Last weekend, Bob Farrell and I traveled to New York City for the Carnegie Hall performance celebrating the 25th Anniversary of “Saviour.”it was lovely.
As we drove into Manhattan from the LaGuardia Airport, I asked our Nepali Uber driver what his country was like. He told me that Nepal was a much quieter and simple life. He went on to say that there was a strong Nepali component in the Jackson Heights, Queens section of New York. Many Nepalese fled to Queens between the mid-1990s and 2006 amid the bloody, decade-long Maoist insurgency that led to the abolition of the country’s monarchy. Most of the people who fled seeking political asylum were young and came without their families. Buddiss, our driver was one of those who fled. Is amazing what you learn in a short ride to your hotel.
I loved the meld of culture you experience in an urban environment. It is a very beautiful sight. You are immediately overwhelmed by the explosion of extraordinary accomplishment, historically, artistically and industrially. Wow!!!
In the teeming drift of faces I saw all manner of expressions and intensity. The New Yorkers do have the edge you hear about, but even in the brash continuum I met some very kind and loving people in delis, shops and among hotel staff. Oh sure, there is the dark side. I know that all too well. I was stationed in the Army at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn. Once, in the middle of the day, on a busy sidewalk, in front of God and everybody, I got mugged by a 12 or 13 year old boy who pressed a knife right up into my shoulder blade and told me he would cut me if I didn’t give him my billfold. He was just a little guy, but as he held the knife in his very nervous hand… he had a streetwise voice and sense about him, so I gladly, and most hurriedly relinquished it to him. He simply scampered off. Not a happy experience.
I saw a myriad of cameras in the hands of tourists taking pictures of famous buildings and famous landmarks. It got me to thinking. How enamored people are with famous and important people. I know I like taking my picture with people I admire. Ray Charles has a great quote that has made me take a step back from my instant t to saddle up for a picture with fame. He said, “I never wanted to be famous…just great.” Great at what he did without fame driving him.
One of the most profound milestone events in my life was hearing Father Brennan Manning, the author of “Ragamuffin Gospel” at a private conclave for some high visibility artists and producers in the late 90’s. As he addressed the attendees, he said something that I would not understand until later. He spoke of a universal problem we all had. “I feel sorry for you.” He paused and then continued. “Most of you have three cancers. One is money, two is power and three is significance. “You may not understand now, but by your mid fifties you will”. He told us that we were the recipients of so much attention and marketed as a commodity with tremendous access to comfort, that we were unable to see the discomfort of others. And even if we could get a glimpse it, we were too busy being successful to do much about it.
My head was spinning and I was confused. I thought I was doing a good thing writing and producing the message of Christ and His kingdom. It was as Manning predicted, not until I was in my fifties, did it become clear to me how little I fully understood what I was writing. It was in this season of my life I began to truly understand that nothing I have is mine. Nothing I have done is about me. It is God’ and God’s alone. Oh I could say that…I sure did…but I really didn’t get it.
I began to realize how powerful my secretive love of significance was. I would stand in front of people and tell them I wanted to give all glory to Jesus, and I was really sincere about it in that moment..…but three days later, if my name was not given credit for something I thought I deserved….the Strong Man rose up in me and demanded his pound of flesh. I discreetly kept silent…but I wanted credit. You can never know what is in the heart of people. God does.
I don’t want to make it sound like I got everything figured out just then either…my life is a mess in so many other areas that’s it’s going to take more than this lifetime to sort it all out.