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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Faith Works 11-15-14

Faith Works 11-15-14

Jeff Gill


We gather together to ask



A week from tomorrow night, Sunday Nov. 23 at 7:00 pm, the Newark Area Ministerial Association will call together a Community Thanksgiving Service at Central Christian Church on Mt. Vernon Road. This ecumenical gathering will involve clergy from a number of churches in the area, and the message will be brought by Rev. Jeff Smith, chaplain at Licking Memorial Hospital.


As it happens, I'm the host pastor. While I try to keep promotion of my own congregation to a minimum in this space, this is less about Newark Central as it is the coming together of Christians in the Newark area, that just conveniently is going to be at 587 Mt. Vernon Rd. So I feel very free about saying "Come visit us!" for this purpose!


If you're in the Lakewood area, the Lakewood Area Ministerial Association is hosting a Thanksgiving service at the Jacksontown United Methodist Church on Nov. 23, also at 7:00 pm, with Pastor Kevin Blade of First Community Church in Buckeye Lake offering the message.


Other areas likely have their own, ask around!


Ecumenical means "within the family," loosely translated from the "oikonomos" which is the same Greek root from which we get economy and "oikoumene" which gets us closer to "household." One way or another, it implies existing connections of some sort, so an ecumenical gathering is one where there may be differences, but there are also definitive points of unity.


An interfaith gathering is a bit different, indicating that you have faiths without much direct connection internally, so you wouldn't call it ecumenical in general. More importantly, you wouldn't call a gathering of Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians an interfaith event, no matter how different the externals are between them.


If you had an assembly consisting of a Jewish community, a Pagan gathering, and some Episcopalians, you'd either have an interfaith event, or the set up for a joke (if they were walking into a bar). But you wouldn't call that one ecumenical in nature.


In the post-World-War-II era in the United States, when ecumenical initiatives were new, proliferating, and starting to appear on a grassroots level, the "community Thanksgiving service" was the most accessible way of being ecumenical across the country. There might be ecumenism on a large scale in the big cities, but for most Americans, their first exposure to Christians working directly together was on the Sunday or Wednesday before that fourth Thursday of November.


Today we've got Habitat for Humanity and Church World Service and Samaritan's Purse with Operation Christmas Child . . . ecumenical Christian activities are all over the place. They show up in our neighborhoods building no-interest affordable housing, bring congregations together to load up seasonal shoeboxes for shipment overseas, and point us towards global concerns.


They're all grand collaborations, but they aren't at all the same as actually coming together in one place, our differences not blocking the doorway as we enter and share and sing and pray together. A community Thanksgiving service is still a very special way of honoring Christ's call "that they may all be one" in John 17, in a visible and tangible way.


So I'm delighted to be hosting this year; I've had the privilege of preaching for it before and probably will again some day. Our differences, as Christian bodies, in how we regard communion and redemption and mission are not trivial, but I've found that it's through honestly sharing and hearing about our differences that makes it easier for us to overcome them. Not to just sweep them away, but to worship together while having them, anyway.


Come be ecumenical with us, and if there are some interfaith guests in the congregation, it's all good! The unity is God's, and the community is something we can find as we turn, together, towards the source of our unity.


For which we would give thanks!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's honored to be pastor of Newark Central, the host of NAMA's Thanskgiving service this year. Tell him how you like to give thanks at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Knapsack 11-13-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-13-14
Jeff Gill

Public words and private thoughts

Rounding out my reflections on public inscriptions, most of them carved in stone around Granville, many hidden in plain sight or at least overlooked through being seen too much, I have a few thoughts about some words in a semi-public, quasi-permanent place.

It's in the front of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, beneath the mural of Christ enthroned, lamb about his neck, rainbow at his feet, and patron saints adoring on either side.

These words I cite are painted, but painted in a very public way in a space where many of us even non-Catholic folk might pass by and read them, for events and gatherings and commemorations. Some of my Catholic friends have expressed their uncertainty about the phrases, having a vague sense that they aren't Biblical lines (though they have that general quality), but not sure where they come from.

