New York City Is Not Dead

New York City will thrive again.

Yes, the city seems gutted. But it’s not gone. It feels lifeless but it’s not dead. Just because a creature is still doesn’t mean it has been snuffed out. It’s resting.

More than that, it’s transforming. New York is evolving.

It’s done it in the past; it will do it again. Too many times have skeptics and pessimists said New York was down and died. The 1970s were a dark time, so was 9/11; then there was the financial meltdown down with 2008. But each time it learned and changed and grew. Sure it was knocked down those times before, but each time it came back stronger. Because, when it fell, it learned.

But this time, some may say, is different.

The virus makes the city’s strength, human density, its kryptonite. It’s flipping its power into poison. And the city is on life support. And that’s true.

People are leaving the city. My family and I moved out of our West Village apartment right as the virus caused the city to lockdown in March. We didn’t leave because of the pandemic. We thought it would be better for us to return to our midwestern roots with our growing family. But now, months later, we are hearing from various neighbors and friends about how they are leaving NYC permanently, too. The city is bleeding. And it seems abysmal and terminal.

But doomsayers always seem right when the night is darkest. And in the darkness, they forget the dawn. Sure, there are no assurances that a city will survive a devastating blow like a pandemic. But many think crises are worse when times are bad, believing the worst case before it happens. They have a harder time seeing the horizon or the silver lining. Fear does that. It makes the dark darker and the bad worse. And, in those times, it’s easy to sound right, and smart, by being negative. And, optimism will seem foolish and naive then.

But just as New York overcame overwhelming obstacles in its past, it will do the same now. Fighting is its trademark; it’s codified in its DNA.

I believe in the resilience, ingenuity, tenacity, and spirit of New York City and its people. They fight and possess grit. They might get knocked down when things are tough, but they don’t stay there. They will claw back to their feet. They will create their way out of this, find new avenues to subsist and grow. Yes, many small businesses and companies will not make it out of this—but some will. And new ones will start. Entrepreneurs will discover innovations and business methods and protocols that won’t only help them survive but let them thrive. They will emerge stronger and more resilient and more successful than they ever have been.

That’s the thing about pain and difficulty, it’s dark for a season. But it’s also the spark that ignites creativity, innovation, transformation. And that’s the most critical part. We mustn’t focus on the negative and forget to see that often it’s the darkness that forces us to discover fire.

And I believe New York’s flame is not out. They are just finding a way to build a bigger torch. And when they do, the city’s light will blaze brighter and larger than ever.

Jesus is not Republican

He isn’t.

Do you know how I know?

When he lived on this planet, he did not get involved with Roman politics or Israeli politics or run for Galilean office. In his ministry, he did not focus on politics or spend much of his infinite and divine energies fighting the Roman Empire or speaking to the powers of his day, even though he lived during a time when the Roman Empire ruled the Israelites with an iron fist.

Jesus wasn’t about political power

The Roman Empire didn’t exactly uphold human rights. They oppressed many of the lands they occupied, like Israel. Justice wasn’t abounding for those who weren’t citizens. Yet Jesus did not primarily come to address that, not even their oppressive taxing measures. We see that in this famous passage.

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, The religious leaders tried to embroil Jesus in a charged issue of taxation, asking, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” And remember, Caesar had put severe taxation requirements on its satellite nations like Israel that put the IRS to shame, which even indebted many people. So when someone asked a question about taxes to Jesus, every ear turned to listen. How could they not? And his response surprised and baffled everyone with its brilliance.

He said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God the things that are God’s.” His answer didn’t thwart the land’s law and affirmed the people’s need to stay devoted to God. It was apolitical. It was balanced.

And instead of pursuing political power, he spent his time with twelve obscure men, healing and teaching the poor, rejected, sick, and marginalized. He wasn’t about mobilizing a rebellion or implementing policies or getting votes—no. He was about his Father’s business.

Now you might be wondering, What’s your point? Good question.

Christians want political power

In the 2016 presidential election, 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. That says something about the state of Christians and Christianity and the church. I’m a Christian. So I’m not criticizing this faith. But there has been a large shift in how many are expressing beliefs. Christians are more political and more adamant and less open. That’s what I’ve seen in the media and data and even in my relationships with other Christians.

And that makes me wonder, Why are Christians so political, when Jesus was nothing of the sort?

If Christians were honest with themselves, they wouldn’t have a very good biblical reason—especially those who follow Trump. I understand the arguments for him. I am pro-life and see the allure of his political actions. And yes, he has put conservatives on the highest judicial bench in the land. But should we really support him simply for those reasons?

I don’t think so.

Why Christians shouldn’t support Trump

Here’s the reason: Christians are losing credibility and witness with people who don’t believe as we do. Isn’t that what Jesus commissioned us to do? To go and make disciples? But instead, we are alienating others. And why wouldn’t that happen? We are supporting a person who sows division, untruth, racism, discord, and lives in a manner that doesn’t align with Scripture. How could we not be discredited?

I’m not alone in this thinking. The former editor and chief of Christianity Today wrote an article stating that Christians needed to stop following Trump for at least the reason that we can’t truthfully say that we follow the God of love by our political affiliations. Too many have traded the Great Commission for a different agenda.

According to this article, Christians feel powerless and disrespected and unacknowledged, especially those in middle America. And many voted for Trump because he made promises to empower Christians with political power.

But there is one major problem with that.

Why Jesus really lived

Jesus had (and has) ultimate, infinite, all-consuming power, but he didn’t use it to gain significance or lord it over others. No. He used it to lift others up by lowering himself down.

The religious leaders turned him over to the Roman authorities. And Jesus submitted. The magistrates ordered him flogged, beaten, kicked, stripped, crucified, crushed, and killed. He was humiliated. He allowed a lessor power to overpower his unlimited power. He elected to be abandoned by his Father, as they had planned from the beginning of time. Even though he could lift himself off of the cross and wipe away all those who harmed him like gnats and save himself, he didn’t. He absorbed everything, even the judgment of his Father, for our sins.

Why?

Because he loves us, he wanted to save us from our sins, our unrighteousness, our rebellion, our failure to see his Great Commission. He didn’t seek power; he emptied himself of it to fulfill his Father’s plan and love humanity.

And because of that work, you have the living God within you. Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God, would dwell within you. If that is so, how can you be powerless? And why would you need Trump to give you power? Your power is not one that is rooted on earth but is from Heaven.

The question is, What will you do with that power?

Photo credit: John Tyson

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Permission to live

Give yourself permission to fail, to overreach, to try.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect, wrong, weird.

Give yourself permission to do that thing you love, pursue your dream, take a different path.

I’m not saying to do anything wrong or immoral. I’m just saying that there are a lot of things that are good that we want but we won’t let ourselves do them because they’re new to us or they might seem odd to our friends or we’re afraid of what strangers might think or, worse, what we might think of ourselves.

But that’s ridiculous.

Too often we lock ourselves in the prisons we create. We shackle our futures by saying no to ourselves even before anyone ever thinks to deny us. Chains of “can’t” weigh us down before we’ve even tried. We strip ourselves of the life we want to live before it’s ever lived. We’ve stopped ourselves before we even begin to think about starting.

That. Must. Stop.

Give yourself permission to give yourself permission. You are the key; free yourself.

And start living.

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Hope, felt

Hope is there even if it’s hard to see.

Yes, uncertainty is everywhere and it’s certainly scary, especially these days. Yes, these times are dark and not knowing what’s around the corner is daunting.

But it’s not hopeless. Just because times are despairing and darkness surrounds us, we needn’t despair.

Often the light can’t be seen in the night, but it comes. It breaks night’s grip on the sky when we are frightened and sleepless.

Dawn dawns.

It’s inevitable. After the night there is morning, a new day, fresh like a newborn child, the reward after the pangs.

Do we know how daybreak will appear for us now? No. Do we know when? No. But, it will.

See, there have been generations and generations before us who’ve lived through terrible times. I mean, could you imagine living through World War I or II or the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or the Spanish Flu or the Black Plague or or or? No. But—many did. And yes, there was incredible tragedy. But humanity (I believe, by the grace of God) survived and, then, thrived.

As the seasons cycle in our lifetimes, there are also cycles that arc across the horizon of history that bring tremendous pain followed by brilliant flourishing. Spring always follows winter.

This time feels like the end. But it’s not. It means hope’s around the bend.

Wait for it. It will shine.

It starts in you. For, hope is best not seen. It’s felt.

In our hearts.

Finding purpose

What do you live for?

It’s a simple question. But it’s one of the most difficult to answer.

From my experience, many of us find meaning but few have purpose.

Purpose is the belief or reason we have for living. It’s different from meaning. Meaning is about the significance or feeling of significance for something or someone or belief.

For example, a purpose could be someone living to care for their family. Their meaning is sensed when they are able to help a sibling, daughter, or parent.

Usually I hear and read more about meaning but not so much purpose. But the latter gets down to the roots, into the guts of life, into our souls. It’s the foundation upon which we all stand.

Purpose is the reason for our existence.

What is more important than that?

And if we leave it undefined, we are setting ourselves on shaky ground.

In college, this question haunted me. I had no idea what my purpose was. And living without one caused me to fall into a depression. Motivation was wrested from me and all I wanted to do was watch Disney movies in my dorm room (which I did: there’s nothing like a college guy watching Little Mermaid on a Saturday night, alone in his room, crying and singing along with Ariel).

I was lonely, angsty, and angry. All my life I had dealt with the trauma of my dad’s death and other difficulties in my life.

And I felt rootless, restless (and sang Disney songs).

Soon thereafter, I became a Christian. Jesus became my purpose, my reason for living. And that belief has sustained me, and still does.

Now, I know that not all of you believe as I do. And my point isn’t to bludgeon you with my beliefs but to press you to consider your own purpose.

I think that many of us can go all our lives without knowing what we’re really living for.

And that robs us. It makes life emptier, less fulfilling. And I don’t want that for you. I know what it feels like.

