Believing Impossible Things.

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ― Lewis Carroll

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There is a time for believing “impossible things”. In the normal order of events, is it possible for a man to die on a cross and rise again on the third day? Of course not. But as Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.”

Is it possible for swords to be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks? In this war-proned and conflicted world it seems impossible, but for persons of faith, believing one day nations will not take up swords against nations and they will learn war no more has to be our hope and our vision.

Is it possible to break the stranglehold of the NRA and pass common sense gun legislation? Right now it seems impossible, but if we have any hope for a safe and sane society, you have to believe one day it will come to pass.

As Alice learned, creativity, imagination and new vision sometimes requires the ability to believe impossible things.

What’s tragic is when you see people believing things that have been demonstrably proven to be untrue and impossible. When so many folks continue to believe “The Big Lie” and follow a failed leader who has been shown to be a habitual liar; when people continue to believe an election was stolen, even though that has been proven to be a fiction; when folks refuse to believe the evidence which points to the truth–that’s when believing impossible things becomes dangerous.

So this morning before breakfast, like the queen, I’d like to believe six impossible things.

-On this Juneteenth, I believe one day this nation will rise up and live into the vision of a nation where all men and women are treated as equal.

-On this Fathers’ Day, I believe one day our children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

-In this day of war in Ukraine and gun violence in our schools and churches, I believe one day we will turn swords into plowshare and AR-15s into pruning hooks.

-In this day of “The Big Lie”, I believe one day truth will be respected once again and all the lies will be buried in their dusty graves.

-I believe one day, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom our our Lord and of His Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.

-And even though it seems impossible, I will continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I will continue to believe in impossible things.

Taming the Tiger’s Force

Every Methodist knows Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns and every Christian sings with gusto his beloved Christ the Lord is Risen Today and Harkl The Herald Angels Sing. We Methodists claim O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing as our global anthem, though we stop short of singing all 17 verses. Even the British Methodist Hymnal only includes 96 of his hymns so most of his texts remain unfamiliar or buried in dusty hymnal archives. Every once in awhile, someone digs up one I haven’t heard before…this time Brother Jim quoted one in a recent blog post. See www.jimharnish.org.

Given that it was written in the 1700’s, the language is a bit dated, but the poetry is eloquent and in a day when we seem to see anyone who disagrees with us as an enemy, when mean-spirited pundits drive the conversation and I am tempted to respond to Facebook posts in anger, I need to hear this:

Forgive my foes? it cannot be:
My foes with cordial love embrace?
Fast bound in sin and misery,
Unsaved, unchanged by hallowing grace,
Throughout my fallen soul I feel
With man this is impossible.


Great Searcher of the mazy heart,
A thought from thee I would not hide,
I cannot draw th’envenomed dart,
Or quench this hell of wrath and pride,
Jesus, till I thy Spirit receive,
Thou know’st, I never can forgive.


Come, Lord, and tame the tiger’s force,
Arrest the whirlwind in my will,
Turn back the torrent’s rapid course,
And bid the headlong sun stand still,
The rock dissolve, the mountain move,
And melt my hatred into love.


Root out the wrath thou dost retain;
And when I have my Savior’s mind,
I cannot render pain for pain,
I cannot speak a word unkind,
An angry thought I cannot know,
Or count mine injurer my foe.

I have no idea what tune would fit the text and in this day of zippy praise music, I doubt we we will ever sing it, but may it be the prayer of my mazy heart for God’s grace to tame the tiger’s force within my own soul.

Amen.

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Coming up: On June 19, I’ll be preaching at the Congregational Summer Assembly in Frankfort and I’ll be the preacher of the week at Bayview beginning on June 26. If you are in the area, come and join us.

“Unite the Two…”

At the beginning of my ministry, I never intended to be connected with colleges, seminaries and campus ministry, but looking back over 50 years, I realize what an important part it has played in my life.

It started in my early years in Michigan when my District Superintendent Norbert Smith made it possible for me as a young buck preacher to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry, which at that time really was a hang-out for the grand old men of the conference. That led to my connection with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, eventually serving on the staff there for seven years. My good friend Roger Ireson opened that door for me, and I will be forever grateful.

