Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Faith Works 1-24-15

Faith Works 1-24-15

Jeff Gill

 

Why a choir?

___

 

My little series for 2015 on "why?' about various aspects of church life needed to shift a bit this week from my original, semi-methodical plan.

 

(Stop laughing. I can be methodical, if not Methodist. Sometimes!)

 

Today, at Second Presbyterian Church, we will have a celebration of the life of Ann Glaser. Ann was a musician herself, and a music teacher in public schools (most notably in heath), but I knew her as a church choir director. She had been retired for many years, in very poor health these last few, but she never stopped singing.

 

Ann was a member at Second, and I thank Rev. Charlie Smith and their organist Rick Black for letting me be a part of Ann's homegoing; she directed both vocal and handbell choirs at Second, then when they hired a full-time music director she shifted to St. John's UCC, then came to Central Christian where I met her in my previous time at the church I now pastor, then as the associate.

 

She loved handbells, and her daughter Kris and I believe she was the first to bring handbell choirs to Licking County, a form of group performance that is now in many congregations around our area. She and Kris also put on the first handbell festival for the area in the early 90s, affirming and celebrating the unique qualities of these musical devices; the sound of eight handbell choirs playing together is something I hope never to forget.

 

But why do churches, most of them, have choirs in the first place? Well, like so many of these "why" questions, it goes back to monks. The monastic enclosures and customs that shape everything from school commencement ceremonies to Harry Potter iconography.

 

You catch a hint of this history in the names of the standard choir sections. A monastic choir would have been all male (convents are a completely different story, parallel history, for a later telling). The tenor voice "holds" the melody – think "tenacity" or "tenant" and you get the linguistic hook – so then lower voices form a "bass" from the Latin and Italian for "low". Higher voices were, of course, "alto" and those higher, supra- to the musical line, make up sopranos.

 

Most musical terms come from Italian, because the more Latinate history is also more one of chant, the sung form of religious service and worship that would carry through a vast stone church in the time before electronic amplification. Singing in a monotone can have its charms, but harmonies and polyphonies steadily developed through the centuries, and the parts we associate with a "standard" Western choir.

 

Even in the Protestant era – think Bach in Lutheran Germany – the idea that the music for a worship service is best delivered by a trained choir held steady, monks and nuns aside. The profession of choral singing developed, there and in Anglican churches of the English-speaking world.

 

In the resistance to state churches that gave birth to Congregational and Baptist forms, there was some reaction against choirs. A paid, set-apart group leading worship was displaced in favor of congregational singing, hence the rise of hymnody and hymns for all to join.

 

Early America in this, as most things, saw all sorts; the last century has seen a general leveling, with fewer churches having paid soloists let alone choirs, but more congregations of all types emphasizing everyone singing (contemporary worship we'll also leave to another day). But we've also all seen that, left entirely on their own, congregations don't always sing out, let alone get an enjoyment of parts and harmonies. A few trained, even if voluntary singers in a choir, can bring out the best in the whole gathering, and a special worship offering or two can add even more at the same time.

 

Ann Glaser gave over a big part of her life to being that key trained professional, a choir director, who could lead the chorus but was always mindful of the congregation. I'm blessed today to have Patty Comisford and Susie Morris in those roles with our choirs at Central, and a strong chancel choir (that also has a great fellowship spirit together). Most pastors know that good choir directors are, as Proverbs 31 almost says, more precious than rubies.

 

I should know; when I found a good choir director, I married her!

 

For my wife Joyce, for Patty and Susie, for Kris and her mother Ann whose passing we mark today, for your choir director wherever you worship: let us all give thanks.

 

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Knapsack 1-21-15

Notes From My Knapsack 1-21-15

Jeff Gill

 

Cold, hard, silent seasons

___

 

Once the holidays are behind us, and even the college football national championship is a memory, not an anticipation, we're simply in winter.

 

Cold, hard, silent winter. Sometimes with snow, often with ice, always with a chill that reaches deep within, to rattle bones and shiver the skin.

 

This is why John Sutphin Jones left behind the beauty of Bryn Du and founded Naples, Florida (that long pier out to deep water? it ran a coal car rail line to bring baggage from steamers in to shore, thanks to the Sunday Creek Mining Company), that is why so many "snowbirds" leave us in central Ohio and flee to warmer climes whether on the Gulf, the Rio Grande, or any points south they can find.

 

Winter in central Ohio can be very, very hard. Hard on houses, hard on cars, hard on bodies, young, old, aging or infant. We've had a long run of fairly mellow seasons, with just the high drama of ice storms and derechos for seasoning. Last winter there was a coating of snow for most of the darkest weeks of winter; this winter our snow hasn't been as substantial, but the temps have more than made up for the lack of frozen precipitation.

 

Is there more or less winter in our future? Even the assumption of global climate change due to human impacts doesn't clarify what central Ohio will see over the next few decades: the models for what's often called warming can mean cooling and snowpack here even as glaciers melt elsewhere.

 

My aging joints and almanac interpretations point towards a more wintry future for Granville, with snow and cold to mark the season. Good news for skiers, not-so-good for pretty much everyone else.

 

Tree trimming means that limbs are clipped back beyond where they can freeze and fall onto power lines; snow blades and salt spreaders on village trucks keep the side streets clear, or at least maneuverable. Along Broadway, the restaurants are looking to specials that fight off the chill, even as our frozen custard shop is shuttered and dark until more friendly temperatures prevail

 

Comet Lovejoy has been a feature of night skies for those who know where to look, a borderline naked-eye cometary body recently discovered and briefly in view across the flanks of Taurus, now fading as it moves past the Sun. Orion gazes impassively at the shimmering fuzzy light to his right, while Sirius leaps to pursue from below and to the left as you look into the southern skies on these icy but crystalline nights.

 

Winter in Ohio has some attractions, the lines of low-light shadow across snowy coatings making a frigid geometry out of overpasses and tree limbs. Returning to warm living rooms and burrowing under thick blankets can bring a joyful glow to even the most wearied heart.

 

And bit by bit, morning by morning, the light at dawn comes sooner and sooner, days growing longer and night, and cold, feeling constraints on either end. Soon enough, we'll groan at dawn's early light, and mutter about the heat. In those days, may we remember these!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him about your joys of wintertime at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 1-17-15

Faith Works 1-17-15

Jeff Gill

 

Why a preacher?

