Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Tom's posts appear via RNS.
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We Can Do Better
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.
The New Anglicanism
"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.
After the Storms Have Passed
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.
Customer Service 101
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.
Facebook: The New Public Square
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.