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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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July 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

I have in mind a few thank you notes we may never receive. But I’m sure the sentiment is sincere and enthusiastic. Here are just a few:

 

I’d like to thank you for the quality Vacation Bible School program you offered for my two children last week. The volunteers were enthusiastic and caring, and the program was well planned and  executed. My kids especially loved the puppet performances! Programs like this are a big part of why we love living in this community.

 

We just got back on our boat and will be sailing out of Baltimore  Harbor tomorrow morning, headed eventually for home in the          Netherlands. Upon our arrival last night, we went out for a bite to eat and asked our server, “Where should we go to get the full experience of July 4th in America?” “Catonsville” was the quick and certain response. After finding your concert listed online in the day’s programs, we caught a city bus and arrived at the church just in time. Thank you so much for such an inspirational   program. The parade and fireworks were just fine, but starting our day with such glorious music was the best!

 

Now that the harvest has begun, our family would like to thank you again for providing us with the opportunity to grow our own vegetables in the Catonsville Community Garden located just behind your church building. We’ve loved having the kids play in the ball field while we water and weed. Now they get to pick the fruits of our efforts and learn that food comes from someplace other than the grocery store!

 

We are all basking in the afterglow of the final performance last night of “Into the Woods”, this year’s STAR Drama Camp Musical. We don’t often take the time to say it, but we are so grateful that our children have a safe place to go where their creativity can be nurtured and their self-esteem enhanced. Thank you!

 

I don’t know how I’d make it through the summer without your playground.

 

We heard about the AA group last week while we shopped at the Farmer’s Market.

 

It’s so nice to have a school within walking distance.

 

So much of our ministry is cast into our community and world like the sower’s seeds. We may never hear from those who feel God’s grace through what we offer. But we can be assured that those seeds are taking root and that the love we share within this building is making a difference beyond our walls.

 

Shalom,

 

Rick

 

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