Skip to main content

Based on what I’m reading online, I would bet that Brian Williams will not survive the kerfuffle over his helicopter ride in Iraq. And, personally, I think that will be a shame.

Yes, what he did was terrible. And I’ll absolutely admit that it looks like a flat-out lie.

But please keep something in mind: All the other major networks —CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS— they all totally have something to gain by keeping this “controversy” alive. They absolutely have a financial stake in seeing Williams fall from grace. And if you think they’re keeping this story alive out of their own sense of journalist ethics, you are among the most naive of the naive.

Here’s what I think. He lied. He stretched the story over time. But, there are now conflicting eyewitnesses as to what actually happened…and at least one eyewitness (the pilot) who says their plane was shot at.

One thing is clear: Brian Williams was not home eating Bon Bons when this happened. Whether or not he was shot at, he was in the midst of a war zone. And the lie he told, while deeply disturbing for any journalist, is a lie of self-aggrandizement which has not permanently hurt anyone else, except for Brian Williams.
I mean, stand back and really analyze Williams’ supposedly wretched and unpardonable breach of journalistic ethics.

Is William alleged to have lied about a source?
Is Williams alleged to have mis-quoted a source?
Is William alleged to have spun the facts to allow NBC a competitive advantage over its rivals?
Is Williams alleged to have lied about the facts in the course of his work such that it endangered the public or anyone else?

The point is, there is no major "there" there. Yes, it's a bad thing. Yes, he shouldn't have done it. Yes, I get that folks are outraged. But this is a lie that only hurts himself. You don’t have to believe that his journalistic credibility is now forever shot. But you can.

So, no, I don’t personally think he should lose his job over this. But based on what I’m reading, it sounds like many people do.

And when he does, then chalk up another victory for The Moral Outrage Machine©. Whether we know it or not, we are all being led, groomed, and fed, every day, by what I’m calling The Moral Outrage Machine©. Time and time again, we build up our public figures, only to knock them down.

The “MOM” (somebody else can do the Freudian work here…) is no single source, and it’s every source. It’s a lethal combination of the mass media, cable news, social media, and water cooler conversation. It's all of us and none of us. It’s a machine bent on creating two things:
-- Moral Outrage
-- A “Scapegoat” to assuage said Moral Outrage.

Once the Moral Outrage Machine is fully engaged, only the strongest-willed human beings can ever stand against it, and not give in to the need for a scapegoat.

Karen Armstrong begins and ends her new book “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence,” reminding us of the ancient religious practice of the "scapegoat." The scapegoat was a ritual animal that was either sacrificed, or driven from the community, bearing the sins of the entire community.
"The Scapegoat," by William Holman Hunt

In utilizing the scapegoat ritual, the community’s “sins” were said to have been forgiven. However, it also had the often unfortunate side effect of allowing people to ignore, or rationalize away, their own personal and communal culpability for those same sins. The scapegoat takes all  sin away. So, we don’t need to worry about that. (In some very popular Christian theologies, Jesus plays this same role, btw…)

Armstrong suggests we have never lost our ability, and our desire, to scapegoat others. Or, as I liked to call it: To create The Other (with a capital letter...) Her book suggests that religion itself is becoming a scapegoat of modern culture; an argument I personally find deeply persuasive.

But in modern times, we not only see scapegoating in our religious traditions. Our Popular Culture knows how to do it exceedingly well, utilizing the aforementioned Moral Outrage Machine (™).

This brings me to Chris Kyle. Yep. That’s right. I believe this current controversy with Brian Williams has everything to do —in a macro-sense, in a meta-cultural sense— with Chris Kyle and his story. And it’s all tied up with The Moral Outrage Machine and our need for a scapegoat.

A few week's back, when Kyle bi-op opened, there was a raging debate about whether or not Chris Kyle was a hero. Two opposing questions were asked over and over:

"Can a sniper BE a hero?"
"How can we NOT support a movie about a decorated veteran?"

What both questions failed to note were the actual facts: That Chris Kyle is a documented, and now legally adjudicated, liar.

To wit:

He lied about his encounter with Jesse Ventura (a lie so blatant that Ventura, a public figure, won a slander case against him...)

He lied about killing two people in a small Texas town.

He lied about shooting dead 30 looters in NOLA after Katrina...

And he lied about seeing WMD in Iraq.

At least four documented lies in this hero’s book.

Is Chris Kyle a war hero?

Yes. Absolutely he is.

But he's also a liar. The two are not mutually exclusive categories of human behavior.

And his lies are clearly far more numerous, and much more self-aggrandizing, than Brian Williams'.

But, were scores and scores of folks firing up their phony Moral Outrage Machines, and calling for the boycott the movie because of his lying?

Not much, that I saw. I saw folks debating whether or not a sniper can be a war hero, and whether nor not we should support that. But that’s another question. I heard almost nothing on whether or not we should support the story of a liar. (For the record: I still plan to see the movie myself...)

So, since our Moral Outrage Machines were already fully engaged, society went looking for another target...

Oh! Look! There's Brian Williams!
Let’s GET ‘em!!

And a few days from now, when the Moral Outrage Machine feel sufficiently justified once again, when the scapegoat has again been driven from the community, life will return to normal.

Until the next time.

Because when your theology —spiritual or secular— demands a scapegoat, then there’s always going to be a next time.

Originally posted here.


Ferguson is a mess. If journalists can be arrested for no reason whatsoever, (hauled out of a McDonald's, with their press credentials clearly visible) just imagine how average citizens of Ferguson are being treated.

Mistrust is at the heart of all that is happening there. Police are unwilling to answer even the most basic questions about the Michael Brown case. Only three of Ferguson's 50-plus police officers are African-American. Seventy-percent of the population is African-American. You do the math.

Yes, the police do have a higher burden on act responsibly, to de-escalate tensions whenever they can. Why can't the police understand that their failure to release the officer's name makes every officer, in riot gear, look like an accomplice? Why can't the police understand that the very presence of these SWAT teams are escalating the problem? There's no reason for a SWAT team member to aim rifles into a peaceful crowd, or to point it at the chest of a journalist. (Both happened yesterday...)

