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January 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

FISHING FOR BASS

Greg Turk is the founder of “Homie Soaps” a company that employs young men who live in South Central LA and are trying to clear of gang life in their neighborhoods.  Greg told a story in a workshop he led at last summer’s General Assembly of the Christian Church. The workshop was called, “Transformative Leadership and Innovation”. The purpose was to encourage congregational leaders to think differently about living into a new future.

The story he told was about a friend who lives in a neighborhood surrounding a lovely old lake. Once when Greg was visiting, he asked his friend, “Hey, are there any Bass in this lake?” His friend responded quickly, “No, there aren’t any Bass in the lake. Used to be, but not anymore.”

On another occasion Greg was driving by the lake and had some extra time on his hands. Being an avid fisherman, he had his tackle in the trunk so he pulled off, got out his rod and a lure, and fired a cast into the middle of the lake. After just a few minutes, he got a bite. Sure enough. It was a Bass.

Greg texted a selfie of him holding the fish, and added, “There’s Bass in your lake!” after a minute, his friend replied, “That must be another lake. There’s no more bass in our lake”.

Greg went on to make the point that all organizations including congregations tell two kinds of stories about ourselves. The first kind we tell he calls “limiting stories”. These are stories that sound like, we can’t do that, or we’ve tried that, or we don’t have enough people to pull that off. There aren’t any more Bass in that lake.

The second kind of story, the mirror image of the limiting story, is the liberating story. The liberating story often starts with, “What if?” These stories might recognize that we may not be able to do what we’ve always done, but there are always other things to do. It might not            

be the same kind of Bass, but there are still Bass in the lake worth fishing for.

Greg suggests that congregations take our limiting stories seriously, honestly recognizing our context, our capacity and energy. But then he tells us not to be defined by those stories because sometimes they keep us from seeing new realities that are well within our reach.

One temptation for congregations with rich histories is to define ourselves more by what we used to do than by what we might yet do. It is fun to tell stories about all the fun we’ve had around the lake over the years!

But life is coming at us fast these days for the church. And we are wise when we not only enjoy those fishing stories that are so fun to tell, but also keep our tackle with us. Who knows what we might pull out?!

Shalom, Rick

 

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November 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

This turn of the biblical phrase from John 8:32 is thought to have first been seen on a poster in a Syracuse residential treatment facility for alcoholics. Gloria Steinem altered the phrase a few years later. “The truth will set you free, but first it will p&%$ you off.” Either way, there is so much wisdom in these words.

Twenty seven years ago, in 1990, when     Principal Bolanos spotted me on the parking lot rushing four year old Isaac to pre-school at 9:04 and shouted across the parking lot, “School starts at nine Mr. Powell!”, I would like to say my first thought was to respond, “Yes, Dr. Bolanos”. But I was mad at the truth.

When it became clear to me that the vicious contact I had deliriously enjoyed for years on Sunday afternoons in front of the big screen was the same contact that was incapacitating those brave football players way too early in their lives, I would like to say I just stopped watching. But it hasn’t been easy.

And, what about the truth that is cascading down like a mighty stream from every place where white males have enjoyed more than their fair share of power? How many of the women and men who were assaulted felt the    anger of others before they felt their compassion?

There is wisdom in these words: the truth shall set us free, but first it will make us miserable. The phrase is a little too long to fit on a bumper sticker, but might work on the front of our fridge. As long as we can see it  often enough to remember this: when someone says or does something that makes us  really angry or uncomfortable, before we      respond we might want to take just a moment to look for hints of the truth that are in the mix.

Once upon a time Jesus of Galilee called upon the prophetic voice of his Jewish tradition and named the truth he saw everywhere around him. We all know how that turned out. And yet here we are all these years later following that same voice. Makes me think that one way we can take a look at ourselves to see how much we’ve grown, is to try and remember the last time our minds were changed by someone who first made us angry.

I THINK I understand now that rules about being on time still apply to me no matter how the morning has gone with a willful four year old. Thank you Dr. Bolanos.

I can only hope that once or twice over those same twenty-seven years what has first made me angry or uncomfortable has eventually helped turn me toward freedom.

What do you think?

Shalom,

Rick

 

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October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

The recent furor caused by NFL players, coaches and owners Sunday, protesting remarks made by our current president call to mind other times in our recent history as a country.

There was that time in 1964 when the talented and deeply admired Cassius Clay, newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion, converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Ali, and on      religious grounds refused to register for the draft. Overnight this national hero fell from his pedestal. The same people who cheered him for making our country proud at the Olympics, reviled him as a traitor to our country long after he paid is debt to society for the laws he broke.

Then there was the time in 1968 that Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black gloved fists as they stood on the medal stand at the playing of the National Anthem. So many of us were      appalled by the disregard this act of protest seemed to suggest toward our country and our flag.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised when acts of protest make us angry. After all, that’s what they are designed to do- to get our attention and invite us to look again at the issues at hand. But, it seems that we are of two distinct minds when our beloved athletes protest. Instead of paying attention to the issues they are raising, we go quickly to personal attacks. We accuse the same people we’ve adored from the stands, whose autographs we’ve treasured, who are often pictured as giving back to their   community- of being entitled millionaires who have no idea what it means to sacrifice for their country. All evidence to the contrary, we seem to think that these acts of protests are lightly taken.

