‘Old man’ Dicken writes book about God
Thomas Dicken turned 80 last month, but he’s been thinking about God since long before he became a senior citizen. In his new book, “God for an Old Man,” the retired college professor and not-quite-retired author writes of a life spent studying God – and others who spent their lives doing so. For much of his career, he published his work in academic journals, but said his new book wasn’t written for his former colleagues. “Before I died, I wanted to communicate how about how these ideas that I think about and my life are interwoven …” Dicken said during an interview in his Shaw Court home, where he’s lived with his wife, Nancy, since 1997. “I’m not trying to get rich from this. I’m not going to. I want people to read it.” The book is neither an academic effort nor a tell-all memoir, but rather something of a blend, and what he believes isn’t your standard Christian description of God as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. Dicken said many think of Jesus as a humble, wandering man who taught things, then zipped up to heaven and became God again. “I want to do almost the opposite of that. I want to take the influence of a person who really was with the homeless, was with the poor, was with the hungry … and suggest that maybe this is what God is like instead of saying Jesus is like God, up in the sky somewhere,” Dicken said. Among Dicken’s primary influences are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian philosopher hanged when his role in a plot to kill Hitler was discovered; and George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who wrote of moments when he felt like he was in the presence of God. Dicken is especially interested in such stories from people he knows, like the good friend who told him that she called upon and felt the power of God when she knew she needed help to quit smoking. Dicken puts a twist on one of the primary beliefs of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which people call upon a power greater than themselves. Dicken said he believes in a powerlessness greater than himself – a God who doesn’t force things on us, but strengthens us by his presence. In his book, and life, Dicken also borrows from Jewish thought, with a trace of Buddhism. “I’m not ashamed of the word ‘Christian,’ but I hate to use it, because it gets used so many different ways today,” Dicken said, citing politicians who have to “prove they’re religious” to run for president. Dicken very nearly didn’t get around to becoming the “old man” in his book’s title. Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma. A doctor told him he had a year left – if he was lucky. He was lucky. Stem cell transplants and chemotherapy, including a new drug, Rituxin, saved his life. “When I realized I was going to die in a year and I didn’t, I thought, ‘I really want to write something honest,’” Dicken said. The result, ‘Dying: An Interim Report,’ was published in an academic journal. It’s the second-to-last chapter in the book. Dicken is aware that some of his thoughts about God will ruffle feathers – like his musing on baseball players who hit a home run and point to the sky. Dicken figures the player is saying “Hi” to God or Grandma, up in the sky. “Well, what’s Grandma up in the sky doing? She’s watching a baseball game down here. … And I’m just preoccupied with the baseball game down here, in the big sense of the word – everything that’s going on down here. I think people almost use God as a way to get over their terror of death …” he said. Dicken said he has no plans to watch baseball games from the clouds after he dies – that he’d rather watch them here and now. “I think people really don’t have an interest in God. They are terrified of death. I mean, I think that’s what drives people, and they do crazy things to avoid the fact that we do die. I think they almost put the cart before the horse – because they want something that keeps them from having to die, they believe in God …” Dicken said. “I’m interested in God for God’s own sake, not because God will do me a favor. … I’d rather be here, doing this. I’d rather be here, talking with you, than in heaven. I bet no one’s ever told you that before,” he said with a laugh. The reporter acknowledged that he’d never been told that before, during an interview or otherwise. Dicken’s interest is in the world, his life, and his friends, with no big plans for after he dies. He said he’s “OK with that,” because he doesn’t want to be Grampa up the sky watching baseball games. There are better seats on earth, he said. Note: “God for an Old Man” is available on Amazon.com. Dicken said he also hopes to have copies available in the Woodford County Public Library soon.