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March 2, 2018, 10:44 AM

My Two Cents

Back in the day Jesus got angry at the disciples for whining about what was coming next, when the realm of God would finally be established, and who got to sit at the head of the table. But, I think if Jesus were alive today, the phrase he would most despise is this one,

“Sorry Jesus, that’s just the way it is.”

We say some version of this phrase often as we try to teach our kids the ways of the world, or help a newbie get acclimated to the organization we’ve known for a while. The words have their place and can save some frustration.

That’s just the way it is.

But think about how wrong these words have proven to be just in our lifetimes.

“Hey, Dad, how come you don’t wear your seat belt when you drive?”

“I’ve been driving for a hundred years, and I’m fine. It’s just not worth the trouble. I’ll take my chances.”

That’s just the way it is.

I remember being fascinated by the blue smoky haze that hung thick in the cocktail lounge at the Base Officer’s Club as we walked to the kids TV room. The bar was where people went to smoke, right?” Would the day ever come when it was no longer allowed? No.

That’s just the way it is.

When I was in seminary the big debate of the day was whether gay and lesbian men and  women would ever be allowed to be ministers.  “That kind of thing is fine by me, but the church will never come around.”

That’s just the way it is.

Sometimes, praise God, the way it is- isn’t anymore. And, together as a people we move forward. This is what I keep telling myself in light of the Parkland carnage where military bullets shot from a military gun tore through the tender flesh of children who bled to death next to desks where their backpacks were packed and ready to take home.

When I get discouraged I imagine the day in the not too distant future when a tenth grader will come home from a history class and ask, “Grandma, this week we’re studying mass shootings. So, let me get this straight. People used to be able to buy military weapons from a store and take them into their private homes just for fun?! How can that  possibly be?”

“Well, honey, I guess we all just figured, “That’s just the way it is.”

Shalom, Rick


February 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

The Upside Down

When supper is finished, the dishes are done and there’s time to sit down and watch a little TV before bed, science fiction programs aren’t normally our first choice. But the buzz around “Stranger Things” grew too loud to ignore. So last fall we began watching.

What do you get when you mix an irresistible band of middle school buddies and their big brothers and sisters with a few really scary monsters, and put them in a small Indiana town where a top secret government laboratory has taken up residence? Stranger Things-   a fun, creative TV series sprinkled generously with startling surprises. But also a series that offers a compelling image- the Upside Down.

In Stranger Things, the Upside Down is a    parallel universe where nothing is certain and fear is the order of the day. It’s easy to get tripped in the Upside Down. And when you fall, there are forces at work that make it hard to get back up. Desperation is the order of the day in the Upside Down. And the kicker is this. Even though most people don’t know it’s there, the Upside Down exists right beside normal life.


Life is good for most of us, like it is for the folks in Stranger Things. This isn’t to say we don’t have our trials and tribulations. We live with pain and loss. We work hard at jobs we don’t always love. We worry. Sometimes we worry a lot. But, most of us do all of this from a living situation that is generally comfortable, free of fear and desperation.

Meanwhile, there is an alternative universe that is very real and very close to us. There are pockets of fear and desperation right around the corner, or downtown maybe, that most of us don’t even see. Or, if we do see them, we are easily able to look away when they get too scary. In real life the Upside Down is a function of poverty, not subterranean creatures. But the      realities are the same. Trip once, and life may never be the same again.

Without giving too much away, those clever    middle school kids figured out how to deal with the Upside Down. They entered it. They found a way to diminish its power by becoming vulnerable.

Makes me think that maybe those of us who enjoy the comfort of easy evenings in front of the TV need to figure out how to do the same thing.




January 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


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?




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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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