May 06, 2015
Art selection and comment by Lil Copan
Joe Light was a towering, often disturbing figure in his Memphis community. He aligned himself with the prophets and considered himself a kind of Moses. Before he became an artist, he was incarcerated. In prison in 1960, he heard a preacher explore the Old Testament, and he returned to his cell with the sound of a voice in his head. Commenting on the experience later, he said that he thought he was losing his mind. He tested the voice: “‘If you are God, prove it.’ ‘Step up to the cell door,’ the voice answered, ‘and I’m going to let a bird land on that window sill . . . Tell it what to do, and it will do it.’ And sure enough the bird landed on it . . . That bird on that man’s head is like the spirit of God. I felt the presence of God following me regularly.” While various versions of the birdman exist, this image remains Light’s signature piece. Light was a bit of a loose cannon, said Kevin Gordon, owner of Gordon Gallery in Nashville, “but he was also a man whose personal beliefs were strong, and who wasn’t the least bit afraid to share them with anyone, no matter the consequences.”
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was the book of my youth. I didn’t grow up poor in Depression-era Alabama, but I identified with Scout as I read it several times in my teens. My childhood was a middle-class family in the integrated Bronx, but Scout and I shared a house full of books and a lawyer-father blessed with a firm, centering integrity. Later, studying journalism at NYU in the 1980s, I heard that if you wanted to learn what good writing was, read Mockingbird every year.
Religion is often on display in professional athletics, with the exception of the National Hockey League. The few hockey players who are open about their faith buck a tradition of reticence or downright distrustfulness toward religion. Unlike professional football or basketball, many NHL players come from Canada or Europe, where the culture is much more secular and religious faith is closely guarded. There is also the suspicion in hockey that a person of faith might be too soft a player. Some hockey clubs make chapel services available, but far fewer than in professional basketball (Boston Globe, April 5).