Remembering Uncle Dick

This Memorial Day weekend we are in Boston with our extended family to remember Uncle Dick.  At 22 years old, my wife’s uncle Richard G. Dinning, found himself as the pilot of a B-17 flying bombing raids over Germany.  He was a budding law student when Pearl Harbor changed his world, he enlisted and ended up in Cambridge, England commanding the cockpit of a Flying Fortress.  He promised his crew he would get them all home safely, and after 26 flights he did just that, unlike many of the other crews who followed the same routes.  My Uncle Jim made those flights and never came home. He died when his plane went down in Holland.

–James Alexander Harnish

At the end of the war, one last flight was probably Uncle Dick’s most chilling—a rescue mission to bring French prisoners of war back to France from the brutal prison camps of Poland.  He seldom talked about that flight. Later in life, however, he was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur (Knight of the National Order of the French Legion of Honor), the highest civilian award given by the French Republic for his efforts on behalf of the French troops.

Once he spent time in a B-17, I guess flying just got in his blood.  He became an executive with Allegheny Airlines, which became US Airways and is now part of American Airlines.  He flew his own Mooney until he was in his 80’s, traveling around the country to air shows accompanying a B-17 and B-24.  He called himself the “living relic” as he sat beside the hulking B-17 and regaled visitors with his stories.

He died just shy of 100, the last of the “Greatest Generation” in our family and a part of that quickly fading generation of men and women who went to war to save the world.

Uncle Dick never forgave Ronald Reagan for firing the Air Traffic Controllers, but he loved the poem President Reagan shared at the time of the Challenger tragedy.  I share it now in his memory, in honor of all the B-17 pilots and especially those like my Uncle Jim who gave their lives in service.  It was written by a Canadian World War II pilot who died in a plane crash over England:

High Flight


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air ….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Thank you, Uncle Dick, for the life you lived and the world you gave us. 

A Question for Annual Conference

My non-United Methodist friends may want to skip this post, but here goes…

At Annual Conference we will be voting on the disaffiliation of a number of churches. The paragraph in the Book of Discipline providing for this action reads:

¶ 2553. Disaffiliation of a Local Church Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality— 1. Basis– Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues.

So…have the churches desiring disaffiliation clearly stated that their reason is an issue of “…conscience regarding the practice of homosexuality?”

I’ve heard a lot of conversation about the “Trust Clause” and churches wanting to own their own property, or concerns about other areas of theology, etc, but those are not part of this provision. Since the basis for this “limited right” is “Issues Related to Human Sexuality”, it seems churches would need to clearly state that their request relates to this issue in order to request disaffiliation under this paragraph.

Have they done so?

“I’ll Be Back”

Evidently Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic line in The Terminator almost didn’t happen. He wanted to say I will be back, but the director insisted it would be more powerful with the conjunction–I’ll be back. In the movie, it was a threat and he did come back several times.

The Feast of Ascension is the fitting wrap-up to Jesus’ post-resurrection 40 days on earth. I mean, how else would you want the story to end? With the Risen Christ growing old and dying (again!) with dementia? The image of Jesus “ascending” into the heavens to be, as the creed says, seated at the right hand of God the Father is a glorious way to bring the whole incarnation full circle. Alleluia! Amen!

But let’s get real.

If you go to the Mount of the Ascension in Israel, the tour guide might show you the depression in the rock–the very place where Jesus kicked off and left a footprint in stone. But really….We now know the earth is not flat and heaven is not “up”, but rather wrapped around us. We know bodies don’t float around on clouds in the wild blue yonder. If you only take the story literally, you are stuck with cosmological, astrological and physiological questions the Bible is not prepared to answer. But if you can allow the power of the poetry and the majesty of the mystery to speak to your soul about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then you have a story worth telling. The story of the life of Jesus ends with the grand crescendo, “He ascended into heaven.”

And better yet, Jesus promised, “I’ll be back!”

This time it wasn’t a threat, it was a promise. In Acts a messenger says, This same Jesus who has been taken from you will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. Again, don’t ask me to explain the Second Coming in literal terms. Do I believe one day we will see Jesus’ size 11, ten-toed tootsies dropping through the clouds? Do I believe Jesus will literally enthrone himself in Jerusalem and rule the world? Not really. But do I cling to the hope that one day the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed will in some incredible way come on earth as it is in heaven? Do I believe one day in some unimaginable way every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do I believe in the blessed hope of the Second Coming which has held the church firm through the ages? You bet!

