Posted by Tom Ehrich 17 hours 28 min 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 week 19 hours 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 2 weeks 18 hours 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 3 weeks 17 hours 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 4 weeks 16 hours 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 5 weeks 19 hours 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 7 weeks 19 hours 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 7 weeks 6 days 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.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 9 weeks 18 hours ago
I had the privilege of teaching a pastoral theology class at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, last week.I had the entire senior class: 13 young, promising, enthusiastic, veterans of church wars, and yet eager to get started.Like any speaker with a full deck of PowerPoint slides, I probably said more than was needed. But I wanted to make, reinforce, clarify, and leave no mistake about my main point: Business as usual is off the table.After nearly 50 years of relentless decline in mainline churches, business as usual is a sinking ship. The way forward lies in fresh ideas, turnaround strategies, entrepreneurial enthusiasm for risk, and learning from failure.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 10 weeks 19 hours ago
I got fitted for a custom-tailored suit this week.Not because I suddenly found a pot of money. I didn’t, and I didn’t need to. The cost for this Hong Kong tailor is comparable to what I have been paying for off-the-rack suits.My problem is middle age. My shifting body type makes off-the-rack suits too wide in the shoulders and too long. It’s proof that life keeps on changing, and that the way forward must include getting unstuck from old ideas.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 11 weeks 19 hours ago
In a world far removed from the tragic cesspool of Washington scheming and maneuvering, real people flocked to Central Park on El Camino Real for this town’s first Bacon & Brew Festival.It was wildly successful. Vendors ran out of food and beverages; sponsors closed off ticket sales early. The parched and mean-spirited landscape that ideologues are trying to manufacture seemed distant.As they stood in line for burgers, barbecue, fries smothered in cheese, and microbrewed beers, young adults eyed each other’s pregnant bulges and baby strollers. I heard no muttering about Obamacare. People have better things to do than to defund a program that benefits fellow citizens.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 12 weeks 19 hours ago
A straggle of kids came up for children’s time at Poland Presbyterian Church, a 211-year-old congregation established on Lot One, in Township One, in Range One of what was once known as the Connecticut Western Reserve.The church’s education minister asked them to do this year’s CROP Walk in nearby Youngstown. Two miles, five miles, whatever they can do to raise money for alleviating hunger.“Seventeen million children will go to bed hungry in America tonight,” she explained.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 15 weeks 15 hours ago
I got a glimpse into the politics of scorn this week.The visual was a photo accompanying a New York Times article on rental properties in Memphis, Tenn. The article itself seemed innocuous, about how foreclosed homes are being scooped up by outside investors and turned into rentals.The photo, however, was troubling. It showed a young man lazing in a large chair while his two children stared numbly at a television screen and his wife tapped away on a cell phone.I have no clue into this family’s character. But the visual screamed: “Idle! Lazy!”
Posted by Tom Ehrich 16 weeks 2 min ago
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 16 weeks 6 days ago
Out of nowhere, I felt an urge to listen to Willie Nelson’s epic album Stardust, a collection of pop standards that went platinum when it was released in 1978.As I listened to “Blue Skies” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” I remembered buying this album for my father. I thought he would enjoy a fresh take on these songs of his youth, his travails during the Great Depression, and the war that defined his generation.I don’t think he ever listened to it a second time. He loved the songs, but he couldn’t bear the fresh take. He wanted Gertrude Lawrence, the original voices of Tin Pan Alley and Depression-era hopefulness, the crooners that carried his generation to war and back home again.I understand. The music we hear at our first dreaming, first love, first dance becomes the soundtrack of our lives.For many people, the same is true of faith. Our images of God, songs of worship and language of prayer tend to be those we acquired at first awareness. Many more images, songs and words will come later, but none might resonate so deeply as those that were imprinted on us early on.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 18 weeks 1 hour ago
