Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Faith Works 12-9-06
Jeff Gill

Hospitality is Hard Work

Most religious traditions see hospitality as a gift, a talent that noteveryone has.

Martha and Mary had it between them in the Christian Gospels. Islam hasa strong tradition going back to Abraham and Bedouin culture ofwelcoming the guest, even the stranger. Judaism sets out an empty chairfor Elijah if he makes it to the Passover meal with your family, but theunexpected guest has a claim on that seat.

Certainly the season of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem, aplace where they have family history, but no living roots, makes usthink about the ones who have no place to stay in our own community,wherever they come from and wherever they are journeying. The Letter tothe Hebrews hints that "some have entertained angels unawares," and thatspirit is lively among Christians and many others that sees thesojourner as a vehicle for God's grace.

Not necessarily for them, but for us. Being a "pilgrim people" has atheme familiar to most faith traditions, but generally those who aredispossessed and lost in this world's deserts are victims of sin andbrokenness. God does not want anyone to be lost, but we have a chance toembody God's love in the encounter with those who are cast aside.

How do we react? Do we turn aside, sneer in contempt, snarl in anger atthese reminders of how fragile comfort and security are, let alone life?Wanting to turn away from the indigent and homeless isn't surprising,seeing how we tend to make use of nursing homes and hospitals to keepage and illness on the edge of life and at least a long corridor orelevator ride away from everyday life.

Or do we see our brother and sister in those folk, and try to find a wayto help without enabling, assist without condescending? Like our ownpossible sibling, who needs a little help, but just like that brother orcousin or grandchild (you've got one, I know) they don't really want tolisten to advice or guidance right off from you, you who have "gottenall the breaks." When family members don't graciously accept help, youcan imagine the task of helping, caring, assisting, has a ragged side toit.

Hospitality is a gift. Not everyone has it, nor every community. Somepeople can take a can of mushroom soup and the bottom of the wilteddrawer in the fridge and make a houseful feel at home without fuss, andsome of us can't make guests feel comfortable even with a caterer tohelp.

Our town now has dredged up a little reputation, desirable to some, ofbeing inhospitable. We've become too welcoming, is the observation, witha reaction trotting through the legislative process right now.

Many of you know I have some horses in this derby, and know which whitehorse I'd rather ride on. But my Boss rides a donkey, and reminds me,especially this time of year, that it isn't about winning or losing.(See also Ephesians 6:12.)

What does seem worth pointing out, in the context of this column, is aradical observation that I hope you'll reflect on. I mean this calmly,but with absolute grim concern. If we start legislating undesireables around the mapboard in the Game ofLife, then churches are next.

Right before I moved to Licking County in 1989, I worked with a newchurch start effort outside of Indianapolis. The denomination bought,market price, a useful intersection's worth of acres, and filed with thetownship for the permits to build a place of worship.

It took fifteen months of negotiations to get the permits, and only atthe cost of promising not to give out any food, host foster care agencyprograms, or offer any feeding programs of any sort at all, even forsenior citizens. Oh, and no weekday child care.Some of us started to wonder if we really wanted to build a church underall those restrictions. At least we got permission for a preschool inthe end.

That trend, which was news to me in 1989, is now quite widespread. Usezoning and other legal devices to make sure that churches only do whatthe secular world thinks they're supposed to do, which is do your sillylittle worship thing on Sunday, have choir practice during the week, gohome, shut up, and pay taxes.

So when I say - Churches are next - I really mean it. If you can't stopus religious people from feeding and housing and rehabilitating andtraining and 12-stepping and educating people who don't quite lookright, why not zone them out to the city's edge?

Wait, they're trying that one in Texas and California.

Or we can just go along with the idea that we're just for Sunday and anhour (or two, for the charismatics), and keep the doors shut for theweek.But what's to be done with those who have the gift of hospitality? Guess they'll have to learn to keep that light under a bushel, too.

I'll try to be more cheerful next week approaching Christmas. Maybe. But remember: Churches are next.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around centralOhio; he's also the current board president for the Licking CountyCoalition for Housing (donations can be made at him what you want for Christmas at

Thursday, November 30, 2006

If you are looking here for the seven scenes of Licking County, running from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year's in the Community Booster, just scroll down a bit -- they're posted there together.

Peace & Grace,
Faith Works 12-2-06
Jeff Gill

What Lasts Forever?

Diamonds, of course, are forever, as James Bond and the DeBeers family and Botswanan miners all know.
Scientifically, let alone theologically, that’s not quite right: they’re only about a billion years old at best in their current carbon lattice formation, and the super hard material (10 on the Moh scale, to all you geologists) will not survive the rapid expansion of the sun in 5 to 6 billion years.

So not forever.

They are well known parts of the holiday season, since engagements are common in the Midwest during Christmas break, for a variety of reasons that have to do with gift-giving, having the family together, and colleges out of session.

Even non-collegiate folk have picked up on the growing tradition, making December a leading period for jewelers along with retailers and discounters. If you watch TV, you already knew that.

Ushering in the holiday season, we all got to see Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wedding pictures along with the family photos passed around the Thanksgiving table. As garnish, a cheery newspaper story from new government data: 4 in 10 babies were born out of wedlock last year.

And the trend is only likely to increase in the near future, since these aren’t teen unmarried mothers, whose birth rate went down to the lowest levels on record in the same year. Add the fact that abortions are declining as well, and you have a new social pattern at work.

Let me pull out my old fogey hat, and then spell this out in simple terms.What was once a standard social sequence of meet, then a) get to know each other, b) get engaged, c) married, and d) move in together, e) have sex, and f) have a baby. . .is now this –- meet, e) have sex, d) move in together, a) get to know each other, f) have a baby, b) get engaged, and then c) get married (maybe).

Before you point out that people have been sneaking e) in ahead of c) for some time in human history, let me offer my real point.The Sexual Revolution is one of those tags for an era that is so imbedded in the popular and media imagination that you can’t imagine changing it, but I’d sure like to try.

Don’t let the little ones keep reading past this point, but there was no Sexual Revolution. As a pastor, I’ve been talking to elderly people since the 70’s about their lives, struggles, triumphs, regrets, and hope for a future they won’t see themselves. And if I’ve learned anything from all that conversation, mostly casual and sometimes heartfelt, occasionally in spirit of confession, is that they did it. It. Yes, that. No, that too. Uh huh. Yeah, and anything else later generations like to think they uniquely discovered. They did that, too. (You can turn off your imagination and let it cool down now.)

Trust me just this far: there was no sexual revolution. We had a Marriage Revolution, and it is still going on. That label hides too much of the reality of what it is American society, and most churches (especially Christian denominations) are still struggling with it. Every time a sloppy connection to a so-called "Sexual Revolution" gets made, ask yourself how the whole news story or cultural reference would sound if they had said Marriage Revolution?

Yes, from the 60’s forward we’ve had a new openness to nudity and sexual references in popular culture, which qualifies as a Sexualized Revolution, but that’s a separate consideration, and will keep until after New Year’s.

Questions of The Pill and birth control? A Marriage Revolution. Hook-ups and cohabitation? A Marriage Revolution. Quantity and sequence of, um, partners? A Sexual Revolution? Nope, I think it is revolutionary only in the context of how we’re looking at marriage.

Suri Cruise’s parents are now married – and getting to know each other, perhaps? – and Britney and K-Fed’s two aren’t, while their step-siblings never were, and fiancĂ©s are often introduced as the parent of their children. This is the elephant in the living room, or sanctuary, of many churches today. Do we talk about the Marriage Revolution that we’re all enlisted into during this time of year, or just shake our heads about the wacky doings of Paris Hilton as easier (and safer) to bemoan?And personally, I just think you can’t call someone a fiancĂ© unless there’s a date set. Moving in together isn’t sufficient qualification.

But I could care less if you buy a diamond. My Lovely Wife got a peridot, in fact. It should be good for a couple billion years, anyhow. It’s only self-giving love that has a chance to last past the six billion mark.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been married long enough to know that toasters and blenders definitely don’t last forever. Tell him something revolutionary at

* * *

FaithWorks 11-25-06
Jeff Gill

With slow, irregular movements, he worked his left leg around to a better position. He had been up in this tree stand since Orion began to dip down to the western horizon.

That constellation was striding across the sky when hunters first crouched silently waiting for dinner in these woods. Thoughts like that were why he hunted, the opportunity to get out and away from all the noise and buzz and just, well, think thoughts. Even pray sometimes.He didn’t pray that God would send him a big buck; somehow, that felt wrong, like praying (which he knew he didn’t do with the regularity he ought) when the Browns were down by a touchdown. What he did feel coming up and out of him as a natural, effective prayer, was that he would be careful, that he would be safe.

And praying that no half-wit with a new shotgun would stumble his direction, either.These woods were full of deer; the challenge, he thought, was just not to scare enough of them off by accident. So he wore his blaze orange along with a full kit of camo, he had a rain barrel that sat out back for all the washing of his hunting kit, which was stored in a special bag that hung in the shed away from the house. He didn’t use special scents, which the gear stores were full of, he just worked at keeping his own scents to a minimum.

His homework through the year of tracing the paths through the leaves, watching the deer stroll by without a motion on his part, setting out a bit of salt, placing two tree stands, all came down to this week.

It really was a spiritual discipline for him, and he tried to use it as one, with time set aside for silence and reflection offered to God along with the hunter’s preparation routine. This very moment was a prayer of sorts, with God all around, and he trying not to distract his mind and spirit into the opposite direction.

No, you couldn’t hunt God, but he also had come to the realization over the years, and a few bucks of his own, that you can’t capture this moment with a gunshot, either. When everything comes together, you already know that the end result will call on him to do the hard work of hanging up, bleeding out, and carrying away, the check station and the butchering and the packing away of the venison. There is an intersection of the preparation before and the intention to follow of which the right shot at the right time is only a part.

Whatever the deer’s role in all this was from God’s point of view he wasn’t sure. What he was sure of was that God definitely didn’t honor the wasteful and cruel dropping of a deer and leaving the carcass to rot in the woods; and God surely didn’t honor the carnage along the highway of roadkill, either.

If the deer was used well and not shot just as living target practice, there was an integrity in the act that fed back to you. That’s as far as he’d figured it out, but he did know that God sure let them reproduce at crazy rates, and it was hunting, disease, or roadkill for most of them. His freezer was full from bow season already. If he got a deer today, there was a food pantry his church worked with that would end up with the result.

Haze in the east was shimmering, barely at the level of starlight but stretching across the sky opposite the exit of Orion the Hunter. He saw his breath, and thought "what an amazing thing that is," even as he worried about letting that plume show too well.

Crystals of frost, blossoming on branches just below his stand, almost grew fast enough for him to see them expand. How weird it is, he thought, that if this were going on right outside my window, and I was standing in a warm spot with a mug of coffee in my hand, I wouldn’t have the patience to stand still and witness this.

On that thought, he caught a blur of movement, a hop, and then slow, steady movement on four hooves, almost moving right at his perch. If they turned left, he wouldn’t need to shift the gun at all, just a lift and pull. If they turn right, the adjustment he had to make would certainly spook them right off into a trot.

There were three, and they paused, just out of what he considered his range. Muzzles prodding at downed logs, shifting brush, then starting upright, looking around, nearly looking at him. They are beautiful creatures, he thought. He was thankful for them as they were, and he would be thankful for one of them as food for the hungry, while the other two ran away. He would be thankful, as he was thankful right now for this moment.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Share your story of where you hear God with him at

* * *

Friday, November 17, 2006

Faith Works 11-18-06
Jeff Gill

Mythologies of the Holiday Season

With the finale of "Dancing With the Stars," are there any big, nationally anticipated sporting events left in 2006?
Oh, right. This afternoon.
For the majority of us (not all, I know) who will be watching the Apocalyptic Armageddon-ish Activity at 3:30 pm on television, The Game will be accompanied by The Ads.
Ohio State-Michigan isn’t the Super Bowl (this year, it may be bigger), so there aren’t the specially made advertising spots with megastar cameos and wild premises. What we do have in this High Holy Day for Buckeye fans (possibly, dare we hope, to be followed by High Holy Day, the sequel, in the BCS?) is the placement before both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Those two days, and their alcoholic cousin New Year’s Eve, make up "The Holidays." As in "Happy Holidays," "Holiday Greetings," "Best Wishes for the Holidays," or maybe "Season’s Greetings."
No, it isn’t my purpose to haggle over when the US was a more "Merry Christmas" nation or which retailers are training their staffs to say what. You’ll hear about that elsewhere this year. But the holiday season, or "The Holidays," have taken on a certain bulk rate atmosphere of their own, one that holds onto pieces of what they used to be, and smooshes in clumps of what some may ask of them.
Thanksgiving and Christmas oriented commercials used to frequently have a middle class home setting, get the grandparents and little kids together kind of feel. The paradigm is summed up by a coffee commerical so effective they bring it back some years, even with the fuzziness of old videotape. The thirty second plot is a young man back from college unexpectedly and early, whose little sibling is sweetly shushed, and who wakes up the sleeping family by brewing a big ol’ pot of java. Mom comes down the stairs wondering what the little ‘un got into, and goes from worry to delight to a hug, and the company logo.
More dominant today is "The Party" for "The Holidays." An assortment of cars, a snowy night, tasteful gifts or a bottle of wine under the arm. China on the table, surrounding a centerpiece that has the Martha seal of approval, napkin rings, and most flat surfaces have a floral arrangement in muted colors.
The bright colors come from the multicultural gathering, and the striking sweaters and waistcoats worn by the partygoers. Some ads show a largely youthful event, ethnically diverse, others a more society type gathering with few children and more grey hair, but still racially inclusive.
You can look at these developments from a number of angles. Certainly it is harder to show a family gathering with four or five distinct ethnicities present in the mix, although I know families in Licking County who would say from their own experience, "why not?" And it is surely good that older Americans can be seen in Thanksgiving and after ads without being the grandma in the kitchen smacking the hands of the turkey pickers (grandpas can still be shown as irascible and dumpily dressed, just like the 60’s, I see, and dads are still always idiots unless they’re purchasing diamonds).
What I wonder is whether this is a cause, or an effect? It could be an outgrowth of the fact that it is harder for family to get together for seasonal gatherings, sprawled across the continent as we are, making social events more the center of our holiday calendar (just try to find an Advent calendar outside of a religious bookstore).
Or it could be that retailers and advertising companies like the greater latitude that "The Party" motif gives to product placement and sales. They can point to the admitted social value of multiculturalism as the reason to shift away from family scenes to events assembled by invitation more than relation. My concern isn’t with ethnic diversity, but the idea that the heart of the season is in "elective affinities," who we choose to associate with as individuals instead of who we’re related to. I love holiday parties myself, but they’ve always seemed to me as if they are, and ought to be, secondary to family activities.
One argument against that concern is that there are people who have little or no family: do you want to exclude them from seasonal enjoyment? I could answer, in a cranky mood, that we who don’t have sleek, glossy, sophisticated friends who throw painfully tasteful parties are pretty excluded by the new ideal . . . and I’m guessing there are quite a few of us.
Another way to ask the question is: are the ads just following where society is already going, or is the business getting out ahead of us, trying to lead us in a new direction?
And if the latter, should we go?
Something to think about as you watch the ads during The Game this afternoon, kicking off The Holidays.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him your opinions about the ads o’ the season through
This is a little unusual -- i am putting up here the next *seven* "Notes From My Knapsack" columns through Dec. 31 for the Community Booster, since they are meant as a series of "Winter Scenes, Licking County," starting with 11,000 years ago or so, and the last one set somewhere in the neighborhood of right now. I'll keep dragging this series to the top even as i keep adding each new week's "FaithWorks" column that goes Saturdays in the Advocate. These stories are based on what we know historically and archaeologically, but mostly on what i imagine in the cracks and seams running through the heart of what we know. I hope you enjoy them!

