Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 week 6 days ago
NEW YORK — I sat with my gospel choir colleagues, in a pew, while the host choir at Park Avenue Synagogue rehearsed a lovely Psalm setting in Hebrew.Some sang the Hebrew text with ease, some with difficulty — a reminder that faith generally means learning a language other than one’s own.After the synagogue choir sang in their other-language, we joined them to sing in our other-language: swaying to the beat, getting one’s body into the praise. They responded gladly, as our combined choirs rehearsed Richard Smallwood’s epic “Total Praise,” a setting of Psalm 121, which Christians and Jews share.When two choirs from Park Avenue Christian Church and two choirs from Park Avenue Synagogue, plus some jazz musicians, performed Sunday, at a Psalms festival, we disrupted 2,000 years of animus between Christians and Jews. In the eyes of the creator God who made us all, we said, we are more alike than different, more connected than separated, more eager for shared faith than for separate and superior faith.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 2 weeks 6 days ago
Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 3 weeks 6 days ago
I wonder if social isolation — not extremist religion or Chechen roots — explains the two brothers who set off bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 170.The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was quoted as saying “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” One emerging theory is that, he dealt with isolation in America by seeking his heritage in Chechnya and there, some think, found purpose in violence against his unwelcoming home.In feeling isolated, the alleged bomber isn’t alone. Isolation is the new normal in America.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 4 weeks 6 days ago
“How do you defend against terrorists?” asked a colleague, as we processed news reports of two bomb explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.The answer, truth be told, is you probably don’t defend against terrorism. Like a deadbolt on a residential door, you can create deterrents that slow the bad guys down. But a determined thief will only be delayed, not prevented.Although it isn’t yet known whether these bombs in Boston were a terrorist attack, questions like my colleague’s arise because we live in such an open and “target-rich” society.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 5 weeks 6 days ago
Church is being reinvented. So are technology and education. And all for the same reasons.Facebook just started moving Google’s cheese with its launch of Home. An army of upstarts in Silicon Valley is challenging the hegemony of Microsoft. Nothing is staying the same; disruption is the path to prosperity.The reason: the marketplace is highly dynamic. New needs emerge. New products stimulate new needs. New entrants want to make a difference right away. Problems and opportunities multiply faster than bureaucratic pillars can respond.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 7 weeks 6 days ago
In Christianity’s passage through Holy Week to Easter Day, a moment of truth will arrive.Every detail is well known, thoroughly studied, and dramatized by Hollywood and homespun pageants — and the familiar story will reach across the divide and touch, or try to touch, every person who is listening and watching.Many will get it, especially if they live in circumstances where people get falsely accused by the self-righteous; where the weak and vulnerable get mistreated by the powerful; where physical suffering is a daily occurrence; where death seems like the only next option.That audience could well comprise the bulk of humanity — those who endure poverty, starvation, and violence of epic proportions, those who live in more prosperous lands and yet are the oppressed, the ignored, the expendable.For that audience, the Gospel message is profoundly good news.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 8 weeks 5 days ago
Even as a non-Catholic, I was filled with hope when an Argentine cardinal said to be passionate about serving the poor stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis.By taking the name of a church reformer, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio promised a better day for an ossified institution whose people beg for hope while hierarchs defend medieval power and pomp.By standing in silence and bowing his head for the crowd’s blessing, Francis showed a humility that could inspire believers grown weary of Roman arrogance. In greeting the crowd, the new pope showed a common touch that could repurpose a global movement from being lost in scandal and self-serving.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 9 weeks 6 days ago
I just spent a wonderful and encouraging weekend with a church leadership team from Reisterstown, Md. I came away filled with hope for this congregation and with admiration for their clergy and lay leaders.I wish our weak and tiresome political leaders in Washington and state capitals could visit this church in northern Baltimore County and see how mature adults of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints manage to put the congregation first.They listened, spoke without barbed words and without aggression garbed in niceness.They voiced their dreams, heard their differences, and then allowed a consensus dream to emerge. They understood the need to move on from yesterday. They were like two healthy parents trying to work a family problem. They seemed to trust each other.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 10 weeks 4 days ago
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — We did a focus group here as part of strategic planning at Trinity Episcopal Church.Question: if you stood on the edge of your church’s property and looked outward, rather than inward as we usually do, what would you see?A public school kindergarten teacher spoke about kids who come to school hungry and wearing shabby clothing. She started to discuss the family chaos her kids describe during sharing time, but she began to weep and couldn’t speak at all.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 11 weeks 5 days ago
Life inside a bubble can feel complete, even dynamic, as the bubble’s surface shimmers and yet retains form.When the surface is breached, the bubble collapses immediately, shattering into a liquid spray faster than a metal object can fall through where it used to be. What looked like a permanent structure is, in fact, uncertain and quickly lost.We saw a ”tech bubble” burst 13 years ago. What had seemed durable and laden with value turned out to be vapor. The “housing bubble” came next. Some think another “tech bubble” is about to burst.The bubble I see bursting is establishment Christianity in America. It is bursting ever so slowly, even as millions of people still find life, meaning, safety, and structure inside. But one failing congregation at a time, the surface of shimmering shape is being breached.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 12 weeks 6 days ago
I got home from a church event on Sunday evening, in time to watch the season three finale of “Downton Abbey” on PBS, but I stuck to my guns about catching up on previous episodes first.But on Monday morning, The New York Times had two articles about the finale and I couldn’t stop myself from reading them.So now I know that two key characters get killed off — because the actors playing them wanted to move on from the show. Does that mean watching the older season three episodes is pointless? Not at all. As any Christian can tell you, knowing how the story ends doesn’t take away its meaning or mystery. If anything, you become even more alert to character development.Killing off characters can work wonders for a television series, but it rarely works for the actors who overestimated what they uniquely brought to the program.Ask any executive, pastor or educator about moving on and then bombing in the next job: their success wasn’t about them in the first place. It was circumstance, luck or an “alignment of the planets,” if you will, that existed only for an instant.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 14 weeks 6 days ago
Some enterprises, like tech start-ups, are all dream and no structure.A founder’s dream of making a world-changing product compels other pioneers to work long, self-sacrificial days. In what resembles religious fervor, they are like monks in constant prayer, hunched over computers, collaborating at white boards and talking shop deep into the night.Investors, however, want structure and a return on their investment. So, eventually, do employees, who want stock offerings, benefits, and some sense that the dream has a future.This awkward transition from dream-only to dream-plus-structure is where many enterprises fall apart. Freedom collides with accountability, jealousy emerges as some get better titles and more stock options and the freedom of “all in this together” gives way to stratification.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 15 weeks 6 days ago
AUSTIN, Texas — After a walk around the Texas Statehouse, it became clear they tell a different history here.Inside the Capitol is a large painting of a onetime Tennessee congressman named David Crockett, who failed in a re-election bid and stormed out west to join the revolution in what was then called Tejas. He arrived in 1836 and died four weeks later at the Alamo in San Antonio.A plaque beneath the oversized painting suggests Crockett was a laborer who became larger than life when he got to Texas. A more balanced account suggests Crockett had been building his legend for many years, with exotic garb, a self-published autobiography, and fiery speeches against President Andrew Jackson. He yearned to star in Washington, and when that failed, he went west, landing at the Alamo just in time to die there.An ambitious state needs its mythology.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 16 weeks 5 days ago
“Now I’ve gone completely over to the dark side,” I laughed as I unpacked an Apple iMac desktop computer and set my last Dell Windows PC to the side.Such is the teasing that goes on among computer users — teasing that occasionally turns to irate bristling and strident claims of supremacy.But becoming “all Apple” (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, iMac) isn’t the “dark side,” is it? It’s the “other side.” It’s a new product, not a corrupt soul.Product decisions aren’t expressions of ultimate value. They’re like selling my automobiles and moving to a walking culture in Manhattan, putting aside suits, and starting my own company. It’s the “other side,” not the “dark side” or the “light side.”I won’t be using my new iMac to steal money from people. That would be “dark side” behavior. I won’t engage in identity theft, patent trolling, luring people into danger, slandering people with whom I disagree, threatening children, starting phony charities. Those would be “dark side” activities.In recent years, we have seen serious confusion between “other side” and “dark side.” Led by politicians, ideologues and religious zealots, we have been encouraged to view opponents as evil, unpatriotic, a menace worthy of destruction. The opposition wasn’t content to disagree; it also wanted also to dehumanize and demolish.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 17 weeks 5 days ago
