Cindi and I are on the third day of our eight-day East Coast trip to New York and Boston. It’s been a refreshing few days together, which was the goal — to spend some good quality time together after four years of seminary, to celebrate Cindi’s first Mother’s Day, and to enjoy each other during the last summer (prayerfully) before Judah arrives.
We flew in to JFK on Saturday afternoon and took the subway west into Manhattan where we checked into our ridiculously cheap hotel (courtesy of Priceline) at 29th and 8th St. After experiencing the empty glitz that is Times Square, we ate at Virgil’s Real Barbecue which is rated as some of the best barbecue in the nation. It was as good as advertised (thanks for the recommendation, Jeff Lewis). Then we picked up our New York Pass, which is definitely the way to do New York City if you’re wanting to see the major sites and attractions.
On Sunday we took the subway north into Harlem to 155th St. to find the mecca of streetball, Rucker Park. We had to ask directions from some gentlemen playing chess at another park, but we got there eventually. Since it was only around 11:00am, there weren’t any games going on, which meant that I actually got to shoot around on the court without getting my ankles broken by some regular’s nasty crossover. I did get to play one-on-one with a nice high-schooler who was willing to play me, so now I can say that I balled it up at Rucker.
From Rucker we walked east across the Harlem River bridge towards Yankee Stadium where we had tickets for the 1:05pm Angels-Yankees game. Cindi had never been to Yankee Stadium, so this was a key visit for us. I’m not outspoken about it since it usually only leads to nasty remarks against which I don’t enjoy defending myself, but I’m actually a Yankee fan. Before you question my loyalty and proclaim me a bandwagon jumper, you have to know that my late grandfather was a hardcore New Yorker who worked for the Port Authority in the World Trade Center (he died in the ’90′s), my late grandmother swing-danced to Frank Sinatra into the early morning in New York hotspots before taking the subway home to sleep for a couple hours each night, and my dad spent some of his early years in Brooklyn collecting Mickey Mantle cards and going to Yankee games. As a kid in Oklahoma I grew up following Don Mattingly as I carried on the family heritage, so this isn’t a fair-weather affiliation. It was neat to be back at the Stadium, especially with Cindi, even though the Yankees walked in the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh inning and then lost 4-3 with Derek Jeter lining out to deep right-center field in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner on third. At least it was an exciting game.
Afterwards, we took the packed subway south to 68th St. where we attended the 6:00pm service for Redeemer Presbyterian Church, pastored by Tim Keller. They have five services every Sunday in various locations throughout upper Manhattan, and Keller is teaching and writing a lot of cutting-edge theology regarding ministering in the city (check out A Biblical Theology of the City for an example). It was encouraging to sing with God’s people and hear His Word preached, especially after being saturated in the tourist overkill of Memorial Day weekend and the blatant worldliness that surrounds the major city attractions. After church we found a small Italian restaurant where we had a great conversation about our experience so far and some of the things we wanted to grow in this summer.
This morning we slept in a bit and then headed straight to the Empire State Building for a virtual helicopter tour of the city followed by some good time on the bustling observation deck eighty-six stories up. From above, Manhattan looks like a bumper-crop of steel and skyscrapers surrounded by the encroaching wetlands of the surrounding rivers. There’s something striking about a city like this, and the horde of fellow visitors has seemed to be a weekend-long confirmation of that. After riding the quick Empire State Building elevator down to the ground and feeling the pressure in my ears change along the way, it was on to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum where we enjoyed the genuinely impressive wax statues of various celebrities. In the afternoon we headed to the southern tip of Manhattan and the former site of the World Trade Center. It was sobering to see the tributes to those who died, and especially those who gave their lives in the attempt to rescue others. The last time I was here was only a short time after the towers had fallen, but it didn’t seem like today’s visitors were any less impacted by what happened.
We walked around St. Paul’s Chapel, the stone church across the street from Ground Zero that stood when the towers fell and then served as a place of refuge and refreshment for the rescuers. It was neat to see how the image of God spilled out of unbelievers who cared for and served each other during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but it was sad to see the ecumenism that’s so highly praised whenever people turn to god and religion in the midst of a tragedy. At the end of the day, though, it shows that for some reason, it’s pretty difficult to be an atheist when life goes terribly wrong. Ironically, it is in the midst of the suffering and evil that we object to so strongly that we cry out most loudly to the God that we desperately hope will be there for us. In the good times, we curse Him and deny His existence or at least His goodness. In the bad times, we beseech Him and find ourselves instinctually calling His name lest we be left with the emptiness of being by ourselves in a broken world that only He can redeem. For all the evil they do, may the horrific tragedies of our day do us at least this eye-opening kindness.
This afternoon we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on our way to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, perhaps the most famous pizza place in New York. There were thirty people in line in front of us at 4:00pm, but it was worth the wait. From there we walked to the pier below the bridge and had some ice cream at a well-known ice cream shop. Cindi said it was the best ice cream she’d ever had (thanks, Rachel Smith). After having been out pretty late (for us) the past couple nights, we decided to call it a day a bit early, so we hopped on the subway and headed back to Manhattan and our hotel. Tonight we’ll decide what we want to see tomorrow and Wednesday morning, and from there it’s on to Boston where a whole new world awaits us. I don’t enjoy site-seeing for more than a short time because I soon start feeling like I’m wasting my life, but I think that the timing, length, and nature of this trip are combining to make it a wonderful time of refreshment. Praise God for brief seasons such as these.
Finally, being here has reminded me that the world is a lot of fun when it’s secondary. I thoroughly enjoyed going to an afternoon baseball game at Yankee Stadium and eating a cup of Minute Maid Lemon Ice in the sun, walking around the observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building and seeing this amazing city from above, and watching the ingenuity of the human mind at work at Madame Tussaud’s. But I can’t imagine living for these things or even making them a high priority. There’s a lot of flash and bang at Times Square, and it’s certainly an interesting phenomenon, but I definitely wouldn’t want it to be what buttered my bread. I have found that I enjoy the amoral entertainments of the world more when I’m loving God, not less. I think this is because gifts mean more when you know and love the Giver.