Rick Diamond, Post-Pastor

Post-Modern Post-Christian Post-Empire - but I do work for something resembling a church

It Wasn’t Like That Other Thing I Thought It Was Going To Be Like

In my early 30s, I had been teaching english in colleges for a decade and had graded about 10,000 papers and though i adored teaching, i was getting pretty burned out. I was approached by a pastor to consider using my teaching talent and going into ministry in the mainline denomination my family and I belonged to. initially i told him that there was no fucking way because i didn’t believe in organized religion; i belonged to a church in order to follow the jesus of the sermon on the mount and the god of the prophets, and to learn self-denial and servanthood. and not because i liked stained glass or hymns or committees. but, after much prayer and thinking and feeling by my wife and me, I decided to go to seminary and test the waters.

I absolutely loved seminary. we studied theological questions I’d never heard of or had the chance to wrestle with. big, open-ended stuff about god and christology and scripture and psychology and history. my mind and faith exploded. i wanted to share this with other people. that was a big part of what following jesus had come to mean for me.

and so i left teaching and went on staff at our church.

as it turns out, my experience of working for a religious organization wasn’t the same thing as my experience of following Jesus.

my job (both at this first church i worked at, and at another church where i worked afterwards) was to help make the organization successful. which made no sense to me, because my sense of Jesus was that he was all about descent and detachment and he had no interest in building a bigger, shinier thing. i could be wrong about that, but i think I’m not wrong. he didn’t work for the temple in jerusalem; he wasn’t a clergy person; he set up systems that were based on mutual interdependence and non-attachment to possessions or plans. the systems i was working for, however, required that i mediated conflicts between folks with competing interests (the color of the carpet in a given room, the language used in a worship gathering, who gets to have the multipurpose center, who gets to write the staff job descriptions). and i helped promote programs and increase numbers and membership. and i was at the service of hundreds of people, all of whom had different ideas about their church. Most of those people were lovely and delightful and a lot of what i did for ten years as a religious professional was enjoyable and positive and good. i got to teach and to learn. i got to experience meaningful worship and prayer and servanthood.

but, too, it was as if i had fallen into some inauthentic alternate universe in which i was no longer following jesus.

i couldn’t sleep. i started having migraines – and then having a migraine a day. i went to neurologists and counselors. i wept. i was falling apart. i became the Angry George Bailey. i was depressed and having an epic life crisis. i smiled on the outside but i was in terrible shape. i acted out. i couldn’t get peaceful. it took years of therapy and men’s work and soul work for me to see what had happened. it wasn’t about Church; it was my shit to work through. as i say, i was naive. i am an idealist. and i wanted to do good things and help –

but not at the price of my own soul. and what i felt – and what many clergy people feel – is that religion wanted  to take my soul and my life and my will from me. (the language is “your calling to ministry.”) all that jesus shit is fine, but be sure the Communion cups are set out properly and set up the youth event the way Mrs. Williams the wealthy donor likes it done.

now, 25 years later, i can see why this was so hard for me much more clearly. but if you think that time has made me more accepting of the thing church folks often say at committee meetings, “Well, preacher, remember, a church is a business,” you are mistaken.

sometimes people who believe they are following jesus don’t see how much jesus mistrusted “the crowd,” groupthink, and The Way Things Are, and if that group of people think that numbers, finances, buildings, customer happiness, financial solvency, and measurable success are more important than compassion, inclusion, and calling bullshit on what is not what jesus did or said, then i think they aren’t clear about what their organization is trying to accomplish.  hell, if it’s a business, just say it’s a business, but don’t put jesus’s name on it.

be clear: i’m not criticizing The Church or religion or multinational corporate denominations. i’m really not. the thing that happened was about me: the thing i chose just turned out, in my experience (not everyone’s), not to  be the thing i thought it was. that’s why i hit the wall. and i learned that i can’t work for a corporation that says it is the house of god or the body of christ. i did it for ten years and it nearly killed me because i kept reading stupid impractical things like the sermon on the mount, and no business can follow that model of thinking or behaving. nothing can serve two masters.