___

 

Last week, I invited you to think through the question with me "why a pastor?"

 

What you may or may not think of as much the same thing is "why a preacher?"

 

Preacher, parson, reverend, padre, pastor are all ways of referring to the role I was talking about last week. You may hear "preacher man" but of course in many, even most traditions today, the ministerial role may be fulfilled by a preacher woman – my own denomination has long had women in ministry, and it was a lady Rev. who baptized and married my mother, so it's in my DNA of ministry images that women can serve in that central role of Christian leadership.

 

Preaching, public speaking in church, is an area that women in ministry have entered, and felt resistance in: we're not far from an era when the power of the voice was all that got a message to the back rows, and men were the assumed voice of authority in the culture as well as in church.

 

To be a preacher, though, is at essence to be a storyteller, and there are many means and modes in which to tell stories. Loud and overwhelming isn't the only way, not even always the best way, to take a tale and tell it to a gathering of hearers. So women in preaching has helped, I think, to expand everyone's understandings of ministry for many different approaches, not just genders.

 

Why, though, do we need preachers as part of what faith communities do? Is preaching to tell people what to do, or how to live? Can you do what religious folk call worship without preaching?

 

As a Christian pastor, I have a story to tell. The story of God's promises fulfilled and will revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is my story. It can be your story, too, and basically my job each week is . . . to tell the same story, again and again, so all may hear and know and understand and believe.

 

In other words, I tell the same story every week, every occasion for worship. No, really, that's what I do.

 

And I think most preachers in the Christian community would admit, with varying degrees of ruefulness, that we're just telling the same old, old story over and over and over again.

 

You can see where that takes some special skills – just to make the gospel story fresh and new and making sense in today's context (sometimes referred to as "keeping it relevant"). Some preachers are short and succinct, and others are out of an expository tradition where a longer, more methodical presentation of the Bible version of the gospel is the norm. So sermons may be more of a homily, five minutes or so in length; I grew up in a church where a thirty minute sermon was considered standard, twenty-five minutes being a gift for which everyone gave thanks at Sunday dinner. And our local history tells of preachers in the 1800s who were praised and honored for their ninety minute to three hour long sermons.

 

Seriously. (They didn't have anything else to entertain them, you might say uncharitably.)

 

I am generally what's called a "lectionary preacher," which is a three year cycle of the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments, that many church bodies share together as a pattern for worship and sermons. Since the first Sunday of Advent last month, we've been in Year B of that cycle, with an emphasis this lectionary year on Mark's Gospel, A going with Matthew, C with Luke, and John's (the Fourth) Gospel sifted through all three, especially around Christmas and Easter.

 

But last year I took a different approach for a congregational effort to read the Bible together in a chronological approach, and left the lectionary behind. It's a guideline, but a good one; in general, the lectionary keeps me from just preaching on my favorite three or thirty passages, and not getting out into some of the wider expanses of Bible reading and preaching.

 

Can the laity, "lay members," non-ordained, not seminary trained people, preach out of scripture and tell the stories of the Bible in an illuminative way for the congregation?  Sure they can, but it helps to have a solid educated grounding in what the Bible is saying, so we can re-tell those stories in an inviting, converting, transforming way.

 

Have you ever preached a sermon? Have you ever wanted to?

 

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Downton Christian Church cabinet meeting

Downton Christian Church cabinet meeting (transcript)

 

Rev. Charles Carson: I believe it is time for us to begin. If you will take up your agendas and…

 

Thomas Barrow, chair of the property committee: Pardon me, but it doesn't look like we're all here yet. Perhaps if we waited a few more moments?

 

Mrs. Beryl Patmore, president of the CWF: Time's a wastin', I'd say. Those ham loaves aren't going to make themselves.

 

Miss Daisy Mason, new deaconess chair: Ooh, I could go check the parking lot and…

 

Mrs. Patmore: Sit down, Daisy.

 

Rev. Carson: As I was saying, our agenda calls for an opening devotional and prayer, and I've asked Dr. Clarkson to…

 

Robert Crawley, chair of the trustees (and owner of Grantham Realty): In fact, I had prepared a little something for this occasion, Rev. Carson, if you wouldn't mind.

 

Rev. Carson: Of course, that would be splendid, if indeed Dr. Clarkson does not…

 

Dr. Richard Clarkson, chair of the deacons: Mine will keep to the next month's meeting. (Shakes head resignedly.)

 

Rev. Carson: Why thank you, Doctor, that's very kind of you.

 

Mr. Crawley: In the later chapters of Isaiah, well beyond the familiar lines of comfort to which I know we all regularly turn in our travels through this vale of woe…

 

(Ten minutes later)

 

Mr. Crawley: …and with that brief survey, I fear we must conclude. (Sudden jerking of heads around the table from nearly nodding off.)

 

Rev. Carson (gently): And the prayer, Mr. Crawley?

 

Mr. Crawley: Oh, Dr. Clarkson may do that.

 

Dr. Clarkson: What? Who? Oh, yes, certainly. (Discontented shake of his head; prays.)

 

All: Amen.

 

Rev. Carson: So now if we could get started, not that we haven't been engaged in some very productive work (nodding to Mr. Crawley, who beams back at him), but on your agendas, you will next see that we have a special proposal from Mr. Barrow as to the re-roofing of the education wing.

 

Mrs. Elsie Hughes, chair of evangelism (softly): Now we're in for it.

 

Mr. Barrow: What was that, Mrs. Hughes?

Mrs. Hughes: Oh, nothing Mr. Barrow, not a thing that concerns you.

 

Mr. Barrow: Regardless, as I was saying, I have this friend who has been by our church a few times, not to attend, mind you, I'm sure he's very active in a church of his own elsewhere, not that that's any of my business, but when he's come by here, he's noticed our hail damage.

 

Mr. Tom Branson, chair of the men's fellowship: Hail damage, Mr. Barrow? I'd not noticed anything like that.

 

Mr. Barrow (archly): Which you wouldn't. That's the sort of thing you wouldn't notice unless you were a roofing expert, which my, um, associate happens to be. He has very kindly offered to re-roof our entire complex for what, I can assure you, is a very reasonable amount, and assures me that we won't be out more than ten percent of the total since he will get it from the insurance company for the hail damage.

 

Mr. Crawley: Well, that's good, then.

 

Mrs. Patmore (softly): Ten percent back to him, more likely.

 

Mr. Barrow: What was that, Mrs. Patmore?

Mrs. Patmore: Oh, just a tickle in my throat. Never you mind.

 

Mr. Barrow: I see. (Glowers.)

 

Rev. Carson: Ahem. That's a question that should involve the finance committee, which is chaired by Ms. Mary, Mr. Robert's daughter, who was not able to attend due to a pressing engagement elsewhere. She was going to send her sister Edith, who turns out to be involved with something else tonight.

 

Mr. Crawley: I'm sure they're spending their time wisely.

 

(Around table generally): Oh, certainly….of course….yes, yes….

 

Rev. Carson: I was going to ask of the memorials committee if there were funds there we could use, to initiate this roofing project.

 

Mr. John Bates, memorials committee: No.

 

Rev. Carson: Ah. I see. Well, that sounds definite.

 

Mr. Branson: Could I ask, Mr. Barrow, if he has any details in hand about the type and quality of the new roofing, or what the total cost is likely to be?

 

Mr. Barrow: I've given this matter my best attention, and am fully aware of everything that goes into the question. The, um, details of the roofing materials are, well, something we can find out quickly from my . . . friend. They will be extremely cost-effective, I'm certain of that. And the overall color scheme will only change slightly, from the grey pebbled look we have now to a more slate grey texture.

 

Mr. Crawley: Oh. (furrowed brow)

 

Rev. Carson: Indeed?

 

Mrs. Patmore: Might one inquire what would be the problem with that?

Mrs. Hughes: Widow Violet wouldn't like it. (General raising of eyebrows.)

 

Miss Daisy: I don't understand; Mrs. Crawley isn't even on the cabinet?

 

(Shaking of heads around the table; Mrs. Patmore scribbles something on the back of her agenda, slides it over to Daisy, who quietly says "Ohhhhh.")

 

Rev. Carson: That would seem to close that line of inquiry rather completely. (Mr. Barrow looks disgusted, says nothing.) Let's continue on through our agenda in order, then, shall we?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Faith Works 1-10-15

Faith Works 1-10-15

Jeff Gill

 

Why a pastor?

___

 

So I promised to spend the first weeks of this new year answering some "why?" questions about typical forms of faith and practice, both for those who are not part of religious communities, and for those of us inside of them who don't often have a reason to stop and ask "why do we do this, or have this, or say this as Christians?"

 

One question that comes up in talking to non-participants in faith communities is a personal angle: so Jeff, what is it you do? Or in the general format here, "why a pastor?"

 

There are long theological responses available, and I may just let this be a two week long answer, but I'm going to start with what a pastor, or at least this pastor, does.

 

In making up my usual year end tally for the January meeting of what my church calls "the elders," the spiritual leadership of the congregation, I looked back at 2014: in rough estimates from some specific numbers that are neither here nor there, I spent about 100 hours on weddings, 150 hours on funerals, 325 hours on non-commuting driving for church work around Licking, Delaware, and Franklin Counties (plus a half-dozen trips to our regional camp in Union County), 40 hours with work on behalf of our denomination (called a region in my communion, but other bodies might call this the district or diocese or conference), 1000 hours on home visits of all sorts (nursing residential care to the simply home bound), 300 hours on surgery/hospital calling, 150 on Bible studies, 120 on board & committee meetings of all sorts, 200 on print & e-mail communications (newsletters, stewardship campaign, e-mailed devotionals). Now, I figure a standard full time ministry week as typically 60 hours, and I worked 50 weeks last year . . . that's 3,000 hours. Add to the above year-end report figures 51 Sundays, call 'em 400 hours net, plus (+100+150+325+40+1000+300+150+120+200), and you not only cross the 3,000 figure, you see why sermon prep always ends up Saturday night.

 

There's also a certain amount of housekeeping that ends up being done by me that I might be able to delegate better (washing up the coffee pots on Monday or changing the sign out front, except I'm very picky about how the letters line up, what with my mild obsessive compulsive tendencies), but that gives you a year-long panorama of what is, I think, a fairly typical pastor's time budget.

 

If our congregation of some 300 members and probably 450 connected souls in total didn't have a pastor, these would either be done on a voluntary basis, or they wouldn't happen. There are church bodies that have no formally "set aside" clergy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints perhaps being the best known of them (also known as "Mormons"). And in some groups, as among Catholic Christians, the set-apart ministry of the priesthood is a very specific body of men indeed, and the things they do at the table in Communion or other sacramental acts can only be done by them.

 

In my religious tradition, the congregation can do Holy Communion without me even being in the building; we have what's technically known as "lay presidency" at the table. Communion is done reverently and respectfully, and that's come to mean that more often than not the clergyperson is presiding . . . but they don't have to.

 

What I see myself as, specifically, is the "preaching and teaching elder" that Paul speaks of in I Timothy 5:17, and the person asked to take on that responsibility the apostle also notes should be paid. So you see a precedent for a position such as a pastor all the way back into the earliest Christian church.

 

The idea is that you receive some compensation so that you can focus on preaching and teaching well, and that's where I worry a bit. As you can tell, calling and managing tend to eat the hours when you're in a modern pastorate, and to keep time set aside even as a full time clergymember for prayer and study can be a challenge. And that's why I like having the eldership of the church, where we have spiritual leadership together, to help keep me accountable to that core mission in my ministry!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he doesn't spend enough time on prayer and study for his sermons. Tell him what you think he should cut back at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Faith Works 1-03-15

Faith Works 1-03-15
Jeff Gill

You might just ask "why?"
___

This column is written at the beginning of a new year, with my intention being to chart a course for what will be a sort of series in the coming weeks.

It's not meant to be a menu, or a timetable, let alone a table of contents, but it is a sort of trailer, giving you all some hints as to the overall theme of what I think folks would like to read here . . . but leaving myself enough flexibility in later edits and final cuts to make changes based, in part, on your feedback.

