The Common Good

Blog Posts By Tom Ehrich

Posted by Tom Ehrich 3 days 27 min ago
I had just started as pastor of a large church when a key leader took me aside and said I was free to preach about anything I wanted, except homosexuality.He didn’t want to hear any sermons addressing the issue then dominating many conversations among Christians. Keep the topic in the closet.Sixteen years before, in a town once governed by the Klan, a leader told me not to preach about race. Too many people remembered signs saying, “Negroes must be out of town by sundown.”Many clergy have been told, in terms ranging from kindly counsel to peremptory demand, to “keep politics out of the pulpit.”Many a mainline pastor will attest: The one topic that Jesus addressed more than any other — wealth and power — was declared off-limits in congregations that hoped to attract wealthy constituents and their budget-saving pledges.Many churches gave up their ethical voice in exchange for money, the very trade Jesus warned us against. The issue wasn’t partisan campaigning or endorsing specific candidates — a clear violation — but any mention at all of race, sexuality, warfare or economic injustice.As a reader recently wrote me: “I hear enough about blacks on TV.”So it is that Christmas becomes a sweet story and a centerpiece for family love. 
Posted by Tom Ehrich 2 weeks 3 days ago
Early on the first Sunday of Advent, I logged in to Pandora and heard the familiar chant “Adoro Te Devote.”As a child, I knew Thomas Aquinas’ beloved text as “Humbly I Adore Thee.” At that time, faith meant standing with my family in the family church and singing such hymns with devotion.The joining in song and prayer drew me closer to God. Or so I thought.Later, as my life became more challenging and as I entered a world that seemed largely untouched by faith — a world where hatred, greed, violence and arrogance had free rein — I wondered if faith needed to be something more.More rigorous, perhaps, deeper than a child’s cozy feelings. Faith needed to embrace more than lingering echoes of days gone by. Faith needed to address today’s cruelties and sadness. Faith needed to confront warfare, prejudice and unwarranted privilege.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 3 weeks 3 days ago
Every now and then something scars the “national memory,” and we encounter ourselves as a single people. We grieve as one or we celebrate as one.Those moments are rare, and maybe they should be rare. It would be artificial for a people as divided as we are to pretend to a national consciousness. We don’t agree on the facts, we don’t agree on our own history, we don’t agree on meaning and ethics, we don’t like each other, and we certainly don’t trust each other.Now, to echo President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg 151 years ago, we are met on a great battlefield of the wars we wage against each other. It isn’t a field in central Pennsylvania. It is the nation itself.Cities are set to explode over worsening racial injustice and police misconduct. Football players get a free pass on domestic violence. Colleges shrug off epidemics of rape and cheating.Banks and a small moneyed set wage unrelenting war on their fellow Americans. Descendants of immigrants turn against new arrivals and call it patriotism. Large companies like General Motors sell defective products. Lobbyists control our legislators, and they in turn deny votes and basic rights to certain citizens.The question, then, is the one President Lincoln posed: Can a nation so wounded by its divisions, hatreds and manipulated fears survive? Are we setting the stage for even more repressive surveillance, even worse predations by the government-owning few, even more weapons in unstable hands, even worse despair among the many?