Two events book-end my time at GBHEM–the grand opening of Africa University and the 250th Anniversary of Kingswood College. My first international trip on behalf of the board took me to the new university in Zimbabwe and on a trip to England I shared in the anniversary of Kingswood, John Wesley’s first school. Together they marked the Methodist commitment to education until today there are 107 United Methodist colleges in the USA and over 1000 Methodist-related institutions across the globe.

Then there were opportunities to serve on the Boards of Trustees for the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Adrian College. I served Ann Arbor FUMC, which is connected with the Wesley Foundation and the Birmingham Church where we linked with four seminaries–Garrett-Evangelical, Duke, Costa Rica and Estonia.

So I am grateful for the “Frances Asbury Award“, presented each year to one person from the annual conference in recognition of contributions to United Methodist higher education.

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn for Kingswood College which includes the line: “Unite the pair so long dis-joined–knowledge and vital piety. Over the centuries that has been the commitment of Methodism, and looking back, I am glad I’ve been able to share in it.

PS: The full text of Charles Wesley’s Kingswood hymn, “Come Father, Son and Holy Ghost” can be found at www.umcdiscipleship.org.

For Preacher/Poets on Preaching

With the publication of my book Thirty Days with E. Stanley Jones I’ve received gracious invitations to preach in a number of pulpits lately. When I preached at Central UMC in Traverse City I had the opportunity to meet one of the great theologians of our times–Dr. Walter Brueggemann. Now retired and living in Traverse City, he is a regular worshiper at Central. I thanked him for his writings and particularly for his book on preaching which I consider it one of the best on the subject. The title is worth the price of the book: Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation. I told Dr. Brueggemann I wasn’t sure I ever lived up to it, but his writing has continued to inspire me ever since I first read it in 1994.

Here is one of the most eloquent paragraphs in the book:

“When the text comes to speak about the alternative life wrought by God, the text must use poetry. There is no other way to speak. We know about that future–we know surely–but we do not know concretely enough to issue memos and blueprints. We know only enough to sing songs and speak poems. That is, however, enough. We stake our lives on such poems.”

“The preaching moment is a moment for the gift of God’s life in the midst of our tired alienation. For this the church and indeed the world waits. They wait, until, finally the poet comes, finally the poet comes.”

Brother and sister preacher/poets, I suggest you read that every Sunday morning and see if doesn’t inspire your preaching.

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PS: Rev. Faith Fowler and I will be leading a “Wesley Heritage Tour” to England in April, 2023. If you would like more information, follow this link or send me a note:

http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/tours/wesley-heritage-tour-to-england-with-rev-jack-harnish-and-rev-faith-fowler-with-cass-community-umc#.YoYxVcPMLX4

A Monday Memo on a Dark Wednesday

Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team best expressed the outrage of the nation. At a press conference last night, shaking, he said,

“I’m not going to talk about basketball…. Any basketball questions don’t matter…. Fourteen children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher, and in the last ten days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California, and now we have children murdered at school. WHEN ARE WE GONNA DO SOMETHING? I’m tired, I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families…. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. There’s 50 senators…who refuse to vote on HR 8, which is a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago. Ninety percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks…. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote despite what we the American people want because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic,” he said, walking out of the press conference. “I’ve had enough.” -Heather Cox Richardson, May 24, 2022

Republicans please, spare us your “thoughts and prayers” until you are willing to support common sense legislation to deal with gun violence. And spare us your “pro-life” rhetoric if you only care about the life of the unborn child.

I’ve had enough.

Our Little System

I think it was my first annual conference in Michigan. I went to the Memorial Service knowing none of the persons who were remembered and today, it seems they are all my friends. I remember the preacher holding up a little pamphlet and asking, “What is my bid for this copy of the 1954 Standing Rules of the Detroit Annual Conference?” Of course, a twitter ran through the house. Then he quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Our little systems have their day, they have their day then cease to be.

They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O Lord, art more than they.

