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Life in the Fishbowl

I grew up a “preacher’s kid”. Not a lot of people know it, but PKs are an interesting breed, living in a fishbowl, monitored by church members as we swim through the waters of life. In biology, a group of fish that stay together for social reasons are “shoaling”, and if the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner, they are “schooling”. This is much the same in church life, especially for those of us lucky enough to be PKs.


My own experiences taught me that shoaling behavior by PKs provides the benefit of predator defense. With fish, of course, predators are usually bigger fish. With PKs, predators are board members or deacons, or - the biggest of all PK predators - deacon’s wives! PK predator defense requires we never create the “oddity effect”, as any shoal member who stands out will be preferentially targeted. So, while rolling up her skirt on the way to the bus stop to make it shorter might help a PK blend in with the middle school crowd, it creates the oddity effect in the church shoal, resulting in severe shock and indignation for deac- er, bigger fish.


Successful avoidance of the oddity effect requires the PK to blend in with a disciplined and coordinated school; so, the PK teaches Vacation Bible School classes instead of taking the summer off; attends church every time the doors are open, even if she – I mean, the PK – is not interested in hearing a board member read the annual report; or, cleans the kitchen after foraging potluck.


Large gatherings of fish are generally called an “aggregation”. For PKs, this term has been more accurately modified to “aggravation”. Aggravation occurs when PKs are openly judged as non-conforming to school requirements. Whispering during church service can result in aggravation, as can dressing up as a less-than-virtuous character for the high school Halloween party. Aggravation, while short-lived, can have long-lasting effects on the PK, like self-consciousness or feeling less-than. Some PKs experience the opposite effect, a rebellious lack of synchronicity with shoal norms. It is possible I fell into the latter category. I’m just sayin’.


What becomes of the PK who grows up in the church shoal? This PK learned that genuine love fills a lot of gaps in life. Love helped me discover the positive aspects of fish-bowl life, to develop humor rather than bitterness. It taught me about the ways people camouflage their insecurities and fears; how people long to be seen and heard; then taught me to see and hear. Life in the shoal taught me the value of patience and the strength of shared work. It demonstrated the limitless power of coming alongside another person to achieve change – for the other person and for myself. Life in the fishbowl taught me about grace and rendered hope.


I grew up a PK, and will always be a PK. I remain ever grateful for that fishbowl life, where I learned that connection with another can have beautiful and positive life-changing impact.

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