Father and Son Communion

Know When To Fold 'Em    When is it time to walk away, and when is it time to run? This week we have the story of an entire country deciding whether to give up on just one of it's citizens, when to hold 'em in order to win nearly a million dollars in poker, and a new story from Dave Dickerson.


Dave Dickerson

When I was 28 years old, I came back home for the first time in six years fully aware that I was the black sheep. I had rejected my faith. I had rejected Tucson, Arizona. I was the only one in the family who wasn't married. I was the only one who couldn't even speak Spanish.

And I was just sitting with my dad in a booth at a diner, and it should have been just this kind of innocent thing, where I'm visiting after six years, and it's nice to catch up. But it wasn't like that. We were facing each other. We both had, as it happens, cowboy hats and cowboy boots. And I remember thinking, this is a showdown. Because my dad and I were at war. My dad didn't know this, but I was at war with him. I was at war with all Christians, and I was just waiting for an excuse to fire a shot.

I'd been raised an evangelical Christian-- you know, conservative, Bible-believing Christian-- and I loved it so much that I said, I'm going to be a pastor. I'm going to learn everything I can learn. And I went off and I majored in religious studies in college. And from my very first scholarly class in the history of the Bible, my faith began to crumble until there was nothing left. And I now had this game I could play, where if you open a Bible to any page, I could find five flaws in it.

So I'd spent this entire time, not just with my dad, but certainly this particular evening, just waiting for a chance. Just mention the virgin birth, just once, and I'll tell you it's a mistranslation from Isaiah. Just mention Second Peter and I can prove to you it's a second century forgery. Say anything at all, please, please, about the Antichrist, revelation, the end times, anything like that, and I have a screed set up that's so blistering it would make Billy Graham feel ridiculous. And I had all this ammunition, and I couldn't wait to use it. I was just looking for an excuse. It had sort of turned me into a jackass.

Now, what my dad didn't know was that one of the reasons I was so excited is I actually was just coming off a victory. The previous night, I had argued my brother-in-law to a standstill. He had mentioned something about how proud he was about being a Christian, because everything in the Bible was so scientifically accurate. And I went a little nuts and I said, "Oh yeah, what about this thing?" And there's this tiny little section, just one sentence in like, Exodus, where the Israelites are fighting the Amorites or somebody, and God does a miracle where he makes the sun stand still for an entire day, in order to give the Israelites a chance to recover and give them more time to fight.

And I told my brother-in-law, "You really believe this? You believe this actually happened? That God stopped the entire planet from rotating, stopped gravity, all of things that would have to happen for the sun to stand still? Is that the most sensible thing the most powerful being in the world can do?" And my brother-in-law said, "Well, OK, that's weird, and I wish it weren't in there, but if I doubt that, where do I stop?"

And that, I knew, was as close as I was going to get to him saying, "You're right and I'm wrong." I remember looking at the clock, and it was 5:00 in the morning. I had argued this one point for seven hours. And I realized, this is like my job. I just put in a full working day. Obviously, I was obsessed.

At the time I was 28 years old. I was also a virgin, and I'd been a virgin because the Bible says so, because I thought Jesus wanted it that way. And then Jesus vanished on me. I had spent all of my life trying to be good, trying to do the right thing, and, you know, trusting that this would be rewarded. And then my faith collapsed.

And there's no betrayal like losing 10 years of your life, your sexual peak basically. I'm never going to get that back. And I was furious. And I didn't know who to blame. But I knew I could help other people from having the same horrible experience. And I was looking at my brother-in-law and thinking-- you know, we were arguing about Genesis, but in my mind I was thinking, there is no way you have a good sex life. You know, because the Bible doesn't care, and pleasure doesn't even matter in the Bible. But I can save you.

And with this kind of exciting, thrilling victory still humming in the back of my head, I was sitting there with my dad in the diner. Because a brother-in-law is one thing. A dad is someone else. I needed to save him. And so I said, "So, dad, what's your life like right now?" And he said, "Well, I found a new church home." And I heard church, and I perked up, and I was ready to go. But I thought, eh, church, not much to argue about there, people go to church, OK, it's nothing biblical.

And he said, "You know, it's a small church, and the pastor found out that I play the accordion, and he made me the music minister. That'll be nice." And again, I was like, [? tightened, ?] but I thought, "Meh, music ministry, no, nothing there." And then he said, "You know, this other kind of interesting thing is happening, I've been praying about it, and I think I'm going to be a missionary." And that struck a chord. I sat upright, and I went, "Oh really? A missionary? Where are you going to go?" And then he said, "Oh, Spain."

