Monday, June 27, 2005

Faith Works 7-02-05
Jeff Gill

Shalom, Peace, and Independence Day

"Be careful" is almost as frequent a saying as "Have a Happy Fourth of July!" this time of year. Fireworks are going off almost every night this week somewhere in our (any likely your) neighborhood, with a crescendo to Monday’s final blasts.
Add in water skiing at Buckeye Lake, potato salad in the sun, and poison ivy having a great year, and you get a sense of hazard along with the celebrational spirit for July 4.
It has been a year since I managed to have a very simple (OK, idiotic) fall in my driveway, break my arm in three places, have two surgeries, and put my life in order around casts, slings, and medical restrictions.
I am (ahem) young, fit (stop chuckling, would you?), and healed pretty fast according to Dr. Quimjian (three cheers for whom!), so there’s no real complication now and really was nothing to complain about then.
But I was amazed at how much I felt, well, "off" for months, even after the pins were removed and the last bandages came off. To fly with one wing for so long, and even with both limbs useable in many situations like driving, typing, or just putting the Little Guy to bed, there was something that just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t just the arm, it was the whole of me.
"Shalom" is the Hebrew word usually translated as "peace." Both greeting and farewell (like the Hawaiian "aloha"), shalom can be used in a wide variety of applications both in modern Hebrew as spoken in Israel, and when translating the Hebrew Scriptures, known to most Americans as the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
Often in time of war, conflict, or upheaval, preachers know to point out that shalom is not just "peace" as the absence of war, but a fuller, whole-er, more active peace . . . peace seeking justice. We may seek peace, but the guns can stop firing and "shalom" not apply.
In a number of spots in the Old Testament, shalom refers to "wholeness," to the integrity of the human community, and even to bodily integrity. The state of shalom is where all the parts are communing in a blessed whole. Shalom is even used in a passage that discusses broken bones, when they are healed into renewed wholeness, or shalom.
Shalom does not accept partial wholeness. You are either together, or you aren’t; you’re in pieces, or in peace.
The American community, across faith traditions of all sorts, is "broken up" over the Iraq war. There was peace, the sort without open warfare, in Iraq before the war, but certainly no shalom. We now have casualties, some striking close to home in central Ohio, all fracturing families and futures, as justice is sought for an Iraqi people who have sought peace for decades, and need our help.
Whatever the outcome, and however one wishes the push to armed confrontation had been handled, we are still looking for shalom. That ancient Hebrew concept, rooted in the Semitic heritage of the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates, points us to our need to include the wholeness of our community in any resolution.
The American Revolution was a time where armed conflict was a step on the way to shalom for the United States, but it took a president who knew his Old Testament well, George Washington (see his letter to the Touro Synagogue), to build shalom by bringing together not only Federalists and Whigs, but even Tory loyalists and oldline Patriots into the developing republic.
Communities of faith still have a role today in bridging the gap between individual independence so treasured by Americans, and the wholeness of creative interdependence that truly makes our national ideals a lived reality. We need to bring some "shalom" to the Fourth of July picnic!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; healing and peacemaking stories alike are welcome at
Out Of Order Alert!!!
[that's out of publishing order, actually; watch the date after the column header, but normally these go up in order that they're published on wood pulp - jbg]

Faith Works 6-25-05
Jeff Gill

Insuring Good Pastoral Leadership

Did you know that General Motors spends more per car on health insurance for employees than it does on steel?

OK, you answer, I didn’t know that and it’s an interesting but disturbing fact, illustrative of modern economic trends. But I turned to the "Your Faith" page today to read the "Faith Works" column, not "Business Round-Up."

And so you did. I’m telling you this because many denominations are finding it harder and harder to insure their clergy, let alone other full-time employees, which leaves congregations and local faith communities of all sorts scrambling. How do we properly provide for our pastors, preachers, staff of all sorts?

Small business owners and managers have been dealing with the premium increase spiral for years, but most church boards or budget committees have been either sheltered from the chill winds of reality or left thinking someone else was covering the question. Fewer options and skyrocketing costs whether self-insured or through a large company have started to wreak havoc with public entities like school systems (most of the large ones like Columbus are self-insured, with their own pool of funds set aside for paying out claims) and not-for-profits.

Church groups have, as a whole, tended to keep the playing field even across their participants, with everyone paying the same rate regardless of age, part of the country, or specific circumstances.

But even the Catholic Church or United Methodists, who have very large pools to work with to balance payment in to costs going out, are finding it increasingly burdensome to maintain coverage without starting to cut into other programs.

More "free church" traditions have long left it up to individuals to buy individual coverage, but even loosely organized denominations have tried to offer a group insurance plan that can be paid for by the employing body (you have to pay taxes on money given you to buy individual coverage, which makes the apparent savings of individual coverage much less), and group insurance can go across state and regional boundaries. Clergy who may want to hold onto the flexibility of relocation later in their career are often unwilling to get a modest savings in cost in exchange for possibly tying themselves to one state for the rest of their career.