Two Sunday meetings prevented my going to the country with the family.So on Saturday, I took a long walk up the Hudson River and then sat beside an open window overlooking the apartment house courtyard and felt a cool breeze.No, it wasn’t the same as a screened porch upstate. But it worked. Why? Because I made it work. I was motivated to step away from my desk and do something different.Could I have had a more perfect day? Sure, I suppose so. But I didn’t need perfection. I just needed something different. Yes, I was “settling,” as they term it. But that’s part of maturity: knowing that progress matters more than perfection. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, and making do can be enough. Tweaking the day can make it a better day.Yet many people continue to chase perfection and refuse to compromise with realities that fall short.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 18 weeks 6 days ago
Adaptation is how a bitter and broken South survived its own worst instincts after the war. Progressive pockets emerged in college towns and later in large cities. Hungry for Northern business, the region became less racially polarized. In time, a black man could become mayor of Atlanta and another could become the Episcopal bishop of North Carolina.The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of 50 years ago came to seem possible. Distant, yet possible.But now the dream has receded. The fact of a black president seems to have reopened a pulsing vein of racism. Operating under cover of fiscal austerity, vengeful state politicians are gutting decades of programs that helped the South move forward by helping blacks and Latinos to have a chance.No more affirmative action, they say; no more dark-skinned citizens flocking to voting stations; no more voting districts shaped by fairness; no more protections from ground-level aggression against people of color.Once again, as happened in the 19th century, impoverished whites who should be lining up to resist predatory behavior by the moneyed class are being turned against their own best interests by race politics.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 20 weeks 19 hours ago
A tech writer’s obituary for PCWorld’s print magazine — part tongue-in-cheek, part nostalgia riff — reminded me that I once devoured that magazine, now kaput.It was an early lens into the fascinating world of personal computing. Its ads and articles stoked dreams of power and speed.I soon became part of PCWorld’s dilemma. I dropped the print mag and began seeking tech news on the Internet. It was faster and fresher, had clickable links to other sites, great art, and brevity. PCWorld itself went online.Much of my world has switched to the Internet. I do most of my banking and bill paying online, shop online, order lunch online, learn choir music online, teach classes online, use email and text messaging extensively, and read the news online.Nothing unusual in any of that. Such web-centered behavior has become the new normal. Any enterprise that isn’t considering ways to move its operations online is losing its future.In my world, more and more churches are going web. Electronic newsletters replace mailed paper. Clergy use email to communicate, as do staff and volunteers. Tweets, Facebook posts, e-blasts, and text messages carry word of emergencies. Constituents make donations online.There’s more. Classes are moving online, as are interviews with job candidates and opinion surveys. Some congregations are experimenting with worship online and small groups. Every Sunday morning, some 600,000 people a minute access Bible verses online using one app.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 21 weeks 6 days ago
It is tragic to watch contemptuous right-wingers declaring war on America.With little heed for consequences on either actual people or the national interest, they declare war on the poor, the hungry, Native Americans, the unemployed, gays and lesbians, immigrants, minority voters, women, military dependents, and public education.The recent farm bill — which gives public subsidies to agribusiness and denies food stamps to the hungry — is just the latest sortie in a determined decades-long assault on American values.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 22 weeks 6 days ago
Tumult in Egypt reminds me how complicated the world can be, especially for a culture like our own that is shaped by good guy vs. bad guy dramas.Who are the “good guys” in Cairo? Is the ousted president a good guy for being democratically elected or a bad guy for pursuing isolationist Islamic policies? Is the military saving Egypt or preserving privileges?It isn’t just the inherent complexity of any human situation. It’s the complexity of societies that have rules and histories quite unlike our own.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 24 weeks 18 hours ago
For our three-night sojourn in coastal Maine, far from crowds and constructive work, we stayed at a lovely bed-and-breakfast here called the Hodgdon Island Inn.Once a sea captain’s home, it overlooks a small drawbridge to Barter’s Island. Farther along a seacoast marked by islands and coves lies the seasonally popular town of Boothbay Harbor.I love the world of B&Bs. Each room is furnished in eclectic style, not hotel same-old. As an early riser, I like sitting by myself in a real living room with a coffee machine and wi-fi.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 25 weeks 20 hours ago
As I officiate at a family wedding in this charming coastal city, it seems to me the institution of marriage is alive and well — and in serious trouble.The trouble isn’t out-in-the-open homosexuality, birth control, abortion, assertive women, or any of the right-wing alarms.The trouble is poverty. The less affluent you are, the more likely you are to have a child without the benefit of a partner, at an age too young for effective parenting, and in chaotic living arrangements.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 25 weeks 6 days ago
