Interstates, Blue Highways and Jesus’ Narrow Road

I can make a metaphor out of anything, and road trips are my best fodder.

Most places that you go in this country are reached fastest through the interstate system.  Our vast system handles more than “one trillion person miles” per year, which adds up to the following (as of 1996, the 40th anniversary of the interstate system being signed into law by Dwight Eisenhower):

  • Nearly three trips around the world for each American
  • A trip to the moon for all of the people living in California, New York, Texas and New Jersey — nearly 75 million people (again, 1996 data)
  • Three light years of travel through space — nearly three-quarters of the distance to the nearest star outside the solar system


You too can read more about this at

So suffice it to say that we USE our interstates here in the land of free and the home of the brave.  But they don’t yield much adventure, actually.  Or novelty.  Things look the same in many ways from that big, multi-lane strip of pavement.

I am a big fan of the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.  Walker Percy was a fan too, I take it.  He wrote a book-jacket blurb.  So you don’t have to take my word for it.  But I found the book way back when, soon after it was first published in 1982, and it inspired me to take to the back roads, which were — way back when — colored blue on the maps. That’s not true any more, but I still think of them as blue highways.  And Heat-Moon pushes me onward, knowing that others have found the untraveled path more interesting.

Roadfood is another delight to me.  Originally a book by my heroes Jane and Michael Stern, it’s now an empire, or at least a boudin-eating behemoth, with food tours, a website, and multiple iterations of the book, all designed to help you get away from the chain restaurants and into the mom-and-pop establishments that pepper our country, often unable to fork out the big dollars that would advertise them on the highway signs that let you choose between Exxon and Shell, Wendy’s and Mickey D’s.  There you encounter the original, the unusual, the green chili cheeseburger.

So to me, all of travel is a trade-off between speed (“Where’s the interstate?  I’ve got to get to Alpha Centauri fast!”) and leisure (“The ‘mosey hour’ doesn’t bother me; I’m just looking around.”), between homogeneity (brown for attractions, green for roads) and adventure (“Who knew there was a giant lake here?”).

And I’m often reminded that Jesus calls us to the metaphorical blue highways of life, to the back roads, to the counter-cultural, to the not-so-common, to the non-generic.  He said, “But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Really… only a few find it?  Of course!  Most people want safety, sameness, Olive Garden.  You know what they’re serving; you can predict the cost, manage the experience, and get back on the road fast.  No mess, no fuss, no unexpected mystery ingredients.  No weird, otherwise-unemployable uncle waiting on your table. Standards.  Sameness. Safeness.  Almost makes me blame the letter S.

We live such bland lives, staying safe.  We try not to be vulnerable.  We project competence.  We dress alike, look for the people like ourselves, listen to news sources that perpetuate the point of view we already have.

We don’t want potholes, detours, roundabouts, speed bumps.  We want to stay fast and furiously moving in our hermetically sealed cars, keeping ourselves and our families away from the blight of the inner-city, the requests of the poor, the problems of the world.

We want to stay on the flat roads that take us SOMEWHERE, fast.  But when we get there, we zoom on or around on a “beltway,” “beltline,” “perimeter,” “ring road.”  We eschew the route through the heart of the reality of  a place.

And that’s much like we live.   On the road Jesus calls his people to, there isn’t every guarantee of convenience; there isn’t every amenity; there aren’t guaranteed brand-names on every street.

Few will choose his narrow road, small gate, blue highway.  But it’s more interesting there.

The rewards for getting off the vast interstate of what most people choose, of where our culture is going, are great.  Come on.  Come with me.

~ by Cary on November 5, 2010.

One Response to “Interstates, Blue Highways and Jesus’ Narrow Road”

  1. Beautiful…thank you for expressing it so well!

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