Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Faith Works 5-26-18

Faith Works 5-26-18

Jeff Gill

 

Memorials across the landscape

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This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the formal establishment of Memorial Day.

 

It was begun by General John Logan of Illinois, in his role as head of the nation's largest veteran's organization following the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic. He put out "General Order No. 11" on May 5, 1868, asking that all the posts and communities where the GAR was active mark May 30, 1868 as a day to decorate the graves of those who had died in "the late conflict."

 

Terms like "the Civil War" or even "Memorial Day" were not yet set in stone; this weekend only became a federal holiday in 1971, one of the controversial "Monday holidays" established that year. May 30 had been a state holiday in many places all across the United States, more to the North and former Union bastions than in the South.

 

But the roots of Memorial Day go deep, and even into places like Richmond, Virginia. Waterloo, New York is given credit for the first formal ceremony of commemoration to decorate graves and set up memorials in the month of May, starting in 1866; many places had a sort of "Decoration Day" well before the 1860s, a community affair to pull the early spring weeds, plant flowers after the last frost, and generally commune with the dead.

 

"Decoration Day" was the first capital-D name of what Gen. Logan and the GAR started, but Memorial Day it became as World War I and II added their burdens to our roster of the fallen. And in places like Granville, they are thankful they can record a Memorial Day observance by the community in unbroken sequence from the official 1868 beginning.

 

Memorial Day is a solemn observance that focuses on sacrifice, and those who gave "the last full measure of devotion." Veterans Day grew out of World War I's "Armistice Day" on November 11, to salute all who served, but this occasion focuses on the dead, and our intention to honor them with our remembrance, and a renewed devotion to work as communities and as a nation to create a world where such sacrifices must no longer be asked.

 

I'll be in a well-tended cemetery on Monday, and I honor our Veterans Alliance and today's American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America and others who will briskly cover the county, from nearly sunrise to the noontime conclusion of these observances. Even some of our smallest and today least used or visited cemeteries will have an honor guard, a salute, a prayer. Wherever you can go in your area, and stand silently, offering your presence, know that the family and friends of those killed in action appreciate beyond measure all who take the time to be present, and to share in their sorrow.

 

When I ministered in West Virginia, there were in my county a couple of Revolutionary War era markers out in now fallow fields, where settlers fell in raids during the 1770s, or where a frontier outpost once stood and nearby, soldiers were buried in unmarked graves. Each year, because of the example my dad set for me in remembering and marking Memorial Day, I'd get some flowers and go out and mark these 1777 & 1778 decaying monuments.

 

One year, I parked by car by the road and picked my way through the stubble of the field, wondering if it would be plowed this year as it had not the last few. I crested the rise, and came to the marker, about head high with a bronze plaque dating back almost a hundred years itself . . . and at its foot, a bouquet of fresh flowers. No card, no note, but I didn't add one when I placed mine, either. I had no idea who had gotten this same idea, and made the effort to make visible their remembrance.

 

But I know this: I felt much less alone in that field. And to that person, who I pray still takes some flowers this weekend to that spot now many hours away from where I'll be praying with hundreds, I offer my thanks for how we can come together to make a memorial in our hearts, the kind that God promises to preserve forever.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he will be offering prayers at 11 am in Maple Grove Cemetery in Granville for their 150th Memorial Day. Tell him where you will be for Memorial Day at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 5-24-18

Notes From My Knapsack 5-24-18

Jeff Gill

 

150 Memorial Days in Granville

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Monday, the village of Granville will mark our 150th Memorial Day observance. The parade will step off from Broadway and Main about 10:40 am, head to Maple Grove Cemetery, and at 11:00 am our community will remember those who have lost their lives in this nation's service.

 

150. It's a round number, the sort we mark without wondering why the 149th or 151st doesn't get quite the same attention, but one hundred and fifty occasions to do something as a community does seem to call for some sort of public comment.

