Now that I have reached a certain age, it is fascinating to see how others of a similar age live their lives. It is as though we journey on two different planets.

All of us start life in the all-encompassing grasp of parents who we believe have the magical power to meet our every need. They choreograph the dance of childhood and most of the moves of adolescence. Eventually, however, we make the awful discovery that their choreography is all wrong for our lives. That is when we figuratively and literally leave home and enter the first adulthood.

The first adulthood is defined by the big three – jobs, marriage, and the cultural expectations of our age. Equally powerful are the unrealized dreams of our parents. Somewhere in childhood we came to believe it is our responsibility to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams, and it becomes a subconscious focus of our first adulthood. That is why one of the most important gifts a parent can give their child is to live as fully as possible, so the child does not feel the need to complete their unfinished business.

Eventually most of us reach the stage in which the first adulthood is providing diminishing returns. We are tired of living our parents dreams and answering the demands of our culture, and we move to our second adulthood, in which we are less concerned about resume virtues and more focused on eulogy virtues. We have fewer friends, but deeper friendships. We no longer look outside ourselves for our sense of identity but look inside our own souls, never an easy task because it involves moving beyond our objecting egos. Our ego is concerned about keeping up appearances. Our soul is interested in the ride. Our soul understands what it means to live wholeheartedly.

Some people enter their second adulthood in their forties. Most begin in their fifties or sixties. Interestingly, the most productive decade for most Americans is their sixties; the second most productive is their seventies. (In case you are wondering, the third is the fifties.) All three come during our second adulthood, when we finally give ourselves permission to live wholeheartedly, seeking to satisfy the needs of our own souls.

Which brings me back to people who are my age. Many are bitter, grumpy, and perpetually annoyed. Life has not lived up to their expectations and they want the world to know it. I remember an elderly man on Long Island who painted on his truck door, “The Golden Years Stink.”  A lot of folks share his sentiment, if not his hubris.

In my experience, many of these bitter senior citizens became trapped in their first adulthood, fulfilling the dreams of their parents, their culture, and the other external forces that demanded fealty. They became so fixated on safety and security that life passed them by. And now it is finally dawning on them that the most secure place on earth is a cemetery. In the interest of safety, they have lived a life that was never truly their own.

If they are religious types, they are often trapped in Fowler’s Stage Three of faith development, following the rules and regulations demanded by an angry God, never moving on to the necessary work of spiritual disenchantment. Unfortunately, if you refuse to do the hard work of disenchantment, you will also miss the joy of faith’s re-enchantment, as you embrace an understanding of the holy and sacred that is far wider and deeper than anything you imagined. A re-enchanted faith is what Mary Oliver expressed in her poem, The Summer Day. Its final line is a testament to living wholeheartedly: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My life is not easy. I know, yours isn’t either. Life is difficult for all of us, whether you embrace the second adulthood or not. As I have acknowledged before, I am currently going through a rough patch. It is the third time that has happened since my transition. This period of difficulty is a reminder that taking the road less traveled by will always include stretches of road filled with fallen branches and stones.

But if you live wholeheartedly and dare to believe that the call toward authenticity is sacred, and holy, and for the greater good, you know that despite your suffering, you have no choice but to move forward, one step at a time, though the desert. It is the only path to wisdom.

I am glad I live a life that has more in common with my friends in their 40s and 50s than with Baby Boomers. The last decade was by far the most productive of my life, and I fully expect the coming decade to be just as productive.

Life is difficult. But if you live wholeheartedly, life is also full of joy. To be sure, we have to travel through the road of trials to get there, but if we have eyes to see, joy is always waiting, just around the bend.

Intelligence Without Education

A friend recently sent me a video of a mutual acquaintance who had spoken on a subject in which they expressed great confidence, but did not exhibit a level of knowledge that would justify the confidence.  The individual’s intelligence was evident. Their lack of education was also evident.

Throughout my career in ministry, I have discovered that the stronger one’s conservative theological opinions, the higher the likelihood the person has not attended seminary. In fact, they often have not even received a bachelor’s degree.

I do not believe you need a Master of Divinity degree to be a good pastor, but I do believe a post-graduate degree in almost any field will help you become a more critical thinker. Learning the breadth of information in a field of study helps you realize the importance of broadening your horizons before reaching hard and fast conclusions on any subject.