And I snapped. I said, "Oh, of course. Of course you're going to go to Spain. That is so arrogant. Only an evangelical Christian would say, oh, those poor benighted Spaniards need to learn about Jesus. You know," I said, "evangelical Christianity as a way, the whole model of salvation that you guys preach, wasn't even around till the 19th century. You claim to represent all of Christianity, and you're really just the tiny sliver at the end of the iceberg. And you know, the model of salvation you're even selling is so weird. Conversion should be the response of the whole person to a call from God on a deep personal level, and evangelical Christians have turned it into this transaction, like a merchandise, like a, try our God and your life will be better. Say this prayer, and now here's the merchandising table. It's just horrible."

"And Dad," I said, "You're saving people? What are you saving them from? Hell, may I guess? Because let me point something else out to you. Hell is a mistranslation from the King James of four completely different words for the afterlife. Gehenna, and hades, and sheol, and King James just kind of rounded them all up to hell. And the idea of eternal torture has no precedent in the Old Testament. It has never made any moral sense. And the second you believe in hell, you're undermining everything good. Because a morality based in fear can only bring out the worst in people, and never their best."

And I just rambled on like this. And I knew, essentially, while I was doing this, I was also assaulting his dream. You know, saying everything he was excited about, that he was sharing with me, was misbegotten, was a bad idea, was morally corrupt. But all he had to do was admit I was right and then we'd be OK. And I really didn't know what was going to happen now, because I'd just fired the first shot.

And he just quietly let me do my thing. And when I'd settled down and gotten my piece out, he said, "David, I'm really proud of everything you've done. And I'm really glad that you enjoy studying all these things, and thinking all these thoughts. But I've got to tell you, before I became a Christian, I was miserable. I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to get a divorce from your mom."

And I remembered, suddenly, like I was six years old and I was back in the car, and I remember driving in the station wagon with my dad from South Dakota to Tucson, because dad had had a miserable life, had a nervous breakdown, he was rebuilding everything. And he was holding a cigarette out the window the whole ride down. I remember-- as a child, this had had a strong impression on me-- about halfway through the trip, he simply threw away all of his cigarettes. Never picked them up again. That was his conversion. That was the start of the change in his life.

And my dad continued. He said, "You know, when I first went to Grace Chapel," which was the church where he had converted. He said, "I thought those people were crazy." And when I was eight years old, I had gone to Grace Chapel with him. And this was a charismatic church. The kind where people raise their hands, and they speak in tongues, and they anoint people with oil, and they pray for miraculous healings, and people roll on the ground sometimes, or dance.

And my dad said, "You know, I was just staring at the stuff these people were doing, and I thought, this is crazy. But I could not ignore the love in that room, and the care they had for each other. And I kept going back, and I kept going back. And I wanted it to make sense to me, and I wanted it. And finally one night, I prayed. And I said, God, if I have to cut my own head off to be happy, I will do it. So I know you've gone to college, and you've learned all these things, but here's what I know, David. I followed Jesus and the lord gave me a family."

My parents really had almost gotten divorced. I remember one time I ran across a notebook where my dad and my mom had divided everything up on a piece of paper. You know, who was going to get the TV and that kind of thing. They'd gotten. that close. And then my dad converted, and he said, "No, we're sticking this out. I'm going to make this work." And it had.

And my brother, too. He's deeply conservative, listens to all the right wing talk radio and so forth. And he's got to be convinced that I'm going to hell. But this one time, I was on this trip, and I was a student, and he gave me $300. And he said, "Don't bother repaying it."

And I remember looking at my dad, and I thought-- had sort of expected to argue like I had with my brother-in-law. Not to win, but to come to some kind of armistice, some kind of truce where we're like, "Well, we'll agree to disagree, but I see your point. It's a good point." I hadn't expected to lose completely. Because you can't argue with decency. You can't argue with goodness.

The thing about the Bible is, it's huge. I could poke at it because I could pick at anything I wanted-- you know, talking snakes, virgin birth. But eventually, I came around to thinking, well, maybe religion doesn't have to be consistent. Maybe you can just like it enough for it to be good. Maybe religion can be something more like-- like, I'm a big Star Trek fan. And if you asked me, I would say, I love Star Trek. But if you asked me to defend individual episodes, I would be at a loss, because I can't go to bat for everything Star Trek did. I just love the concept.

And maybe religion could be like that. So what I said to my dad was, "Oh, look, here comes the waitress." And we got our Sprite, and had our hamburgers, and we looked at each other, raised the glass, had a bite. And my dad didn't know this, but we were having communion.