                   –Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam”

So here we go…back to annual conference once again.

Every year since John Wesley gathered his preachers for the first conference in England, Methodists have been doing it…every year. The Methodist conference is still the major link in the whole Methodist system and for clergy it truly is our home from which we are sent to serve.  Perhaps the most important moment comes when the Bishop “fixes” the clergy appointments for another year. Some folks can remember when clergy came to conference not knowing where they would be going until the Bishop read their names.  Then there would be the mad dash for the pay phones to call home and say, “Start packing, honey, we’re moving!” After 43 years under appointment, I keenly remember the mixed feelings of freedom and loss when in 2013 my name no longer appeared on the appointment list.

Our “little system” has changed significantly over the years, but the system still remains—at least for now.  We are in the midst of a splintering as some clergy and congregations consider leaving to form a new branch of Methodism.  Though small in number, their exit will be a loss for the denomination and will weaken the witness of Methodist Christians around the world.  Our “little system” is breaking.

That brings me back to Tennyson’s poem. 

Tennyson wrote this lengthy poem following the death of his beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam at 22 years old. His friend’s death put all of life in perspective as Tennyson acknowledged the brevity of our days in contrast to God’s greatness.  All our “little systems” fade in significance by comparison. None of our systems, either denominational or political, national or global, are eternal. 

That’s not to say our systems don’t matter. 

While we are on this earth what we do and how we do it makes a difference.  I happen to love being a United Methodist where we truly are all part of a great “connexion.” In spite of it’s failures and foibles, I still believe in our “little system” and I intend to live out my days as a United Methodist Traveling Preacher until the day they read my name on another list–in the Memorial Service.

Every annual conference begins with the hymn “And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?  Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace.”  Because of the pandemic, this will be the first time in three years we will actually go to conference and see each other’s face.  For some, it might be the last time as they anticipate leaving our “little system”. For some it will be their last conference this side of Glory. And when we gather we will give thanks for our “little system” until the day when all our little systems cease to be.

Let us take up the cross, till we the crown obtain;

And gladly reckon all things loss, so we may Jesus gain.

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Next Sunday, May 29, I will be preaching at Metropolitan UMC in Detroit, the great cathedral church of Methodism in Michigan. Join us on line or in person metroumc.org

One Thing They Have In Common

If you can make a generalization, there is one thing the most of recent mass shooters seem to have in common: They are almost all aggrieved white males. And for the most part, their targets are racial minorities.

The incident this weekend in Buffalo was clearly driven by racial prejudice as evidenced by the shooter’s 180 pages of hatred directed at African Americans and the shooting in California took place in a Presbyterian Church which is primarily Taiwanese. The rise of attacks on Asian Americans, Anti-antisemitism and resentment directed toward Hispanic immigrants grow out of the strain of white supremacy which has run through our society since 1619 and the arrival of the first African slaves. From the days of the Founding Fathers, when only land-holding white males were given the right to vote, we have built this nation on the backs of oppressed minorities.

But ironically, today the ones playing the victim card are the angry white males who feel they are being “replaced” by women and minorities. They follow the lead of tough white guys like Hannity, Carlson and Trump who seem to understand their grievances and will stand up for them. It shouldn’t be surprising that the January 6 insurrection was overwhelmingly white and male.

Actually, it seems these tough white guys with guns are actually pretty fragile. (I recommend the book White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo.) They feel so threatened that they act out in violence to try to hold on to their place of superiority in American life.

In the long run, I have to believe their time is running out…and I think they know it. The future will be a world of diversity and multi-culturalism. You can ban books like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but you can’t stop the movement toward a more just community. You can try to gerrymander away the voice of minority voters, but democracy will survive. You can kill a dozen folks in a grocery store or a church, but in the end, love will win. For me, it’s part of my belief in the coming Kingdom of God; that one day we will learn to live together in peace, one day this world will be one, one day the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.

Then we will all truly have something in common.

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On Sunday, I’ll be preaching at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City. Join us on line or in person. http://www.tccentralumc.org.