Wise leaders spend time in the wilderness.Some choose a sojourn in the desert; most are driven there when their leadership fails.In the desert, beyond their cocoon of comfort and success, they see more about themselves. If they stay in the desert long enough, they come to understand what they see about themselves. Stay still longer, and some even come to appreciate themselves.And a few whose desert wanderings go past endurance stop focusing on themselves at all. They discover people and God. Those become the great leaders. They move far beyond self-serving, calculation, manipulation, cleverness, methods, and successful habits. They find common ground with humanity in its brokenness and aspirations, in its resilience and its daily acts of common goodness.We live in an era of weak and absent leadership.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 18 weeks 6 days ago
Conflict happens everywhere, from Congress to congregations, from boardrooms to bedrooms. The dysfunction of Congress is just a highly public instance of a typical conflict scenario.I recently compiled some basics of church conflict. See if you agree with me that this playbook applies broadly.Church conflicts – which will happen to all clergy and congregations eventually – generally focus on the clergy, just as conflict in any enterprise tends to focus on the top leader. That’s because the underlying issue usually is power – who calls the shots, who can initiate change, who can hold others accountable.Secondary issues like specific actions, perceived performance and trust get the spotlight, but are surrogates for the power issue. People who want power don’t relish being perceived as wanting power. They prefer being seen as the aggrieved, better performers, more trustworthy, more faithful to ultimate purposes.Church conflicts usually spring from a small group of antagonists, perhaps even a single person, who start with a conclusion, largely intuitive and emotional, and then search for reasons. Those reasons tend to be moving targets that defy better information. Deal with one reason, and two more take its place.Antagonists, meanwhile, intimidate others into compliance, or at least silence, by making it clear they will stop at nothing to win.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 22 weeks 6 days ago
NEW YORK — The ancient dream of making money by simply moving money took a hit last week when Citibank announced plans to lay off 11,000 workers.Across town, the dream of making money by actually making things – a dream that had seemed lost to foreign labor – got a boost when Apple's boss Tim Cook announced plans to make some computers in the U.S.Citibank's move sent shock waves among people educated to take meetings, crunch numbers, and parlay networking into fees for passing money through their hands. There's no actual creation of wealth; just dipping a large ladle into wealth as it flows past.Apple's small and somewhat symbolic move, by contrast, stirred hope that manufacturing might return again to American shores and stimulate the manufacturing wages and productive attitudes that once built a middle class.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 23 weeks 5 days ago
I played the New York lottery for the first time last week.My $2 ticket didn't win the $588 million payout – surprise, surprise – but it did buy me several minutes of musing, most of it instructive, some of it enjoyable.I quickly ran out of spending ideas – slightly larger apartment, new computer, clothes for my wife, a car to replace the two we sold when moving to Manhattan. I realized I couldn't even spend the income on a lottery bonanza, unless I started buying things I don't need or particularly want....In the end, I liked the idea of financial security, but saw little to be gained from sudden wealth. In fact, given the misery that tends to befall lottery winners, I might have dodged a bullet by not winning.After this brief fantasy, I wondered more than ever why the wealthy work so hard to avoid taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Even though their effective taxes are lower than they were during the Reagan years and far lower than during the great prosperity of the post-World War II era, the wealthy are lobbying fiercely to pay even less in taxes. Once again, they seem willing to crash the government for everyone, rather than pay their share of its support.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 24 weeks 5 days ago
NEW YORK — In the afterglow, I give thanks for Thanksgiving Day.It might be our most spiritual holiday, dealing as it does with that most spiritual of experiences: feeling gratitude.Despite the commercial drumbeat for the aptly named "Black Friday," Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be about family, food, and free time. On Facebook, people shared recipes for stuffing, answered questions posed by nervous first-time cooks, told stories about traveling to be with family, and flooded the web with photos of people just being together.I realize that those are ambiguous realities. Not everyone is blessed with healthy families, not everyone has enough food. Many work hard to prepare food and cheer for others to enjoy. But the promise is there — and unlike the promise of material hyperabundance that has come to dominate Christmas, the promise of Thanksgiving Day seems worth pursuing and attainable.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 25 weeks 5 days ago
