Monday, May 02, 2016

Faith Works 5-7-16

Faith Works 5-7-16

Jeff Gill


Transformation Isn't Always On the Outside



Mother's Day weekend, the dogwoods are in full bloom, and spring is ready to turn the page to summer, all solstices aside.


Next week begins the local series of commencements (Denison's used to be on Mother's Day for years and years, but they've grown wiser: it's next Saturday), and this is a big commencement season in your columnist's household.


It's also bittersweet; my mother and father are coming to town at the end of the month, but my wife's mother passed away this week last year. That's also always a part of Mother's Day, as you experience it in community, in families, through the years. There are those we give thanks for who are with us, and those we remember who have passed on; all that we do is intended, in one small part at least, to pass along models and examples for mothers yet to come into that role.


In church life we've learned better than to just focus on the mothers with children on this day. Those who would have had and could not, those who have lost children, those whose circumstances we may never fully comprehend can be excluded and hurt if we're too entirely about numbers and distance and generations, but it's worth a little extra effort to find a way to celebrate the mothers that are, as well as the mothering we all need and have often gotten from many and diverse sources.


We are mothered in school by teachers and lunch ladies, mothered by nurses and doctors and caregivers, mothered by Sunday school leaders and even occasionally by ministers. A motherly love was expressed by Jesus looking down from the Mount of Olives over Jerusalem, and we would reflect that particular love as we would all elements of Christ's personality.


It is hard, and even in a practical sense impossible to be mothered by institutions – even the institution of the church. One of the reasons I like to lift up Mother's Day in the liturgical year (some do not, and I respect the observation that it's not in the Bible) is that it's really about personal connections in life and faith and family. We can add to our collection of mothers in our lives through interactions and involvements in a number of organizations, the church included, but while we sing and speak this time of year of "Alma Mater," there's no collective that can truly love us with a mother's love. It's the people we meet at Alma Mater who show us that love, that care.


It is in the relationships we build with people, face to face, personal and connected, that we come to know just why Mother's Day is such an important day to so many. On the Fourth of July we celebrate that "Columbia's the gem of the ocean," but on Mother's Day we give thanks for the individuals who have shown us what love really is.


And if you're looking for someplace to take Mom, or one of the motherly influences in your life, this weekend, you really should come to downtown Newark and check out FAMFEST. Again, "The Works" is a unique and wonderful museum, about to celebrate a 20th anniversary that includes, quite frankly, a whole lot of love, but you can't love a big brick building. It's the people who manage it and run it and volunteer for it who put the love inside of all the hard edges and factory exterior.


They tell us "Newark FAMFEST was founded on the belief that experiences in Film, Art and Music can be a catalyst for personal, social and economic transformation." That's true, but that truth only is communicated through the interactions with the artists and creators and curators at work on what they have to share. Come on down to the LeFevre Courtyard at "The Works" to celebrate Film, Art, & Music in our community.  (See for more info.)


We need those connections now, it seems, more than ever. When labels and speeches and social media are full of tension and fear and anger, that's when we need a mother's touch the most. Not only our own mother, but the mothers and fathers and caring adults and visionary youth of our community to create spaces where those personal encounters can happen: and FAMFEST looks to be exactly one of those, perfectly fitting into this Mother's Day weekend.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the relationships that have transformed you at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Faith Works 4-30-16

Faith Works 4-30-16

Jeff Gill


Topless trees and bottomless wisdom



"Spring is nature's time to get people outdoors where the plants seem to be," said Al Cook in these pages some thirty years ago.


Chief horticulturist and finally director of extended services at Dawes Arboretum, Al worked there for 24 years, retiring in 1994 to be replaced by Luke Messinger, who would later become executive director. There are many of us still around Licking County who remember Al, who died in January at 91.


He outlived many of his friends and family, leaving his wife Margaret and daughters Sandy and Jenny and son Toby and their families to mourn his passing, but we knew as we laid him to rest that we had a great deal to celebrate about his life. And even if you never knew Al Cook, I suspect he's touched your life, and that's also if you've never been out to Dawes (and if not, this is the perfect month to get out there this afternoon, and I do mean today: the arboretum is having an Arbor Day Festival on the grounds from 10 am to 4 pm, free and open to the public).


