included. They reach great heights, then take a plunge. Think Jimmy Swaggart or Charles Stanley. Or even King David in the Bible. But it’s the Jim Joneses of the world that help us all keep the faith. They never waver. He is my Rock of Gilbraltar.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jim Jones modeled that. He is an icon. An archetype. A legend. I guess I could say I will miss him. But the truth is, Jim Jones is never leaving my memory.


Are the Yellow Deli folks a cult?

by Dean Arnold  5/22/08

Chattanooga has an electric shuttle that allows you to navigate downtown at no charge and with no yukky emissions.

I have an office at one end of the route where I eat breakfast every morning at the Bluegrass Grill around the corner. Joan Marie, the vivacious waitress, chats with everyone while her husband Jonas cooks the eggs and biscuits or the tofu and hash, if that’s your thing.

At the other end of the shuttle route is a coffee shop and a bookstore I frequent, along with my apartment. Most importantly, the Yellow Deli is nearby, a block from the local university, where 50 some people in a local commune with long hair, beards, and women in flowery dresses serve strange teas and sandwiches and talk a lot about their religion. It’s open 24/7 and the young people flock to the place.

They’re a cult. Or so say a bunch of the locals.

No they’re not, insist a bunch of other locals. They are lovely people who take their faith seriously, live out their beliefs of following Christ with all their heart, and have simply continued the ideals of the hippie and Jesus movement of the 60s.

Mural at the Yellow Deli

Au contraire, argue the others, who are familiar with the Yellow Deli people from when they rocked Chattanooga’s Bible Belt world back in the early 70s. A number of families had to kidnap their children and then have them deprogrammed. All the fuss caused the Deli leaders to move the commune to Vermont. But last year they resolved to return to Chattanooga, the city where they once shook the dust off their sandals.

The Yellow Deli people have written a book about all the controversy entitled “Cult Scare.”  The parents were the kidnappers, they say, mainstreamers simply scared by people enthusiastic about their love for Jesus. One lady in the group was captured twice by her parents, once in Chattanooga, another time in France, but returned to the commune both times and serves sandwiches to this day in the Choo Choo city whose trains stopped running in 1973 but now boasts an electric shuttle.

To me, the world seems to revolve around Chattanooga. I wrote a book about the enigmatic place a few years ago. My theory was cemented during a visit to the offices of the United States Senate in D.C. There on the wall was a picture of Andrew Jackson, Pocahontas, and some folks in the 1890s heading up Lookout Mountain, the eminence that overlooks Chattanooga. I have no idea why it hangs there.

Neither can I figure out how a small Yellow Deli group, after moving to Vermont, then grew into over 30 communes across the world and now boasts perhaps the world’s largest movement of intentional communities.

The last couple of weeks I’ve asked all kinds of people about the Yellow Deli folks. The answers are very polarized, from “you’re an intolerant buffoon to ask such questions” to “they are a dangerous cult. Beware.”

So I checked them out myself. Unlike most, I love to interact with these types. If the subject is not politics, religion or sex, I’m probably not interested.

It was midnight when I got there after a busy day and I was hungry as heck. Lots of literature was laying around and I glanced at some of it as I headed to the counter to order something. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a grey-haired guy with a pony tail inching nearer. I knew he wanted to talk, but I wanted to order.

“Are you interested in the literature,” he asked enthusiastically.

“Sure,” I said, walking away from him toward the counter. He kept following me, thinking I was another wary visitor.

Fortunately, I made it to my destination and got my sandwich order processed and sat down. There he stood.

“What’s your name” I asked.


“A what?”

“Ayal. It means Ram in Hebrew.”

He introduced me to the head guy who goes by “Yoenig.” I don’t know what it means, but I did know that he is originally from Chattanooga’s uninteresting neighborhood of East Ridge and was known then as Gene Spriggs. Now he’s the “apostle” for the “Twelve Tribes,” as the Yellow Deli people now call themselves.

Apostle Gene "Yoenig" Spriggs and wife Martha.