NEW YORK — It's a short walk from Ground Zero to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.If you're a dedicated tourist, you can see where a terrorist attack occurred on 9/11 and then hop a ferry to see where Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island's oceanfront last month.Sad to say, but that's exactly what many tourists are doing. Instead of going to Staten Island to help traumatized residents, they go to gawk. Then they go back to Manhattan for lunch and holiday shopping.This is what happens when people lose a basic sense of obligation to one another. It no longer seems sane or necessary to be charitable. Instead, people feel justified in looking away from need. They feel disconnected from neighbors who are suffering. When the storms of life hit, they call themselves “makers” and dismiss the “takers” as lazy.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 26 weeks 6 days ago
NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 28 weeks 6 days ago
Of all the ugliness in Election 2012, nothing is more disturbing than attempts to prevent people from voting. Voter suppression strikes at the very heart of American democracy.The flood of money into this year's campaigns has been bad enough, as wealth has sought to do what wealth usually seeks to do: gain control and preference.The shouting of lies – not just shading the truth, but outright lies – has cheapened the liars and insulted the public.Demagogic attacks grounded in religion, phony patriotism and race have undermined public trust in all politicians. It will take years to dig out from under the rot of such scorched-earth tactics.But denying the basic right of citizenship to millions of voters is an offense we should all be protesting. For if the powerful can deny the vote to their opponents – especially the poor and people of color – they can deny the vote to anyone.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 30 weeks 6 days ago
When I alerted my readers that I would be taking time off from writing to recover from surgery, many sent me kind words with a common theme: “Take time to heal.”“Give your body time to heal,” said one. “Rest and sleep,” said another. “Be sure to take ALL the time you need for a full recovery!” and “Don't try to power through. Stop, lie down and rest. ... We will still be here.”I was hearing the wisdom of experience: been there, didn't take the time, thought I was healed, wasn't.That certainly has been my experience from previous times of loss and stress. I haven't always taken enough time to heal. I moved on too soon, when my head, in effect, was still woozy.Even now, a week after surgery, I find my mind drifting off. I will be thinking through a sentence and find I have jumped tracks. I will need to read the same page of a novel several times and replay a scene in a recorded TV show.So this time I am taking time. No rushing back to work, no making important decisions, no feeling impatient to have my wits fully about me.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 31 weeks 5 days ago
Why, exactly, does it matter if President Barack Obama gave a lackluster performance in the recent presidential debate?These quadrennial campaign sideshows have nothing to do with one's capability, preparation, aptitude or suitability for the presidency.Why does Gov. Mitt Romney's spirited performance matter? What does a “victory” by one candidate mean, other than momentary bragging rights?Surely we know that these debates are about as meaningful as an Oscar winner's thank-you speech. What we want from a president is a steady hand in dealing with a wicked and wayward world, a collaborative spirit in bringing a broad reach to government, and a magnanimous spirit in consoling war widows, helping victims of disaster, protecting the weak from the relentless predations of the strong, and trying to preserve an “American Dream” to which all, not just a few, are invited. We want signs of character, not a telegenic mien.Presidential debates are like first visits to possible in-laws. You hope not to belch at supper — and then you return to the world where you are actually exploring marriage and building a life.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 32 weeks 5 days ago
NEW YORK — Manhattan was a traffic nightmare as the United Nations General Assembly was in session and security precautions ramped up.Iran's president gave his usual insulting address. Israel's prime minister volleyed with dire warnings of Iran's nuclear-weapons intentions. Not much was expected of a session that was more political podium than problem solving.But the event did underscore a reality that Americans often overlook: Not everything is about us. The world doesn't turn on a politician's latest line of attack. The fine points of Obamacare or Mitt Romney's 1040 or Paul Ryan's budget? Meh.On the one hand, this unconcern is nothing unusual; hometown affairs are always of far more interest to locals than to anyone else. I could go months without caring about Kate Middleton's topless cavorting or political show trials in Beijing.On the other hand, it is good to be reminded that we are one piece of a vast global mosaic. We connect with others but aren't necessarily the center.Rather than proceed as a nation-level version of the "narcissistic princess" — as one reviewer labeled tell-all author Monica Lewinsky — we should pay more attention to the connections among us.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 34 weeks 5 days ago