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 11-19-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part One

They had trudged step by step through the frost-clumped grass, thawing a bit during the height of the sun in the grey sky.
From the wide waters and marshes running south, their path climbed up and then back down into a wider valley, where the waters tending toward the rising sun.
The hunting across the wide waters had been sparse, with little cover or slack water for the game animals their hurling stones and spears best brought down. These ponds and gravely swales were growing up in high sedges and grasses, and fringes of cedar showed green around black still pools.
With the long spear in hand, the strongest of the family walked far ahead of the group, who drug their poles and bundles in a tight, ready to defend mass. They had seen no other people for weeks, but there were big cats and bears with swift reflexes that could suddenly appear from behind a blunt hill.
When it happened, it was a sudden and unexpected event of a good sort, too rare, he thought. A mastodon nearly twice his height, looking away from him while grazing at water’s edge, the breeze into his face and away from the creature’s trunk.
A quick hand signal, instantly understood, to the party behind him freezing them into stillness; a zig-zag forward to a carefully chosen position with room left for fast retreat; a rush forward and a thrust behind the ear, deep into the head.
The great tusks never even swung back in reaction, just a vast exhalation and a shuddering slump to the ground, front knees, almost to the back ones, and then an earth shaking thud to one side.
Another stone knife from his pouch was in his hand before the fur had ruffled to a stillness, and with a wary eye, almost not looking, a careful slash across the neck and a leap backwards.
With no further motion from the dead beast, he stepped back into the huddled embrace of the forelegs, and cupped his hands beneath the slowing flow of blood. A lifted motion to the sky, and then he drank reverently, tasting warmth and life flowing from the hunted to the hunter.
All the rest came up quickly and set to their tasks, familiar with elk and moose, but with broader motions and more effort on this immense carcass. Some to the hide, others began removing more tender accessible cuts of meat as they were revealed. The liver was pried out of place beneath the first ribs lifted up, and slices were shared around for quick energy to the remaining tasks.
One such task was a decision, not greeted happily by all, but accepted. Their bags were still heavy with dried meat from the plains west of the wide waters, and nuts were stuffed everywhere they could go. The major portions of this kill would be cut into moveable, retrievable parts, with a few savory roasts put to cook and be carried where best for travel, in their bellies.
As the feasting went on, the portions would be weighted and sunk in the deep, cold waters of the nearby pond. If the hunt to the east did not go well, if they journeyed even north to where the ice still stood tall on the land, but game animals did not choose to let themselves become theirs, then they could return to this place in the spring, and know there was yet hope. A scraping here and there, and the solid meat below could be eaten without much illness after hard roasting. Then they would all gain even more strength from this animal’s gift, and then return west to the wider plains, more welcoming in the long days than in the time of snow and wind.
Last of all, after camp was broken, the poles and bundles packed, the wide, tusked skull was sunk atop the cache of meat, watching for their return and perhaps, if willing, to warn off interlopers. Eyes closed to this world, but tusks bending toward them as they saw the whole disappear below the water’s surface, even now catching the first flakes of snow.
That duty done, they gathered themselves into journeying order, and set of to the east, towards the rising sun. They would not pass this way again.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he had the honor of being involved in the recovery and study of the Burning Tree Mastodon in 1989. Tell him what you think as these seven winter scenes of Licking County unfold to

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 11-26-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Two, 2000 years ago

With the setting sun, basket loads after basket load of earth had settled down into place on the steeper slope of the mound.
Green tufts touched with brown fringed the circle ringing a now high circle. Twice her height at the center, she thought, with another layer of building, working, burning, and burying.
They still sing the songs of the Bear-talker, laid deep within the heart of the family mound. So many generations ago, no one recalls even whether the first singer was a man or woman, just the seer of seasons and wearer of the heavy brown hide. From that bear mask came the words of direction and guidance, still among them, but the earlier voice growing old and cracked, then suddenly younger and higher after the log tomb was set deep in the earth, and the first house of song was built and used and set aflame to conclude the singing.
Now this place of regular return was raised high above the surrounding terrace overlooking the rivers. Long house after long house had taken shape, sheltered the sacred ceremonies, and been lit from their own fire within, until the cool ashes could receive a new coating of turf.
Three cycles of the Moon’s full measure along the eastern horizon had passed since then, long before any living memory, but the People still recalled Bear-talker and the songs of this confluence.
She walked the now well-worn path down to the meeting of rivers where the right clay could be clawed, assisted by deer horn picks, from the banks. Dozens more trips in company with many dozens of sisters and brothers would be needed to close the work, but tomorrow would see the last singing. Their return would come at the same time as a shroud of yellow green covered this latest working on the family mound.
One of the new singers was walking a path pounded round and about the sharp cone of the earthen mound. There had been talk of some clans ringing their family burial mounds with an encircling wall of soil, one opening only to the warmth of spring’s sun. She suspected that a path about the mound was being danced and sung into a foundation for such a shape made of earth, and that their baskets and deer bone hoes and antler picks would be at work on another task if the snows held off.
This year’s harvest in the gardens had been rich and full, so if the singers told them to join a new working to honor this mound, they would all happily join in. The ring of wooden posts, set in a circle back on the plain above the meeting of the rivers, marked a series of spots along the eastern hills that foretold the return of warmth and longer days, promised each year after the celebrations and songs were offered up.
Reaching the clay bank, she quickly began to chip slabs of the malleable earth into her basket. Are there to be yet more shapes on this cradled plain, beyond the mounds and protective circles they had already built? Larger circles, squares, ovals, octagons?
Others it would be to make such a choice, but many there were who would honor the urging, since the People had gained so much in seeds and food and preserved supplies, ground and dried. With this surplus had come measurers, and distributors, and watchkeepers; among them came the shaman leaders and sacred architects.
If they asked for shapes and signs to be written across the landscape, then all would join to complete the work, pivoting on the anchor point of Bear-talker’s mound. Many generations might see their work, and sing their songs, to the rhythm of steady feet along the paths of construction.
So did the Sun pivot down to the darkness, and echoed by the Moon swinging easily into the sky above the growing earthworks.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to these scenes through