I'd make the case that you've known or been influenced by Al in two ways. One, if you see flowering trees gracefully accenting homes or commercial buildings in Licking County, and if you know long-time gardeners who are out working the soil and even starting their own plants (or hazarding a few in the ground just ahead of the frost-free date for our area); if you think that both in nature but also in the landscaping of Licking County there is beauty around us, I think Al can be given some credit for that.


Al didn't just want to improve Dawes Arboretum as a horticulturist and arborist, he wanted to influence all of Licking County, and beyond. In this area, he was consulted and advised on all manner of plans for large scale landscape projects, such as for Cherry Valley Lodge when it was built. He was a tireless public speaker, to garden clubs and outdoor organizations, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to his own beloved Rotary and even on occasion to Kiwanians and beyond.


And he wrote a newspaper column for this publication for over a decade. In these pages, he was a fixture through the Eighties and Nineties, sharing both wit and wisdom in equal measure, giving helpful tips of immediate application to nervous homeowners and community leaders about what to plant, and where.


"Topless trees are indecent" was a common refrain; Al was passionate against the practice of "topping" trees which had all sorts of myth and legend (and tree service salesmanship) behind it – again and again Al would try to explain and exhort Licking Countians to avoid this unnecessary and unsightly act, shearing across the top of a tree's canopy, leaving an odd broom-like profile through seven leafless months of the year.


 "People soothed by vegetation are less likely to worry, to over- or under-eat, to steal, kill, go crazy, and indulge in other talk-show topics." That's the sort of wisdom Al Cook shared with our area in his daily work, his speaking, and in his column writing.


So I think you've seen Al's handiwork blossoming and growing and soothing us, in more places than even his own family could know. He got us to plant things and grow trees and tend them well for our mutual benefit. I'd quote another horticulturist about how Al is still influencing us: it was Nelson Henderson who said "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."


The second way I'd tell you that you've been touched by Al's influence is something you might have already picked up on. Al wrote a column for years for the Advocate. For four of those years, I lived here in Licking County (in a previous existence), and not only read those columns, but had Al's wisdom available to me on my "pastoral relations committee." What a PRC does is, by nature, confidential, but I can easily share that his wisdom was a great blessing to me in those days.


And I feel that I've been given a chance to pay forward some of that debt, and to branch out and grow from Al's roots, in writing this column of my own. I'd like to think that more than a few turns of phrase and ways of looking at our world come from the influence of a fine Christian gentleman who also knew "plants are only as good as the people who care for them; and people who care for plants become better people."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has planted a few trees in his time, too. Tell him about the legacy you'd like to help take root at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 4-28-16

Notes From My Knapsack 4-28-16

Jeff Gill


Conversations at dawn



Sunrise is not everyone's favorite time of day.


There are morning people and night people, we're told, and while I'm skeptical of such a simple dichotomy in all things, let alone nocturnal preferences, it's a general pattern I'll accept for the moment.


Some folks are just not set up for an appreciation of the finer things early in the day. They question whether life is worth living for an hour or two after waking, and even coffee isn't enough to change their minds (poor souls).


That's fine, it means a little more peace and quiet as the sun rises, and April means I can come out on the front porch with a steaming mug and enjoy the train whistle in the distance down along Ramp Creek, echoing off the Welsh Hills behind me, birds singing overhead, and the occasional jake-brake rumble down on Rt. 16.


But I often do have conversations early in the morning, thanks to the complicated blessing of social media. I'll pick up the phone and check texts or e-mail, see which messaging platforms have a "ping" on them.


And it's often early in the morning, even more than late at night, I'll find myself advising or reacting or suggesting guidance for a friend or acquaintance who is going through a challenging situation. The full story seems to come out faster in a morning "talk" and the details go right to the bone more directly than they seem to at other times.


Maybe it's because it's a new day. Perhaps new light on a situation brings clarity, and a full day ahead gives impetus to honesty. I don't know, but I do know that many similar conversations that come up, in person and online, later in the day more often go in wide, free-ranging circles for some time before we get to where the inquiry or request is going.


And for my own prayer life, I think my morning devotions get real and go deeper with God than they do as I'm tumbling into sleep with a simple "thank you."


Anyhow, in my more religion oriented column that appears Saturdays in the Advocate, I recently talked about stepping back from social media during Lent. I couldn't call it a fast, really, because in 2016 it's almost impossible for me to do my work without using not only cell phones, but to monitor texts and email accounts and now also messaging services. Different people communicate through different platforms, and if you work in human services of any sort today you're just about obligated to keep up on multiple channels.


