Bringing in the Hose…and the Harvest

My friends Bob and Elsi Sly used to have an autumn party they called “Bringing in the Hose”.  It seems all too often Bob left the hose out all too long and it would end up frozen, so Elsi decided to invite their friends to help Bob bring in the hose.  On a chilly autumn night, we would stand around in a circle with the hose stretched out between us as Bob rolled it in.  Each person brought a limerick, a song or a joke about the hose.  (Ok, some were pretty off-color!)  Then we would sing a chorus of the old gospel song “Bringing in the Sheaves” substituting “hose” for “sheaves”.

          “Bringing the hose, bringing in the hose;

          We will come rejoicing, bringing in the hose.”

October is a time of bringing in the hose, the house plants, the boat, dock and hoist. It’s a time of apple picking, cider drinking and donut dunking.  For our farmers and orchards, it’s a time of harvesting.

“For me,” said Larry Ward, a meditation teacher in Pataskala, Ohio, “it’s also about harvesting what has occurred in the year. What has this summer brought to you and your life? What has this spring brought to you? Harvesting means taking stock of the year (or years) behind you.”  (New York Times, September 24, 2022).  I would call it the “harvesting of the soul.”  Taking time to take stock of what I have experienced, seeking to learn the lessons life has offered me, taking into account what God has done. 

This autumn season will ultimately end in a time of Thanksgiving when we gather to sing “Come, ye thankful people come; raise the song of harvest home”, but for now, maybe it’s a slower process, even a painful one.  This season of harvest will end in a feast of gratitude and rejoicing, but for now, perhaps it is a time to step back, to slow down and simply “harvest” the lessons of the year.

There is a lot of conversation in the culture right now about “mindfulness” and I guess that is what I am recommending.  October is a good time to be mindful of our days, our lives, our journey this far. It’s a good time to take time to harvest the blessings and the burdens, the victories and the losses, the pain and the pleasure of the year which is passing, bringing in the harvest of the soul.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

And maybe this year Bob will remember to bring in the hose.

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I’ll be preaching at St. Andrews Presbyterian on Oct. 9. Join us on line or in person. www.benziestandrews.com

Traveling On in Truth and Love

I only required my confirmation classes to memorize one date–May 24, 1738, Aldersgate Day. That’s the day John Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street and in the midst of the gathering, he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I knew that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and freed me from the law of sin and death.”

His brother Charles had a similar experience three days earlier and while John took the lead in the preaching, Charles went to work writing over 6,000 hymns. Some of them have become global classics, like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Others are less well-known, but I guess when you are that prolific, you are allowed a few bloopers. Last week Queen Elizabeth’s funeral included the Wesley hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” sung to a favorite British tune which doesn’t appear in the United Methodist hymnal. (See the video attached.)

Friends in England recently shared a Wesley hymn they used in their wedding entitled “Thou God of Truth and Love.” In the light of the splintering going on in United Methodism today, this verse stood out:

Didst thou not make us one, that we might one remain,

Together travel on, and share our joy and pain,

Till all thy utmost goodness prove, and rise renewed in perfect love?

Tragically, we United Methodists seem to have lost sight of that vision of oneness as the folks who want to “disaffiliate” have begun doing so. I hope the continuing United Methodist Church will take seriously what it means to be made one in Christ and to travel on in truth and love. Because after all, that’s what it means to be the Body of Christ.

On Oct. 2 and 9, I will be preaching at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Beulah. Join us in person or on line: www.benziestandrews.com

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The Book-banners are Right

Everything I knew about Uncle Tom’s Cabin I learned from The King and I.  If you remember, in the musical Anna directs a skit based on the book as a way of confronting the King.  I had never actually read Uncle Tom’s Cabin until recently when my book club decided to read it. Now I understand why it created such controversy, helped to mobilize abolitionists, and energized the fight against slavery. 

Books can do that.