Pro-life and Pro-choice

I haven’t said much about abortion. In fact, I don’t think I have said anything in print or on-line on the subject. Partly, that is because I’m not really in favor of abortion and would like to see it become rare. Also, I am a United Methodist who believes what the Social Principles say–that it is a decision to be made between parents and their doctor with the guidance of their pastor. I’ve only been involved in that decision a couple times and each time, there were no good options leading to a painful decision. The current Supreme Court ruling made it possible, but it looks like that might no longer be the case.

First, for me it is about the sacredness of life–life in all its dimensions.

–The life of a young teenager who got involved with the wrong guy and whose life would have been entirely upset by trying to mother a child when she was little more than a child herself.

–The confirmed prognosis of an incredibly deformed infant who would never have had a chance at any quality of life and would have drained the low-income family of all their spiritual, emotional and material resources.

As the Social Principles say, “We acknowledge the tragic conflict of life with life” and sometimes it’s difficult to decide, but it is a decision which should be made without the interference of the State and with a commitment to the sacredness of all of life.

Second, I wish the people who are determined to force women to give birth were just as committed to supporting the care of children.

It’s hypocritical that the people who expect every pregnant mother to give birth regardless of the circumstances are the same people who vote against child tax credits, paid family leave, gun violence, health care, funding for early childhood education and a host of programs which could support the families which result. They seem to care more about the unborn child than the born children.

Third, what about the man?

The Gospel story is ironic. They brought a woman to Jesus who was “caught in adultery, in the very act”. Really? You mean she was doing it by herself? What about the man involved? If we are going to require every pregnant woman to give birth, then we should require the father to support that child until adulthood.

Fourth, this decision is about more than abortion.

Just like the Civil War, it is about state’s rights versus a national identity and federal policy. At that time, it was about the state’s right to allow slavery. Now it is about the states determining birth policies. If you follow this pattern, the same could be said about same-sex and inter-racial marriage, all forms of birth control, and racial justice in hiring practices or serving the public. It’s about undermining the unity of the United States on critical issues which define our national identity.

Fifth, elections matter.

Mitch McConnell’s ability to block one Supreme Court nominee and rush another has given us the court we have today. It’s not just about the Presidency, it’s about the Senate and House and the State legislatures as well. Elections have consequences and the impact can last for generations.

So there you have it. I guess you could say I am “pro-life and pro-choice”. So be it.

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Below please find the link to the United Methodist Social Principle on abortion.

https://www.umc.org/en/content/social-principles-the-nurturing-community

Enemy of the People or Guardian of Truth?

Saturday saw the return of the Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC. After two years of COVID and as The President said, “Four years of the plague” (when the former President refused to attend), the evening was full of tuxes, gowns and spirited roasting of the President as well as the press.

First, it is great to see a President with a sense of humor. One of the significant signs of a healthy individual is the ability to laugh at yourself. Last week I wrote about joy, and whether this was an evening of deep joy or just good-natured fun, in the midst of a world at war and a nation still reeling in the throws of the pandemic, it was great to see the President and the press laugh again.

But more important was President Biden’s message that the news media is not the “enemy of the people” but the “guardian of truth”. Look at Russia today. With the media throttled, silenced and controlled by the regime, truth is lost for the general public. And in our own nation, one man taking control of a major communication tool like Twitter looks a lot like the same thing.

Of course, with freedom comes responsibility. When the vast reach of the media is used to spread misinformation and foment hatred instead of guarding truth, it does become the “enemy of the people.” And yes, I am thinking of Tucker Carlson.

I recommend Robert Giles book When Truth Mattered. It’s about the Kent State killings and the work of journalists to uncover the truth of what happened. More importantly, it is a powerful statement about the importance of seeking and speaking truth today.

And that is a job not just for the media, but for all of us.

You Can Go Home Again

On Sunday, I will be preaching in my “home church”, First United Methodist of Clarion, PA. It’s sacred space for the Harnish family, the site of our baptisms and confirmations and our final farewells for Mom and Dad. It’s the congregation who nurtured my call to ministry, for which I will be forever grateful. If you would like to join us on-line, visit fumc-clarion.org.