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Business as Usual

One of the great joys of our recent trip to Africa was the opportunity to visit with South African Bishop Peter Storey.

Peter Storey

Now retired and pushing 80, he still has the twinkle in his eye and the fire in his bones that has always made him such a winsome and powerful witness for the Gospel, particularly in the years when he stood along side Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid.  For Peter it was not a political struggle, it was a moral struggle.  He was convinced that if the church was to be the church it had to be willing to confront the evils of the day and speak the word of truth, even if it was costly.  In fact, his book “With God in the Crucible” carries the sub-title “Preaching Costly Discipleship”.

When I got home I pulled out the book.  In so many ways it speaks to our own day in America when gun violence is killing all to many people and the rise of white supremacy and bigotry is tearing at the fabric of our society; when the jingoism of “America First” and the arrogance of greed is isolating us from our brothers and sisters around the world; when sexual aggression by men in power continues to dehumanize women.  The list could go on and on.  Peter’s words are a call for the church to be the church and to lift up the values of the Kingdom of God over/against those prevailing values.  He says “business as usual” for the church means living into that Kingdom now.  He writes:

“If false gods are failing and if God’s victory is assured, then even though this world has yet to acknowledge Him, we must live in His future now.  For the followers of Christ, he is already Lord–NOW!

In a world of cruelty we know that compassion and caring will one day rule, so we will demonstrate them NOW.

While this world bows to the love of power, we will cry “No!”.  We will live by the power of love NOW.

While truth lies fallen in the streets, we will affirm that Jesus, who is the truth, is Lord and we will live by His truth NOW. 

 While people live comfortably with injustice we know that justice will one day rule.  It must therefore be our standard NOW. 

While people continue to trust in military might, we know that the Prince of Peace is Lord and we will cast out violence from our midst NOW. 

That is what “business as usual” is all about for Christians.  That is what Christian hope is all about–not sentimental optimism but the insight that enables us even in the face of the darkest hour to know that Christ is Lord.  Christian hope is living by God’s future NOW. ”                                                                                        (“With God in the Crucible”, page 54)

In all honesty, I can’t say I have always lived up to Peter’s challenge and in my ministry I have not always been as bold as he in confronting the evils in our society that are out of step with the values of the Kingdom.  But in my own feeble and failing way I’ve tried to lift up those values and live into that future Kingdom because in my better moments, I agree with Peter–that is what “business as usual” for the church should be NOW.

Until God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth, even as it is in heaven,

Jack Harnish

 

 

 

 

The Tired and the Poor

Hornbaugh

I really don’t know much about my German ancestors.  My maternal Great-Grandparents Hornbaugh came from somewhere in Germany, settled in Pennsylvania and went about the business of creating a new life.  In this picture, they are obviously dressed up for something special, since that was about the only time you would take a photograph in those days.  But if you look closely at his hands, you can see the wear and tear of hard work, probably in the coal mines of the region.  As far as I know, they came to this country with very little and never did have very much. If there is a ancestral inheritance somewhere, I’ve never seen it. They started having children and one of them ended up being my Grandmother Helena who married another German, Emerson Radaker.

Pup

In this photo, he was obviously on his way to or from work in the coal mines and she was doing the work around the small hard-scrabble farm where my Mother grew up.  I still have the lunchbox he is carrying and the carbine lamp he is wearing on his hat in this picture.

Pup's lunchbox

Again, they had no great wealth, just hard working first generation immigrants and their descendants who came to these shores to find a better life.  Literally, they were “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” who have built this nation across the years.

So when our current  Administration attacks immigration and wants to limit entry to those who have the means to “stand on their own two feet”, I wonder if my ancestors would have made it. Eventually, they did come to stand on their own two feet, just like the Japanese immigrants who endured the dehumanizing detention camps, the Korean immigrants who manage small businesses, the African American descendants of immigrants who came in slave ships, the Mexican and Central American immigrants who raise our food and care for our lawns, and the Chaldean and Muslim immigrants who run the Seven-Elevens and gas stations all over Detroit.  To suggest that the Statue of Liberty and it’s poem speak only about Europeans is nothing short of blatant racism and white superiority at its worst.