Posted by Tom Ehrich 4 weeks 2 days ago
I’ve decided not to worry about the earlier-than-ever start to Christmas commerce this year.Shortly after Halloween, with hardly a nod to Thanksgiving, stores and advertisers began going full-bore on the supposed “Christmas package,” namely, gift-giving, family fun, decorating, and entertaining.It’s sad — this annual effort to derive profits from a facsimile of a 1950s Christmas — but other things are a lot sadder: an elusive economic recovery, continuing gun violence, racial violence, religious extremism, mounting rage, and intolerance at home and echoes of the Cold War in Europe.Let commerce tread the line between gauche and tacky — merchants have salaries and suppliers to pay, after all. We have a troubled world to care about.The path to that care doesn’t go by way of Wal-Mart or Budweiser. It is God’s path, and it goes by way of anticipation, promises, prophetic vision, a birth, a life, a death, and over all of it a sustaining grace that cares little for our seasonal receipts but cares intensely about our lives.Maybe it’s good that commerce has declared its independence from religion and decorum. That clears the way for faith to have its parallel season — not in competition with commerce, but as the deeper reality that commerce can never attain, the deeper meaning we yearn for.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 5 weeks 3 days ago
Election 2014: Something important has just happened.Big money bought an election. Fear prevailed over confidence and loathing over reason. The majority chose not to vote, allowing a passionate minority — older, whiter — to change the balance of power. Attack ads drowned out issues. A broken political system tolerated cheating and bullying.Most worrisome is the absence of the virtues that enable a democracy to function in a challenging world. Civic-mindedness gave way to clever voter-suppression tactics. Freedom of the press got lost in attack ads and deliberate distortions of reality. Respect for opponents is gone. So too is the search for common ground, competing ideas, confidence in the nation, confidence in government, confidence in the future. Gone, gone, gone.How could this happen? Several reasons — from intellectual laziness to self-serving leaders. The reason that touches my world is the collapse of progressive Christianity as a teacher of civic virtues.Progressive Christianity is only one voice on the spectrum of religious opinions. But over the years it has had a large impact in its insistence on honesty, fairness, tolerance and humility. Progressive Christians have fought slavery, racial injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. Our search for truth has allowed room for other truths, other voices — a critical attitude in preserving democracy.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 6 weeks 3 days ago
Like other citizens of our free land, Christians tend to divide sharply, predictably, and with heated language.We disagree about almost everything, from cultural norms to attitudes toward wealth and power; from personal behavior to what Jesus intended.To judge by our blog posts, our comments, our letters to the editor, and our remarks in public, we are appalled at what other Christians believe. How can this person have that viewpoint and still call himself a Christian? Does she not know that her words heap burning coals on her own head?In view of our fiery words, you’d think we had explored the extremes of Christian faith and were shouting across a vast, unbridgeable chasm. In fact, we differ within a narrow spectrum, like those who debate Coke vs. Pepsi.That narrow spectrum tends to be far removed from what Jesus actually said, did and expected. We argue about things that don’t matter because we can’t stand the things that do matter. We argue about sex, for example, in order to avoid the topic Jesus actually addressed, namely, wealth and power.And when we do address wealth and power, we tend to affirm the individual’s right to have as much as they can get, even though Jesus said no such thing.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 7 weeks 3 days ago
Right-wing Christians and the politicians who pander to them like to say that the United States was, is and always should be a “Christian nation.”Why, then, are they so obsessed about money and political power and so determined to make people afraid?After all, Jesus spent an estimated two-thirds of his teaching time on wealth and power. His message was clear, if radical: Give wealth away rather than build bigger barns. Submit to others rather than seek power. Love your enemies rather than smite them.Moreover, his one new commandment was equally clear: Don’t be afraid. Live without fear. Live in trust and confidence. Live in harmony. Make peace. But whatever happens, don’t be afraid.Instead of preaching a gospel of self-sacrifice and generosity, right-wing Christians support the mega-wealthy who yearn to stifle democracy and move us further toward plutocracy: Keep the riffraff from voting. Keep alternative views out. Live in the bubble of like-minded people, not the marketplace of ideas and diversity where Jesus lived.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 8 weeks 3 days ago
Once the first person in America died from Ebola, the usual bigots and ideologues blamed it on President Obama, whom they loathe. Some suggested Obama deliberately allowed the virus into the U.S. for nefarious purposes.“He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the matriarch of America’s religious right.Every misstep will be laid at the president’s doorstep, as if he personally ordered a Dallas hospital to screw up.Such nonsense plays well in an election year, at least with a certain portion of the electorate. But the question remains: How are we as a society to deal with a potential contagion that could impact our lives?Our worst instincts, as always, will be to blame whatever we don’t like, to imagine barriers and travel bans that would protect us, and to turn against each other. Schlafly, for one, blames Obama personally for  “letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people.”
