Tag: entertainment

Elvis Week reading: Faithful hordes still swarming the King’s castle

Elvis Week reading: Faithful hordes still swarming the King’s castle

From the archives: Lead story of package my wife and I wrote at 20th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

By Bobby Ross Jr. and Tamie Ross| The Oklahoman

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Goose bumps formed just below James Hubert’s earphones as he followed the Graceland Mansion tour group into the dining room.

As Priscilla Presley recounted on audiotape how Elvis Presley chomped southern cooking, played poker and swapped stories in this room, the Lawton man passed from commercialized present to nostalgic past.

Suddenly, there at the head of the eight-foot table, Hubert could see him.


“Man,” Hubert said, “Elvis walked through here eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich.”

‘Promised Land’

The king of rock ‘n’ roll left the building 20 years ago.

When Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42, Hubert didn’t qualify as an Elvis fan.

Then a 17-year-old high school student, he banged his head to Van Halen and KISS – the hard stuff.

But as the 20th anniversary of Presley’s death approached, the Lawton city equipment operator stepped into Elvis’ world.

He was far from alone.

Twenty years after Elvis’ death from an accidental drug overdose, the King maintains his throne.

Read the full package.

These stories appeared in the Aug. 10, 1997, and Aug. 11, 1997, editions of The Oklahoman.

Preach it, Teech: Minister mixes God, hip-hop


Preach it, Teech (reporting from Santa Ana, Calif.): For California minister, rap music is a way to reach a new generation.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

SANTA ANA, Calif. — As Jason “Teech” Darden grabs a microphone, loud music pulsates.

The audience — a group of urban students invited to a Saturday mentoring event — cheers as Darden begins to rap.

“Turn it up right here,” the Christian hip-hop artist instructs as he grooves to the rhythmic beat.

Darden, 34, sports an Oakland Raiders cap, a black hooded sweatshirt and camouflage pants as he invites the children gathered at Martin R. Heninger Elementary School to repeat the lyrics.

“I said, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart!’” he declares again and again.

Twenty-four hours later, Darden dons a different wardrobe — a white, button-down shirt, dark slacks and shiny brown shoes — as he steps to the pulpit of the 200-member Mission Viejo Church of Christ.

In each venue, he expresses the same passion: his love for Jesus Christ.

“For Teech, it’s always been about spreading the Word,” said Marcus Thompson, a West Oakland Church of Christ member collaborating with Darden and Anthony Nelson to create the hip-hop label Kerusso Music.

This story appears in the February 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

A search for preachers — reality TV style


A search for preachers — reality TV style (reporting from Malibu, Calif.): A video quest puts a modern twist on efforts to inspire a new generation of ministers. 

MALIBU, Calif. — “American Idol” for ministers?

“Survivor” with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

Welcome to the “Next Gen Preacher Search,” developed by Pepperdine University’s Youth Leadership Initiative.

The national contest invited students interested in preaching and teaching to submit five-minute videos for review and critique — and a potential opportunity to speak at a major event such as the Tulsa Workshop in Oklahoma or the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

“I’m hoping idolatry is nowhere near, but we wanted to use an idea that young people would be kind of familiar with and something that would challenge them,” said Jeff Walling, the Youth Leadership Initiative’s director.

The ultimate goal: to inspire more young Christians to devote their lives to sharing God’s word.

“When we listen to folks in our Christian colleges, I hear them saying they have fewer and fewer students walking through the door saying, ‘I want to preach,’” said Walling, a frequent speaker at youth rallies and the former longtime preaching minister for the Providence Road Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C.

No one was looking for a golden ticket to Hollywood, but 40 semifinalists were chosen to work with “mentor preachers” and fly to a recent two-day training event — either at Pepperdine or at Johnson University in Kissimmee, Fla.

This story appears in the March 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

The faith behind Disney’s ‘McFarland, USA’


The faith behind Disney’s ‘McFarland, USA’: New movie starring Kevin Costner is based on the inspiring true story of coach Jim White, who has deep roots in Churches of Christ.

“McFarland, USA,” a new Disney film starring Kevin Costner, tells the true story of California cross-country coach Jim White, who transformed a migrant farm town’s predominantly Latino high school into an unlikely powerhouse.

The PG-rated motion picture, which opens nationwide Feb. 20, has “a lot of Hollywood” in it, as the real-life Jim White and his wife, Cheryl, describe it.

But the Whites — lifelong Church of Christ members who infused their faith into their work with generations of runners — wholeheartedly endorse the movie’s overall message.

“They captured our true love for the kids, and they captured the hard work that these kids actually go through to survive,” Jim White said.

