Monday, October 16, 2017

Faith Works 10-21-17

Faith Works 10-21-17

Jeff Gill

 

Donor fatigue is real, and an illusion (it's both)

___

 

Have you gotten one of those letters in the mail?

 

Did you find a message in your email with links to videos, images, and a "how to donate" button?

 

Are you watching television or scrolling online and brought to a halt by some appeal or pitch or program about a cause you believe in, or think you should believe in a little bit more than you do?

 

It's that time of the year.

 

Heading into that grand stretch of months called "the holidays," from All Hallow's Eve to Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year's, there's a mix of the end of the calendar year feelings with seasonal good will to make every non-profit and charitable cause and, in many cases, faith-based programs (including churches) to take the opportunity to reach out, and ask for your contributions.

 

On top of this annual custom, the recent string of natural disasters in the South and Caribbean has resulted in some extra telethons and text-based donation drives, which we've almost all been exposed to. Repeatedly!

 

Which then leads to a phenomenon known as "donor fatigue." It has some grounding in precedent and fact, where you can track the declining rate of giving and how repeated requests for aid can push those curves down more sharply.

 

Truth be told, though, this is a very generous country. It's how we roll. Some $380 BILLION in the last year's tally of charitable giving, individual gifts the overwhelming majority of those dollars, though foundations and grants total billions themselves.

 

What I think some of us get weary of is our own self-doubt, our own questioning of where we are and to whom we should be giving of our blessings. And I'd take that a step farther, and push us all to think about whether we're tired of thinking about where our gifts should go, or if it's repeated circuits around that track without ever quite passing a finish line that wear us down.

 

The requests, in a practical sense, will never end. But if we come to some settled conclusions about a) WHY we give, and b) how we want to give, and yes, c) how much we're going to give, we can reach a point of relative peace. Yes, the requests will still come in, but we won't wear ourselves out in second-guessing what we haven't quite gotten around to doing . . . and that's where I think the fatigue comes in.

 

I wish I could give more in some cases, to some places. But my wife and I have long had a practice of thinking through, planning for, and working out our giving patterns, starting with our basic commitment to our faith community (and yes, there's a template for that, which is a different column topic sometime again soon). Then we try to allocate what we can do with our time and talents, and there are certain purposes in the community we prioritize beyond that, and there we are.

 

It doesn't mean my heart strings are never tugged, or that we don't make financial gifts beyond what we planned at the start of a year, but there's a kind of whipsawing I see and hear in people's discussions about charitable giving that we just don't feel. Because we've thought through why we should give, how much we're going to commit to up front, and when and where we add to that as the year and its blessings pass in review.

 

To be perfectly blunt: what I fear triggers "donor fatigue" is actually "guilt fatigue." Guilt can spur a certain amount of generosity, but we all reach a point where we say "enough already." Guilt is no basis for giving.

 

Gratitude, on the other hand, often multiplies itself. Gratitude is nearly inexhaustible, and giving that is the result of grace (grace being a gift one receives undeserved, but still freely given regardless of whether we had it coming or not) is the visible form of the all-too-often invisible gratitude we want to feel, but so often can't quite put into words.

 

Giving speaks our gratitude in a language the universe can understand, that we can hear echo back and that might just catch the ears and attentions of others. When you know what it is you're thankful for, and why you want to respond, your giving becomes fairly straightforward.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him what causes or purposes you give to support at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Faith Works 10-14-17

Faith Works 10-14-17

Jeff Gill

 

Things I Am Upset About

___

 

Large amounts of indignation are being flung around these days about all manner of things, and grave objections raised to what other people are or aren't doing. Let me put my own pet peeves forward, to join the swelling chorus.

 

Yes, I am indignant. What's going on in the world makes an impact on me, in my thoughts and feelings, such that I find myself forced to a certain sort of indignation, such as:

 

I am indignant that I so rarely stop to wonder how things look from the perspective of others. I have to work at it; it does not come naturally or easily. Compassion is not an automatic response for me, it takes effort.

