When people ask about my personal history, I often reply that someday they will be able to watch it played out in a Lifetime movie. I am serious when I say this, too. My life has ad more ups and downs and twists and turns than the famed Tail of the Dragon highway. In the meantime, here is a brief synopsis of my pilgrimage from being a "conservative" preacher to becoming a "liberal" college professor. I married shortly after graduating high school and a series of unfortunate events coupled with a conservative upbringing led me to Bible college to become a preacher. Over the next 16 years as a minister, I enjoyed the public speaking, teaching, writing, and opportunities to help people in significant times of need. All along I was continuing to pursue my education, to discover many more questions than answers, and to grapple with the meaning of life as the father of a child with a serious congenital disease and another diagnosed with cancer, as someone in an increasingly loveless marriage, and as someone baffled by the level of ignorance, hypocrisy, prejudice, and bigotry I experienced in religious circles.
By late 2004, I was at a crossroads. I contemplated leaving ministry, but I was persuaded to give it another try with a church in greener fields outside of the Deep South and beyond the "Bible Belt." So I moved to Chesapeake, VA. As my COBRA health insurance coverage was about to expire, I enrolled in a full-time Ph.D. program in order to qualify for group health insurance through the university. I also believed that I would eventually have to leave ministry and move back closer to family if my marriage was to survive, and earning a Ph.D. would allow me to make a smooth transition from pastor to professor. Regent University was nearby and offered me a full scholarship with a stipend to enroll in their communication studies program. I was never a fan of Pat Robertson and the 700 Club, which are connected to Regent, but I decided that as long as I was not studying religion or government, it would be all right. I happily discovered that The School of Communication and the Arts has some fine scholars and offers a quality degree in strategic communication.
As I was poised to begin my final semester of doctoral studies in January 2008, my youngest child was diagnosed with life-threatening bone cancer and within a few months my marriage was officially and publicly over. People who did not know the history behind all of my marriage problems were not in a position to judge me, but they did. Even if I had been in a place emotionally, philosophically, and theologically to continue in ministry (which I was not), the market for divorced ministers is not good. A job offer from a "Christian university" was also rescinded at that time. As a result, after working for 16 years as a minister, earning two undergraduate and two graduate degrees in religion, and publishing two books, I was no longer able to "practice in my field." I was betrayed by those who were supposed to be "spiritual leaders." I was unemployed and a step away from being homeless, but expected to pay alimony and child support based on the respectable salary I had been earning after 16 years in my profession. Three different divorce attorneys all operating out of the same "faith-based" ethic left me penniless and feeling powerless to influence the best care for my children.
With much support, I managed to preserve some measure of sanity and pressed on to complete my Ph.D. course work by the end of Summer 2008. I passed my comprehensive exams shortly thereafter, launching me into the netherworld of "ABD" land. To make ends meet I liquidated my extensive theological library, sold most of my personal belongings (including my drums!), and worked odd jobs, until I eventually landed a full-time faculty position at Nicholls State University in August 2010. At last, I took out my final school loan to pay for continuing dissertation credits for the Spring 2013 semester. I successfully defended my thesis in March 2013, and my Ph.D. was conferred on May, 4, 2013. Four bright spots during this otherwise gray period in my life were being able to meet and write about some wonderful people in the sport of power soccer; my daughter's cancer going into remission after 10 months of intensive treatment and surgeries; meeting my soul mate, Priscilla, in November 2008; and despite the fact that I was not ready to become a grandparent before I even turned 40, the birth of my first grandchild in November 2011.
Amidst the turmoil and challenges that I went through, I experienced what some would refer to as a "crisis of faith." I prefer to think of it rather as an "evolution of consciousness." My experiences and education have progressively changed the way I think about and understand the Universe. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly side of religion. I have fought many battles through the years to stamp out ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy, and prejudice in the pews. In the end my biggest convert perhaps winds up being me. I no longer view God in narrow, sectarian ways. I am not anti-church or anti-religion; I just personally had to break with both of them because they caused me much grief and were not helping me become a better person.
I have a good life now with Priscilla and our "fur babies" Gypsy and Ninja. I find great satisfaction in teaching courses in the areas of communication studies and disability studies. I believe that my experiences and education uniquely qualify me to provide engaging instruction in these areas. As a result, my students will hopefully see a bigger picture of the world and have fewer answers and more questions than I did when I was their age.