Monday, May 01, 2006

God on the Highway

I've been driving I-35 north and south for some twenty years, but what really struck me this past weekend is how strong of a showing that religion was making along the way these days.

The number of churches, big and small, is noticeably up, and many were under construction for expansions. So too were the number of billboards with a religious message. A very few were hostile, along the lines of "embrace Jesus or regret it forever." Yikes. But most were of the "I believe in you. -- God" variety.

I think all this is fascinating. I had passing references to church in two my previous books. Rain's family from Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) includes a Bible quote in the context of a memorial and church-going (the protagonist is avoiding church after the death of her best friend; she's angry and self-isolating in her grief). Likewise, Ray and his grandpa from Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) are church-going, though the references are in passing (for example, Ray refers to what he wears to a wedding as "church clothes"). I've actually fielded a lot of comments--some praise and some surprise--that these contexts exist in my books, and as a reader, I've noticed that nods to faith and/or its practice are more rare in American children's literature than our national lifestyle would suggest. I wonder why. I'm not talking about preachy-ness in books, which I agree is a huge turn-off, but rather simply the reflection in daily life. Hm.

In any case, the trip was for my cousin's wedding reception, which was lovely. Also, the catfish at the Cracker Barrel is pretty good.