Wednesday, March 10, 2004

If you came here looking for Jeff's "Notes" on "The Passion of the Christ," scroll down a few entries (plus a long e-mail from a Disciples' pastors' discussion and additional commentary in the last two "Hebron Crossroads" columns). And sorry about the sloppy looking nav bar on the left; if i knew how to fix it, i would!

pax et gratia, jeff
Guaranteed Only Comparison This Week. . .

. . .that you’ll see of “The Passion of The Christ” and “Twin Peaks.”

[This is a response to a series of e-mails between Disciple pastors in Ohio (mostly) about "The Passion" and how to respond to it. Pax, jeff]

Full disclosure to start: yes, I have a reputation to maintain as a bit of a smart aleck, even for a pastor, and no, I’m not kidding. Seeing “The Passion” did, in fact, put me in mind of “Twin Peaks” so strongly that I had to go back and watch the pilot and episodes one and two of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking TV series.

Read on if you will, or no; but you may have to explain your decision in the Red Room to the Man From Another Place. OK, enough cheap “Twin Peaks” references. . .

I think to “get” Mel Gibson’s opus (and a work of art it is, absolutely no doubt and certainly too, too self-consciously) you have to speak the language of sacramental theology and devotional discipline. The fact that so many mainline Protestant, not to mention Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are “getting” this movie means that you don’t have to speak it as a native, but it helps to have grown up around, if not within the traditions of “The Stations of the Cross” and the decades (three or now four) of the Rosary. A dash of Marian co-redemptrix piety sure helps, as does a working understanding of the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

With that armload of lexicons and interpretive keys, the “text” of “The Passion” is remarkably clear, coherent, and interwoven. The Judas and Satan themes are seen in their intended context of defeat and corruption vs. victory and incorruption, enduring witness Mary is our source of identification and point of relationship (resonating over into the other Mary, as sinful as mother Mary is sinless, but both redeemed by their encounter and embrace of Jesus), and the flashbacks neatly weave our own pre-understandings into the primary narrative of inflicted suffering, swiftly negated by the clear gaze of the resurrected Christ at the end.

Without them, while the story is comprehensible in a standard cinematic way, it becomes a morbid celebration of dying-before-he’s-dead Judas and a seductive Satan, we identify (within our capacities and fixations) with the twisting, shattered figure of the one on the receiving end of Roman lashes, while marveling at a mother able to watch her child’s torment, and we finally slump under the overwhelming weight of physical agony, jerking back to alertness in the sunlight entering the tomb where the winner prepares to stride out into day. The comic relief of Mary and carpenter Jesus, the jolt of his hop onto the finished table, the bemused interchange through the latticework – this is but one of many places where even those who profess to “like” the movie confess confusion, which may hint at the problems we will yet have to deal with.

But I only recently learned that, while Mel has gotten credit (not enough, I suggest) for his not appearing in the movie physically except to hold the nail for the first part of the crucifixion (clearing up for me, at least, who he thinks is responsible for killing Jesus), there is another, subtle, crafty way Gibson is in this movie he risked so much to make – and let’s not let its success obscure the fact that for two years he’s had not a reason to think he’d make a dime on “The Passion.”

If you’ve seen “The Patriot,” in which Gibson plays a colonial craftsman of sorts, he keeps trying to make a Windsor chair, a clever piece of skill in furniture. When Gibson’s character finishes the chair and seats himself in it, he gets a moment of self-satisfaction, and then crashes to the floor with the chair in splinters. When Jesus makes a piece of furniture, the so called “new kind of table,” and hops onto it, there is nary a creak. The table holds.

Friends, I saw that scene last Sunday, vividly overlaid across Hebron Christian Church’s communion table. And that is exactly what Mel Gibson wanted, with the light echo of our own work cracking and crumbling away beneath the weight of our pretensions.

What happens for those whose next worship did not include communion, whose last service before seeing the movie barely referred to the broken bread and poured out cup, if at all? I really can’t imagine. But my worry is that, for them, the usual practice of self-identification - no matter how distanced - with the star of the show puts us in Jesus’ place, and doesn’t tell us much about where to go with that identification. Will more folks think, out of this film’s influence, that we must suffer for our salvation? That paying a price, as opposed to not counting the cost (and theologically, saying salvation has a price vs. has a cost are very, crucially different things) is the way of Jesus? So I don’t commend the movie without reservation or qualification.

But you probably have been this patient with me because you want the “Twin Peaks” point: fair enough. David Lynch is also a very skilled filmmaker, whose attention to detail and nuance (and skewed vision!) is every bit as obsessive as we’ve learned Gibson’s is. The complex interlocking plot of “Twin Peaks” is purposely intended to evoke connections layered atop connections, branching and weaving around a central figure with whom it is essentially impossible to identify as the viewer. Because she’s dead. . .and wrapped in plastic.