For a church building dedicated to one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, it makes sense that these words are from Old English, or Anglo-Saxon the tongue. The mural inscription uses the start of a set of lines in "Crist" or Christ in Old English, a set of three poetic constructions, of which "Crist I" is also known as the "Advent lyrics," because this first part is actually twelve poems in Anglo-Saxon about Christ's advent, his coming.

"Come now, King of heroes. Do not delay too long. We have need of mercies, that you free us…" In Robert Boenig's translation, he goes on to say "…and faithfully give us the healthful gift, that ever after we may always thrive in the thing that prospers among the people – your will."

"Crist" is an acquired taste, in Old English or in a 20th century translation, but it has a more modern association that might please some who have no other connection to Wessex kings or Roman rite. The entire three part assemblage was translated in the earliest part of the 20th century by a young man who went on to be a very respected scholar of early English and Germanic literature at Oxford, greatly honored in old age.

His honors, however, were more for his fantasy writings, his literary achievements in his own right. His name was J.R.R. Tolkien, and he wrote "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" and much more in Middle Earth.

His first step into middle earth, though, was in translating a line in Anglo-Saxon found elsewhere in Crist A, in the Advent Lyrics, which goes:
"éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended"
"Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, over Middle-earth to men sent"

Tolkien wondered who Earendel was, a word that was a form of address to the Morning Star, but with more mythic meaning. Finding little information about those meanings, he began to create some of his own, and so began Middle Earth in the fall of 1914, one hundred years ago.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has a fondness for Anglo-Saxon art in all forms. Tell him your quirky pasttimes at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Faith Works 11-9-14

Faith Works 11-9-14

Jeff Gill


Planning ahead, with grace



Thanks to reader Johnda, I've been reminded that Thanksgiving is coming soon.


Okay, I knew Thanksgiving was heading our way, and I've been finishing Advent and Christmas plans the last few weeks, but I had sort of overlooked the Great American Holiday.


Yes, there's the Fourth of July, but most countries have some sort of "national day" with fireworks and parades and celebrations of various sorts. Canada has a Thanksgiving Day, but they hold it on the second Monday in October and it's not quite the same "all hands on deck" thing it is in America.


Our own fourth Thursday in November observance, with roots in harvest festivals and Pilgrim history and echoes of Native American awareness: it's very much a thing to its own United States self. Friends who have spent extended periods overseas have told me about how important it can be to find other Americans to gather with as November heads for a conclusion, whether a turkey is roasted or not.


Johnda's reminder to me is that there's not only the national holiday of Thanskgiving, and the family traditions that bring us around a dinner table like no other commemoration, but there's that little matter of a prayer.


Who will say grace for Thanksgiving? And if it's "you" that's tapped, could I offer any hints or guidelines or suggestions for doing a family table grace before that awkward moment of silence, followed by an even more awkward question from the relative at your right:  "Say, uh, would, um, you do the honors, I mean, if you could just…. Uh, would you say grace?"


Step one in a happy Thanksgiving moment of grace: consider asking a likely candidate in advance "would you say grace for the family just before we all sit down to dig in?" It's always more graceful to give someone warning that they might be called on.


Step two, if you happen to be that person: how will you pray?


There are a number of tools to help you out. Christians have often used the acronym "ACTS" to recall a useful sequence of expression in public prayer; A for adoration, C for confession, T for thanks given, S for supplication.


Adoration is simply an opening statement of appreciation and respect, like the "Dear So-and-so" at the start of letters. "Almighty God, from whom all blessings flow…" is a form of adoration.


Confession is to clear the decks, and acknowledge, if nothing else, that we know we're not God, and that our acts and intentions are often not in line with God's. "God, we know that there are many who would be so glad to have just a portion of how we're blessed at this table…" might be part of our confession in a Thanksgiving prayer. Gandhi is believed to have said "Oh God, bless this food we are about to receive. Give bread to those who hunger; and hunger for justice to us who have bread." That's the confession part of ACTS in a nutshell.


Thanksgiving we should be pretty much up to speed with; S for Supplication is a reminder that we don't ask for ourselves until we've interceded for others, and that our own blessings come into focus when we actively call out for the blessings others so greatly need.


