Sunday, May 22, 2016

Faith Works 5-28-16

Faith Works 5-28-16

Jeff Gill


Memorials Take Many Forms



On Monday, there are many cemeteries and markers and monuments around which we will gather.


Parades will end at plinths and cenotaphs and plazas where plaques and inscriptions will remind us of names and events. There's a certain range of materials, in bronze and marble and granite, that tell us "here stands a memorial." The substance endures, and the words persist in that medium so generations to come will read and see and reflect.


Memorials are reasonably part of Memorial Day.


Tuesday, May 31, is the next-to-last open house day at the Octagon Earthworks, the October 10 being the only other opportunity in 2016 to walk the entirety of this 135 acre portion of the once four-and-a-half square mile complex of geometric earthworks here in Newark.


There's a public area you can visit 365 days of the year off the corner of Newark's 33rd St. & Parkview, but it's a different experience altogether to walk the vast landscape enclosed within these shapes, a giant octagon and a huge circle (but a bit smaller than the circle at Newark Earthworks, the Ohio History Connection park and preserve just off of Rt. 79 where Heath meets Newark).


One of the hypothesized functions of these earthen walls, built some 2,000 years ago to enclose space and guide steps, is that they were part of a path to be walked, a path with a purpose. Certain sights along the way, and acts to perform, would recall for the participant or participants their history, the stories of spiritual realities they believed in, and as is so often the case for any cultural tradition, to remember those who have gone before.


The ancestors.


Can a walk be a memorial? Actually, today we're re-engaging in what was once a common practice. We honor cancer survivors with a walk, we walk in the autumn to remember those who hunger, we walk to promote health and healthy living in many ways. We usually think of these walks, and runs, as fund-raisers, but if you participate in a few, you pick up on the fact that memory plays a significant part of why so many come together to walk a path, a track, a certain distance.


Just a few days ago, our United Way of Licking County executive director, Deb Dingus, completed her 50 day walk "around" Licking County. She covered something like 450-plus miles when all is said and done. Her goal was to help Licking Countians remember each other, in all our geographic and civic and cultural diversity. We may lack a certain amount of ethnic diversity, but there are many different cultures just beneath the surface of what some might call our sameness here. National origins and socio-economic backgrounds that create differences which get in the way of effective communication, events and celebrations that have their uniquenesses in one township versus another, let alone this town versus that village. Deb's goal has been to make us think both about the homeless and the transportation-challenged, but also more widely to remember each other.


It has been a sort of memorial walk, if you will.


And Deb's walk has made me think about one of my favorite films of the last few years, "The Way." It came out in 2010, a labor of love between Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. The story is based on a very ancient pilgrimage route, perhaps nearly 2,000 years old, across the top of Spain from the French border to a place in Portugal called Compostela. This pilgrimage of St. James is known as "El camino de Santiago" (the Santiago being a form of the name St. James).


The "Camino" is, for most pilgrims who choose to walk it, about 500 miles, and takes six to eight weeks to walk. Are you seeing the same comparison I am? That's right, Deb's #GiveWalkDo50 journey has been about the same distance and challenge of "El Camino." Which is walked most often as a memorial, a remembrance, and a celebration even when it's an attempt to ease a sorrow. (And I cannot commend the movie "The Way" too strongly to help you see how that might be true.)


So we might make a short parade to a marker this Memorial Day, or we could find a way or a place where we might step out on a journey, a make a memorial by walking. A long loop, or a distance where someone comes to pick us up and bring us home, but the journey by foot can be a place where memory is honored, where memories are made.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he wishes he'd gotten to walk a few more days with Deb, and hopes to do the Camino someday himself. Tell him about walking and memory in your life at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 5-26-16

Notes From My Knapsack 5-26-16

Jeff Gill


A Conversation That Can't Really Happen



If I could go back and talk to myself, when I was turning eighteen . . . a silly conceit for a newspaper column, I know. Because you can't, and anyhow what you've learned in (say) almost forty years has been largely invalidated by changes in technology, society, and the economy in general.


Hasn't it?