 

I am indignant that my respect for others or regard for those around me usually takes a back seat to my bemusement and even resentment over their poor choices -- in clothing, body ink, hygiene, facial expressions, choice of t-shirt slogans or buttons with quips on them. I have trouble getting past all that without conscious intent.

 

I am indignant that love of country and community is generally something I get to after I've tended to my own comfort and concerns. There are opportunities for service that come my way every day, and while I can't do them all, I tend to size them up first by how involvement suits my own interests first.

 

I am indignant that my own practice of religious faith, as a committed Christian believer, is still such a fragmentary and occasional part of my sense of self, requiring the external reinforcements of calendar reminders and weekly worship and personal disciplines I skip more than I fulfill.

 

I am indignant that what other people are doing tends to occupy more space in my personal and prayerful reflections than what I have done, and should be, myself.

 

Yes, this is all a bit of a contrived way of putting things for the purpose of a newspaper column, but it is also, at the same time, utterly sincere. I'd rather be a better person myself than spend so much time irritated that others are worse than they could be. Yet I worry about what people around me are thinking and saying and doing, when what I actually can control are my own thoughts and words and acts.

 

I wish I were doing a better job of living up to the goals and aspirations I hold dear in my better moments. But when I let myself get peevish and resentful and unhappy about life in general, and people around me in particular, there are many things that trigger my dissatisfactions. What those impressions do, however, is make me more aware of my own shortcomings as a compassionate, forgiving, and welcoming servant of a holy and loving Lord God.

 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton is said to have been asked by "The Daily Telegraph" in 1908, as part of a special feature, to join other secular and sacred writers in responding to the question "What's Wrong With the World." He's reputed to have offered the shortest response, by writing back simply "I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton."

 

That is a very Christian response, I'd argue. Not to abase or humiliate oneself, but to admit that in the process of redemption, the core question is what are we going to do about our own sinfulness, and not what's to be done about yours. Or – excuse me! – someone else's. Our own sin and separation from God's will is what most needs attention, and what we can most credibly address. What needs healing in this world? "I do. Sincerely yours, Jeff Gill."

 

Do you need healing and wholeness? I suspect the answer is yes, but that's not my concern. I should help you find the gates of righteousness, the doors of hope and forgiveness, but it's not up to me to shove you through them. I should make sure you know how to find them, and then it's up to you to decide whether to pass through, or move along.

 

Oh, and flags left out 24/7 without direct lighting, left up in the rain when there's a halyard and cleat so that anyone in the house or business could come out and take it down, for pity's sake . . . yeah, that's a pet peeve, too. Oh, I've got opinions!

 

That's part of what I need to repent . . .

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about what you abhor about yourself at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Faith Works 10-7-17

Faith Works 10-7-17

Jeff Gill

 

Reform, renewal, and restoration

___

 

Western Christianity has a very significant commemoration coming up at the end of October… but first, a few more immediate notes of interest for our local faith communities.

 

Tomorrow, on Sunday afternoon Oct. 8 just as many worship services are concluding, there's a chili cook-off at the Canal Market District from Noon to 3 pm, which is also serving as a fundraiser for Citizens for Children Services. Pay $10 and you get a chance to sample a variety of chili recipes; kids 10 and under are free, and there's special food ready for them. Lots more going on (cider, face painting, silent auction), and worth a stop on your way home from church.

 

In a bit more than three weeks, we will mark the 500th anniversary of an event that didn't really happen the way we tend to think of it. Sigh. So many of these, but the historic reality is worth our consideration.

 

Traditionally, it has been said that on the eve of All Saints' Day, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther went to the castle church of Wittenberg and nailed his "95 theses" (or arguments or assertions) about repentance and forgiveness in the sight of God to the door. It makes a great visual, and both religious art and modern cinema have tried to evoke that dramatic act, a now former monk boldly putting his defiance under a mallet and nail to place it right where it confronts the churchly powers he sought to reform.