 

1868 was a year when the Civil War was three full years in the past. Those intervening springtimes had seen cemeteries from Waterloo, New York to Richmond, Virginia welcome family and friends to tend the still fresh graves of their loved ones lost in the battle to preserve the Union. In early America, the tradition of a "decoration day" existed before the 1860s, a time to go to the church yard once the frosts were past and it was safe plant flowers, or just to pull weeds. With the sacrifice of the Civil War, this informal pattern began to become a special sort of day, with communities planning to come together and pray and sing and speak to each other.

 

So it was that on May 5 of 1868, General Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic asked all the members of that nationwide veterans' association to locally observe May 30 as a day to be "designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." He didn't call it Memorial Day, though that term was used fairly early on; most now called it, in capital letters, Decoration Day. As Decoration Day, it quickly became a state holiday around most of the country . . . and believe it or not, Memorial Day was not a federal holiday until 1971, when it also was made a "Monday holiday" along with a few other holiday adjustments. Some of us still have a nod in our hearts and a prayer of our own when the calendar shows May 30, the "traditional" date as Gen. Logan established.

 

I'm honored to be asked back to offer the invocation and benediction for this program, which is indeed our own 150th in Granville. Other wars have come and gone, seasons of change have passed through, but we all stop whatever else we are doing and come, in subdued and attentive throngs, to honor those who have died in harm's way. We've not missed a year from the start of this tradition, and are quite certain as a village that we have done so for 150 years running.

 

Much of what is said and done will be familiar; if you've been to one before, it will be much the same, yet it's always different. New names on the "Last Roll Call," different young readers, honored guest speakers.

 

If you've not noticed, one subtle tradition of Memorial Day speaks to what we want to remember with this commemoration. The American flag is, from its first raising on Memorial Day, at half-staff. Then American Legion Post 398 & the Sons of the American Revolution will salute the flag, and our honored dead, with rifle fire and solemn attendance at their posts, buglers from the Granville High School Marching Band will play "Taps," and then the flag will be raised at or just after noon to its rightful place at the top of the pole.

 

We begin the day, with the lowered flag, in sorrow, but we conclude and depart will a lift to our banner and our hearts, looking to the heights for hope – praying as one people for peace.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Faith Works 5-19-18

Faith Works 5-19-18

Jeff Gill

 

If you want to make God laugh…

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Plans aren't really anything that the Bible teaches against.

 

There is that aside in James 4:15 about always qualifying our future expectations with "if the Lord wills," and folklore debates whether we're talking about Native Americans or a small watercourse "if the Creek don't rise."

 

Even so, planning doesn't strike me as being a lack of faith. Not planning isn't an excess of faith, either, or so I'd say. Making a plan requires a certain amount of confidence in a number of possibilities, a hope for your future that allows you to project forward a potential that you can begin working on today.

 

I've read that procrastination is really an expression of insecurity and anxiety about one's own capacity to do something well. In this line of thinking, we procrastinate so we can say afterwards "hey, that wasn't my best effort, I could have done better, but I just didn't have the time." Or didn't take the time. A psychological self-inflicted handicap that keeps us from truly trying our best . . . for fear that when we saw what our best really was, it wouldn't live up to our own cherished image of what we're capable of.

 

In that sense, planning is precisely an act, a leap of faith. Faith in action, faith that, well, works. If you set out to anticipate what you want to get done, lay out a plan for it, and mark your progress against it, you do set yourself up for the possibility of failure. You may make plans you can't fulfill, even with your best efforts.

 

This is where the real impact of faith on planning comes in, with forgiveness. If we can imagine ourselves as forgiven even if we don't succeed, if we can forgive ourselves for falling short or do so with others who disappoint us, then we can take the risk of making plans.

 

But it's consistently amazing to me how rare making plans actually is. For people, of all ages, for organizations of any kind, and that would include churches.

 

I work with youth in a variety of settings, and no one is really all that surprised that a juvenile, a teenager, a young adult doesn't have much of a plan for the future. They tend to be very much taken up with the moment at hand, and for many of them, future planning means next week. It's about a seven to ten day horizon we're working with as we talk about their "plans."

 

But many, maybe even most adults have more of a thirty day horizon. This month, and spilling into next month a bit, but not very much about next year, or a couple of years on. If I'm talking about you, the good news is that you've got lots of company!