Posted by Tom Ehrich 9 weeks 3 days ago
News articles about turmoil at General Theological Seminary had immediate impact on those of us who attended Episcopal seminaries.But the news “went viral” far beyond that small coterie and for reasons beyond nostalgia.For one thing, it’s a juicy soap opera. Faculty playing hardball, then finding themselves unemployed. A dean pushing back, then losing credibility as word about him spread. A board looking confused and high-handed. Students wondering if they, too, should go on strike.But impact goes beyond the particular event itself. For something fundamental seems to be changing.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 10 weeks 3 days ago
General Theological Seminary’s campus in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan is everything you’d want in an urban seminary.Handsome buildings, a chapel at the center, quiet walkways in a noisy city, calm places to read and pray. All serving a wonderfully diverse student body eager to minister in a changing world.It’s like the best of historic church properties: harking back to a day of noble architecture and tradition and yet looking outward to a frenetic city and changing religious environment.Why, then, is GTS on the verge of financial collapse and, now, paralyzing internal conflict? Its dean is under attack, 80 percent of its full-time faculty were dismissed, its board is floundering — all in the glare of press and blogosphere.Why? For the same reason that historic churches and denominations are trapped in “train wrecks.” Their time has passed.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 11 weeks 3 days ago
For one year, my wife and I are living 2,700 miles apart.She lives in a one-bedroom apartment here, south of San Francisco. Each weekday she walks two blocks to the home of our middle son and his wife, where she cares for their 9-month-old son.“Granny nanny” is what they call this phenomenon. Once maternity and paternity leaves expire, grandparents across the country are moving close to their adult children, maybe into their homes, to provide child care so both parents can pursue their careers.A six-hour plane ride away, I am back in our Manhattan apartment, where our youngest son, age 23, is living at home until he lands a job in the worst job-finding environment since the Great Depression.Our oldest son, meanwhile, is adapting his country house to become a multigenerational household next year, when my wife returns east. I have already had a taste of caring for their 8-month-old daughter, and it is wonderful.It seems we have joined a growing trend toward sharing living space: three generations (grandparents, parents and children) or two generations (parents and adult children).
Posted by Tom Ehrich 15 weeks 3 days ago
When churches conclude their summer hiatus and resume full-scale ministries this week, much will have changed from a year ago — outside their doors.Conditions might have changed inside, too. But it is the world outside that demands fresh attention in mission and ministry.Ferguson, Mo., has happened, revealing disturbing trends in law enforcement and deep fault lines between white experience and black experience.Russia’s aggression against Ukraine happened, threatening a resumption of dangerous tensions between Moscow and Western democracies.The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened, raising the dreaded specter of a take-no-prisoners war on modernity, reason, progress, women and other faiths.The 113th Congress happened, mired in systemic dysfunction, with one party determined to cripple a black president and to channel more wealth to the wealthy.The Koch brothers and their megabuck cronies happened, changing the face of electoral politics with unprecedented infusions of cash and ideological vitriol.The two-tier economy happened, with one tier doing extraordinarily well and a much, much larger tier falling further behind, leaving despair among all age groups.Border wars between terrified migrants and swaggering white men bearing arms against children happened, threatening America’s true core value as a welcoming nation promising freedom.These outside-the-walls developments have little to do with the usual church fussing — except to say that it’s time for church people to stop their usual fussing.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 16 weeks 3 days ago
Church leaders often worry that Sunday morning is the “most segregated day of the week.”On Sundays, churchgoers gather inside congregations that are remarkably monochromatic. Whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Latinos with Latinos, Koreans with Koreans, and so on.This phenomenon, however, is more than discomfort with diversity. It is also a search for safety. In the historic black church, for example, worshippers can assert the dignity and worth that a white society denies them. For three hours on Sunday, the need to avoid offending whites doesn’t govern their lives.As we are learning in Ferguson, Mo., African-Americans feel unsafe — far more than many whites have realized. Young black men, for example, flinch whenever a police car passes — a vulnerability that money, job, and education can’t overcome.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 18 weeks 3 days ago
I was scanning my Facebook news feed when I read articles about murders in Iraq.It seems Islamic extremists in Syria are using beheadings and crucifixions to intimidate opponents. Photos and videos look eerily like scenes from illustrated Bibles.I read about right-wing hate speeches on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, stirred by opposition to immigrants but proceeding on to everyone else they hate.I read about gay bashing in the military. Anti-Semitism in Europe. Domestic violence in Baltimore. And on and on.I have two responses. First, I applaud those who post such things on Facebook. Cat pictures are fine, but if this ugliness is going on in our world, we need to know about it.Second, has humanity entered some new depth of degradation? Or do we just know more?