That's the ACTS method. The author Anne Lamott had a book out not long ago that sums it up even more simply, and with a slightly more secular spin: the title is "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers." Lamott argues that pretty much all our prayers fall into one of those three categories: Help, Thanks, or Wow. For Thanksgiving, you might want to include parts of all three in your family table prayer.


Or there is the quirky yet beautiful grace from the punctuationally challenged e. e. cummings:


i thank You God for most this amazing
day...for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes


And if you don't know what else to say, there's what we've taught the Lad is always the basic form: "Dear God, Thank You, Amen!" Most prayers at any table simply expand on that solid tripod.


Or the classic: "Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen."


How will you pray at your Thanksgiving table?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County, Ohio; he's probably going to be saying grace somewhere in Indiana a few Thursdays from now. Tell him how you say grace at knapsack77@gmail.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Faith Works 11-1-14

Faith Works 11-1-14

Jeff Gill


For all the saints



Saints are sanctified persons, those with a touch of the sacred about them. "Sanctus," saint, the selected or "set apart" ones.


The Christian tradition identifies both a specific and a general set of saints. There are those whose heroic virtues or their witness unto death (the word "martyr" originally meant literally "witness) made them examples the Church Universal should remember, and honor.


So you have Saint Paul, Saint Francis, Saint Clare or Saint Teresa. The saints. They have days in the church calendar, and standard images by which they are recognized. These saints are set-apart teaching tools, selected stories for the ongoing narrative of the faith.


Then there are the saints that go marching in: the honored dead. The dead who die in the Lord, and who go to enter in with the saints of heaven. That category is open to all our fellow believers who pass from this life into the next, from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, who are now set apart from flesh and sorrow to heaven and joy everlasting. Many would affirm that all the faithful departed are, in their own sense, saints of the church.


My congregation isn't terribly liturgical, but we do always try to mark the Sunday closest to All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, with a time of remembrance of all our number who have died since the last All Saints' commemoration. This year, we have twenty to honor by name and chime. It's a sad moment and solemn, with the light of eternity shining a stark light on our momentary concerns in our own lives as we hear those names of people and lives we knew. There's a heaviness of loss, and a chance to shift our load, to reflect on changes in the community and transitions in our families before we all swing into the holiday season and the beginning of Advent just after Thanksgiving.


Nov. 2 is considered, in some calendars, All Souls' Day, "Day of the Dead" in Hispanic cultures, and everyone is definitely included there. It's a time in the American Southwest and south of the US border for entire families to go the cemetery and tend the graves, commune with their own beloved dead. Of the faith or not, all who have passed on deserve their families' respect and their memorials require tending.


Yet there is a third sense of saints and saintliness to consider, and that's the way the Apostle Paul talked about the holy ones, the set apart community, the sanctified. He called the people of the gathered community "you who are called to be saints," even as he called himself "less than the least of all the saints."


In other words, for many of you reading this column, Paul meant YOU. You are a saint.


Maybe he meant a saint in the making, a soul on the road to sanctification, but that's what he called us when we've come together as the Body of Christ: saints.


Our brothers and sisters in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints build the qualification into their community's name, but the import is the same. What is offered to us is what was offered to Saint Jerome and Saint Scholastica; what God wants to do within and through us is really no different than God's intentions with Saint Catherine of Siena or Saint Martin of Tours. Grace and peace, light and life, offered up to sinners to make of us saints.


Perhaps All Saints' Day is not of importance in your life, though the holy ones, the "hallows" of this day today are usually more remembered by commemorations of the evening before, the All Hallows Eve of Hallowe'en.


What the day of All Saints can be, for any of us, is a reminder of our common lot in the sight of God, the gifts given and given freely, in every age, as we look back to honored examples, and we look ahead to our ultimate destiny. It's a clearing of accounts from the borderlands of life and death as the seasons around us shift from fall to winter.


