Sunday, June 05, 2005

Faith Works 6-11-05
Jeff Gill

My grandmother had some very clear rules for living. Among them was “always use a coaster.”
A higher priority rule was “The Bible isn’t a coaster.”
In my upbringing, you didn’t set anything on the Bible. Not a cup (or a saucer), not even another book. Since there was usually a Bible sitting out somewhere, these issues had immediate relevance. If there were a number of items on a coffee table, the Good Book would get picked up, the new arrival on the tabletop would be placed, and then the Bible placed back on top.
In college, a campus pastor I worked with was intrigued, and maybe a bit amused by the way I would surreptitiously walk around behind a group discussion and quietly move foam cups of coffee or coke off of paperback copies of “The Word.” He’d say to me “Jeff, you don’t even like the Living Bible paraphrase; I appreciate that you don’t give people grief over it, but why do you keep moving stuff off of Bibles?”
The best answer I had was “Because it just bugs me.”
Respect for the Bible and the place it has in Christianity certainly has something to do with it, too. But family and culture and reinforcement over many years is a powerful force.
Some folks are no doubt confused by the flap over handling of the Koran in prisoner camps run by the US military. A kind of reflexive respect for any holy book is not as culturally common here, just as people need some friendly cueing to know when to stand and such when the American flag goes by in a parade (quick summary: you should stand when it comes past you within clear view, and courtesy suggests that you take off your hat and place it over your heart, as you would when singing the national anthem or saying the pledge).
Flag etiquette is still fairly consistent, if not well known. What is “book etiquette” when it comes to sacred scriptures, of one’s own or any other?
For observant Muslims, the rules they ask the guards to follow would sound familiar to my grandmother: keep it off the ground, nothing on top of it, and handle it respectfully, not letting it get splashed or soiled in any way. Many Buddhist holy texts should be kept not only where they would not be stepped on, but where the soles of one’s feet would not end up pointed at them. And Torah scrolls in Orthodox Judaism have a whole set of rules for their care and maintenance, kept primarily in an “ark” or enclosure central to their worship space.
Christians today no longer work with one version (KJV) in one format (black leather with gold tooled lettering) with one to a household. Our NIVs, NRSVs, NLBTs, and Skateboarder Life Application Bibles are often in paperback bindings, available in mass quantities, and made to travel with you to work, lunch, and activities, guaranteeing that they will not only pick up coffee rings on the cover but have repair manuals and the like placed on top of them.
Books that are part of one’s faith practice should probably be kept at the top of most piles. Not just out of some sense of respect, but so we actually remember to read them and reflect on why we have them in the first place. Any other reading matter can come in second place, wherever it is in the pile.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; don’t even get him started about dusty Bibles! Send your own stories of “habits of the heart” to
Notes from my Knapsack 6-12-05Jeff Gill
There was this great idea I had for a column, and I lost it. Got distracted and forgot the whole deal. It’s Tiger Woods’ fault.Your columnist is no golfer, not a’tall. When I was a kid, they built another nine holes onto the municipal course that wrapped around a ravine that began near my backyard. Scrambling up and down the steep slopes and knowing the narrow paths (almost crawlways) through the underbrush, I got into golf by retrieving lost balls. If you sliced off of the ninth tee, you were money in my pocket. Quarter for good ‘uns, and a bread bag full of sliced covers for two bucks, sold at a discreet distance from the ballwasher off the eighth hole.The club pro would very rarely tool along in his cart to chase us (I wasn’t the only agile entrepreneur in that ravine), but since he had a distinctive personal cart he was easy to avoid.One local doctor had balls made up with his name, which he would hand out freely but also obsessively want out of the woods if he put them there, and he’d pay us fifty cents to retrieve them. The scramble if there were three of us hunting that glossy monogrammed sphere through the tree roots and multifloral rose had to have been a sight if you could have seen more than three feet in that thicket.So why did Tiger lose me a column? Well, on a hot Sunday afternoon golf is a good TV option; you don’t have to watch closely, the scenes and music are fairly non-intrusive whether you’re reading, typing, or sleeping, and the Memorial was on.We here in central Ohio, golfer, duffer, or non-golfaholic know that Jack deserves support, and I always say “buy local,” so TV coverage from just up the road sealed the deal.Then Tiger Woods walks into the picture, teeing up at Muirfield. And he has a strip of duct tape down the back of his golf shirt.If you were watching – and apparently many of you did – you know what I’m talking about. He had a piece of glossy, silverish shiny material, remarkably similar to God’s gift to the unhandy in 50 yard rolls, running from collar to beltline.At first I thought “Maybe he has a rip in his shirt, and some helpful steward, probably from Licking County as so many are at the Memorial, got out the duct tape and fixed him right up.”The commentators were mute on the subject, although they also discreetly worked around the fact that the shirts were part of a line of clothing with the “TW” label, like some golden bear logos I’ve seen around these parts.Then it hit me. It actually could be duct tape, an artistic taper trimmed off the sides, stuck onto discount bin polo shirts along with the magical name, “Tiger.” And they would sell, not just for Father’s Day, but all year long. No one would say to Mr. Woods, “Uhhhh, sir, your shirt has duct tape on it.” They would say, “Wow, cool, where can I buy one and enrich you further, Mr. Woods?”Of course, if I wore one, people would walk up all day and try to pull the strip off my shirt. You know, just to be helpful. Who would want to wear duct tape?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio who is not getting any golf gear for Father’s Day; if you have suggestions to replace the column he forgot watching Tiger’s duct tape, e-mail