Yesterday was a day of peaceful protests in Ferguson. It was a de-escalation on the part of the citizens there. The police could have responded in kind, by de-escalating the scope of their SWAT-like response. They did not do this.

So, yes, there's a racial component to what's happening in Ferguson. But everything happening there is greatly exacerbated by the militarization of local police. First, the federal government gave grants to fight the "War on Drugs." Then, they gave grants to fight the "War on Terror." Police forces in peaceful suburbs now routinely train and use SWAT-style weapons for the hordes of Islamic terrorists descending upon them (turn your sarcasm detectors on).

I point you toward this excellent summary from Newsweek. Here's the golden nugget in this story, which makes the point I am trying to make here:

"Given the proliferation of military weapons and military training among America’s police departments, the use of military force and military tactics is not surprising. When your only tool is a hammer, after all, every problem looks like a nail."
I point to these two additional resources. First, this report from the progressive ACLU. Then, a similar report from the conservative Cato Institute.

The militarization of local police in America brings fear to everyone. It's a big part of what's driving the fear of African-Americans on the streets of Ferguson. However, it's also a big part of what drives the fear of White people espousing "Open Carry" here in Texas. Militarized police raise fear and anxiety in a cross-racial way.

The hostility and anger on all sides is palpable. Here's an excellent essay from Salon, on the entire situation, that focuses on Black Anger:

"Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us.  They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it."
Ferguson is not Baghdad. It's not even Cairo. Our citizens have rights. Our police have responsibilities. The police have made many tactical mistakes in these past few days.

And, most importantly, our citizens are not nails to be pounded by a SWAT-team hammer.

Continue Reading

To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.”
— Charlie Chaplin

That quote has been a favorite of mine for many years. It’s never felt more achingly true than tonight, as I sit here processing the death of Robin Williams. How painful and beautiful to read the spontaneous outpourings all over the internet tonight…fans, and friends, and thousands of ordinary people, expressing their admiration for his talent, their shock and sadness at his passing.

I’m also reminded of words James Taylor sang twenty-years-ago, about the death of his friend, John Belushi.

“John's gone found dead he dies high he's brown bread
Later said to have drowned in his bed
After the laughter the wave of the dread
It hits us like a ton of lead”

Comedy and tragedy always exist as two sides of a coin. We laugh because we know how to cry; and vice versa. Great comedians, as Chaplin and Williams knew, take out their pain and play with it for a while. They turn it into something beautiful that often helps save the rest of us from our despair.

I’ve often said that comedians uncover the injustice and basic unfairness of life in ways quite similar to the great Biblical prophets. Both comedians and prophets are usually outsiders. Both speak truth to power. Both often give human beings hope. But, because they delve the pain of our world, they often take a lot of it in too. And the pain of their own lives is often what gives them such a keen compassion (a word that literally means, “to suffer with”) for the world’s pain.

But after the laughter, the waves of dread.

The reports tonight are that Williams’ death is being investigated as a suicide. His spokesperson described him as “battling severed depression of late.” If all this is true, it makes his death all the more tragic.

And, it turns my thoughts to one of my favorite of his films, “What Dreams May Come.”

When I learned of his death, in the midst of my own tears, it was this film that came to me.

The film is the story of a man who dies prematurely in a car crash. From his place in heaven, he witnesses his wife lose her hope and commit suicide. The film is a sort of modern Dante’s Inferno, with Williams’ character fighting his way from “heaven” into “hell” in an attempt to save his wife.

But so deep into the depths of her depression is she that she doesn’t recognize him. All seems hopeless. Only after much effort, and when all seems lost, does she finally recognize him and is saved from her darkness.

Here's the climactic scene. In both the book at the film, the monologue is roughly the same. What finally seems to get through is when Williams' character reminds her of the simple goodness of life, apologizing to her one final time.

My own tears over Williams’ death date back to this film. Because, in a sense, Dennise and I had lived it.

The few years following our wedding turned out to be challenging ones. Dennise found herself in the midst of a serious depression. I won't go into any details here. But she was in a place where I felt like I couldn’t reach her. I didn’t know what to do. I tried jokes. I tried logic. I tried affection. Eventually, I realized it didn’t matter what I tried. This was depression.

Thankfully, she realized it too. And she worked hard. Through medication, diet, counseling, and time, she got to a much much better place. Years later, I would struggle through my own period of depression, and would also be grateful for the gifts of medication and counseling. Things improved for us both. We got to a much better place.

So, flash forward to the film’s release. On our way home from seeing, “What Dreams May Come,” I burst into tears in the car.

It was a hidden wellspring of tears from that earlier, lonely and painful, time that I hadn’t even known were still in there. A reminder of how I’d been trying to reach her in those days, and how many days I had failed. How she was trying to reach out too, and hadn't known what to do either.

I cried. Dennise cried. And in those tears, we both found ourselves grateful that our own dark time was blessedly behind us.

Which is why I got emotional today. If only Williams’ own character could have come to him today.

Of course, that’s a ridiculous fantasy. Depression, addiction, and whatever else he might have might have struggled with, don’t just vanish like some great, climactic movie scene.

Sometimes, blessedly, they go away forever through lots of work. Other times, they ebb and flow as long as life lasts. Sometimes, no matter what we do, the waves of dread, keep hitting us like a tons of lead.

I suppose where I’m really going with this tonight is to say: If you feel depressed, hopeless, and don’t know where to turn, please reach out to someone. Lot’s of other people have been there too. We understand your path even if we can’t walk your exact steps.

Please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255. Or, click here to go to their website. If you’re a part of our Northaven Friends and Family, don’t hesitate to call us at the church too.

Depression is a medical condition and sometimes a medical treatment is what is needed. If you suffered from diabetes, you might need to take insulin. If you suffer from depression, you might need to take antidepressants, or go through long term therapy. To this day, therapy is a regular part of my life.

