Getting to know Roan Rickard

RoanI grew up in a lower working class neighborhood next to the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson.  It was a good childhood for a boy.   My parents loved and fully supported me.  Public schools gave me adequate opportunities to learn and succeed.  Most of the adults in my neighborhood, though limited in education were decent and loving.  They did the best they could for themselves and their children.  The majority were from somewhere in the American south.  They moved north after World War II to work in northern industry.  Most men were veterans.  They were rough and coarse, hardened by the Great Depression and the war.  Women were submissive. It was a 19th century world with the 20th century encroaching by radio and television.  As a boy I lived like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.  There were lakes, woods and a creek nearby where a boy could be a boy.  Winters were long, cold and gray.  We got a lot of snow and enjoyed it fully.  Life in such a setting is thickly masculine.  Because of proximity to the prison most people had dogs for security and they ran over the neighborhood with the kids.  My parents taught me to work gardening, mowing lawn, cleaning, washing dishes, painting, landscaping our 2 acres, doing whatever needed to be done.  In my free time I much preferred playing outside, engaging my own profuse imagination over reading books and so I was a poor reader and mediocre student.

My parents were people of intellect and ability.  There were reasons why my family ended up in such a neighborhood.  My dad was a refugee of the Great Depression and my mom had lost her dad to alcoholism and suicide when she was 14.  My dad had found himself on his own in 1930 as a 12 year old boy.  He struggled to survive during the Great Depression, knew real hunger and privation and never was able to finish high school.  My mom was traumatized by her dad’s alcoholism and suicide but she had other family to support her.  After graduating from high school in 1937 she went to the University of Michigan for a year.  Then she walked away from college and entered the work force.  My parents found each other on a blind date in June 1944 and were married 5 days later.  In the course of time my dad put an addition on our house, enlarged, improved, transformed and finished the place until it was far and away the best property in the neighborhood, suitable for the better neighborhoods in town.  My parents possessed intense work ethics.

My dad suffered a lot as a boy and was badly and sadly jaded against God and Christianity by his experiences.  My mom had some Christian faith, contorted by her formation.  She almost never mentioned her religious perspectives.  Her struggle with her dad compromised her heart and mind.  My parents were 19th century people and once married my mom generally submitted to my dad and followed his lead.  She took me to church until I was 4 or 5 and then stopped.  So thereafter I grew up in a postmodern secular humanistic home.  I grew up in the 60s and 70s without the common cultural constraints of Christian religion limiting or defining my moral life.  Though not college educated, both my parents were well read and exercised a vast vocabulary in family conversation.  In 1972 I tested in the top 10 percent of incoming college freshman for vocabulary and the bottom 20 percent for reading because I scarcely read as a kid.

My dad came out of the Great Depression a Roosevelt Democrat, a union organizer and labor liberal, not quite a socialist.  In the 40s he organized the Macklin Grinding Wheel factory in my hometown where he worked and served as union local president throughout my childhood.  He had been involved in the labor movement in southern Michigan since the late 1930s.  He had been through the strikes, the pickets and the violence in unionizing Detroit industry.  Though I eventually became a fiscal conservative in my adult life, I was never more proud of anything my dad accomplished in his life than I was of his organizing that factory.  For a generation or more he brought a better life to all the working men in that shop.

My dad was always disappointed in me when I was a boy, probably because I had my head in the clouds with my imagination and to his way of thinking I did so little with the talents and abilities I possessed.  He did not understand me and I did not understand him.  Ours was a classic generation gap of the 1960s.  Though I respected my dad because I understood that he had come up through a hard life, I nonetheless became ambivalent toward him.  So if my dad was against anything I was for it.  He seemed to be hostile toward against Christianity or at least against preachers whom he did not trust or believe.  His hostility to Christian religion contributed to me eventually finding faith in the God of the Bible.