BTW, the faith community where i work handles the money that comes in in a legal and professional manner. we have job descriptions and HR and records and rolls and policies and procedures and a board of directors and all that. those are corporate mechanisms, which can be helpful. but nothing is so sacred that it can’t be discarded. we are willing to burn anything we’ve created down to the ground if it doesn’t serve the only thing we exist to do, which is, to help people love god and love the world.


we joke that we don’t really have a sustainable business model … but it’s worked for nearly 14 years. and i sleep tolerably well at night.

and i also remember to take my migraine-prevention pills.

the factory

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james lipton interview: what is your favorite …?

James Lipton on Bravo TV’s Inside the Actors Studio asks each actor the following questions at the end of the show. i blogged my responses to these questions in 2008, and in 2012. now it’s 2018 and some of the answers have evolved; how would your answers have changed in six years or a decade? 

What is your favorite word? 

2008: my  favorite word is “yes.” the word that goes with it is “no.” they belong together. 

2012: my favorite word is “see.” as in, learning to see myself, see my choices and life with more clarity, see other people and what they want and are bringing. see how Spirit works.  

2018: my favorite word is “here.” i’m here. this is here. that’s all there is. that’s all i can ever be in any moment: here. 

What is your least favorite word?

2008: my least favorite word is “need.” as in, “i need this from you.”

2012: my least favorite word is “need.” as in, “you need to.” said by another person or by the voices in my head which come from fear and old expectations. 

2018: my least favorite word is “can’t.” if the answer is no, then, okay, it’s no. but it’s not that i can’t. 

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

2008: courage. c s lewis says that every virtue, when it’s at its deepest place, is courage. love is courage. integrity is courage. compassion is courage.

2012: courage. the courage to dive deep, the courage to be silent, the courage to be foolish, the courage just to put words or paint or notes on paper. the courage to be humble. the courage to go for it. the courage to be vulnerable and honest. 

2018: compassion. it connects. it allows. it weaves. it opens.

What turns you off?

2008: arrogance – which is just about fear.

2012: meanness. don’t be mean. about that. you’re hurting the world. stop it.

2018: narcissism and selfishness. i’ve had all the narcissistic bullshit i’m going to put up with. 

What is your favorite curse word?

2008: shit.” it’s a great all-purpose word. i don’t even stop myself from saying it. except on sunday mornings at journey, and that’s a struggle.

2012: shit,” still, for sure; as Severus Snape says, asked by Dumbledore whether he still loves Lily Potter, “always.” that’s how i feel about the word “shit.”

2018: “shit.” see above

What sound or noise do you love?

2008: quiet – especially in nature. which isn’t quiet, but it’s not human sounds. i like the quiet when my family or a child are sleeping.

2012: water outside – lawn sprinklers, rivers, creeks, rain, birds and animals around a lake. 

2018: those are still great. i get to volunteer at a place that uses horseback-riding to help folks with various kinds of disabilities, and it is magic; so – let’s add horses’ breathing

What sound or noise do you hate?

2008: i used to hate crying – which was just about my own fear of opening up and feeling anything unpleasant. now i believe in crying, my own and other people’s, even though it’s not always comfortable for me. now, the sound or noise i hate is the tape in my head that tells me “you can’t do this.”

2012: midi files playing a hymn when all i want to do is look at the lyrics. that, or someone being rude, especially to a “weaker” person. 

2018: Christian muzak … i’m talking to you, Hobby Lobby – as well as most “contemporary” worship

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

2008: painter

2012: muppeteer or disney animator

2018: i am already a writer but i’m going to share my writing with more people. 

What profession would you not like to do?

2008: corporate lawyer, or anything having to do with screwing over the little person.

2012: garbage collector. i just don’t like how trash smells. ………. either that or pastor at a church where i would be expected to wear specific clothing and use church jargon

2018: anything that’s built on fucking over other people, or belittling them, or belittling myself. 

 And finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

2008: a. god exists.

b. i don’t believe that there are pearly gates – they’re a metaphor. but it’s a nice image. the metaphor i like better is “the arms that love extends.”

c. what i want god to say is, “yes.” i actually believe that god will say “yes” to me … and to every being that has been in this earthly experience. and that doesn’t have anything to do with “who goes to heaven.” i don’t give a shit. it’s not about that for me.