You can tell from its menu whether a restaurant expects to serve tourists, locals or regulars.At a tourist-centered eatery like those near Times Square, the menu typically is huge: many pages, difficult to scan, sometimes difficult even to hold. There's something for everyone and it's designed to please customers who are strangers.A restaurant catering to locals will have a much leaner menu, maybe just four or five items in each category. They will all be of a certain type—no words like "Asian fusion" to disguise lack of focus. If the joint is Korean, it will serve Korean. A third and much rarer type is the restaurant that offers just one multi-course meal each night. Regulars go expecting to be served the chef's whim of the day, not handed a long menu.When customers are strangers, the owner must imagine what will please a patchwork of German tourists, Chinese tourists, families from Iowa, young techies on the prowl, and marketers in town for a convention.The better an owner knows the customers, the more focused the menu can be. If not the actual customer, at least the type of person who will come in.Voting isn't all that different. When politics is local, candidates tend to know their people or at least know their interests, worries and hopes. This is the level at which democracy tends to work best. Leaders know their people, people know their leaders, and known interests are at stake.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 35 weeks 6 days ago
As baby boomers start clicking the senior citizen box on travel fares, I want to say a word to my generation and to the one that preceded us. It is time for us to get out of the way.I don't mean easing into wheelchairs. For the most part, we're way too healthy and energetic for that. I mean the harder work of relinquishing control.I see that need most clearly in religious institutions, where I work. But I see it elsewhere, too, from taxpayer "revolts" led by seniors against today's schoolchildren to culture wars that we won't let die.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 38 weeks 5 days ago
Shrill voices, backed by vast ad spending, are trying to turn Americans against each other. And not just in vocal and behavioral disagreement, but to a depth of fear and hatred that could turn violent with little provocation.Is it working?To judge by the shrill echoes of shrill voices, the right wing is arming for battle, with God on their side, the flag as their shield, and the future of a white Christian nation at stake. Foolhardy politicians egg them on, and the greedy rich seem to believe that they can turn this hatred on and off to suit their quest for tax breaks.Do the shrill represent any force larger than their own passions? Will the common-sense middle prove more durable and extensive than zealots want to believe?
Posted by Tom Ehrich 39 weeks 6 days ago
Comparing today with yesterday is a popular yet pointless pastime.For one thing, we rarely remember yesterday accurately. More to the point, yesterday was so, well, yesterday — different context, different players, different period in our lives, different numbers, different stages in science, commerce, and communications.Seeking to restore the 1950s — grafting 1950s values, lifestyles, cultural politics, educational, and religious institutions — onto 2012 is nonsense. It sounds appealing, but it is delusional.That world didn't disappear because someone stole it and now we need to get it back. It disappeared because the nation doubled in size, white people fled racial integration in city schools, and women entered the workforce en masse. It disappeared because factory jobs proliferated and then vanished, prosperity came and went, schools soared and then soured, the rich demanded far more than their fair share, overseas competitors arose, and medical advances lengthened life spans.The comparison worth making isn't between today and yesterday. It is between today and what could be. That comparison is truly distressing, which might explain why we don't make it.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 40 weeks 5 days ago
I don't think of myself as a news-reading star; many spend far more time than I do staying informed. But I do recognize that being informed takes effort. As more and more cities lose their newspapers, and as networks like Fox abandon any pretense of journalistic integrity and simply broadcast misinformation, the work of staying informed gets more complicated.I occasionally read broadsides from Tea Party folks and wonder what alternate universe they inhabit. Their positions seem unhinged from fact, history, and generally accepted reality. I imagine they'd say that a world informed by "liberal media" like The Times isn't any closer to being fact-based.How do we debate important issues when we don't share a common foundation of facts? Dueling opinions are the heartbeat of politics. Dueling facts, however, lead mainly to shouting, bullying and mistrust.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 41 weeks 5 days ago
Here's something curious.Big banks can't make money without cheating, manipulating interest rates, selling overly risky products and betting against their customers.Big pharmaceuticals can't make money without paying competitors to keep their generic products off pharmacy shelves.Google and Facebook can't make money without monetizing customers' privacy and violating their trust. Game maker Zynga can't make money, period, but its insiders did sweep $516 million off the table by unloading soon-to-plummet stock before a lousy earnings report.Rupert Murdoch's media empire can't make money without tapping telephones and politicizing the news on which democracy depends. And these are the people we are supposed to trust, admire, treat as superior and as worthy of huge salaries and government bailouts.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 42 weeks 5 days ago