Far from showing “weakness,” getting help shows powerful strength.

We share that story of our own depression in the hopes of demystifying it for others, especially in the light of a death like Robin Williams. To see someone that talented take their life can make things feel especially dark for others who are struggling. But I have found that it can really help others to understand just how many other folks they know struggle with depression.

For example, recently a friend told me she’d been at a James Taylor concert. As you may recall, James checked himself in to a psychiatric hospital as young man. The hospital is named “McLean” and to this day in that hospital is a place called “the wall,” where famous clients of the past are listed as a way of inspiring the current residents.

My friend approached JT during intermission, as he walking the rope line signing autographs. She yelled out, “My daughter was at McLean.”

That got James’ attention. He came over to my friend, and asked about her daughter. My friend thanked James Taylor for being open with his own challenges.

My friend described it this way, “I told him that it meant a lot to (my daughter) that his name is on The Wall ...I told him it made a difference, and I thanked him. He told me to tell her hi and that he hopes she does well and that he will be thinking of her.

…by his eyes I could tell that he was jarred to another reality when I said McLean, and he needed to know that he has done real good by being public and putting his name on that wall...Probably no one else could have told him that last night….

I really didn't give a shit that it was "James Taylor." This is some guy who was in and out of McLean, and had the courage to be public and put his name on that wall and he… got my daughter through a rough time when she thought her life and career were over.”

Friends, be careful out there. Let’s look out for each other. Let’s love each other. And share your stories with others, as you find the courage to do so. Because it can help somebody else.

Know that many others --sometimes people you assume have it all "together"-- have once, or are now, struggling with depression and addiction too.

And if you’re struggling with pain and depression in your life, if after the laughter there are only waves of dread, find a way to reach out.

Your life is worth it.

Continue Reading

Sat Aug 02, 2014 at 12:46 PM PDT

Failure to Move

by ericfolkerth

Thursday, I was arrested at the White House, along with 100 other faith leaders, calling on the President and Congress to act swiftly and justly on the issue of immigration.

Several friends have asked what specific violation we were charged with. I won't quote the technical language of the statute, but it boils down to standing in front of the White House, holding a sign, and not moving when asked.

Here's a quick clip of our actual arrest That's the Rev. Jeff Hood, followed by my dear colleague, Dr. Owen Ross, and finally, me.

In a nutshell, we were arrested for "failure to move."

How ironic this was the charge, given the continuing INaction of our government itself.

Can we not all agree that our government is guilty of "failure to move?"

Pick a social issue, and what you find is gridlock.

Tea Party conservatives control the House of Representatives, even thwarting the will of a majority of Republicans. They pass empty bill after empty bill that have no chance of surviving the Senate, or of not being vetoed by the President. This Congress has passed fewer actual laws than any other Congress in modern history.

How many times have they voted to repeal the ACA ("Obamacare")? And, yesterday, they voted to repeal the President's expansion of DACA; President Obama's action that helps 500,000 of the "Dreamers."

What's even more crazy about the timing of that vote is that we were arrested, in part, for asking the President to expand DACA!!

They wasted the two days we were in Washington wrangling over bills everyone knew were DOA in the Senate and the White House. So, once again, they've chosen to orchestrate a symbolic act, rather than actually do something.

Further, they want to sue the President for doing something, anything, to get the government off-center and actually govern the nation.

This is the way our national government works now...
And we're the ones arrested for "failure to move?!"

(All credit to my friend, Jason Redick, for posting this original thought earlier today...EF)


Wed Apr 30, 2014 at 09:39 AM PDT

May God Have Mercy On Us All

by ericfolkerth

Wherever you come down on the issue of capital punishment, it’s impossible to deny that what happened last night in Oklahoma was horrific.

Last night also reminds us of a broader horrific truth that so many of us deny or simply ignore: Capital Punishment is murder at the hands of the State.

Capital punishment is typically done in sanitized, tightly controlled, environments. “We The People,” carry it out thusly so that we can feel better about what we’re doing.

Yes, we’re killing a human being, in the name of all of us, but we’re doing it kindly and gently. You know, like we might put down an old dog.(1)

Last night ripped the pretense off this view. Murder is intentionally taking the life of another human being. Capital punishment is murder at the hands of the State, however “nicely” it happens.

If this offends you, I will remind you that the prosecutors in every capital murder case in every state in the nation act in the name of the “The People.”

When they call witnesses during trial, they say “The People call….”

In other words: those prosecutors are speaking for YOU. When they convict a human being and sentence that human being to die, they are speaking on behalf of YOU. And me. And all of us.

There are few situations quite as morally clear as this one. All of us, as citizens of our respective states, commit murder together every time capital punishment takes place.

May God have mercy on us all.

The problem with most analysis of capital punishment is that it focuses only on the “defendant.” The defense of capital punishment says (whether it’s true or not) “Well, it’s a deterrent to crime.”

What this fails to account for is that is that capital punishment never takes pace in a vacuum of a sanitized jail cell alone.

In addition to the death of a human being, capital punishment creates another set of grieving parents, siblings, children. It exponentially increases the numbers of those mourning the loss of a loved one. Those whose grief can turn to future anger...future violent actions.

Two sets of grieving, angry families: those killed by the perpetrators, and those later killed by the state.

Martin Luther King Jr. was right: “Hate cannot drive out hate.” An act of hate, even if justified, sanitized, or done in the name of the rule of law, cannot eliminate hate in the world. Even if we call it “justice.”

Many people claim that capital punishment is sanctioned by the Bible. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a a single time Jesus said, “Be sure and kill a person for their crimes.”

Some say that Jesus sanctioned it when he suggested that “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

Two problems with using that passage to “proof text” capital punishment…

a) Jesus is clearly talking to individuals. He’s suggesting that they —morally, not literally— might consider doing this to themselves. He’s not sanctioning what the State might want to collectively do on behalf of all us.

b) Jesus was not being literal. You get that, right? He didn’t literally want folks to pluck their eyes out. If he had, by the time he was hanging on the cross, nobody looking up at him would have been able to see him. They’d all be standing below with empty, bloody eye sockets, unable to “survey the wondrous cross.”

