Rudy Giuliani

Off My Shelf

So, let me try to sum up in a sentence the three books I have read most recently: Little things matter, and so I should trust my gut when I am looking at them, but not too much because things are not always what they seem.

In the last several weeks, I have read Blink and The Tipping Point, both by Malcolm Gladwell, and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. It has been very nice to be out of the Christian publishing realm and reading some very interesting, very well-written books, simply for the fun of it. All of them are chock full of statistics and studies, and, to be very honest, reading them made me feel smart. But they are not boring. The *cough* narrative flows easily and engagingly in all three. Let me just say upfront, if you are looking for a book to read, I would highly recommend any of these.

Blink is Gladwell’s second book and it is about how we all make split-second decisions, thin-slices, he calls them. But we don’t tend to trust them. We think that we need to do more research, study things more to come up with a definitive and reliable answer. But often, it is our gut reactions that turn out to be most accurate. Frequently, we don’t know why or how we know something; we just know it. For example, have you ever met a couple who has started dating and after meeting them, turned to someone and said, “They’re never going to make it”? That’s thin-slicing. We get better at it when we know what to look for, like contempt in a dating relationship. And we get better at it when we know the pitfalls, like subtle forms of racism.

The implications for understanding the nature of faith and the effectiveness of evangelism are interesting. Why is it that some people just believe? They just know the gospel is true and trust Jesus, giving their lives over to him instantly. Is there a way to identify these kinds of people – not to the exclusion of anyone else, of course? And can our evangelism be honed to be more effective in reaching them?

The Tipping Point is Gladwell’s first book, in which he argues that little things make a huge difference in the world. It is a book about culture and why some things make it big in culture and others don’t. He argues that there are three things that cause something to reach the tipping point – a few people who are connected to others as salesmen and mavens, a memorable sticky quality, and the right context in which to bloom. He examines everything from Paul Revere’s ride to Blues Clues to teenage smoking to Rudy Giuliani’s crime strategy in NYC.

As a person who thinks a lot about how to get things done, especially in a church, these three things fascinate me. Who are the connectors? I charted out everyone who is a part of Vintage. Know what? Most of them can be traced back to just a handful of couples or individuals. How can we empower connectors? How can we attract more? What makes Vintage – and our message – sticky? Will we actually make a difference in people’s lives? And how can we craft sermons to be stickier? And what are the small things in our church context that will draw – not repel – people from us? Is our move from the theater to the music hall about to do that? These are the questions I am asking.

And I just finished the rogue economics book Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner. It is probably most famous for its amoral assertion that the legalization of abortion is most responsible for the drop in crime in the 90s (not, sadly, Rudy Giuliani’s crime strategy) because it thinned our population of those individuals most likely to become criminals. A fascinating, and probably justified idea, but certainly not worth the trade-off in my mind.

It is also full of other interesting tidbits – like swimming pools are more dangerous than guns (gulp), that a balding, short, chubby unemployed guy who posts his picture on a dating website is far more likely to get dates than the tall, good-looking rich guy who doesn’t post his picture, that sumo wrestlers and teachers cheat a lot, that adoptive kids don’t do well in school but usually end up well in life, and that Ebony is the second blackest girls’ name (which I just find ironic and amusing).

All in all, it’s a book about how conventional wisdom is not trustworthy. The authors say that conventional wisdom is frequently produced by an expert who is given a platform by a journalist. They need each other to survive, and they both need their tidbits of information to be as shocking and sensational as possible to gain and keep an audience. So they bend the truth, see what they want to see, and sometimes just make it up.

So how does that affect me as a pastor? Well, it makes me slow to believe the conventional wisdom and jump on the latest fad. Do I have to believe the apocalyptic doomsayers, be they Algore or John Haggee? Do I have to buy the solutions that are being sold for education, healthcare, and church growth? Maybe there are better answers.

Better answers are what I am searching for.