Forget Wall Street. Today's "best and brightest" are heading to California's Silicon Valley and New York's Silicon Alley, and to a few other tech-startup hot spots.Thousands of aspiring engineers, web developers, designers and marketers live in dormitories, work in open-floor bullpens, attend coding competitions to enhance their skills, and work hours that defy body chemistry. It sounds like fun.Some work on projects that make a positive contribution to society; some are coding games, entertainment apps, and schemes to monetize friendships.They take stock for pay and wait for the magic letters "IPO" to appear. Meanwhile, their employers fight for their loyalty with free food and party-on office cultures.The brass ring they chase looks like Marissa Mayer, the 37-year-old former Google star who was tapped to lead Yahoo out of its extended doldrums. Like any public person, Mayer is painted in stark colors: as both immensely talented and merely lucky, an inspiring leader and a rude monster, likely to succeed and sure to fail.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 43 weeks 6 days ago
Conservative commentators like Rupert Murdoch's stable and Ross Douthat of The New York Times are feasting on what they perceive as the "death" of "liberal Christianity."They add two and two and get eight. They see decisions they don't like — such as the Episcopal Church's recent endorsement of a rite for blessing same-sex unions. They see declines in church membership. They pounce.Such "liberal" decisions are destroying the church, they say, and alienating young adults they must reach in order to survive.Never mind that surveys of young adults in America show attitudes toward sexuality that are far more liberal than those of older generations. Never mind that conservative denominations are also in decline.Never mind — the most inconvenient truth — that mainline denominations began to decline in 1965, not because of liberal theology, but because the world around them changed and they refused to change with it.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 44 weeks 6 days ago
Although church conventions tend to get attention for decisions on sexuality and gender, I am more intrigued by a movement among Episcopalians to sell their national headquarters building in New York City.Whether the shrinking national staff would leave "815" (815 Second Avenue) or remain as tenants isn't clear. Nor is it clear where they would go next if they left. Suggestions range from a large cathedral property (New York or Washington, D.C.) to a middle-of-the-country site. (Presbyterians chose Louisville, Ky., when they made a similar decision in the late 1980s.)As a cost-cutting measure, a building sale strikes me as unpromising. Nor am I persuaded by anti-Gotham arguments. Having a church center here isn't a "Babylonian captivity" or the last relic of an "imperial dream," as critics put it.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 45 weeks 5 days ago
SEATTLE — In 1962, when my younger brother was just four years old, this city perched on the nation's northwest rim held a World's Fair that imagined a glistening future.Grounded in a vision of science and technology, the Century 21 Exposition foresaw a steady economic expansion and an orderly modernity that would continue 1950s prosperity and stability far into the future.They got the science and technology right. Seattle is now a world hub for software development and Internet commerce, as well as for the caffeine and jeans-clad lifestyle that fuel young techs.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 47 weeks 5 days ago
Imagine the moral authority that church leaders could exercise if they turned their eyes outward to a needy world, rather than endlessly surveying the insider crowd for what they want and are willing to pay for.Imagine if we allowed worship to change in order to make it more accessible to the world. Imagine devoting our resources to reaching younger adults and families seeking fresh purpose in a stale world. Imagine buildings being re-purposed for community needs. Imagine a church that was giving itself away to the "least of these." And when givers push back, imagine lay and clergy leaders saying boldly, "This church isn't for sale. We have a larger purpose than keeping you happy and comfortable. This church isn't about us. It is about God and the next people whom God is trying to reach."
Posted by Tom Ehrich 49 weeks 6 days ago
What matters is human ingenuity. Allow people a window of freedom, and they will fly through it.They will buy millions of tablet computers as escape from cramped airplane seating and being tethered to desktops. They will create homegrown social networks when Facebook goes weird with their privacy. They will abandon overpriced private colleges, avoid uninspiring suburban housing, and seek investments other than the rigged game of common stocks.If venture capitalists exact too high a price for startup funding, entrepreneurs will turn to crowd-sourcing. While civic leaders chase yesteryear solutions like industrial parks, real job creators set up shop any old place and work around stuck politicians.In my work with mainline Protestant churches -- perhaps the most "stuck" of any enterprise -- I see two tracks diverging.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 51 weeks 5 days ago
The face of aging in America isn't a pretty one. Not because the flesh is sagging, but because the nation that once built schools, malls and suburbs for baby boomer families when they were young has turned against its elderly.Opportunistic politicians seeking to preserve tax benefits for their wealthy patrons assault Medicare as a "socialistic" entitlement serving leeches. They take aim at Social Security as undeserved, even though recipients basically receive funds they themselves contributed over many years of working. Banks lure the elderly into credit card debt, then slap on interest rates edging toward 40 percent and then seize property. Banks and some states siphoned off funds intended to ease mortgage stress.If you take the time to listen, you will hear one horror story after another. People who once shared typical middle-class stories about careers and children's exploits now share dread about losing what little they have left.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 4 days ago
