Monday, January 15, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 1-18-18

Notes from my Knapsack 1-18-18

Jeff Gill


Statues on a bridge



Just before the new bridge in downtown Newark was finished, I was heading back to Granville down Mt. Vernon Road, south towards the city and ready to veer right towards home.


The deck had been laid down, and the pillars were now built up; it was earlier in the fall, and a mist was coming up with sunset.


Those pillars were striking, arrayed five on each side of the now wider and more pedestrian friendly passage from Newark's heart to the north side, above the Ohio Rt. 16 expressway beneath.


I've not been there, but from evocative pictures I've seen I was reminded, in a funny way, of the Charles Bridge in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, across the Vltava River. It's on my own personal bucket list to see and walk across, not the least because of the grand statuary that lines the sides of this historic 15th century structure.


The Charles Bridge has 30 statues, most from around the year 1700 and memorializing figures who are today mostly unknown, even to Europeans. But for our bridge at the center, so to speak, of Licking County, if we didn't have the lightposts that are now there, how would I complete that initial eventide imaginary vision? With ten pillars just right for figures in bronze, who would belong there?


Here's my list – it will never be so, but I enjoyed thinking about what historical personages from Licking County's legendary past I'd immortalize. Your list may vary, and that's fine! Tell me by email who your ten might be. Mine, in rough chronological order:


1. Mary Harris , the "Whitewoman" of Coshocton fame aka "Wakatomica," but likely the first European to see these creeks and valleys. Born at the end of the 1600s, kidnapped in the Deerfield raid of 1704, and matriarch of a Native American family when 2. Christopher Gist came through in 1750, the first to leave a written record specifically mentioning landmarks in Licking County. 3. Rev. David Jones, whose missionary tour of the Ohio Country in 1773 was in part to get him away from angry British Loyalists; he wrote of his passage through our region (Jones' narrative was in Thomas Jefferson's library at Monticello), and commended many of our first settlers to come here in 1802 and 1803, returning to preach in 1807 for local Baptists and others.


4. Jonathan Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, passed through our area again and again in the first decades of the 1800s, likely slept in what's now the basement tavern of the Buxton Inn, and is buried in Fort Wayne, Indiana even though the bulk of his career was spent between Granville and Newark up to the Mansfield area and back again.


5. Fr. Jean-Baptiste Lamy, missionary priest was active in Licking & Knox Counties in the tumultuous 1840s, and was tapped for his good work here to become Bishop of New Mexico, himself already in bronze in the heart of Santa Fe. Ohio claims eight presidents to tie us with Virginia, but actually we can lay claim to a ninth, 6. Edward Roye, born along Mt. Vernon Road just north of this bridge we're discussing. He was seventh president of Liberia, but hey, he became a president after starting out here!


Can I tell you my other four honorees next time? Thank you!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; give him your list of ten persons worth making into statues for our land of legend at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 1-20-18

Faith Works 1-20-18

Jeff Gill


A personal & pastoral thought on #MeToo


I have no #MeToo story to tell.


What I do carry with me is thirty-plus years of sitting, as a pastor, with women in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, in hospitals and nursing homes and living rooms, listening. Hearing story after story after story of being the girl from the country, from a farm, from a constrained circumstance of some sort, and being asked to come to town and be a maid, a companion for an older person, an employee, a boarder. I would guess these stories in my hearing began with a starting point around 1915, rattling down through the decades with peaks in the Great Depression, during World War II, and shortly after war's end and soldiers' return.


The stories I'm thinking of almost without exception involved men long dead, which I suspect has much to do with the fact that I've heard relatively few from women closer to my age, about men more recently and who may well be alive. The accounts shared with me by the dying or fearful-of-dying, the post-surgical recovering and the newly moved into nursing care, in moods always reflective and rarely bitter, but often punctuated with anger that never lasted long, were about how they were "taken advantage of" as the phrase usually is applied.


To my ears, the words "raped" and "molested" often came to mind, but the circumlocutions and roundabout phrasings clearly had at least a mental familiarity -- as for their spokenness, I usually had the impression this was the first time the story had been told aloud, though I would have no way of knowing for sure.


They were usually teens, sometimes in their twenties; it was often the man of the house itself, not a stranger, not a tradesman. Hints and indications would set the scene of daytime at work on nighttime intrusions, but the stories were almost always told me in a spirit of "you can't be too careful," or "this is how I learned to not trust appearances" and of course "sweet words can hide bitter thoughts."


I watch the rolling wave of revelations from media, celebrity, religion, politics; I talk to my son about how surprising some names are, and how unsurprising others sound, but if everyone knew, then how could they . . . ?


And I think about those stories, told from a perspective of decades past, but with a hint always of how some things aren't as easy to get away with for men, but in general . . . rarely did anyone ask me to do anything in response, and almost always they asked for my confidence, confessing the sins of others though they were. I've granted it almost without exception because there's no one to charge, no score to settle, usually not even any family member to ask for confirmation or apology for not believing them (and rarely had they told a soul at the time). What I think they wanted me to know was how hard women have had it, and a sense from me that I would work to prevent such things in the future if I could.


In too many of the stories, there was a marriage not long after the imposition. Not all, but often. Those men, always long deceased themselves, would have their apologies made for them by their victim, later their wife, but still in some way that girl wanting to hear their own forgiveness, to have any fault relieved from their part. But if I was too harsh in my condemnation of the perpetrator, I'd quickly hear a defense (call it a rationalization, but clearly the years had made the story complicated in their own minds) and a request to understand "him."


I have no #MeToo story to tell. And the ones I've been more directly engaged in more recently are not mine to tell, some with more justice in the outcomes than others. Like any parish pastor, I have developed a healthy sense of just how complicated life is. But I know that my willingness to believe "her" story and understand "her" hesitations and anxieties -- that's been shaped by the stories I've been entrusted with. They came to me from women now passed on, but those stories in my mind are daily reminders to me that this is a vast and widespread cultural and social and historic problem which we have much to repent for, and a long way yet to go.


They too, have a story for this present moment, if only to say it's not a recent issue, just a new willingness to talk more openly about what never should have been a young woman's "guilty" secret.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; as a minister he hears many stories, only some of which can be shared. Tell him what story you'd like told at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Faith Works 1-13-18

Faith Works 1-13-18

Jeff Gill


Praying for us all



Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther did an interesting thing as 2017 concluded.


He asked some 200 faith community leaders across his city to "pray for peace" as our neighbor to the west dealt with the deadliest year in their history, 143 homicides in the calendar year (and then a new killing barely minutes into 2018).


With New Year's Eve a Sunday as the year ended, the mayor sent out a letter asking for prayers in worship as 2017 wound down to a close, saying "The new year should be a recommitment from all corners of this great city to the safety and well-being over every resident in every neighborhood. I believe that through prayer, dialogue and thoughtful actions we can make this year safer for all."


What does it mean for a community leader to ask faith communities to pray together?


When Twitter has a hashtag for your effort, #prayforpeace, does it make for a stronger spiritual reality?


Ideally, when believers in a higher power or heavenly realm or revealed religion choose to work together, there are both spiritual and practical outcomes that make the effort for unity worthwhile. As a Christian, I am told that wherever two or more are gathered, there my Lord will be, also – and these days I take the word gathered fairly broadly. Physical gatherings have a felt power of oneness, but there are times when an email burst or social media outcry bring people's hopes and intentions together in a way that seems very close to tangible.


Most Western faith traditions would argue that while God is not bounded by our intentions, there are many indications that our prayers, our petitions, our intercessions are welcome to the Lord, and have a focusing or multiplying or magnifying effect. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and Apostolic Writings, the Christian Testaments Old and New, there are times when angels and visions from on high are telling we mere mortals that our prayers, especially the prayers of the righteous, the faithful, have an effect. I think of it as opening up a window, or the shutters, so that the light already shining from above can enter into a room; likewise prayer makes a way into a situation where our own hesitations or anxieties close doors that God would rather not kick down.


Those would be some of the spiritual effects; on a more immediately visible level, calling different communities of believers to common prayer is likely to directly trigger work side by side. If you pray to the Divine with one voice, why wouldn't you labor with one heart in the vineyards of this world? When you know the church down the street is praying for the same desire, for peace and harmony, it's not a stretch to say "let's knock on their door and talk about how we can make that unity visible!"


I've had the opportunity to be part of ecumenical, interfaith efforts in many ways through the years. When Ohio was preparing for our state bicentennial in 2003, a group of writers and religious leaders came together, with Sikhs and Native Americans and Lutherans and Buddhists and my own Disciples of Christ tradition all co-operating to tell the story of "Religion in Ohio: Profiles of Faith Communities." (You can still read it, alas not in e-book form.)


When I was in college, Lafayette Urban Ministry brought prophetic voices together to challenge harsh forms of providing public assistance; in seminary I got to help put on workshops for the Near Eastside Church and Community Ministry Project about housing and violence prevention; in every community where I've served we've had councils of churches or ministeriums or ministerial associations that gave different religious leaders a place to find support from each other, and allowed an idea from one church to be fed and nurtured by many – that's part of the story of how the Licking County Coalition for Housing came to be, back 25 years ago.


So I salute Mayor Ginther for his request, and would add my own prayers, along with encouraging those of the congregation I serve, to the call #prayforpeace. Columbus needs it, Newark needs it in our own ways, and the whole hurting world needs more than a little peace.


Pray with me, and I believe we both will be blessed by having done so, together.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's praying for you. Yes, you. Pray for him as you will, and offer any more concrete thoughts to, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Faith Works 1-6-18

Faith Works 1-6-18

Jeff Gill


Revelation to Genesis or the other way 'round



January 6 is the "twelfth day of Christmas" famed in song and story.


You know, partridges and pear trees and lords a' leaping.


In some cultures and religious traditions, the Feast of the Epiphany is the gift-giving occasion. Which makes sense, as we mark in the Christian calendar with this day the arrival of the Magi, the "wise men from the East" who come bearing gifts.


In modern American usage, we've mushed together St. Nicholas' commemoration on December 6 and Epiphany on January 6 into the Christmas Day I suspect most of you had, with the gifts and the feasting and the celebration all focused on December 25.


January 6 has quite a bit to commend it to our attention, I'd argue. Even if your congregation is not a liturgical church with the calendar of the year marking such dates, it's a blessing on at least two practical fronts, let alone a solid theological one.


For one thing, Epiphany is the close of what we can hold onto tight as our churchly season of Christmastide, even as all the commercial decorations and retail intrusion rudely shifted to Valentine's Day stuff as Christmas Eve came to an end. In a sense, we get Christmas back. Let's make use of that!


And Epiphany is that second stage of realization, after the baby is born, following the initial amazement that any baby brings, to where the parents and family and friends and any wandering shepherds in the neighborhood start thinking about the implications of this new arrival. Where shall we go to protect the child? How can we best care for our baby? Do we have enough diapers?


Once the obligatory and familial events of Christmas are over, we have the chance to take a deep breath, and reflect. Maybe New Year's did that for you, but often that's busy and frenetic itself. Epiphany invites us, before we put the manger set away (and some of us don't take down our tree until Jan. 6 for this very reason), to take a pause and consider what this all means. Has meant. Could mean.


Even so, that's my practical advice about Epiphany. Theologically, it has a very deep and profound meaning in that the word literally means "manifestation." The appearing of a promised one from God for humankind, the presence in the flesh of God's own child, foretold in Israel but known in various forms in cultures near and far . . . and so, the Magi. These wise men (we say three because they bring three gifts, but it's not clear what size of a caucus they constituted) were not Hebrews, they were not from the Promised Land, they didn't know the Temple or Herod or the high priests, they just followed the signs God gave them, and arrived on the scene just as a more intimate drama was playing out in a small provincial village on the edge of the Roman Empire.


So the first epiphany was to them, bringing Gentile and Jew, East and West together at the crib where the baby Jesus lay. And we mark this Epiphany feast ever since because our own eyes need to have revealed to them that God is more than spirit, not just an ethereal idea, beyond mere potential or belief to being present, here, now – a manifested God here on earth.


The Bible we Christians use ends with the book of Revelation. It, too, is an English attempt to translate a Greek word that is very close to Epiphany: Apocalypse. We've come to think of "apocalypse" as meaning a destructive ending, but in fact its root is more one of "unveiling." Revelation is an unveiling to John on Patmos Island of the destiny of all things. Epiphany was a revelation, an apocalypse in miniature, an unveiling for human perception of how God intends to be involved in creation. Whether you read about the Magi and a baby in Matthew's gospel, or a Lamb and a wedding banquet in John's Revelation, you can pick up the theme fairly quickly: be ready for the Lord to appear in unexpected and amazing forms, sometimes through an angel with a world-ending trumpet, and sometimes as the host inviting the unworthy and undeserving to regal seats at a heavenly table.


I rejoice at closing out my Christmas season with Epiphany; may your celebrations at home and beyond make you ready to see how God is ready to be revealed in your life!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your year ahead as you see it unveiled this week at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes from my Knapsack 1-4-18

Notes from my Knapsack 1-4-18

Jeff Gill


Let's take a step forward



We have a new year. Congratulations!


Yes, yes, I know, we just held on until the big blue marble rolled all the way around the fireball one more time. But that's not nothing. So well done, all.


And we roll on. It's funny that we have such a linear concept of time when in fact we can just sit on the sofa and time still passes. We neither need to march on or roll down the river or put the pedal to the metal. Sit still, and time still passes. Quite well.


Many of us have had the chastening experience of losing a loved one, and being almost startled to shock and surprise that the world still turns, the day blurs into night and then dawns afresh, after the loss of someone around whom our world revolved.


That's the personal, the emotional side of time's inexorable passage; the physicists get impatient when a layman with little math such as myself ask about a point in space that is perfectly still, because apparently it doesn't quite exist. Or it does, I'm actually not sure.


But I know as I sit and type, I'm hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour to the east as the globe spins; the solar system rotates as a whole around the Sun; about the galactic center our puny set of orbiting rocks moves in stately array – and the Milky Way galaxy itself turns, even as it hurtles in . . . some direction. Up? Out?


And I do nothing, if you count typing this column on a laptop as nothing, which some would, and I won't argue. Burning calories I'm not. Yet time passes, and the world turns.


Which is where, in this new year, though the cosmos doesn't need it, I feel the need for motion. For more movement. And I share this because I'm not alone. My doctor hints at it (with me, he's more direct), and all the health departments and public agencies say the same: we all need to move more.


It's too easy to see marathoners and ironmen and ironwomen in exercise togs and with high-tech gear and the stickers saying "26.2" on the back of their vehicles, and think "well, not me." I'm out of that loop enough I spent months wondering some years back why I kept seeing "13.1" on trunks and rear windows in front of me.


What we don't all have to do is run half, or even quarter marathons. We just need to move. It can help, even in modest doses. I can quote studies to you, but guiltily, we all know it. Get up and move more than you do, and you will be better off for it – physically, psychologically, even spiritually. You can pray as you walk, you know. Kneeling and sitting are not Biblical mandates. They're customs. What about walking prayer?


You'll not see me mandating for one and all a prescription. That's not for me to say. Maybe every day, perhaps three days a week would be a great step forward for you. Is it a mile, or three laps of the house? Outdoor or indoor, or even just getting up every 30 minutes to stretch and flex a bit before you sit some more – we need to move.


My bias is towards metaphors of progress and movement towards a goal. That may or may not be the best way to look at life, or how to deal with setbacks or the treadmill that life can be in some seasons, but I want to commend to one and all, and commit myself in public for 2018: let's get a move on.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's a recovering runner who just wants to get back to walking more. Tell him how you are on the move at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.