Or are the things you really wish you could return and clue in your clueless-ish self about not the sorts of things that are subject to the vicissitudes of time and trends? Does it matter that you spent so much time working with audio and radio equipment that now deserves a place in a museum, or that your earliest attempts to be creative on your own terms involved printing equipment that no museum would accept, even as a donation?


My Social Security review statement came in the mail, and I look back across the income amounts for each year and they represent less sums of money than they remind me of the jobs they represent, what I learned and how I maneuvered to get them . . . or what other job I got manipulated out of that would have paid a different sum.


It's funny, but the dollars don't count as much as the memories they evoke. The year I made $700 I couldn't tell you what I spent it on, but it was when I got picked for the position of Nature/Conservation area director at summer camp. $1000 was my first summer as Program Director at Camp Tamarack, a job I'd long hoped for, and which did turn out to be what I expected, but in the end was even more.


$7,415 was my student church in seminary, half paid by a Lilly Endowment grant and the other half by that congregation. There was nothing to negotiate and it wasn't enough, but we got by mainly because my wife made more than me. No one warned me that would happen, or that it would be true more years than not through our marriage. I could have better prepared myself for that, if I'd been able to imagine it.


So I'd say to me, back in 1979, that money isn't everything, but how you handle your finances can be. If you make fifty bucks a week and spend forty-nine, you're richer than the poor fellow who makes two hundred but spends two-twentyfive, piling up a load of debt and chains that bind you. Living simply can allow you to make some interestingly complicated choices.


While you work through your choices and plans, tell people what you're thinking. You can't tell just anyone everything, but don't think those who are close to you are mind-readers. Assumptions and expectations make fools of us all, so say something.


If you love someone, make sure to tell them how you're feeling. If you think you love someone, but you can't tell them how you feel, either you need to work on that, or you don't really love them. Find someone you can speak your heart to.


And love? Love is when the happiness of another person has become essential to your own. I borrowed that line, but it's made sense to me over many years. How to know that's true is something we each have to work out for ourselves, but it's a good measure. And from another reliable source, I'd remind my younger self that Meyer is correct when he says to Travis "In any moral conflict, the more difficult choice is the right decision."


That's what I'd say to myself at age eighteen if I could go back and tell him. Or I'd be happy to offer it for whatever use someone turning eighteen might find in it today.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you make a day out of the tools at hand at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Faith Works 5-21-16b

Faith Works 5-21-16b

Jeff Gill


Ordinary Time Is Anything But



In liturgically oriented Christian churches, the season of Easter ends with Pentecost, just last Sunday.


Which means in those traditions that Monday was the beginning of "Ordinary Time."


Ordinary Time is best known to worshipers as the unbearably long stretch from May to the end of November when the green cloths on the pulpit, lectern, and communion table are on view week after week.


Advent is four weeks, Lent seven or so, all in purple (or royal blue, ask your altar guild); white and gold come out a few weeks for Christmas and Easter, and you see red "paraments" (as they're called altogether as worship area d├ęcor, sometimes including special banners) at Pentecost for a week and on some other saint's days and for ordinations.


The Red doesn't get much wear, while the Green tends to fade fastest of the whole four color set of cloths.


The green paraments, longer days, and meandering course through the lectionary means that "Ordinary Time" can seem pretty ordinary, in the ordinary sense of the word. It's just church, as usual. Right?


It's also the stretch of time when youth and counselors are sent to camp, Bible schools and conferences are commissioned or put on in Fellowship Hall, school ends in the latter days of spring and then begins again as fall starts to jostle past summer.


Vacations for worship leaders and preachers mean that different faces show up in unusual places in the service, new voices and completely different approaches to the sermon or mediations or even at the table for communion.


In Ordinary Time, a number of extraordinary things happen: Memorial Day, the longest day of the year with the summer solstice, Fourth of July and all the events around that week, Labor Day, All Hallows Eve (which you may know by another name). Some of these nudge into the worship space, while other parsons keep them at the door.


Regardless, there's harvest time in the autumn – planting may or may not take place entirely within Ordinary Time, but it always overlaps with the beginning of it to some degree. Whether your congregation has farmers or not, the movement of the field equipment and the gathering in of the crops catches the eye and mind even as the days shorten up again.