There are really only two paths to being an American–Native American or immigrant.  Either you are the descendant of American Indians or the descendant of immigrants.  Except for the Native Americans, we ALL came over on the boat at one time or another so to create an environment of hostility, fear and prejudice against immigrants is to deny the identity of our own families as well as the identity of our nation.  Frankly, much of what is going on today is down-right un-American.

Hopefully, the Lady in the Harbor and the poem inscribed at her feet will outlast these dark days of bigotry and once again, we will welcome “…the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teaming shores.”  Hopefully, Lady Liberty will always welcome folks like my ancestors.   Hopefully, she will always  “lift her lamp beside the golden door” as a beacon of opportunity for the tired and poor from all around the world.

That really is what America is all about.

 

Passing It On

Ok, I’ll admit, I made some bad staff decisions across the years, but by the grace of God and dumb luck, there were times when I got it right. This week reminded me of a couple of those:

David Leach has been at Interlochen this week with his band camp from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.  Dave is one of the best music instructors in Michigan and though  I can take no credit for that, I can say I gave David his first job as the choir director at Dexter UMC when he was a college student.  Not only was he great with the choir, but he found a wonderful wife, Mary, and the rest is history.

One of the kids in the Pioneer Music Camp is the daughter of Rev. Tim Ziegler.  Originally from Ohio, I hired Tim at First UMC in Ann Arbor, he was ordained in the Detroit Conference and has become a leader in the church.  Also at the band camp were the son and daughter of Naki Sung Kripfgans, gifted organist at First UMC Ann Arbor.  Again, I hired her and again like David Leach, she met and married Oliver at First Church. In the area of music I would say one of the wisest moves we ever made at Birmingham FUMC was to hire Casey Proch from New Jersey.  What an incredible gift to the life of that church!

A couple weeks ago we went to the Empire UMC to hear Rev. Jon Reynolds preach.  He is the husband of Rev. Lindsey Hall.  We hired Lindsey out of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary to serve on the staff at First UMC in Birmingham and she brought along her husband Jon.  Of course, it happens that Jon’s grandfather Mike Seymour and great-grandfather Everett Seymour were pastors in the Detroit Conference, but had Lindsey gone back to her home conference in Nebraska, Michigan would have lost two really fine pastors.

While I was at Birmingham we brought Rev. Chad Oyer  from North Carolina to lead our student ministries and today he is the lead pastor at First Congregational Church in Traverse City.  Also at Birmingham, we were privileged to welcome many student interns from Garrett-Evangelical and Duke Divinity School.  Watching them move into their ministerial careers across the country has been a great joy.

I share this not to brag about my ability to hire the right people. I share it simply to share the gratitude I feel at being a small part of the lives of another generation of leaders for the church and the world.  Looking back, I can name some of the pastors, camp counselors, youth leaders and Sunday School teachers who encouraged me along the way and I hope I’ve been able to do that for others.  I give thanks for mentors like Dick Hawke, Bob Brown, and Ray Lamb who modeled ministry for me in the hope that I’ve been able to do the same.

A rousing old mission hymn comes to mind.  Please forgive the gender-specific language:

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious.

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way.

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;

O Zion haste to bring the brighter day.

Today I am giving thanks for the next generation who hold up the hope of a brighter day and the joy of passing it on.

+++++

Next Sunday I’ll be preaching at Empire United Methodist Church.  If you are in the Sleeping Bear area, come and join us at 9:30am.

 

Lighting Candles or Cursing the Dark?