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Poor memory? Hard to say. I'm just glad I don't remember details of my college road trips to Northampton and my .000 batting average with Smith College women.That means I can approach stopping by this charming college town as a pleasant diversion with my wife after a family lunch in nearby Worcester. I can escape shadows of feeling lost among the hyper-sophisticated Smithies. Some history deserves to be forgotten.Moreover, what merits remembering requires reflection and fresh engagement, not just a sense of cyclical dread.The ugly political morass of 2012 isn't just Reaganism redux: It's not just another variation on the "trickle-down" delusion – make the rich rich enough and they will discover how to share – and the economic and political destruction that flowed from chasing that fantasy. Nor is it another dabbling in McCarthyism's politics of fear and scapegoating.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 7 weeks ago
Nowadays, "values" is no longer just a code word for the religious right's assault on cultural trends they don't like. "Values" are cropping up in all political and cultural camps. The acquisitive life simply isn't sustainable. Consumerism becomes dull, and non-stop partying seems shallow.Interesting people read books, play challenging games (Scrabble is surprisingly hot), and enjoy long meals in quiet places. Even in colleges — the last bastion of anything-goes — poetry readings, bike treks and mission work are encroaching on beer blasts. Canning your own vegetables is suddenly en vogue.The dynamics are similar to our growing distaste for religious extremism and the politics of hatred. We have seen ourselves up close and decided we can do better. Pouring a lifetime of earnings into showy living becomes embarrassing. Turning religion into shouting matches and rampant bigotry doesn't pass any gospel sniff test.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 8 weeks ago
"What do think will happen" a longtime Episcopalian asked me in Charlotte, N.C., "now that Archbishop ... er ... ""Rowan Williams," I said." ... yes, Rowan Williams, has decided to retire?"The question took me aback. I rarely hear Episcopalians talking about the Archbishop of Canterbury, the London-based head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch.Many Episcopalians pray for the 61-year-old prelate every Sunday, but as Canterbury has gotten more conservative and more solicitous of arch-conservative Anglican bishops from the Third World, Anglicans in developed nations choose to walk their own progressive path.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 10 weeks ago
To understand American politics, follow the money. But to understand American goodness and resolve, follow the storms.Watch towns rally to save children and to provide emergency shelter. Watch people share water and food with strangers. Watch people share chain saws and rowboats. Watch religious communities collect offerings of money and supplies.Watch people stop work in order to pile sandbags along cresting rivers. Watch hard-hit towns discover their core oneness. All those fears of the dreaded "other" that politicians try to whip up seem to evaporate when storms hit.When our host led prayers for the victims of the tornadoes, no one asked if they were "our kind of people." They were victims, and that's all we needed to know. While politicians raged across the landscape shouting invectives, rekindling old grudges, stirring pots of fear and distrust, and seeking votes in hardship, actual victims of hardship were joining hands to serve the least of these.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 13 weeks ago
Imagine a Catholic Church that stopped catering to its tiny cadre of old male bishops and heard instead the cries of its people. Or a fundamentalist movement that stopped defending its franchise by nonsensical attacks on evolution and modernity, and instead took Scripture seriously.Imagine a conservative Christian movement that dropped its relentless assault on women's rights and instead sought a fresh vision of family and values. Or a progressive movement that listened to people, rather than lecturing them.Too many "providers" — in politics, business and religion — come across as having a low opinion of their constituents. People tend to be good judges of what matters to them. Voters know this recession better than their would-be leaders seem to know it. Believers seem to take their faith more seriously than those institutions that seek to enroll them as members.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 1 year 14 weeks ago
Even though I use Facebook frequently, I doubt my usage pattern will justify a $100 billion valuation for the company or send a new crop of Silicon Valley paper millionaires to Ferrari dealerships.I never click on sidebar ads, I immediately block all games, and I have no intention of using Facebook's virtual money. I've done some advertising -- to little effect -- and will do more, but not much.On the other hand, I find Facebook intriguing, sobering and oddly encouraging. To me, Facebook is an intriguing window on the world. It's the raw stuff of human diversity, not filtered through self-serving politicians or media summaries. When I decided to "friend" people whose views differ from mine, little did I know how much we differ.Name an issue — say, the recent dust-up over breast cancer funding for Planned Parenthood — and I read not only the rage and indignation of fervent extremes, but deep divisions within the sensible middle. The hope that we could find common ground by moving to the middle could be delusional. Divisions are still there, but maybe they're just calmer.