2012: i have no idea what happens after we are no longer in this body. i think there is a dimension of some sort of existence in which the illusions of our consciousness’ separateness from spirit/ creator/ god/ love are eradicated and as paul says we “see face to face.” at that point, nothing will need to be “said.” 

2018: i have no idea what happens. there are no gates. i know it’s a metaphor. but i’m starting to think the whole question is counter-productive. the kingdom of heaven is here, now. all around. breathe. dare. weep. dance. draw. shout. snuggle. create. strive. comfort. confront. rest. 

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Patience and Her Sisters

I have an ancestor named Patience Bland. She was born in 1730 in Prince William County in the British colony of Virginia. She had ten children and died at the age of 50. The children’s names are mostly biblical in origin, including:

John (one of Jesus’ disciples, plus named for his father),

Caleb (one of the leaders of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt),

Abner (a general in King Saul’s army),

Amasa (a general in King David’s army),

Moses (obvious),

Mary (mother of Jesus, also based on Moses’ sister Miriam, again, obvious),

Joshua (Moses’ successor in the invasion of Canaan).

The English Christians who came across the Atlantic to the New Part Of The Empire were carrying their brand of religion which had been heavily influenced by Puritanism. They named their villages and churches and children after heroes and concepts in the Bible. The words of the Bible and its teaching directed everything: their daily and monthly and yearly rhythms and rituals; the prayers they said; their sense of morality and wrong and virtue; who they thought they were in the cosmos; what they wore; what they ate.

So, one of the names they used for daughters was “Patience.” There’s nobody named “Patience” in the Jewish or Christian scriptures that I know of, but the concept of patience is important in lots of biblical teaching.

Here’s another of my ancestors, on a different branch of the tree, a woman named “Submit.” For real. She was born in 1719. She had a sister named “Experience,” born 1711, and one named “Thankful,” born 1713, all in Worcester, Massachusetts, another place in the Americas where the Puritans set up shop.[1][2]

I’m glad that none of the women I know is named Patience. Or Submit. Thankful’s an okay name, I guess? My name is Richard Major, which was also my father’s name. I like my name. It can be translated as Strong King, and that helps in the times when I’m not feeling very empowered. Maybe it’s the same with Thankful. Maybe it’s even the same with Patience. But Submit? Name a daughter that, and that girl always knows what’s expected of her.[3]

I know we’ve still got lots of work to do around women’s equality and empowerment. And even if women aren’t told their name is Patient or Submit anymore, they’re definitely told that’s their job.

[1] Thankful’s husband’s name was Zebadiah. A biblical name. Y’know, the usual.

[2] Their father was named Oliver – obviously after Oliver Cromwell, the champion of the Puritan Revolution of the 17th century, I think? since it’s not a biblical name? – and their mother was named Hannah, after the biblical mother of the prophet Samuel.

AND, Oliver’s father was named Increase, and his mother’s name was Record. … I mean, why wouldn’t they be?

[3] Patience Bland had a namesake, a granddaughter, daughter of her son Joshua Smith and his wife Mary. THAT Patience Bland Smith named a guy named Davis Gurley, and I notice she didn’t name her daughters Patience. Somebody had to stop the madness.

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Everyone’s parents are giants.

I think that’s why fairy tales and myths contain giants which must be avoided or befriended. Or defeated. We’re small, the giants are huge; they can kill us. (They can also help us.)

When I was young, my parents – like everybody’s parents? – loomed, titanic, like the 100-foot-tall statue called “Colossus” of the Sun God standing above the ancient city of Rhodes. Richard (my father) and Mary Ann (my mother) radiated rage and disappointment and ambition and love; I both adored them and was terrified of them.

One way that I continue to heal from my childhood pain is to learn about Richard and Mary Ann, and to imagine them as children. And as teenagers. And as college kids. To imagine them hopeful about life, trying to live through their own pain around their own families (they both had hard and confusing childhoods, like mine). They are not colossuses – what’s the plural? – colossi.

A few years ago, doing family research, I revisited pictures of their 1960 wedding. It is an awkward wedding, because I had been conceived a few months before that, in a car.[1]

They were young; Richard was 21 when I was born, Mary Ann was 20. Richard and Mary Ann dated, or just got together, and I figure they had the wild-eyed, fumbling, rushed, unskilled-but-inspired sex of young people, like a nuclear explosion or a car wreck, after which the survivors look around, pick up the wreckage, and see if they can stand up. I smile when I think about them being just college kids. Just full of life and passion. Going to class, studying, falling in love.