My main focus in going to be "Why?' As in, why do Christians have, let alone care so much, about having a book they call their Bible? Why do we pray? Why do most groups within Christendom have clergy? Why do we worship together in groups? Why does marriage occupy such an important place in faith community identity, and why do we define it the way we do?

Before I go any further, let me cop to my usual outs: this is all quite biased towards Christianity in general, and my own perspective will always tend to the Protestant standpoint even when I'm probably not meaning to. I like to think I can speak coherently about Catholicism, and Lutheranism, Wesleyan and Anglican/Episcopalianism streams, the more Reformed Protestant groups (Presbyterians and some Baptists), and the strongly Congregational angle is one I come at as a native, but I try to keep up with developments among the Pentecostal, Orthodox (Eastern and otherwise), and Anabaptist traditions.

But east central Ohio has a history that is deeply rooted in Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christian faith and practice; Southern Baptists in recent years have come to outnumber Northern, which are nowadays American Baptist Churches, and the Catholic Christian community has deep continuities in our area, going back to French trappers and traders and Jesuit missionaries, even as the Moravian Church, all too little known today even by their Protestant heirs, shaped much of our map in this half of the state.

So multiple groups are part of the story, even as the rise – or some would say "return" – of Enlightenment values has led to an increase in secularism and agnostic if not always atheistic values and practices in our culture today.

What is a constant for me, in talking about faith and works of faith in Licking County to a general audience, is that the vast majority of readers and audiences are what is often called "un-churched" and can also be tagged as "de-churched" people. On any given Sunday, counting broadly and even including those who drive out of county to attend services, barely 20% are in a worship experience. If you allow for the end of "blue laws" closing most businesses on Sundays, and modern work schedules in general, and say there's a group who would like to worship more often who just can't make it due to shifts or hours or even kids' sports, you could with an effort get the number of regular churchgoers up to 70%. (It would be a stretch, but I'll be generous.)

That means 70% of Licking Countians don't go to a worship gathering twice or more a year. Yes, Gallup still gets some 40% SAYING they go four or more times a year (which still leaves 60% un/de-churched), but that's to a nice person on a phone. The hineys-in-seats numbers don't support any such figure. However you do the math, well over half of you'ns don't attend a church.

Which is why I'd like to begin my second decade of "Faith Works" taking my shot at explaining, to a diverse audience, answers to "Why?" – as in why Christians, broadly speaking, value and affirm and DO the things they do. Perhaps you have some specific "Why?" questions you'd like to see answered. Let me know what they are!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to know "Why?" about at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 12-15-14

Notes From My Knapsack 12-25-14

Jeff Gill

 

Years in review

___

 

Jacob Little, our noted Granville minister of the early 1800s, liked to preach a year-end sermon that took stock of Granville and environs.

 

He would list in detail all the wrongdoing and bad behavior he could account for, and with a small army of informants he could account for quite a bit. His proposals for the future generally ran to more church attendance and increased faithfulness to the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by Rev. Little).

 

Not to knock morality and piety, which each have their place, but vision was not the good pastor's strong point. His perspective was one of checklists and rosters and membership. It should be noted that while his public persona was that of a scold, his ministerial reputation was as a caring, thoughtful, even loving leader of his flock.

 

As a pastor myself, I read about Little's public pronouncements, and suspect that he had his public inflexible side, and many private moments of compassion that never were recorded in year-end sermons or official reports to session.

 

Today, it wouldn't be hard to replicate the harsher side of that Presbyterian parson's presentation. The lists of offenses and improprieties are now a matter of public record, with no need for a preacher to hire young people to run about for him or her and to tally up drinking establishments or private entertainments in public places.

 

This very newspaper runs Granville's own Mayor's Court notes, and the county courts have their own accounts that tell of drunkness and vandalism and divorces and dissolutions. You can watch the television stations at 5, 6, and 11 to hear about shootings and stabbings and conflagrations of all sorts.

 

Rev. Little would perhaps add a few words about fire safety and the need to avoid unshielded candles to each tally of house fires, and preach about sin and brokenness in the human heart if it had to do with arson, but we still have our own twisted enjoyment that filled a church a century and a half ago, and keeps ratings high when "if it bleeds, it leads." We say we want good news and happy conversation, but in truth it's tried and true that bad news sells, especially when it happened to someone else, but it keeps selling if we have reason to worry that the bad news might happen to us someday.

 

It was said that the full house old Jacob could count on was because people wanted to know if they would be mentioned by name, or to hear about their neighbors' transgressions. I think it might be safe to say those who gathered had multiple reasons for coming together and hearing out the preacher, whether they looked forward to the experience or not.

 

We've got a chance to gather together to review and anticipate as a community, coming up in just a couple of weeks. At the high school, at 7:00 pm on Thursday, January 15, the Granville Schools' Board of Education is sponsoring a . . . well, they're calling it an "Economic Sustainability Summit." They've invited key economic players from the public and private sectors around Licking County to come, and they've invited you, and we're going to look at, economically, how we got where we are, funding-wise, and where we're going. It's both review, and vision, all on the table for our future as a community. They intend it as an educational focus, but I think it has implications for much more.

 

Rev. Jacob Little would have gone to one of these. I certainly plan to attend. And you're invited! Maybe you should go just to see if your name is mentioned…

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your year-end assessment at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Faith Works 12-27-14

Faith Works 12-27-14

Jeff Gill

 

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

___

 

There's a Christmas season tradition in our household that may not be quite to your tastes, but it suits me right down to the ground.

 

Along with all the other seasonal favorite movies, from "White Christmas" to "Christmas Vacation" to "Fred Claus" I like to slide in, somewhere between "Christmas in Connecticut" and "The Family Stone," a Sherlock Holmes episode.

 

Holmes has been interpreted in recent years by Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Jeremy Brett's PBS programs recounting the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. From 1984 to the early 90s these were the best Sherlock stories to be seen this side of Basil Rathbone.

 

They're not at all Christmas-y, except for one. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," as filmed let alone as told in the print original, is soaked through with Christmas spirit and imagery. The music, the pub atmosphere, the markets of Victorian London, are all at work to serve the idea of an English traditional Christmas.