At any rate, remember at least to set your clocks back one hour tonight, or you might get a surprise when you arrive at church tomorrow!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him who your favorite saint is at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Faith Works 10-25-14

Faith Works 10-25-14

Jeff Gill


Greetings and salutations



"This is the word of the Lord."


"Thanks be to God!"


In many churches, there is a tradition, liturgical in origin but still generally practiced in lower-key congregations, that at the end of public reading of Holy Scripture there is a refrain between reader and people.


"The word of God for the people of God."


"Thanks be to God!"


The response is often simply "Thanks be to God," whatever the reader says. In some liturgical traditions, there is a different acclamation in response to a Gospel reading, where the reader ends "The Gospel of the Lord," and the people answer "Praise to you, O Christ."


Not every church is accustomed to responses. Often, it's enough to signal the closing of the reading by saying something like "May God bless this reading of His Holy Word." Others may be a bit more colloquial by closing with "May God help us apply these words to our lives."


As the preacher, I like to read the text I'm more specifically preaching on, so there's (at our church services) a lay reader, then usually an anthem by the choir or special music of some sort, and then the reading I share, closing with a prayer that is adapted from Psalm 19's conclusion: "O Lord, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight: You who are our rock and our redeemer."


The introduction of a reading is an art, and that art can vary; it's good, I believe, to remind listeners of the setting and circumstances of the text leading into the portion that's read out loud. Rare indeed is the reading that stands well entirely on its own. Something like "These are Paul's words to the church in Corinth; this is what Holy Scripture says…" can be a simple yet effective way to draw the congregation into the act of understanding the Bible.


Good public reading of Scripture is as much a gift to the congregational worship experience as a vocal solo or crafting banners for the sanctuary, and those who aspire to the work of public Bible reading desire a noble task!


Just as a scripture reading benefits from a greeting at the top and a salutation of some sort at the end, so do our own letters.


You probably use "Dear so and so" to begin and something like "Sincerely yours" for the close. Or do you? Texting and e-mail has wreaked havoc on such niceties, leaving postal etiquette in the dustbin of written history.


I'm just old fashioned enough that even in texting I tend to want at least a minimal greeting, the person's name if not the "Dear…" portion, sincerely meant or not! And a salutation just feels right.


Over the years, as a pastor, I've fiddled with salutations in print, in letters, in e-mail and even with texting. "Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ" was beloved by Paul for both openings and closings; "In grace & peace" tends to be my default sign-off, although I've used "Shalom" and a few other churchly signifiers.


What's handy for the short forms of e-mail and texting, I've found, is simply "Pax." It's just different enough to make people think, but known well enough to ring the bell of "Peace!" It's Latin for peace, and as "Pax" is the watchword for Benedictines, with which I have a bit of a history. And Latin was my first foreign language, and it just has a ring to it.


Add in the fact that Baden-Powell, when that legendary British general and founder of Scouting decided to settle down and have a home, named his house in England "Pax Hill" . . . well, "Pax" has been my default sign-off for a long time.


Many thanks to those at Newark Central who noticed this quirk of their pastor's, and got him a stole with a large embroidered "Pax" on it, with an olive branch. It's a lovely gift which I will be wearing as I read Scripture this coming Advent!


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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Faith Works 10-18-14

Faith Works 10-18-14

Jeff Gill


An uneasy posture for prayer



Have you ever visited someone in the hospital who was on isolation precautions?


There's a sign on the room's closed door, usually requiring that you check with the nurses' station. And sometimes instructions in large print, along with a rack for a box of latex gloves, masks, and gowns, maybe even shoe covers.


Depending on the infectious agent involved, they may ask even with all that, you please don't touch the patient, or even the bed, and basically not anything in the room. So there you are, a pastoral presence, come to hold hands, bend over the ailing individual, and pray with them for hope and wholeness and healing. And you can't hold hands, even with gloves, you can't hardly come within a few feet of the patient, and bowing your head makes the mask slide off your nose as you speak, your moving lips pushing the fabric up and down as your glasses (or goggles, in some cases) fog over.


Then you leave the room, and . . . yeah. Getting the stuff off, remembering that in theory, any exterior surface is now "contaminated," or maybe I should just say *contaminated*, is just as important as how you handle yourself with the sick person, so you try to pull and untie and remove all you put on in a layered confusion of slightly nervous amusement.


