Monday, May 02, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 05-08-05
Jeff Gill

Free Flowers For Mother’s Day!

When the layered vistas of Spring give way to the glossy green sheen across the landscape of Summer, part of me starts looking forward to Fall.
We have an absolutely beautiful season all around us, and I’ll take the occasional chill and regular splat of rain showers for having the riot of life a’blossoming right now. Those who are urging, whether through spoken hopes, silent prayers, or the stray vulgar imprecation that summer get here sooner may have their hopes dashed if I get my way.
Now we have a rainbow of tulips shooting across the leading edges of house landscaping, flowering pear and crabapples in a wide range of bright colors, magnolias blossoming pink-fringed and reaching, while the carpet of dandelions is rolling out where welcomed or not.
Out in the woods, you can still see the upper canopy through the young, small leaves, and some of the songbirds now passing through from the tropics to the tundra, or at least heading that way. (Did you hear about the ivory billed woodpecker in Arkansas, back from the invisible edge of extinction? We won’t have ‘em here, but the pileated woodpecker is a local, and nearly the same size and markings: awesome.)
Along the forest floor, the May apples are pushing up their green single-leaf umbrellas, but no fruit below as yet. Don’t try eating one ‘til August, when they’re yellow.
Day lilies are starting to show some stage presence as well, along with next week’s annuals at the garden centers.
Here in Licking County most woodlots are hard to wander through, since the effect of historic overtimbering, combined with a general lack of management as the forests mature, means that the understory of your local woods is filled with undergrowth, spicebush and raspberry and multifloral rose, woven with grapevine.
I used to wonder as a Boy Scout at Camp To-pe-nee-bee, whenever I got off trail, how the Indians managed to move through the forests at all, let alone silently. It wasn’t until I got quite a bit older that I learned how occasional natural fires, and even regular intentional burns, were used by Native Americans all across the continent to keep undesirable plants from growing, especially to maintain prairies.
In fact, some of the archaeological work at the Newark Earthworks in recent years has shown that the area around the Great Circle and Octagon (see was artificially maintained even 2000 years ago, with oak-hickory forests all about, but prairie soil still the context for the four square miles of mounds and enclosures. That’s how they had the space to build and the sightlines to view the moonrises over the eastern horizon.
All of this is fairly normal subject matter for this column, as long time readers know. But today it’s worth noting that my tendency to not just look at, but to “see” the natural landscape, and even the history and prehistory just beneath that landscape, was given to me by my mother’s mother, and by my mother. Grandma Walton is at rest under Illinois prairie, with Spring flowers all around Grandview Cemetery.
Rose Gill is sitting with her well-worn Peterson Guide to North American Birds, a pair of binoculars, and a back porch full of birdfeeders, on a ridge just off the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and I can warn you that the chickadees and warblers are coming your way!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have rare (or extinct!) bird sightings to share, e-mail
Faith Works 5-07-05
Jeff Gill

Why Can’t I Do That In Church?

Fourteen bridesmaids? With another fourteen groomsmen to match, bride and groom and let’s not even think about how many flower girls and ringbearers, you’ve got over 30 people in the front of the church.
Runaway bride? I’d think about being a runaway pastor just facing the rehearsal.
While we’re all (fiancĂ© included) still trying to figure out what happened between Duluth, Georgia and Albuquerque, New Mexico last week, many of us know we’re heading for a wedding in the family. June actually hasn’t been the “main” month for weddings for some time: October used to fill up on my calendar, with May and August close behind, and then September and December, while June sat there with open Saturdays. But as spring loosens up enough to allow outdoor receptions, and with planning starting to look important now for a service next fall, this is still a good time to talk about weddings and church life.
Jokes about “Bridezilla” aside, in twenty years of pulpit ministry, I can tell you that just a few meetings between pastor and couple, even when they aren’t terribly well acquainted beforehand, can resolve most all complications well before the Big Day. What I learned to dread was not even the mother of the bride (though I’ve heard stories, and had my moments), but the big complication in many rehearsals and final service set-up was . . .
The Friend of the Bride’s Mother. There was the source of my most frequent conflicts as a minister preparing to help a couple celebrate a church wedding.
“Why can’t you move that table thing . . . ok, communion table . . . out of sight? Shouldn’t there be another soloist? My daughter sings that Streisand thing really well . . . and can you wear a stole that matches the bridesmaids’ colors?”
Tell the couple, their parents, and give them handouts with 24-pt. type saying “no tape on the pews or doors” and you face a bride’s mother’s friend on the morning of, busily taping away and brushing you off with a free hand like an annoying fly saying “oh, this doesn’t leave a mark, see, I can just . . . whoops.”
What makes the challenge here is that church weddings are just that: an act of the church, a service of worship first and foremost, with the marriage of two people an element (a very significant element, but still) of that special service. And I’ve found that brides and grooms and even mothers of the bride, when you get a chance to explain what a wedding means in a house of worship, even to those fairly loosely “churched,” they get on board pretty enthusiastically. Taking the pressure off of the two, and making this a celebration in which we all take a part in the sight of God, actually helps make the wedding-gy parts go better.
But around us is a consumer culture, where “have it your way” and “special order” are the rule of the day. So those who haven’t been part of the meetings with the pastor and church musicians chime in: “Why can’t that Van Halen song you love be in the service? Are they serious about this no rice rule?”
There is no simple way around the fact that pastors, church trustees or others who help around the building on the day of a wedding have to remember that they are in a teaching role. We have to learn to say “why” along with saying “no” to some of the culture’s more intrusive attempts to control the Big Day, even when we have to do it on the fly. We need to teach the couple how to teach their friends and family about what we’re doing in the church building that day.
As for the quaint tradition of cake mashing, that’s a whole ‘nother column. Short answer: you will never, ever look back and regret not doing it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have wedding tales to share, e-mail