I love the moment in the communion liturgy when the pastor says, Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. Then, with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, our Pastor Anne always adds, And friends, he will surely come again. It gets me every time!

I can’t explain it.

But I will believe it because I believe in a Cosmic Christ who is greater than our earth-bound understanding and our physical human categories. I will live on the promise, trusting in the One who said, “I’ll be back.”


Until He comes, I have been weaving rugs to support Benzie Area Christian Neighbors. If you are interested in purchasing one, drop me a note and we can Facetime.

Mother’s Day in America, 2023

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)

Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, was a passionate abolitionist who had experienced the carnage of the Civil War as a field nurse. In 1870, she began a campaign for a Mother’s Peace Day, one of the precursors of our American Mother’s Day. Her impassioned proclamation was a call to end the bloodshed of war, and tragically it is still applicable in our world today. But I also believe it speaks to the uniquely American crisis of gun violence on Mother’s Day, 2023:

“Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

On Mother’s Day in America, 2023, and for the sake of too many mothers who have buried their children in the aftermath of mass shootings, may this be a time when we commit ourselves to the call for common sense legislation to limit the spread of weapons in our society. In the words of Julie Ward Howe, “…from the boson of the devastated earth, the cry goes up “Disarm! Disarm!”

Perhaps that would honor our Mothers better than candy or flowers.


Check out Mothers speaking out against gun violence:

Passing the Plate

I’ve visited a couple churches lately where they no longer pass an offering plate.  It started during the pandemic when we thought the virus could be shared by touch or hand-to-hand.  At the same time, we were microwaving our mail and leaving the groceries in the garage.  Remember? Then we learned COVID is transmitted orally, so we turned to masks for protection, but some churches never brought back the offering plates.

Or maybe it’s because many church members are giving electronically.  It’s a wonderful way for folks to maintain a regular pattern of stewardship even when they aren’t in church, but should it be the only way to give?

Or maybe it’s because churches are hesitant to appear to be demanding something.  One church changed the language so they no longer say “tithes and offerings” because it sounds like a requirement rather than a joyful privilege. (Personally, I think it is both.)

For whatever reason, some churches are no longer passing the plate. I happen to believe receiving the offering in worship is important and here’s why. 

First, it is an act of worship.  When we bring our gifts to the table we are saying these gifts represent our time and talents, our very lives.  We are not just taking in cash, we are honoring the God who gives us life with the gifts we bring. Like breaking the bread and lifting the cup, presenting the gifts matters as an act of worship.

Second, it invites everyone to take part.  When we visited a neighboring church, Judy prepared a check in advance, but no offering was taken and we couldn’t figure out where to drop the check, so the church missed out on the gift and we missed out on the joy of giving. At Court Street Church we had a parishioner from a group home who would bring his few coins in a plastic medicine bottle and noisily dump them into the plate with a big smile. Even Larry, who could never manage an electronic deposit, was included.

Third, it models why we come to worship. We don’t come just to “be fed” or to receive, we come in the spirit of grateful sharing.  Even if I am giving electronically from home, just passing the plate to the person beside me reminds me that I am connected with others in ministry around the world.

Fourth, it is a reminder that generosity is a way of life. True meaning in life is to be found in sharing, passing it on, spreading the blessings and offering life to one another. Greed turns us inward, life becomes narrow and selfishness takes control.  The Bible refers to people whose “God is their belly”–like folks gazing at their own belly buttons. But when we hold all our talents and gifts in open hands, when we live with a heart of generosity, the world opens up to us and we discover the joy of living. 

So, I believe we all need to be “passing the plate” in our churches, in our daily lives, for the sake of the world and for the sake of our own souls.


Here is a cashless offering plate used in the American Church in Paris, 2019–just tap your credit card!

“The Room Where It Happened”

One of the best songs from the musical Hamilton says, “I want to be in the room where it happened, the room where it happened”…and don’t we all? When Methodists go to London, one of the places we would love to go is “the room where it happened” on May 24, 1738, a nondescript room on Aldersgate Street where John Wesley writes:

” At about a quarter before nine, while one was reading from Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I knew 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.”

You’d love to go to the room where it happened, but you can’t.

It doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, even Aldersgate Street is gone. You can find a plaque on the wall of an old church that gets you close and you can see the large monument shaped like a page from his journal recounting the event, but you can’t really go back to the “room where it happened”.

Last week we visited the “New Room”, the meeting house in Bristol which became the center of the Methodist movement. We climbed the narrow stairs in John Wesley’s apartment to the room where he died. We stood in the Charles Wesley’s music room where he wrote many of his hymns. You can do all that and in the journey get a sense of the place, the times and the birth of this thing called Methodism, but you can’t go to the one place that made all the difference…Aldersgate.

And maybe that is just as well.

Because Aldersgate is not just about some lost street in London. It’s not just about some event in the 18th Century. It’s not just about what happened in John Wesley’s heart. The journey to Aldersgate is really about what happens on our streets, in our rooms and in our hearts. It’s about what happens in each of us today.

The room on Aldersgate Street is gone, Charles Wesley’s hymn-writing pen is dry, and John Wesley’s warm heart lies cold in the grave, but our hearts can still be strangely warmed…and in the end, that is what really matters.

–Aldersgate Monument inscribed with the May 24th quotation from Wesley’s journal.

The First Woke Methodist

On April 4, 1742, Charles Wesley preached a sermon in Oxford which would become his signature sermon. It was called Awake! Thou That Sleepest and was based on Ephesians 5:14. It was printed as a tract then circulated throughout the Methodist class meetings. I guess that makes Brother Charles the first Woke Methodist.

This week Judy and I have been traveling with Rev. Faith Fowler and a group of Methodist pilgrims (including a couple Presbyterians, no less!) in the land of the Wesleys. We visited Oxford, the old rectory in Epworth where Samuel and Susanna raised their 19 children, including the two brothers and the monument near Aldersgate Street where John’s heart was strangely warmed. We worshiped at the great Methodist Central Hall across the street from Westminster Abbey and visited the historic City Road Chapel where John is buried.

Charles’ famous sermon was a call to come alive spiritually, to awake from the lethargy and lack of faith which plagued the church in his day, but that spiritual revival resulted in an incredible social awakening as well. The Wesley’s believed warm-hearted, spiritually alive Christians were called to deal with issues like child labor, slavery, prison reform and poverty. As Methodist theologian Leonard Sweet says, Jesus didn’t just come to make a difference in the world, he came to make a different world. And so did the Wesleys.

Today the word woke is used by some as a derogatory term of mocking derision. Well, so was the name Methodist. The Wesley brother’s fellow students at Oxford made fun of them by calling them Bible Moths and Methodists because they were so methodical in their faith and life. But the name stuck, and generations of us have been proud to be called Methodists. Today, I’d be proud to be called woke if that means being awake to the needs of others, alert to the issues of society, aware of the places of injustice and the calls for renewal and reform.

Charles Wesley might have been the first woke Methodist, but thank God he wasn’t the last!


PS: You can find a summary of Charles Wesley’s sermon by visiting and searching for Awake! Thou That Sleepest.

On April 30, I will be preaching at First UMC in Troy ( in the morning and speaking at Clarkston UMC ( in the evening. If you are in the area come and join us.

United or Untied Methodists?

This week we are traveling in the land of the Wesleys, visiting the sites of the early days of Methodism in England. From Susanna’s kitchen where John, Charles and their 17 siblings first learned the faith, we will move on to Oxford University where the first groups of “Methodists” gathered to share their life together. Finally we will pause at Wesley’s grave. By the time he died, he was the “best-loved man in England”, so they held his funeral at 4:00am to try to control the crowds and even so over 10,000 people showed up.

The Wesleys didn’t intended to break from the Anglican Church, but the Methodist movement spread to the American colonies where the Revolution was in full force, Anglican priests were fleeing the country and Methodist settlers were in need of the sacraments, so Wesley sent Frances Asbury to lead the work and the Methodist Episcopal Church was born in Baltimore. Ultimately the British Methodists separated from the Church of England as well.

I suppose if Wesley had his way we would all still be Anglicans.

