Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Faith Works 9-20-14

Faith Works 9-20-14

Jeff Gill

 

Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart do ministry

___


Talk of a "black market" tends to come to mind, not surprisingly, in chiaroscuro shades of black and white, film noir and at its brightest, "Casablanca."

"I came to Casablanca for the waters." "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert." "I was misinformed."

That dialogue between Monsieur Rick and Captain Renault is misinformation about being misinformed, one suspects. And the grand closing at the airport is a mystery of who knew what about whom, when…but there's a wistful happy ending (no spoilers here). You leave that film wondering, though, who really knew what at which point.

There's no confusion about Ugarte, the amoral black marketer played by Peter Lorre. He knows what he wants, and he doesn't care what he has to do to get it. Yet he loses everything for lack of a sense of the bigger picture.

Is there a black market in Newark, Ohio, or elsewhere in Licking County, in Ohio? Oh, I'm sure of it. We have drugs, we have prostitution, perhaps much less than within living memory, but there are illegal exchanges around us, perhaps hidden in plain sight.

As a pastor, I don't deal with the black market. I'm sure I brush up against it, but I don't go looking for it, and it rarely jumps out to force my attentions to such matters.

But the grey market . . . oh my.

What's the grey market? Well, as the term implies, it's not quite illegal, it's not quite legal. Let's start simply: garage sales.

If you are selling items for less than you paid for them, you don't have to worry about income or sales taxes. And even "hobbyist" type income, if it doesn't rise above the expenses incurred in the fun and enjoyment, isn't taxable.

But if you have more than a couple of garage sales a year, at what point does it become a business? Interesting question, legal sources conflict. Three a year? Four? It's not clear. Is that my problem as a pastor to point out to a family that does twenty a year? Well, no, but . . . hmmm.

If someone wants to do all their business with you in cash, no checks: are they trying to stay under the official radar because of wage garnishment, collection of back child support, or outstanding warrants? Should you go along with their flimsy explanation of why they need an envelope full of bills and not a church check?

And what if you're working with a family that is stuck in one of those categories. Perhaps (and I've not dealt with this one recently, so I can use it without making anyone wonder if I mean them) you have someone with a newer family which is really struggling to pay bills and put food on the table for their children, but he is not using public services they qualify for because he owes tens of thousands in another state to an ex for unpaid child support. What's your obligation as a pastor, as a provider of aid?

National Public Radio has run a series of stories this past week on the growing use of wage garnishment in the US, using opportunities in the law to collect debts from individuals and families. In many cases, these are obligations that I'd tell a parishoner "hey, you spent that, you need to pay it back and get square with your debtors." In not a few cases, folks are trying hard to pay back as well or as fast as they can given their current income, but there are legal Ugartes out there, who are coldly and cruelly misusing the law to bend and break families. I recommend listening to the NPR series online.

Over the last five years, I've had to learn about car title loans, payday lenders, "tax preparers" (quote marks intentional), child support plans, and wage garnishment. People pressed to their limits, who need help if only in counsel if not cash, often muddle their own best case in the telling…and sometimes, people are lying to me. It requires that we "be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves."

To help with talking through a plan with a frightened family, and to offer limited aid in the best way, means we have to learn about the bigger picture, if only so we can help people look up, look out, and lead them to the Bigger Picture.

How has your church dealt with the grey economy?

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your letters of transit at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Jeff Gill

 

Granville's Highest Inscription

___

 

"In His Temple Doth Every One Speak Of His Glory"

 

Far above the main doors of Swasey Chapel, itself high atop College Hill overlooking Granville, those words are carved in stone where only the attentive might see them.

 

I've been up there for programs about to begin inside, or outside waiting on the end of the annual Good Friday Cross Walk, and pointed the panel out to long time residents. They invariably say something along the lines of "I didn't know that was up there."

 

It sounds Biblical, and you'd be right about that. There's a Psalm-like quality to it, too: bingo.

 

The words are the second half of the verse found at Psalm 29:9, in the King James Version of the Bible.

 

The passage in the context of the psalm as a whole is interesting for two reasons: one is that this psalm is the one specified for the congregation to chant or sing together in the synagogue as the Torah scroll is carried back to the ark, or cabinet in which it is kept, on the Sabbath. A lullaby, if you will, for the scrolls of God's Word carried like a child cradled in loving arms back to a place of rest.

 

The other is easy for Jew, Christian, or non-believer to see in reading the psalm as a whole. While this half-verse talks about the temple, the building where worship takes place, and so seems quite right for inscription on a college chapel, the rest of the psalm talks about nature and the wilderness and creatures real or even mythical, evocations of storms and earthquakes all of which stir up awe and amazement for we humans . . . but it begins in "the beauty of holiness" and ends with "the Lord will bless his people with peace."

 

When this text was chosen in 1924 to decorate the fa├žade of Swasey Chapel, I like to think the decision included awareness of the Hebraic significance of Psalm 29. As the Torah Scroll was carried into the safekeeping of the synagogue ark, so the students might have been envisioned filing into the chapel pews beneath these words, where within they could worship for the safekeeping of their spirits.

