It’s Up To You, New York, New York

It’s Up To You, New York, New York

I was in Brooklyn watching my two granddaughters during last week’s monster snowstorm.  Between late Friday and Saturday evening the neighborhood was inundated with 30 inches of sideways snow.  When the storm finally ended the city was blessedly silent, like when the refrigerator kicks off and you hear nothing, absolutely nothing.  On Sunday morning there was still no sound but Frost’s, “easy wind and downy flake.”

Twenty-four hours later the city had pretty much recovered and returned to its noisy energetic self.  My son and his wife flew home Sunday evening, LaGuardia being already open.  My granddaughters headed to school on Monday morning, streets being clear and clean.  Shortly thereafter I left for LaGuardia and an on-time flight to Denver. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore were still shut down, quieter than a cornfield. Not so long ago it would have been the same in New York.

In the 80s I was preaching in Brooklyn.  On our Sunday morning drive from Long Island the kids would count the number of burned out cars on the Belt Parkway, vehicles that had been at someone’s home 12 hours earlier.  On average there were about 20 stripped down and burned out vehicles on a 21-mile stretch of highway.

In 1983 I approved a single mother for adoption.  She had purchased a brownstone in Brooklyn for $92,000, a dump really.  I wasn’t even sure I could approve it for the placement of a child.  The whole city looked like that house – a wreck.  I wouldn’t take the subways after dark and wouldn’t park overnight in the city, ever.  But that was then.

Nowadays there are no burned out cars on the Belt Parkway.  The litter has been cleared and the marshlands turned into a national park.  And that brownstone in Brooklyn, the one I was convinced was a money pit?  Yeah, it’s worth a few million dollars now!  What a difference a couple of decades can make!

In 1969 a smaller snowstorm shut down New York City so badly it was a contributing factor in Mayor John Lindsay losing his job.  This weekend’s snowstorm made even a mediocre mayor look good.  What changed?

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell suggests one of the reasons New York began to change was Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to end petty crimes like subway graffiti and turnstile hopping.  The leadership of Mike Bloomberg took the city to an even greater level of efficiency.  So this past weekend, a snowstorm that still has Washington and Baltimore shut down was handled in stride by the Big Apple.

I am currently reading City on Fire, a novel about New York in the 1970s.  It reminds me how much has changed in such a short time.  Years ago I heard a lecture in which M. Scott Peck enumerated his reasons for believing in God.  Among them he said, “Even though the second law of thermodynamics says the universe is wearing out, I see a world reinventing itself time and again.”  Many called Peck a deluded optimist, but I believe he was right.  Everything does not have to move from order to disorder.  If you can change the culture of America’s largest city in less than a quarter century, why stop there?

With passion, hard work and cooperation, New York became America’s crown jewel.  Michael Bloomberg was hardly the darling of the African-American community when he first took office, but over his tenure he won many over.  The “can do” attitude that triumphed in New York came together when warring factions finally learned to work together.  What happened that made such a cooperative spirit appear in New York City and disappear from our national political arena?  How did we get so fragmented?  I mean, not to frighten anyone, but Donald Trump will not be winning over the African-American community, or any other community to whom Jesus might have taken a liking.  Is Trump really the best we can do?  Come on people, it’s almost February.

Our nation changed quickly on marriage equality, but it did not happen because of the legislative branch of our national government.  They cannot agree on how to change a light bulb.  It was a judicial decision.  But the Supreme Court cannot bring massive change to an entire nation.  Only the people can.

Is it possible to have a nation turn around as quickly as New York?  I believe it is.  I believe it is possible to focus on people, the planet, peace, and poverty, and arrive at solutions that are financially viable and socially sensible.  I believe it is possible to create a more resilient nation in which snow actually gets plowed because we finally realize we are all in this together.

New York was at work Monday because New Yorkers learned to work together.  Washington was not at work.  We all know the reason.  I’ve not been much involved in the political process.  Maybe it is time to reconsider.


Wisdom is Her Name

Wisdom is Her Name

Earlier in life I was an inveterate thinker. My logical, rational mind occupied most of the active space in my being. I wanted to know things. Of paramount importance was the attainment of knowledge. In that way I was not unlike my contemporaries. The Evangelical world was captivated by the trappings of the Modern age. From Descartes to Locke, we were taught to focus on what the mind could unearth. At its best this led to amazing scientific discoveries. At its worst it led to a religion in which believing the right doctrine was more important than living a virtuous life.

In such an environment only the mind could be trusted. It became such a hallmark of the Evangelical church that the charismatic movement, a reactive community, emerged as an attempt to restore balance. Among the gatekeepers, however, that movement was seen as incompatible with “Biblical Christianity” and dismissed as frivolous and irrelevant.

In a world in which only the mind was to be trusted, feelings and emotions were seen as secondary, or even extraneous to the human experience. This was true in the scientific world, in which “hard” sciences like math and biology looked down on “soft” sciences like psychology and sociology.

In a world dominated by such factually oriented intellectual thought, not only were feelings and emotions lost. Wonder became suspect. Wisdom was secondary. And trust became nonexistent. Think about it. The mind does not trust. It is always skeptical, demanding a never-ending stream of information. Only the heart and soul trust.