After denials and evasions, we learned that two successive administrations lied to the American public about unprecedented spying on ordinary citizens.The latest phase of this longtime spying effort began shortly after 9/11 and accelerated steadily, as the government used existing laws and newly passed laws to demand access to supposedly private information, such as cell phone call logs and email data.It might have begun as an effort to track foreign terrorists as they interacted with allies in the U.S. and visited the U.S. But it spun out of control as the National Security Agency decided it needed to spy on all citizens.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 27 weeks 6 days ago
The go-to number in American religion is “ASA” — average Sunday attendance. Or as an irreverent colleague put it, “Fannies in the pews.”It’s a meaningless metric, but it’s easy. Open the doors on Sunday, wait for the stragglers, then dispatch ushers to count the house.Entire methodologies for church development have been built around this number, as if fanny count dictated how a church should behave. Problem is, ASA isn’t a useful measure of quantity, and it says nothing about quality.A much better quantitative measure would get at “touches,” that is, how many lives are being touched by contact with the faith community in its various Sunday, weekday, off-site and online ministries — and then, for a qualitative measure, asking how those lives are being transformed.Those are difficult metrics to track, of course, and that’s why many congregations stick to ASA and shun the harder work of measuring outcomes and impact.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 29 weeks 19 hours ago
On the day after the Indianapolis 500-mile race, I wonder why the self-proclaimed “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” matters so much to me.It isn’t a nostalgia trip to my growing-up days in Indianapolis. Indiana high school basketball mattered far more to me at the time, but I can barely raise a flicker of interest in it now.It isn’t deep association with the sport. I recognize only a few of the drivers’ names and know less and less about the technology on display — 33 open-wheeled race cars driving 500 miles at speeds exceeding 220 mph. I care nothing at all about attempts to turn one race into a national franchise.Nor am I tracing a link to my hometown roots. For me, Indianapolis is about family, not racing.No, I think it’s the race itself. The 500 is pure experience, unapologetic, radically open to anyone who can try, and yet limited to a small circle of men and women who can do it well.
Posted by Tom Ehrich 30 weeks 17 hours ago
Religious historians say that every 500 years, Christianity goes through a “massive transition,” as noted religion writer Phyllis Tickle puts it.Around 500 A.D., “barbarians” sought to subjugate Rome by wiping out its underlying religion. Christianity went underground. In abbeys like Iona, monks painstakingly copied Scripture and civilization’s great writings, in effect saving Western civilization itself.Around 1000 A.D. came the “Great Schism,” when the Western church based in Rome and the Eastern church based in Constantinople fought over creeds and doctrine, political power and cultural hegemony. That split endures to this day between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.Around 1500 A.D. came the Protestant Reformation, when nationalism born of exploration in the New World and new commercial wealth demanded an end to Rome’s domination of European life. That split, too, endures.Now comes a new millennium, and Christianity wears so many different faces that it’s difficult to speak of a single “Christian movement.”
Posted by Tom Ehrich 32 weeks 18 hours 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 33 weeks 22 hours 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 34 weeks 19 hours 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 35 weeks 19 hours 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 36 weeks 17 hours 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 38 weeks 19 hours 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 38 weeks 6 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 40 weeks 20 hours 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 40 weeks 5 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 42 weeks 1 hour 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 43 weeks 16 hours 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 45 weeks 17 hours 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 46 weeks 17 hours 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 46 weeks 6 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 47 weeks 6 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 49 weeks 16 hours 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 1 year 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 1 year 1 week 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 1 year 2 weeks 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 1 year 3 weeks 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 1 year 4 weeks 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 1 year 6 weeks 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 1 year 8 weeks 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 1 year 9 weeks 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.