What an irony that would have been…

But even more powerful than this is the story of how Jesus prevented a woman from being stoned to death. He comes upon a group of angry men, each clutching stones, ready to throw.

Jesus effectively, says, “Ok. Whoever has never sinned before, they get to throw the first stone.”

One by one, the stones thud on the ground.

Except, in our time, they don’t. And they’re not stones.

In our time, we pick up prescription drugs, not stones. Every now and then, like last night, something goes horribly wrong, and it again looks more like a bloody stoning than somebody going gently to sleep.

But make no mistake, every time we execute someone in the name of “The People," that person does not just drift off to sleep.

They die. Because we sanction it.

In my mind, I always imagine that as Jesus comes up on that group of men —white knuckle-gripping their stones, surrounding that trembling woman— they are standing in a circle.

I always imagine that when he tells them “Those who are without sin cast the first stone,” he’s not only saving her life, he’s saving their’s too.

Because unless they have really really good aim, they're gonna hit each other as much as they hit her.

I think Jesus knew both these things. He knew he was saving a bunch of stupid, angry men from killing themselves in collateral damage.
But he also knew he was saving their souls too, by asking them to look inside and see just how wrong it was to take her life.

Last night reminded us horrifically how every time “We The People,” pick up the stone of lethal injection, we die too. Some mornings, like today, we wake up and feel the collateral damage in the depths of our souls.

May God have mercy on us all.

(1) The CNN story (link above) calls it a "botched" execution.
No it wasn't. The man died. He was executed. The process was botched, not the result.

Reblogged from WheEFTalks.


Black Friday has never been the same since 2008. That year, it turned from something mildly annoying to something approaching evil. I know, I know. You're already calling me a Debbie Downer. I know, I know, I'm probably too late to stop you from shopping the Big Boxes today.

But if I could, I would.

Yes, I'm a junkie for consumer electronics. Yes, I love to buy as much as the next guy. Yes, I know and understand that retail sales will help drive economic recovery. Blah, blah, blah...

But there is something about Black Friday that reveals the dark underbelly of our consumerist economy. There is something about the pushing, shoving crowds, eager to save a few bucks, that causes the skin to grow cold. There is something about the gleeful TV reporters, interviewing the early shoppers like they are some kind of modern-day heroes, that makes me sick.

You see, I can't help but remember the Martyr of Black Friday. Do you remember him? He was a Haitian immigrant named Jdimitai Damour. who worked at a Wal-Mart in New York State. And on Black Friday, 2008, he was trampled to death by hoards of shoppers who apparently did not see, or did not care, that a man's life was at stake.

What makes his death even more surreal is that he was apparently not a small man. He was a big guy. But there is something about the push of a hoard that can overwhelm anyone.

This story has captured me so much that I wrote a song about it last year.
You can hear it here

The best recounting of his death I ever read was from the LA Times, and reporter Erika Hayasaki. A good portion of that story is below, with a little editing for space....

    by Erika Hayasaki

    "He took his last breath on a gray floor, between a row of soda machines and a device that disperses change for cans and plastics.

    Trampled by a mob of bargain-hungry Black Friday shoppers, Jdimytai Damour, 34, died by asphyxiation, leaving people across the world asking: Why, and how?

    Audio-enhanced chatter captured on a cellphone video posted on YouTube, along with interviews with witnesses, offers a hint. The video shows a police officer crouching by a 6-foot-5, 270-pound man lying at the entrance of a Long Island Wal-Mart. A paramedic pumps the man's chest so forcefully his limp legs and feet joggle. Shoppers peer in from behind glass doors, as others stand a few feet away, hands in pockets.

    "They need to shock him," a voice says. The paramedic stops pumping.

    The man's shirt has been pulled to his neck, revealing his large belly. A woman in the crowd mutters "pregnant." Another cracks a joke.

    The women begin to laugh.

    The trouble began well before the sun rose.

    Just after 1 a.m., Jennifer Jones, 25, and niece Alicia Sgro, 14, parked themselves behind the 200 or so early shoppers, in front of the Valley Stream store, 20 miles east of Manhattan. Jones wanted the 32-inch plasma flat-screen TV on sale for $388. Sgro hoped to pick up DVDs, like "Cloverfield," on sale for $2 to $9.

    Dressed in heavy coats and a blanket, they brought Pop-Tarts, muffins and Chex Mix for the wait. The couple in front of them wanted the $25 microwave. The guy behind wanted the $5 blender.

    By the time Nakea Augustine showed up at 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 25, the line had grown to 1,000, snaking down to a National Wholesale Liquidators store, stopping near a fire hydrant....

    By 3:30 a.m., the crowd had grown to 2,000, and Jones and her niece decided to fold their chairs, standing to mark their territory. In the 30-degree darkness, their bodies felt hot-glued to everyone else. The line began to heave and sway, like a tugboat dragging its vessels through a heavy current...

    Shortly before 5 a.m. an announcement went over store intercom: "Doors are about to open in the next five minutes." As opening got closer, people started counting down: "Five, four, three, two, one!"

    Augustine saw a worker inside begin to open the door, slowly. Suddenly, everyone started pushing from all directions. They knocked the door off its hinges. A worker tried to use it as a shield, but the glass shattered.

    The crowd ran right into the soda machines. Pop Pop and others darted to the side where Damour had been, and held the machines in place as the crowd surged forward.

    He didn't see Damour anymore...

    Augustine tried to keep her balance as she was pushed forward. She saw people fall and knew she had to keep moving or she'd fall too. One woman had cuts from the glass across her face. Augustine saw Damour sprawled out. She managed not to step on him.

    Durell George, 26, who works in Internet sales, heard people screaming and tried to jump out of their way. A woman in brown pants and a long coat fell but others pulled her to the customer service section. George went to see if she was OK.