 

It is also the story where most famously, after the wrongdoer has admitted his guilt and explained the turns of events to Holmes and Watson at 221B Baker Street, the consulting detective says to the criminal "Get out." When the law abiding doctor hints at even a slight note of disapproval, Holmes emphatically retorts that he is not employed to resolve the deficiencies of the official law enforcement services.

 

"Get out. Not a word."

 

Holmes is, in his own roughhewn way, engaging in restorative justice. And there's more of that built into our legal system than you might think, from judicial discretion (less of it than there used to be, but that's a whole 'nother discussion) to jury verdicts, where a tribunal of twelve citizens tasked with a decision can make their decisions within a certain area of latitude. Plus the more affirmative forms of restorative justice that include victim-offender mediation, whether as part of a diversion plan or built into a sentence; all mediation-based approaches are a way to say that retribution is not the only path to justice. 

 

An older tradition in the West, still seen in various parts of the world, is a Christmas parole, the release of prisoners by act of the executive or senior magistrate. Sentences are commuted, the imprisoned are released, time off for good behavior is given even to those who've been more naughty than nice.

 

Our modern justice system does not have any seasonal adjustments built into sentences. If there is a change in warmth or good cheer inside the facilities, it's an unofficial thing.

 

In general, the Christmas season has this thread woven through it of forgiveness. Which makes sense when you think of whose birth we're celebrating.

 

The best scene in "Home Alone" to me isn't one of the spectacular torments of the self-named "Wet Burglars," or even the shock and scream when the little boy puts aftershave on his face, but it's the discussion in the church between Old Man Marley and Kevin.

 

Marley is there at a rehearsal to see his granddaughter, because he and his son are at odds. Kevin, who's learned a thing or two the last couple days about facing fears, suggests to his elderly neighbor that he needs to let go of his anger, which goes along with letting go of his fear that it won't work out, and call his son. I trust this isn't a spoiler for much of anyone when I tell you he did, they did, and the little red-haired girl is seen again in her grandfather's arms.

 

Forgiveness. It takes a number of forms, and requires both an interior shift and external actions, but the Christmas season is not just for giving stuff, but for forgiving. That might be a gift only you can give. And even a couple of days after the Big Day, it's a gift that's still going to be welcome.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; forgiveness is in the heart of the Christmas story if you read it all the way through. Tell him where you've given or received forgiveness at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Faith Works 12-20-14

Faith Works 12-20-14

Jeff Gill

 

Christmas 70 years past

___

 

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

 

It was the last offensive by Nazi Germany, a final desperate attempt to force the Western Allies to sue for a negotiated peace rather than accept unconditional surrender. Adolf Hitler ordered his war-weary troops to a last massive thrust against American and British lines even as his defenses in Italy and to the east against Soviet Russia were crumbling.

 

Wehrmacht General von Rundstedt directed a push that created a "bulge" in the formerly solid front that the Allies had been driving steadily east from the English Channel coast towards the Rhine and ultimately the German heartland, and Berlin itself.

 

In truth, fuel as much as personnel doomed this last spasm of the Nazi war machine. Hitler simply didn't have the gas to fulfill his intention to get his troops from the Rhine valley to Antwerp, Belgium, cutting the Allies in half and slowing even further the advance of their armies to the defeat of Germany.

 

They had enough to muster a powerful, concentrated thrust that pushed in, dangerously far into Allied lines, dangerous for the German troops isolated into a salient with Americans now behind their advance on one side, and British and Canadian troops near to flanking them on the other.

 

And the dogged resistance at Bastogne by the 101st Airborne under Gen. Anthony McAuliffe was summed up seventy years ago Monday in his response to a flowery and threatening demand for surrender from the Nazi forces encircling him.

 

"To the German Commander.

 

NUTS!

 

The American Commander"

 

The junior American officer who delivered this answer had to do some colloquial re-translation for the benefit of his German counterpart. McAuliffe was a gentleman of the old school, and rarely used profanity, but a profane equivalent was soon understood.

 

For the next few days, the unseasonable cold of an Ardennes winter, and restrictions on fires and warmth in general, left the besieged Americans in a grim state, even as the day of Christmas crept closer. Cheer was in short supply along with food, fuel, and yes, ammunition.

 

I was born nearly a generation after these events, yet I grew up hearing again and again stories about Christmas Eve, 1944. From members of my church growing up, from Scoutmasters at camp, in movies shown on television in my youth, and still today I am honored to hear from a soldier of that time and place a couple of times a week in the congregation I serve, on that cold December and the days too short and nights eternal (hi, Joe!).

 

They shivered their way through the long dark wait, hoped as they watched the steel-grey skies by day, then felt their hearts leap when Christmas Eve day saw the skies open, the USAAF zoom in . . . and I've talked to pilots and crew of those days about the cold of the airs above Belgium, but the warmth of bombs felt even from far above, as they relieved the siege and opened up corridors for Patton's army to push the bulge back into place, and then the other direction.

 

You've all watched the opening scenes of the movie "White Christmas," which for years I thought of as happening in and around Bastogne. It seems that the intention of the screenplay was for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to serve under Dean Jagger's Gen. Waverly in the Italy campaign, but the sense was the same. It's Christmas Eve, they're far from home, they have only each other right now, but their dreams of home are the largest part of what's getting them through the fighting, the frozen nights, the fearful destruction of towns, troops, and time.

 

"White Christmas" came out as a bit of a novelty song by a Jewish tunesmith based in New York City but working for Hollywood. There's a whole story in the original opening stanza. But it showed up before the public just as Pearl Harbor had turned the nation's attentions from domestic concerns to foreign affairs.

 

The song "White Christmas" became a sign, a signal, a totem for both the homefront and those serving overseas, a good luck charm that promised a safe return. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" was an even more overt down payment on such a hope, but it was the dream of a white Christmas that kept hope alive in foxholes such as dotted the Belgium-German frontier seventy years past.

 

We sing it still to their memory, as much as to the statement of faith at the heart of Christmas itself.

 

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Faith Works 12-13-14

Faith Works 12-13-14

Jeff Gill

 

May Christmas lift you up, not carry you away…

___

 

Before I get to a more somber subject, I'd like to add to last week's "open to all" suggestions for boosting your dosage of Christmas spirit with two more opportunities in this coming week.