I wonder. Is our rush to judgment because the     athletes involved in the protests are overwhelmingly people of color? Is it because they have struck too close to home by suggesting that we really do have a problem of racism in this country? Is it     because we look at these individuals as entertainers and don’t appreciate reminders that underneath their pads, these young (mostly) men are unique individuals in their own right? Or is it really just because they’ve had the nerve to mess with the   National Anthem?

I don’t know. But consider this.

One thing we hear so often from teammates of all stripes is that in the heat of battle, the most important thing to one person is the wellbeing of the other. Whether the team is a precinct full of city cops, a squad of soldiers trying to take a hill in South Viet Nam, or the other guys on the offensive line, for good (and sometimes for ill) teams take care of each other. I wonder if at least part of what we saw last Sunday was the reaction of the very large and very public team ‘NFL’ to a surprise attack on one of their own.  “No matter what, we have your back.”

What do you think?

Shalom, Rick

 

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September 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

In a way we hated to do it. We carry no natural animosity toward ground wasps. In most circumstances we would wish them no harm as they go about their business in the circle of life. But these guys were mean. And when they built their nest underneath the clay planter right next to our patio, and took to stinging anyone who was nearby, something had to be done.

So, one evening at about dusk I covered myself in fabric, aimed the can of Raid toward the center of the nest and, from about six feet away, pushed the button. A cascade of spray arced across the evening sky and poured into the center of the nest.

Those drowsy ground wasps who had all been just about to fall asleep for the evening, gathered themselves and streamed out of their nest for one last attack. But their days were numbered. Their anger was no match for the spray that covered their bodies, gummed up their wings and confused their flight pattern. By the time the sun rose the next day the wasps were gone.

In one way, all that happened the other night was that we got rid of a nest of ground wasps that had been terrorizing our back yard. But since this incident happened right around the time of that terrible day in Charlottesville, I just can’t resist the metaphor.

Some might see the Alt Right, Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist attacks on human dignity two Saturdays ago as the actions of a hatred emboldened by leaders who don’t have enough sense to openly condemn bigotry in all of its forms. To a degree Charlottesville was that.

But I wonder if such terrible days might also be viewed as the last, hopeless acts of a sad and angry hive of people who have been forced out of their nest by the reality that their days are numbered. God is pretty clear on this one. No one color, tribe or nation gets to rule the back yard anymore. We all have to figure out how to live together or be rooted out so that our ugly racism is evident for all the world to see.

I don’t mean to suggest that the days of racism are almost over. I do believe that the days of white supremacy are numbered and that God calls us to bear witness to a realm that is on the way, where lion and lamb will, indeed, lie down together. Followers of Jesus who have also been the special beneficiaries of white privilege have a unique opportunity to open our hearts to those who have been marginalized, and stand on the right side of history. We may not always escape un-stung. But our back yard will be better for our courage.

Shalom,

Rick

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August 15, 2017, 4:16 PM

My Two Cents

Anyone ever heard of Corned Beef Row? I hadn’t until last week when we received a note from Dick McQuay about how he and his wife Genevieve came to be members at Christian Temple.

We love our neighborhoods here in Baltimore, don’t we? And one of those beloved towns within the city is Corned Beef Row on Lombard Street just east of downtown. For years these blocks were the center of Baltimore’s Jewish commercial life. The neighborhood is no longer what it once was, but you can find the center of it by going to one of two thriving Delis still on Lombard, Attman’s and Weiss. Try visiting one day! And while you’re there picture this.

It’s lunchtime. The dining room is packed and loud. Most of the customers are in uniform thanks to the Army training Center located around the corner. The topic of many of the conversations is undoubtedly the police action on the Korean Peninsula. Some customers are about to be deployed there. Others have recently returned- or not. The smattering of civilians on their lunch break might be worried about Korea, too. Or they might be talking about their new television sets, the brand new Today Show, or the hotel that just opened out on the edge of town called The Holiday Inn. It’s summer, 1952.

Sitting at one of the tables full of soldiers are two who can barely hear each other talk. One is a former Chaplain just recently called to be the pastor at the church up on Fulton Avenue where exciting plans were afoot to move the congregation all the way out to Catonsville. Above the din, he leans in and asks the other,

“What church do you and your wife attend?”

“None at the moment”.

“What?”

“I said, none.”

“Oh. Well then, you should come and visit my church.”

“Maybe we’ll stop by one Sunday. What time are services?”

I have no idea how this conversation actually happened. What I do know is that however the conversation went down, Dick McQuay tells us that it resulted in him and his wife, Genevieve, joining the church of that retired chaplain, Dr. Fred Helfer, later that same year. Since then Dick and Genevieve have been pillars around this place for 65 years. We don’t see them too much anymore. But their spirit will always be a big part of our story.

And, to think. It all started with a conversation over lunch. Makes me wonder, when was the last time I said, “You should come and visit my church.”?

Shalom, Rick

 

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