    Augustine kept going, down the jam-packed aisles, still moving with the crowd, still heading to the deals. People guarded the televisions so no one else could grab them. Augustine raced for the toy section and snatched up a bike, a dollhouse, 10 Hannah Montana dolls for $5 apiece.

    Two hours later, Augustine checked out, just as the store announced it was closing. She got in line, and spent $495 on 36 items. She did not know what became of the man who had fallen to the ground.

    Pop Pop had continued to staff the door, but word eventually spread through the employees that Damour was dead. Paramedics took his body away and police declared the area a crime scene. Pop Pop joined other workers in a prayer.

    Later, Pop Pop thought of his daughter. She works at the same Wal-Mart, but was off on Black Friday. It could have been her, he thought, or him...

    Nearly a week after Damour's death, candles burned next to photos of him, atop an altar near the spot where he died. People left comments in a condolence book:

    "So sorry that people did this to a young and honest hardworking gentleman."

    "You damn animals, there was no reason to rush in like a herd of cattle and kill an innocent young man."

    "Jdimytai is an angel and he's not doing maintenance anymore."

    On Monday, a coroner ruled Damour died from suffocation. On Wednesday, his family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

    By Thursday evening, life at the store had mostly returned to normal. Bored-looking greeters stood hunched at the front doors. Workers rounded up stray grocery carts. Employees clocked out. Overnight staff clocked in.

    Pop Pop came outside for a cigarette break, standing steps from where it all happened.

    "To me, that boy got killed over $100, for a TV," he said. "When you see somebody on the ground, you just don't step on them and keep going. . . . That's somebody's life."

    Damour's altar stood mostly ignored for nearly two hours that night. Customers rushed by without stopping, or even looking. They were too busy getting to the deals."

Let's be clear: no bargain, no sale, no "one-day-only" deal is worth a human life. Not then. Not now. Not ever. In fact, it's an event like this that truly shows the final horror of Black Friday, and what it means for us.

My friend and colleague, Rev. David Weber, well described it last year in a short post on Facebook. He said:

"Americans stopped for awhile yesterday to give thanks for what they have, then rose this morning, early, and left the house, praying 'But it's not enough.' "

Frederick Buechner once said that if you really want to know what you value in this world, watch where your feet take you. As each year passes, I see the wisdom in this. The feet are a great barometer for,  and window to, the soul. The places we end up spending our time, the people we spend it with, the things we do, they show us, more than our words who we are and what we value.

Yes, we SAY we value giving thanks. Yes, we SAY that we are grateful for the simple things --shelter, clothing, food, friends, family. Yes, we SAY that the "best things in life are free."

But is that how we live? On Black Friday, as we watch the local news reports of the pushing, shoving crowds at our local stores, is there any evidence that we really believe this?

No. Our feet tell us otherwise. They tell us we are still far too afraid and far too empty of all that really matters. We fill ourselves up with the latest gadgets. We convince ourselves that money is so tight that the few bucks we save today will somehow make some lasting difference in our family's lives. (Hint: it won't)

Jim Wallis pointed all this out in a great blog several years ago. He writes:


The relentless pressure of advertising tells us that “there is never enough,” and that you should “worry” constantly about what you eat and drink, what you wear, whether your future is secure, and more. But Jesus says the exact opposite. They say, “Worry all the time!” But Christ says, “Don’t worry!”

    The pressure we feel doesn’t just come from the ads we get in our inboxes or see on television. All of us have family and friends who are going to be doing a lot of shopping. If a friend goes out and spends money on us, we feel guilty if we don’t reciprocate at roughly the same level. What’s worse is if someone gets us a gift and we don’t get them anything at all. The problem is not giving gifts.  Giving gifts becomes a problem when the exchange of stuff replaces building relationships.

Wallis notes the final insanity: All of this happens allegedly in the service of "holy days." The idea that the Christian holiday of Christmas --celebrating the birth of a poor peasant child into the world-- is appropriately marked by an orgy of consumer spending is INSANE. It's sick. It's a twisting and bastardizing everything that holiday used to mean. (And still does...)

Christmas is about:


No amount of mall shopping can buy any of these things.

That is why so many people are increasingly opting out of consumerist giving at Christmastime. At Northaven
, for example, we'll begin our "Alternative Gift Market" next week.

It's a very simple idea: members pick out one of a dozen agencies in Dallas and beyond that works with the poor, the homeless, lgbt rights, women, children, etc...

Then, they give a donation that we forward on to those agencies (100 percent of it. We pay for any overhead internally...). The member then gets a card to give to their loved one that says:

"A gift has been given in your honor to (Christ's Foundry) or (Reconciling Ministries)" or about a dozen other agencies that are familiar to our members.

That way, people give gifts of real meaning; and gifts that actually help others! There's no pushing. There's no shoving. And, more than any other kind of external gift, the people who get these gifts can know and understand that they are cared and loved....because the whole process is simply a "paying forward" of the gifts we've been given.

The beauty is, you don't have to do this through our little "Alternative Gift Market." You can do it through hundreds of agencies and groups near and dear to your heart, or the hearts of those you love.

Wallis suggest what we most need in our society is to move from "greed is good" and to "enough is enough."

I think he's right. If Thanksgiving means anything, it should remind us of the thousands of blessings we take for granted each and every day. Our lives are dripping with blessings. If you have forgotten this, start with the big ones: food, clothing, shelter.

Do this today: Open up the crawl space, and take a look at the furnace in your house. I mean this literally. Use your feet to take you there (remember: they teach us what we value) go and LOOK at it.

Then, go check the outside temperature. And give thanks for the heater. Give thanks for every day it works.

Yes, it sounds silly. But sometimes we have to start there to really remember and realize the extent of the blessings all around us. And the more content we become with who we are, with what we have, with all of our gifts (large and small), the less we'll have the need for "MORE."

