Jim Harnish

Portland, Poet & Pentecost


On the Oregon Trail 

I fly to Portland on Monday to look in on the UMC General Conference.  Having been a delegate to these quadrennial events every time since 1980, I’ve enjoyed looking in online this time without doing all the homework or enduring the sometimes endless debates over details of parliamentary procedure.  It will be good to visit with friends from around the world and to see how the Spirit is moving among “the people called Methodist.”

General Conference is an utterly-unique, globally-diverse, spiritually-uplifting, legislatively-tedious, linguistically-challenging, organizationally-dysfunctional and physically-exhausting experience in denominational life that could fit Winston Churchill’s description of democracy as being the worst form of government except for everything else. With all of its strengths and weaknesses, it’s a living body that represents who we are as a global church family.  Tom Berlin offered an accurate description of it in his blog.

The Poet of Pentecost 

Providentially, this Sunday mid-way through the Conference is Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit descended like flames of fire on the first disciples and the Church was born (Acts 2:1-21).  It’s worth hoping that just as people from all around the world were gathered in Jerusalem that day, that the global family gathered in Portland will once again experience the fire of the Spirit energizing us to passionately and powerfully fulfill our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

The Pentecost story reminded me of these lines from T.S. Eliot.  They are worth reading several times.

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

 Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Both in the church and in the world, these are critical days to be reminded that we will be “consumed by either fire or fire.”

I take that to mean that we get to choose the fires of selfishness, anger, hostility, division, meanness, envy and greed, or the fire of the Holy Spirit which the New Testament defines as “love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:16-25) Our only hope lies in the choice “to be redeemed from fire by fire.”

May God’s people everywhere experience a fiery Pentecost.

Grace and peace,