Posted by Tom Ehrich 19 weeks 3 days ago
I went to the town dump today, and I found it open, functioning, filled with people doing the right thing in the right way, giving useful advice to a novice, and able to drive in and out without mayhem, all under the watchful eye of a single employee.Its no-nonsense efficiency reminded me of church suppers, where everything seems to work because people are helping, not managing. Imagine Congress being that capable.I suppose we should be thankful that Congress scampered out of town for five weeks. If they’re going to do nothing, at least they should do nothing out where the constituents who elected them can take their measure.I suppose we should also be thankful that July 2014 only had 31 days. Imagine a longer month for suicidal conflicts and epidemics.We should be thankful, too, that the world’s three great religions — wealth, technology, and the Abrahamic faiths — are getting on people’s nerves. Irritation might lead us to expect better.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 20 weeks 3 days ago
When I was a child, I lived in a black-and-white world of all-this or all-that.Humankind meant my family. The world meant my neighborhood. Religion meant my church. Politics meant my father’s beliefs.Oh, I was aware that more was out there, but it had little claim on my imagination or loyalties. My world was complete. There were no gray areas, no compromises, no maybes.That was a child’s view, reality writ small. In time, I advanced beyond it, until the world became large, complicated, and gray, with places beyond imagining, people totally unlike anyone I knew, ideas beyond anything I heard at my parents’ table.It’s called growing up. Discovering through knowledge and experience that the little I grew up knowing wasn’t enough to know.We are witnessing today a headlong retreat into the not-knowing and simplistic partisanship of childhood. Ideas that make people uncomfortable are banished. Science that calls faith into question is shouted down. Politics isn’t just hardball, it’s dumb-ball: I must win, at any cost, and you must lose. I am right, and you are wrong. My tribe is the only tribe that has value and rights.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 22 weeks 3 days ago
If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives, and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 23 weeks 3 days ago
After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 24 weeks 3 days ago
The New York Knicks have a dilemma: Hold on to high-scoring star Carmelo Anthony, the consummate me-first ball hog, or build their future on team players.I am hoping new coach Phil Jackson gives Anthony his walking papers. The Knicks have been a poor basketball team with Melo’s I-am-the-man selfishness. They will be better with players who know how to work as a unit.As the coaching cliche puts it, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’” There is, however, an “I” in “big bucks,” and in “I am the star,” and in “watch my magic.”It’s the very “I” with which Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness. It’s the “I” that builds empires on the suffering of many and destroys them just as quickly. It’s the “I” that cripples families and ruins enterprises.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 25 weeks 3 days ago
You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7. Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what one pastor heard the other day: “Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can’t take working for a living.”What do you say?In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don’t deserve, and you’re lazy. What do you do?
Posted by Tom Ehrich 26 weeks 3 days ago
Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 27 weeks 3 days ago
We have weapons, and, in our brokenness, we tend to use whatever weapons we think will work.Some of our weapons get assigned gender tags. Men, we say, tend to shout, bully, interrupt, trivialize, ignore “no,” and turn to violence. Women, we say, tend to manipulate, conspire, and blame.But those tags mean little, and they don’t begin to describe the balance of abuse, which, as women know and men are learning, is overwhelmingly abuse of women by men.Some weapons aren’t about gender. Some people use social status as a weapon. Age stifles youth, and youth embarrasses age. Long-timers freeze out newcomers, and the new form their own exclusive tribes. Wealth bullies poverty. The dominant race represses minorities. Heterosexuals bully homosexuals. Those with hiring power hire their own kind. More and more carry firearms and seem eager to use them.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 28 weeks 3 days ago
The two most critical requirements for democracy are freedom of the press and an educated citizenry.The one informs the people and brings government and power into the open. The other enables people to comprehend information and to discuss opinions without resorting to panic and violence.Power elites have declared war on both requirements.These include “big money” oligarchs, such as the people who gather around the Koch brothers, politicians who cater to the wealthy in exchange for campaign contributions and government officials who have come to identify with the corporate and financial interests they regulate.Through acquisitions of newspapers and television outlets and intimidation of reporters, these power elites seek to turn the press into propaganda vehicles and to distort information.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 29 weeks 3 days ago
I am sweating on the treadmill when a young man walks onto the patio outside my window, sits at a table, and spreads out his drug paraphernalia.He folds a piece of white paper to form a work surface. He measures a brown, leafy substance onto the paper, then, using a subway fare card, mixes in a white powder.Next he puts half of his pile into a cigarette paper and carefully rolls it into cylinder shape. Now he rolls the other half. Both joints go into a plastic medicine bottle.Off he goes down a stairway, pausing to light up, then on to his apartment in an adjacent building.The moral calculation is that not a single one of the people around him matters at all. This is the casual face of anomie, the breakdown of moral guidance and resulting alienation from society. 
Posted by Tom Ehrich 30 weeks 3 days ago
Not long ago, I visited Topeka, Kan., to teach at one of those grand old mainline churches that got caught in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education.It was around the corner from the modest home of a railroad worker named Oliver Brown who decided his daughter Linda shouldn’t have to attend an elementary school far from home just because the neighborhood school was for whites only.The Supreme Court agreed and, in 1954, struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that had allowed segregation in public schools. That decision set in motion the mass exodus of whites from urban neighborhoods.So-called “white flight” suburbs sprang up just outside the borders of newly integrated school districts. New schools went up to attract white families, as did housing developments promising a better way of life, code for “whites-only.”
Posted by Tom Ehrich 31 weeks 3 days ago
In a marketplace unfettered by ethical restraint, a sense of duty, concern for others, or even basic shame, 25 hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50 percent pay boost in 2013.Never mind that hedge funds’ performance, on average, tanked for the fifth consecutive year.These 25 men wanted big bucks, so they took them: a total of $21 billion. All for managing wealth that someone else created and, except for a few, not managing it particularly well.The top earner paid himself $3.5 billion for 2013.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 32 weeks 3 days ago
“Innovation” is a warm and fuzzy word — until you dig inside it.It’s like “community,” a warm and fuzzy term when taken to mean friendships, sharing, common interests, common values, perhaps working together.But from a gospel perspective, “community” means much more. As Jesus modeled community, it means mercy — turning away from our instinct to judge and to punish. It means compassion — giving to the least, even when our instinct is to disdain.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 34 weeks 3 days ago
A smart professor in Massachusetts noticed recently that religion’s decline in America coincided with the rise of the Internet.He theorized that the two may be connected. Headline: “Is the Internet bad for religion?”It’s utter nonsense, of course. The decline of mainline churches began in 1965, not in the 1990s when the Internet became commercially available. It would be more accurate, from a timing standpoint, to say that the American League’s designated hitter rule (1973) caused religion’s decline. Or maybe the “British invasion” in rock ‘n’ roll (1964).