My own ordaining body, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is now having to ask for $14,000 for the highest deductible family plan: almost half the average salary and housing allowance paid across the denomination. You can get your own coverage for around $9,000, but since you pay taxes on that money (individual vs. group), we’re looking at $12,000 and less or no portability.

And it doesn’t matter, because the agency of the church that manages the group plan for the church is still losing $3 million a year, and says they will bail out at year’s end, leaving anyone on that plan to scramble for coverage, unless they are authorized to make drastic and equally painful changes to how the plan is offered.

That’s one modestly sized church body in the US. Your group, I can assure you, is facing equally hard choices of one sort or another.

One result of this trend has been two quiet but widespread developments: an increase in bivocational or what’s known as "tentmaking" ministries, where the pastoral leadership is part-time and works a secular job which carries benefits. If you weren’t clever enough to anticipate all this and marry someone with a benefits package (insert irony here), that may be your best option.

The other development is a sharp increase in ordained clergy leaving full-time ministry, working in other fields altogether and fitting in church work like everyone else does, as time allows.

For churches accustomed to full-time, ordained clergy, it used to be that you had to have at least 50 or so average worship attendance to have your own minister. When I started seminary in the mid-80’s, it was said to be 75, then 100, then... Now we’re looking at about 150, all because of insurance costs.

How is your church caring for your leadership at the size you are now, and with the expectations you have of ministry? The time for conversation is past, and action is needed.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he and the Little Guy are on his wife’s insurance. If your faith community has an innovative solution, tell him at
Notes From My Knapsack 7-03-05
Jeff Gill

You will likely fly the flag this weekend, or at least see one going by. Old Glory, the Star Spangled Banner, the Stars and Stripes, the Flag of the United States of America. Whatever name you call it, the banner of the republic evokes strong feelings, especially around the Glorious Fourth.
I had the pleasure and privilege to teach flag folding and (of course) a little history to Cub Scouts at Cub Scout Day Camp a few weeks ago. Ric and Angie Eader put in amazing hours, for no pay, to assemble and run a program that sees almost 300 six through ten year old boys for four days (plus an older Cubs’ overnighter) pass through Camp Falling Rock out past Rocky Fork. Some thirty volunteers staffed stations, and a total th rough the week of 150 and more parents and grandparents as den leaders and walkers covered the truly rugged acres of up and down terrain.
And that doesn’t even count the dozens of "sibling camp" boys and girls who came when their folks were doing den duty.
Anyhow, I had the chance to share with around 500 Licking Countians proper treatment of the national emblem. Not that all of them didn’t know this stuff: they are Scouts, mostly. But they got a chance to practice what many adults never master.
You see, the US flag is folded like no other flag in the world. The final form is a triangle akin to a colonial cocked hat, a tricorn like the Valley Forge Continental Army wore in 1777 just after the thirteen stripe, thirteen star flag was approved by Congress in June of that year.
There are odd stories circulating on the internet about the "true meaning of each fold," which is just a quaint legend created long after we’d been folding the flag that way. But it is absolutely true that our level of flag etiquette and respect is different in this country.
The key is in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, which is "to the republic, for which it stands." We do not swear an oath to the Crown, or put a Queen on all our coinage like those nice Canadians do, let alone our British cousins. A person does not represent this land, so we don’t enlist by the name of the President or Congress. We don’t swear on the land, to a place like the District of Columbia or by a Fatherland or Motherland. The states have changed in num ber and shape over and over for two centuries and more.
So the Flag of the United States of America is a symbol of freedom and democracy as other places see a monarch or geography as the emblem of their national ideals. The Flag represents the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, our elective officials, our judiciary, and executive officers, our military and astronauts and park rangers.
The Flag is Us.
Which is why we taught kids to fold the flag correctly, raise it smartly in the morning, an d respectfully in the evening, and salute it to hat or heart as appropriate as it passes by.
You’ll be somewhere this Fourth of July weekend and see the flag in a parade. Stand when it approaches, and salute as it goes by, with most hats coming off and mo st of us with a simple hand over the heart.
When you salute the flag, you affirm that "we do not bow the knee before kings and princes" or take "oaths of tyranny" let alone swear by the ground we walk on, all concepts rejected in our nation’s founding. W e salute the flag because we know that a simple piece of cloth made from various strips and symbols of "a new constellation in the heavens" is enough. It is all we need to represent the values of a land where anyone can afford to own a flag of their own a nd fly it off of a porch in the country, no less than the occupant of the White House or a mansion downtown.
We salute simplicity and basic principles, not every policy initiative from the government or each choice made in the expansion of the states to t he Pacific. No gold or jewels, no hero even holding the staff is needed. We just salute the flag, and the democratic republic "for which it stands," and for which we should stand, too.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you see the flag respected in a newly meaningful way this weekend, tell him through