This is “Banned Book Week.” Recently we have seen the fearful rise of fear-filled people pushing to ban over 1,000 books from our schools and libraries, and to a certain degree, they are right.  They are afraid of books which challenge their preconceived convictions, books which might influence their children, and they are right.  Books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Toni Morrison’s Beloved confront us with parts of our history we would prefer to ignore.  Some folks would even ban The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night because they remind us about the brutal reality of the Holocaust.  A recent editorial in The Christian Century magazine says, “Such fears are not entirely unfounded.  Written words have great power and books can change people’s hearts.”  (Christian Century, May 18, 2022)

Books can do that.

In 1925, E. Stanley Jones’ first book, The Christ of the Indian Road hit like a bombshell because it forced Christians to look at Jesus Christ through the eyes of the people of India rather than through the lens of Euro-American culture. Since then, we have seen the development of black theology, feminist theology, Hispanic theology, queer theology, Native American theology and a host of others—all seeking to understand the faith through the context of diverse believers and opening our eyes to new ways of seeing the Universal Christ.

Books can do that. 

So even though I am opposed to book-banning (after all, I do believe in the First Amendment and the freedom of the press), I acknowledge that the book-banners are right.  Books can change people’s hearts and little by little, change the world.  For example, just try reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and see it doesn’t change your perspective.   

Books can do that.

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My recent book Thirty Days with E. Stanley Jones includes a chapter entitled You Mean Jesus isn’t an American or a Brit? Check it out for more information on Jones’ impact on our understanding of the Universal Christ. Available from Amazon.

Why I Will Remain a United Methodist

Recently I was invited to share as the “Remain UMC” representative for a church considering disaffiliation. They had already heard from a “Join GMC” speaker. Here’s a brief outline of what I shared with them.

1. I Love our Theology

I affirm our emphasis on God’s grace—prevenient, justifying, sanctifying grace which is available to all. I love the Wesleyan Quadrilateral—Primacy of Scripture, interpreted by tradition, reason, and experience.  I celebrate the breadth of thought and understanding of the faith in the UMC. Frankly, I do not want to be part of a denomination where everyone is expected to be “like-minded”, where, as one GMC advocate said, “You will hear the same Gospel message in Boise or in Sierra Leone.”

  •  2. I Love our Global Connexion

We are connected with United Methodists around the world through the General Conference and our regional annual conferences in the USA, Europe, Philippines, parts of Africa, and through mission projects in over 100 countries.

We are connected through the Council of Bishops, boards and agencies, United Women of Faith and the Women’s Division; connected with other Methodist denominations in the World Methodist Council and with other Christians through the National and World Council of Churches and a host of other ecumenical bodies, We are already a Global United Methodist Church.

And yes, we are connected through our apportionments.

  • 3. I Love our Apportionment System

It means that every local congregation is automatically a global congregation, every local church is part of a global mission.

We support missionaries, deaconesses, military chaplains, schools, colleges, seminaries, and hospitals in ways we never could if support was based solely on one-to-one donations from local churches. The best example is Africa University. We never could have built a world class university by appealing to 30,000 local churches and hoping they give.  The only way it could be done was with the assured foundation of 30 years of General Church support.

  • 4. I Love the “Trust Clause”

I’ve invested 40 years of my life in congregations with long histories of financial support from generations of faithful  United Methodists. The trust clause assurances they will continue to be United Methodist churches for generations to come. I regret that the church where I spent the longest appointment in my career may be moving toward disaffiliation.

And honestly, has there ever been a time in your congregation’s history when the trust clause got in the way of your building plans, your ministry and program?

5. I Love our Appointment System.

Ours is the only system that guarantees a pastor for every church. Every appointment is not perfect, every preacher is not perfect and every congregation is not perfect. But in the long run, our system provides for the training, deployment, supervision and smooth transition of clergy in a way most other systems do not.

I celebrate the fact that I was SENT, not hired, to serve my local congregations on behalf of the larger mission of the church. And I love the community of clergy with whom I have shared the journey.

Well…that’s a start. I could go on, but there are a few reasons why I intend to remain a United Methodist. If you would like to discover our Wesleyan roots, there is still room on our Wesley Heritage Tour with Rev. Faith Fowler. Let me know and I’ll send a brochure or use the direct link below….and “God save the King.”