When I was a senior in high school I fell hopelessly in love with a dazzling young girl.  I fell in love with her before I ever talked to her.  Later I found out she was a Christian. In retrospect I have wondered if it was the measure of God within her which drew me to her, with which I fell in love.  She was everything I was not.  She lived on the west side of my home town, the Republican side where people with education and money lived and I lived where I lived in a squalid neighborhood on the Northeast side of town next to the prison.  She was a tremendous student near the top of her class.  I was an ignorant, scholastic under achiever who could barely read.  Her family was Presbyterian Christian.  My family did not go to church and had no apparent faith.  He parents were politically conservative and mine were far left.  I could go on and on explaining how she out classed me.  I could not escape the conclusion that I was not worthy of her.  The contrasts between us and my sense of inadequacy sent me into a convulsive identity crisis.   This identity crisis propelled me toward God as I called into question my own formation.  This girl friend would discuss Christianity with me in a limited way.  I had never read the bible at that point in my life.  So I asked her one day, if I was to read from the bible, where should I begin?  To me it seemed a huge and ponderous book.  She said with little hesitation, “read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”  My mom had given my dad a King James Bible in 1964 though I never knew why.  I went home, pulled it off the shelf, blew off the dust and read the 4 gospels.  I was a poor reader but I expect God’s own writing must have had an effect on me.  Eventually, my sense of inadequacy and unworthiness before this girl drove me crazy and, among my other failures of character made me odious to her.  I was so ignorant and immature and she was so precocious the relationship was impossible.  In the summer after my senior year she said good bye and walked away from me.  Even then I understood that it was the only thing she could have done.  I was such a mess, so unprepared for this magnificent young woman with whom I fell in love.  I moved on, broken hearted, emotionally unavailable and prepared for my freshman year in college.

As a freshman at Western Michigan University Christian influences kept coming into my life.  I participated in some dorm bible studies.  After the end of my freshman year in college, in April 1973 I drove to Nashville to visit a friend of mine from high school.  He was deaf.  He had gone to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for his freshman year in college and while there he had been converted to Christianity.  He had left RIT and gone to Nashville to be part of a Christian movement there.  When I visited him we drove out into the country side to a remote house about 65 miles south east of Nashville.  One evening while there he tried to tell me about Jesus and I told him he was a fool.  He cried.  That impressed me because he had been a tough kid in school.  I did not yet know the scripture in which Jesus taught that calling someone a fool was a great sin.  I think he did and that is why he cried.  After that visit I drove back to southern Michigan to work a summer job.  One evening in late April or early May I was thinking about all the evidence, all the voices that had called to me to bring me to faith and somehow, spiritually it fell into place in my mind.  I said to my mother, “Jesus must really have been the Son of God.”  Then suddenly, with that confession of belief it was like I could hear angels singing.  It was not audible.  It was within me, a sense of a spiritual reality bursting upon my heart and mind.  It was like the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus, shocking, astonishing, deeply personal and palpable.  That summer I transferred to Michigan State University and eventually changed my major to philosophy.  I knew I was book ignorant and I knew I wanted to seek God and truth.  Philosophy seemed like a solution to both my quest to discover and learn, to seek after God and to become a more worthy and educated young man.

After my conversion I still did not know much about scripture or the will of God and I did not want to know at first.  It was the early 1970s, after the 1960s and the pill and before HIV.  In a time of decadence I wanted to have my fun.  My heart was broken but I still wanted what young barbarian males want.  I am not proud of those years.  I include this for the sake of completeness and transparency in telling my story.  I lived a male college student’s life of profligacy until Christmas break 1975.  I met a beautiful woman at a Country and Western bar in my home town just before Christmas.  She was from St. Louis.  After Christmas I drove to St. Louis and spent the week between Christmas and New Year partying with this woman.  I came back to MSU for my winter quarter 1976 beside myself like the prodigal son.  I had bottomed out with hedonism and I seemed to be going nowhere spiritually or scholastically.  Studying philosophy enlightened me somewhat intellectually but it did not carry me into the presence of God.  I would graduate that coming spring with an undisciplined GPA.  I had been coasting, partying, under achieving as I always had, making no progress learning about God or truth or preparing for life after college.  I was deeply repentant on many levels and cried out to God in prayer to forgive me and send someone to guide me.  I had no confidence in any churches and did not know where to turn.  A few weeks later someone knocked on my door and invited me to a bible study.  He was a reformed heroin addict and gang member from St. Louis working with a campus church of Christ.  I felt certain that God had answered my prayers and He had done so with someone from St. Louis were I had just spent Christmas vacation in dissipation.  It was beyond coincidence.  So God placed me in the churches of Christ by this turn of events as a context of spiritual learning and I would stay there for the next 30+ years.  The churches of Christ are intensely serious about every member studying scripture.  It was just what I needed.