 

More likely, as students and staff and faculty left the chapel, with the commanding view out across the valley of Raccoon Creek to Flower Pot Hill and Spring Valley beyond, they would be given a hint of the glory of creation; some days seeing storms sweeping down the valley from the west, other times exiting into a landscape transformed by a light dusting of snow, and today at least, you're likely to see one of those leaping, unpredictable creatures of the wilderness wandering across the bricks of Chapel Walk.

 

In God's temple we do, of course, speak of divine glories; the psalm and the chapel are well-situated to remind us that this glory is not just a matter of words and sermons and Sundays, but can be seen all around us. And that learning to see God's glory all around can be a path to peace.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you've found unexpected inspiration at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Faith Works 9-13-14

Faith Works 9-13-14

Jeff Gill

 

Remember those in bondage

___

 

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. (Hebrews 13:3, KJV)

 

In the year 326, the fourth century of the common era or "year of Our Lord" or "Anno Domini" in Latin, hence "326 AD," the mother of the emperor of Rome, Helena, went to Jerusalem in search of the original cross on which Jesus died.

 

Historians and antiquarians can debate how likely the objects or the location really were that Constatine's mother found that year, but it became the basis for the commemoration in many church traditions of "Holy Cross Day," the feast of the Holy Cross, and a time to remember not only Christ's sacrifice, but all martyrs.

 

That day on the calendar is Sept. 14, so this year Holy Cross Day falls on a Sunday. A number of Christian communions have called for this Sunday to be also a day of prayer for the persecuted church. Fasting is a tradition often associated with Holy Cross Day, in the English speaking world for the week following on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, what are known in Anglican tradition as "Ember Days." These were once a cycle of four seasonal fastings through the seasons, to make sacred the whole year's calendar within which the Christian calendar turns on Advent through Lent and Pentecost.

 

You may have your own tradition of fasting and prayer, you may simply have a regular practice of praying in your own fashion, or prayer may still be a bit of a mystery to you, let alone "Ember Days" and "Anno Domini" and such . . . but we still have the opportunity to all join together in an act of solidarity and remembrance in this coming week.

 

The cross is the sign to Christians of God's love, and Christ's sacrifice, and the promise of a Comforter, a Spirit of holiness who will come when we call out in the name of Jesus for the presence of God. Any occasion that points us to the cross, and what it represents, is healthy for the soul, cleansing for our own spirit, and bracing to the intellect. This year, for we who worship in the West, it is a focus that has a particular sharpness.

 

Words fail to describe what we are only seeing in glimpses of what the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East are experiencing. We've had social media horrors flash onto our screens of what's being done to captive journalists, and hints of wider tragedies for oppressed minorities like the Yazidis whose mountaintop holdout flickered across our view.

 

What is still not being well interpreted by we in the clergy, or often mentioned in the general media, is that places where Christian churches, monasteries, convents, and villages have been peacefully coexisting with surrounding faith traditions for literally two thousand years are suddenly being slaughtered, enslaved, destroyed. The lucky are simply exiled into a cold desert night with the clothes on their back, and not always even allowed to keep those; the somewhat less fortunate are being sold as slaves or wives under circumstances that might as well be called the same.

 

And this is not just in Syria or northern Iraq. In Iran for some time, in Saudi Arabia again and again, and more recently in the cities and desert fastnesses of Egypt or Libya, Christian groups are coming under the torch and the sword, the knife and the gun.

 

You can learn more, if you can bear it, at persecution.com; Voice of the Martyrs began as an organization documenting Communist oppression of Christians and congregations, but now must try to learn and explain to us what is going on in the developing world. Their updates come from the Middle East, across Africa where Nigeria continues to explode in violence and erupt in kidnappings, to the backcountry of India and into the less visible corners of Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as the somewhat more publicized recent moves by China against churches, both established congregations and house meetings alike.

 

It is a great deal of pain to absorb. If nothing else, this Holy Cross week we are asked to be Christians in prayer together, for one another, and particularly for the persecuted church around the world. Brothers and sisters, let us pray.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him of the stories you have heard on the road at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Faith Works 9-6-14

Faith Works 9-6-14

Jeff Gill

 

In Memoriam, for a passionate proclaimer

___

 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the good news to the poor . . . to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the Favorable year of the Lord."

 

Those words from Luke's fourth chapter, out of Isaiah as read by Jesus in his own hometown and place of worship, are before me now. They speak where I cannot.

 

Truly, words, my words, are not sufficient to the occasion. Today at our church, the church where Deb Hayden and I both were members, we will celebrate her life and mourn her death.

 

There are words, and many will be said, but they say little enough. Music will be shared, on CD, from the organ, sung a capella (which is Latin for "camp style"), but it will not be the whole song.

 

Deb was just 62, had been married to Rick for over forty of those years, and while she had needed to retire officially from active ministry due to her increasingly problematic health, she was far from done.

 

We had talked on Facebook messages and e-mail chains about counseling and caring ministries that she had the skills and the training for, and the heart to engage in, even if her body would keep her limited. She had challenges, but no one in her family, her church family, or her deep and wide circle of friends in ministry and the community expected this.

 

A sudden illness, a siege in the ICU, and then an end on Labor Day. For Rick and the kids, a week to focus on plans and preparation for today, for all the rest of us, time to consider what it means to die in the middle of plans and anticipation, and perhaps to you, another face and name in the obituaries, online or in print.

 

But her passion always was for the downtrodden of which Jesus (and Isaiah) spoke, and her words were more often those of forebearers in the faith, from Jesus our Lord to the prophets of old to laborers for social justice today. On that score, at least, she would like the idea of passing on into glory on Labor Day, if only we were to get the point.

 

"Good news to the poor" was a question she often wrestled with, and the idea of "kairos," Greek for "the right time" or "the teachable moment" as a Christian educator would say, would track with Isaiah's "the year of the Lord's favor." For the poor and downtrodden, Deb would note, it was always going to be their year soon, next year, later, but the wicked will prosper and it always seemed to be the year of favor for those who already had much, to them's that's gots who gets more.

 

Crying out against injustice, and healing the wounds of the hurting: that's why Deb Hayden's ministry was as much in counseling and chaplaincy as it was in parish ministry. She was seeking, right up to her last week, the right place, the acceptable time, the favorable year in which she could use her gifts to serve God. She might cry out herself in frustration and anger, but her heart was aimed at knocking down doors for a Sovereign Lord to enter in as a Prince of Peace. She might accidentally knock you aside if you got in the way of where she believed the Lord was leading her, so it was always a good idea to head in the same direction as Deb – you always knew something interesting would happen along the way, anyhow.

 

We lay her body to rest, and set her anointed spirit free to finish God's plan for her eternity. Her energy and drive and passion will find their true outlet in perfect intention and blessed assurance. She leaves us tasks undone, so that our work might be mixed with hers. To that end, we can say as Deb has already heard: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Go in peace."

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; say a prayer for those mourning this day. You can write him at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faith Works 8-30-14

Faith Works 8-30-14

Jeff Gill

 

May all your labors be blessed

___

 

"Do what you love, the money will follow."

 

This quote, and others like it, are fairly popular in advice and counsel to both young and old. "Follow your passion," "don't stay stuck in a job you hate."

 

Is that in any way reasonable to say to someone?

 

Or more to the point, should we be saying that to people in general?

 

There's no doubt that there are people who need encouragement to take a reasonable risk that's right in front of them, and be willing to accept a short term lessening of income or deal with a little more uncertainty to make their occupation a skill or gift or talent that brings the worker joy and the world blessing.

 

I've done that, and will again, as a pastor, as a friend.

 

As a motto to be silk screened onto a large poster for general consumption, I'm not so sure.

 

"Do what you love, the money will follow."

 

Well, first, it doesn't. Not all the time. And maybe not even often. It CAN likely occur more than our fears and self-doubts and desire for security allow us to realize, but if every graduating high school student, let alone college graduate, simply focused on "what they love" as a vocation, does anyone think this will work out well for more than a fortunate few?

 

And I ask these questions with a great deal of personal hesitation. I am blessed to do work that I love at least 87% of the time. Everyone has elements of their job they don't love (Santa Claus probably has problems with staff morale; the Pope has to do all that traveling), but I can say that I am in work that I love, and at the same time I made choices that could have turned out quite differently. A dispassionate observer might tell me "it could have been different better, it could have been different worser," yet I would just reply that I am blessed to be where I am and do what I do to help pay the mortgage and keep Subway sandwiches in my son if not always home cooked food.

 

I am one of the fortunate ones. I am doing what I love, and make enough to live well and help others generously to boot. So I'm a poster child for "Do what you love, the money will follow," eh?

 

Only if you ignore many of my peers who can't say the same, on one end of that equation or the other. And of course not everyone can be a parson.

 

Nor can everyone be artists or teachers in small, selective schools or be stars in mixed martial arts. What people love will vary from person to person: even so, can every last person do what they love, or is someone going to have to drive the garbage truck or shovel the horse manure? You can love the latter on occasion, but if it's three times a day 365 days a year, it might not be so lovely.

 

Tim Keller, the preacher and teacher at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan whose many books have gained him a wide audience in American Christendom, wrote "Every Good Endeavor" last year. The subtitle on this work is "Connecting Your Work to God's Work."

 

A friend recommended it to me, and I started out with a slight skepticism to where I thought it was going, and then Dr. Keller grabbed me with a long recap of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle," a greatly underappreciated novella of his which Peter Jackson should under no circumstances make a movie from.

 

I'll leave the story to your own discovery, but the point of the tale is that our work has more than just one dimension to it, whether we paint pictures, or sweep streets.

 

I am happy to recommend this book on Labor Day weekend, a traditional time to honor the dignity and importance of work and workers, no matter what the occupation or income.

 

And if anyone is interested in discussing it, I plan to be up on the second floor of Brews in Granville on Sunday a bit after 5:00 pm. Bringing people together to discuss how God and everyday life come together is part of my job description, and one of the parts of it I love most. Drop by if you want to be part of a discussion on this subject and this book.

 

But if you hate your current job, you might have something to say we need to hear as well!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he loves his work. Tell him about miserable jobs that had some unexpected benefits for you at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 8-28-14

Notes from my Knapsack 8-28-14

Jeff Gill

 

You could look it up, sort of

___

 

For my summertime narrative about inscriptions "Carved in Stone" around Granville, we've worked along College St. to read and consider the sources and meanings of the four large carved quotations found two on each of two pedestrian gateways built in 1904.

These have long been attributed to President Emory Hunt of Denison University, but even that is somewhat unclear, as have been the original authors; some print resources over the last decades have referred to them incorrectly, or even the words I talked about in the last column credited to the prolific writer "Anonymous."

But it was a Jean de La Bruyere in his collection of personal essays called "The Characters, or Manners of the Present Age," who made that observation about languages, in French originally.

Now, I do not speak or read French, but it was purely through the use of internet search engines that I was able to track down this relatively obscure quote. Although, to be perfectly fair, they're all somewhat obscure, today and even one hundred and ten years ago. That relative obscurity had me digging, back in 2007, as to where these phrases came from. There's no original document in the Denison Archives, explaining how or why these were selected, just a hint years later that Dr. Hunt picked them, a well-read and erudite man.

With all due respect for the fellow, it just seemed to me that there had to be some other origin for this set of citations than "a smart guy sat down, asked himself what four epigrams would be edifying for students, and pulled each of these out of his head as the perfect phrase to impress upon pedestrians." Could have happened that way, and if so, I may never prove it, but I wanted to keep looking.

Well, I can't prove exactly how they were picked, but my second series of researches has me pretty sure I've got a good idea where they came from. Since 2007, even more books have been optically scanned and are accessible online, often with search options. I had a leading suspect for a while, a volume entitled "Suggestive Opening Exercises for Schools" of 1889. To be candid, I'm a little sorry I can't tell you more about this delightfully named work…maybe another day!

That book had two of our gateway quotes and a nearly identical third. So I searched on.

You need to know that optical scanning and indexing is wonderful, but like any automated process, it has gaps. There was a book, scanned online, which had three of our four, and other citations of de La Bruyere listed, but not our "languages" quote. So I spent five bucks and ordered a copy of "Cyclopaedia of Practical Quotations" in the 1884 edition.

When it came in the mail, I quickly found my first two Denison quotes, on pg. 225 of this 900 page doorstop, both the Longfellow snippet & Crabbe verses, edited verbatim. Also identical, on pg. 226, our de La Bruyere, whose name had not been scanned clearly and so was not found in my browser indexed search. Then…the Franklin quote? Pg. 232. So on eight pages of a 900 page volume, all four quotes presented exactly as reproduced in stone on College St. are found just a flick or two of the finger from one another.

Perhaps Dr. Hunt was rushed (he was president, after all), or it may have been some other solemn functionary whose intentions were good, but whose time even in 1904 was pressed. Whoever, however, it seems beyond doubt that someone tasked with selecting these four formidable assertions for the ages reached up, picked this book off a shelf, maybe had one in mind (the Longfellow, I'd guess), and from finding that one picked the next three that fit.

Of such contingency are many great and lasting decisions made.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you find pithy inspiration at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Faith Works 8-23-14

Faith Works 8-23-14

Jeff Gill

 

Can Art save us?

___

 

With so many major social concerns and global fears dominating headlines and filling online discussions, it seems like a good time to talk about art.

 

No, seriously.

 

I have and will talk about the truly horrifying ethnic cleansing and religious persecution going on in the Middle East that is truly without precedent, and racism is still our great national ill for which treatment and recovery is still in question. All need consideration, no doubt about it.

 

Which may make it even more important, at times, to step back, and look at the bigger picture. Yes, even a bigger picture than existential threats to nations or peoples, or intractable evil inflicting pain on the helpless. Because they don't tell a true story, and they aren't the wide view.

 

For that, you need art.

 

As a Christian, I have some particular views on what, or rather Who will save us: from hopelessness, from fear, from ultimate destruction. I also have a pastor's perspective on what it takes to help people lift their heads and see that good news possibility in their own future. What it takes is what it takes, or as Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words."

 

Sometimes, you need art.

 

Full disclosure: I've known Marilyn Stocker almost since the first time, 25 years ago next month, I wandered into Licking County. She's an actress, an educator, and a very well known artist in our area. I've also performed weddings for her children, appeared in performances with her "Suitcase Theatre Company" in a variety of unusual locations around the county, and consider myself her pastor. So I may be biased.

 

But I truly think she is an inspirational person, even if that might not exactly be the phrase she would pick.

 

Marilyn is, as the French would say, a woman of a certain age. And at that age, she is doing something too few of us do, which is take into account the shape of the world without her in it. A more pious person might say she's "contemplating her mortality," or we could just say Ms. Stocker is taking stock. (Booooooo!)

 

On Friday, August 29th, at the Licking County Arts Gallery on 50 S. 2nd St. in Newark, Marilyn is hosting a "Lifetime of Art" sale; it also has the subtitle (or is it a surtitle?) "Just in Case," a double pun because she's opening up her cases and canvases and collection of art she's created herself, and putting it on display and yes, on sale.

 

Because she wants her art in homes, and not in storage. And she doesn't want her children, someday, "just in case something happens to her," having to figure out what to do with all this art.

 

So from 6 to 8 pm next Friday, and through September in the LCA gallery Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 4 pm, she's putting her paintings, drawings, multi-media creations, and all manner of art out for the rest of us to enjoy, and maybe even to take home. It's not about the money, as everything is marked low enough to give everyone a chance to take something out of the gallery with them, or at least that's the goal!

 

And my respect for Marilyn herself aside, I think that it's precisely at a time such as this that people of faith, and those with social concerns, need a good strong reminder that few weighty matters, of the heart, of the body politic, or even of the soul, are decided entirely on the basis of words and argument and rhetoric. We use debate and discussion, and put talking heads up on screens to stand in for discourse, but we think and decide what's important to us on the basis of images and ideals.

 

Art has always been central to the communication and formation of Christian faith, and indeed of any religious faith with very few exceptions. It is perhaps indicative that some of the most frightening ideologies out there haunting our dreams are hostile to almost any form of artistic expression other than words, and the words they choose.

 

Art alone may not save us, but we are saved through making connections, and art is the great means to greater ends, and Marilyn's art has always been open to bringing hearts and minds together. Or as E. M. Forster said of the novelist's art: "Only connect."

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been known to be guilty of committing acts of art from time to time himself. Connect with him at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Faith Works 8-16-14

Faith Works 8-16-14

Jeff Gill

 

Pain, multiplied beyond imagining

___

 

There are columnists and journalists whose greatest danger in their labors would be carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

We muse and type and hit send, feeling strong emotions from the comfort of our living rooms or offices.

 

Reporters who are on the front lines, experiencing the cold and thirst and windburn alongside the struggling victims whose stories they want to tell, deserve the respect of all of us. To be in northern Iraq, or even the northern suburbs of St. Louis, is to feel a calling, a vocation, to serve and accept the burdens of service as a necessary part of living out your passion.

 

Back here in the living rooms and offices of America, or even in the worship centers of US churches, we catch a glimpse of what not long ago was a line of print in a bulletin, a few words from the parson before these issues and concerns were wrapped up in petitions to the Almighty.

 

Our dilemma, as praying pastors, as Christians and other praying folk at home or on the road during the week, is that our prayers can't be an affiliate network to the news media. We can pray over what we learn from the evening news, out of the magazines and newsletters coming in our mailboxes or online, and cable TV news always has an assortment of fears and anxieties to grab at us. But that's not the whole story.

 

Many of us are members of denominational bodies which send out mail and now e-mail alerts about mission stations under fire, critical needs overseas, names of servant leaders who need our prayers. It's not hard to get your name on mailing lists for parachurch organizations which now do the same, telling us about how much our prayers are needed in areas of disease outbreak, flood zones, urban slums filled with hungry children.

 

Which do we pray for? How often? Do we put a list of nations and cities in the bulletin each Sunday, or add a block to the newsletter to remind the members about missionaries we support or programs that we can ask blessings for?

 

As a serving pastor, I'm mindful every week of how much we don't pray for. There are folks who have had surgery that we lift up by first name a week, or two, and then we stop being specific…but I know the road to recovery is still hard for them.

 

International issues are tricky because we know the most about the situations which get the most coverage. We should all probably have been praying more, more often, more passionately, about the Second Congo War and its aftermath. To which you may say "um, was that after the First Congo War?" Yes, exactly. Maybe you watched "Kony 2012" on your computer, maybe you lifted up a prayer for peace and blessings into that tragedy, maybe you sent in a contribution. How's Joseph Kiny doing these days, anyhow? We have no video footage of him, so we don't know.

 

Back in the spring, your church may well have offered up prayers for the 200 girls kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. Have you…. No, don't feel guilty. I know, you haven't thought about them, let alone prayed for them, for weeks. (Months.) Have they been rescued? Even found?

 

There's no video feed, not even a Skype link, to that neck of the woods. So the story, and the prayers, fade away.

 

I believe God is at work in some way in that situation, but our prayers are not much in the mix. Should they be? Shouldn't they?

 

We tend to let the media drive our prayer life. That's not entirely bad, as global awareness makes us more sensitive to people and places we would never have thought of before. But if our prayers, our hearts, our spiritual disciplines get whipsawed around by the latest trend on Twitter, there's some reason for concern.

 

How do we discipline our prayer lives, so that we can include new areas of attention and intention, but also maintain some enduring areas of intercession that are in line with our own personal vocation? That may be one of the great challenges of spirituality in this media-rich and prayer-poor age.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he appreciates many of the prayer requests and reminders he gets through knapsack77@gmail.com. You can also follow him @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Knapsack 8-14-14

Notes from my knapsack 8-14-14

Jeff Gill

 

Mysteries unveiled, thanks to the internet

___

 

We're getting down to the last of the Denison gateway inscriptions, though not the end of my narrative about "Carved in Stone" around Granville. From "Education Safeguards the Nation" at the elementary school, to the Denison gateways, a few more carved considerations up within the campus but in plain view of the village, and finally a few words set for the centuries in granite that are a bit outside our town, we have many of these around us that are easy to overlook even when we're looking right at them.

Of the two pedestrian gateways, built in 1904 each with two pithy quotes flanking the entrance to the stairway up from the Fine Arts Quad to the academic areas above, we've discussed three quotes. Edging over to the beginning of Burg Street, our last enduring observation goes like this: "Languages are no more than the keys of sciences; he who despises one, slights the other."

Most sources refer to this quote as "unattributed," or even "anonymous," which just means that somewhere since President Emory Hunt picked it out over a century ago, no one's been sure where it came from.

It's kind of appropriate that the obscurity of the quote is tied to the quotation, which is hard to track down in part because the original is in French, from an author named Jean de La Bruyere. De La Bruyere was a student of Pascal and Montaigne, a contemporary of Racine and Corneille, and over to the English side of the channel, he strongly influenced Joseph Addison with his single bestseller: a collection of personal essays called "The Characters, or Manners of the Present Age," from whence this quote derives.

Addison, for himself, went on to create the idea of short essays in cheap, public settings like broadsheets and newspapers, each largely unconnected to the print piece that came before.

Or, you could just say that Addison invented the role of newspaper columnist!

So there was a time when de La Bruyere was a big name, but that time is long past, and his name has tended to fade into the darker corners of scholarly illumination. When I first started investigating the authors and contexts and reasons for these large public quotations here in Granville, I was able to simply type in pieces of the full phrase until I found my match, and my no-longer-anonymous author.

What the internet could not help me do, back in 2007, was figure out what, if anything, brought these four sages together, or what motivation caused Denison President Emory Hunt to select them for this august setting.

The internet has grown, as has my knowledge of how to dig about in it; the possible explanation for "why these four apothegms?" will be our next subject…

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you find pithy inspiration at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Faith Works 8-9-14

Faith Works 8-9-14
Jeff Gill

The task of ministry in one image
___

It will come as no surprise to those who know me, who work with me in the church, or probably most of you who read this column: I have no idea what I'm doing.

Oh, I've got some sense of what others expect of me, and in file drawers are job descriptions for some of the work I do, but in a more visceral, more pragmatic sense, I don't know what I'm doing.

This Tuesday, I celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination to Christian ministry. In and through that event were ethical and collegial admonitions given me ("preach the gospel," "live with integrity," "administer the sacraments") which are important and meaningful, but on re-reading them today, tend to the abstract and the general . . . and why not? To be specific would take a book, and one with many blank pages in the back to paste in updates.

And very soon I will have been writing this column every Saturday for ten years. I've put up a repeat a few times out of the press of life and ministry, but over 500 of these have gone to print (paper & pixels now), inviting the community to think about faith and life in their own experience, which has been a ministry all its own.

"Faith Works" began with a conversation in Michael Shearer's office, but his guidance was general and editorial, and he's never intervened to say "don't talk about that," or "why don't you do more on this subject" even when I've asked. So I knew what I was getting into back in 2004, but I still don't know what I'm doing.

If I had to sum up at this point in my life what ministry & the wider parish work of this column entails, I would have to step aside from the rushing torrent of words and point to an image.

A lighthouse. And perhaps to a lighthouse keeper walking from his house to the door at the foot of the tower.

There are no doubt job descriptions and manuals of conduct for lighthouse keepers. You have certain non-negotiables involved in the task, and they have some very specific issues relating to particular lighthouses. An Atlantic coast lighthouse is different from one on the Great Lakes, or an island and shoals out in the channel would be served differently than a marker at the straits.

But your clear, main, obvious task is simple. Keep the light shining. You could put it on a note card. Keep the light shining.

HOW you do that, though, is complicated. You have to make sure the diesel or the coal or whathaveyou is in supply and fed to the boilers, or you should check the cables that connect your tower to the grid or your own generators. You'd better polish the Fresnel lenses and keep the windows clean so the light is clearly visible out at sea; there's mechanisms to turn the light or flash the beacon or sound the foghorn to maintain.

On the grounds, you watch for encroachment (think of Cape Hatteras) and guard the foundations; the structure itself needs upkeep, paint or tuckpointing not to mention the roof above the tower. You yourself need to stay healthy, fed properly, and get your sleep when you can, because when you have to be up, you'd better be ready to be up as long as it takes, as fast as you can.

Then there's the lower lights to maintain, the street-light sort of beacons there to guide in those unwary travelers who missed or ignored the signs, were wrecked, and are struggling to an uncertain shore. All along your stretch of coast, you might have half a dozen or more . . . but they're not quite as important as the main light up above.

And so on. It can get complicated, and yet it isn't. Keep the light shining.

That's what I think about ministry, both in our congregation where I pastor, and to you, the readers of this column. I still don't really know if I'm getting all the details right, or doing those other tasks in the most efficient ways, but I hope and pray that I'm shining a light for everyone who passes within sight . . . or reading . . . or as my wise old mentor in the faith, Alexander Campbell said, "within the understanding distance."

Within that radius given me, may God's light shine on your path.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him where light shines for you at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Faith Works 8-2-14

Faith Works 8-2-14

Jeff Gill

 

Tradition is a poor excuse for stupid (or stupidity)

___

 

Much ink has been spilled, actual and virtual, over the public report about the Ohio State marching band's history, and the most recent director's role in trying to shape and change that history.

 

This space is generally reserved for a look at matters that most broadly consider how faith and morals relate to the lives of today's Licking Countians. We often have pastor's columns where any faith community leader is welcome to share their own very specific viewpoints, socially or doctrinally, and the Advocate runs features about particular programs or campaigns run by (usually) congregations or para-church bodies.

