tom ehrich

5 Ways Churches Can Help Stop the Ebola Hysteria

President Obama talks on the phone with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. Official White House photo via Pete Souza/RNS.

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.”

What Congress Can Learn from a Town Dump

Image: Taking out the trash. Photo courtesy of Rissy Story via Shutterstock

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.

COMMENTARY: Rallying the Troops with Self-Righteous Fury

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

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.

What Shopping Malls Can Learn from Churches

Color photocrome postcard of the Hillsdale Shopping Center, mid-1950s. Photo courtesy Igor Stchogol via Wikimedia/ via RNS

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.

Winning and Whining Are Insufferable

A group of Jews are taken prisoner during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. Religion News Service File Photo.

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.”

Sunday Mornings Are Broken

The word Sunday in cut out magazine letters on a cork board. Photo courtesy Thinglass via Shutterstock

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.

Who Elected These Clowns?

Photo via Shutterstock, by Sergey Sukhorukov

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.

COMMENTARY: The Real Threat to Marriage

Photo courtesy RNS/

“For better or worse” sign illustration. Photo courtesy RNS/

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.

Emerging From the Wilderness

andreiuc88 /

Man in a forest reflecting. andreiuc88 /

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.