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.

 

Doubtless.

 

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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Faith Works 9-20-14

Faith Works 9-20-14

Jeff Gill

 

Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart do ministry

___


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

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

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

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

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

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

But the grey market . . . oh my.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has your church dealt with the grey economy?

 

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Jeff Gill

 

Granville's Highest Inscription

___

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Faith Works 9-13-14

Faith Works 9-13-14

Jeff Gill

 

Remember those in bondage

___

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Faith Works 9-6-14

Faith Works 9-6-14

Jeff Gill

 

In Memoriam, for a passionate proclaimer

___

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faith Works 8-30-14

Faith Works 8-30-14

Jeff Gill

 

May all your labors be blessed

___

 

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

 

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

 

Is that in any way reasonable to say to someone?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 8-28-14

Notes from my Knapsack 8-28-14

Jeff Gill

 

You could look it up, sort of

___

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of such contingency are many great and lasting decisions made.

 

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Faith Works 8-23-14

Faith Works 8-23-14

Jeff Gill

 

Can Art save us?

___

 

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

 

No, seriously.

 

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

 

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

 

For that, you need art.

 

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

 

Sometimes, you need art.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Faith Works 8-16-14

Faith Works 8-16-14

Jeff Gill

 

Pain, multiplied beyond imagining

___

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Knapsack 8-14-14

Notes from my knapsack 8-14-14

Jeff Gill

 

Mysteries unveiled, thanks to the internet

___

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Faith Works 8-9-14

Faith Works 8-9-14
Jeff Gill

The task of ministry in one image
___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Faith Works 8-2-14

Faith Works 8-2-14

Jeff Gill

 

Tradition is a poor excuse for stupid (or stupidity)

___

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Call me killjoy.

 

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

 

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