 

And indeed, the Protestant Reformation dates itself to that day. What we don't know for sure is if Luther finished writing them on that day, or handed them off to a courier, or if they were copied off and posted on that day by a sexton, a church custodian who would have nailed the notice up. What makes it both more and less dramatic is that the church door was the internet of its day, the municipal message board, the public display area for all manner of official acts. Posting upcoming weddings, announcing festivals and holy days, declaring new laws or ordinances: they all went up on the church door. Being nailed there was not defiance itself, but a declaration to any and everyone that this is what you wanted known, what you were associating yourself with.

 

The 95 Theses, in English translation, are easy to find online, and worth a read. Making some allowances for the language of the day, and understanding a bit of the theological backstory involved, you can still step up to that door and read for yourself on what grounds this preacher and teacher was seeking to upend the traditional order of things. I recommend that activity to anyone, regardless of their denominational affiliation or religious interest, for the posting of the 95 Theses was a watershed moment in intellectual as well as religious history for the Western world.

 

If you promise to read them in full on your own, I will say this: the 95 Theses assert that the processes of forgiveness and reconciliation through the church on earth had come to do violence to God's intention, and needed to be reformed. Martin Luther didn't argue, as one can start to think looking backwards through the telescope, that all of the understanding and interpretation of grace and redemption can take place merely between any one believer on their own and God. His Protestantism was not the modern consumeristic model of hyper-individualism, but the church Luther envisioned was more catholic (if not Catholic) than many tend to assume. Luther was social and communal and ecclesial in ways we are still, 500 years later, trying to come to grips with. We need each other, that learned and anguished monk knew, wrestling with his demons in Wartburg Castle and seeking forgiveness in private prayer, in our hymn singing and sermon hearing and acts of prayer and praise in community.

 

My own favorite of the theses is the 62nd, where Martin Luther reminds his readers at the church door: "The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God." Not the built-up treasury of the saints saved up for the church hierarchy to spend as they will, but as a legacy held in trust together, for all humankind.

 

There are both Catholic and Lutheran congregations marking what we've learned, and where we still fall short, each year around "Reformation Sunday." Many different Christian bodies look back to Luther and marvel at his courage and clarity. May we all do that this year as we approach Oct. 31st.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your hopes for reform and renewal of the church at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 10-5-17

Notes From My Knapsack 10-5-17

Jeff Gill

 

No, not me. You, maybe.

____

 

Every morning, I brew a pot of coffee. Since I was fifteen, I've drunk about six to ten cups of coffee a day, from dawn to dusk and often right on into the night.

 

I'm often told, and have been since in my twenties, that "son, one of these days soon you'll find you have to stop drinking that stuff by noon or you won't sleep a wink."

 

Just turned 56, still waiting for that fell day to fall. Hasn't yet. We'll see.

 

I could stop any time, of course. I just don't want to.

 

Lots of people come home at the end of the day, turn on the television. They don't have to, there's no paycheck or reward or any upside oftimes for doing so, it's just a habit. House is too quiet without it, they say. They could not click the TV when they walk in the house, even before they sit down, and might be happier for not having done so. They just don't want to.

 

Some of us, younger ones for the most part, put earbuds in at every reasonable opportunity and not a few unreasonable. Recorded music makes them feel better, and the soundtrack to their lives gives them a lift, and it blocks out things they don't want to hear. You or me, for instance. Gotta good beat, you could dance to it, keeps you going. They don't have to have music to live, but it helps life out.

 

Statistically, it's clear many of us take some pain pills in the morning. I've had my seasons. The sheer numbers sold over the counter indicate that either there are cellars all over America filled with the stuff, or quite a few take a handful first thing, and gobble a few more at intervals right on to bedtime.

 

Aching joints, throbbing head, general debility, and some ibuprofen or aspirin ease the day along. Could we get along without them? Sure, but it wouldn't be pleasant. Do we take more than we really need? Um, who's asking? Who decides? It doesn't hurt anything, much. Not really.

 

I am told by some friends and acquaintances that smoking a bit of weed is a useful end to a long day. Easier to get all the time, possibly even legal soon, so what's the harm. It's not addictive. It's not addictive. It's not addictive. (I heard you the first time, really.) Well, it can be habit forming, but not like alcohol, and that's legal, right? Let me have this habit, I'm not hurting anyone. Okay, I reply, I'm not saying it is. Except it is still illegal . . . cue lecture as to why it shouldn't be.