The natural inclination of a child is to freely express emotion, embrace wonder, and trust life. As long as we have the basic building blocks of childhood we remain beings of wonder. If we sense the safety of our existence, have feelings of self-worth, and role models able to delay gratification, we remain trusting of our feelings, students of the heart, experts in intuition.

At some point, however, the education system of the Western world kicks in, and trust is replaced with skepticism. Pascal’s heart with its reasons that reason does not know becomes the antiquated musing you might expect from a man who walked around with the words of a religious experience sewn into the lining of his coat. Trust becomes a casualty, feeling and intuition an afterthought.

In my pastoral counseling I often ask, “And how did you feel about that?” Pundits make fun of that therapeutic question, but we ask it because we must. Clients often cannot identify their feelings. “I don’t know what to think,” they cry. I suggest thinking might not be what is called for. “What does your gut tell you?” I ask. The answer lies beneath the rational mind.

It will not surprise you that men have more difficulty identifying their emotions than women. Their hard wiring gives preference to the rational left side of the brain. Neurons do not fire as freely across hemispheres as they do for women. A woman’s neural connections resemble a ball of twine, with countless pathways from the rational side of the brain to the more feeling, intuitive right side. Men’s neural connections tend to happen within hemispheres. A man’s brain is able fire from one hemisphere to the other, but it’s like driving across town in rush hour. It’ll take some time. (For the curious, it appears the brains of transgender women function about halfway between males and females.)

Since men have determined the path of our civilization, we should not be surprised we have been in a 500-year reign of fact before feeling, knowledge before wisdom, skepticism before trust. We lose the truth that on his last day of public ministry Jesus did not say love God with your mind. He said love God with your heart, mind, and soul. In a civilization that questions the very existence of the soul, those words remain as radical now as they were then.

Intellectual understanding does not necessarily lead to wisdom. A well-lived life leads to wisdom. Wisdom is personified as female in the Hebrew scriptures. That would come as no surprise to a child. Children intuitively know wisdom is a she. But of course, there are also countless wise men, like Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations during the height of the Cold War. His book, Markings, is a journal of great wisdom. And then there’s Blaise Pascal and the Péensees, his unfinished masterpiece of knowledge and wisdom. I would have loved to sit at the feet of either man.

As for me, I still have a voracious appetite for knowledge. But it’s my heart and intuition I have learned to trust, and wisdom I seek.

And so it goes.

The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed

This past week it was my privilege to attend and present two workshops at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston. Justin Lee and his capable team created a marvelous space for 1500 attendees who came together to worship, pray, and gain strength for the journey. The atmosphere was warm, inviting, gracious and supportive. While at the conference I attended my first meeting as a member of the Board of Directors. With great respect, I listened as Justin talked about GCN’s challenges and opportunities. I hope I can be a meaningful part of their growth.

On the opening evening I was introducing the speaker, so I was sitting in the front of the auditorium, which is rare for me. As the worship band backed off their microphones and the audience rose together in harmony to sing, “It Is Well With My Soul,” I turned toward the audience and cried the tears of someone painfully but surely finding peace attending my way. The speaker, Broderick Greer, spoke with the confidence and insight of an old soul, though he is only 24. He talked about his experience as a Black, gay Episcopal pastor from a Church of Christ background. He has survived a battle or two in his young life. Nothing I have faced even comes close to what he has survived.

In my first workshop I spoke about the lessons I am learning as a woman in American culture. There were tears from women in the audience who understand what it is like to be unseen and unheard just because you are a woman. There were mothers with gay children, ostracized from their families for the sin of embracing the gay or transgender child born to them. There were trans women and trans men who had lost family, church and job, but still remain committed to Christ and his church. I was honored these precious saints chose to share their stories, the fellowship of surviving saints.

I shared dinner with a former co-worker who, like me, chose to come out on his own, with no pressure to do so other than his desire to live honestly, authentically, and publicly. Later I spent time with the lead pastor of City Church in San Francisco, a church willing to pay the price to welcome all into the body of Christ. We talked about Lesslie Newbigin, Richard Rohr, John Polkinghorne, and other teachers we have known on the journey.

One of the more interesting observations about this audience was how ordinary we all seemed, hardly the people you would have expected to have been ostracized and vilified in their home country. Our vulnerability was never far from my mind, however. We were meeting in Houston, where I could have been arrested just for using a public women’s restroom. I bring my white male entitlement with me, and forget how vulnerable I am in today’s world.

In my second workshop we talked about my conviction it will not be long before we see large numbers of Evangelical churches become open to full membership. The church has never allowed itself to get too far behind the culture at large. Just look at the church’s capitulation on an earth-centered solar system, slavery, divorce and remarriage, and interracial marriage. Things once seen as scripturally prohibited are finally, and correctly, understood to be human-imposed cultural limitations to the Gospel. The church’s objection to LGBTQ inclusion will fall just as surely.

I left Houston hopeful. I am confident it will not be long before we see Evangelical churches of influence become progressive and inclusive on LGBTQ issues, on racial justice, poverty, and saving our planet. I am a realist, not a dreamer, and I believe in the power of Christ to transform culture. I saw it in evidence in Houston this past weekend.

And so it goes.