So far, so good, but I think Lynch and Gibson share a fatal flaw, *hubris* in the Greek sense, where a gift uncritically used in a context where no one can critique the gifted one can turn on them, and bring them low. If you’re a “Twin Peaks” buff, you know that the killer of Laura Palmer, the young woman who is dead before we ever see her but who dominates the story, is BOB. BOB is. . .well, we know BOB is evil, but after a while, as the show ran down into incoherence (very watchable incoherence, but still), we stopped even caring if BOB was a demon, an alien, a government project, or whatever.

The genesis of BOB, though, is not in any of the original plot outlines. BOB is Frank Silva, a prop wrangler who accidentally ended up in a shot of Laura Palmer’s mother’s living room. Lynch, seeing the “rushes” on the day, loved the look of the unintentional footage, and decided to keep it, signed Frank Silva to an acting contract, and tried to do what he had already brilliantly done with a number of other pieces of “found footage.” But I would argue that, in the long run, BOB killed “Twin Peaks.” A story of how we are all connected, that we all have secrets, and how those secrets shape our lives (how we all need redemption?), and how Laura’s father could have loved her and killed her at the same time, as did many of her friends indirectly as well, became subject to the need to incorporate a mystical being named BOB into the story.

Or as my grandmother would have said, “he was too clever by half.”

There is my concern with Gibson’s wide release. I’m not sure if Mel kept track of where he was being subtly, usefully clever (the table evoking communion and his own collapsed chair), and where he was just getting self-indulgent (demon children chasing Judas, the DeMille temple earthquake tearing the floor, not the veil). As is said about some scenery-chewing actors, he steps on some of his own directorial best lines by obscuring them: hardly anyone is talking about the moving Simon of Cyrene sequence, or the very light touch (yes, I’m still talking about Mel Gibson) with the Veronica veil image and the actions leading up to it. There are many sections of this movie that deserve comment, and the fact that we’re not talking about them is a shame, and a lost teaching moment with the large questioning audiences of today. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I’ll have a chance to discuss this with study groups in the church, no doubt long into this century, but this public moment is indeed obscured by some of the artistic gore, no doubt about it. I understand why Gibson did it, just like I’m fascinated by the audacity of using a messed up shot of the prop guy to fix a plot hole, but that doesn’t mean it was really a good idea, and it’s a shame there wasn’t anyone else involved to tell them so.

My reaction to the fact of “The Passion” is to educate, inform, and discuss, using the movie as an opportunity. While I understand some of the concerns raised by some critics, the fact that people “aren’t aware/sophisticated/informed enough to experience this movie appropriately” doesn’t say to me that we should shun, ignore, or protest the release; it says to me we’re already behind in Christian formation, and like it or not, this sets the tone for where we need to go next. In many ways, Disciples of Christ have an opportunity second only to that held by Catholic Christians and other more sacramental groups to use this movie to teach what we mean alongside of, and at oblique angles to, this amazing work of art.

During this Lent, we’re doing the 40 Days of Purpose study through Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” For many of the same “reasons” I hear from fellow mainline Protestants about keeping one’s distance from “The Passion,” there’s a wide-spread sense that a smart Disciple doesn’t dabble in Pastor Warren’s Southern Baptist pool. We dove in, and I have no reason to regret it.

Does Warren have problems with women in leadership? Nope, cause he doesn’t have any (insert strained laughter here). Does he let slip a literalistic, creationistic view of Genesis in those pages? Yes he does. Are these viewpoints readily available around and within the congregation, ours and yours? If you say “no,” you ain’t payin’ attention. But reading this book as a congregation has brought some of these conversations out into the cold light of dawn, and the mildew had better be off of my own teaching and arguments, let alone those of the Biblical literalists. “Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you,” Peter said (or a pseudonymous student of the Petrine schola, OK), and this is one such moment. We create, in fact, myriad more such moments by taking such modest risks as exposing church members to healthy Christian debate.

When we as Disciples stand for “don’t watch that, don’t read that,” or even worse, an affected “well, at least I won’t be watching that, and I can’t imagine why anyone would,” we are seen as not having an account worth sharing. It starts to sound like we don’t even have a cheering interest in the race, let alone a personal stake. Mel Gibson has given us a flawed, but majestic opportunity to say, “Would you like to know *more* about this Jesus?” Or even better, to answer someone – as I have more often in the last few weeks than I have in years – who comes to us *asking* “Could you tell me more about Jesus?” I want to be seen as someone happy to hear that question, and as a Christian proud to try and answer.