Posted by Tom Ehrich 35 weeks 3 days ago
As latter-day partisans fling terms like “dictator” and “Nazi,” I decided to read William Shirer’s classic book about the real thing.In “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” the historian describes Adolf Hitler as a sad little man — a layabout and chronic failure — who discovered his larger-than-life quest, convinced himself he was above all normal constraints and found the combination of scapegoating (blaming Jews and Slavs for Germany’s woes) and delusion (grandiose master-race theory) that would justify trampling on lesser lives.Mocked as clownish at first and imprisoned for a foolhardy putsch, Hitler kept honing his message, created a strong organizational structure, unleashed a cadre of brown-shirted bullies to attack dissenting voices and waited patiently for collapsing national fortunes to make his vision of national purpose appealing.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 36 weeks 3 days ago
I was dismayed when I learned that Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox Web browser, had named an anti-gay activist as its new chief executive officer.Brendan Eich wasn’t a hard-core activist. He had donated $1,000 in 2008 to a California campaign to ban same-sex marriage.Even so, his ethical stance struck me as unfortunate. Mozilla’s naming him CEO struck me as tone-deaf. And his refusal to discuss his views seemed too aloof for a high-visibility enterprise like Mozilla.I didn’t join the crowd demanding his resignation. I did the one thing I could do: I stopped using the Firefox browser.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 37 weeks 3 days ago
I don’t know about young girls, but I know from experience that young boys obsess about sex.They crave it, fantasize about it, do everything in their meager power to obtain it, worry about their adequacy, get confused by their longings, and for the duration of adolescence — and often beyond — see people in terms of “getting laid.”I suppose this obsession is natural, and that it serves some fundamental purpose, such as perpetuating the species or giving us something to think about besides our gangly bodies, weird thoughts, and being young and insecure.I don’t know any adult who would willingly repeat adolescence. Yet here we are — we Christians seeking hope, grace, mercy, and purpose, we believers in a God of justice — treating our faith as an endless adolescence centered around sex.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 38 weeks 3 days ago
As anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps passes on to whatever is his reward, we need to ask how he managed to inspire a following.His was hardly an exemplary life. One neighbor remembers seeing his children in Topeka, Kan., in the 1970s and noticing they were bald. He was told Phelps sent his kids out to sell some product, and if they didn’t make their quota, he shaved their heads as punishment.Another remembers how Phelps beat his wife and children with his fists, a belt, and a piece of wood.Many tell how Phelps and his followers at Westboro Baptist Church sent vicious faxes when gay men were dying of AIDS, picketed military funerals with “God hates you” signs, and blamed terrorist attacks and fallen soldiers on America’s growing tolerance of homosexuality.He was consistent, that’s for sure. Brutish and bullying from home to pulpit to public forum. Filled with anger and hate. And totally unrestrained in how he expressed his rage.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 39 weeks 3 days ago
Some day soon, pop music will start wafting through the urban canyons where I live.Rap, salsa, and generic rock will sound from apartment windows suddenly thrown open, from cars cruising by, and from boomboxes stationed beside dominoes players at sidewalk card tables.Styles will collide, and they certainly will drown out spring birds. But no matter. The longest winter on record — or at least the longest since last year — will have ended, and the city can breathe its annual sigh of relief.We did it. We survived the snow and bitter cold. We survived urban indignities like skyrocketing rents and public servants who care little for the public or for serving. We survived snow days when families who depend on public schools not only for education but also for day care and basic nutrition found themselves trapped, and entitled folks complained when schools were kept open after snow to serve those basic human needs.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 40 weeks 3 days ago
I’ll just say it: I thought “ashes to go” was a great idea.Take the imposition of ashes out to the sidewalks where people actually are, rather than staying primly inside on Ash Wednesday and hoping someone might venture in.Thousands of clergy and lay liturgists did “to-go” this year. From all evidence, it was a great hit.Not everyone appreciated the innovation, of course. But then not every Christian appreciates a liberation-minded pope, or songs on projection screens, or preachers in jeans, or services at any time other than Sunday morning, or ditching denominational hymnals, or coffeehouses doubling as worship venues.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 41 weeks 3 days ago
