The Research (first phase)

 

In 1990, I felt a strong spiritual prompting.

 

I felt prompted to give up a private counseling practice in Lakewood, Ohio (on Cleveland’s Westside). I felt prompted to give up my home. I felt prompted to give up going to some Browns games. (That was going to hurt.) And I felt prompted to go out onto the roads of America, for God.

 

I knew enough about spirituality at the time, that it would be prudent for me to go through a somewhat considered discernment process before making this decision.

 

I did.

 

I prayed. I talked to people. I wrote the pros and cons, and a bunch of other stuff, in a journal around it all. I prayed some more.

 

And in the end, I made a decision to follow the prompting.

 

So I phased the counseling practice out, let go of a condominium I was renting, and left.

 

Now I had a sense, just a sense, I was going to be sort of a “Charles Kuralt” for God, if you will. (Kuralt had been a traveling CBS correspondent “…on the back roads of America.”)

 

And as Kuralt looked for stories for the CBS Evening News, I sensed I was going to be looking for, well, God’s stories. And when I found them, I was supposed to write about them.

 

Before being a counselor, I’d been a journalist. So I took a pen and a notebook with me.

 

Early into the traveling, things started to become clearer about all this.

 

For instance, I would get an inkling -- or a more direct sign -- that I was to go to a certain town. So I did. And within a day, maybe two, I’d often miraculously meet someone on the street, or in a coffee shop, or in a church… who was doing some kind of creative project to make their community, or the world at large, a better place.

 

So I would interview them.

 

The whole thing was actually pretty uncanny the way it kept happening, and happening… that I, more and more, started trusting the process.

 

What’s more, it was becoming clearer and clearer that what I was looking at, metaphorically speaking, seemed to be puzzle pieces. Puzzle pieces that, if assembled from town to town -- would dramatically shift America.

 

And the puzzle pieces seemed to fit, so to speak, under a number of broad categories. They were projects to: help enhance one’s spiritual growth; projects to heal the family; projects to help the poor, both here and in the Third World; projects to facilitate emotional health; projects to shift the economy to a much more sane and simple one; projects to move us back toward much more of a small farm, agrarian based society; projects to again make our communities safe; projects to also make our communities much more vibrant and cohesive; projects to heal the natural environment…

 

There were a lot of projects. I took a lot of notes.

 

And not only did I take notes. As I was personally exposed to these projects, it started to change me more on deeper levels.

As an example of one of the projects to help heal the natural environment, and as a way of describing a bit of how the traveling worked, I offer the following.

 

I was in southern New Mexico early on in the traveling.

 

And, over the course of a day, three separate people had mentioned the town of Taos, New Mexico in passing. And while it was ‘in passing’ for them, a tuning fork went off inside me each time the town was mentioned. By the third time, I was pretty sure God wanted me to go to Taos.

 

Although I have to say, I was never 100% sure in any of these. That was part of the faith walk for me. And believe me, I’m sure there’s times when, oh, I turned left when I was supposed to turn right. And God was up there shaking His head – and in frustrated tones saying: recalculating. Or something to that effect.

 

Anyway, back to Taos.

 

I went there the next day. And all day nothing happened in the way of meeting someone, etc. I went to bed frustrated myself that night, wondering – as I sometimes would in the course of all this – ‘Am I just nuts?’

 

That thought, this time, didn’t last long.

 

The next morning as I awoke, one of the first thoughts in my head was remembering reading an article a few years back in a Jacque Cousteau Society magazine about a small community of environmentally sensitive homes called “earth ships.” The community, I also recalled, was located somewhere in New Mexico.

 

I went to the front desk.

 

I said to a woman there that I knew this was going to be coming somewhat out of the blue, but had she ever heard of an “earth ship” development somewhere in New Mexico? She smiled and said it was a couple miles up the street.

 

Bingo.

 

I drove out and got a tour, taking notes the whole time.

 

The development was the brainchild of Mike Reynolds, an architect who was featured in Time Magazine for being an environmental visionary. The home walls were built with used, non-biodegradable tires stacked on top of each other and packed with dirt inside and out. And then stucco, or other building materials, were used for the exterior walls – so you couldn’t even see the dirt or tires. But you could tell they were there by: your energy savings.

 

See, because of the dirt and tires, the “thermal mass” was so thick the interior wouldn’t get that cold in the winter, or hot in the summer. And to generate energy for the little energy that was needed to, say, heat or cool the home, residents had put in big bay windows for passive solar, as well as some solar panels. What’s more, there was a friendly “competition” between neighbors to be as energy efficient as possible across the board. So people were using solar powered tools, bicycles, small wind turbines…

 

The environmental awareness synergy was phenomenal. Or translated, I’m sure in God’s world, these people were getting an A in “environmental stewardship.”

 

What’s more, if the spirit of these people – and the environmental conservation know how they were using – were infused into every town in America… well, we might not be worrying about passing on a world of global warming and climate chaos to our children.

 

And for me, it was town after town of seeing these amazing, local projects. And for the most part, many of them were relatively unsung projects. That is, few people from outside the local area knew about them (the earth ship community somewhat notwithstanding.)

 

It was as if God was quietly building the underpinnings of a new type of America. And, again, if these new models, or again metaphorically speaking, these new puzzle pieces were fit together from town to town, you’d have the kind of country God, apparently, intended for America.

 

At least that’s the best I could figure.

 

And somewhere in the middle of all this traveling, the thought occurred to me that the best, and most expedient, way to tell the most Americans about all this was to: become president. Of the United States. Of America.

 

Then the next thought was another one of those: ‘What, are you nuts?’

 

Of course, this was coming from someone who had given up his job, his home, tickets to the Indians games… and was out on the back roads of America waiting for the next spiritual prompting to go to the next town.

 

Uh…

 

Not to belabor the word, but I didn’t want to look like the next level of nuts. So I figured if the presidency thing was going to happen, it would have to unfold, oh, a bit organically. So instead of rushing off to start campaigning, that’s right, I rushed off to the next town.

 

But I will say the presidency thought kept percolating, and percolating…

 

During the traveling, I met my wife Liz on the road. (For that story, see Liz’s page.) We started traveling together, and now I had someone else seeing some of the same miracles I was seeing from town to town.

 

In between, we’d settle for short periods on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, of all places, while Liz was pregnant. But each time the baby was born, we’d, shortly after, “buckle up,” and head off again.

 

Then in 1998, as we’d been led to all these towns to do the research, we were led to a small town in southern Ohio to settle. Its name? Ripley.

 

‘Believe it or not.’

 

And given all of what we’d been through, the name of the town – and it’s colloquial connotation -- was not only fitting, but a testament to, I believe: God’s sense of humor.

 

Although lightness aside, Ripley turned out to be quite important for the next phase of what was going on with us. And for that next phase, please listen to the next audio on The Ripley Year.