Rick Howard (Richard Dale Howard) was born in Tennessee the day after Christmas, 1950. I take this moment to memorialize him on aintsobad because of his many kindnesses to me as a teenager. Rick was three years my senior; an athlete, poet, a wit, an incredibly handsome fellow who suffered miserably from schizophrenia, until his early death at age 59, last week.
Rick's family was kind to search me out and invite me to eulogize Rick, though I have not seen them for a number of years. Rick spent his last ten years in a care facility, protected as a genius should be protected, alive and alert but nervous and often fearful. His family, whom I thanked in the eulogy, interacted with him to the very end, evidenced by the testimonies given during the worship hour last evening.
Rick published poetry in national anthologies before he turned eighteen. He was a creative, expressive athlete. Many times on the court I have seen a smooth, lithe student-athlete with similar elastic features and a confounding ability to put the ball in the net from twenty feet without seeming to look at the goal. I have always thought, at the sight of these long limbed wonders, "That fellow looks like Ricky Howard."
I was stumbling, bumbling athlete wannabe (actually, I wanted to read books and be left alone a lot; my athletic pretensions all belonged to my father) who could just about walk and chew gum, if someone would peel the wrapper for me. I had sensed the vocare of God, the Holy Vocation, and Rick was a fellow who liked to try and test the Holy Vocation. Dawkins would have called him a Level Five Agnostic.
Rick just did not think anyone could know God, or much of anything. I knew I knew God. I noted the preponderance of times the New Testament used the word "know" or "knowledge," and I knew God wanted to be known. Rick, well, not so much.
We had the most exquisite, delicate arguments. Rick Howard was the primary evangelistic influence on my early life, from his position as my Skeptic-in-Residence. He put a pin in all my easy answers, copied from the literature of the day, and made me think one step back of where all the evangelism programs I knew of started. They all assumed God and worked from that assumption. Rick was not willing to make that assumption, so our arguments were from First Cause, the Prime Mover, who we could not call God, lest something else intrude.
One night, after years of haggling over the issue, I was spoke in the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Joshua, Texas. The sermon over, I left the pulpit and waited for supplicants at the altar.
One came running down the aisle, literally running. He nearly knocked me down when he got to me. He took one of my hands in both of his hands and began to swing me, almost off my feet, from side to side. He was grinning, he was laughing and he was repeating, over and again, "He died for me. He died for me. He died for me."
Of course, it was Rick Howard.
I have another hundred or so stories about him. I loved him, I admired him, I respected him, I copied him.
And now, I miss him.