Conservative Christians are claiming that their religious freedom requires free rein for legalized discrimination.That’s a clever argument. It seems to claim the moral high ground, to align itself with basic constitutional principles, and to put bigots in the victim role.The argument is utter nonsense, of course. Freedom of belief has nothing to do with compelling other people to bow to that belief. If anything, freedom of belief should lead to a broad umbrella of diversity, not a parched patch of prejudice.The First Amendment to the Constitution, after all, sought to guarantee freedom — of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petitioning the government — not to grant freedom to some and not others, depending on the whims of the powerful or pious.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 43 weeks 3 days ago
If you wonder what a right-wing political agenda laden with phony morality would look like, here are two signs.First, from the increasingly shrill patriarch of Silicon Valley, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, the argument that rich people like him should get more votes in elections than poorer people.Second, from the ever vigilant Kansas Legislature, a bill that would legalize segregation of gays in the name of protecting the religious freedom of those who loathe gays.Perkins, of course, rode the gravy train to great wealth by backing those who actually did the work, took the risks, and built something.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 44 weeks 3 days ago
I stopped drinking Coca Cola years ago — not in protest but in a bid for health. But I want to applaud their presenting "America the Beautiful" sung in seven languages.In a 60-second Super Bowl ad, and now a 90-second version at the bizarre Sochi Winter Olympics, the soft drink company showed people of different ethnic backgrounds singing in English and six other languages.I found it charming and warming. It spoke eloquently to the America that I know today — and the America that my ancestors knew when they arrived many years ago speaking German and Norwegian.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 45 weeks 3 days ago
The enclosed mall at Hillsdale Shopping Center had everything on a Friday morning: 1.3 million square feet of glistening space, top-drawer retailers like Nordstrom, reliable outlets like Macy’s, and teen-focused shops like American Eagle Outfitters.It had everything except people.The fabled mall — opened in 1954, enclosed in 1982 — felt like a ghost town. Or, in my frame of reference, like a big mainline Protestant church on a Sunday morning.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 46 weeks 3 days ago
Venture capitalist Tom Perkins took a beating by his former employer for likening today’s class warfare to the Holocaust, with the mega-wealthy 1 percent as victims of “Nazi” repression.In what The Wall Street Journal obediently termed a “Progressive Kristallnacht,” the grand old man of Silicon Valley said those who criticize wealth inequality are like Nazis pursuing “class demonization.”The firm he founded, known as Kleiner Perkins, immediately disavowed the 82-year-old Perkins, saying, “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.”
Posted by Tom Ehrich 47 weeks 3 days ago
First, without referees (judges, umpires, arbiters, monitors), much of life would be a chaotic ordeal dominated by cheats, bullies, and dirty players. That’s why dictators refuse to allow election monitors, corrupt politicians defame the media who report their corruption, and bankers lobby incessantly against regulators.Second, even with referees, action moves too fast for certainty. In baseball, even the most skilled umpires miss calls at first and enforce idiosyncratic strike zones.Third, even-handed justice requires trust in the referee and a belief that missed calls tend to even out over time. If the referee is a cheat — as happens frequently when regulators get paid off by the regulated — trust in the game vanishes, and no one feels safe.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 49 weeks 2 days ago
After 36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant, I came to a startling conclusion the other day.Not startling to you, perhaps. I might be the last person to get the memo. But the conclusion drew me up short.My conclusion: Religion shouldn’t be this hard.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 50 weeks 5 days ago
In the perfection of hindsight, I see that I was clueless when I knelt before the Episcopal bishop of Indianapolis on a snowy December night 36 years ago and claimed my prize: ordination as a priest.I had no clue how to serve a congregation. Other than planning Sunday worship — the easiest of all clergy tasks — I was unprepared.How to make a hospital visit; how to lead a council whose only instinct was not to spend money; how to grow a church; how to comfort the lost and to humble the found; how to hear what the world needed from us — I knew none of it.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 2 days ago
“Bubble living” might be delusional, but it expresses deep and serious yearnings.Take “Champagne music” maker Lawrence Welk. His music variety show on ABC was built on perpetuating the squareness of a prewar world being challenged by postwar change.My father was still watching Welk reruns 40 years after it ceased production in 1971. They reminded him of a world long supplanted.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 1 week ago