I met my wife to be that winter quarter 1976.  She was from Washington DC from a highly educated family and a Catholic background.  She too was looking for a more valid understanding of God and Christianity.  After I graduated from MSU I knocked around a bit, worked a few jobs and saved some money.  In the spring of 1977 I moved to St. Louis to be part of a church of Christ movement there and my wife to be followed me.  I asked her to marry me that summer.  I was still a guy from a far left secular background so the Bible belt was not a good fit for me.  I needed to be in a place that had more liberal urban sophistication in order to feel comfortable.  By my choice my wife to be and I moved to Northern Virginia suburban Washington DC in October of 1977.  We attended the Arlington church of Christ and there we were married in February 1978.

When I got to Northern Virginia and got married I took stock of my life and decided I needed to grow up enormously and do a lot of learning I had failed to do as a kid or college student.  I resolved to empty myself and pursue becoming a better man.  Though I had obtained a degree in philosophy and I was settling down into a straight life with a wife and church, I examined my life and realized I needed to rebuild myself.  I began to read a lot, history, theology, biography, liberal and conservative news magazines, mostly non-fiction.  The strange part of my reality in church life was that I found myself in the midst of social and political conservatives.  All my life my far left labor liberal dad had described conservatives aka Republicans as anything and everything except fit to life.  Now in the churches of Christ I found myself immersed in Republican conservatives.  I reasoned that I knew I had been indoctrinated as a social and fiscal liberal.  I had lived the liberal perspective all my formative life.  Yet I also considered that God had placed me in this church of Christ context where the white people were mostly conservative and only the African Americans were on the left.  Frankly, it was confusing and disconcerting.  So I sought out an intensely conservative mentor who could teach me their perspective. I met an older man who had been a church of Christ minister who was so conservative that he had been put out of ministry.  My wife and I arranged to study with this man.  For 2 years we sat in his dining room for 2 hours each week and he taught us about the American restoration movement, the origin of the churches of Christ, their hermeneutic and in some small measure he taught us the political perspectives of a social and fiscal conservative.  In this way I began my adaptation to the church of Christ theological and political sub culture.  I never fully came across to their way of thinking and was never fully accepted into that sub culture.  Converts were rare in the churches of Christ.  If you did not come into a church of Christ congregation fully formed as a product of that sub culture you are not likely to gain acceptance.  In the course of time I came to understand conservative perspectives as well as I had understood my dad’s labor left perspectives.

Even though we were learning at the feet of this extremely conservative man my wife and I sought out a more “progressive” church of Christ thinking this would be a better fit for us.  We found the Fairfax church of Christ in the DC suburbs of Virginia.  The atmosphere there was perfect for us.  We became members their summer of 1978 and I spent most of the next 9 years there doing a spiritual adolescence, learning from many fine people God placed before me.  I made my living with my hands in concrete construction since my liberal arts degree and modest GPA gave me no marketable white collar skills.  I had grown up blue collar and making a living with my hands in construction was comfortable for me.  Financially it was a pathetic life.  We drove junk cars and lived in roach filled apartments.  Eventually children came along and in April 1983 I went back to school to learn computer programming so I could support my family.   In March 1985 I took my first position as an entry level programmer analyst consultant.

The one constant in my life from the end of my senior year at MSU on was the pursuit of God.  I carried, studied and marked up bibles until, one after the other they fell apart.  I would ask questions in a bible study or anywhere else, no matter how sensitive, no matter how politically in correct, no matter what ignorance it might reveal in me if I thought it would help me progress toward the knowledge of God and of other people’s views.  Metaphorically, I crawled over broken glass on my hands and knees to seek God and truth, to learn and to try to become a better man.  This was my penance for squandering the lavish educational opportunities of my youth.  The only decision I ever made, the only thing I ever did right in my entire life it seems was the decision and the compulsion to seek God and truth.