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Backup (no date as yet)
Notes From My Knapsack - general use
Jeff Gill

Minnesota is next to have a state quarter in circulation; some on-line acquaintances link me to heated debate over the look and symbolism of the design, prominently featuring a loon on a lake and (some would say redundantly) a person in a motorboat with a fishing rod.
The whole state quarter scam – the Mint gets to print money, create some modest variations to get you not to spend it, thereby making a great profit margin – is at least a good example for consumers in demonstrating the fine distinctions that separate good design from bad art.
Dig a bunch of quarters out of your pocket or purse and give ‘em a look. Some are immediately attractive, some require you to look close and squint, and others just look like cheap tourism promos stamped on slugs suitable for a cheesy arcade.
This is where design is both an art and a science. Everyone knew they were creating a picture for the back of a quarter. If they were unclear, they could pull one out and check the size, shape, and general context. The state of my birth, Illinois, has an attractive collage of Lincolnesque images and a theme tying civic boosterism to their history (21st state for the 21st century), all working nicely together. But without magnification and a strong north light, you see . . . not much. Louisiana takes a jeweler’s loupe as well.
California does something very comparable to Illinois (historic person, view of well known location), but keeps it pared down so the picture makes sense to the eye and mind even laying on the counter. It doesn’t do everything that the Golden State could jam in there, because someone realized “it’s a quarter.”
Others have even more of the stench of design by committee. South Carolina should have put whoever designed their long-popular license plate on the job. But instead they wedged a palm tree and an outline and words and . . . almost as messy as Florida’s soup pot of a quarter.
Rhode Island, perhaps in a tribute to native son H.P. Lovecraft’s oeuvre, gives us a simple shot with two icons, the Newport bridge and a sailboat, but arranged in an ominous pose that more resembles the cover of a murder mystery. Lovecraft would also have liked Arkansas’ hovering giant diamond over what looks to me like Cthulu’s swamp; likewise Vermont may be thinking maple sap collector, but I’m seeing “Twin Peaks” under those angular tree trunks. Maine hints of doom as well . . .
Connecticut gives us a very nicely framed Charter Oak, a tree no longer standing, and New Hampshire has “The Old Man of the Mountain” who crumbled off the cliff face he had occupied for eons. I like Kentucky’s shot at an actual scene, just south of Bardstown with a thoroughbred and Foster’s “Old Kentucky Home.”
The usual look is to combine a state outline with a stereotyped image associated with the area, like Massachusetts and the Minute Man, Indiana and the Indy Car, Georgia and the Giant Peach, and Texas with the Lone Star. Michigan decided it was too much work to come up with any icon, and gave us just the outline, with sketched in lakes all around.
Yikes. Were these design teams, or committees, or campaign donors, or whoever, thinking they were creating teaching aids for third graders? (I apologize in advance for any offense to bright third graders I may have given.) I don’t want the quarter to tell me how New York is shaped; I want to see what Virginia wants me to know that I didn’t before, and their colonial ships did that for me. North Carolina is elegantly simple: the Bishop’s boys and their motor kite at Kitty Hawk. Iowa is so Iowan, with an unadorned simple schoolhouse picking Grant Wood’s art without using the standard pitchforked duo. Missouri has a nice idea, but someone needs to tell their engraver about foreshortening.
How do I like Ohio’s quarter? If you’ve read this far, you know my answer already. Maybe in another hundred years they’ll give us a second chance. On the good side, they won’t be putting Bob Taft on it. Hope, maybe.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he usually has too much change in his pocket. Send your thoughts of change to