At the Jim Finley Retreat last year, he cited a prayer that is attributed to the Buddha (although apparently he probably didn't say it.) It's a prayer of Thanksgiving that breaks down thankfulness to its more basic component:

"Let us all be thankful for this day, for we have learned a great deal; if we have not learned a great deal, then at least we learned a little; if we did not learn a little, then at least we did not become sick; if we did become sick, then at least we did not die. So, let us all be thankful."
All gratitude begins with gratitude for the gift of being alive right now, and for the gift of things like food, clothing, shelter, friends.

And! The more we give thanks for the "big" blessings, the more we'll be able to see and recognize all the small ones in our lives too.

Every great religious tradition speaks of this kind of "mindfulness" or "paying attention." Jesus did it when he called us to "consider the lilies of the field," and the "birds of the air." The more we meditate on simple things like this, the less we'll worry about tomorrow.

And the more content we will become with who we are. The more that "hope, peace, love and joy" and spread into our hearts, and keep us from mistaking the love of family or friends with the love of a new XBox 360.

Honor the holidays.
Honor your loved ones.
Honor Jdimitai Damour.
Make difference choices this holiday season.
You can celebrate the real reason for the season.

And nobody has to die.


A song for Jdimytai Damour, the Haitian immigrant, killed by a hoard of Black Friday shoppers at a New York Walmart in 2008.

I am gratified to see all the protests against Walmart, nationwide today. I know that workers and their supporters are not only supporting themselves, but also remembering and honoring his life.

The Martyr Of Black Friday by Eric Folkerth

Here's a blog I wrote about Black Friday and the death of Jdimytai.


The following video clip is from a sermon titled, "One Thing Worse Than This," by Rev. William Holmes, and delivered at Northaven Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas on the Sunday following the assassination of President Kennedy.

This clip was broadcast midweek on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Anger from Dallas locals forced Rev. Holmes into hiding for a week, at the suggestion of the Dallas Police.

The sermon takes the City of Dallas to task for the political extremism that pervaded Dallas at the time and, in Holmes' word, had allowed "the spirit of assassination" infect Dallas.

You can learn more about the sermon, its aftermath, and its ongoing legacy, in a diary/reflection written by me (I am the current pastor of that church).

Find that diary here..


This diary was a sermon at Northaven UMC in Dallas, Texas. Sunday, November 17, 2013.
It commemorated the 50th Anniversary of a famous sermon preached just after the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas.
Audio Version of this Sermon: Here

Original Bill Holmes sermon text from 1963: Here

Today, we take a special look back at one of the events that most changed our world, our city, and our church: The assassination of John F Kennedy, fifty years ago.

Continue Reading

Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 07:02 AM PST

The End of the World As We Know It

by ericfolkerth

"It's the end of the world, as we know it…and I feel fine."
-- REM

"So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out.
If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it…
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
-- Jesus Christ (Matthew, Chapter 24)

There is anecdotal evidence on the inter-webs today that, in some places, long lines are forming outside gun shops. (This commentator predicts it here.)

Disturbing news, of course. But given the Sandy Hooks shooting on last Friday, and the end of the Mayan calendar on this one, it's not surprising.

There is an apocalyptic fear that always seems to flow, just below the surface of American life, and it rears its ugly head now and then. Americans, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, have always had a secret fetish for the "end times."

The distinctive American end-times-fear has a theological and a secular form. They are related, but they are also distinct.

The theological form sees Jesus riding in on the clouds at the end of the world.
(Although, apparently, this week people are willing to grant a "Mayan exception")

The secular form sees President Obama riding a fleet of UN helicopters into Anytown, USA, to tear guns from the hands of law abiding citizens.

Look. Can I offer a bit of perspective? Let me debunk both of this...

First off, the world's not gonna end on Friday. It's just not.

People have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of time, and they've always been terribly, terribly wrong. They will be on Friday too. Here's an impressive list of just how many times they've been wrong.

But more than this, as you can read from the above passage, Jesus was very clear that even he didn't know when it was going to be. He says that only "God the Father" could know such things.

Given this, there's a very simple, easy, and scripturally irrefutable test to see if any particular day will be the actual end of the world.

The test is this:

If somebody says any specific day is the end of the world, you are absolutely, positively 100 percent assured it will NOT be that day.

Why? Because Jesus said so.

("Jesus said it. I believe it. That settles it")

That is why, from a Christian perspective, I can say with great assurance: The world won't end Friday.

So people, please calm down out there. Please. Take a breath. Several.

But, what about the "secular form?" The idea that the government is about to swoop in and take away guns from every single human being on the planet?

Look, my sense is this: Sandy Hooks has changed things. The horror of Sandy Hooks has opened the eyes of many people, in ways that few events in recent history have.

As I wrote Saturday: "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results."

I have a sense that the American people are about to wake up from our insanity about guns.

So, in that sense, then, maybe it is the "end of the world as we know it."

And if it is? Then, dear God, I do feel fine!

I feel fine about a world of unregulated guns coming to an end.
I feel fine about the sale of assault weapons coming to an end.
(Hint: if a  weapon has the name "assault" in the title, it's not a defensive weapon)
I feel fine about the gun-show loopholes coming to an end.
I feel fine about high-capacity magazines coming to an end.

If that's the "end of the world" we're talking about? Bring it on!

I mean, when Joe Scaborough --former Republican Member of Congress, with a 100 percent NRA rating-- comes out with this commentary, you know the world is changing, and an old world is ending:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

BTW, the United Methodist Church has been calling for changes to the way we treat guns for a decade. You can read our fine statement here.

Ironically, one of the themes of Advent is Christ's coming into the world.

We remember Christ's coming once.
We celebrate Christ's coming at Christmas, into our hearts now.
And we look forward to some final coming, where things on earth will be quite different than they are now.

As we say this three-fold affirmation the communion liturgy every time we take that sacrament:

"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."

Yes. Exactly.

In this, we say, "Yes, the world is dark and dangerous. Yes, the world is cold and yes fear is rampant. But incarnate love is still possible. Things can be different than they are now"

Lord knows (and the Lord does) the world needs to change on guns.