Tomorrow night, Sunday Dec. 14 up atop College Hill in Granville, the entire Licking County community is welcome to join the Denison University campus in sharing "Lessons & Carols" in Swasey Chapel. Starting at 7:00 pm, with parking in Slayter garage if the lot next to Swasey fills up fast, it is a beautiful and meaningful way to get in touch with the scriptures and songs of Christmas.


Then the next Sunday, Dec. 21, Licking Valley's churches are offering a Holiday Church Tour, starting at 5:00 pm on our eastern border with Toboso United Methodist, concluding up in Hanover at the Presbyterian Church from 7:15 pm, after visiting Perryton UMC and Marne UMC in between. All the churches are selling the $5 tickets ($10 per family), or you can get them at the door that night. This is a fundraiser for the United Way of Licking County, and you may call or email Luellen Deeds for more info at 349-7502 or ldeeds@unitedwaylc.org.


There's more going on out there, I know, so if you're looking for your Christmas uplift, keep your eyes and ears open. Children are singing somewhere!


What could bring you down in the Christmas season? Well, fraud, for one.


A number of years back, in West Virginia, I was yanked out of bed by my phone ringing at 2 am. The person on the other end of the line was sobbing, near incoherent, said she was a Mrs. Robinson who came to our church, not as often as she should, but she didn't know what else to do. Weeping and talking in circles, she had been in an accident in Florida and was stuck and had no money and . . .


Yeah, sitting there reading this, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? And she kept calling me "Rev. Gill" which had me quizzical from the outset. I mean, no one calls me that, or rarely. I'm Pastor Jeff then and now. I couldn't identify the name, and I've got a pretty good memory for such things.


Anyhow, as she calmed down, I started asking some questions: which started the sobbing and shrieking again. And when I said "so what do you need me to do next?" the answer was, in essence, wire money to an address I'm going to give you. As I probed back for what mechanic I could pay or garage I could call in the morning, the retorts got faster, and frankly, more snappish. Until finally, I said "Hon, here's the thing. I don't give anybody money directly. Never have, never will. But if I can help cover a bill directly, I'll move heaven and earth to help you and…"


She'd hung up.


I talked to a local cop the next day, and we found out what pay phone my call came from, and I ended up talking to a cop down in the Sunshine State, and marveled at how this all happened, and that cop asked "Sir, have you been in the paper lately?"


Ah. In fact I had been profiled in our local paper just three weeks earlier, about some projects we were doing in the congregation I was serving. "That's how it happened, sir. You probably have snowbirds who subscribe to the home paper during the winter, read it, throw it out, and there are folks who grab them, look for info about someone up north, and call from the truck stop in the middle of the night with a likely story you can't quite be sure is wrong, and they seem to know you and your church, and they get people to send them money."


Today, we have the internet. And trust me, I could tell you a very painful story from right this month, but the scam, 1994 or 2014, is the same. And as Walmart's cash registers all say right now, under a stop sign logo "Don't send money to people you don't really know." Does that tell you just how common these scams are? Be skeptical, check things out, ask someone else for perspective before you send money: even at Christmas.


Maybe especially.


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

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 12-11-14

Notes From My Knapsack 12-11-14

Jeff Gill

 

Tell of holidays gone by

___

  

Listening to a radio program about holiday cookies, one caller noted that she'd been trying to make some old family recipes, and had noticed something odd.

 

These cookie recipes, many from the Old World, a few from early days here in the New, didn't call for much sugar. And they weren't very sweet.

 

The guest on the program, a chef and author of cookbooks, confirmed the caller's impression. "No, those older recipes aren't that sweet. Yes, everything today is sweeter." She went on to hint that, in her opinion, today's recipes might even be too sweet.

 

You've no doubt heard it already, that we put sweetener in everything. High fructose corn syrup in our ketchup, our fruit snacks, our vegetables, emphatically so in processed foods. And our tastes, in general, are more to the sweet, from the sauces we want for our nuggets to the desserts we consume Рdeath by chocolate, cr̬me brule, tiramisu, lava cake with extra chocolate sauce.

 

Shocking, isn't it, that diabetes is a problem? There are many triggers and vulnerabilities, but first and foremost, we're dealing with an addiction to sugars in general that we have yet to really confront.

 

During the holidays, sweets and sugarplums are part of the very essence of what we think of as a traditional, old fashioned Christmas. But the truth is that, a century and more ago, what they called sweets we'd call a bit dull, not too tasty, un-sweetened sweets.

 

Gingerbread was common, and it was more bread than ginger, and precious little sugar to sweeten. Sugarplums were nuts or seeds, almonds or cardamom or cinnamon bits dipped or "plumbed" into a sugar syrup repeatedly, to put a hard candy coating on the heart of the treat. You could suck on a sugarplum for some time, and the total amount of sugar in one sugarplumb would disappoint most Oompa Loompas, let alone modern children.

 

We have a Sugar Loaf in Granville, a conical hill. There are a number of them from Massachusetts across to the Mississippi valley, where they peter out because by the time Euro-American settlement rooted itself across the Big Muddy, sugar had become at least somewhat processed, and cheap. Sugar loaves were not known there.

 

In 1805 and for a generation or two after, sugar came in great hard lumps; think your canister of brown sugar if it had gotten damp and neglected and a solid block you couldn't soften in the microwave. They were melted, poured out into cones of sweet goodness, such as it was, and once cooled to room temperature were nearly indestructible and very transportable. These piles of solid sugar-ish-ness looked like . . . Sugar Loaf. If you wanted to cook with some, or put a bit in your tea, you took knives and cutting tools and even a chisel, and knocked a piece off the intact sugar loaf, piece by piece until it was gone.

 

It was dear, that hard nasty sugar was, and you didn't use it up freely or fast. So the snickerdoodles and gingersnaps of that earliest era had a taste more tangy than sweet, were more bready than chewy – but back then, any sweetness was a treat. Let that memory sweeten our appreciation of the Christmas season, and perhaps motivate us to a bit of restraint, as well.

 

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

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Faith Works 12-6-14

Faith Works 12-6-14

Jeff Gill

 

Joys of the season all around us

___

 

This afternoon and evening the churches of Granville will be putting their best feet forward in the annual first Saturday of December candlelight walking tour.