He believed in the unity of the church as the Body of Christ and I believe he would be heart-broken to see what’s happening in the United (more like Untied) Methodist Church today. One of his famous quotations was “The People Called Methodist are one in all the earth.” I hope that is true spiritually across the breadth of expressions of Methodism around the world, but here in the USA, the movement of congregations to “disaffiliate” essentially over one social issue (homosexuality) is tragic. In a broken and polarize world, the witness of the church is weakened by our disunion.

This week we’re stepping into our past in England. Lord knows what the future will hold, but I cling to the words of the old order for the reception of members:

The church is of God and will be preserved till the end of time…” Even with our brokenness, the church is still of God and will be preserved. Thanks be to God.

“You Rode with Jesus”

Last month, we were back in Nashville for a couple days, a city we loved and left 20 years ago, a city which is in my prayers in these difficult days. One morning I booked an Uber to meet some of my former colleagues from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry at Pancake Pantry, that great Nashville tradition. I was a bit surprised when Uber told me, “Your driver is Jesus.” “Well,” I thought, “that’s reassuring!”

After he delivered me to the restaurant, the follow-up message popped up on my phone, You rode with Jesus. My driver was Hispanic and likely pronounced his name “Ya-sus”, but the phrase stuck with me as a reflection on Holy Week.

This week, we rode with Jesus.

Once again, we took that familiar ride from the crest of the Mount of Olives, down the narrow footpath and across the Kidron Valley up to the gates of the city. Once again, we paused as Jesus wept saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” I’m sure he weeps and offers the same prayer for Nashville today. Once again, we shouted the words of longing, “Hosanna! Save Now!

We rode with Jesus as he challenged the religious and economic realities of his day in the temple and confronted the political powers. We rode with him to a farewell dinner in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, then another last meal in an upper room before going through the agony of the Garden and the pain of the cross. The ride went all the way down to death until as the creed says, “he descended into hell.”

But thanks be to God, the ride didn’t end there.

With the dawn, the journey broke out of the tomb onto a new day and now we ride with the Risen Christ into the promise of new life. Now we soar!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!

Following our exalted head, Alleluia!

Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, A-a-a-alleuia!”

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll keep riding with Jesus’till that great gettin’ up morning.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

A Holy Week Lament

It was the day after the shooting at the Covenant School.

A week earlier, we had been back in Nashville, had dinner in Green Hills and drove past the Covenant Presbyterian Church, just a few miles from our former home. On this day, I was invited to speak to a neighboring church about why they should remain United Methodist instead of disaffiliating. After the meeting, one of the participants began a non-stop tirade about everything that’s wrong today–abortion, gays in the church, boys in girls’ locker rooms, progressives ramming stuff down his throat, etc. etc. I just listened until he got to “kids shooting up schools.” At that point I interrupted and said, “I agree with you on that one. That’s why we need common sense guns laws.” Wow! Did that set him off! I heard all the rhetoric from “guns don’t kill, people do” to the Second Amendment.

It would be ironic if it wasn’t so tragic.

-The same people who want to ban abortion because it kills children won’t ban assault weapons, the weapon of choice in the killing of school children.

-The same people who want to restrict the availability of certain books to children because they might harm them are opposed to safe storage laws restricting the availability of guns to children which can kill them.

-The same people who say “it’s not about guns, it’s about mental health”, refuse to support funding for mental health services.

-The same people who say “it’s evil people, not guns” oppose universal background checks and red flags laws which would keep dangerous people from accessing guns.

-The Tennessee lawmaker who was quick to offer his “thoughts and prayers” after the massacre in his own town said there is nothing we can do to prevent the next one.

This is Holy Week.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus paused to weep over the city, praying “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” I believe on this Palm Sunday Jesus weeps because we DO know the things which can be done to prevent gun violence and we fail to do them. On Good Friday, Jesus will pray for forgiveness for those who “know not what they they do.” I wonder if we can be forgiven when we know what we can do and won’t do it.

Pope Frances was once asked about prayer and world hunger. He responded, “First, you pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

During this painful Holy Week, first we pray for families grieving after more than 100 mass shootings this year, then we take steps to prevent them. That’s how prayer works.

May you have a blessed and troubled Holy Week.