Monday, October 17, 2011

Southern Billboards

Just got back from a whirlwind trip to Nashville. My publisher, Satya House, represented Southern Fried Women at The Southern Festival of Books this year, and as the author -- I signed books for six hours on Saturday. I must have sold and signed over a hundred books! Of course my husband and my publisher's husband had a lot to do with that. They took a handful of publicity cards with a description and picture of the book and walked up and down the length of the mall, distributing cards, talking with groups of women, and just pushing the book. Bless their hearts.

But, by God, it worked! I think I sold more books than even some of the featured authors. At least my line was longer. Folks stood in line to chat, buy a book, get it signed, eat free candy, and then move on. Of course, after all these years, I do know how to work a crowd. Above everything, I let them know I'm grateful. A few wanted their picture taken (with me) and although I'm not very photogenic ... as a humble writer, I do it. I do it because I love my readers. I love 'em to pieces. I'm grateful for every ounce of love sent my way, especially from readers.

And it was great sitting at the table with Julie Murkette, publisher extraordinaire, who has become quite accomplished in her own right. She's good at encouraging me and I'm looking forward to talking with her more in the near future.

Nashville is a vibrant Southern city. Full of country music, party people, and girls in cowboy boots. I understand I missed a nude karaoke contest outside our downtown hotel at 3 in the morning. Hmm. Sorry I missed it. But I think the thing that amazes me most about the South is not the sinners, but the saints.

Driving on Southern interstates you will find a plethora of religious billboards. Michael and I have driven on every interstate from New York to Florida to Mississippi and Louisiana, and inevitably there are always a series of billboards that capture my attention. This past weekend it was a group of three ginormous signs in a farmer's cornfield spread out over several acres.
The first one read, ARE YOU READY?
Next one: HELL IS REAL

It reminds me of my recent blog post from this past summer.

We attended a community sale at an old Moose Lodge in North Carolina, which has since been turned into a church. It wasn't long and I realized most of the money lenders, oh, excuse me --vendors--were church members who had set up their tables to not only sell their junk, but also to whip a little Jesus on us unsuspecting folks who only came to shop.

We walked past one vendor who had parked his shiny red pickup truck smack in the middle of the lot and set up two tables of pure clean-out-my-basement junk, consisting of moldy rugs, faded pictures of kittens in gold frames, and dusty macrame plant hangers from 1982. But that wasn't the best part.

He had opened both doors of his red pickup and turned the volume up on his CD player so that the good Lord Himself could hear it. I suppose Mr. Vendor wanted us to know what a good Christian he was and that we all should dare to be as good. I spent the next ten minutes walking around listening to a church choir belt out the last few lines of the Lords Prayer--"For thine is the kingdom ... and the power ... and the gloooooorrrrrreeeee ... foreeeevvvver ...." full tilt.

Man - o - man. I felt like I was in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit.

Here's the thing. Doesn't the Bible tell us to just let our light shine? I'm not sure that means to build a bon-fire in the middle of community yard sale. Somehow, the red pickup just cheapened it. It did nothing but drive folks away. I think it's one thing to be proud of your faith, it's another to shove it down an unsuspecting person's throat.

It's no wonder the Bible Belt gets a bad rap.

So next time you drive past the PREPARE TO MEET THEY GOD sign on Interstate 71, just remember that yes, we all have to meet God someday, but that lightning bolt sign isn't anything but another reminder of the scare 'em-to-death sermons too many of us grew up with. Smile and drive on. And thank God for His mercy, grace, and His infinite patience with all of us.

Blessings to you and yours.

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