Not giants.

I wasn’t close to Richard, and I didn’t get the story from him. My mother didn’t tell me that I was conceived before she and Richard married until I was about to leave for that same college.

It never occurred to do the math; my sister and I never knew Richard and Mary Ann’s wedding date because “your father” was someone Mary Ann didn’t talk about. But Mary Ann did tell me, when I was about to leave for school, I think not only to warn me about sex (a little late) but also to unload the burden of shame that she’d carried for 18 years. The trauma. The disappointment.

This 20-year-old girl, halfway through the spring semester of her first year of college, misses a period in her menstrual cycle. And another. And goes, terrified, to the public clinic (probably not the campus doctor at a Baptist college), and then she tells the tall handsome boy that they need to talk.

She’s heartbroken; she had gone to Baylor to study Journalism, to become a trailblazing female writer. Now she’s stuck. (She would, much later, in a fit of rage, tell me she should’ve had the abortion everyone advised her to.)

I imagine Richard, receiving Mary Ann’s news, saying something like “What?” or “Oh God.” And the blood drains from his face and he leans over in a spasm of oh-shit-there-goes-my-life. Maybe he leaves and gets drunk. Or maybe he holds Mary Ann and comforts her, and just swallows his own terror. Maybe they both scream at each other, because of their fear, as they would while I was growing up.

I look at Richard and his pregnant wife. Everybody at this little reception knows (that’s his very quiet father beside him), and he has to go through with this ritual, with shame hanging over his shoulders. Richard, the now-married college sophomore, has a nice smile, and I want to take that young man in my arms and hug him and tell him I’m sorry, I know this is terrifying, I know you’re in way over your head. I can see already that it’s going to be hard. But I can’t save him; this is his path.

He is not a giant, or a statue, not the imposing figure Rick at 4 or 7 or 9 thought he was. Neither is Mary Ann; though far fiercer than Richard, she’s still just a young woman who is making the best of what has happened. I see her sadness and determination, and her big smile and white dress, I want to tell her she’s beautiful, and good, and that it’s okay.

[1] Actually, I don’t know if it was a car; it could have been in a dorm room, or at a friend’s apartment, or on a blanket in a park. But “in a car” is funnier.

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Is Your Santa Necktie Going To Hurt Me


Last Sunday I wore a Christmas tie to church. For fun. It was December 11 and cool outside. I wore a white shirt, which I tucked in, and a simple cardigan I got on super-sale two springs ago. I still wore the usual jeans and boots, however; I didn’t want to go overboard.

The Journeyers gave me the same reactions as they always do when they see me at a memorial service or a wedding and I have on a suit or a liturgical robe, or even just a tie:

  • Genuine shock.
  • Smiles of disbelief.
  • Squinting looks, sideways-cocked-heads looks, half-scowls.

They say things like,

  • “Oh my God, who died?” or
  • “Are you okay?” or
  • “Are you seriously wearing a tie?” or
  • “Is that you?!” or “My eyes! My eyes!” or
  • “Shit, man, you scared me!”

And they only mostly mean those things as a joke. Partly we’re just laughing because me wearing a tie is so incongruous to Journey’s ethos. But they are also checking with me, because I’ve crossed a line that is not stated but is understood. The “Rick Doesn’t Dress Like A Preacher” agreement.

There’s no reason anyone can’t wear a tie to a worship gathering to a JIFC gathering; everybody’s welcome to wear whatever they want. This was a conscious decision we made a dozen years ago when Journey was first starting. The Baby Boomer megachurch movement had started in the 1980s with casual dress code as a tool for attracting people. But our choice wasn’t attractional; it was an expression of something we believe in deeply, which is: you are fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not a “sinner.” You may feel broken, and disconnected, and hungry, and like a disaster, which can be a good place to find God and each other. But you’re a beautiful disaster. Don’t fix it.[1]

So, I don’t wear ties, because I get to wear what I want and be myself, accepted, just like everybody else.