Who said it first?  Was it Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, or was it an ancient Chinese proverb?  Did John F. Kennedy take credit for it or was he simply quoting a familiar phrase?  The answer is, probably all of the above.  The oft quoted phrase:

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

I thought about that quotation and an old song following Mr. Trump disparaging  remarks about Baltimore and other major cities last week.  We all know there is truth in what he said.  Baltimore, Detroit, Flint and most of our cities face incredible challenges, not the least of which is poor “rat infested” housing.  Of course, the irony is that Mr. Trump’s son-in-law happens to be a slumlord in Baltimore.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Also, it is well-known that Baltimore has been through times of corrupt government and wasted resources and so have Detroit and Flint.  It’s easy to point fingers, especially when you live in a bucolic corner of the world like Benzie County, or the White House, or a plush Mira Largo mansion. It’s easier to use Baltimore as a punching bag to gin up your base than it is to actually propose anything that might address the problems; easier to curse the darkness than it is to light a candle. 

Then this weekend, two more mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, right on the heels of Gilroy. “Thoughts and prayers” will abound, but probably little will be done to address the problem.   As with just about all the other mass shootings in our nation, the shooters turn out to be white males spurred on by hateful, race-baiting rhetoric rather than immigrants, but it’s easier to curse the immigrants and build a wall than it is to confront white nationalism and our love affair with guns. It’s easier to curse someone else than it is to light a candle. 

But then are some who do the hard work of lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness. 

For example, Cass Community Social Services in Detroit.  (www.casscommunity.org)

) cass tiny homes

The neighborhood around Cass is a prime example of urban blight not unlike Baltimore–burned out shells of old buildings, deserted homes, a place few people would want to live.  The last new building permit issued there was in 1972 and that was for a garage.  But today, fully renovated apartment buildings and 24 tiny homes are creating an entirely new community. Cass’s tiny homes literally move people from homelessness to home ownership. It is a brightly shining example, just one tiny home at a time, just one candle at a time. 

And I am proud of the 50+ volunteers from Benzie County who have given their time over the last five years to work at Cass. It would be easier to sit in our comfortable homes around Crystal Lake or Platte Lake and curse the darkness, but instead these folks are lighting candles of hope in the city of Detroit.

cass team

In the face of all the darkness around us, St. Paul said,  “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) , which is to say, we must be about the business of overcoming the darkness of our world rather than just cursing it, allowing our light to shine and our candles to burn bright.

Finally, here’s the old song.  Those of us of a certain age will remember crooner Perry Como singing:

                      It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.

                     Better far then to light just one little candle, all you need’s a tiny spark. 

Much better to light candles than to curse the darkness.

 

God Remembered

I preached this morning at Leland United Methodist Church–a sermon on Noah and the flood.  I will spare you the details of the sermon, and to be honest, I skipped the last part of the story where Noah ends up raging drunk and buck naked.  For my purpose here, I just want to focus on the simple phrase “God remembered Noah.”  Through frightful nights and long days cooped up in a smelly ark, the Bible says God remembered Noah. And when the flood was over, God painted a rainbow in the sky and said, “When I see it I will remember–not YOU will remember, though of course, we do, but I will remember.”  The story ends with God’s covenant, God’s promises and the assurance God will remember.

Life is all about promises:  I promise to pick up bread and milk on the way home; I promise not to tell; I promise to show up for work and do my job; I promise to do my best to do my duty to God and my country. The most significant promises are, of course, the promises we make in the front of a church.  As parents we present our innocent babies in their ruffled dresses and starched little suits promising to lead them in the way that leads to life eternal.  The parents make promises and the church makes promises for the sake of these children in the presence of this covenant-making God.   We make promises in confirmation to always remain a faithful member of Christ’s Holy Church.  In return, God promises to remember.  And the really good news is that even when we fumble or fall or fail to keep up our end of the bargain, God still remembers and God still keeps God’s promises.

Fifty years ago this week, I made a promise in the presence of God–“to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”  It’s a promise I have never regretted and one I have been only too glad to keep.  The really good news is I believe God has remembered that promise as well.  All I can say is we have been blessed beyond our deserving, went places and did things we never expected and today we can truly look back and give God thanks for the journey.

