The Genesis of Doubt

Some of the more regulars here know that I'm going back to the beginning. I'm exploring the themes I see emerging in my life and tracing them back to their origins. Today, I'm writing a bit about doubt, and though I've written a bit about this before, please indulge me a bit._______

In the beginning, there was faith like a five year old.

I remember the asthma attacks like choking, like a slow empty drag. My parents desperate, they brought me to church on a Tuesday night for an irregular meeting of the assembly. We congregated under a massive tent-shaped sanctuary with a roof that stretched upward like a pyramid from four low walls. We were there, the whole lot of us, to see a globe-trotting faith healer whose weapons of warfare consisted of a ten-pound bible, a gallon jug of olive oil, and a traveling ensemble of hallelujah-singers dressed in gold-trimmed choir robes.

A gangly first-grader, I watched the congregation whip themselves into a frenzy of the not-for-Sunday sort. This was the Tuesday night crowd, the desperate crowd, the folks who made camp at any Pool of Bethesda they could find.

As the congregants spilled into the blessing lines, I asked my mother whether it was time. "Not yet, honey," she said tenderly. "Let's wait until the service is over." I obliged her willingly, mostly because I didn't feel sick. I was breathing mighty fine at the moment, and asthma attacks were not frightening to me. After all, didn't mom and dad always make it right? Didn't they always bring healing of a different sort, what with the inhalers, and pills, and the occasional breathing treatment?  The way I saw it, they had this healing bit covered.

Patiently we endured the prayers over the crippled, lame, blind, and deaf until the last congregant slipped from the service. That's when my mother said, "let's go, sweetie." There we stood, before the evangelist--a traveling one, I think. He asked what type of healing I'd come for, and I said that I wanted rid of my asthma. He smiled broadly, laughed and said that nothing was to big for Jesus.

"With enough faith all things are possible.”

He marked my forehead with an olive oil cross and prayed that my lungs would open, claimed my healing by the precious blood. “We rejoice in this boy’s healing even now; Amen," he said.

The evangelist stooped down and looked into my eyes. Did I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, he asked? I told him, “I think so,” but that was really just feigned faith, the kind that tells grown-ups their doing the best they know how. The truth was, I didn’t feel anything. And in that moment, with the weight of adult hopes and expectations hanging on the sufficiency of child-like faith, the first seed of doubt was planted.


I know this one might be hard to swallow. But read it for what it says, not what it doesn't. And as a father of sick child, I'll tell you... I'll do just about anything to make it right, including what my folks did. My folks is good folks (that grammar faux paux was artistic license, ma... don't blow me up).

Thanks for your consistency in following along here. I appreciate you folks.

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The Birth of Beauty and Hate (A Genesis Story)


Twice daily, I lumbered down the dusty dirt roads of small-town Arkansas on school bus number eight. Once in the morning, when the bus driver occupied his passengers with top-40 radio fare like Tina Turner, Madonna, and Foreigner. Once in the afternoon, when he begged us (for the love of all that was holy) to sit down and shut our yap-traps.

It was a nightmare for me, really. Shy and naive, I sat in the middle of the bus, always by the window, always pressing into the glass in the hopes of disappearing. The older kids sat in the back and raucously sang "Like a Virgin" (which I supposed to be about a dove-like bird), tried on their new favorite cuss words, or attempted to introduce helpless elementary children to magazine photographs snaked from under their daddies' beds. Looking back it's funny; in those days, I thought high-schoolers were so "adult." They terrified me.

There was one girl who was different. She was trying on woman, practicing to be a lady. A senior, she usually assumed her position near the back of the bus among the porn hounds and paper-wad tossers. Tallish, at least when compared to my eight year-old frame, she was tan-skinned and emerald-eyed. She was slender but womanly, and had soft, kind features. She was my line of demarcation, the first woman I ever reckoned as flutter-inducingly beautiful.

Some mornings, when her usual space in the back was taken, she'd ask whether I'd share my bench seat. I was an obliging kid, so I'd press further into the glass and make room for her while my skin tingled at the thought of our shoulders brushing should we come upon a particular rough patch of dirt-road or a particularly deep pothole. On some afternoons she'd sit with me too, and sometimes she'd coax me into a bit small talk about arithmetic, or my reading level, or my favorite Saturday morning cartoon. Over time, this happened more frequently, and I eventually reckoned her my grown-up friend.

Her bus stop was before mine, and she'd exit at an old clapboard shack with rusty cars and hogs in the front yard. Sometimes, her mama was hanging clothes on the line that stretched from two rusty poles, and the girl would run headlong into a big, country hug. I suppose I knew she was poor, but at eight, the thought never crossed my mind. Anyway, there are some things money can't buy, and I suppose she had all of those things.

Some time before summer break, though, it came about that the old hounds in the back of the bus took to lowering their windows and calling her "trash," or "red-neck." As the days moved on, they began cat-calling her, or cussing her, or yelling remarks otherwise not fit for publication. She endured these remarks for the last two weeks of her high school career, and never seemed to be bothered or concerned with them. But she was my friend, and I knew the comments hurt.

To this day, I've never quite grasped why the boys derided such a kind and beautiful girl. I was too young then to really stick up for her, so instead my hatred for them calcified quietly. And their offenses remain with me, still.

There are petty boys of all ages who live by crude instinct, who are bent on the theft or destruction of simple beauty. But some beauty goes on forever, remains unstained by the memories of more hopeful men. At least, I hope.

*Photograph by J Jackson Photography, via Creative Commons.

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A Genesis Story: No Picture Proof


For all I remember, I have loved words from the beginning.

When I was four, I sat in the lap of my mother's best friend as she sang, "humble thyself in the sight of The Lord," and played with my hair. At such an age, the words made little sense. Humble? Thyself? Even still, there was a sense of wonder in the words, of intrigue.

It might have been, of course, that the building dirge had something to do with the magic of the moment. The song is, after all, one of the all-time-greats as far as worship-ambiance goes. Or perhaps my enthrallment was spurred by the setting--exaggerated shadows dancing in the candlelit room; the slow breathing of the black lab sleeping quietly in my lap; the incense of Old Spice rising from the robust bearded man leading worship; the teenage girl with leg-warmers and bubblegum pink eyeshadow, the one whom I remember smelled of dime-store lip gloss.

Whatever the case may be, though, as the words rose, as they built up, I found myself captivated. That language could be used--really used--to usher in the presence of the living God? To conjur a spiritual world, or at least the dream of it? It was magic to me.

This was before the days of the internet, before Instagram and Facebook. There are no status updates to prove the validity of the moment, no nostalgically washed instaprints of it. You'll find no tweet about the gathering, no attempt to reduce it to unmercifully limiting character restraints. And because you weren't there, because you were living your own memories in places like Minnesota, or Manitoba, I'm limited in my ability to convey the meaning of the moment, left only with language. And you? You are limited by imagination and inference.

Maybe this is the way it should be more often than not.

Let There Be Light


It's been a while since I've last written. I needed space to clear cobwebs, to consider a sort of soft reset. There are times when it's efficacious to stop it with the words, the blogging, the tweeters, the status updates.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he started simply. "Let there be light," he said, and there was. These are the first words spoken in scripture, the Genesis of genesis. So, I think this is the most natural touchstone for my reset. I'm going to sit there a while.

I hope to stretch slowly this year, and I hope to share it with you. There will be blog posts, certainly, perhaps a poem or two. But I'm slinking back to the old words, too--like pencil scratchings in a journal, short stories written by ink-pen, and hand-written letters to friends and family. These things formed my love for writing, so it seems natural to return there.

Let there be light--a call to go back to the beginning of the creative process, when we first realized that there was power in the words of God, and consequently, our own, for we were made in his image, you see. I'm headed back to the beginning this year. I hope you'll come along.