 

It's almost all free (stores are still selling stuff, of course), and the concerts are multiple, almost every hour on the hour, both inside the sanctuaries on the four corners and beyond, as well as museums and bank offices and other spaces up and down Broadway.

 

If you missed the Sights and Sounds of Newark, it was last Thursday, and that helped downtown Newark "get in the mood" both for faith and festivities, not to mention the local "Nutcracker" production at the Midland Theatre last weekend.

 

But tomorrow, just south of downtown on National Drive, St. John's UCC is hosting their Bethlehem Marketplace from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm; it's so big, they only take the project on every other year, so you'll wait for two if you miss tomorrow! See www.stjohnsnewark.org for more details, but it's a full immersion into the world of Jesus' birth, for the cost of a couple of cans of food for our local food pantry network.

 

And I can't help but mention that my own congregation, Newark Central Christian up Mt. Vernon Rd. from downtown, is holding our annual Living Nativity on Saturday, Dec. 20, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm in front of the building, with activities and food inside if you want to come in.

 

Many churches do various turns on a living nativity, but this one, that's been going on for years, has a lovely twist. About each half hour is a new production, narrated through a sound system by pastor emeritus Rev. Rick Rintamaa. There are the usual live sheep and goats and maybe even a llama (cousins to camels, and look just like 'em, too!), and the whole range of Nativity characters in robes and crowns and staffs and such.

 

But the Newark Central Living Nativity gives our guests a chance, each rotation, to join the show. Kids can be a shepherd, or an angel, or maybe even a wise guy! The team in charge keeps the production and movements simple and choreographed so that even a pastor can jump in and fill a role for one round (the sequence is a bit over fifteen minutes long).

 

If you want, you can just park in the big lot, walk across Rugg Ave., and watch the "show," hear the story, and then head on down the road. Or you can come inside, get a bite to eat, and then join the cast and reflect on the words Rick is reading from a whole new point of view.

 

There are many ways to get into the Christmas spirit, but there's nothing quite like getting into the middle of the story itself. May the story of God's love come down to earth in the baby of Bethlehem be part of your story this Advent season.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you tell the Christmas story at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Faith Works 11-29-14

Faith Works 11-29-14

Jeff Gill

 

First Sunday of Advent: Happy New Year!

___

 

Yes, that's right, it's a new year tomorrow.

 

That's a liturgical new year, anyhow. For congregations and Christian communions that observe such things, the lectionary turns from Cycle A to Cycle B (welcome Mark's gospel to heavy rotation), and the cloths on the pulpit and lectern and table (or altar as you may call it) go from the long-viewed green of "Ordinary Time" to the purple of Advent.

 

In the Orthodox branch of Christendom, they often call it "Christmas Lent," "Winter Lent," or the "Nativity Fast," another way of calling the weeks leading to Christmas a season of preparation. You have a few more days to prepare for those disciplines if your faith is expressed through that tradition.

 

For most of us in the area who go to church, Advent is a time for candles around a wreath, week by week, special devotionals or programs, often an extra reading in worship, and oh yes, it's time for Christmas shopping.

 

Whether your sanctuary or worship center has paraments to change or banners to put up, or if it's all a new set of digital images leading us into Christmas on the projection screens, we're surrounded by the secular proclamation to go forth and spend.

 

There are often in church life suggestions for alternative gifts or fasting from gift giving altogether, that you may see in denominational publications or your Sunday worship flyer. Even more common are special offerings gathered up in this season of generosity, for the denominational mission or other special missionary causes of your particular faith community.

 

And it's a time when our mailbox, inbox, and voicemail all fill with pleadings to give "and give generously" to all sorts of causes. I know I start to carry a stash of singles (yes, singles, don't judge) so I have something to put in the red kettles I run into hither and yon.

 

I do get questions this time of year about some of these drives or campaigns or causes, with the overarching issue being "which are worthy?" There are SO many fundraising pushes on right now, and it can be a nice alternative gift or simply an extra self-motivated time to share blessings with others. I get e-mail questions at this time of year from non-religious friends and readers, wanting to know much the same thing.

 

For an assortment of reasons, I'm reluctant to specify organizations that I don't favor giving money to. But I can tap dance around that with enough clarity to ease my conscience: if they're calling you on your landline? I wouldn't. Tell them to mail you info if you're at all interested, and I almost guarantee you that nothing will come . . . because you're hearing from a third party using the group's name and cause to raise money of which they keep often upwards of 90%. Don't give cold callers a dime is my counsel.

 

Those groups that want you to "sponsor" a child, animal, or vet for a small monthly contribution? I am mistrustful of the approach in general, and frankly, I have even more concrete reasons in specific cases to recommend against that model. That amount is carefully crafted to seem reasonable, and they're counting on you not to simply multiply times twelve . . . and they will hit you hard time and time again even after you "auto-pay" that monthly amount. Not all, but most of those sponsorship programs are going to umbrella groups that then pass money along to actual front-line serving organizations. You're helping pay for lots of unneeded infrastructure, IMHO. If you're tempted, and have done the math, I'd suggest doing a little online research. BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator can tell you plenty.

 

Who SHOULD you give your money to? As much as possible, I'd like to recommend giving to groups that you work with directly. That's how you know what's being done with donations, that's how you can see behind the rhetoric and the images. It can be jarring at first, but just a few hours a month can change how you look at your giving.

 

And frankly? It will lead you to give more. But it will be more that will literally be more of a blessing to you alongside the blessings that your gifts bring to others. I love our local Angel Tree effort with the Salvation Army, and my wife and I have other causes we have worked with and in and through for years. That's where our giving goes, and that's my guidance to you.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has found it is possible to ignore plaintive TV ads if you know what you're actually supporting! Tell him how giving has blessed you at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Jeff Gill

 

Laughing all the way to the Pearly Gates

___

 

"Happiness equals reality minus expectations."

 

Tom Magliozzi may not have been the first person to say that, but I'm happy to give him credit for having done the most to make the saying widely known. That, and:

 

"If money can fix it, it's not a problem."

 

Tom died last month, as listeners to WOSU-FM and NPR stations nationwide well know. He co-hosted "Car Talk" with his brother Ray, a show that was theoretically about auto repair but branched out to the known universe and beyond. These two East Cambridge (MAaaaa, Our Fair City) natives helped teach us both that there was a whole 'nother side to Cambridge, and that MIT is in that neighborhood, too.