Sister Mary Fidelia, a Roman Catholic nun and friend of the family, took part in our wedding.  She talked about the light of Christ as we lit the Christ candle and she gave us a small handmade banner which said, “Light will shine on us today”.  I fear the banner is long gone, but the promise has remained.  The light of Christ truly has shined on us for fifty years.

Promises.  And God remembered.

Bible Drop and the Word for Today

I was never crazy about”Bible Drop”.  You  know, that’s when you just let your Bible drop open and read the first thing to jump out at you, believing it is somehow God’s Word for the day.  The story is told of the man who tried it.  The first time he hit upon the verse which says, “And Judas went out and hung himself”.  Not pleased with that one, he tried it again and the verse which caught his attention was, “Go and do thou likewise”. He tried it a third time and the page opened to “…and what thou doest, do quickly.”  Okay, I know it’s a corny old preacher story, but in fact, I had some friends early on in life who actually believed that was a way to find God’s message for you today.

This one is not a result of Bible Drop.  The Common Lectionary is set up years in advance with no regard to the ways in which the Scripture might actually relate to every day events.  But then a day like this happens and you have to wonder if the Spirit isn’t at work in some strange way.  If you attended a church this morning which uses the Lectionary (I did not), here is the Psalm you would heard.  I’m not sure who the Psalmist had in mind, but tell me if you can’t come up with a guess:

Why do you boast, O mighty One (The Message translates it “Big Man”), of mischief done against the godly?

All day long you are plotting destruction.  Your tongue is sharp like a razor, you work treachery.  You love evil more than good and lying more than speaking the truth.  You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever; God will snatch and tear you from your tent.  God will uproot you from the land of the living.  

The righteous will see and fear, and will laugh at the evil doer, saying, “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches and sought refuge in wealth?”

Know of anyone who might fit the description of the “Big Man”? Or perhaps this morning you heard the lectionary reading from Amos 8 with the constant Biblical refrain about how we treat the needy and the poor:

Hear this, you that trample of the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain, and the sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale?  We will practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

See anyplace where folks are taking advantage of the poor, or where the needy are being trampled?  I don’t believe in “Bible Drop” and I know the lectionary was established years in advance, but sometimes it seems something from the Scripture speaks to our current events in a powerful way.  Maybe today was one of those days.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear what the spirit says to the churches.

 

Joining Sidney on the Journey

You don’t have to be a fan of “Grantchester” to enjoy the book, but it helps.

I love the PBS series “Grantchester”, returning Sunday, July 14.  It’s a wonderfully honest portrait of a young vicar in Grantchester, England after the Second World War.  Sidney Chambers solves murder mysteries, struggles with the problems of his parish and his own demons–memories of the war and alcohol being the two most dominant–in ways which honor the humanity and the faith of the clergy.  The fact that Judy and I spent a couple months in Cambridge and often visited the town of Grantchester makes it a bit more personal and of course, the fact that actor James Norton is so easy on the eyes keeps me hooked on the series.

Grantchester III

But back to the book.

Written by James Runcie (who happens to be the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury), “The Road to Grantchester” is the prequel to his Grantchester mystery series, the basis for the TV show.  Runcie delves into Sidney’s horrific time in the war, his call to ministry and additional background which rounds out his personal life.  In discussing his early sense of calling, Sidney shares his doubts with a mentor he calls RevNev, a chaplain who traveled with him through the hell of war:

RevNev says, “Christianity is very much about the future, Sidney; it’s not so much who you are now but the man you might become.  There’s an optimism at the heart of the faith.”

Speaking about his first feelings and his doubts about entering the ministry, Sidney says, “Well, it’s a brave thought.”

“It’s more than a thought.  I think it is the most momentous thing I can possibly imagine.”

“It’s also completely terrifying.”