    

https://www.eo.travelwithus.com/tours/he23041623h03409/#.YxoNMJ3pnbZ.mailto

These Precious Days

Oh, it’s a long, long time,” the song says, “from May to December.  But the days grow short when you reach September.” And of course, the songwriter was right. In my corner of Northern Michigan, we are well aware of the shortening of the days as we leave behind those lingering summer evenings when the sun didn’t set till after 10:00pm.  Now the sun is moving around toward the south over Platte Lake and little by little, the long sunny afternoons and warm evenings will begin to fade.  Sure enough, after Labor Day we still have some glorious days ahead of us.  What Michigander wouldn’t trade May for September if you could?  But the change in the air, the earlier sunsets, the cool lake breezes all conspire together as the “days grow short.” 

The song is actually a love song ending with the line “…these few precious days I’ll spend with you” and we know these days are precious.  Not just these September days, but all days. 

We received a call from California last week telling us that my brother’s 86-year-old father-in-law Louis, passed in his sleep.  Louis lived a long, full life and from a distance it is easy to say, “What a wonderful way to go”, but for my sister-in-law and their family, the grief is still real and for all of us it is a reminder of how precious these days really are.

One of my favorite stage plays is the classic Our Town, by Thornton Wilder.  If you know the play, Emily dies when she is a teen-ager, then comes back to visit Grover’s Corners.  As a ghost she walks through her small town, her home, her family, but of course, they can’t see her.  Life just seems to be going on.  Emily speaks to her mother,

Oh, Mama!  Look at me one minute as though you really see me.  Mama, fourteen years have gone by, and I am dead. Mama, let’s really look at each other.  It goes so fast! We don’t have time to look at one another.  I didn’t realize.  All this was going on and we never noticed.

Then she tells the Stage Manager,

Take me back—up the hill—to my grave.  But first, one more look.  Good-bye world. Good-bye Grover’s Corners.  Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama’s sunflowers.  And food and coffee.  And new ironed dresses and hot baths and sleeping and waking up.  Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize.  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

The coming of September, Louis’s death, the changing of the seasons reminds us how wonderful and how precious each day really is.  Do we realize it?  Every, every minute?

The Bible gives us an appropriate greeting for each new day—“This is the day the Lord hath made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalm 118:24) That’s a good way to greet every precious day, maybe especially in September.

A return visit to Court Street UMC in Flint…a reminder of how precious every day is and how quickly time passes.

The Year of Jubilee

There are some folks who believe parts of Book of Leviticus should be taken literally and applied today, particularly in regard to sexual relationships. However, I don’t know anyone who wants to put chapter 25, The Year of Jubilee, into practice…and perhaps for good reason. It includes lengthy instructions which essentially maintain slavery as well as denying personal ownership of property. All of the hymns about The Year of Jubilee, including one by Charles Wesley, spiritualize the concept, making it about personal redemption through Christ’s atonement and ignoring the literal text of the Scripture.

But there it is, and if I am going to take the Bible seriously I have to wrestle with it.

In the 50th year, Leviticus says, land was to be returned to the original owners, families were told how to deal with those who had “fallen into difficulty”, and debts were to be renegotiated. Deuteronomy 15 goes even further, calling for the remission of loans every seventh year. Since the economy of Old Testament times was entirely different from ours, you can’t take these passages literally. For us today, I think they offer a parable about the importance of a well-ordered, compassionate community where caring for each other and freeing the oppressed so they can find a fresh start becomes a priority.

You probably know where I am going.

I’m not suggesting all debts should be forgiven, but in a time when long-term student debt is keeping in poverty the very people who tried to get out of poverty by getting an education, I think there is a time to say, “Enough. For the good of the whole society, we need to help you out so you can become a productive citizen.” Freeing young adults who are making less than $125,000 from a part of their student debt helps the folks who, as Leviticus says, have “fallen into difficulty” and in the long run benefits the whole community. It’s not unlike the GI Bill which assisted many veterans (except for African Americans) get an education and buy homes, or the communal life of the early Christians in the Book of Acts.