When more preschoolers die from guns than members of law enforcement, the world needs to change.
(And, no, nobody in law enforcement ever needs to die. Just pointing out the horrible irony…)
When eleven of the world's 20-worst mass gun killings have happened in America in the past fifty years, the world needs to change.
When FIVE of those have been since 2007, the world needs to change.
When there have been thirty-one school shootings since "Columbine," the world needs to change.

We are insane about guns in our society, and we need to change.

OK. Let me turn my focus...

If you are a gun owner, I want to speak directly to you now.

If just reading the words in this blog strikes a fear into you heart, all I can tell you is this:
God calls us to faith, not firearms.
Our faith is in God, not guns.

Life in inherently risky. You cannot possibly own enough guns and ammunition to keep your family safe in all circumstances and at all times. That is the truth. Believing you can is a dangerous fiction. It's dangerous to you. It's dangerous to your family.

Few people I know want to ban all guns. But they do want to reduce gun deaths, and some kind of responsible regulation will probably be a part of that.

Obama will not take all guns. The government will not take all guns. That will never happen. Anybody who tells you it will is stirring up fear in your heart, driving you away from faith in God,  and rotting your view of your fellow human being.

Buying more guns cannot save you from your all of your fears. Even if you carry a gun 24-7, there are hundreds of times a day when somebody could shoot you or your loved ones. I know this to be theologically and spiritual true. But, apparently, it's also been factually proven.

I don't own a gun. But I love you, my gun-owning friends. And I love you enough to tell you that you are 4.5 times more likely to be shot than I am. (Read it here)

You see, I tell you this not because I hate you, but precisely because I love you. I don't want to see you die like the millions of other American gun owners who die every year by having their own guns turned on themselves, or in some horrible gun accident involving their loved ones.

Take the horror of Sandy Hooks, for example. Today, Michael Moore tweeted this bitterly sarcastic, but totally true, message:

"If only the first victim, Adam Lanza's mother, had been a gun owner, she could have stopped this before it started" 

Of course, she was a gun owner. She taught him to shoot. He used her
 guns to kill her, and twenty-six other human beings. It's literally true to say --however hard it is to hear-- that she taught him how to kill her.

Harsh? Yes.

But the truth is harsh, dear gun owner friends.

It's a harsh truth you need to hear precisely because I do care about you. 

I don't want to see that happen to you.

Don't fear anybody taking away all the guns. If you love guns, there will always be a legal way for you to have them, if you want them.

As I said the other day, one of the things we owe the Christmas Angels, those who died Friday, is to not just dream of, but make real, something new; to stop being insane about guns, and to do things a different way.

The world may end someday. But it won't end Friday.

And it won't end should there be more gun regulation either.

But, here in Advent, we may well be seeing the end of a part of our world: The part that tolerates unregulated guns, and unending death.

If so, I am ready for it.

(Eric is a minister, musician, blogger and author. Originally published here)


Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM PST

What We Owe the Christmas Angels

by ericfolkerth

We are still grieving. I am still grieving.

It was around noon yesterday when I saw the news alert for this shooting come across my phone. I burst into tears.

Twenty young children, the most innocent and helpless members of our society, cut down by what will most certainly be judged to be a mentally ill person.

Twenty families, many with presents under their Christmas trees, that will go unopened. Hundreds of schoolmates, thousands of family members, who will never ever be the same.

But, it's even broader than this. Every single parent in America sees this  and recoils. They hug their children (we did). Their thoughts immediately rush to their children's school, and they imagine the horror of such things in their towns too.

What happens to us is all is: FEAR.

Big, bold fear, with capital letters.

So, these are the thoughts of grief that first fly through my soul. They still rattling inside their today, and even as a write these words, I can feel the emotion welling up.

But, there is something else that wells up in me, just as deeply, and surprisingly strong: ANGER.

Because two thousand years ago, Christmas angels told the world, "FEAR NOT."

And yet, far too often, we are still a world ruled by our fears. Whether we own guns or don't own guns, we live in fear. Whether we've been involved in a shooting, or just watched them from afar, we live in fear.

But, especially at Christmas, we read the stories that each us that God does not want us to live in fear. God wants us to live in world of hope and peace.

So, because this call to "fear not" has been with us for long, and because these damn shootings keep happening, increasing our fear, what comes out in my is anger.

Righteous, God-inspired anger.

Anger at the continuing scourge of gun violence. Anger that, once again, another mass shooting has happened. Anger that, once again, I am told that "now is not the time to talk about guns."

Yes. Yes, it is. It is the perfect time. Like any other issue that confronts your life, the time to talk about it is when it happens. That's what any therapist will tell you. Don't push it down. Don't bury it. TALK about it.

There is an old expression, of debatable attribution, that goes:

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

So, this morning, I choose to name the insanity, and choose to talk about guns.

Specially, I want to talk to gun owners, and those who are strong defenders of the Second Amendment. Some of you who are gun owners are my friends and family. I love you all dearly. But the time has come to talk about these things.

YOU must be willing to talk about these.

YOU must be willing to search your heart, to open your eyes to the reality of gun violence in our nation.

Change will come from YOU gun owners.

Until then, we will all continue to be insane, and the innocent will continue to die.

To those of you who own guns, I want to speak to you as a minister, theologically and spiritually, and to tell you the most true thing I know on the subject:

Life is inherently risky. In every moment of life, we encounter innumerable risks to our security and safety. Even if you carry gun on your person, 24-7, every day you will encounter situations where you can still be shot, where your loves ones can be shot, and where there is absolutely nothing you and your gun can do to stop it.

Think about your average day. Consider the number of times you are in the mall, at school, watching a movie, in church€, and your guard is down. You deserve to be able to have moments, in public, where your guard is down.

This is the world God wants.

We cannot live with unregulated gun ownership, and without fear. Those two things are incompatible with each other.

Guns cannot keep you safe. Guns cannot keep your family safe. It is not possible to own enough guns, or stock enough ammunition, to keep your family safe in each and every moment of life. It's a dangerous fiction --perhaps the MOST dangerous-- to believe this.