Whatever. I can deal with this. These folks are trying to love each other, live in community, and worship God. Sure, they are kind of weird, but it sure beats suburbia and prozac. Young people are energized and are living for something greater than themselves and greater than materialism. Lots of people call themselves bishop and apostle. So what? Robert Duvall was a pretty harmless apostle. There could be a lot of worse things.

I had read their mission statement. Trinitarian. Christ both God and man. The infallible Bible. All the things my father the evangelical pastor who got his doctorate in theology from Dallas Seminary would nod approvingly over. Why quibble over Jewish names and pony tails?

“We believe slavery was biblical” said Ayal.

“Come again?”

“Our black brothers need to know this to be free,” he continued helpfully. “They are under the curse of Ham, Noah’s son.”

I scratched my head.

“Ayal, can I ask you a question?”


“Why are you bringing this up to me so quickly? I mean, isn’t this a bad PR move on your part? Why not leave this subject for another time?”

“Well, people need to be free of deception.”

Further questioning convinced me that if I had a question about their PR strategy, ultimately I’d have to ask Gene “Yoenig” Spriggs.

Down at the Bluegrass Grill, I got some interesting insights. Turns out Jonas the cook is “Father Jonas,” a priest for the local Orthodox Church, as in Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox. He wears a cute little square black hat when he works in the window behind the counter and I never learned whether that’s just his cool thing or part of his priest thing. He used to be Larry. They take on new names as well.

Joan Marie and Father Jonas outside the office.

Joan Marie, who used to be Jane, told me she and Larry . . .  I mean, Father Jonas . . . actually lived in a commune themselves back in the day. They were trying to act just like the early church, who, we’re told in the Bible, all sold their stuff and lived in a commune for a while. Their early church studies also told them that bishops ran the church, wore robes and hats and stuff, and conducted church in a liturgical, synagogue/temple kind of way. Apparently, the Orthodox Church today still does the same thing, and the folks in Jonas and Joan Marie’s commune eventually all decided to become Orthodox.

“What about communes?” I asked her. “Do the Orthodox still do that?”

“They’re called monasteries,” she said.

She went on to explain that communes get very difficult when children are in the mix. How does a father provide? Who gets the bike? What about college funds? She thinks the Yellow Deli people may be keeping men from being the fathers they ought to be.

Interesting contrast. Gene Spriggs the Apostle got things going a few decades ago. Jonas and Joan Marie follow a tradition that started 2,000 years ago. According to the Orthodox, the line of authority started with Jesus laying hands on the 12 disciples and never stopped. For a thousand years, councils of hundreds of bishops ruled the church and developed key foundational beliefs like which books are in the Bible, one God in three persons, the God-Man Jesus, and the Apostles Creed.

The movement got a major glitch when the bishop of Rome in 1000 A.D. or so decided he was in charge of the other bishops. “We don’t think so,” they responded, and Eastern and Western Christianity excommunicated each other. The Roman Catholic church was born. When the Protestant Reformation emerged 500 years later, it led to thousands of Christian groups today, including the version provided by Gene Sprigg’s Twelve Tribes Yellow Deli.

For the Orthodox, there’s no particular difference between Gene and the Pope: both wandered from the fold. The Orthodox have never corrupted into indulgences, papal infallibility, crusades, or slavery endorsements. They remain “Orthodox.”

The next day at the Yellow Deli, I got to chatting with “Elihav,” a nice enough young guy who served me coffee. He explained to me that the mural on the wall with lots of graffiti and painted words is a history of the entire Jesus movement. You can tell he’s proud that their group stuck with the vision, the Big Chill be damned.

After talking a lot, he asked me some questions, and eventually I shared my concerns, after talking to Joan Marie, that anyone can’t just start a religious movement. There needs to be some history and tradition over time.

He nodded with enthusiasm. “We’ve been around over 38 years.” 



It takes a Bubba to replace a Tiger

A Phil cannot replace a Tiger. Neither can a Luke or a Lee. An imaginative name needs to be matched by something just as interesting.