But there’s another reason I don’t wear traditional “preacher” clothes:

Religious PTSD.

Many Journeyers have been hurt by religion. Wounded. Scarred. Abused. By unhealthy church systems. By pastors and leaders. By parents and other adults. By just general bullshit that wears the name “church.” By theology. By what they were told was God.

I don’t wear ties – or other preacher clothes – including hip preacher clothes and tattoos and haircuts – because I don’t want to hurt people more than they’ve already been hurt. I very deliberately try to make sure that what I and other Journey leaders say and do won’t re-wound people.

Church PTSD has broken people’s hearts. I don’t just mean their feelings about religion; I mean their feelings about themselves, their sense of worth, their joy, their sexuality, what they can be, what they can hope for.[2]

I get it.

So that Sunday when many Journeyers balked at my tie, I’d hold it up and show them:

  • that it’s a pattern of cartoon drawings of Santa Clauses with diverse skin colors, and
  • that it’s a Save the Children tie, designed by a 13-year-old girl, and its sales went to helping children in need, and
  • that I wore it in love, and celebration, and not because it was required of me or of any of us.

And this was, mostly, acceptable. Just … don’t make a habit of it.

[1] This isn’t the same as the messages some churches use, overtly or covertly, that everyone is welcome as they are, but once you get here, you need to change. Or, “God loves you just as you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Y’know what? Screw you. Oh, and, God is not a male.

[2] NOTE: There are ways to deal with religious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the emotions and thoughts that flare up when someone who’s been abused suddenly perceives they’re being threatened by the same danger they experienced before. If you’re suffering from church abuse, there is help, lots of help. Starting with what Robin Williams says to Matt Damon near the end of Good Will Hunting:

“It’s not your fault.”

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Interpreting Scripture, Part #738

I was about to graduate from high school and I liked studying about Jesus and the Bible and what I believed. I had heard of a “Parallel Bible” and I asked for one for Christmas or birthday.

The Parallel Bible my mother Mary Ann gave me was published by a company called Zondervan. Zondervan is a huge religious publishing company, founded in the 1930s in Michigan by two Zondervan brothers who began in a barn and the business grew; in 1988 HarperCollins bought Zondervan for $50 million. Calendars. Bible software. Study tools. Christian fiction. Christian living. Christian inspiration. Children’s books. And many kinds of Bibles.

Mine was a Layman’s Parallel Bible.

The same passage – a story in Genesis, or a passage of Jewish Torah Law, or a Psalm, or a Jesus story – was laid out in four parallel columns, so you could compare the texts while seeing them all at the same time. I could see the differences in how the texts expressed an idea. The way scholars thought about God or the world or Jesus or good and evil in the 17th century vs the 19th or the 20th. The different phrasings, flavors, insights.

I loved it. It helped the Bible feel alive to me.

I would later realize that in studying with this parallel Bible, I had begun looking at the text as text, in addition to its being “the Word Of God.”

There is a persistent Christian belief that the Bible is a thing that God spoke or expressed or inspired or dictated, and which is a perfect expression of God’s self, God’s desires, God’s views, and is therefore God’s Word. So …

Which one of these 4 was The Word Of God?

  1. The King James Version of 1611, also known as The Authorized Version, was produced by a group of scholars and clergypersons whom the King of England commissioned to produce a Bible that he could use for his Protestant-ization of his kingdom. The King said, “Make me a Bible I like.” It became the Bible for English-speaking people everywhere. It’s why we think God sounds like Shakespeare.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The American Standard Version of the Bible was an update of King James’ Authorized Version of 1611. 30 scholars from nine Protestant denominations used ancient source materials, as well as King James’ version and others from the mid-to-late 1800s. They said, “We have a Bible. We want to produce a different Bible.” For whatever reasons – Doctrinal. Political. Financial.

Then, the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA had some scholars update the ASV and create the Revised Standard Version, which was published in stages during the middle of the 20th century. Millions of copies have been distributed worldwide.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA owns the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. As in, that Bible is owned by a company.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The Modern Language Bible was a late-1960’s translation meant to speak to the emerging culture of the mid-century culture. It’s an update by Zondervan of a translation written by a Dutch-American Presbyterian pastor. Zondervan created the MLB to reach out to youth culture of the 1960’s and 70’s. It sold millions of copies and Zondervan made tens of millions of dollars.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The Living Bible was published in 1971. Ken Taylor – a founder of Tyndale House Publishers – wrote it, paraphrasing the language of the American Standard Version into what was then contemporary English. It sold millions of copies. I liked it a lot. It sounded like real people.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?


