Winter 2009. Franklin, Kentucky
“You cannot have faith in the absence of doubt”.
Hudson Murphy and I were already almost a 1,000 miles into our journey when we set aside time to join a Sunday Bible study in the private home of the friends we were staying with in Franklin. We had met spiritual leaders and pitched tent on sacred ground many, many times before Franklin but the two bald headed former priests that day spoke to me.
Most kids grow up in a place. I grew up between two. My father was a physician, and my mother a devout Christian who, aside from being a small business owner, raised me and my three brothers― Matthew, Mark, and Jon, The Gospels as we were known. Our Sundays were spent simply. My mom made sure our mornings were spent at Saint Francis Episcopal Church and my dad made sure our evenings were spent sitting around our kitchen television watching Nature on PBS.
Indeed, my upbringing was balanced between science and religion. Mom always made certain her boys had a quarter in our pockets to tithe with but it was Dad’s job to ensure our education extended well beyond both the pews and the classrooms. For him, erudition was everything. He came from humble yet decent beginnings, putting himself through medical school; when he wasn’t practicing twelve hours a day, seven days a week, he was reading his medical journals. Piles and piles of New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association to name a few were stacked all about our home, and anyone who dared rearrange or relocate them would incur his wrath.
I experienced this firsthand. Solitude unsettled me as a child so I read and early on developed a habit of reading everything around me. As I got a little older cartoons just weren’t cutting it for me anymore so I picked up anything around me and poured into it. In our home that was either the Wall Street Journal or medical magazines. I didn’t understand what “New Developments in Vascular Repair of Atherosclerotic Venal Blockage” meant but it sounded big or at least better than Family Circus or Hagar the Horrible anyway. One particular morning after an equal helping of Count Chocula and “Renal Failure and Long-Term Care of Dialysis Patients,” I neglected to return the journal to its original place and boy did I get the ‘what-for’ from my father that night.
My mother’s influence over the household was equally pervasive. She collected religious antiquities and curiosos with fervor and she filled just about every nook and cranny with them: statues of saints in the gardens and atrium, crucifixes hung on every wall in the house, an ancient pew from some church in Europe, and Milagros or Spanish charms representing religious stories like Santo Nino de Atocha. I cannot recall the total number of Bibles in various translations and versions.
Most of my youth was spent in Belton, which in retrospect seems important since it’s just about the midpoint between Waco and Austin on the I-35 corridor. Waco is considered the southernmost reach of the Bible Belt and home to Baylor University, one of the top ranked Christian schools in the country. Austin on the other hand, couldn’t be more its opposite. An artistic, liberal city known now as Silicon Hills because of its robust technology community, Austin is also reknown as a haven for hippies, has a slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’, and has one of the lowest church attendance rates in the South.
It was between these two magnetic poles I was raised and both seemed to pull at me in a fight for my soul. I didn’t see it as a battle back then, religion versus science. Youth isn’t known for that kinda circumspection so I studied both with equal fervor and as I would later learn, the two are not mutually exclusive. Still it fucked me up pretty good. But in a good way.
YBD’s Notes 1: Typographical errors tonight due to slicing the shit out of my left index finger down to the bone. Or maybe I was watching Nathan Fillion on Castle.
YBD’s Notes 2: I don’t like this chapter. I never did. Not even when Ed and I worked on it in 2010 and I’ve changed it vastly.
It’ll never say what I want or need it to convey. But I could never get away from it as a part of this story and it must be told.