It was a good thing, though, for me to take on a practice for 40 days of not posting or commenting. That adaptation gave me a chance to use the devices, but also to step back and assess my relationship to how they influence my life.


Likewise, the Granville Public Library is again sponsoring "Turn Off Your Screens Week" May 1 to 7, which you can honor in whatever manner works for you, but they support by offering a variety of programs and activities, in the library building and around the community. Look up, get out, and be connected in new ways to the world around you! Check out the library webpage or Facebook for details.


And starting with the dawn of the last day of that week, on May 7 – the Great Granville Garage Sale returns, a chance to get stuff out of your house, money into your pockets, but also to support the Licking County Coalition for Housing through your $20 to become an official GGGS sale site and appear on the official map. Locations can still be purchased for $30 downtown; check their Facebook or webpage for info.


It all begins officially at 8:00 am, but you know some will be out, coffee in hand, at dawn…


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what time works best for your coherence at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Faith Works 4-23-16

Faith Works 4-23-16

Jeff Gill


Where There's a Will, There's a Way

[ed. note – if you use this, "Will" must be capitalized!]




"The Devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose."


That line is found in the Bible where, exactly?


Yes, you can look at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in Luke's gospel, and Satan does quote the Torah and the prophets, but that pungent phrase: not there.


You may look in Paul's letters and beyond, but a quick online search will reveal it's not in the Bible. It's in "The Merchant of Venice," and the line belongs to William Shakespeare.


Today is the 400th anniversary of his death; indications are that he was (poetically) born in this day, as well, in 1564.


No one has to be told that Shakespeare dominates our cultural landscape four centuries after his passing, and his words have entered our language, both individual coinages (the words "addiction, "arch-villain," and "assassination" just for starters) and mellifluous phrases ("If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it!").


But good old Will of Stratford has also snuck into our religion, and our Bibles.


There's a bit of folk etymology and linguistic analysis that makes a case that Shakespeare helped translate the King James Version of the Holy Bible (c. 1611, so it's possible), leaving his "signature" behind in Psalm 46. You can look that iffy claim up for yourself, but don't be bedazzled* by coincidence.


(*Bedazzled, also coined by Shakespeare.)


I've also heard a claim that Will's fingerprints are on the 23rd Psalm, but that's an uncomfortable* stretch as well.




What's perhaps due to the resonance of the language of that cultural moment, as Queen Elizabeth's reign ended and King James' began, is that there are many phrases of Shakespeare that are commonly attributed to Holy Writ.


"Forget and forgive" – King Lear, not in the Bible.


"Neither a borrower nor a lender be" – Hamlet, not the Bible.


"This above all: to thine own self be true" – Ditto.


Likewise, the twist can turn in the other direction: you can find smart people saying something like "As Shakespeare himself said 'eat, drink and be merry'!" Nope, Jesus used that line in Luke 12 as he told a parable.


The Bible is full of poetry. I'm not sure we remember that often enough when reading and studying and sharing God's Word as those words have been passed down. The art and craft of poetic language and meaning, and in the original, occasionally in carefully crafted translation, there is a rhythm and pattern that also evokes meanings beneath meanings, the body in motion beneath the silken robes.


And Shakespeare, too, saw himself more as a poet than a playwright. Perhaps because of questions of propriety and status, or maybe it had to do with patronage, but his pride of place was clearly in the poet's role. Iambic pentameter aside, the plays are rich with poetry in how they are constructed, how the characters speak but even in the stage directions. There is a level of nuance and subtlety to Shakespeare that ironically both makes it live beyond the usual span of years for a dramatic work, but also makes his plays hard to study, as any English class student can tell you.


But a good teacher will always remind students "say it out loud, speak it in order to understand it." If you just try to pry meaning out of Shakespeare reading one line at a time in a darkened room under a study lamp looking at the dead page, you will indeed struggle. When you start to say it, the pageantry* and swagger*  will show themselves.


(*Uh huh.)


This is also true of the Bible. If you find yourself in study wrestling with the text, speak it. Say it out loud, and as most of the original audience experienced it, you will hear new meaning. "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue…"


Right, that's Hamlet. By Shakespeare! It works for the Bible, too.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how you hear the Bible speaking to you today at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.