How’s this: I don’t think there is such a thing.


Next time: “Interpreting Scripture, Part #738, or, My Bible’s Better Than Your Bible”

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Be Ready

“Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”

– Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977

“He’s on His way, man! Are you ready?” – Hippie Christian, 1974


My mainline Protestant childhood theology was never fear-based. Mostly it was that God is love, we are created to bring glory to God, Jesus is the good shepherd, etc.

Many of my friends and family, on the other hand, were raised in Baptist or Bible churches, where they heard regularly that all people were sinners who were bound to burn in hell. This message loomed – still looms, even if they no longer believe it – above them like a boulder ready to squash them.

For a while during my Junior High years, when we attended a non-denominational charismatic church in South Texas because my mother became disaffected with the Presbyterian church / was “finding herself” during the Consciousness Revolution of the 70’s, I was infected with a slight but nagging case of fear-based faith.

The pastor used words like “victory” and “enemy” and “king” and “power” and “might” and “Satan” and “army,” and taught lessons on the End of the World, when the Great King would come and re-order all of “fallen” creation. I was terrified – and enthralled. I was also in Junior High, when the world is scary enough, and my mother was in her second marriage and it was going badly, and she was struggling with her mental illness and that was hard; having something concrete and strong to hold onto in the middle of what felt like a series of tornados was very comforting. I liked the good shepherd Jesus, but I really liked the victorious king Jesus who could a. defeat my enemies and b. raise me up to the clouds.

I remember this guy and his wife; they’re in their mid-twenties, and they’re grinning blissfully at me one Sunday or Thursday evening after the marathon-length worship services, and the guy says, tossing his long hair a little to the side, “He’s on His way, man! Are you ready?” and they laugh and nod with joy, including me in the happiness of knowing we are going to be rescued, snatched up out of this shitshow at any minute by the powerful king. I smiled with them, sharing in their blessed assurance.

But I also remember wondering – worrying – panicking – Wait, AM I ready?

It lasted for years after we left that church/cult: the fear that at any moment, cosmic trumpets would sound, the sky above Corpus Christi would open, but I would be picking my nose or thinking about girls or feeling angry or just not being prayerful enough, and I wouldn’t be ready, and I would not go up into the sky to meet The Lord in a twinkling of an eye. I would be left here on the earth for years or millennia or whatever, rejected, burning alive, thrown into a pit, etc.

So: If I want to get people to do what I want, I can simply construct messages that terrify them, and then give them a solution – a solution which I have the power to dispense. And that way, I am the savior. Actually, the terrifying message doesn’t need to be original; people are already afraid, so, I just need to find the right button to push.

I can build movements, win elections, create religions.

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I Rebel

“This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” – Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

“Give to The Emperor what belongs to The Emperor, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Jesus


Jesus was a peasant, living in the Roman Empire’s provinces of Palestine and Judea. He gathered a group of followers, by healing, doing miracles, and interpreting religious and ethical codes. He was an apocalyptic thinker who believed that the world and The Empire would end soon. He led nonviolent symbolic assaults on what he saw as the corrupt systems of power.

The Empire arrested him[1], tortured him, and executed him publicly as a deterrent to other rebels and insurrectionists. His followers regrouped and kept Jesus’ movement alive. It spread throughout The Empire and was influenced by each region and ethnic group and context it mixed with.

For a while The Empire tried to kill the movement, but that failed. And so The Empire, in a brilliant move, adopted the movement and deified its dead insurrectionist leader[2]. The rebel whom they had executed became its mascot. The Empire built a giant religious system which spread throughout the Western world, decorated with pictures of the executed man being tortured and executed.

The irony of this is astounding.[3]

The Empire decided what the acceptable beliefs and practices of that dead insurrectionist’s movement would be. And The Empire’s soldiers and priests tortured and executed people who didn’t agree, and went to war against the nations which didn’t share those beliefs. Again, this is ridiculous.