Jeff Gill
Hebron Christian Church
Hebron, OH
Hebron Crossroads 3-14-2004
By Jeff Gill

Spring isn’t astronomically official ‘til next weekend, but the signs, they are a changin’ all around.
A few weeks ago we saw a Coyote trotting through the field behind Chez Gill; in recent weeks, I’ve spotted a bunch of American Kestrels perched on roadside wires (usually with a dangling mouse or vole counterbalancing them under their perch); the Little Guy and I saw a Cedar Waxwing at Dawes Arboretum, along with a wide assortment of migrating birds, plus a huge flock of cowbirds heading north stopping through the area for a quick wormy forage.

Speaking of Dawes, we hope this is the last Spring without a Maple Syrup program, which should be all the better next year with the new improved sugar shack at the old log cabin.

True sign of Spring, accepted by all: Hayman’s Dairy Bar is open. You know what to do.

Not a sign of Spring, but your columnist was delighted to see a B-17 in flight, apparently taking off from Heath/Newark airport on what must have been a series of hops across the country. The distinctive long swoop of the tail up to the broad rudder, combined with the four props across a vast wingspan, left me certain; anybody know what this WWII flying monument to valor was doing across our fair county?

Cub Scout Pack 33, based at Jackson Elementary but covering all of Lakewood’s schools for first through fifth graders, enjoyed a very successful “Blue and Gold” banquet at the Ohio National Guard Armory in Newark. They made such a trip to have their annual awards and “crossover ceremony” for Cubs to Scouts because with 150 and more in attendance, there aren’t many places that can hold them (and for free, and on a Friday night!), which is a great problem to have. Congrats to Ed and Rexana Fuentes, who are doing a great job with the unit.

And major “attaboys” to Hebron Elementary’s Tim Nauer, who looked sharp on Cash Explosion last weekend! And the tie went with the suit, too. He didn’t win enough to hit him for a loan, OK, but congratulate him anyhow.

As for quizzes, as a born Cub fan (they could still win a pennant in ’04!), I had a good time finding a “real Chicagoan” quiz on; well, I had a good time until I took a second quiz aimed, it said, at younger readers. It turned out that, on the Chicago quiz, I got a higher score on the one that wasn’t called the . . . non-geezer version. Which makes me a . . .

Speaking of senior moments, as if getting the better score on what is apparently the “geezer version” of the Chicago history quiz isn’t bad enough . . . I called Laura Gallup something else (why repeat the mistake?).

Laura Gallup has the art exhibit going on in the public hallway at Brezina Design and Construction, aka the Hebron Mill. Her installation is meant to evoke history and culture, looking back at women in Licking County and American history, giving us new contexts to meditate on the role and place of women in religious and family life. She takes some “risks” in presenting the work that I might not agree with (same as with Mel Gibson, in fact!), but the technical execution is quite impressive.

Carlos Brezina is to be commended for creating a new public space in Hebron – don’t forget we’ve had community art in the lobby of the municipal building since it opened – and here’s hoping the idea catches on and continues. This exhibit is on through March 31.

Did I hear someone ask: Was there any part of Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ” I didn’t like? Sure: the suffering went on too long. . .of Judas. This is just one of the many interesting questions “we” have yet to discuss about this very complex work of film art. Until everyone calms down over the faux-controversy surrounding “The Passion,” we won’t get to some intriguing problems and successes that deserve more conversation.
Judas is a necessary part of the passion narrative, and the device of the mule carcass was effective as a foreshadowing of what the texts say about Judas’ fate and a nice twist on the triumphal procession on muleback just days before. . .but we got more of his torment than I think helped the cinematic story.

Overall, the point can’t be made too often that Gibson’s point of view makes much more sense, extended suffering and all, if one is familiar with a) the devotional practice of the Stations of the Cross, and b) the Rosary. Many Protestant and Evangelical Christians have gotten access to the images through the remarkable use of communion imagery in the movie’s one humorous scene (“wha’?” you say; you didn’t know “The Passion” had a funny scene? That’s what I mean by needing to talk about the whole movie itself more than commentary about the movie). And whether you are part of a sacramental religious tradition or not, the table image in the flashback of Jesus the Carpenter is not only incredibly resonant, but I’ve recently learned is Gibson’s other “self-insertion” into the narrative, along with holding the nail at the crucifixion. If you’ve seen “The Patriot,” you may know that Gibson’s character keeps trying to make a Windsor chair, but everytime he sits down in a finished piece, it collapses. If you’ve seen “The Passion,” you know exactly where this point goes, so I’ll end it there.

Warning: Major subject change! Octagon State Memorial, home of one of the Seventy Ancient Wonders of the World, along with Chaco Canyon and Cahokia in North America, is holding an open house on Sunday, March 21, from 11 am to 3 pm. Just north of Licking Memorial Hospital, accessible off of Main at 33rd St. or by Moundview off of 30th St., there will be curators and the “History To Go” van from the Ohio Historical Society, owners of the site, and Native American storytellers at Noon and 2 pm.