In 1987 I transferred my consulting position from DC to Syracuse, New York.  My wife’s parents were originally from that area.  My wife and I found a local church of Christ in Syracuse but it was much more provincial and limited in terms of the education and bible background of the members than the church of which we had been a part in suburban Northern Virginia.  One afternoon, spring 1988 on my way home from work I was praying to God, lamenting that I did not have the caliber of mentors in the church in Syracuse that I had enjoyed in Virginia.  I heard a voice say to me, “Listen to My Son.”  It did not occur to me at that time that those were the words God spoke to Peter at the transfiguration.  With those few words God straightened Peter out.  He placed Jesus far above Moses and Elijah.  I got the message.  I had spent 12 years in the churches of Christ, asking questions, listening and learning, studying the bible, leaning and depending on other people who I believed were better than me, absorbing their Christian perspectives.  It was time for me to go beyond the limitations of what I could learn from other people.  It was time for me to get my information more directly from scripture, Christ and the Spirit of God.  My inner constitution took a new direction after that encounter with the voice of God.  I had perceived problems in the churches of Christ, political and doctrinal controversies which divided congregations and confused individuals.  I reasoned that such division must evidence some problem with their doctrinal perspective.  Though God had placed me in the churches of Christ for my basic instruction in spiritual things and though I found the churches of Christ to be rigorously biblically studious, something was wrong, something was lacking.  God Himself had given me a new directive to go beyond the churches of Christ’s hermeneutic and theological sub culture.

It occurred to me that up to that time I had not read the whole bible.  Christianity tends to be New Testament centric.  As I had when I was a 17 year old boy, I held the bible in my hands, looked at it and thought, how can I conquer this book?  What perspective, what constructive bias should I bring to the study of this book?  I reasoned that if God is God and He is by some method the author of these writings intended for us, His children it must be decodable, must be humanly understandable.  Yet I observed that the world is full of division and strife over matters of faith and truth.  I wanted to grasp with spiritual clarity that which most of the world seems not to be able to ascertain.  I set about to systematically read the Old Testament, always bearing in mind the question, “In this writing what is God trying to tell us?”  I reached a point of intellectual brokenness in my mid to late thirties.  I could not crack the code with my mind.  It was only then that I went to God with a prayer of desperation, begged for discernment and confessed to him, “I don’t understand this.”  “I don’t understand.”  “Dear God, please grant me this understanding.”  It occurred to me that Solomon had asked God for wisdom and God granted him, “wisdom and great discernment and breadth of mind like the sand on the sea shore.” 1 Kings 4:29.  Also, it pleased God that Solomon asked for wisdom.  It was only after I reached this place of brokenness and began to pray for discernment and understanding that the Spirit of God began to grant my petition and reveal the meaning of scripture to my mind.  I continued to study with prayer for comprehension as a component of my quest to understand God and decode scripture.  I read through the Old Testament with this new frame of reference.  I found that in the Minor Prophets an expression of the love of God was so richly composed that I wondered how the Judeo Christian world could have missed it.  By the power of the Spirit of God animating and informing my understanding I was enraptured with Old Testament scripture.  When I had found God and truth, when I had obtained my purpose I turned around within myself and found that I had travelled a great distance from the churches of Christ.  I wanted desperately to take that understanding back to the church.  I found that there was not much of a market for my message there.

In 1989 I moved my family from Syracuse, NY to southern Michigan.  My parents were getting on in years.  I had a son and two daughters and I wanted to give my parents some years to enjoy being grandparents.  We became members of a church of Christ in Lansing, Michigan.  One evening in the mid1990s after church in Lansing I was in the parking lot haranguing an elder, delivering a diatribe about how the love of God could be seen through the blood and guts, the idolatry and sin and sex of the Old Testament.  After our conversation ended and he drove away God enveloped me.  It was a clear spiritual sense of God being both inside me and all around me.  I was immersed in God’s love.  He stayed with me in that way for the next three days.  That visitation completely revised and further informed my understanding of scripture, taking me to a level I cannot share with you in words.  Only God can share and impart such a revelation.  I was in my early 40s and I realized the churches of Christ generally would not and could not hear this message from me.  I then decided to write a book about God to try and explain and clarify to the world who He is and how much He loves all of us.  It took me over 15 years to compose and produce this book which I titled, Understanding and Knowing God.  Initially it was 470 pages, 170000 words and I was advised to reduce the content, eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive, rewrite the book to make it more accessible to the public.  Hence it took many years.  The final form is about 240 pages.  It is my most sincere hope that this book of mine, a spiritual primer on God will serve to bring many people into the light of His love and the abundant life available in Him.

Thank you for reading my bio.

Go with God.