Multiply the garments, the anxiety, the confusion, and eliminate the amusement, and we'll have what it will mean to minister to someone with the Ebola virus.


For what it's worth (my medical degree came from a Cracker Jack box, but I *do* have a bachelor's degree in political science!): I think it utterly inevitable that we will see another few clusters of Ebola strike around the United States, and it is entirely impossible for it to sweep the country as it is in western Africa. It just won't. But it will be very difficult to anticipate exactly where some additional outbreaks will appear over the next couple of years.


So we're ALL gonna need some new protocols, and the respect given them called for by a disease that kills 60-70% of those who catch it regardless of care. It's hard to catch, thankfully, but just as hard to identify and isolate without asking the world to stop turning for a month or two.


And that statement should not be the basis of your future stock picks, travel plans, or whether or not you move to fist bumps over handshakes and hugs. I'm just telling you how the data I see are lining up.


The second nurse now diagnosed in Texas was, apparently, literally becoming contagious for the first time *as* she flew from Cleveland to Dallas, returning home. She had the virus in her system during the visit to Ohio, but no symptoms, and we're told no ability to transmit until it became systemically active . . . but that was starting as she boarded, going by her temperature. Again, a complete halt to the spread would require a global "freeze in place" for everyone for about six weeks, and politically and economically that's not going to happen.


I wrote one column for this week earlier last weekend. Some events down the road from Dallas, in Houston, had me writing a new, second one (I haven't thrown it out yet, maybe it needs another week to mature). This is, I think, the first time I've written three columns for a particular Saturday, and it's being sent in, as is usually the case, on Wednesday afternoon.


By the time you read this, I'm not sure what you'll be hearing about Ebola in America. As people of faith, we should already be in prayer for the thousands dealing directly with the disease and its spread in west Africa; there's the spread in Spain as well as our own county that all are doubtless already in your intercessions.


Along with prayer, how will we DO presence when (not if) such a disease comes our way? And I ask this not in any sense of profound panic, but to let those who don't go into hospitals much know that there are already great changes afoot, and more to come. Isolation precautions are much less unusual than they were a few years ago, and that's right now.


I'm acutely aware of how challenging it is to be pastorally present, to bring the blessings of community, to someone in the hospital, let alone when they're in isolation. Let's start thinking now about what pastoral care will look like in the Age of Ebola.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about ministering in challenging circumstances at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Faith Works 10-11-14

Faith Works 10-11-14

Jeff Gill


Sacred Shapes, Sizes, and Spaces



When I was growing up in Chicagoland, down in the northwest Indiana end of the metro area, there were two public spaces that dominated my imagination.


One was in our town, part of the Valparaiso University campus: the Chapel of the Resurrection.


Built just before I was born, in 1959, the VU Chapel was our community cathedral of a sort, where our high school baccalaureate service was held, where various public events took place, where prospective brides imagined walking down a seemingly endless center aisle to the vibrant chancel surround of modernistic stained glass windows.


In fact, the nave is 200 feet long and the chancel is almost 100 feet high, so it really is a vast interior space, some say the largest or second largest college chapel in the world.


Either way, it was the largest space I could imagine hearing a concert in, or for attending a funeral. Big, beautiful, it was a sacred space with layers of meaning that went beyond the simple reasons of a set of donors and the need for a place to hold commencement exercises.


But I also knew an even larger building as a kid, sprawling over some 14 acres. Yes, I mean ACRES of space.


It had been the Palace of Fine Arts for a World's Fair in 1893, and as the only surviving building into another World's Fair in 1933 for Chicago, it was transformed into the Museum of Science and Industry. Modeled on a science and technology museum in Munich seen by the chief executive of Sears, Roebuck from Chicago, Julius Rosenwald, it became the largest public science museum anywhere, with thousands of exhibits in nearly a hundred separate display areas.