Most congregations at harvest time do some sort of special stewardship emphasis, in education or a full-on campaign, talking about the gifts we've been given and the gratefulness that leads us to give something back, to pay forward on our blessings to a generation still rising, or yet to come.


United Methodists got so weary of "Ordinary Time" that they tried decades ago to break it in half, and call for a "Kingdomtide" in the latter half of the season between the liturgical seasons, calling for late summer and early fall to be a time for churches to focus on social ministries, care for the poor and those in need. It tied back to an older model of Community Chest (now United Way) when there was a fall "black out" period for fundraising to any group other than the shared appeal in the area.


Kingdomtide, like so many well-meant ideas, never really caught on, but you run into hints and traces of it. There are other special Sundays in various faith traditions (Higher Education Sunday, Rally Day, Week of the Ministry) that tended to dot this season, many of which are faded along with the green cloths on the pulpit and lectern.


Ordinary Time. It's the time in our life when we work to live as Christians without the immediate inspiration of a baby's birth, wise men on the road, or the journey to the cross, and beyond. Advent and Lent, along with their counterparts Christmas and Easter, are key productions of the worship dramas in our repertory, but ordinary time is when we tend to the everyday business of love and forgiveness, maintenance and mutual upbuilding.


The ordinary parts of life are often the first to be neglected when things aren't going well for us, and that's no less true in our corporate life. Any church can pull of a Christmas pageant when it has to, but keeping up with the week by week gathering in fullness and fellowship is the real test of our faithfulness.


Welcome to Ordinary Time. I pray that it is extraordinary for you and your church!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your ordinary adventures in faithfulness at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Faith Works 5-21-16

Faith Works 5-21-16

Jeff Gill


We Can Disagree Without Being Disagreeable



There are two passages of Scripture much abused these days by partisans of the right and of the left alike.


They're found in Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, in a passage about midway through, and I'll stick with the 1611 classic English translation for now; in 6:14 (KJV): Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And Paul adds at 6:17: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.


This counsel to the early Christian community in the worldly & cosmopolitan city of Corinth (think Vegas mixed with Manhattan), has been turned into a justification for congregational and denominational splintering, and I have to be honest: it's starting to tick me off.


Today, because of relatively sudden and startling changes in our cultural assumptions about sexuality and gender, faith communities (especially of a Protestant orientation) are going through major tensions over what traditional morality has to say about leadership roles in church life, how to teach our children and congregations about the right use of our sexuality in our personal and spiritual lives, and what provision and arrangements for differences and choices can be made in our organizational structures, let alone our buildings.


For a large chunk of the country and a great many churches, this is baffling stuff that has little to do with our own every day life. A good case can be made that almost every one of the subjects now in dispute about sex, marriage, and personal freedoms has an impact in any congregation, no matter how small or isolated (we think), if only we would open our eyes and see more clearly who our neighbors really are.


But it's also the case that there are many who would argue that some of these subjects are settled, with great weight of history and precedent and tradition behind them, and they should not be moved . . . and they cite Bible verses to support that.


Even as others speak of some traditions as standing on "the wrong side of history," greater acceptance of others being a value well supported by Jesus, and our need to affirm the personal rights and integrity of all . . . and they cite Bible verses to support that.


I won't resolve any of those issues in a few hundred words here. But I do want to address what I strongly believe is an unseemly hurry on the part of some to see to it that local congregations and national or global church bodies divide themselves up over such issues, with (again) both partisans of the left and of the right using one translation or another of "come out from among them, and be separate."


There's a purist perspective at work here, and I fear the church has caught a cold from the raging influenza of today's politics, sniffling about how we can only work with people who already completely agree with us. It began in political matters, was magnified by the "culture wars" of the Seventies and Eighties, and has now bled over into the doctrinal battles most evident in Protestant Christian bodies over the last two decades or so.


Paul was speaking in Second Corinthians directly to marriage, and how it can be dangerous to the believer to marry an unbeliever, and the logic of that he works out in the chapter in full. "Unequally yoked" can also be seen as any sort of formal obligation where your relationship, contractual or matrimonial, forces you to act against your faith, and avoiding that simply seems prudent.


