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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Son of a Preacher and His Wife

I grew up in a pastor's home, a preacher's kid. My father was always a full-time minister, my mother a full-time mother. Our church, The Church of the Nazarene, was and still is a rather small denomination, a little under 1 1/2 million members now, less than a million when I was a part of it. Then the Nazarene Church was quite conservative: no smoking, no alcohol, no movie theatres, and no social dancing.

Despite this, perhaps because of it, I feel privileged to have grown up in my environment. Even though I no longer observe most of the prohibitions of my former church, I like the fact that I escaped most of the problems many of those in my age group fell victim to during the 60's and 70's. Later, as I grew into maturity, I was better able to choose how I would live my life, and which habits I would adopt or refuse to adopt. I am a social drinker. I enjoy the movies. I have done a little dancing, but don't now due to some arthritic knees. I don't smoke, and glad I never started.

Growing up a minister's son had many other advantages. I grew up in an environment that took faith and spirituality very seriously. Though I am no longer an evangelical Christian, I still am a follower of the Nazarene. I no longer believe that salvation is a through the Christian faith alone, I believe that grace is real. I no longer believe that Jesus was God, but I believe that in Jesus we see what God is like, and that his life is a model for our own.

In my family, learning and study were important. My father and mother were constant readers. They encouraged my own love of literature. TV viewing was limited. Trips to the library were frequent. As a child, my mother subscribed to children's magazines. Once she signed us up for a children's book club. (I still remember three titles from that time: "Elephant for Rent", "On to Oregon!” and "The Perils of Pacifico".) Later as I grew up, my father shared with me books he enjoyed. He introduced me to C. S. Lewis who later became the topic for my M.A. thesis.

Of course, the study of the Bible was paramount. I took part if Bible contests coming in 2nd place in an international competition. The Bible is foundational to Western literature and thought. When I was in graduate school, my professors looked to me to make literary and theological allusions clear to them.

Growing up a preacher's kid encouraged my leadership skills. I was expected to take the lead in Sunday Schools, youth groups, and later denominational functions. I trace my political work to the fact that I was expected to organize programs for the various church functions such as our Sunday night youth program called the NYPS, Nazarene Young People's Society. Presenting Sunday School lessons, providing devotions, offering public prayers, honed my speaking skills.

There were downsides to parsonage living. We moved quite a bit, 6 times in a 9 year span. I had trouble forming fast friendships, and came back to Oklahoma to go to college feeling a bit rootless. I have lived here ever since, a total of 45 out of 54 years of my life. So I can say that I am a "Sooner born, Sooner bred, and (most likely) when I die, I'll be a Sooner dead"(lyrics from the Oklahoma University fight song).

At times, growing up in the church did feel like living in a fishbowl. To his credit, my father and mother never once said to me, "Son, your behavior is making us look bad to the church." This is not because I was a perfect angel. (I once got caught taking a swim in the church baptistery.) The effect came more from the fact that we felt the need to be the example for the rest of the church membership. Typically, we were the first to arrive at all services. I am astounded that mom accomplished this feat with 6 children whose ages covered an 11 year span. I felt I had to be willing to volunteer for any duty. My wife says I've carried this over into my adult years. (I am the recording secretary for 5 different organizations.)

However, I feel the benefits I have gained from being a minister's son are such that if I were given the option of repeating my experience, I would not hesitate to do so. Above all, I grew up in a home where I enjoyed parents of the highest character, who demonstrated genuine love for each other and for us. I grew up in a world where service to others was valued more than material gain, where we loved people and used things as opposed to the vice versa situation I see in so much of our world.

I am proud to say that I was the son of a minister and his wife, an equal partner in their ministry. I am thankful for the lessons they gave me and feel that most of the best part of me is a result of their nurture.

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