Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holiday Greetings to All!

Posting will be consistently well ahead of publication through these next few weeks, so if you're looking here for columns out of the Newark Advocate (Faith Works on Saturdays) or Community Booster (Notes From My Knapsack), watch the dates marked after the header, which should be the pub date for that piece.

And this is where my text goes for archiving; what the Gannett Corp. chooses to actually print is their affair, so don't assume that what you read or heard about from the wood pulp product is what you see pixellated here!

Et in terra pax,

Monday, December 19, 2005

Faith Works 12-24-05
Jeff Gill

Christmas Season Begins!

Now we will hear no more -- for eleven more months, at least -- about the debate over whether or not to say "Merry Christmas."
Major retail chains have wrestled with how to instruct their sales staff, fearful of insulting the non-observant or the fervent, let alone upsetting the other faith groups with special days this time of year.
For the Christian community, the challenge now begins to actually get our own traditions right, and begin, not end the commemoration of Jesus' birth with Dec. 25.
Advent is what just concluded for major portions of Christendom, or Double Shifts in the dominant belief system of Retail Consumerism. With the day itself, two Sundays worth or others might say with Twelve Days of Christmas the season should start to make Christmas a -- dare I say it? -- Christian event.
Myself, I'm happy to wish indiscriminate groups I'm around a "Happy Holidays" or receive the same with my change (more likely, an unreadable receipt). What is the grounds for real worthwhile conflict is not how little shopkeepers support ritual practices, but how churches too easily join the mercantile calendar and strip the decorations with St. Stephen's day (y'know, when Good King Wenceslas walked out, Dec. 26).
In fact, our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters, commonly known as the Orthodox of whatever national tradition, whether Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, etc., actually begin their twelve days on Jan. 6 itself. Epiphany, or literally "the unveiling" of who the Child is to the Three Kings, can be the close of Christmastide for many, but it's just the start for some. That's when those onion-domed churches really start hopping, not just for Greekfest on Labor Day.
My hope and prayer for Christians of all types and perspectives is that next year we look to faithfulness to the fullness of our own traditions, and worry less about how to get others to honor them for us out of sequence.
Otherwise, next thing you know, Christian groups might start noticing that Mardi Gras once had something to do with . . . anyhow, Merry Christmas from my family to yours, and however you mark the season of light increasing and everlasting, I welcome your good hopes however phrased!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him this new year ahead through
Notes From My Knapsack 12-25-05
Jeff Gill

Best Christmas Ever!

So goes the cry from my Little Guy. When you count your years in single digits, each new Christmas bears the very real chance that it will be, indeed, the "best Christmas ever."
You may scoff, from the advantage of more decades under your belt, or with the benefit of historical perspective. For some, the best Christmas is always one in the past. Or is it, really?
The 1950’s have a certain pre-60’s glow about them, with the suburbs still a dream cherished and the establishment a goal to reach, not a cause to protest. On the other hand, before the advent of Medicare with the Great Society and indexed pensions, passing 65 was almost a guarantee of entering poverty, not your golden years, so grandmother’s smile might have been a bit forced. Or if you were lucky, dependence on your children, so smile anyhow.
We can skip the 30’s, other than in "A Christmas Story" and the Coca-Cola Santa in magazine ads, but the 1890’s are evoked in many Christmas cards, with crank phones rather than crank calls, wooden trains as the big ticket toy, and the stray atmospheric oil lamp. A good era to truly feel the joy of the season.
But you also had young industrial America averaging one death per year per factory in the 1890’s, child labor common even beyond backbreaking farm labor done by a majority of our citizens, typhoid and cholera still ravaging cities and countryside alike, and with stables to muck each evening out back who could be surprised?
Reach back for an even simpler time, then, before the Civil War to the halcyon 1840’s of the actual Currier & Ives, with sleighs and covered bridges as much a part of the everyday as gas stations and highway overpasses today. Do you imagine living in that period?
Which was also a time when perhaps a third of the nation’s humanity was in outright slavery, bondservants, or indentured servitude. Many more were free, but not much better off as hired hands on the properties of their betters from the Hudson River valley to the harsh frontier pushing past the Missouri, where Native Americans were treated little better than slaves.
OK, but what about those self-reliant days hazed by woodsmoke and pine boughs, with the first European settlers and Christmastide? Well, aside from the already noted antipathy the Plymouth 1620 crowd had to Yuletide gaiety, half their numbers died the first winter; the older settlement down the coast in Virginia called after the Virgin Queen’s heir James saw something like nine in ten die their first winter, Christmas celebrations or not. Spend December in Jamestown and you’re working long odds against.
Jump the pond then, and go back to the Old World, where so many of our seasonal traditions come from that medieval background of Normans and Saxons and Celts. Good songs they had, all the better to drown out mortality in one’s 30’s, likely less for a child bearing woman, a bit older but with no teeth for the one in a thousand who lived not in thatched huts as serfs but in the cold, damp, drafty keep o’ the castle as nobility. On the other hand, you got the good musicians coming to your table for meat less rotten than most.
And there’s the last step back to the First Christmas, in the little town of Bethlehem, part of captive Israel. Three kings add a certain cachet to the scene, but recall the maniacal servile king they checked in with; Herod, the false worshiper and later baby killer. His Roman bosses had armed troops on most street corners, and where they weren’t, their tax collectors were. And for such a military presence, there was enough civil unrest to make the road from Jericho to Jerusalem notoriously unsafe. Do you wish for an hour walking about unescorted in that time and place?
No, the children may be more on target than they, or we know. This could truly be the best Christmas ever. Enjoy it with those you love, and help someone you don’t know enjoy it too, and you’ll prove the Little Guy right.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your best Christmas ever: