Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Notes From My Knapsack 1-02-05

"Bicentennial Serenade"

2005 began, at least in Granville, with the first Saturday in December. The calendar is just catching up this weekend.
The official launch of a year’s events celebrating 200 years of Granville, from settlement to village, began in Opera House Park at the four corner center of town. Festivities began with town criers, a mayoral proclamation, then an ambling procession down Broadway along sidewalks, gutters, and parts of the roadway, to the Avery-Downer House for speeches, a poem, and a musical setting of the same, commissioned for the big bicentennial day.
In a nice historical irony, the technology for voice amplification was not up to the passing horse-drawn wagons, downshifting trucks, cheerily chattering crowds, and a stiff breeze; meanwhile, the archaic but well chosen criers were heard out to the far edges of the crowd, proven by the brief hushes resulting from their occasional pronouncements.
What resulted, for the participant, was a performance piece suitable for the occasion, of found sound and planned moments punctuated by reality, a fit product never to be repeated for a singular event, that can’t fit into the time capsule to be buried next December for the close of Granville 200.
As best as I can recall, it went something like this:

(intro: distant bells toll five)
"Hear Ye, Hear Ye . . ."
(Rumble of traffic, grinding of gears)
"Resolved, these 200 years . . ."
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the . . ."
(A lighter set of bells that did jingle, in fact,
shaking off the collar of a slowly stepping horse.)
"We on the committee have been working on this day for years . . ."
(softer, not much:) "Did you bring more cups for the wassail?"
". . . what does that new store have for sale?"
"Let us now proceed . . ."
(Interlude: of jostling sleeves and scuffling feet,
a general movement to the east,
perhaps a salute to the first settlers from Massachusetts
and Connecticut, who came west to jostle for space
in this mound-strewn, Shawnee-settled land)
"Were we supposed to sing?"
"Angels we have heard on high . . ."
"Hey, good to see you! How’ya doin’?"
"Take a candle, here’s a candle, light stick for the little one?"
(Clopping hooves pace the introductions, as feet start to stamp,
Damp turf with fresh smell from heel gash and idle, turning toe.)
"My family came here in (drowned by passing truck,
the weight of years and the passing of time
in commerce and just dumb luck), and they found a land filled with . . ."
(whispered, piercingly:) "Do you know where the flutes are playing?
I meant to hear them last year, and don’t want to miss . . ."
(Second interlude: the passing of flame from hand to hand,
most quickly snuffed by an impersonal southwest wind, many
relighting from friends, from strangers, some persistent
and others indifferent, puddles of candlelight showing the
presence in the crowd of the earnestly stubborn
in the face of Nature – another settler image?)
"So we have come to this day, and I now introduce . . ."
"Who is that?" whispered in the ear.
"He just said as you asked me," the wry retort.
More greetings out by the edges of the spreading audience,
noise growing from outside in, silent near the center.
A general shuffle throughout the crowd, a mass
of people step to the risers, more introductions, a downbeat:
singers join in voice and gaze, stilling most and gathering more
by their faces unified in direction and intent, drawing passersby
into a circle of anticipation and expectancy.
Gently coming to a close, the end of the song marked by
New greetings and conversations, paused by the sharp bark
From the crier, "Enter the tent, see the displays, drink the wassail!"
And for once, everyone did as they were told.
Coda: "Good job, great work, what a relief, right?"
Answers; "more to do, many more to go, learn from lessons."
With night washing over us from the east (like the settlers),
the lights in the tent,
sharp smells of cut soil, spiced drink, and from canvas out of storage
are all the brighter.
Inside the Greek Revival home, tours begin mingling period costumes
with mail-order catalog parkas, wandering past windows
whose glass is age-warped and seasoned with bubbles,
an effect 200 years or so in the making,
framing the mix of commerce and hospitality
that is a bicentennial.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio; if you have an event to announce or news to share, e-mail him at

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas Day Advocate 2004

(Your two choices follow; go with whichever fits or contrasts best!)

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Christmas and Meaning
Jeff Gill

Many comment on the growing secularization of the public celebration of Christmas. Music on TV, public images in store windows and civic displays, all seem emptied of what those who call themselves Christian would maintain as "the reason for the season:" The birth of Jesus in humble yet marvelous surroundings, and the meaning of the life that baby lived for the world.

The issue has its points, but it can be interesting to look at the attempts to fill the manger shaped hole left in Christmas festivity by making it "the holiday season."

For instance, the songs. When songs about Christ and Mary are called out of bounds, the replacements are usually, from "White Christmas" in 1942 to the more recent ballad "Sending You a Little Christmas," about Home. Whether looking for Home or trying to get back there wistfulness goes deep around that longing for . . . well, a place where you can feel at Home.

Or the images. Pictures of Christmas-ey stuff that isn’t Bethlehemocentric are tied up with a fantasy of How Things Once Were. Santa talking on a wood-cased, cabled earpiece phone; writing his lists with quill pens; even riding in a sleigh! The images of this season are bound up with wooden toys (handmade, natch), mulled wine, and Grandma’s cookie recipe.

So even in the midst of attempts to secularize, to domesticate this essentially religious observance to a calendar date (with mainly retail significance), the basic need within each of us is to fill that God-shaped hole within us (as Pascal first said). We know deep down what is real and what is counterfeit satisfaction of our inmost desires, and our hearts are not made to let us settle for anything . . . anyone . . . less than their true fulfillment.

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An unexpected birth
Jeff Gill

An unexpected birth is usually not good news for anyone, not now and not long ago.

A child born with questionable paternity to a young woman is generally destined for hard times, low repute, and a bad end. Mary was such a young girl, tradition tells us, as young as 14 was when a young girl in Roman Palestine would be committed to a particular fiancé.

Joseph was likely an established tradesman who perhaps had married earlier, had older sons, and lost his wife as was so common in childbirth. Perhaps an aged man in his 30’s, he had the lineage of David but none of royal wealth.

His betrothed also had good genealogy, linked to the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem (witness her cousin Elizabeth and Zechariah, who served in the holy sanctuary and was father to a voice in the wilderness known as John the Baptizer). Still, there was little of comfort or security in her family background. An unexpected birth was not what their families would have welcomed. Complication, difficulty and embarrassment cloud the future.

Yet this advent, or "bringing forth," leads to the fulfillment of hope, the promise of greater glory to come, and joy everlasting, in the birth of a child anointed to lead God’s people.

How many awkward encounters do we fend off, which difficult moments do we avoid, without thought or reflection, that might lead to a birth of new hope, better days, and renewed living? What unexpected births around us might tug us and turn us away from our ruts and habits, to pause in thankfulness and anticipation?

The meaning of Christmas, in 2004 Ohio and in the days of Caesar Augustus, is that God’s good news is breaking forth into this world, born somewhere nearby, in some unexpected manner, inconvenient but always amazing.

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Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio.