“The Present Crisis”

On Flunking Retirement

My wife says I flunked retirement.  I’d say that I get to do the things I want to do but don’t do things I have to do.  So, what have I been up to?

This is my tenth year as one of the facilitators for the Institute of Preaching and I’m helping some young pastors who are on their way to ordination.  In January I was one of the speakers on the EO Celebration Cruise through the Caribbean.  I preach and teach in churches and Conferences when the opportunities come along and I’ve been writing other things that have kept me from writing on this blog.

We just finished Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World, the 2018 Lenten study from The Upper Room.  We’re in the final stages of development of Make A Difference: Follow Your Path…Find Your Place to Serve.  It follows up on A Disciple’s Path and A Disciple’s Heart by helping people live into the second part of our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world and will be released in the fall.

I’d say I have enough work to keep me out of trouble, but enough freedom to visit the grandkids in Orlando and Charleston, enjoy family travel and keep in touch with friends.  And, of course, Gator football season is not too far away!

With all of that, the dark shadow hanging over everything else right now is the continuing chaos surrounding the Trump administration.

“The Present Crisis” 

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was an American poet, the first editor of The Atlantic Monthly, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Great Britain and an ardent abolitionist.  In 1845 he wrote a poem entitled “The Present Crisis,” parts of which became the hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” You can listen to it here.  Though it is no longer in our hymnal, the words stirred a teenage idealism in me that I’ve never been able to live up to or escape. Martin Luther King, Jr., often quoted the last four lines in his sermons.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

Those words have been haunting me as we’ve lived into the early weeks of the Trump administration.

I first wrote about Trump two years ago when I raised my concern that “Donald Trump is appealing to ‘the worst angels of our nature’ by touching the chords of fear, racism, xenophobia, greed, and arrogant nationalism.” I’ve also described my concern about his sexual immorality, his total disregard for truth and his distain for the freedom of the press that is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.  All of those are fundamental contradictions of the biblical, social and spiritual values that have shaped my life.

But there is a deeper crisis lurking in the shadows of this Administration.

Mr. Goebbels Comes to Washington 

In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he appointed Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. His job was to control the content of the German media in order to silence all opposition to Hitler’s agenda.

I could not help but think of Goebbels when I watched Presidential advisor, Stephen Miller, on the Sunday news shows last week.  His words were disturbing enough, but it was the cold, unflinching glare in his eyes that sent chills down my spine.  You can watch the collection of them here. This guy really means what he is saying. Here are some key lines.

“To say that we are in control would be a substantial understatement.”

“It is a fact and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country, who are registered to vote.” (A claim for which there is absolutely no factual evidence.)

“The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” (So much for separation of powers and Five Freedoms of the First Amendment.)

Equally disturbing was the President’s tweet the next morning:  “Congratulations Stephen Miller — on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!”

The realities of our present time have taken me back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who spoke out against the rise of Nazism from a profoundly spiritual, biblical and theological perspective.  I pray that we are not headed in the same direction but am reminded that every generation of Christian disciples is called to live into the clarity of conviction and commitment that guided him.

New occasions do, in fact, teach new duties.  May the Spirit of God teach us the new duties that the present crisis imposes on faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,






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16 thoughts on ““The Present Crisis”

  1. Clarke's M. Smith February 18, 2017 — 1:31 pm

    Unfortunately we on the UMH 1989 Committee omitted this hymn due to believing that such moments to decide are daily. But that misses the fact that some moments are more momentous than others and a little bit of poetic, hyperbolic hymn-singing can give courage to cowed Christians including their too often timid, therefore tongue-tied preachers. The silence on all these discipleship issues in the vast majority of our mainline churches is sad & shameful. Not many profiles in courage on display.

  2. Great perspective, Jim. We have entered a period in which our Constitution will be tested repeatedly by the current White House. It is a time in which I will not ever be more proud to be an officer of the legal system. Federal judges all take the vow to uphold the Constitution. May they repeatedly abide by their vows to uphold the Constitution and to marginalize Team Trump over the next 4 years!

    David J. Stefany

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Jim, thank you for your thoughtful and faithful response to the same concerns for this country that weigh heavy on my soul. Grace and peace to you!

  4. Please change my email address to lashbrook2@gmail.com. Thanks, Bon

    From: Jim Harnish To: lashbrook2@yahoo.com Sent: Saturday, February 18, 2017 7:45 AM Subject: [New post] “The Present Crisis” #yiv0359743051 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0359743051 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0359743051 a.yiv0359743051primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0359743051 a.yiv0359743051primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0359743051 a.yiv0359743051primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0359743051 a.yiv0359743051primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0359743051 WordPress.com | jimharnish posted: “On Flunking RetirementMy wife says I flunked retirement.  I’d say that I get to do the things I want to do but don’t do things I have to do.  So, what have I been up to?This is my tenth year as one of the facilitators for the Institute of Preaching an” | |

  5. THank you , Jim for such an eloquent blog. You and others who speak up will help make changes. We need a healthy leader (s) to run the nation.
    THank you

  6. Beautifully done. Thanks for the encouragement to action.

    1. Thank you for this, we all need to be aware of what could be happening, I stayed concerned every day, and I keep looking, but see nothing to help ease those concerns.

  7. HI Jim

    I tried posting the following in “comments” but guess I’m not as technically proficient as I thought I was.

    I recommend reading “The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich” by Robert K. Wittman. Fascinating and a little frightening in its parallels.

    James A. Cloar 371 Channelside Walk Way, # 904 Tampa, FL 33602 jcloar@verizon.net 314-409-4062


  8. In the past few weeks, I have found myself wondering where you are and what you are up to. I relied on your Christian perspective throughout the presidential campaign. Each day brings more and more the realization that our country is in grave danger of losing everything that we stand for and struggled to achieve. I was so pleased to see that you have been there all along (no matter your geography at the time) listening, researching, seeking Holy guidance, and just knowing how to put it all together. Thank you for today’s entry. I did see Mr. Miller’s remarks through social media and they caused the most alarm that I have felt so far.
    WE are still studying your A Disciple’s Heart in our Adult Sunday School class and it helps us to keep focused on our RELATIONSHIP with Father , Son and Holy Ghost is every day to get through times like these.(and all of our times) We have also been challenged to dig deep into our uneasiness with certain ideas that we have been taught “subliminally” and have been challenged to take out, ,examine, and perhaps “LET GO OF”
    It was Paul Young who first brought this home to me in THE SHACK and I was amazed to see how you used that book in Chapter 3 when you teach about the dance of the Trinity and the power of the Holy Spirit. You are always a beacon of light and truth. Thank you

  9. This is a time of great trial for our nation. Our survival will depend upon leadership from our intellectual and spiritual leaders. We need people like you to speak up and help rebut the concept that the current administration is led by spiritual principals and principled people. Thank you.

    Bob Williams

  10. Tom,

    Latest from Jim.

    Love, Ang

    Sent from my iPad Angela Majors, MA, LMFT, LMHC Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Licensed Mental Health Counselor



  11. Helpful and eloquent! Good ministry, these words! Thanks, Jim.

  12. Andrea and I would love to have dinner

  13. Thank you ! We need more prophetic voices and witness like yours.

  14. Amen, my brother.
    Susan Howard

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