The outside was an attraction in its own right, with caryatids holding up porches and carvings along the tops of walls and framing panels all adapted from the Parthenon in Athens, even as the central rotunda from the outside evoked the Pantheon in Rome. My great-aunts would walk me around, pointing out the centaurs and nymphs and ancient heroes, telling me stories I now only remember in fragments, coming around to where (then) the German submarine U-505, spoils of war, sat outside overlooking Lake Michigan (it now has an underground enclosed hall of its own).


In years to come, I would visit not only for the Museum of Science and Industry itself, but to attend children's book fairs, Christmas Around the World programs, and finally to take my own child to see the Foucault Pendulum and the Coal Mine for himself.


Both were major public structures with primary functions that co-existed with multiple uses through the year, or years. They are "tent poles" of memory as I look back, and places I can still visit to re-remember those events and stories.


Sunday afternoon, as I get to do each October for the last decade, the Octagon Earthworks are open for public tours. At the corner of Newark's 33rd St. and Parkview Ave. off of 30th St., Octagon State Memorial is also, on a long-term lease, Moundbuilders Country Club, but from dawn to dusk on Oct. 12, the 55 acres or so of the octagonal enclosure, or the twenty acres of the attached Observatory Circle, and even the fourteen foot tall Observatory Mound itself on the southwest corner, can be walked without worry over golf balls.


Purchased by vote of the public through a property tax levy in the early 1890's, there's been golf played on the site since 1901 and the country club has had a lease since 1910, but the leases all allow for public access. Tomorrow is one of those opportunities to see what your great-grandparents had the foresight to preserve, and what the long-ago occupants of the landscape built some two thousand years ago.


We'll offer tours from noon to 4:00 pm and a bit after, and tell the stories we know and about the science we can infer. What were these vast structures, at the Octagon and across town at the Great Circle (the museum there will be open Sunday afternoon as well; the grounds always open there from dawn to dusk), built for in millennia past?


Like the Valparaiso University Chapel, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, they were places that served many purposes: but I suspect a key function was for them to be a place where the generations came again and again to renew their collective memories, and to make new ones.


You can be the next.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to meeting some of you Sunday afternoon! Contact him at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Knapsack/Sentinel 10-9-14

Notes From My Knapsack 10-9-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in Stone, but Cast Aside



This almost brings to an end my short series on various statements or sayings carved in stone around the village of Granville: one more to go!


There are mortuary inscriptions on tombstones in the Old Colony Burying Ground and on over at Maple Grove Cemetery, which are a discussion in their own right (hmmmm). I've been looking at what I call public statements, stone carved phrases put where the general population can see them, largely on school buildings, along village streets from the Denison campus, and even within the campus but placed up where a casual passer-by, student or local citizen might have their attention drawn.


Newer buildings don't have the same sort of expectation hanging onto them, so the intermediate and middle and high schools don't have much in stone carving. The elementary school on Granger St. has a phrase that links the old hub of public education in this community to the more current thoughts about what safeguards our nation.


Along College St., Denison University has a set of four gateway inscriptions, plus the observation I discussed our last time together in this space about what's carved above the main, central doors of Swasey Chapel itself.


Just inside the doors of Swasey is a replica of an inscription that once was in as central a location as Granville offers, just above the "Four Corners" at Broadway and Main, where Main terminates at College and "the Drag" begins, heading up the hill more formally labeled Presidents Drive.


It had been the Centennial Memorial, constituting a gateway to the Denison campus from 1931, and it proclaimed the institution to be "A Christian College of Liberal Arts."


I wrote about that phrase for "Denison Magazine" back when the Board of Trustees decided to replace the Centennial stone. A look back through the files put some context I wasn't expecting on that word "Christian" and why it was carved in stone at the college entrance.


Simply put, Denison was in the process of cutting its ties with the Baptist church; just before 1931 there were still promotional materials that said Denison was "a Baptist school built on Baptist ideals for Baptist students." A near disastrous co-operation for fundraising with the denominational body for what is now known as the American Baptist Church, and an awareness that a Baptist identity was starting to limit their appeal to prospective students, all contributed to the Board determining that the school's appeal should be framed more generally, hence "A Christian College," intending to communicate a greater openness to difference.