 

They were "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" as part of a schtick that was largely forgotten as the WBUR show in Boston went on to become a nationwide institution as simply "Tom and Ray."

 

Tom was 12 years older, and had to leave the air in 2012 with a rapidly developing case of Alzheimer's disease, though the archives, Ray Magliozzi says, can carry the show forward for years.

 

Our memory of their laughter, and Tom's raucous hoots in particular, will carry us for years as well. There was a joy in life and an appreciation of the little things that came through whether they were talking about dealerships, or relationships.

 

One part of the Tom Magliozzi legacy that isn't as well remembered is his quixotic campaign back in the era of 55 mile an hour speed limits. Most of us recall the bumper stickers and song: "I Can't Drive Fifty-five," but Tom, as usual, had a different take.

 

Tom sporadically argued across the country for a national 35 mile an hour speed limit.

 

Yes, that's right. 35 mph. Nationwide.

 

His argument was in short: we're going too fast. Like an Italian Ferris Bueller, Tom was concerned that life goes by pretty fast as it is, and if you don't pay attention, you may miss it. His solution was: if you can't slow down life, you can at least slow down your car.

 

I think about this as I'm teaching my son to drive. Often, especially learning the niceties of highway driving, on ramps and off ramps and passing lanes, I'm in the position of having to say to him "speed up!"

 

His driving school instructor has told him the same thing: "speed up!" But he also assumes "you keep driving, get enough experience, you'll go faster: trust me." I'm sure he's right.

 

But what happens to "dangerously slow" if everyone has to go more slowly? I'm prodding him to accelerate because of the usual 75 mph driver coming up from behind in the 55 mph zone, and to be safe, he does need to floor it, but what if…

 

And there's just being a pedestrian in Granville. If someone has the green light in their car, but the parallel side of the intersection has a crosswalk with someone slowly strolling across it, you can almost count on a near peel-out from the frustrated driver who is now three to seven seconds delayed in their hurtling course.

 

These testy turning drivers? Don't pick on our youth, because from my spot nervously teetering on the curb, I see lots of grey hair in some of the most impatient windshields.

 

Tom was right. We are all in too much of a hurry. What would a nationwide 35 mph speed limit do? Would it just be a net cost to the economy in slower deliveries, or might it decrease blood pressures, lessen high speed accidents, and increase enjoyment of the landscape and the surroundings to who knows what increase in creativity and productivity?

 

Just wondering. And missing Tom already. His probate will be handled by a new law firm on Harvard Square: "Dewey, Missem, and Howe."

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you're not in a hurry to do at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

 

 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Faith Works 11-22-14

Faith Works 11-22-14

Jeff Gill

 

Questions, and more answers than we think

___

 

It had been something on the order of sixteen years.

 

I had last bought a suit quite some time ago, and while I don't wear a suit very often, the occasion does come up when I need to, I have to.

 

My wife also felt that my previous suit, while not looking utterly out of style, was unmistakably a suit that was… well, purchased almost two decades ago.

 

So we went somewhere that a friend had recommended, and where they worked, in fact, and I got some useful assistance in the arcane skills of selecting a suit (pants cuffs yes or no, the "break", how long the sleeves should be, etc.).

 

Precipitating this move was a wedding that I'd be performing where the nature of the reception and venue meant that I should probably not be wearing a pair of khaki slacks with a now shapeless tweed jacket. I have three or four, dating to various geologic eras but all showing very little wear other than if you look closely at the tattered linings of them, which if I keep them on you would not. A couple were outright purchases in another, previous century, and a couple more were Goodwill or church rummage sale finds; they all have every bit of the style consciousness you've come to expect from tweed.

 

Making the purchase and measurements for the final alterations and going back to pick it up all came in just under the wire, so there was some rush involved. Most of my consideration of this suit had to do with color, cut, and feel (it feels nice, thank you very much!), and I hadn't gone much in depth with this new clothing item.

 

Until I was hanging it up last weekend, and shifting it for neatness on the hanger, I saw it. The label, inside the neck of the jacket, with the maker in large letters on the tag, and below it the words "Made in Haiti."

 

"Made in Haiti."

 

Let's be honest: I have shirts made in Nepal and Bangladesh, boxer shorts made in India, we use towels made in Brazil, et cetera, et cetera. Wearing and using products made in the tougher neighborhoods of the Southern Hemisphere is not unusual to me, nor is it, I suspect, to you.

 

But Haiti. In a word, owww.

 

I've not been to Haiti, but it's getting to the point where I seem to be one of the few. Lots of folk I know have made one or even repeated trips to that island nation, a place of natural disaster and social chaos, a location for mission trips and extended campaigns of public ministry. Haiti seems to need everything, and gets very little other than charity as the people struggle with a subsistence economy.

 

Which includes, apparently, assembling men's suits for what is no doubt the cheapest price the supplier could get away with paying. A place of natural beauty but severe cultural disorder, any business there, any cash flow to the good for Haiti, had to be a blessing.

 

Still, there was something more than just vaguely unnerving about seeing that tag. It may have touched on my ambivalence about buying a suit in the first place, or it might be that the stories I've heard from Healing Arts Mission, or out of Calebasse from Pastor Moniot and his New Covenant School, or through Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand-Gouave or across the nation of Haiti – they all snapped back on me in seeing that the snazzy new suit I'd been wearing last weekend was painstakingly assembled by people in those places. Their neighbors, if not they themselves.

 

We are connected in today's economy through our smartphones, our clothing, our sports equipment, our masonry work, to people in distant lands speaking foreign languages who probably know more about our lives in America than we do about theirs in . . . um, how do you say the name of that country?

 

What does that connection mean to us? How does that connection, where we get nicer and cheaper stuff because of their harder and messier work in those far-off places, create an obligation, a burden of more than just guilt, on us?

 

In this Thanksgiving season, it's a good time for individual believers, families around festive tables, or fellowships of all sorts, to spend some time asking themselves that question. As we know how we benefit from their labors, how can our economic activity bring hope and empowerment to those persons who produced it?

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a new suit and a story to tell about it. Tell him your story to knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.