And now it’s 2016. I live in a continuation of that Empire. And I am a practitioner of an iteration of its religious system.

And … The more I learn about myself and the world, and the longer I follow the insurrectionist and learn to divest him from what The Empire has taught me about him, I choose not to agree to most of the beliefs and practices which support and reinforce what The Empire values. The Empire requires obedience and adherence. The Empire writes creeds and disciplines. The Empire helps the poor as it builds cathedrals. The Empire likes things big and powerful and efficient and successful. That’s the value system which killed the insurrectionist.

So, like him, I rebel.

I am a teacher for a small group of people. We distrust power systems. We avoid the spotlight. We work to counteract The Empire’s dehumanizing and oppressive practices. Because we are all children of The Empire, we must continually ask: How can I know what’s oppressive and what’s life-giving? What’s soul-risking, what’s seductive? What seems benign but is actually cancerous? Is what I’m worshipping and following truly the God that Jesus worshipped and followed, or is it what The Empire taught me and told me was God?

I keep asking myself, about my actions, purchases, and choices, what the insurrectionist asked:  Does this belong to The Empire? Or does this belong to God?

It is hard work. … Merry Christmas,

[1] Some will argue it was the religious leaders who arrested Jesus rather than the Empire, but the Empire built the Temple where the religious leaders worked, and appointed their King and their High Priest, so, let’s be clear as to who owns the house.
[2] And, if he’s a god, then he isn’t really a person anymore, or a social operative, or a troublemaker; he’s an abstraction.
[3] When a super-successful general becomes Emperor and he co-opts a religion and starts building monuments to its leader, nobody much worries about the irony; instead, they convert to that religion.

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Marks on the Land

A few months ago I drove to two towns in far South Texas. Harlingen is where we lived when I was in middle school, and Corpus Christi when I was in high school. I hadn’t been to Corpus in years; my family moved away, and I don’t like the beach. And I hadn’t been to Harlingen since the day my mother, Mary Ann, told me and my sister, Stacy, “Kids, pack your stuff; we’re leaving your stepfather. Right now.”[1] That was in late summer, 1975, when I was 14.

I moved 18 times by the time I graduated from Richard King H.S. in Corpus; maybe that’s part of why I got interested in ancestry research. My ancestors, too, moved. They were pioneers, refugees, explorers, who left Ireland and England and Scotland and Wales, sailed across the Atlantic, stepped into unfamiliar territory in Pennsylvania and Boston and South Carolina, and some of them kept moving. To Tennessee, and Kentucky, and Mississippi, and Louisiana, and Arkansas, and Indian Territory, and The Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas.

(And from among those many thousands of wanderers, two of them – Mary Ann, a daughter of the Smith/Bells who grew up in a little town in Central Texas, and Richard, a son of the Diamond/Roaches who grew up in a nearby little town in Central Texas – left home after high school, and went to college, and met each other, and had sex, and got pregnant, and got married and, to quote David Copperfield,[2] I am born.)

That much wandering … why do people move? Why do they leave? What are they looking for? I keep wondering that about my ancestors, and about my family, and about myself.

I was headed to South Texas with the data I had: The houses and apartments we lived in (homes 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18); the churches we attended; the schools we went to; the parks or landmarks I remembered. But other data too, which can’t be found on a map or GPS.

Rick at age 13 – whom I call Rick 13, just as I call my 10-year-old self Rick 10, and Rick 17 is me in Corpus in 11th and 12th grades when I was 17, and so on – where would he have left a mark? A sign for someone to find later? Would I find branches bent or icons scratched into the bark of trees that Rick 13 would’ve left to mark key moments, important turns or places on the map? The breadcrumbs on the ground, the rock that doesn’t belong in that corner or in that stone wall? The memorial – “This happened here”?

For decades I’ve journaled and written and gone to therapy and done men’s work and emotional intelligence work, and here’s a huge lesson in that for me: the important markers which Rick 13, Rick 17, Rick 6, Rick 20 and all the other Ricks have left? They don’t have to be searched for. They show themselves to me, and others, all the time. Those landmarks show up in how I conduct a meeting, or play a board game, or tell someone bad news, or confess my sins, or face disappointment, or find courage.