 

And I go to the grocery for salami and cheese and peanut butter, without which life would surely have no meaning worth speaking of, and traipse down a long aisle of alcohol. One gets the impression in Our Fayre Village that some of this gets drunk. Often. Much.

 

In our community controversy around schools and testing and expectations, one thing is clear to me. We live in an addictive society. I'm not even getting into the question of prescriptions and such. We are all addicts, and the cultural norm is to be addicted, to something or some things.

 

How we got here, and what that means, and how it is currently managed, by all of us: that's the question I'm compulsively tugging at.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he will freely admit to being a writing junkie, and can't get through a day let alone week without writing something. Tell him about your compulsions at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Faith Works 9-30-17

Faith Works 9-30-17

Jeff Gill

 

At the destination of our journeys

___

 

This weekend, the first of October, is when Christians around the globe observe World Communion Sunday.

 

Not every tradition has what's called "the Lord's Supper" at every worship service; Catholics and most Anglicans and many Lutherans and my own Disciples of Christ do so, but quite a few Protestant traditions have communion just once a month, once a quarter, or even just once or twice a year.

 

So the first Sunday of October became a good target date to try to gather in all of those schedules so there might be one occasion where we all might be mindful of each other, in different traditions, gathered around the same table. Presbyterians in Pittsburgh are proud of having gotten this ecumenical ball rolling, and I'm happy to give it a push.

 

The larger point has to do, I would say, with the Great Banquet. The meal at the end of the road. A welcome place with room for all. You can visualize it in many ways, but as we're all on a journey, the question is asked: where are we going? The book of Revelation at the end of the Bible offers some strange and wonderful images, but there's a marriage supper at the conclusion as we enter the City of God.

 

You've been to a wedding reception, I'm sure. They're all different, and they're all the same. There are guests of honor, there are family and friends from near and far, there is food both familiar and unusual: homey snacks before, and a mighty cake at the culmination waiting for everyone to share.

 

Looking around, you see familiar faces, and strange ones. You ask around, and don't you always hear "sure, you know them; that's cousin Lemuel from her side of the family twice removed"? There are people you should know, those you forgot you knew, and people you're glad you met.

 

This is what most of us who believe in Heaven think it is like. Do I literally think I'm getting carrot cake with cream cheese icing in the life to come? Not exactly, but the joy I have in tasting it now, with memories and expectations and goodness all coming together . . . that's just a taste of what I believe God intends for us in time's fullness.

 

And as for the Great Banquet, the "marriage supper of the Lamb," the King's feast, the message of that imagery is what we all know in our bones of this life: that if you invite someone to come to your table and eat with your family, they are being invited into a new relationship that goes beyond just those minutes or hours for a particular meal. You are now family, even if you travel away and are a long time gone. There's a tie that is likely to last over the years until you return, the prodigal of sorts, who will be welcomed and even celebrated on your return.

 

That is a huge element of what many of us see in worship at the communion table. The elements of the meal are small, and the symbolism our various traditions read differently, but the point is the same. This table, to which we are invited by our gracious Host, is a meal of fellowship that hints at a greater banquet that has no end.

 

There's also a sort of tradition that when the family gets together, you dig the extra leaves for the big table in the dining room out of the hall closet, behind the winter coats. You pull the end cabinet around and stretch the tablecloth over it; you set a card table up in the front room or back of the kitchen or even in the garage, and there is a special privilege to being at that "kids" table. Many elements come together but it is undoubtedly one table, even if Uncle Albert has to shout the grace around a few corners as we hold hands and bow our heads.

 

One table. Liturgical or simple worship; concert halls and auditoriums; newer church plants and old established buildings. Carved wood with Gothic letters in front saying "This Do In Remembrance of Me" or a card table with a cloth over the top. But from time zone to time zone this Sunday, from place to place, across denominational boundaries, we join as God's family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to share in this holy meal. One.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to communion every weekend, but this one especially. Tell him about tables of welcome you have known at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.