The Problem is Greed

(I wrote this post last Monday, when I was headed to speak in Huntington, West Virginia. The trip went well. I got home and promptly left again. I’m in a San Francisco hotel now, preparing to speak tomorrow. I have a busy life.)

I’m sitting in the Admiral’s Club in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting for a flight to Cincinnati so I can then drive another three hours to West Virginia, where I will speak at Marshall University. The airport is crowded. The workers are a little more surly than usual, and except for seeing my good friend Karen at the gate in Denver, I’ve not seen many smiles. Of course, it is also possible I have not been smiling.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles with American Airlines – not just credit miles – actual miles. Most of it was flown with USAirways, which acquired American about a decade ago. They won control of the larger airline but lost the culture war. American is not the friendly airline USAirways once was.

I knew USAirways employees all over the nation. There was hardly a city in which I didn’t know at least one or two gate agents. I had a lifetime USAirways Club pass, and loved chatting with the employees in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, LaGuardia, Boston, and a host of other cities. I knew the names of their children and where they went to college. I received free first-class upgrades 99 percent of the time, because USAirways thought good service and fair profits were both achievable. Their good will was reciprocated. For over a decade I gave my Christmas bonus to the USAirways employees at the Islip Long Island airport, all 17 of them.

I wrote the CEO of the airline occasionally, and always received a prompt reply. Their office called me a few times to talk about solutions to problems I had encountered. Things were, in a word, civil. Humanity won over profit. Commonality won over differences. Life was more gentle back then. I know what you’re thinking. Was it more gentle because I was a man? I really don’t think that had much to do with it. Flying is one of the few places in which I am treated pretty much the same as Paula as I was treated as Paul. Well, at least by employees. Passengers are another story.

I knew things were likely to get bad in the airline industry when United was allowed to acquire Continental, Delta absorbed Northwest, and USAirways acquired American. With only three legacy carriers remaining, it would only be a matter of time before prices went up and service went down. I was surprised how quickly it  happened. Greed creates a lot of dangerous cracks in the foundations of capitalism.

A couple of decades ago I served on the board of a small television network.  We were closely affiliated with a much larger commercial network, and I formed a friendship with one of their senior employees. He was always complaining about managers who “left money on the table.” I asked what the phrase meant. He replied, “To leave money on the table is to walk away from easy money. You see a place for bigger profits, and you don’t capitalize on it.”

A couple years later we were on a trip together and I told him I had noticed that the company rarely left money on the table any longer, but that it did leave people on the streets. Profits came before people. Not long after our conversation the network was sold, and my friend was out of a job. He became one of those people on the streets, only his streets were paved with platinum, thanks to a generous golden parachute.

Last week I spoke with the Chief People Officer of a company for which I’ve consulted a few times. Their CEO was one of the founders of a very successful travel company. The new startup, another travel company, focused on profits and people. The company was wonderful. They had achieved gender equity and took good care of their employees and customers. Then Covid hit and business travel came to a stop. The company kept the doors open for about 18 months, but eventually the leaders had to make the decision to shut it down. Their CPO took great pride in finding jobs for 99 of the 100 people employed by the company. For the company’s leaders, ending well was as important as profitability.

Large corporations rarely leave money on the table. Those at the top receive annual compensation hundreds of times greater than that of their lowest paid employees. Those executives never leave money on the table. I prefer companies with a heart, like the one that made sure their employees were taken care of when the business had to close. They remind me that capitalism itself is not evil. Greed is evil. These smaller companies are proof that capitalism can have a heart. They are the ones that give me hope in the future of commerce in our nation.

Well, it’s time to catch my flight to Cincinnati. Though I’m Executive Platinum with the airline, which means I fly over 100,000 miles a year, on this flight I’m likely to feel like I’ve felt for several years now – like I am little more than a flying profit provider. You can be sure the airline will not leave any of my money on the table.

And so it goes.

