[T]he justification of a religious belief is in its fruits: the truth of religious faith is to be found in the results it brings about.
~C. David Grant

Was I Short-Changed?

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1st Day of 1st Grade

I started kindergarten at the Howe Independent School District in Texas during the fall semester of 1978.  In May 1991, I graduated Salutatorian of the same school district.

Howe, at the time, could really be described as a small farming community in North Texas with a population of 2072.  Some of my friends were sons and daughters of farmers.  The parents of others were similar to my parents who worked in the larger town of about 30,000 to the north, Sherman.

By far the largest church in Howe was First Baptist of the Southern Baptist Convention.  There was a “conspiracy theory” going around among members of other denominations that the only way to get on the school board or city council was to be a member of that church.  I now realize (I didn’t then) that the reason that seemed to be the case was because members of that church were more well known among a larger base of the community.  No conspiracy there.

During that time period, I don’t remember our family ever formally praying at home unless Uncle John was visiting.  If he was there, we’d always say a prayer before meals, but only then.  We were, however, regular church attenders at First United Methodist where my mom taught the 4-5 year old Sunday school class for years.

I remember evolution being taught in school as a plausible theory for how the world was created; evidence for why this seemed plausible was shared.  I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning the biblical story of creation period.  It wasn’t affirmed; it wasn’t bashed.  Evolution was just a good theory.

The only time I remember the Bible being brought up in school was in world history when a student asked, “Why is it that Adam and Eve were the first people, but after they leave Eden, there are other people?”  Coach Fry (who taught the class) responded that he believed that Adam and Eve were not the first people, just the first people with souls.

I never once remember there being a single prayer said in school, though we did usually have a prayer before football games – a task shared among local clergy.  I also don’t even remember there being a set aside “moment of silence” at school in which I could take a moment to say a prayer.  If there was ever a “See Ya At the Pole” rally, I don’t recall it.

To hear many people tell it, I was somehow short-changed.  My education was somehow “less than.”  School must have been unbearable.  According to them, I should have become a heathen as all my other classmates should have.

For me, school was unbearable but only because I’d have rather been on my bike riding around my neighborhood or watching TV.  Yet, in no way do I feel like my education was somehow “less than.”  I feared, going off to college and later seminary, that I’d be behind since I came from little ol’ Howe, Texas.  What I discovered was that my education was really good.  We really had good teachers there.

Although I really don’t remember anything being formally “Christian,” I remember that for the most part the teachers were fair, caring, and supportive – even though I often wanted to look for something I didn’t like in a teacher.  They worked to make sure we tried to get along.  If one of us made fun of others (and were caught) we suffered consequences.  There were consequences if we fought, and reconciliation seemed like the goal that was being promoted in those instances.

Explicitly Christian?  NO.  Christian in practice?  In my opinion, YES.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  “Preach the Gospel.  Use words only if necessary.”  Yet, many think that the Gospel is only about words – predominantly adjectives, occasionally nouns.  “Is that Christian?  Are you a Christian?”  Instead of taking the Gospel as something that is our own responsibility to do, we want others to make it a responsibility for us.  “You need to make sure someone prays at school, and be sure to teach the theology I have there, too.”

One of the things that I learned at my church in Howe was that I could pray anytime I wanted in the secret closet of my mind and heart (see Matthew 6:6).  I didn’t need anyone to set aside a time for me to pray.  I didn’t need anybody to pray for me.  I could take that personal responsibility for myself – and occasionally did.

In the United Methodist Church (of which I am an ordained Deacon), we have the slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”  These are typically interpreted as things we have.  Rather, I think it is something we are to do.  My experience at a school that didn’t have prayer or a designated “moment of silence” were teachers who sought to open my heart, my mind, and the door to a larger world.  They did this without explicitly being “Christian” in words they used but certainly were Christian in their actions.  They showed me their Christianity.  They didn’t tell me their Christianity.

Was I short-changed?  Was my education un-Christian?  Not in my opinion.

One Response to “Was I Short-Changed?”

  1. By Ysabel de la Rosa on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

    Great post! And OMG, you were so cute!!! It always is instructive to listen to what good people do. We learn best from those who are models for us in their own lives—not necessarily from those who talk to us the most!

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