The goal of ordinary life in America cannot be a fully-armed citizenry, ever vigilant for an attack.

Is that the America you believe will keep us safe? You are wrong. You will fail. That America will fail. Gun attacks, in that kind of America, will only continue and only worsen.

The answer, and our only hope, is in the opposite direction entirely. The answer, and our only hope, is to put our trust in God, not guns. The answer is to listen to the leading of true FAITH.

Not faith in firearms, but faith in God, and trust in each other.

Guns erode trust. Guns are to the violent and mentally ill mind, what crack cocaine is to the addict. The easy access to guns tempt the mentally ill.

These events happen over and over and over again, and we throw up our hands and say, "Well there's nothing we can do about it."

Yes there is. Many other nations on earth do not suffer the gun deaths we do in our nation. They do things differently, and they get a different result. They choose to not be insane about guns.

Or, maybe you acknowledge some problem, but you imagine it's not really that bad. After all, more people die in traffic accidents each year, they say, and we don't outlaw cars.

That is true.

But did you know that the number of gun death is just about pull even with the number of traffic deaths? The difference is less than ten percent, and if the trend-lines continue they will likely pull even with each other in the next few years.

We put regulations in place to make cars safer and make drivers more responsible. That has reduced, dramatically, the number of car deaths. Meanwhile, the number of gun deaths continue to rise. Unless we choose to do something differently, in two years or less, as many people will die from traffic accidents as from guns.

One of the best pieces I've read in the past day is from Ezra Klein of the Washington Post. When confronted with this same insanity over guns, he points out this:

"If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation's security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. "Too soon," howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn't "€œtoo soon."€ It'€™s much too late."

Yes. It is much too late. And our inability to deal with this issue is clinically insane.

On Facebook, I saw this following:

One guy tries a shoe bomb = Every flyer takes their shoes off.
Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine = no changes at all.


Some of you still don't believe the problem is as bad as it is. That's part of the problem. You don't SEE the problem.

So, here are some facts (Many from that same Ezra Klein story):

-- Of the 20 worst mass shootings in world history over the past fifty years, eleven have been in the United States alone.

-- Of those eleven US shootings, five have happened since 2007.

-- Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80 percent of those deaths are Americans. Of all the children killed by guns in those nations, 87 percent are American kids.

-- Since 2005, there is a multiple-victim shooting in America every 5.9 days.

-- Israel and Switzerland are wealthy, first-world nations, with a high-level of gun ownership. But! A very low incidents of mass shootings.

-- The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found substantial evidence that indicates "more guns means more murders." This holds true whether you're looking at different countries or different states.

-- The number of guns in this nation is almost at a "one-to-one" ratio

-- States with tighter gun control laws tend to have fewer gun homicides. New York City has some of the strictest gun laws on the nation, and violent crime has been dropping there for twenty years.
(citations here and here)


I don't want to repeal the Second Amendment. However, if gun owners and defenders continue to reflexively oppose any gun regulation, then maybe I will harden my position.

Maybe it's only when a large number of American citizens threaten all gun ownership that things will change. If so, so be it. I am ready even for that debate.

I believe what this says:


It is time for a national conversation about guns and gun safety. Yesterday, I signed the pledge at "We are Better Than This." I encourage you to do the same.

It is also time for a conversation about the mentally ill. This is perhaps just as crucial. We must be change the way we treat the mentally ill in our nation, how we care for them, how we stigmatize them. A part of our collective insanity is in failing to deal with the mentally ill themselves.


One story leaped out at me this morning. Among the twenty dead children yesterday is one who was scheduled to be in the Christmas pageant at the local Catholic Church.

She was scheduled to be a Christmas Angel.

That Christmas Angel deserved better. So did the twenty other angels of yesterday. They did not deserve to die, nor did God fore-ordain their deaths.

God understands that fear is a dominant emotion of our world. So it was that the original Christmas angels tell the shepherd "FEAR NOT."

Overcoming our fears, finding ways to live together in love with our fellow human beings, is what God calls us to. Our fears can never be overcome with firearms.

Yes, if we adopt sensible gun laws, innocent people will still die. We cannot reduce gun deaths to zero, just like we cannot reduce traffic deaths to zero either.

But we CAN reduce them. We absolutely can. We can make the world much safer, just as we have done with cars.

These things are not preordained and predestined by God. God gives us our intellect, our reason, our logic, to be able to solve challenging issues like this.

We owe that little girl, that Christmas Angel, and all her angel friends...

we owe those killed in the Aurora movie theater...

we owe those killed in the Sikh Temple...

...a world where they can go to a school, a movie, or be in prayer, and not die of gun violence.

Let's honor their memories and give them that world.

(As always, if you like this post, then "share it" or "like" it on
Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)  


Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 10:20 AM PST

Video and Song for Israel and Gaza

by ericfolkerth

News from Israel and Gaza has led me back to a song/video I wrote/produced several years ago.

Hope it's helpful to you today.

Ishmael and Isaac

Two young half brothers

sons of different mothers
playing with each other
in that hot desert sand.
But the sins on their fathers
are still the sins of their sons
in this land that's still just promise
and this war that's never won.

There has never been a war that's holy.
this has never been an empty land.
there has never been a side that's blameless
in the feud between the sons of Abraham.

Two young half brothers

sons of different mothers
playing with each other
in that hot desert sand.
But the sins on their fathers
are still the sins of their sons
in this land that's still just promise
and this war that's never won.

Turn back times pages and all you'll see
is the world's oldest sibling rivalry
And so we pray crazy prayers that
Peace could oneday kiss this land
And that children of today could live
as those two sons began...when they were...

Two young half brothers

sons of different mothers
playing with each other
in that hot desert sand.
But the sins on their fathers
are still the sins of their sons
in this land that's still just promise
and this war that's never won.

Yes, the land is still just promise.
And this war cannot be won.

words and music, Eric Folkerth © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Continue Reading
You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.


Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site