When I travel to this landscape of my memories and reflexes and thoughts and behaviors, I flinch where frightened Rick 6 left a “danger here” warning sign. And I feel the mixed joy and shame that Rick 13 felt, one evening at our farm, looking at his stepfather’s Playboy magazine stash and wondering, “Am I a bad person?” And my heart beats as I come across the exultant “You’re not a baby!” which terrified-of-the-dark Rick 11 claimed when he managed to hit another scout with the bag-of-flour weapon during the nighttime game of Capture The Flag at Boy Scout camp. And I smile when I come up on Rick 12, cackling at some stupid joke with his buddy Robbie Anderson, and scribbling on the map of his own heart and therefore mine: “It’s good to have a friend.”

So, the drive south wasn’t really about discovering anything I didn’t know already; I’ve done lots of mapping the territory. I just wanted to smell the humid air again, and look at my high school, and see if the Palmetto Inn was still on W Jackson St.; if it was, I’d have the enchilada plate for the first time in 41 years.[3]

[1] My drum set, for all I know, is still sitting in the entry hall of that house; it wouldn’t fit into the station wagon in which Mary Ann and my sister and I drove away that night, and we never went back. I’m not bitter.
[2] The hero of the novel by Dickens, not the Vegas magician.
[3] It’s closed.

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Prodigals, Part II: So That Happened

 (This is a continuation from Prodigals, Part I: I’ll Take Mine Now, a riff on the story of the two sons that Jesus tells. FYI I’m mixing up the genders of the characters in the story.)

You’re pissed off and you decide to blow the whole thing up.
Or … you’re restless and you’re tired of waiting.
Or … you’ve been good a long time – too long – and now, screw it, I’m outta here.
Or … you don’t want to leave but you can’t help it … you’re not sure why … you are disengaging without really even knowing where you’re going. You’re longing for something.

Joy or pain, or both, can get you to gather your things and step out of the house and onto the road to The Far Country.

As you leave, you take many resources with you. All you’ve acquired. All you know. Money, or not. A map, or not. Hope. A plan, even if the plan is just to be open and see what’s next. Your ideas about yourself (what you already know, and what you don’t know yet).

For a long time, maybe a day? a month? a year? an entire season of your life? it works, and you’re happy. It’s fun. Freedom. FINALLY, you’re out from under the thumb of that family / system / marriage / job / life.

But, in some cases, like in this story, there’s the nagging feeling:  This isn’t going to last.

And it doesn’t.

And then the money’s gone and the friends leave and the famine comes. And you get a job working for a pig farmer. As in, I’ve fallen as far as I can fall.

The pig farm in the Far Country is George Bailey on the bridge. The athlete whose injury is career-ending and she realizes: Oh God; that part of my life is over. The realization that the gamble didn’t pay off, the deal fell through. That if I ever want to get better, I’m going to have to look at that part of myself I’ve been avoiding.

Standing there, ankle-deep, with the unclean thing rooting around in the mud near your feet (have you spent time at a farm? It doesn’t smell sanitary and daisy fresh), this younger sibling within you … stops.

For a while, reluctant to admit to herself or anyone else that she’s standing in pig shit, even though it’s kind of obvious, she says to herself, I refuse to go back to those people.
To that place.
It hurts. I’m angry. I’m scared.
I can’t.  

And this debutante (a wealthy daughter from a rich family, who had a servant that washed her hair and laid out her clothes, and servants that made her meals and served them to her) once again tries to reach into the bucket and sneak a few bites of the seed-pods she’s supposed to feed the pigs. The farmer had beaten her, saying, I need my pigs to get fat. Not you.

She loses weight. All kinds of weight. Hey –  is that my tiara, in the mud? When did I drop that?

And that’s when, Jesus says, “she came to herself.”

“She came to herself,” a standard English translation says, though it could suggest “when she woke up, from the dream she had been living in.” It can also mean “she returned to herself,” as if she’d been in a faraway place. Which she has.

So that happened. … Now what? 

Here’s good news: Don’t be afraid; even if you return, you won’t be going home. That home isn’t there anymore; it can’t be; you’re not the debutante or the hotshot anymore. You’re something different.


Next: Part III: Be a Good Girl

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