I’d say the moment is ripe for “Christ in Christmas” — the real Christ, of course, who shunned the privileged and aligned himself with sinners and outcasts, whose heart went out to sufferers like the homeless of Rome whom a new pope risks serving.I’d say the moment is ripe for new life being born in stables and forced to flee the powerful and greedy. We have seen Mammon’s insatiable maw, power’s absolute corruption of the human soul, and thugs murdering the many in order to protect the few — and we know our need of something better.So, yes, it’s time for Christ in Christmas. Time for new life, time for hope, time for the faithful to say yes to God. Time for peace, not war. Time for repentance, not comfort at any cost. Time for justice and mercy and the even-handed goodness that God promised.This, of course, isn’t what zealots mean when they vow to “defend” the faith from a culture’s “war on Christmas.” They want a free-fire zone where moralizers can denounce all but the like-minded, and churches with huge budgets can frighten or seduce worshippers into donor mode. They mean using Jesus’ name to impose the very cultural and political oppression that Jesus escaped once as a child but couldn’t escape as an adult.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 2 weeks ago
My first career: print journalism. Current status of that field: on life support.My second career: pastoring neighborhood churches. Current status of that field: on life support.My third career: writing and publishing books. Current status of that field: on life support.My fourth career: implementing client-server data management systems. Current status of that field: on life support.Do you see a trend here? I did. So now I try to stay nimble and to keep moving. My publishing business is entirely electronic. I have cycled through three websites and three subscription systems in 10 months. I do more of my church consulting online.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 3 weeks ago
While church planners listened, a five-person focus group described life outside the congregation’s doors: A world falling apart.Families are in disarray, the group said. Parents are refusing, or unable, to do the basic work of parenting, from giving guidance to saying “no.” Instead, they are prepping their children to join a national epidemic of narcissism.Obesity is rampant, along with obesity-related diseases such as diabetes. Infant mortality is worsening as pregnant girls routinely continue smoking, doing drugs and drinking during pregnancy.Clueless parents are buying heroin — today’s drug of choice — for their children, so the little ones don’t get beat up by dealers. Parents buy cases of beer for their underage children so they can drink at home, rather than drive drunk. Methamphetamine usage is widespread.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 4 weeks ago
In a tech newsletter I read, two colleagues addressed the end of the world of the personal computer that they spent three decades mastering.There will be no more building PCs from scratch, no more tinkering with the innards, no more fine-tuning the operating system.“The evolution of the PC industry over the last several years has not been good to the old-school PC professional, particularly for those whose careers have been heavily hardware-oriented,” said the writer.Many clergy and lay leaders are in exactly this position.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 5 weeks ago
On a Greenwich Village street where male prostitutes seeking customers shout out their dimensions, I walked past an open but empty church on my way to the subway.In times past, flocking to church on Sunday morning was a beloved family routine, even here in bad old Gotham. Now they’re trying nontraditional worship on Sunday evenings.It’s a struggle, both here and elsewhere in the 21st-century Christian world. Buildings with “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God,” as Luke described the temple in ancient Jerusalem, are falling into disuse and disrepair — not because Caesar attacked and took revenge on an alien religion, but because the world changed and gathering weekly in “Gothic piles” no longer seems necessary for finding faith.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 7 weeks ago
It was a strange, but telling, spectacle when those who billed the government millions for working on its Affordable Health Care registration system denied any accountability for the portal’s astounding failure.“The other guy did it,” as they say in court. The client kept changing specs, no one did any whole-system testing, other vendors are to blame — blah, blah, blah.Whatever shred of truth lay in their blame-shifting ran up against another wall of non-accountability. The Republicans did it with their insane sequestration, said Democrats. The Democrats did it, said the GOP. Health and Human Services did it. The Oval Office did it.In the end, of course, no one will accept accountability, for we live in an age when the “buck” never stops on one’s own desk, if it stops at all.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 8 weeks ago
Time was when a determined minority vowed to change the nation’s collective mind about racial integration and the Vietnam War.I was in that minority. We considered our cause just. We called our tactics “civil disobedience,” “grass-roots organizing,” “protest,” “civil rights,” “saving America.”It’s a bit disingenuous now for us to lambaste a conservative minority for wanting the same leverage and for using the same tactics. “Civil disobedience” can’t be relabeled “obstructionism” just because the other side is using it.