(Repost) I’ve Been Watching You; Ain’t That Cool?: Lessons From My Father

I want to interrupt our regular posts today to share an old post I gave on father’s day, honoring the lessons my own father taught me.

I’d love for some of you to chime in under our comments section about lessons your fathers have taught you, whether they be literal fathers or those men who have acted as spiritual fathers for you over the years.

Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

 

My dad.

I was blessed to see my daddy this Friday for an early father’s day get-together. Seeing dad always brings up memories of time spent together with him and of lessons he has taught me. Having been a dad this year through being a host parent for an exchange student from Kenya, I have grown in my appreciation for the many lessons dad has taught me over the years. As I was sitting with mom and dad, rehearsing together our life together as a family, I could not but help think of the lessons daddy taught me.

One of the first lessons daddy taught was time. So many people look back on their childhoods and tell me as a pastor about one or both parents not being there.

In her song, Reba talks about the greatest man she never knew being her father. I can honestly say that though my heart aches for the many for whom their father is a stranger this has never been the case for me.

Daddy spending quality time with us.

I have great memories growing up of my dad spending regular time with me along with my sisters and brother. Daddy was a math teacher at a local school, and chose to spend as much time with us as he could. I still remember many a camping trip in the summer where dad would take us hiking, wake us to the smell of breakfast sizzling away, take us fishing, and have us tour the Blue Ridge parkway together. My love of nature and of the outdoors came from dad. To me because of daddy taking us on camping trips each summer in the mountains, when I am in the Appalachian mountains I feel somehow closer to heaven, with a mind more clear and open.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

I also remember daddy taking time throughout the week to spend with us. Most Saturdays and sometimes on Sunday daddy would have all of us load up on bikes and we would bike together all over the city. One of my most distinct memories is when daddy took my younger sister and me skating Monday nights for what had to be a couple of years, on family skate night. Those were times of laughter and joy that led us all to feel close together. I distinctly remember too when daddy thought my little sister was going to fall and swept down to catch her at the skating rink, breaking his own arm.

My daddy could have taught the father in this song a thing or two:

My dad never was rich and many times money was tight. But dad left us all a better inheritance than money ever could, by taking the time to spend with us building memories. And though daddy honestly may not have really talked much about how he felt, having been brought up in a background where his telling us “I love you” was opening up, I feel that dad showed his love not just by his words but by making time for us.

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Daddy doing this taught me the lesson that the greatest gift I have to give is not money, it is not the work I do for others, but is myself. I learned through daddy the need to make time for others. I learned that spending time together with the people that matter is worth more than wads of cash.

One of the ways I ended up spending time with dad that I am grateful for now is one I dreaded at the time.  In middle school daddy had switched from the school I attended at the time – Reid Ross – to the middle school he taught at. Reid Ross was a city school, busy and crowded. At the time there was a big gang resurgence in Fayetteville, NC.  A few years later that gang resurgence led to two big shootings at local movie theaters near our house, one which my friend Paul and I witnessed, shocked. Before the public gang shootings like that had began, the violence and fighting was already occuring in a lesser in my middle school. I remember every few days or so police having to come and break up fights at the school, many of which were gang related.

Daddy was not happy with that situation and sought to get me out of it, so he moved to the school he taught at: a small rural school. It was a move and a school I really hated, honestly. I had to say goodbye to my friends from school I had known for years.  It was a move to a place where my then hip-hop clothes and music didn’t fit in, where everybody knew everyone else from childhood. I stood out like a sore thumb.  I didn’t fit in at all. And when I slowly began to make friends, they lived 30 minutes or more from home so I no longer could just walk over to hang out with the friends I made at school as I could before.

However my wife and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, and she shared with me about a similar school she had gone to in Los Angeles, and how some really good kids she knew got swept up into gangs there. Some of them are still caught up in the gang lifestyle, and are still serving prison terms for it. Come to think of it, I know a really sweet young lady I knew growing up who I was shocked to hear had been shot in some sort of drug related conflict by a boyfriend. So I can see now that what my daddy was trying to do was keep me from being swept up into exactly that kind of trouble.

The thing that stands out to me is that daddy switching my schools led to experiences that helped me become a preacher.  Riding with daddy is where I learned about preaching. In order to grow in his own faith, during the ride to and from middle school daddy would sometimes have me read to him verses from the Bible and other times he would play tapes of preachers talking about faith. Many of those preachers if I heard them now I would totally disagree with much of what they preached.  Hearing them preach then and talking about what I heard with dad helped awaken my own sense of faith and connection with God. What’s more I can look back and remember the first sermons I preached, when I started preaching in high school.  Alot of the style with which I spoke and the way I organized those messages was based on what I heard practiced on those tapes daddy would listen to.  I have to admit too, hearing the story-telling of Paul Harvey and Garrison Keillor on dad’s radio during some of those trips influenced my own story-telling as a preacher.

This year I decided to give daddy a gift – a CD set of Sunday School lessons taught by the former president Jimmy Carter, a progressive Baptist who continued to teach Sunday school and attend church all during his presidency.

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That commitment to studying the Bible reminded me of dad’s continuing to listen to people preach the Word, and how it taught me to study the Bible myself. I am thankful for dad making me a part of that time in the mornings, and how it helped me develop a love for both hearing God’s Word and preaching it.

Even though at times I think daddy wished I had picked a career path that was more lucrative and stable than preaching, it is in large part because of daddy’s example that I began to discover my call to be a preacher.

I’ve already posted about how our fishing trips together taught me the value of silence, which is the heart of meditation and prayer. If you haven’t, click here and check read “the Spirituality of Fishing”. Together with Bible study, these practices are the meat and potatoes that help keep my spiritual life growing. I am thankful that in his own way daddy introduced me to their importance.