The fact that I and my sons have been able to manage our student loans from a time when college was significantly less expensive does not mean we shouldn’t give a helping hand to those who can’t. In fact, if you take the Book of Leviticus and the Book of Acts seriously, compassion for others and assisting our neighbors is part of our calling.

If we can build that kind of community, it might truly be a Year of Jubilee for us all.

Buechner on Ordination

The passing of Frederick Buechner last week led me back to my bookshelf and my collection of 18 of his 39 books. (Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do!) One of my favorites, A Room Called Remember, includes an ordination sermon which has always spoken to me. Approaching the 50th anniversary of my ordination next year, I would say his description fits my experience across these years. I am grateful for the road and the journey and for Buechner’s beautiful description.

You will be ordained, many of you, or have been already, and if your experience is anything like mine, you will find, or have found, that something more than an outlandish new title and an outlandish new set of responsibilities is conferred in that outlandish ceremony. It think it is fair to say that an extraordinary new adventure begins with ordination, a new stretch in the road. Your life is no longer your own in the same sense. You are not any more virtuous than you ever were, but nonetheless, you are “on call” in a new way. You begin moving through the world as the declared representative of what people variously see as either the world’s oldest and most persistent superstition or the world’s wildest and most improbable dream, or the holy living truth itself.

Strange things happen. Again and again Christ is present not where you would be apt to look for him, but precisely where you wouldn’t have thought to look in a thousand years. A great preacher, the sunset, the Mozart Requiem can leave you cold, but the child in the doorway, the rain on the roof, the half-remembered dream can speak of Him with an eloquence that turns your knees to water.

And whither then? Whither now? I cannot say. But far ahead the road goes on and we must follow it if we can because it is our road, and it is His road, and it is the only road that matters when you come right down to it.” (A Room Called Remember, page 146)

Still on the road, still following, because it is the only road that matters.

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Next Sunday, August 28, I’ll preach at Court Street UMC in Flint for the first time in 30 years. It was the church of Judy’s parents and grandparents, which made our boys 5th generation Court Streeters. Join us on line or in person, http://www.courtstreetflint.org.

Getting away, getting together

Epworth Heights Summer Assembly, 1908

One of the great summer traditions of Methodists has been getting away and getting together.

From the early 1800’s, Methodist Camp Meetings have gathered the faithful for preaching, the sacraments, fellowship and food. I grew up going to Cherry Run Camp Meeting in Western Pennsylvania and here in Michigan Methodists gathered at Eaton Rapids, Simpson Park, Bay Shore and several other camp meetings. They were marked with powerful preaching (sometimes three preaching services a day), great singing of all the old Gospel songs and altar calls for conversion. Many of them are still functioning today, now appealing to the RV and camping culture as well as family activities.

The second model was the Methodist summer community, some of which were part of the Chautauqua movement. Lakeside on Lake Erie in Ohio and Bay View in Petoskey, MI still draw families to their summer cottages as a time to get away from the routine of careers and get together with summer friends stretching back over generations.

In June, I had the privilege of preaching at Bay View and this month I will be speaking at Epworth Heights near Ludington.

Bay View, Petoskey, MI

The Gospel records that even Jesus needed time to get away and time to get together; time to renew his relationship with God and time to build his relationship with his disciples. If it was true for Jesus, it’s certainly true for us. I hope wherever you are this summer you have been able find time to get away and get together, with God and with others.

While you are at it, take time to read my book Thirty Days with E. Stanley Jones or listen to my recent podcast with James Howell. Jones called his time of getting away with God his “listening post” and his ashrams were times of getting together with others. And we all need both.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/a-discussion-on-e-stanley-jones-with-dr-jack-harnish/id1497598414?i=1000567572681

A Recent Review

I am grateful to Bishop Bill Lewis for his gracious review of my book Thirty Days with E. Stanley Jones and for sharing Jones’ impact on his own life:

“It was an honor to be invited to write a few words of commendation for Jack Harnish’s new book: “Thirty Days with E. Stanley Jones. ” Janet and I began our life’s journey together reading and sharing THE WAY (by E. Stanley Jones). We became admirers and followers of this great missionary’s career. The Journey began for us as young lovers in 1950. 72 years later Janet was recommending Jones’s book to a gathering of spouses of United Methodist Bishops. Eunice Mathews spoke up and said, “I typed every word of that book.” Janet and I had become friends of Jim and Eunice Mathews since my election to the episcopacy in 1988 but it wasn’t until that moment that Janet realized that Eunice was the daughter of E. Stanley Jones.