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-3-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Three, 1500 years ago

It was time to head west, toward the setting sun. All the game worth hunting had led the way, and even most of the plants were shriveled and bent to the west as well, silently saying "look to where I grow now, not where I have been found in the past."
The growth of numbers among the villages of the People, a long drought, and a restlessness that defied easy explanation, all combined to bring about a wide agreement: we shall move to the west. The years of these valleys have ended, and our time in the well watered valley of the Great Father of Waters is coming. This is what nearly all believed, and many had acted on.
They stood, the two of them, on a high ridge with a wide view of the expanse that spread to the hills beyond, a level space below inscribed with shapes well known to them from years of ceremony, and gently rounded at each corner with age. To their right, invisible in the growing darkness below, was the Long Road, guarding in two parallel walls the pilgrimage path, echoed the angled course of the greater White Way path in the skies above. Now they would walk a longer path, but without ancient walls to guide them.
No more would they carefully fire with torches these ridgetops, when the soft breezes from the south agreed with all the intruding signs of woody plants and strange weeds saying "Set us aflame now, set free the long grasses." In days to come, far from their inscribed prairie and familiar eastern horizon, they could but guess at the Small Cycle and Great Cycle in the moon’s migrations. Their travels would be guided by the sun, and those movements, simpler and more understandable in a strange land, could give them some brief solace.
Crops may yet grow each season, but the thinning of bad fruit and the careful harvesting of the strong would be done by the animals at browse and the wind’s whimsy, not their own hands.
And the mounds of their ancestors would climb no further to the sky; in fact, they would settle and soften into rounder forms.
These were the worries that kept a significant number of the People in this now dusty valley, but the need to find food and return to the camps of their kindred overcame the ties to place and scene.
Could they begin again, or would their children, setting a first chamber in the earth, and raising year by year or generation by generation the layers of homegoing moundbulding? How many generations worth, how many Great Cycles of the Moon would it take to lift their new family resting places as high as these?
A doe dashed past them, unseeing their stillness and running through their upwind side. She was not right for culling, and no weapons were at hand, but she was a sign more than possible meal. She ran due west, straight into the eye of the setting sun, in the direction they knew they must go.
Were they the last to depart? A few sheltering clans were to the north in the bog lands, hunting birds fattened for their own migration, and so also were a few looking for a last kill near the salt licks, at the high marshy valley to the south.
But the valley below them was dark, a strange sight when fires fringing the great ceremonial enclosure had long been a nearly year-round scene.
All the light was now to the west, dimming in the sunset, but still quivering with promise through the bands of high cloud. It was to that light they turned, and walked even more quickly away from where their ancestors had lived and built and reflected on the skies, for time out of mind.
They left only their ancestral mounds and earthworks behind, and the memory of those they left buried there carried easily with them.
As they walked into the dusk before them, behind, unseen, the moon rose in the northwest, and followed them on their way. In fact, the moon would soon go before them.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to the scenes of Licking County long ago through

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-10-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Four, 234 years ago

There was a path up the ridge as they plodded east, which surprised Chaplain Jones. The Shawnee guide Duncan had engaged back at their town (Chwlagatha, he thought it was called) told them, in his easy French and broken English, that the valleys beyond the heights east of the Scioto were empty. Rarely hunted, and lived in by none.
When he had been asking about the rough maps of areas beyond Goshagunk, White Woman’s town, in the taverns around Fort Pitt, they said only Christopher Gist had been through that area some twenty years ago and more. When Col. Bouquet had closed the chapter that was Pontiac’s Rebellion, and asked for the captives first promised to Croghan at the Fort Quiatenon negotiations, he made his show of force on the edge of this territory.
But the captives, many who returned unwillingly (and escaped on the road back to Fort Pitt), were handed over by Mingo and Delaware and Wyandot from villages to the north and south. This territory between the Scioto and Goshagunk’s Muskingum Rivers had no stories among the returnees, and little marked on the maps.
David Jones had long felt the pull of the places on the maps where there were no marks. His Baptist congregation in Freehold, New Jersey had raised him up as a preacher in their dissenting tradition, a strong voice among the Presbyterians that surrounded them.
Governor Franklin spoke often of the rich lands to the west of the Alleghenies, and while Rev. Jones knew he thought they were good lands for those he wanted out of his colony, might it not be good for them to move and make an early claim?
There were few in the Freehold Baptist community who were eager to pioneer beyond the Ohio, but they were willing to stake their pastor for a season of missionary work among the Indians, and perhaps to scout out a land of promise. It could come to that.
With a small hop to shift the heavy packs, they came across the ridge to the path, thin but visible, that steeply sidled down the far side. Duncan was farther ahead, chatting in simple Shawnee with their guide.
As he picked his way down the slope, Jones reflected that some God has gifted in certain ways, and others are called in directions they must go. Hours and hours in the Miami and Scioto valley campsites he had struggled to learn a few words of the native tongues, and Duncan appeared to pick up their speech by absorption, just with a few words said and the response was on his tongue without thought.
He would always have to think carefully about each word, Jones acknowledged to himself, and to God. And that meant he might be a fine preacher to his own people, but he would never be a missionary to these tribes. So much for that part of his calling.
The other commission he saw fulfilled all around him. These lands, less settled for whatever reason, could quickly open up to farming and trade. Hardy and adventurous people would find a good living in these level terraces above the wide, winding rivers and soft ridges east and west.
No, the Freehold Baptist Church would not come as a group. He had realized back at Fort Pitt, and as they floated down to Fort Washington and Losantiville, that few of those in New Jersey would welcome this life. But there were still, almost every month, Welsh brothers who came to this land who were looking for something more than apprenticeship or hiring out in others’ farms. They might want to come here, and build a church of their own.
He was ready to go home himself. This frontier life was more to his taste than most, but only in measured doses. He would return, he was sure, but he wanted to get back to Freehold.
Gov. Franklin’s father, Benjamin, and others were writing and speaking of freedom for all in the colonies, from the Atlantic coasts of New Jersey to this nameless valley and beyond to the Mississippi. Rev. Jones wanted to see this "father of waters," but not on this trip. He was heading home, but as he looked around at the hills sheltering around him, he could almost imagine those who would find their home here. And he would lead them.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to the scenes of Licking County long ago through

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-17-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Five, 1801