If all you know is the hills of eastern Kentucky, you might use that limited knowledge to determine the measure of a mountain. The first time you set eyes on the Rockies, you realize your previous knowledge was inadequate. The truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

When you add high intelligence to the lack of formal education, the problem is exaggerated. Your intelligence gives you the confidence you can process and categorize information quickly, and indeed you can. But your conclusions are drawn on limited information.

I was talking with a seatmate on an American Airlines flight, and he was quite confident that American Airlines flew only one kind of Airbus 321. As some of you know, I am a bit obsessed with airliners, and I happen to know American flies four different versions and two different types of A321s. (My least favorite is the 321neo, by the way, a plane they are increasingly using on longer over-water trips.)

I didn’t argue with my seatmate, because there are certain people with whom you know better than to pick a fight. His confidence knew no bounds. Lives were not at stake. No one was going to need therapy based on his misinformation, so I left him alone. His supreme confidence was a telling sign of someone with more intelligence than knowledge.

While I know an A321neo has new engines and a better climb rate and range than previous 321s, I am not a pilot, and I know virtually nothing about the inner workings of the plane. My knowledge is limited to my level of education and experience. Recognizing the limits of one’s education and knowledge is important.

When I look at the polarization of America, I think of Nick, the sweet-spirited bagel maker at my favorite bagel store on Long Island. Nick was intelligent but had ended his formal education after high school. He arrived every morning at 2:00 AM to start making bagels and listened to talk radio until the shop opened at 6:00. His favorite show was one that focused on aliens. I was frequently traveling between Denver and New York at the time, and Nick confidently assured me that aliens were living in the concrete corridors beneath Denver International Airport. Nick was intelligent. Nick was not well-educated.

Nick wanted to be credentialed as a person of intelligence, and in his mind, that meant having information the “average” person did not have. I wish he been given the opportunity for a good education. Instead, his circumstances were such that he could not further his formal education, so he subjected his intellectual curiosity to the pundits of talk radio. There are a lot of Nicks in the world.

When I look at the number of people who believe the absurd claims of the Q conspiracy theory, I see lots of Nicks, intelligent folks with an inadequate education, and therefore the inability to discern the difference between truth and fiction.

Nick’s views about the existence of aliens beneath the Denver airport is misguided, but not dangerous. That is not the case with the speaker who was on the video my friend sent to me. The speaker has a lot of influence with a vulnerable population. Claiming a clear hold on objective truth, the speaker chastised the rest of Christendom for being dismissive of biblical authority.

What exactly would “biblical authority” be? Are we talking about the absolute accuracy of the original autographs of the scriptures, which do not exist? Are we talking about a literal interpretation of the scriptures? Or is “biblical authority” just a catchphrase of a certain kind of insider Christianity, pretty much meaningless to everyone except evangelical Christians? I believe in the inspiration of scripture, though I am not certain exactly what that means. I really do not know anyone who is exactly sure what that means. Appealing to biblical authority is hardly the way to win a theological debate.

At Left Hand Church, all our pastors are well-educated in their respective fields, and have also completed some form of advanced theological education. But they tend to defer to me on issues of theology because I have two master’s degrees in the subject, and a Doctor of Ministry degree.  I do not have a PhD degree in theology however, and I am aware that when it comes to theological knowledge, I also need to lean on others with a better education than my own. This is how life works. You don’t claim knowledge you don’t have. The truth matters, in every endeavor, all the time.

To be sure, it is difficult to discern the truth. It will always require rigorous intersubjective discourse, as we study and probe and compare notes to get as close as possible to something approaching objective truth. But the truth is that you cannot do that without a good education.

I hope the speaker reconsiders their future course and finishes at least a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Should they do so, I have a feeling they might look back on their speech with more than a little regret.

And so it goes.

Well, That’s Weird

There is a strange phenomenon taking place in American evangelicalism. It’s been chronicled in recent articles in The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, my three go-to sources for vetted, reliable information. It’s also been documented by the Pew Research Group, one of the polling organizations I trust.

We’ll start with a study out this week. The Pew Research Group discovered that 90 percent of American atheists have been vaccinated, followed by 86 percent of Hispanic Roman Catholics (who knew), followed by 84 percent of agnostics, 82 percent of Roman Catholics (again, who knew) followed by assorted other groups in the 60th to 80th percentile. Who scores lowest on vaccination rates? If you guessed evangelical Christians, you are right. Only 57 percent of evangelicals have been vaccinated. Which brings me to the newspaper and magazine articles.

A few of the more influential evangelical megachurches in the nation have recently experienced the kind of backlash previously reserved for school boards in conservative states. Three elders in McLean Bible Church in the DC area didn’t receive the 75 percent of votes needed to be affirmed as elders. A group of conservatives made a concerted effort to sully their reputations with a false accusation that they intended to sell their building to Muslims (which by the way, one of our Orchard Group churches did while I was still CEO. Nobody seemed to care all that much at the time.)

A megachurch in Minnesota lost four of its pastors after being subjected to what they called “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” In that case, it seems the pastors were speaking “too often” about the need for racial reconciliation. Southern Baptists Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer have both been accused of supporting a liberal agenda. I don’t need to go into it here, but neither gentlemen would likely take a meeting with me. They have never supported LGBTQ+ rights or a woman’s right to choose. They are not liberals. Apparently, they are just not supportive enough of far right causes.

A New York Times article published last week showed that Americans are increasingly equating evangelicalism with Republicanism, as if the two were synonymous. One recent study showed that among Christian groups, only evangelicalism was growing. Upon closer examination, it was determined that evangelicalism is not growing. Lots of people are calling themselves evangelicals who are not, in fact, evangelical. The list includes Mormons, Roman Catholics, agnostics, and a whole plethora of others. In answering the survey, they self-identified as evangelicals primarily because they equated evangelicalism with their right-wing Republicanism.

I’ve been watching this politicization of the evangelical church since long before I transitioned. Back in the 70s, I had to attend (my music group was on the program) a far right-wing event in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. When speaking of feeding the hungry in Biafra, one of the speakers actually said, “The more we feed – the more they breed – the more there are to feed.” Yep, that was spoken at a Christian conference.

In the 80s, I was appalled to learn that the national convention of my denomination was trying to book a Republican president to speak for a main session. Main sessions were always reserved for sermons and worship, not political speeches. Thank goodness he cancelled.

While I was the editor-at-large of our denomination’s national magazine, I watched with alarm as more and more of our churches made a hard turn to the right. As a moderate evangelical, I became persona non grata within that group. Time and again, the editor with whom I worked, a good and decent man, had to defend me to the increasingly vocal right wing.

Since I transitioned, I have watched the entire denomination take a hard turn to the right. I feel for all of my friends who I know do not hold right-wing Republican views. Many of them are staying quiet, just like the Republican leaders in Washington. Job security is a real concern. Kids need to go to college and health insurance is expensive. I get it. Enamored with security, I stayed in the evangelical world far too long, afraid to tell anyone my political views, let alone my gender identity. I understand how frightening it is to leave the comfort of a good job and a lifelong community.

But to those friends I say it is time to leave. There comes a time when enough is enough, and you have to take a stand, come what may. I recently was on YouTube and stumbled across one of the television shows I shot sometime around 2007. I was in a field at McGregor Ranch, bordering Rocky Mountain National Park. In the third segment of the show, the camera shot was a close-up of my face, with golden aspen and a brilliant blue sky in the background. It was mid-September. I was talking about the importance of taking a stand and living with the consequences. I ended the segment encouraging the viewer to action, and repeated the words, “You must do the right thing, come what may, come what may.”

Seven years later I took a stand, and “come what may” brought about the end of my career. Was it worth it? Come on now, you know the answer to that. It’s on the dedication page of my book, “To all who believe the call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good.” Of course, it was worth it. Was it easy? Nope. Does it make me happy? Not always. But as the Jungian analyst James Hollis says, you can live without happiness, but you cannot live without meaning. And for me, following the truth brings meaning.

I am glad I am no longer an evangelical. I like the post-evangelical world I inhabit. There is room for mystery and complexity and differences of opinion, while still steadfastly focusing on Jesus. And yes, Jesus remains as controversial as ever. It turns out loving God, your neighbor, and yourself isn’t all that easy, or popular.

And so it goes.