Another lesson daddy taught me was the importance of family. Every year, without fail, daddy brought us to several family reunions. Daddy would tell us stories of growing up in the rural south. I still remember him telling us about when they had to bathe in tubs of leftover laundry water when he was little, and his stories about raising and slaughtering hogs on the farm.

Daddy prioritized his family. As I mentioned he took time for us kids. But also he helped my mom take in grandma Myrtie when she was in poor health. He always put being there for us, being there for mom, ahead of hobbies or hanging  out with the guys.

Daddy also taught me to be color-blind with friendships. The church we went to was an oddity for a number of reasons. It was an Adventist sect that met on Saturday and didn’t keep Christmas begun by a radio preacher. Weird enough. But what truly made it stand out here in the south was that in it we had people of all races. Through church dad had friends who were black and who were white. He would have them over to our house, meet them for dinner. The idea of race being a barrier was not something dad taught us.

I still remember Mr. Eddie McGirt, an older black man from Raeford, who had joined the church daddy brought us up in after hearing the radio preacher who founded that denomination. Eddie had grown up poor and had not been taught to read. When he found God through the preaching of that radio preacher, Eddie decided he wanted to know what God had to say to him. So Eddie took a Bible and taught himself how to read. For Eddie, reading was a gift from God he was thankful for everyday. I remember many a time Eddie would talk at our table about our faith, about seeing us grow up, and about how he struggled with “the other Eddie”, the part of himself that wanted to be selfish, hateful, and unloving. Eddie was there when my brother learned to read, and I can still hear his voice in my mind remarking again and again to my parents how blessed we were that we had learned to read as little children instead of having to wait until God found us adults.  When Eddie died a few years ago, it was like a member of our family had passed on.

I also remember the adventure dad went on when I was about 13 and another friend from church was chopping wood with dad in the yard.  His friend swung the axe off just so and accidentally cut off his own thumb. Daddy had to rush his friend to the hospital until he got all healed up.

To be honest at the time I didn’t notice these two men who were daddy’s friends were black. They were just daddy’s friends and what more, they were like family to me. Their stories of faith helped me find my own faith.  It was only years later I noticed, when I began to attend Campbell University, a traditional Baptist college, to study Bible and Christian ministry. While I was there I heard many a classmate talk about how upset their Christian parents would be if they brought home a black friend, or a black person as a date. I was shocked. My daddy had set the example that being a Christian not only meant reading my Bible and praying, but also meant seeing all people as God’s children and not seeing color as an obstacle to friendship. I have to admit it really shook me up to realize that many more churches throughout the southeast didn’t have people of all walks of life, but were split along racial lines.  I was aghast to find the number of Christian families still caught up in the sin of racism.

Though I’ve come to express it differently in my ministry as a Progressive Christian Alliance pastor, the values of welcoming all into the family and not judging people based on their differences which are the foundational values of what I do I learned from daddy.

Another value I learned from daddy is that being true to your values is more important than earning a big buck.

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One of the reasons dad became a teacher is because dad found God through that church I mentioned a moment ago. When daddy found God he took it seriously. That church taught of things that I don’t believe anymore which a lot of other Christians would find strange. The church grew out of the seventh-day and Adventist movements. Because of that it met on Saturday for worship and taught to obey the Ten Commandments Christians ought not to work Friday evening to Saturday evening, which is the time Exodus describes as “the sabbath”. It also required attending some holidays that church had developed based on their reading of Leviticus 23. The picture above was daddy bringing us as a family to one of those holiday gatherings, something they called “the Feast of Tabernacles”, at a conference center in GA. Following those guidelines meant daddy had to find work that would allow him to follow those convictions. The school daddy worked at for most of his adult life did work with him, honoring his beliefs.

Later on daddy’s convictions on these beliefs changed, but while he held them, daddy stood his ground on them. I think through some things I’ve heard daddy say over the years, some times now that daddy no longer believes God requires those things of him, it may be that daddy regrets that and wishes he’d found better-paying work. For me, even though I too later moved beyond those beliefs into a way of living the Christian faith that reflects my own relationship with God, I am thankful daddy was true to what he believed. Daddy taught me through his example that some things are more important than money. Being true to your conscience, being true to what you feel God is teaching you, is more important than wads of cash. Being there for your family and setting a good example for them is more important than fancy titles.

I can still remember early on in my ministry when beliefs began to change and I face the question: Do I do things that I believe God doesn’t approve of, or do I stand my ground? Do I preach and teach what God has shown me and lose an income, or do I  turn my back on the things I hold dear to keep up appearances and to keep job security? I don’t think daddy ever realized this, but daddy’s example of standing by what he believes even when it is costly is a part of why I have been able to have the faith and strength to do the same in my life.

Finally, one lesson daddy has taught me again and again is: admit when you’ve been wrong, and be willing to change.

U-Turns are often the best way to move life forward.

I mentioned that daddy’s faith has grown too over the years, and now daddy doesn’t keep the many many rules that church he was a part of taught was needed. Daddy was willing to learn, grow, and admit he was wrong. I learned a lot from that example.

Recently daddy came to me, just a few years ago, telling me some things he did growing up that hurt us kids, which he never meant to hurt us by doing. Daddy had felt God wanted him to admit those make mistakes and make amends to be a better person. When daddy left from that conversation, daddy didn’t see it but there was a tear in my eye. Daddy’s example shows me it is not the real man who always wins the argument but the real man who can say “I was wrong” and change.

Happy father’s day, dad! As this song says, “I’ve been watching you!’

Thanks for all the lessons you have taught me. I hope I too have learned enough to leave good lessons to my kids too.

I hope all of you out there have a happy father’s day too. Please feel free to share what lessons your fathers or father figures have left you.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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