 

To say that Ohio State football is a religion is to make a joke that people almost laugh at. Matters of scarlet and grey, issues relating to cheerleaders and boosters and yes, the marching band, can carry a weight in the community and a central place in people's lives that looks all too much like a secular faith system, with worship on Saturdays in the Most Holy Place.

 

So talking about TBDBITL is to be on the fringes of faith & piety for Buckeye Nation. And that's part of where I want to go, but really I'm thinking about our common interests in essential beliefs and bedrock convictions far beyond football. This column is concerned with faith and morals, and how you go about raising up a generation from the innocence of youth to meaningful, constructive adulthood is always going to be at the heart of our civic culture.

 

In years past, over the last few decades, there's been an uneasy sea change around something often called "initiation." There's always been and always will be "paying your dues" and sometimes that means being the junior apprentice and having to go get well water for your elders; it can include some good natured and even rough ribbing from the more experienced who send the new guy to the quartermaster's shed to ask for "fifty yards of timberline and three skyhooks," and so on.

 

Some locations of transition from childhood to autonomy, especially those in that fuzzy zone between high school and full employment that can be college, or the military, or a journeyman program of one sort or another, can be initiations of a different sort. Who buys the round of beer for the team after work, now that you're 21; the first trips to the Gulf coast without parents; et cetera, et cetera.

 

And there was a stretch of time there, a duration not quite completed, where initiation included some, well, truly stupid stuff. It was always justified as "bonding," as "sealing the ties between us," as "letting you know that you're one of us now." Drinking, often to excess, has been a common feature; the infliction of pain or embarrassment usually played a part; the marking whether temporary or permanent on the body, in the spirit, of your place "within" the group.

 

I have nothing more than an opinion and a bit of a speculation based on very little data here, but I strongly suspect that we saw an upsurge in truly stupid, not to mention risky initiation behaviors during the 60s & 70s & 80s ("please sir, may I have another") because a generation came up in the shadow of another generation initiated into adulthood by gunfire, by seeing friends next to you die, by walking into death camps and seeing, hearing, smelling just how much of a gap exists between aspects of your humanity and others' inhumanity.

 

Lacking that, it became more "acceptable" to bring young adults together through trials and tests not so common in eras past, because "hey, at least it isn't going to war." Just don't kill them, and it's okay.

 

Today, there's a wider sense that bringing people together through nausea, disgust, intoxication, humiliation, and degradation is really not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, those who got through it insist "it's not so bad" and "it was done to me" and mainly "don't be such a killjoy."

 

Call me killjoy.

 

There are casualties of such initiations that do not die, but carry marks long through their lives. And actions are justified that have consequences beyond any one Midnight Ramp (optional my left foot). I think Ohio State erred in simply firing the director of the band, and hope he can return, but so he can continue to help that storied fellowship learn there are better ways to be bound together for life than learning to sing about violent sexual imposition in four part harmony.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about killjoys you have known at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Jeff Gill

 

Poor Richard in Granville

___

 

In 1758, Benjamin Franklin looked back at the run of his noted almanac, and said the following:

 

"In 1732 I first published my Almanac under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continued by me about twenty-five years, and commonly called Poor Richard's Almanac. I endeavoured to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reaped considerable profit from it…"

 

By profit, Franklin meant not only financial recompense, but also fame to go with his fortune. And in his retrospective "The Way to Wealth" from which the above quote is taken, he goes on to comment on listening to a public speaker whose talk gleaned most of its observations about life and living from the writing of Franklin's fictional alter ego:

 

"It would be thought a hard government, that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says."

 

Along College Street, between lower and upper campuses of Denison University, we've been looking at the four inscriptions paired onto two gates, part of a summer-long consideration of public quotes seen around Granville. We've already thought about the two closer to downtown near Burke & Cleveland Halls, and now we're on down to where Plum turns into Burg Street heading uphill.

 

If you're on foot uphill there, you pass between our last two 1904 gateway quotes, one of which being:

 

"Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of"

 

So we've gone from Longfellow and St. Augustine alongside of George Crabbe and his accounting of village life and self-sufficiency, both citations there for the inspiration and motivation of students plugging along from the Fine Arts Quad to the Academic Quad, to a pair of more punchy, even pithy quotes. Franklin, bless him, was always good for a pithy and pertinent quote; he was the model for our later Will Rogers and Mark Twains… Franklin would have LOVED Twitter if he were around today.

 

As we approach wrapping up this four part segment within our larger narrative about what Granville has found worth carving in stone, we get closer to asking some questions about the person and the process that selected these large, eye-level, dramatic quotations for our ongoing edification.

 

Pres. Emory Hunt was one of the last clergy to serve as chief officer of Denison (he also held the PhD degree, so he's more often called Dr. Hunt). In 1904, as the layout and landscaping of the campus began to be considered, and the physical and academic connections between the former women's colleges became a fully integrated institution, these gateways became less a dividing line than a sign and symbol of what drew them all together.

 

How were these four quotes selected, and what do they mean? That, and the author of our fourth gateway quote, will be part of the next installment.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about quotes that mean much to you at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Faith Works 7-26-14

Faith Works 7-26-14

Jeff Gill

 

Stories and treasures all around

___

 

Many years ago, I first visited Chimayo, New Mexico.