But when that idea gets wound up in the phrase "separate yourselves from the unrighteous" (which, read it carefully in any translation, is not what it says), it turns into a belief that faithful living requires that you have no churchly relationship with anyone or any group with which you have disagreement, substantial or slight.


Which is, to use a theological term, hooey. In my own congregation, I am a Cubs fan, while almost all of the rest of us are Indians or Reds fans. Ah, but that's not about unrighteousness, I can hear some ask. Well, my retort would be that when you turn this into a need to keep your distance from any disagreement that has to do with the nature of truth, we have all sorts of points of departure, from sports to sexuality to the nature of authority. There are some church folk who think I should be able to just tell people what they must do, and would you believe it, but I disagree with them?


How can we continue as faith communities worthy of the name, even as our members have differences of opinion? I plan to return to this subject from a number of angles this summer. Please feel free to share with me any particular aspects you'd like to hear addressed.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; you can email him at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Faith Works 5-14-16

Faith Works 5-14-16

Jeff Gill


We Make the Road By Walking




What Deb Dingus is doing right now is incredibly brave, and terribly important, and worth a little of your time in prayer, if in no other way.


In case you've missed the social media fuss around the hashtag #GiveWalkDo50, the stories in this paper and others around the state and indeed around the country, our executive director of the United Way of Licking County, Deb Dingus, is walking a meandering but very purposeful path around this Land of Legend, camping out each night and walking step by step the whole way, some 420 miles and more through all 25 townships and just about every municipality.


Yes, she's trying to raise, in events and gatherings along the way these 50 days, about $50,000 for the work of the United Way in our county, but that's not the half of it. Not from where I stand, or walk. She's trying to help weave our county together. To encourage us to be, well, united.


Recent years have seen our county, unlike many in Ohio and most in the Midwest, grow in numbers. People are moving in more than moving away, and that's a good thing. But it also means that some of the traditions and connections and community we take for granted are not present, and like any good present, those gifts need to be given.


Add in that we have many people moving into the county who come from places like Franklin and Delaware and Fairfield Counties, and who still watch or listen to mostly Columbus media, and we have a bit of a disconnect. A lack of community, a reality that is un-united in Licking County.


So Deb is walking, taking it step-by-step, journeying at a slower pace, with a more intentional rate of passage, from place to place and bringing together person after person in conversation, collaboration, and community.


Pilgrimage is a solid tradition in many faith practices; Christianity has the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and the Stations of the Cross that grew out of that walking practice. Ancient Native Americans whose mark is left on our terrain in earthworks and enclosures appear to have made walks of sixty miles and more to connect their world and their peoples across Ohio, maybe even beyond.


Not long ago, a very moving film was made by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez, "The Way" about the "Camino de Santiago," a pilgrim's journey across the north of Spain to Compostela, and a story about a father and son finding a new connection even beyond this life, simply through the discipline of walking. Driving or flying don't make these connections for us, but walking can take us to a place of peace that endures.


Dick Shiels and the staff of the Newark Earthworks Center have led walks from Chillicothe to Licking County, that have inspired both today's Native American peoples and local students and citizens who see their lives now connected in ways they had not previously imagined, all by simply walking together from place to place.


So here we are with our own United Way team, board members and staff and all of us who have been supporting our executive director in setting a new pace, a striking example for us all, as Deb Dingus walks and weaves this vast and diverse county into something that is, well, united. For we are, or at least can be, and certainly should be united here in Licking County.


Thursday, May 26, Deb will come back to Newark where she began 50 days earlier (a rainy eight mile day to start, which we hope not to repeat at the end!), and somewhere around noon or just before we will celebrate the closing of a circle in the main courtyard of The Works. She will pass through the Canal Market District which will be dedicated the next day with a triumph of its own on the 27th, but on May 26, I hope many of you remember, and perhaps come join us, as we reflect on what Deb has done for us in a journey perhaps without precedent, but not the last such venture in Licking County.


We're already talking about walking and working, service and learning, prayer and practice as a model for others: starting here in our Land of Legend. It has been a journey of discovery, no doubt, but it has most emphatically been a circuit of connection. Let's stay united.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your journey and how you pray your way one step at a time at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.