You may walk the grounds of the 20 acre perfect circle or the 50 acre connected octagon throughout that time, without fear of the golf balls often flying past when Moundbuilders Country Club, the longtime tenants, is active.

Come out and bring your family to learn and enjoy this global heritage in the heart of Licking County!

Wrapping up for now, can I just say, everybody ease up on Stephanie Hamrick; for the record, everybody is underpaid, and everything costs too much, and columnists in time will talk about both. . .but the one thing bites the other’s tail, and so on.

So we columnists are doomed to never make everyone happy; like not getting to details about the Hebron PTO & Village Crossroads Festival Memorial Day weekend! Tune in next week. . .

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and habitually tries to say too much in too little space. If you don’t want to contribute to this problem, avoid calling 928-4066 or e-mailing to add stuff to this space next week. . .oh, why not; go ahead.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

The Scouter – April 2004
Simon Kenton Council BSA

Licking District Trailmarkers

Charters – What are they, and why do we care?

Many Cubmaster, Scoutmasters, and Pack or Troop Committee chairs see the charter as “just one of those annual annoyances” from the council office. What the rechartering and presentation period are – or can be – is a great opportunity to firm up the relationship between your unit’s chartering organization and Scouting.

The chartering institution, whether a church, PTO, or civic organization, is who “owns the franchise” for Scouting in your location. With developments such as United Way cuts and defunding, the charter relationship becomes ever more important in maintaining our ability to deliver the Scouting program of values formation, leadership development, and outdoor education.

Some units say, quite truthfully, that their chartered organization just signs a piece of paper, offers a meeting space (in many cases), pays the charter fee (if that), and that’s all. That may be the case for some units, but it doesn’t have to be.

Your unit commissioner can be a resource for renewing contact with a low-key charter organization. A presentation of the charter can be scheduled with support from your district staff, and can be a great way to spark – and right before Cub Day Camp or the Scout summer camp season starts! – new levels of awareness among the members of the church, board, or club that holds your charter, whether they knew it before or not.

If you haven’t had a formal charter presentation recently, discuss it at your next unit committee meeting. Scouting needs the support of our chartered relationships now more than ever!

If you have ideas for material you’d like to see in “The Scouter” on the Licking District section, call 928-4066 and leave a message for Jeff Gill, or better yet, e-mail him at
Which is also how you can offer material for publishing in this page. . .plus:
See for all your latest updates!

Cub Day Camp at the Rock
“Circus” 2004
June 16 – 19, Wed. – Sat.

Licking District Cub Day Camp registration packets have been sent out to all the Cub leaders. If you haven’t received one, please call Angie or Ric Eders at 740.927.0357, or e-mail

Volunteers are coming in, but we still have lots of areas to be filled (contact info same as above!). We will be starting each day at 8:30 am and ending at 4:30 pm.

Camp fee is $46, and for each additional scout registered from the same family before May 14, it is $40. All scouts must be registered when they arrive or they cannot attend, to protect the child and Scouting under our insurance. Registrations received after May 15 to June 11 are $56, and any postmarked after June 11 will cost $66. Camperships are available, but they must be turned in before May 14. Cancellations must be submitted before June 1, and are subject to a $20 fee for materials already purchased. Additionally it is $10 for the Friday Webelos overnight, and $10 for the Sibling Circle, limited to children of those working as part of Cub Day Camp, with required registration form.

We need to maintain a 1:4 adult:Cub ratio, so keep recruiting your leadership; they will need to be registered adults before the first day of camp as well.

Thanks from the district to Ric & Angie who are putting so much careful preplanning into this major Licking District event!

Spring Camporee at Hartford Fairgrounds
April 23-25, 2004

Licking District Emergency Preparedness Camporee will allow scouts to
complete to complete the following requirements:

Tenderfoot: 12a-b
Second Class: 6a-c
First Class 8b-d

First class scouts will be able to earn their emergency preparedness
merit badge if they complete the following pre-requisites.

1, 2a-b, 3a-d, 4a-d, 8a-c, and 9c.

The Scoutmaster must sign off pre-requisites on a blue card.

We are planning to conduct an emergency drill with the corporation of
the Licking County Emergency Management team and local fire
departments. This Camporee will be held at the Hartford Fair grounds in
Croton OH. Registration will begin at 6:00 PM at the north fair ground
entrance. Cost for the weekend will be $6.00 per person. All units have received registration materials; come to April Roundtable at Central Christian on Mt. Vernon Rd. in Newark, Tues., Apr. 6 at 7:15 pm for more info!