 

The bad news is that lack of planning, of anticipating the future, is pretty much a sign of anxiety and fear. If you have nothing but doubt and hopelessness about your future, then you certainly wouldn't want to spend too much time in your head "going there." So you live day to day, and stick with the challenges you think you really can cope with. The future, not so much.

 

Planning for next year and the next stage of life and around big transitions ahead can evoke its own range of anxieties and fears. "Dostadning" is a Swedish name for "death cleaning." It's a decluttering discipline and a form of preparing for downsizing that's catching on in some quarters, but certainly provokes a fair amount of negative reaction, too. "Dostadning" takes a basic willingness to admit and face the reality that you may be moving towards restrictions, smaller spaces, fewer rooms to store stuff in; it can also touch on your desire not to make your children or heirs or friends have to go through the painful process of sorting through and throwing out lots of your stuff.

 

It also requires you to concede that someday, you will die. Is that a prospect you can face?

 

Swedish idioms aside, I think there's a great deal about planning, or not planning, that is rooted in our basic sense of ultimate purpose. As in, do I have one, and are my values something more than what I own, the stuff I have, the accomplishments to my credit?

 

Faith and planning have a great deal in common, and one supports the other, step by step, day by day. From now 'til forever!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has made unsuccessful plans before, and is still willing to make new ones. Tell him your plans at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Faith Works 5-12-18

Faith Works 5-12-18

Jeff Gill

 

Moms on the move

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Mother's Day is a reflection of late Victorian America, an idealization of the role of mothers that we struggle with today.

 

It's not that motherhood hasn't been idealized and honored for all of human history, let alone in the life of churches, but if you go back before the Civil War you find the place and sense of motherliness to be something a bit different from the model that has tended to sit at the heart of Mother's Day. M is for the many ways . . . you know.

 

For Christians, Mary as the mother of Jesus has always occupied a special place in our understanding of how God works through humanity, starting with her "yes" to God's purposes literally working through her. In that way, she became a model to all Christians for faithfulness and discipleship. Mary's "Mary-ness" is in a deep sense for everyone.

 

There's a contrast here that explains why churches have such an awkward relationship with Mother's Day observances. The historic tone of Mother's Day celebrations is very specific, to those who have had children, and in the duties due mothers from those offspring. This obviously leaves men out, but even more painfully it can leave out a number of women who for a variety of reasons have never had kids.

 

Today's faith communities tend to be much more sensitive to this tension, seeking to honor women more generally, and mothers in particular. My own congregation has a Mother-Daughter dinner to which, very intentionally, "any woman who has been a daughter" is invited. I think that's a blessing to be aware of such needs for inclusion, while honoring the mothers among us.

 

And this is where the Bible has a great many mothers to offer us who show the complex, multi-faceted side motherhood, from which we can all learn, women and men, those with children and some of us without any family connection at all, other than through the human family.

 

Hannah in I Samuel is a favorite of mine. She keeps Elkanah on his toes, and has something to say back to Eli. She is a woman and wife and mother, and she is a powerful woman of faith.

 

But go back farther. Rahab: we've finally in the modern era caught up with where the ancient authors of Scripture already were. Matthew knew, and included in Jesus' genealogy females who would have lived in their own eras under a bit of a shadow, but who had more to them than those around them realized.

 

Rahab appears to not have been a mother when she enters the narrative in the Book of Joshua, but she becomes one as a result of her relationship with God's people; her child, Boaz, then marries and makes a mother of Ruth, who is another woman with a remarkable story of childlessness, hopelessness, and yet still faithfulness which is ultimately rewarded. Not when she might have wanted, but just when hope was almost gone, as faith in Naomi and Naomi's God carried her through.

 

And then there's Esther, beauty pageant winner who proves to have steel beneath the silks and linen of the harem. But her sharp weapon is her wits; she is persuasive, even from a relatively powerless position. And she, too, is only later marked as a mother and matriarch of her nation. First, she is a leader.

 

In the New Testament, we overhear Paul speaking to Timothy about the remarkable example given him by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice, students of the sacred texts and role models in faith; John in his second letter addresses an "elect lady" who may be symbolic, but could also be the leader of one of his scattered small churches in her own right. His writing to her talks about the relationships within the church in the model of motherhood and how to be loving children together.

 

Finally we come to Revelation, where Mary or her emanation embodies God's fierce love in ways you just have to read to believe. But don't mess with her!

 

The Bible has an expansive view of motherhood we would do well in our churches to examine, reflect on together, and to share with our community at large: moms on the move, getting things done!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a mother, and is married to one, and they both have taught him much, even if he hasn't always learned it. Tell him about tales of modern or ancient motherhood at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Faith Works 5-5-18

Faith Works 5-5-18

Jeff Gill

 

Tithing, fasting, and singing among other options

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This time of year I like to counterbalance the usual fall push to stewardship campaigns and giving invitations with some reflections on our material offerings as people of faith.

 

If you only talk about this subject in October or November, you're doing your religious community a disservice. Money and resources and how we use or abuse them is a theme right through the Christian scriptures, and they're highlighted in most other holy books I'm familiar with.

 

Jesus talked about finances, what they mean to us, and how we should understand those blessings when he preached and taught, in parables and commandments. Paul drew on the Hebrew Scriptures, the first half of the Christian Bible, to talk about the lasting meaning of tithing, which was a core principle within Temple Judaism.

 

It's often debated in Christian circles just how much of an absolute obligation tithing is to believers today. Are the commandments of Malachi in the Old Testament still binding?

 

I think of tithing as less of an obligation than it is a simple spiritual principle, just as healthy food choice and exercise is for the body. Do I command anyone, in my church or anyone else asking me, to eat better and stay fit? No, but I do try to teach consistently and woven throughout my preaching, that poor nutrition and sheer idleness can have a negative impact on the bodily temple we've been given.

 

So it is with tithing. If you look at your increase, the blessings you receive, as entirely your own to do with as you will, first and foremost . . . bad things will happen. I'm not being a prophet here, I'm just stating facts. That kind of selfish and me-first attitude never turns out well, and that seems to be woven directly into the structure of the cosmos we've been given.

 

But if you set a goal, based on a proportion of your income, and give it away first, you find yourself looking with more gratitude on what you receive, and you see yourself more as a steward of what's passing through your hands, rather than an earner who deserves what you get and has a right to do whatever with it. Giving of yourself doesn't change God, it changes how you will let God's blessings work through you.

 

And candidly, given the divergence between storehouse tithing in the Temple era of Israel and our W-2 and FICA driven reality today, I'm not interested in getting into a long debate over exactly what tithing is. Should you commit to giving $5,000 to others if you make $50,000, or is it after taxes? What about people who are living on "unearned income" and on and on to so many different "whatabouts" you can throw in the air. Let the dust settle: tithing is the basic spiritual discipline of setting a marker of a proportion of what comes in to you, and giving FIRST. Not at the end of the year when you see what you think (now) you can spare. Some people, I'd suggest gently, might even be called to more than ten percent. A few even to sell all that they have and give it to the poor. You'll have to ask the Boss for yourself that one.

 

Tithing is like fasting, I think. We all could, some of us may do more than others, and each of us has to be stewards of our consciences in regular prayer and communion with the Lord as to how much of each we do. But the blessings of both are well known who have tried these spiritual disciplines. I'll honor wherever someone is sincerely led.

 

And after these last three months, I'd add singing. The Bible does seem to indicate we all should make a joyful noise, but it's not like there are hard rules about this. And it has been an odd sort of blessing to have gone months now essentially unable to sing a note. (Long story.) So I have had to just listen as everyone else sings.

 

I've long been a song leader in worship and public gatherings, and that's the role I'm used to. But for a season, at least, I've been called to listen instead. And the Lord has told me that it is good. Singing is not a rule, and I'm wary of making tithing or fasting an iron bond. But all three are clearly avenues for God's blessings when we are ready to open the gates and let them flow.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's speaking better, but still can't sing – thank you for your prayers! Let him know what spiritual disciplines you believe bring blessings at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.