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Some days ago, I promised you all an account of our adventures on the road between here and Memphis, and you know how I hate to keep people waiting.

There is much that I could tell you about the state of Tennessee, admitted to the Union in 1796, a hundred years before Utah, for example, attained statehood. It is, as you can see from the image above, a long, skinny, horizontal state, an italicized minus sign wedged in among the more cumulus-shaped states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, not to mention the Carolinas. Tennessee rejoices in a number of biblically- and classically-named towns: Lebanon, Maryville, Carthage, Sparta. It also contains a Bucksnort and not one but two Lickskillets. One of these, though, is spelled Lick Skillet; people there take things more deliberately, I guess, than the hasty Lickskilleters who don’t breathe between the lick and the skillet. I always wonder what was for breakfast the day they named that town.

Interstate 40, our road, climbs up out of the Mississippi River at Memphis. Well, that’s not true, of course. It crosses a bridge, like any normal highway which hasn’t had an underwater tunnel dug for it. But from Memphis the road does climb north to Jackson, home of Carl Perkins and the Casey Jones Museum, before levelling off towards Nashville and the eastern hills.

Naturally this is fascinating intelligence, and I could go on shoveling it at you all day long, because whereas Jody is a philosopher, I am a philotrivialist, and there’s nothing I like better than random stuff. You, however, are wondering when we’re going to get to the religion. That’s what you come here for, after all.

There. Are you happy now? These are the gigantic crosses with which Bellevue Baptist Church greets a relentless stream of I-40 motorists on the outskirts of Memphis. Three empty crosses: the strangeness of that used not to strike me so much, but now it does. We can explain where the corpus on the middle cross went, but what about the other two? The Resurrection of the Body hasn’t happened yet for those thieves. What exactly are we highway-driving believers supposed to think about this? Fortunately or unfortunately, you drive by too fast most of the time to ponder the question too . . . ponderously.

ADDENDUM: Maybe it’s just me, but it came to me suddenly that something about those three crosses — their emptiness, their medicinal whiteness, the anaesthetic functionality of their form — was reminiscent of this image from The Anchoress, who’s making me want a tomato sandwich right now, as well as collecting Soviet-style propaganda posters for our era.

Between Memphis and Nashville, religious iconography is thin on the ground, save for white roadside crosses commemorating the victims of car accidents, and the occasional billboard informing you that Somebody Loves You or inquiring after your plans for eternity. There used to be, somewhere in the vicinity of the Tennessee River, a truck stop named for Saint Michael the Archangel, which in an overwhelmingly Protestant landscape was interesting enough in itself; more interestingly, if I’m remembering correctly, this truck stop shared an exit with an Adult Superstore, Saint Michael defending the traveler in battle against the prowling spirits of Videos! Toys! Lingerie!

On this trip, coming and going, I looked for Saint Michael. The roadside was punctuated with empty signposts, more than I remembered from a year ago. The Adult Superstore, on the other hand, seemed to have spawned numerous offspring. Saint Michael, come back. Be our protection on Interstate 40, against the questions of children in the back seat, who want to know why we never stop for videos and toys.

We did stop next to this Nobamacaremobile at a rest area somewhere near Knoxville. That is indeed my compact economy vehicle, attached to a U-Haul trailer containing belongings of ours which had been furnishing my mother’s garage for quite some time.

More to come, but meanwhile feel free to amuse yourself with this listing of Religious Roadside Architecture from the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.

More on: Travel

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