Stadden lifted his rifle quickly to his shoulder, and then slowly swung it down again.
He had seen dozens of fat deer, and not a few plump turkeys, easily trotting by him while he swung an axe, closer to the cabin on the Licking River. He and Ratliff and Hughes had staked out different ends of the "bowling green," the broad flat opening below where the three rivers of the neighborhood came together into what the local Indians called the "Lick-licking." Hughes scowled whenever they came near, muttering about his father’s death back in Virginia up the Monongahela, and kept his hand near his belted knife.
Stadden saw no harm in those he had spoken to, though his hand to knife or gun would have been as fast, or even quicker, than the more impulsive Hughes, if there was any real threat.
Now he was working along the banks of the south fork, well above the confluence, miles from home, and he had seen no deer for hours.
Soon Baby Jesus would have been born eighteen hundred and one years ago, and while they saw little enough of preachers, his wife would like a good dinner and a special few days of rest with this year’s end. He was intent to find more than a young stringy buck or a few geese for the table.
Stadden had been working his way along from stand to stand of tall, nut-rich timber where he could circle in close, the wind in his face and away from his dinner.
Each, in turn, was unaccountably empty of deer. It was getting too late in the afternoon to bleed out a kill and carry it back to the encampment, and he may just have to hope for a wild turkey along the way.
Then he saw a movement up the banks, along the edge of the second terrace, where the river’s valley ended and the wooded plain stretched back to the hills. Side stepping up the bank, watchful for sticks and large dry sycamore leaves that could make his step a sound, he came to the brink, edging his hat and one eye over the verge. There stood a cluster of deer as fine as he could want – oh, Stadden thought, if I could fire just two shots one after another, without having to reload down that long, long muzzle.
Ducking back down, he slid back along the slope, to come up at a better angle to the herd, maybe even giving him a chance to take that second shot, if he could reload fast enough. Looking over again, he saw they had not spooked, but just started a slow, measured trot away from him as a group. Hunched and trotting himself, he began to shadow the herd; he felt like a wolf on the hunt, almost on all fours himself.
Then he looked up, and stood up, startled. They had disappeared, completely. The deer had been working upslope to a small, broad hill, but then were gone. Cautiously, watching the ground which was solid underfoot, and the trees which spread high above, Stadden kept on walking silently, now upright, to the hill’s edge, and stopped.
He had seen mounds throughout the district, but nothing like this. He stood in a gateway, a mouth open wide, where the hill revealed itself to be a vast, high wall, a moat within at the wall’s foot, and curving left and right, disappearing into the distance.
Just before him was the herd of deer, cropping the level space not far within the unexpected enclosure. One looked up at him incuriously, and went back to feeding.
He could have dropped one, two, even three by staying in the gateway and reloading in place, the deer trapped within. Or protected. It felt like that, somehow.
So he did not fire. He stood with them, and stared, and drank in this mysterious sight. Then Stadden turned and headed home.
Not a half-mile from the bowling green he dropped a twelve point buck who stepped right into his path and dared him to shoot. He did, and the sound called out the others who came and helped him with the cleaning out as darkness fell. The preparing and cooking went so quickly that he did not think to tell his wife about what he had seen until the next morning.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to the scenes of Licking County long ago through

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-24-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Six, 1860

Civil War, they said. Odd to think that even Americans could fight brother against brother, as they had 200 years before in England. Was Abraham Lincoln another Oliver Cromwell, or more King Charles the First?
Mrs. Dille walked quickly along the sidewalk bordering Courthouse Square, her basket weighing down one arm held out to the side, so she could watch for knotholes in the planks. Since she moved to Newark ten years ago with her once widower husband, she privately thought of mud as the defining characteristic downtown, but would never say so to Mr. Dille.
She knew full well, from frequent retellings around the fireplace at home, how muddy and malarial the heart of the city had been, and how much work he had put into beautifying the space between the frame building and the busy roads on four sides.
These "botanical gardens," as he called them, were raised with many wagon loads of fill, and dotted with strong young saplings sent as cuttings through the post from his many correspondents in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington.
Washington. Few conversations anywhere, let alone in Newark, did not touch on the recent elections and the remarkable victory for Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. Remarkable, that is, to everyone but Israel Dille, who had been assuring skeptical listeners for weeks that his candidate and not the Little Giant, Sen. Douglas, would be elected President of the United States.
Even decades after he had served as mayor, most still called him "Mayor Dille," or judge or even general, and while he had no current title, everyone knew that when it came to Ohio politics, and particularly the new Republican party, Israel Dille’s hand was on the levers that powered the locomotive.
Perhaps that was a poor image, given that they had lost years of savings in speculation on a rail line to Licking County. He had bounced back quickly, and their home east of the square, while not as grand as "Elmwood" north of town (soon to be subdivided as Hudson Avenue, they said), but was comfortable enough.
At least when it did not have three or four unexpected guests in it, which was rarely.
They had not the funds for live-in servants (or the space), so she had quietly slipped out to scour the markets for a few more items to fill out the next day’s menu. Having married into respectability, she still was pleasantly surprised by the graciousness of shopkeepers and merchants at such an hour.
She wondered sourly if they, too, hoped for a job in Washington from the new administration. Surely Mr. Dille, who had good reason to expect, let alone hope, would not move the family at this time. The girls just married, and young Willie at home (Mr. Lincoln had a son William, too, she had heard); though Will already spoke of joining the Army to put down any rebellion against the Union.
Some grim faced men in the parlor at home had spoken of armed resistance even to swearing in Mr. Lincoln, and that legislatures in slave states were even now considering seceding from the rest of the nation. Mr. Dille calmly discussed such things far into the night with bishops and senators, congressmen and cart drivers, any of which might be leaning against the mantlepiece when she returned to the house.
He had hinted to her of the possibility that the president-elect himself would be passing through by rail some night soon, and may be pausing at their house. The usual twinkle in his eye doubled at that thought, she could tell.
For his sake, she hoped so, but who knew how to entertain a president-elect? If Mr. Lincoln spoke from the train’s rear rail and then rode on to Zanesville and Wheeling, she would be content to see him and that be all. If he came to the house, she would not apologize for anything, but push aside the stacks of old newspapers and flint arrowheads and mastodon teeth, and simply say "Mr. Lincoln, would you have sugar in your tea?"
As she stepped onto her porch, she wondered as the knob turned: who would be their guests tonight?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to the scenes of Licking County long ago through

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-31-06
Jeff Gill

Winter Scenes, Licking County – Part Seven

Harry was his name to many, and he answered to it, but his own name was a secret that few knew, and none nearby.
Twelve years and more he had lived in this area, first as a farmhand up from the Ohio River, and then . . . well, then an assortment of things. Nothing that ever lasted long, but that was as much his own restlessness than jobs coming to a close.
By now, he had lived in Licking County longer than he had anywhere else, though with less mark on the official records, little things like driver’s licenses, leases, a name.
He owned very little, but he was proud of owning no record of lawbreaking. Some of his acquaintances along the riverbanks would resort to a few acts of foolishness to seek out the warmth of the jail, but not Harry.
Once he had owned a bicycle, but after the tires went flat he left it leaning gently against a downtown dumpster. It had been handy enough, but his knees didn’t swing up and back as easily as they once did.
His chief possessions were a blue tarp he found blowing down Main Street one day, and a sleeping bag devoid of holes that a kind-faced young woman had given him one night. He had carried a blanket roll with a patchy, zipperless sleeping bag for years, until a conversation on a bench had ended with her return later that evening with the bag he now used.
She was a Denison student, and was working on a project of some sort, Harry thought. He hoped she got an A; that’s what he would have given her. It felt right to take it because he had helped her, so it wasn’t charity. The idea that he had helped someone get a college degree amused him greatly.
Between the odd jobs, the stray work here and there, and canned goods from the Family Dollar, he was content. There was a clinic, they said, on down along the river bank and up the way by the old Children’s Home, but he hadn’t been there yet. If his foot started hurting real bad again, he might go.
For now, he had a camp down among the out-thrust tree roots, well above the water but far below where decent citizens (what his father would have called them) might stumble on him washing up or cooking or just sitting and watching the ripples.
With the rising of a slivered, silvered moon (last quarter, he thought, feeling in his pocket for the Old Farmer’s Almanac that was his annual extravagance), the ripples were clear even after darkness was solid and set.
Not far behind him was where the B&O Roundhouse used to be, and further upstream the old Wehrle ironworks; nearby the stones only he and few others knew were part of the long-gone Ohio & Erie Canal, pacing the Licking River on down past Hanover to Black Hand Gorge. Strange, he thought, to navigate so often by where things used to be, but so much of his life was like that. He laid out his kit each morning as he had in rented rooms and even in homes he once owned, and he got up and followed a schedule no longer expected of him.
What he had never been good at was living in a world that was not yet, but could be. It really shouldn’t be that much different than imagining how things had been, working from just a few clues of brick and block. There were suggestions around about of how things might be, like the student girl had asked him about, and he could live into those hints, too. He wasn’t a river, stuck in the same course for thousands of years. Perhaps it was time for a change.
It would be a new moon, and a new year soon, and he might try again to leave the river bank for good. For now, the moonlight, the owls in the limbs above and the herons picking through the snags below, all felt like home.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; respond to the scenes of Licking County long ago through