Fast forward 75 years, and Denison had visitors disappointed in two directions: parents thinking that the school was what in 2000 now meant "a Christian college," and other families and students turning around before driving on up, thinking "whoops, this is a Christian college."


So the Centennial stone came down, a replica of it (too large and too hard to gently dismantle, the original was not moveable) went into Swasey's narthex, and the 175th anniversary of the college's founding was marked by a new stone in 2006.


I understand why they removed the word "Christian" in the context I've described. What I do regret, though, is the loss of the verse formerly along the bottom, not cited, simply stated. It was John 8:32: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."


That space now has the words "Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the College." The words from John's gospel are gone . . . or are they?


We will conclude "Carved in Stone" next time!


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Faith Works 10-4-14

Note to editors: the capital letters in this piece are all intended as such; God and god or gosling, Scripture & Tradition as such.  Please don't auto-correct your way through this column (and I'm not worried about you, Henry, it's the hands beyond your handling that I want to alert)!  Pax, Jeff

Faith Works 10-4-14

Jeff Gill


Really, It's Doubtful



I have my doubts.


There are days I wonder how many people read this column, for instance. I doubt that anyone could come up with a Middle East policy, left or right, Democrat or Republican, that would find traction and make progress quickly. And my doubts about the wisdom of doing another "Transformers" movie are nearly limitless.




What I don't have doubts about constitutes a fairly short list. My natural tendency, I'd say, is to skepticism and pessimistic inquiry, so there are many subjects on which I'm likely to say "who knows for sure?"


Yet I don't have doubts about God. And I know that's a bit odd.


You may say "Jeff, you're a pastor. A preacher of God's word. Of course you don't have doubts about God." Thank you, but I'd say with great care and respect that it isn't necessarily the case. Lots of people, including people of great faith and wisdom, doubt the existence of God. Mother Theresa had her "dark nights of the soul" (and that phrase comes from a saint, St. John of the Cross). Philip Yancey, the evangelical author and editor has admitted his seasons of doubt, as has the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, running into doubts when he's out jogging and praying.


I could go on. Psalm 86, for instance.


So you could say that, for those of us who have never really wrestled with doubting the reality of God, we've not been tested or tried to the point where our reasons are stripped down to basic beliefs. So many spiritual autobiographies tell of that moment of severe trial through which, after a period of doubt, their faith in God becomes even stronger, and less rooted in one's own "getting something" out of that belief. That may be so, and I consider myself forewarned, and a bit forewarned.


Meanwhile, I am aware that my persistence of faith is somewhat anomalous. It makes me think through the fact that some people almost seem predisposed (we'll avoid predestination today, thank you) towards belief, and others are more likely to stay rooted in doubt. I don't assume that my faith stance is how everyone else should or must be to have "real faith," a phrase I doubt has much usefulness. It could be a character trait (or flaw, say my atheist friends with a smile), or it might be a quirk of my particular cognitive makeup (say my neuroscientifically oriented friends). Wiring, not choice. I doubt that, but I have to entertain the possibility.


The kind of faith I have, though, seems to me, personally and pastorally, to be available to almost anyone, even if it's easier for some to jump on board with than it is for others. My faith can, in the classic "elevator talk" formulation, boil down to this:


1.     There's a God or there isn't. You can break this down to a sub-atomic level, but essentially, for daily use, we answer that one way or another. I don't find asserting "Yes, there is a divine being beyond my finite limits who is above, behind, and around all that I know as a limited creature" is a big leap. YMMV.

2.     If there is a God, that divine being is either aware of us and interested in what we do, or said god or godling is not. I argue from Scripture & Tradition that there is a basis for saying God cares. There are many who would agree there "may be" a god, but said god-ish being does not necessarily have to care one iota about us, and probably doesn't. There's also a Satanic subset who maintain there is a supreme being, and it wants to eat you and laugh, but that's for item three. Anyhow, Deism and most agnosticism can agree there's a God, but they'd hold onto indifference as the main characteristic of that person.