More Presidential Politics

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg has left the Republican party. I have a couple of immediate reactions to this:

First – what’s the big deal? He was never a Republican to begin with. He only joined the GOP to get elected mayor on Rudy’s coattails. Before his mayoral ambitions, he was a registered (and liberal) Democrat.

– Second, this is a major move toward an independent Presidential campaign. The mood of the American people is decidely anti-partisan right now. (Imagine Ross Perot circa 1992 in this environment!) Bloomberg is setting himself up to be the independent candidate for President.

The interesting thing here is that if Hillary and Rudy both win their parties’ nominations, we could have three major candidates for President from New York, including two NYC mayors.

The problem with Bloomberg is that he is the wrong kind of independent. His policies and positions are a carbon copy of the standard Democrat fare. (Conventional wisdom is that he hurts the Republican nominee, but I think he actually hurts the Democrat.) For an independent candidate to truly have an impact, I think he or she would need to be a more consistent ideologically and principle-driven candidate.

And independent who made a consistent and conservative case for smaller government and withdrawl from the Iraq war (ie, a libertarian) could have a significant impact in the election. Who is that person, though?

The sticky wicket in all of this is immigration. It is the issue – even more than the war – that could cause a split of voters from their normal party affiliation. Can a candidate who taps into the populist sentiment against illegal immigration and for strong border security and enforcement gain enough traction to pull conservative Republicans and Reagan Democrats from their parties? And does such a person exist?

All of this without a mention of (possible, probable) candidates like Al Gore, Ralph Nader, Newt Gingrich, Fred Thompson … I think we are a long, long way from knowing what Presidential politics is going to look like next year.

An Open Letter to Rudy Giuliani

Mr. Mayor,

Let me begin by saying “thanks.” Thank you for your service to our country and to the city of New York.

It almost goes without saying that your leadership and inspiration in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 helped unified our country and solidify our resolve in the face of tragedy.

Thank you, too, for your innovative solutions for the problem of crime in our country. Recently, I visited the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock AR and there saw statistics talking about how much crime fell during the 90s. I believe that much of the credit for that is due to you. I lived in NYC for three years in the 90s, voted for you then, and saw firsthand how the accountability you brought to law enforcement reduced crime in NYC and served as a model for every other US city. What you did made a difference.

You have proven yourself to be a powerful and effective leader in reducing the size of government while simultaneously increasing its effectiveness. You have been a champion of lower taxes. You have been a faithful warrior for homeland security and against terror. For these reasons with enthusiasm I am supporting your bid for the Presidency in 2008.

But, Mr., Mayor, it is no secret that you have a hurdle to get over with so-called cultural or religious conservatives. I do not believe, as some do, that this hurdle is insurmountable. As a Christian, a pastor, and a veteran of the “religious right” (though I consider myself primarily a philosophical and economic conservative), let me offer a humble piece of advice about how to win the support of religious conservatives.

Religious conservatives have learned where the battlefield is for the issues they care about – the courts. Abortion on demand has not been legislated, but imposed by the courts. Gay marriage has not been legislated, but imposed by the courts. Removal of religious items from public forums – school prayer, the Ten Commandments, “under God” in the pledge – has not been legislated, but imposed by the courts.

To win the hearts of religious conservatives, Mr. Mayor, you have got to be the greatest champion in Republican field against activist judges and for a restrained judiciary. President Bush talked often when he campaigned of “strict constructionist,” and religious conservatives knew what he meant. If you, Mr. Mayor, likewise insist that the judiciary must be restrained by the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, if you pledge to only appoint judges with such a judicial philosophy, and if you join the opposing activist judges, you can win the support of the religious right. In this, your background as a no-nonsense federal prosecutor can become one of your greatest assets in your campaign for the Presidency.

Mr. Mayor, a campaign that focuses on these key issues – homeland security, small and effective government, fiscal responsibility with tax cuts to spur the economy and limited spending, and a restrained judiciary – is a winning campaign. I am with you, Mr. Mayor, because I believe that you are the best candidate in the field to lead our great nation. Send me a bumper sticker.

With hope,

Robb Ryerse

1 2 3 Scroll to top