Like a Bubba.

Bubba Watson

Despite Tiger Woods’ collapse the past three years, no golfer has come close to replacing him in the public imagination as golf’s top icon. Because no one else has the right stuff.

Tiger grabbed the public’s fancy in the late 90’s with the longest drive on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus did the same thing 30 years before. Phil Mickelson can drive the ball a long way, but not as long as Tiger. New Master’s champ Bubba Watson, however, is by all accounts the longest driver now on tour and sails his long ball far past Tiger Woods.

Phil can be somewhat interesting. Recent U.S. Open champ Rory McElroy is a nice kid. Padraig Harrington won three majors in a couple of years. But none of them have that touch of glamour and panache needed for a reigning celebrity. Tiger debuted the collarless shirt concept that featured his finely toned muscles, and he always wears a bright red one on Sunday. These little strokes of image consciousness make a big difference.

Bubba doesn’t do little. Like his drives, Bubba sports a large dose of panache. His glowing pink driver makes Tiger’s red shirts look dull. Bubba’s physique is larger and broader than his counterpart. He wears a $500,000 white watch, designed specifically for him by famed designer Richard Mille (only 38 others were made). Bubba drives the actual car used in the Dukes of Hazzard TV show dubbed “The General Lee.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Bubba’s bright pink driver.

Tiger has also bedazzled the crowd for many years with his amazing trick shots down the stretch. Out of the deep rough, over a tall tree, or around the corner, he seems to have the ability to pull it off. Bubba doesn’t have a category called “trick shots.” They’re all extraordinary. He curves every shot he hits 20 to 40 yards, in either direction, mostly for the fun of it, in order to appease his overly active, ADD mind. He calls it “Bubba golf.” The 40 yard hook he hit from the deep woods underneath several trees to win the Masters? “It was a pretty easy shot,” he said. And he meant it.

Until now, no one has threatened Woods’ billion dollar industry as Mr. Golf. No one has been enough like Woods to pull it off.

Bubba surpasses Tiger in all these important qualities. But he may also leap ahead of Woods due to the ways he is unlike the reigning icon.

Tiger makes a perfect swing that has been developed by the greatest teachers in golf. Bubba has never had a lesson. The average guy can relate.

The average guy may also be yearning to return to some old-fashioned values in this age of growing moral chaos. Tiger’s swinging lifestyle, then his attempted recovery via Zen Buddhism, both have a certain avant garde appeal. But the rest of the Billy Bobs in America likely prefer Bubba’s excitement about winning on Easter. A few weeks before, he posted his priorities on Twitter: “1. God. 2. Wife. 3. Family. 4. Friends. 5. Golf.”

No one doubts that Tiger puts golf first. His steely facade down the stretch of tournaments in some ways gains admiration from the fans. But prolonged bouts of non-emotion can wear on people over time. Bubba wept like a baby after sinking his winning putt. He kept doing so during the award ceremonies. It’s definitely different, but it might be a different that the masses are ready to embrace.

The largest contrast between the two golfing greats is championships. Bubba has one. For now. Unlike the other contenders, Bubba actually has more potential than Tiger Woods. And unlike the others, he can steal the limelight from Tiger even if he only wins a few here and there like Phil or Padraig or Rory have done. Because he can capture the public’s imagination, thanks to the complete Bubba package.

The Miracle of Writing requires Guts and Hard Work

For 3ThoughtsOn.com
Oxford faculty commons.

I have a reoccurring nightmare: I am about to go on stage (I did some acting in high school and college), but I’ve only memorized about 10 percent of my lines.

I suppose this subconscious fear is related to our culture’s pressure for perfection and performance. I felt something eerily similar when the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society agreed to my suggestion that I read to them my movie script about the close relationship—and later falling out—between authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Next week would be great, the president told me. I had made it sound like my finished screenplay was ready for prime time. In fact, the three months I’d spent in England were so far mostly about research. I had only written about ten percent of the script.