“It’s meant to be.  But if it feels like you should be doing it, then you must carry on and see where it takes you.  It’s almost impossible to know what God has in store for us, or who we are going to become.  That’s part of life’s journey.  If we knew all along, life would be so predictable it wouldn’t be worth living.”

“Will it take long, Nev?”

“A lifetime.  But then, Sidney, if you are not always learning, what on earth are you doing with your life?”

So this is the start, Sidney thinks: to say it out loud.  To proclaim an intention that forces you to follow it. It might all prove to be overwhelming, and he is not entirely certain he can live in two worlds, one of faith and one of everyday reality, but he is surer than ever that he will be unable to do anything else.”  (page 154 and 170)

My guess is just about every clergyperson worth their cloth has had a similar experience.  Haven’t we all heard someone say, “If you can do anything else with your life, for God’s sake, go do it.  But if you can’t do anything else…”  And who of us have not felt the calling was completely terrifying?  And who of us have not discovered it would take a lifetime and maybe even an eternity to figure it all out?

But the calling still came and follow it we did, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Looking back more than fifty years to my own early sense of God’s nudges which became a calling, I can’t imagine having done anything else with my life, and more than fifty years later, I hope I am still learning what it all means.

I’m glad I joined Sidney on the journey.

 

About Those Revolutionary Airports…

I’m asking myself, “Does it really matter?”  I mean, does it really matter if Mr. Trump had a momentary slip of the tongue when the teleprompter was rained out and casually suggested that the Revolution of 1776 was won by attacking the airports?  Sure enough, the social media has had a field day with it.  Great fun.  Good-natured humor, though of course we all know Mr. Trump has no sense of humor.

Revolution airports

I suppose if it was just one more of his many linguistic guffaws, it might not matter.  And even the fact that he followed it with a mash-up of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 in a reference to the line from the national anthem about the “rockets red glare” at Fort McHenry and “…at dawn, their star-spangled banner waved defiant”–maybe it doesn’t matter.

But…History does matter. 

Knowing the difference between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War matters, not just for Presidents but for all of us and the fact that most of us couldn’t say what the War of 1812 was all about is just as important as Mr. Trump’s historical blunders.  The fact is that it was another battle with the British, that Washington had been taken and the capital building was in flames, and that Baltimore was under attack; the fact that Frances Scott Key was a lawyer on board a British ship to try to win the release of a prisoner and watching the battle from a distance, not at all sure the Union would survive; the fact that as the sun rose he saw the “star-spangled banner” still waving over the beleaguered fort as the sign that it had survived the fight…hence the poem which became our national anthem. All of it matters, not just for Presidents but for all of us.

Here are a few more historical things that matter:  

–It’s troubling to hear that one third of Americans are not sure whether the Holocaust actually happened.

–It’s dismaying to see the attempts to whitewash the history of American slavery and to realize too many white Americans can’t figure out why African Americans can’t just “get over it”. Or that some folks seem to think flying a Confederate flag is patriotic, when in fact it is the symbol of the war to divide this nation in order to defend a “way of life” supported by slave labor.

–It’s shocking to hear people deny the overwhelming evidence that humans contribute to climate change and that if we don’t do something about it we will wreck this planet, or that there are still anti-vaxers around who refuse to protect their children and all of our children from preventable diseases.

–It’s truly sad that on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a younger generation can’t tell you what happened and why it mattered, or what the Korean War was about, even though it is so critical to our present day global reality.

–In our current humanitarian crisis at the border, the fact that too many people don’t understand that crossing the border to seek asylum really is legal entry under both US law and international law.

I could go on and on, but you get my point.  History matters.  Facts matter.  Santayana’s famous dictum “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” can be rephrased “Those who don’t learn from the past are just plain stupid.”  It all matters, and not just for Presidents, but for all of us.

So we all know there were no airports in 1776 and we can all have a good laugh over the posts on twitter and Facebook, but the more important question is whether we are willing to do the hard work of understanding our history and learning from it.

In the end, it is not just about those revolutionary airports.