3.     If there is a God, and that God notices us at all, does that God care for us? I argue (see S& T above) that God in fact loves us. I have met folks within the last few weeks who believe there is a divine being, one who pays attention, and they think I worship a weak, loser God. Theirs is evil and hungry. Mine sent Jesus.


So you can agree with me on two out of three and still scare me to death. Belief is a strange thing, stranger even than belief in God.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he believes in God (whaddaya know). Tell him what or Who you believe in at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Faith Works 9-27-14

Faith Works 9-27-14

Jeff Gill


One more retrospective



A few weeks ago I ruminated about a couple of personal anniversaries that related to this column, and I hope you'll indulge me as I do so one more time. It'll be another quarter-century before this all comes up again!


25 years ago, earlier this week, I drove a big ol' U-Haul into Newark, Ohio with two cats, too many books, and all our worldly goods. Joyce was right behind in our car. We moved into McMillan Woods, the first of five places we would live in Licking County, and I began as associate pastor of Newark's Central Christian Church, where I'm now back again as plain ol' pastor.


What I actually remember more clearly is from a few weeks earlier when I'd driven into town for my first visit to Newark in our '73 Impala. I was late for the interview, as I'd completely forgotten about the time change between Indianapolis and central Ohio at the time, and there was construction on I-70 around Dayton.


Now I drive a 2009 Impala, and there's construction on I-70 around Dayton. Some things change, some things haven't, much.


I stopped at the McDonalds off the Buckeye Lake exit (now closed and replaced with a new model closer to the highway), and found a pay phone to call the church from. Someone explain "pay phone" to the young 'uns. They understood, and promised to be there, and said I wouldn't be that late, I was close. (No one understands how long it takes to get through Heath, even people from Heath, but they were there when I arrived.)


Up Rt. 79 for the first time, stop light after stop light; passed the Great Circle which I noted for future reference, not knowing just how much time I'd spend there as an interpreter and storyteller over the years ahead, but as an undergrad anthropology major with a concentration in archaeology, I knew about the Newark Earthworks. They'd piqued my interest when I'd gotten contacted as I was finishing seminary by the senior pastor at Newark Central.


The thing was, Joyce had plans to attend grad school, and in her program there were four schools she said "if you get an invitation from any church within reasonable driving distance of these four schools, let's look at it." The Ohio State University was one of the four, and Newark was just barely within what could be called a reasonable (pre-161 as it is today) drive.


So I interviewed with the senior pastor at a church conference, and he recommended the search committee have me come to Newark, and off I went. I'd seen "Son of Heaven" in Columbus the year before, so I'd been across from Indy that far, but once I passed through the I-270 loop, it was terra incognita. Then.


No internet, no GPS, just a rough map, some directions on that pay phone, so I got off at Main St. and turned right. Abandoned factory buildings, a teetering smokestack, a bridge, some homes that had seen better days, and up a short pull: then West Main Street opened up as I drive east. The Licking County Courthouse. I nodded to myself. "Nice," I thought.


Jigged and jogged, finding the thread for Rt. 13 up and around and under and on to Mt. Vernon Road, and then the last stretch through a residential neighborhood, and the church. I parked, walked in, and said my still widely-remembered first words to the committee: "Is there any coffee in the building?"


Apparently, this struck a favorable chord, or so Cynthia Rarick reports. Coffee was found, a discussion was begun, and then I was bundled off for the night to the big downtown hotel (now the Doubletree). I wandered back out by dark, circled that grand old courthouse, admired the great old trees, regretted the decay of the Auditorium and Midland Theatres, and had a cup of coffee and a burger at Wendy's.


The next morning, when I was picked up for phase two of the interview weekend, I mentioned to my drivers that I'd gone out around Courthouse Square (remember, 1989) and grabbed a late snack there. The look the two in the front seat exchanged was one of, well, horror. They figured, I learned later, "well, he's never gonna want to move here now."


What it took them a just a little while to learn was that I loved it here, Wendy's and all; there was work to do, but I had some thoughts about that. We're not done, but for me and mine and our Land of Legend, it's been a good twenty-five years.


Thank you!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you came to this marvelous place at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.