 

The Santuario is a small church, built about the same time as Granville's Buxton Inn, but of adobe bricks and local pine and juniper gathered there in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

 

Off to one side of the sanctuary are two rooms. One is filled with religious art on the walls and a small hole, or "pocito" in the center of the floor. In that hole is loose dirt, refilled each day from the banks of the nearby stream, and people come from near and far to gather some of that dirt because of its healing properties. Some rub it on themselves or their loved one needing healing, others even . . . well, the "tierra bendita" or "holy dirt" is consumed in a variety of ways.

 

Yes, for a Midwestern Protestant like me, it was an odd sight. But even more striking to me was the next room. It was covered, every wall, by crutches and braces and walkers and hundreds upon hundreds of letters, testimonials mostly in Spanish but not a few in not only English, but an assortment of other languages.

 

I've learned since that if you visit Lourdes in France, you see much the same sort of room. A place for thanks and sharing of what is no longer needed by those who have found healing; rooms sheathed in cast-off medical gear thankfully no longer central in someone's life.

 

Those are distant and somewhat unusual images, but when I first came to Newark Central Christian as the prospective pastor, they all came back to me when the congregation's leaders proudly took me out behind the church building, to a converted double garage: what's called the "Medical Loan Closet."

 

And on every wall were hanging row on row of canes, crutches, braces, knee walkers, rolling or sliding walkers; across the floor were commode chairs, shower chairs, wheelchairs of all sorts of variations, and more. "Durable medical goods" is the phrase used to describe what's available for loan there.

 

It immediately reminded me of Chimayo, a good memory in many ways I must note, but also more apt than you might think. Because while some of the gear brought to us for donation comes because the former user has died, the vast majority of it is brought in by those who no longer need it. Their stories of healing may tend to be medical and practical, but they are no less celebrated.

 

Hardly a week goes by now that I don't end up talking to someone who says "Oh, I know your church: that's where I got [insert medical gear name here]! They were so nice when I got it, and when I took it back." It's a joyful thing.

 

And even when people come back with items and say "Aunt Esmerelda passed last week" there's still usually a happy story or two about how the items helped keep the patient at home, where they didn't have to be a patient, and that they no longer had any pain or suffering now. Prayers are often part of what goes on in and around the Medical Loan Closet.

 

If you'd like to see it, today is kind of an "open house" day. We're open for business with volunteer staff on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (usually closed for holiday Mondays and just before major seasonal holidays: hey, they're all volunteers!) from 10 am to 3 pm… you can call 366-7438 to check if someone's there.

 

But we're having a kids' activity day today, July 26, from 11 am to 5 pm, and part of what the kids ramble about to see and do is our Medical Loan Closet ministry. If you're just curious about this healing center in a different sort of mode, and especially if you think something like this is what your congregation is being called to do, drop by.

 

And when you do (park around back, up the alley between Rugg Ave. and Quentin St.), look around at everything stacked and racked and hung from the ceilings or lining the floor. And know that every item has a story…with many of them having a story of healing associated with them. It's kind of a holy place.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about a holy place you love at knapsack77@gmail.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Knapsack 7-17-14

Notes from my knapsack 7-17-14

Jeff Gill

 

Carved in stone, lost to memory

___

 

On College St. opposite the white wedge of Burke Hall, the gateway framing the stairs from the Fine Arts Quad to upper campus has two large stone carvings, quotes to the right and to the left.

 

To the right, the George Crabbe quote we discussed last time. To the left, a more familiar poet, if not a well known line. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his "The Ladder of St. Augustine," included the observation repeated here in Granville:

 

"The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight * But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night"

 

Like its companion which warns against whining out woes when your own hands can ease your plight, this text reminds passing Denison students that if you want something, you have to work for it, and not just when it seems right to you to do so.

 

In fact, the full poem Longfellow wrote builds on an obscure citation from St. Augustine who tells penitent sinners that they, or rather, we can build a ladder to heaven from our vices if only we tread them each as rungs below us. Or less elegantly, let overcoming your urges be the growth that keeps you moving away from them.

 

Anyhow.

 

If you were picking quotes to inspire both students in college, and for townies to see that their student neighbors were being inspired in the right way, this is a good call. "Don't party all night if you want to get somewhere" looks fairly grim, but when you let Longfellow say it, there's a ring to the advice as offered.

 

My son, when we stopped by for me to check the punctuation on the carvings before crafting this column, noticed less the exhortation than the orthography.

 

"Why are all the U's shaped like V's, Dad?"

 

A good question. I remembered asking my mother the same question when we drove past the Valparaiso Pvblic Library. It couldn't be because it was easier to carve a V than a U in stone, since you had O and D and S.

 

Turns out the reason is that ancient Rome did not have J, U, or W, so it was Ivlivs Caesar. Why continue that shaping of the letter for U today now that we do?

 

Because it hearkened back, or so it was once thought, to the austere classical values of Greece and Rome. In a town with a scattering of Greek Revival gems, it makes sense. But it was also a trend, back in the 1920s and 30s, to evoke the ancient world particularly in the service of citizenship, education, and wisdom in general.

 

Less charitably, it was an affectation, and marked an era now past. Toiling vpward is not evocative to youth today, assuming it was in the 20s.

 

The Denison gateways have two more mysteries for us to consider: stay tuned!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about mystery inscriptions you've seen at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.