* * *

Friday, November 10, 2006

Faith Works 11-11-06
Jeff Gill

Islamic Tithing and Stewardship In General

As we all try to get a better sense of what Shia Islam, dominant in Iran, southern Iraq, and parts of Baghdad, means versus the Sunni school of Islam elsewhere, some subjects don’t change.
How religious groups teach about stewardship, or managing one’s material blessings, has some commonalities across faiths, let alone between groups or denominations within a faith tradition.
"Tithe" is a word literally (from Old English) meaning a tenth (10%), but has a generic import in modern usage: the obligation as a practicing believer to give a set percentage of their income to the church or to charity. Islam, it turns out, has it, too. There’s a number of points of contact, in fact, between the religions we know and those we don’t.
From the last few weeks, as we’ve looked in this space at the two main schools of Islamic religion, there is much most Americans don’t know about Moslem practices beyond the "hajj," or pilgrimage to Mecca, and the much debated concept of "jihad," which translates as "struggle," but is mainly internal to some traditions but is sadly best known today as the struggle against unbelievers, seen in terrorist groups.
The most frequent question I’ve gotten since starting to outline Sunni and Shia Islam is "so which is Osama bin Laden and al Quaeda?" That’s a bit of a puzzle, in fact.
Technically, they are mostly out of Saudi Arabia, which is home to a very conservative version of Sunni Islam called "Wahabi." Followers of the teaching school of Wahabism, which linked with the now ruling Saud family of the Arab peninsula look to the future re-establishment of the "Caliphate," a ruler of the government called a caliph who works in concert with religious scholars to implement Shariah Law, the civic order of Islam in practice throughout a community.
Sunnis say there has been no caliph since the end of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey in the 1920’s, if not earlier. Osama bin Laden says that he is trying to help re-establish the Islamic Caliphate, with Mullah Omar of the Afghanistan Taliban one candidate. Saddam Hussein considered declaring himself the Caliph, but was convinced not to do so.
Most Sunnis, and even most Wahabis, say bin Laden has pressed to far, too violently, and is effectively beyond the proper bounds of the traditions of Islam, or "sunna."
Meanwhile, Shiite groups were behind the Ayatollah Khomeini in his Iranian Revolution, where Church and State are combined. From our point of view in America, it looks like the same thing, but for Shia, the caliph is only a descendant of Mohammed the prophet of God, and to many he is a mythic figure in hiding called "The Mahdi," who will be revealed in the last days.
The current president of Iran believes that the Mahdi is soon to be revealed, and Moqtada al Sadr in Baghdad has a "Mahdi Army," working for the culmination of Church and State as one Holy Caliphate. Parallel, but distinct, is bin Laden’s desire to re-establish a secular but powerful Caliph who will free true teachers of his ascetic brand of Sunni to guide Islam back to world domination.
Yet both groups hold to an ancient teaching of Islam called "zakat," which is Moslem tithing. It is actually interpreted as 2.5% of your increase, with an additional gift to charity expected in Ramadan.
But even here the two school diverge, with the generally more austere Shia teaching that unexpected windfalls should be "tithed" as a fifth, or 20%. Income you did not expect, that was a "gift from heaven" if you will, should be shared with those in need at minimum as "khoms," or one-fifth.
This is the time of year many Christian churches wrestle with how they will teach and affirm principles of stewardship, the practice of giving a planned, intentional amount to one’s faith community. Some Old and New Testament verses point to a "tenth," with the import being the use of the Temple storehouses as the source of government and charitable assistance.
When the total taxes off of a person’s income comes off the top to the tune of 30% and more, does that effect your tithing obligation? I don’t know how your church teaches stewardship or tithing, but I’m sure of this: if most active believers just gave a consistent 2.5% after taxes to their faith community, we’d see a whole new level of activity from Licking County churches.
And I know I’m preaching alongside most pastors when I say: "have a personal budget, know your income, plan your giving, and set a goal to grow your giving and saving each year." If you don’t really know what your income or expenses are, I don’t care what you’re giving, because recklessness no matter how well intended is not good stewardship.
And some of you may be called by God to give more than 10%, maybe even a "khoms." So make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Master those three, and you’ve got stewardship.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; talk to him about stewardship at

Monday, November 06, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 11-12-06
Jeff Gill

Let’s Get This Party Started

Now that the election is over, maybe we can talk some political sense in the next few weeks.
Or at least until the presidential elections of 2008 start dominating the news cycles, and all rational thought.
Actually, as I’m writing this, the voting hasn’t even begun on Nov. 7, which is what often happens with columns, but in this case it is quite happily intentional. The following observations are intended to be entirely independent of party support or reaction, and I defy anyone to find a consistent R or D spin to my concerns.
In fact, most of them aren’t even tied to solutions, so I’m open to any party or candidate who offers a plan or proposal that addresses them.
First off, can anyone talk about the national crisis (a word I don’t tend to use casually) around personal savings and consumer debt? Denison University alum Richard Lugar started a run for president just talking about the subject as a problem, and got hammered even before he started talking about possible policy steps. With American savings rates in negative territory, credit card debt at close to $9,000 per household, and foreclosures racing bankruptcies to the bottom of Ohio’s barrel, can we discuss this at all?
And no, privatizing Social Security doesn’t count. That isn’t a savings plan and never was: it’s a catastrophic insurance program which pays current benefits out of current employees – which means we need to be building back up a real surplus for the easy to anticipate worker to retiree shortage coming soon.
Which brings me to: Unfunded obligations and future deficits. Public employees and private pension plans alike are expecting what really was a savings plan, their pensions, to come out of echoing caverns of empty trust (ha!) funds. Add the deferred maintenance in so much of public life, such as what Bruce Bain and Tim Weisert are facing in Newark, and that’s a pile o’ cash that’s gonna have to be spent somehow.
Somehow that seems to lead directly to the implosion of both educational system and public support of that vital civic resource. Demagoguing on both side of the political aisle have helped create a poisonous climate between voters and schools, to the degree that vile, unscrupulous gambling interests thought they could exploit that bile to sneak in personal profit as public service. You’ll know by the time this is printed if that worked for them, but however Issue 3 turned out, we still will have for the next few decades an overpriced, tragically underfunded state college system. Our local campus of The Ohio State University has received stellar private support, masking the depth of this problem statewide in crumbling buildings and missing resources.
After college, and if you can find a job, you’ll wonder how we missed responding to five decades of signals that steel-belt, auto-centric, resource-extraction based industries were heading to either irrelevance, or a new high-tech model. So we desperately hang onto the remnants of those industries, while states like Indiana, West Virginia, and (dare I say it?) Michigan do a better job of attracting the industries – and jobs – of the future. The Republican party is going to get, has gotten by the time you read this, an old fashioned whoopin’ at the polls because their only economic development plan is "cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes." Even tax cutting conservatives have started saying: "Y’all got any other ideas? No? Well, buh-bye then . . ." Good luck, Mr. Strickland, I mean "Governor."
And by the same token, those same Ohio conservatives are turning against a purely reflexive stand on "no federal involvement in health care." Our population is already largely served by Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and public employees’ health plans, and the employment based model is already being undermined in states like Ohio as more employers try to escape that imposed responsibility. The global marketplace is asking them to compete against economies where none of their competitors have to spend half their management energy managing health care costs. We owe it to entrepreneurs and growing industries in Ohio to be part of looking for a new way to do health care.
This is no longer a fringe benefit or luxury good in the America we've built in so many other ways so well. No one wants to live in a country where children having congenital heart defects make their parents unemployable. That’s just wrong, morally and politically.
All this, and I haven’t even touched the global scene yet. See you next week…