Jack’s excellent little work consists of an imaginative series of devotional meditations, each of them a daily snapshot of the man and his message. They are so well-written one feels compelled to read ahead of schedule. Why wait for more of such a compelling story?

I think it highly appropriate that Asbury University considers E. Stanley Jones as its preeminent alum. In a real sense Jones’s life and work belongs to the whole world and to the church universal. He loved and lifted people who were different than himself. He was a powerful witness for the ecumenical movement and the inclusive communities of faith. The chapters about the meaning of the word “all” and the dream of a federated Christian Church highlight these emphases. His ability to enter into conversation with all kinds of cultures and religions without a trace of ideological or spiritual superiority was a powerful witness to his “arms around the world” outlook and “Way” on the road of life.

The current role of some Asbury graduates in the crusade for disaffiliation and division is an anomaly. I’m sure this was somewhere in the back of Jack’s mind as he wrote about the ministry of this great man who embraced the world in lovingkindness.

As at the dawn of creation the Lord looked upon all that was made and called it “good,” E. Stanley Jones was never frightened by diversity but saw it in its kaleidoscopic wonder as the work of the Great God Almighty who was in Jesus. Indeed, “Jesus is Lord.”

—Available from Amazon, Cokesbury and Frontedgepublishing.com

Christian Nationalism vs The Bill of Rights

This week I can’t offer anything better than my brother Jim’s post. He has powerfully articulated the challenge we face as Christians and Americans. So this week’s Monday Memo come from him. Thanks, Bro, for a powerful word. –Jack Harnish

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Christian Nationalism vs The Bill of Rights

Last week Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was finally exonerated for her 1693 conviction for witchcraft.

The Salem Witch trials (1692-1693) were a Puritan inquisition that resulted in the deaths of 25 men and women, 19 of whom were hanged, five died in jail and one was crushed with rocks.

Johnson was 22 when she was accused and convicted, perhaps because of a mental disability or because she never married or had children. The governor of Massachusetts granted her a reprieve from hanging because of “shadowy evidence.” She died in 1747 at the age of 77. But her conviction was never overturned. It came as the result of a three-year effort by the eighth-grade civics class at North Andover Middle School and their teacher, Carrie LaPierre.  

So, what might we learn from Elizabeth Johnson’s story today?

The Evil of “Christian Nationalism”

After 329 years, haven’t we learned how badly things can go wrong when Christians use the power of the law to impose their theological convictions on their community? Make no mistake: the witch trials were a deadly result of the merger of religion and government.

One of the sad ironies in our history is that Christians who came to America to escape persecution quickly became persecutors. In setting out to create a Christian community, they used the power of the law to force others to deny their conscience in order to obey their Puritan interpretations of scripture.

I highly recommend John M. Barry’s powerful book, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.

That’s why Christian nationalism is an oxymoronic label for a political movement that is just as damaging to Christianity and it is to the nation.

But the evil of “Christian nationalism” is very much alive among us. It was viciously on display during the January 6 insurrection. We saw it this weekend in CPAC’s celebration of Hungary’s anti-democratic, Christian nationalist dictator, Viktor Orbán. It’s on the ballot with candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene and in the election of local school boards.

The “Five Freedoms” enshrined in the First Amendment — freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the government — guarantee that as a follower of Christ my voice can be heard in the public debate, but they do not guarantee that my voice will drown out other voices or that my convictions should be imposed by law on others. Democracy means that the freedom I claim for myself is measured by the freedom I protect for others. It means that sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose, but we keep on working together to become “a more perfect union.”

I’m convinced that I can be a Christian or I can be a “Christian nationalist,” but I can’t be both.

That’s what Elizabeth Johnson taught me. May she rest in peace.

Grace and Peace,

Jim