Cheryl White, who is played by actress Maria Bello, said: “They don’t depict me as the involved mother and wife that I was, but that’s OK. They got it close enough that it tells a good story about paying it forward and being involved with kids.”

The Whites, both 73, met in 1959 at the short-lived Magic Valley Christian College, a liberal arts school associated with Churches of Christ that was located in a small mountain range of southeastern Idaho. The college sweethearts married in 1961.

This story appears in the February 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

No R-rated movies shown at this family-friendly drive-in


No R-rated movies shown at this family-friendly drive-in  (reporting from Calvert City, Ky.): Kentucky church members stay true to their Christian values while operating one of the nation’s few remaining outdoor theaters.

CALVERT CITY, Ky. — As the sun sets in rural western Kentucky, the marquee lights shine at the Calvert Drive-in Theatre.

For many who enjoy the outdoor movie experience, the nightly double features stir nostalgia and fond memories of simpler times.

But for theater manager John Harrington and his wife, Paula — faithful members of the Calvert City Church of Christ — the 61-year-old drive-in represents more than a fading icon of Americana.

It’s a way of life.

“It’s a family business that was built by John’s grandfather,” Paula Harrington said.

As their Christian faith influences their business, the Harringtons refuse to show R-rated films.

“The last R-rated movie we ran was ‘Passion of the Christ,’” John Harrington said, referring to Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours and crucifixion.

This story appears in the November 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Inside the ‘Duck Dynasty’ church

Inside the ‘Duck Dynasty’ church

For home congregation, Robertson family’s celebrity a blessing and a challenge.

First Place, Feature Article, Associated Church Press

Honorable mention (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

WEST MONROE, La. — Gasps of excitement wash over a crowded classroom at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ as Phil Robertson arrives for Sunday school.

Seventy pairs of stargazing eyes follow the bearded, camouflage-clad Duck Commander as he shakes hands with fans, thanking a couple from Canada for sending their ducks down south.

The reality television star carries a well-worn Bible, the thick binding held together with duct tape, as he takes his seat facing the audience.

“Y’all looking at me saying, ‘That’s about the raggedyest-looking Bible school teacher I’ve ever seen in my life,’” Robertson tells the class, a mix of yuppies in suits and shiny shoes and rednecks in faded jeans and mud-caked boots.

“God does not look at outward appearances, the clothes on your back,” the 67-year-old church elder adds as he opens his Bible to John 3:16 and begins sharing the Gospel.

“Duck Dynasty” — which set a reality TV record with nearly 12 million viewers of one episode last year — has made celebrities out of Robertson, his wife Kay, their four sons, their daughters-in-law, their grandchildren and even Phil’s quirky brother, “Uncle Si.”

All the Robertsons are longtime, active members of the White’s Ferry Road church, which meets just a few miles from the Duck Commander/Buck Commander warehouse in this northeast Louisiana town of 13,000.

Read the full story.

Related column: What will Phil say at the Tulsa Workshop?

This story appears in the April 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Faith, family and ducks: Behind the scenes of ‘Duck Dynasty’

Faith, family and ducks: For these reality TV stars, ‘holding hands with Hollywood’ presents a challenge as they endeavor to share Jesus (reporting from West Monroe, La.). Currents.

WEST MONROE, La. — Hollywood, meet the real Robertsons.

A&E’s hit reality series “Duck Dynasty” has made celebrities out of Duck Commander Phil Robertson, his wife Kay and their bearded, camo-clad sons Willie, Jase and Jeptha, not to mention “Uncle Si,” Phil’s younger brother.

As the network portrays it, the series — whose Season 1 finale drew 2.6 million viewers — follows a Louisiana bayou family living the American dream as they operate a thriving duck call and decoy business while staying true to their family values.

For the Robertsons, those values relate to the grace and salvation found in Jesus.

But for the show’s producers, the family’s strong Christian faith seems to be an uncomfortable storyline — one frequently chopped in the editing room.

“They pretty much cut out most of the spiritual things,” Phil Robertson, a one-time honky-tonk operator who gave up his heathen lifestyle in the 1970s, told The Christian Chronicle. “We say them, but they just don’t run them on the show.

“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.”

‘Duck Dynasty’ trip conjures precious boyhood memories (reporting from West Monroe, La.). Inside Story.

For rural Louisiana church, prayer workshop an annual source of spiritual growth, strength (reporting from Calhoun, La.). National.

Kansas church plans resource center for released prisoners (reporting from Kansas City, Kan.). Second Front.

This post highlights my stories in the November 2012 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.