But that needn’t be the case. There is purpose in the world for you.

Seek it. It’s there.


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Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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The YouTube ad that made me cry

Last week, we were watching a video when the greatest YouTube ad I had ever seen appeared. We couldn’t stop watching it. The skip ad button turned on and I ignored it. The ad went on for seconds then minutes. Until it ended nineteen minutes later. (I know, it might feel weird reading about a YouTube ad, but it’s just as weird or weirder writing about one.)

What was the ad? It was a Charity Water video.

Charity Water is a nonprofit started by a guy named Scott Harris. And in the ad he told his story from his challenging childhood in the suburbs to becoming a nightclub promoter in New York City. He got paid to throw huge parties and be around beautiful people and drink. It was fun until wasn’t. Eventually he discovered he wanted something more. That led him to abandoning that thrilling life and paying a nonprofit so that he can go with them to third world countries to take pictures for them as they did humanitarian work. When he was there, he discovered people drinking the most heinous water. It was dirty, muddy, diseased, bug infested water. And they (mostly the women in those villages) would walk miles to bring it home even though it was unclean enough to kill and carrying it was backbreaking work. That’s when Scott found his calling and started Charity Water which has a mission to bring clean water to the 780 million people who don’t have access to clean water.

Huddled around our computer screen with us was our first born. He loves YouTube videos. We’re Dude Perfect subscribers. These days we’ve been watching ones with deep sea fishing on BlacktipH. But this YouTube ad did something different to our boy. He saw people’s pain and had compassion. He saw for the first time that too many children didn’t have something he took for granted ever day—clean water to drink. And that was not the only story in the video that moved him.

There was a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her birthday in hopes to raise $300 for the nonprofit. She didn’t reach her goal: she raised $220. But weeks later she died in a car accident. It was tragic. But from the ashes of tragedy arose a phoenix of hope. As news traveled about Rachel’s death, people and media noted how while she was alive she offered up her birthday to give clean water to others—and many were inspired. They gave hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually more than a million dollars for the cause she sacrificed for just before she died.

I was crying. And my son says, “I want to give up my birthday. I want to give money.” And he ran off to get his piggy bank and wanted to give right then.

“Buddy we can’t jam dollars through the screen,” I said gently to him.

“Why not? I want to give right now,” he said adamantly.

It was beautiful.

In times like these, when brokenness and sadness reigns, there are still stories that can shift our paradigm and remind us how rich we are. We have clean water. I still have my child. We are alive.

We are richer than we know.

If you have a chance check out Charity Water.

It’ll make you want to jam your money through the screen.

Most of all it will help you see the world afresh.


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Savoring life

Life is short; enjoy today.

This week an old friend’s wife died. It was sudden—tragic. She was young, around my age, too young to die. They likely had dreams of growing gray together, wrinkled, swinging on a creaky porch swing, talking about their grown kids and grandkids. Now that’s gone.

See, life can sucker punch you in the face. It can knock the wind out of you, and make you feel like you’re dying.

But that’s not my point. The point is to enjoy—no, savor—each day.

And I don’t mean to party hard and do something thrilling. I mean sip and take in the moments and the mundane things like embracing your spouse, telling your loved ones that you love them, eating a home cooked meal with family—the things we get to do everyday, but often take for granted because they are so normal. When placed against the finality of death, those are the things that matter most.

So let your palate of life absorb each and every flavor. Relish them. Feel satiated.

For life’s a delicious gift.

Give thanks.


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One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere. And the best thing we can do isn’t fight it, try to force things to happen—control. No.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just do this—surrender.

That’s not the same as giving up. You’re not quitting. Absolutely not!

Surrendering is different. It’s not giving up; it’s giving in. And that’s an important distinction, especially in times like these.

It’s like quicksand. When you get stuck in it it’s terrifying and your temptation is to just fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe. The fear grips you and you want to gain control, but that only saps your strength and weakens you until you don’t have any energy to actually solve your problem.

Instead, when you’re in that situation, you need to relax. Make yourself light, and then you make slow and deliberate moves to get yourself out. It takes time, patience, and persistence.

We’re all in quicksand now.

We feel it. With a crazy political world, incredible divisions, an election year—a pandemic—looming possible school openings, quarantines, lockdowns, financial stress, and the list can go on, there’s just more to make us want to fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe, isn’t there? We want control but can never really get it, can we?

And we’re tired. We’re stressed, fatigued.

Stop trying to control and fight.

Instead, surrender. Don’t give up. Give in. Let your mind and body relax. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about today. Make a plan. Take deliberate and slow steps. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Find time to laugh and play. Create. Work. Find a way to survive.

Remember, you can’t control the quicksand: the political mayhem, people’s comments on Facebook, their ideologies, the economy. You can control yourself, your mindset, your prayer-life, your meditation practice, your routine, your actions.

Slow down. Let the future unfold. Persist. Go with the flow.

And, when you do, I believe, you’ll be free to find freedom.

You’ll even grow.

Love,

John


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When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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