This Is Frightening

More hate mail arrived last week. Not volumes of it, but enough to force me to scan my inbox for unfamiliar names. When the negative mail increases, I usually go online to see what is happening.  A few weeks ago, it was a controversy about my book being on display in a Mississippi library. This past week it was a right-wing media article.

I spoke on International Women’s Day to the employees of the Owens Corning Company. I loved my interaction with the people who set up the virtual event. I thoroughly enjoyed crafting and presenting my keynote. As usual, I left 25 minutes for questions and answers. The talk was not recorded.

During the Q&A I answered one question by mentioning the source of much of the opposition to the civil rights of transgender children. I said that contrary to popular opinion, according to an NPR/Marist poll, the opposition to trans kids is not coming from Trump voters, 61 percent of whom believe transgender people should have the same civil rights as others. Some of the greatest opposition is coming from evangelicals. A Pew Research Center study found that 84 percent of white evangelicals believe gender is immutably determined at birth. Over 60 percent believe society has gone too far in accommodating transgender people, yet only 25 percent know someone who is out as a transgender person.

A few days after my time at Owens Corning, I was greeted by a headline in a right-wing media source that reflected negatively on Owens Corning and misstated my comments. Apparently, a company employee or someone connected to an employee had taken issue with what I said and instead of reaching out to me, reported it inaccurately to a news outlet.

I am accustomed to being attacked by the right-wing media. But I hated that a company brave and bold enough to invite me to speak on gender inequity was also attacked. The attack was unfair to the Owens Corning Company and its employees.

I know what I said in my talk last Tuesday. I know the vulnerability and heart I showed in that presentation. I saw the supportive comments pouring in from employees. I know what those who put together the conference said after I finished. I am profoundly disappointed that a single person could choose to take such a wonderful experience and turn it into a right-wing news story. Since 2016, that has happened more and more frequently. But the biggest problem is not the occasional attacks targeting people like me. The biggest problem is the attacks on our children.

I have been doing an increasing number of interviews about the awful anti-transgender laws in Texas, and the equally offensive laws passed in other states and pending in scores more. Virtually all these laws target transgender children, their parents, and healthcare providers. The good people at Owens Corning will be fine. So will I. We have the resources to dismiss spurious attacks without losing much sleep. But the children and their families?  I am really concerned about them.

We already have families who have reached out to Left Hand Church, telling us they are leaving conservative states and moving to Colorado, where they can be a part of a society that supports transgender children and their families. We welcome them at Left Hand, where we show them support and love.

Transgender families in Texas are in danger. Vulnerable children are at great risk. Trans kids already have a suicide rate 13 times higher than their peers. My heart aches for these children, their families, and their medical providers.

The parents of these transgender children, desperate to nurture and protect their loved ones, are beside themselves. This past week I talked with one mother for over an hour. I don’t know that I brought her the tiniest bit of comfort, other than providing a listening ear. After the conversation I said aloud in my living room, “My God people, have a heart.” I spent most of my life among evangelicals. I cannot  believe that they are willing to attack vulnerable families and courageous healthcare providers just so they can win the culture wars. But as Scott Peck said a few decades ago, “Ninety-nine percent of the evil done in the world is done by people who are 100 percent convinced they are right.”

Who decided transgender people should be on the front lines of this ridiculous culture war? We are only .58 percent of the population, about one in every 200 people. None of us chose to be transgender. Who decided we should be attacked just for being who we are, and then decided that it wasn’t trans adults they should attack, but trans children and their parents? And who decided that healthcare providers who have studied diligently and worked tirelessly to keep us alive should be vilified and even prosecuted simply for ameliorating our suffering in the world?

I am frightened. Given what is happening in Texas and other states, it appears I should be frightened. I am grateful for companies like Owens Corning, that welcome me into their space to talk about gender inequity and transgender rights. It is a reminder that the majority of Americans are supportive of our community.

My plea to evangelical Christians opposed to transgender rights is simple. For God’s sake, have a heart. Children are dying.

And so it tragically goes.



We want to figure out life together. We have always wanted to figure out life together. Our species never took off until we moved from the level of nuclear family to the level of community and tribe. What brought us together? It was not the need for safety, but man’s search for meaning. Think Stonehenge, the carved figures in Rapa Nui, the pyramids of Egypt, or the burial mounds of indigenous Americans. All around us are countless examples of people coming together to figure out why we are here, and for what purpose.

We are also a spiritual species, and we best work out our spirituality in community. Yes, religious communities are messy, because they are one of the few places in which we learn to be human together. Yes, they are often toxic, because there are six different stages of faith, and those who never get beyond stage three remain within toxic fundamentalist religions. They work from a binary “us versus them” perspective, convinced that only those who believe as they believe are “in” and everyone else is “out.” And, make no mistake, they can be pretty cruel to those who are out.

One of the defining religious issues of our time is LGBTQ+ acceptance. The 2020 American Values Survey indicated that 70 percent of Americans are supportive of marriage equality. A surprising finding is that well over 50 percent of Christians are supportive of marriage equality, including 79 percent of mainline Protestants, 76 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 67 percent of White Catholics, and 57 percent of Black Protestants. Only one Christian group is opposed to marriage equality – White evangelicals, who oppose it 63 percent to 34 percent. That is the “us” versus” “them” dynamic.

While the fundamentalist forms of the desert religions remain binary and toxic, the majority of Christians in America are supportive of marriage equality and transgender rights. A lot of those people are in vibrant, dynamic churches like the church I serve as a pastor – Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado.

Last weekend we held the third annual winter retreat of Left Hand Church at Castle Mountain Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado. Kristie Sykes has coordinated each of our retreats. Kristie and Nicole Vickey worked hard all weekend to keep the food and fellowship (yep, I said fellowship) flowing. Shannon Fletcher led a sharing circle in which every single attendee shared a meaningful moment from their lives. Mara Vernon, CEO of Ripp Leadership, led a delightfully insightful session on the DiSC Personality Profile. Heatherlyn, Bryan, and Cairn led us in great worship. Heatherlyn and Bryan jammed late into the night, and Kristie Sykes led us in fun games Friday night, then took us through a helpful spiritual gifts assessment Sunday morning.

I’m older than dirt, which means I have attended a lot of retreats. I can’t remember any I enjoyed as much as this one. Yes, the programming was amazing, and the food was wonderful, but it was the fellowship that filled me to the brim.

Fellowship is such an evangelically tainted term that most progressive Christians avoid it. But there is nothing wrong with the word. It is a friendly association, especially with people who share the same interests. At our retreat, the primary shared interest was a desire to live authentically in community, trying to love God, neighbor, and self. The weekend was messy because the church is messy. But grace prevailed, because if a group is trying to follow the example of Jesus, grace will always prevail.

I saw healing there. People surrounded hurting souls, bathing them in prayer. There were deep, abiding conversations, as well as raucous laughter. (No one ever did tell me the meaning of that one word I had to read aloud while we were playing that one game. I had to look it up when I got home. I will not mention the word here!)

When I returned to my home in Lyons, the house may have been empty, but my soul was full. Left Hand Church is broken. Most churches are. We are also a pretty remarkable church. We are resilient and hopeful and honest and not afraid of the dark places, or the roads filled with fallen branches and stones. We know there is no way but forward, through the desert, and we stay true to that journey.

Whenever I do interviews for radio shows, television shows, or podcasts, I am always asked why I remain in the church when I was treated so horribly by it. I always say that religion at its worst may be toxic, but religion at its best is transformative. The retreat this past weekend was transformative. I am pleased I am still a member of a Christian church. If you’ve given up on the church, you might think about giving it another try. We meet every Saturday at 5:00 pm.  Just sayin…