There is a novelty book out now, popular in stores such as Urban Outfitters, titled Church Signs Across America. The signs, collected by Steve and Pam Paulson during cross-country road trips, run the gamut of spiritual corniness, from “Searching For A New Look? Have Your Faith Lifted Here!” to “Be An Organ Donor. Give Your Heart To Jesus,” with occasional forays into sturdy old maxims you might’ve heard your grandparents say once upon a time (“A Clear Conscience Makes A Soft Pillow”; “Forbidden Fruit Creates Many Jams”).
One sign that was not included in the collection is one Erin & I saw when we still lived in Nashville, a k a “The Buckle of the Bible Belt.” On my daily five-minute commute to work, I passed six churches, all of different denominations, all dispensing the same kind of spiritual truthiness sampled above.
One night when Erin & I were driving home down Murphy Road in Sylvan Park, we passed Calvary Baptist Church, which used its marquee for both high-minded spiritual platitudes and more prosaic announcements for Vacation Bible School and the like. That night, however, we were greeted with four words that can instantly put us in a good mood whenever we recall them today:
SLAYER IS THE BEST.
After a moment of stunned silence we erupted in laughter, then pulled a u-ee to confirm that we really had seen what we thought we saw. We pulled up to the marquee and saw, below SLAYER IS THE BEST, all the other letters from the pre-Slayer message jammed into the bottom of the sign.
“That’s a beautiful thing right there,” I said.
“Slayer really is the best,” Erin chimed in.
Why we never took a picture, I still don’t know. The next day those four beautiful words were gone, replaced only by blank whiteness. The sign stayed that way for several weeks, until finally another announcement went up, this time behind a glass enclosure that locked at the top. No doubt a humorless committee had gathered around a table and concluded, gravely, that no expense must be spared to lock up the church marquee so that vandalism such as this would never transpire again.
What I still appreciate is the politeness of the anonymous spiritual tagger. He or she had plenty of letters with which to write any number of profane things, but no curse words were used. No anti-church sentiment was expressed. All the other letters were left there to be used again, not stolen or strewn about. Just SLAYER IS THE BEST. Silly and juvenile, yes, but also — for me, anyway, in the humid religious climate of Nashville — subversive and endearing. What if Calvary Baptist had kept it up there? That’s the kind of church you might really want to visit.