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; raise your favorite unaddressed issues at

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Faith Works 11-4-06
Jeff Gill

What Does That Turban Tell Me?

So last week we were reviewing the basic split in Islam.
To be a seeker after submission to the will of the One God, or "Allah" in Arabic, you have five basic responsibilities. If you follow Islam, or "submission" to Allah in your life, you observe the pillars of prayer five times a day, charity to the poor, pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque of Mecca at least once in your life, reading and affirmation of the prophet Mohammed’s writings in the "Qur’ran" (Arabic "Readings"), and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
All Moslems observe these five basic responsibilities, and through the Koran, each believer is responsible for "jihad," or struggle within oneself for "Islam," or submission and obedience to the will of God.
But the will of Allah according to whom?
This is where the division between Sunni Moslems and Shiite Moslems becomes very important, even when Shiite groups represent as little as 10% of the billion and more adherents of Islam.
"Sunna," or traditions from the Prophet Mohammed make an addendum to the Koranic text; likewise, the interpretations of Sunna can lead to a variety of perspectives, which is true within Sunni Islam. A Caliph, or secular leader accountable to the religious teachers, has not existed in Islam since the fall of the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey), but the schools of various "sunna," or Islamic traditions are all over the Moslem world.
The "party of Ali," or in the Arabic contraction "Shi’ia," are those who look for authoritative interpretation from the descendants of Mohammed, who get to wear black turbans such as Moqtada el-Sadr, the leader of his father’s Sadr City in Baghdad.
So if you are trying to influence Shia Moslems, you need to focus on relationships and understanding with particular leaders who carry inherited influence. Among Sunnis, civil institutions on one hand and institutions of religious interpretation ("madhab") on the other hand, dealing with Islamic law or "shari’ah," would make a productive approach.
Given that Shia are a minority in the Islamic world as a whole, but a majority in Iran and parts of central Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, understanding how their approach to relating religion and life works isn’t of interest to everyone. You’d think it would be of surpassing interest to Congressional and Defense Department leaders.
But a Washington Post reporter a few weeks ago ran a simple test with key elected and appointed officials, Republican and Democrat. "Can you tell me a little about the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam? And which countries have which groups?"
Almost all of the officials he spoke to couldn’t even take a stab at the question. They hemmed, they hawwed, and they finally took a pass.
They didn’t know.
Which is why I appreciate the fundamental curiosity of the readers here and on-line. Our American problem, and it isn’t a party or a Beltway problem, but across the country, is incuriosity. In Ohio, that’s limiting; in Washington, it’s dangerous.
I shouldn’t have been as stunned as I was to read about elected leaders who deal with foreign policy in the Middle East having nary a clue about basic religious concepts. And I shouldn’t have been startled to read that President George Bush, often referred to by his critics as "essentially uncurious," is the first president to regularly host dinners in the White House to mark the end of Ramadan.
And he knows off the cuff the differences between Sunni and Shia. If that makes some of you proud, and motivates others to make sure they know at least as much as Mr. Bush, then let the Googling and Wikipedia-ing begin!
(Oh, and "The Monastery" has three more Sunday nights at 10 pm, on TLC. Check it out…)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he’s visited mosques from Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to Al Tawwhid in Chicago; ask him your faith and religion questions through
Notes From My Knapsack 11-05-06
Jeff Gill

Brady Johnson and Gerald Patton were not men to want special treatment, or to be singled out.
Which is why I want to do just that for a moment.
Forget "Greatest Generation" if you will, because they never sought or claimed the honor, and it isn’t even just about "The Good War" because they would be the first to tell you there is no such animal. Brady at Normandy and Gerald on Guadalcanal saw exactly what war is, and it wasn’t good.
And it isn’t about World War II because, believe it or not, there are still a precious few World War I veterans around us, though Hooper McGirr was the last one I knew and spoke to, and that’s been a few years.
Recently, the oldest World War I vets from both sides of the Western Front trenches got together, combined age of the two: 219. Henry Allingham, 110 of Great Britain's Royal Navy, and Robert Meier, 109 of Witten, Germany met to dedicate a memorial in advance of the November 11 anniversary of Armistice Day, when on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns went silent at the eleventh hour.
It should be noted, if only in passing, that Allingham attributes his longevity to 'Cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women,' while Meier puts his down to 'sport, a healthy diet, especially plenty of fish ... and the odd glass of schnapps.’
We now call Nov. 11 not Armistice Day (except for a few of us odd ducks) but Veteran’s Day, and as such we have a chance to salute those who have served their nation in uniform. Whatever the conflict or era, however their service was worked out: aircraft maintenance, mortar operator, infantry, truck driver, chaplain, pilot, stoker, quartermaster’s mate.
We can’t thank Brady and Gerald personally anymore, because they died in recent weeks. But there are still millions of vets from 1939 to 1946 still with us, though moving slowly. And the decades since have added perhaps too many to their ranks, but whether draftee or volunteer, enlisted or officer, Coast Guard or Marine, elderly or just back from overseas, we have a thin red line that weaves through our hometowns and communities, a thread that ties training camps and battlefields and faraway and the monument in your town together.
In May we focus on those who have died for their country. With Veteran’s Day, let’s make sure to thank someone who lives among us, who took on the task of defending our freedoms with their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor." Look around, you’ll find one nearby.
And don’t wait until they’re gone to acknowledge the gratitude you feel. You’ll miss out on the gift you receive in seeing how much it means to them.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he offers a "Semper Fi" to the Corps on Nov. 10, too; share a story with him through
Faith Works 10-28-06
Jeff Gill

A Promise Kept and a Memory Shared

Since I promised last week to briefly outline the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, you’ll get that further on.
But first, a TV program snuck up on me that you still have four more weeks to watch, at 10:00 pm Sundays on TLC.
"The Monastery" sounds like another reality show, fish-out-of-water, cameras everywhere extravaganza. Which it is. Five guys go to a Benedictine monastery for 40 days to live under monastic guidelines, and talk to an in-room "confessional cam" from time to time about how they feel about the whole experience.
They’ve got a Marine who lost a leg in combat, a former Satanist, a fellow who did hard time in prison. The prison guy came from mean streets and saw his brother die in front of him, but observes in the first week that "in prison they didn’t make you get up at 3:40 in the *bleep* morning.
But what they’ve really got is the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, at the end of thirteen bone-jarring, kidney-punching dirt miles off the isolated blacktop highway, by the banks of the Chama River in northern New Mexico.
The Lovely Wife and I have been there twice, and the stole presented me at my ordination, which I still use, was hand woven by a monk named Phillip . . . who I now see is the Abbot. We were last there in 1989, and from the aerial shots the complex has grown considerably.
If you know of Saint Anthony or Abba Poemen and the other ancient Desert Fathers of the early Christian church, this is the landscape you always imagined them in. Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis) visited on his fateful way to Bangkok where he died, but he wrote an essay from a previous stay which is found in their print materials and on their, um, website.
Yes, monks have websites, and in fact well before most of us had heard of the internet, was up and running. Knowing that in their desolate stretch of the Chama Valley they couldn’t make and sell cheese or fruitcakes or any of the other creative ways monks find to support themselves, they developed one of the very first web design and support businesses with a donated server and a bunch of solar panels. Sun, they have plenty of if nothing else. So the modern world has no perils for these followers of the Rule of Saint Benedict, written 1500 years ago.
I may have more to say later, but give it a watch, wouldja? We’ll talk . . .
OK, as promised: "Sunna" means "traditions" in Arabic. Sunni Islam are those who hold to the traditions of Mohammed, the Koran of course, and the Hadith, or oral traditions, and the schools of interpretation that stem from them.
"Shia" is a contraction of the Arabic for "the party of Ali," a son-in-law who was to claim religious authority after the Prophet’s death. A smaller group within Islam as a whole, they are a majority in Iran, central Iraq, and parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They number over 200 million, while a billion and more would be called Sunni from Morocco to Indonesia.
Among Shia, the Imams with black turbans (think Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery wild card in Baghdad politics today) indicate they are descended from the Prophet Mohammed’s family.
Notes From My Knapsack 10-29-06
Jeff Gill

Teach Your Children Well

With a week and change to the election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, I promised last week after saying a good word about the open space levies to offer a thought on education.
Here goes.
I could live with every education levy and bond issue getting voted down if it meant the Ohio electorate rose up with one voice and said "NO" to Issue 3.
What I worry about is that the combination of the negativity around the voter-turnout depression campaign theme this year, and the need to clearly articulate the need to vote not just "no," but "Heck, NO" on special interest constitutional amendments, will combine to make people vote "no, no, no, no, and no" right down their ballot.
We need some voter forethought, preparation, and conversation, as we always do in a democratic republic. But this Issue 3 shell game (gaming monopolies that pretend they’ll help higher education) is so incredibly toxic and dishonest that I’m actually willing to run the risk of pushing more people to vote lots of indiscriminate "no’s" to ensure its failure.
(Side thought: if I were really paranoid, I might wonder if there are interests pushing Ohio constitutional amendments that are so awesomely bad because they don’t want them to win, just to get the few who still have the stomach to vote to vote "no" down the line and keep property taxes lower. If I were really parnoid.)
"A lot of good will come of this." First off, I need to point out that my sainted seventh and eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Froberg, loathed "a lot," "alot," and the lot of them. It wasn’t good English, and she sought to evoke a similar distaste in all her students. With me, she largely succeeded.
Those who have done their homework on this faux-educational issue know that for at least the next decade and more, only the top 5% of graduating classes get money, and only if they go to in-state public schools. Malone or Cedarville? Forget it. Purdue or Cornell? Not a dime. And did I mention only the top 5% of graduating students?
Having been caught at this, the Issue 3 gang now are saying "it will help everyone." You have to burrow deep in their website to see how: they claim that these dollars will free up other dollars, making more financial aid available for all.
Aside from the fact that their math makes no sense to me in terms of numbers or especially process, get this. Here’s the second most appalling part of the deal with Issue 3 – for their numbers to work, it isn’t just about their claims about Ohio dollars being gambled out of state and getting them "home," but that as I read it, they need two and THREE times as much gambling to take place to make their figures figure.
Is there anyone who thinks, for whatever social purpose, we need three times as many Ohioans gambling than we have right now? And if you do, are you delusional?
But I claimed that’s the second worst part. For once, George Voinovich and I are on the exact same page about something. The senator observes that the fact that we’re amending the constitution of the state to give nine places and five businesses a monopoly on the most addictive form of gambling is reason enough to be against it.
He said that standing next to noted conservative (insert irony here) Michael Coleman, mayor of Columbus, nearly Democratic candidate for governor, who was nodding his head in the affirmative, vigorously.
Folks, I think most of the school levies I know about in Licking County deserve passing, and I plan to vote for my own. But to pass Issue 3 will not only saddle the state of Ohio with a load of stupid we will regret for decades, but it will teach our children something truly sad and tragic that all our best teachers won’t be able to overcome.
And that’s the lesson that we’re casual and indifferent enough to the electoral process that we can be bought with enough misleading ads on TV.
Vote No on Issue 3, please. It’s really important. A lot. (Sorry, Mrs. Froberg.)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him your opinion, not ticking, to

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith Works 10-21-06
Jeff Gill

Can You Explain the Differences…

Next Sunday, Oct. 29, at 3:00 pm in the Midland Theater on Newark’s Courthouse Square, there’s a free movie.
For some of us, that’s all we need to hear. No charge to enter one of Licking County’s most attractive public spaces, and a movie to boot: we’re there.
Others might want to know "what movie?" Fair enough. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is inviting everybody – i.e., not just Lutherans – to come watch the movie "Luther." This was a theatrical release not long ago, and stars Joseph Fiennes, the fellow who had the title role in "Shakespeare in Love," and cameos Alfred Molina, Spiderman’s nemesis Doctor Octopus, as Luther’s nemesis Tetzel.
Lots of period atmosphere, if you like the period 1517, some gorgeous location shooting, and a slice of history not too terribly off kilter.
But you may ask, "Jeff, I’m not Lutheran, and I’ve seen the Midland, and I’m not so cheap as to jump at just any old free movie. Why would I go and spend a couple hours in this story?"
A fair rejoinder, and there’s a direct response. What Martin Luther set loose in 1517 shaped the Western World right down to the present day, and not just in denominational divisions. The path toward the Enlightenment, modern nation states, and global discovery was set by how the Lutheran Reformation set the pace.
The Roman Catholic Church was spurred to Counter-reformation, the Council of Trent, and changes in the institution of the papacy that still marks the role Pope Benedict XVI holds today.
From the Bible in common tongues (German for Luther, English for us today) to congregational hymn singing (even if Martin didn’t write most of the ones we credit him with), Luther is a pivotal figure in world history, whether you are Protestant or Catholic, American or Asian, northern hemisphere or southern.
This is particularly on my mind after reading a recent piece by a Washington DC reporter who covers defense and intelligence issues. He interviews a number of key congressional and Pentagon players regularly, and recently he started dropping a final follow-up into his interviews.
"What’s the difference between Sunni and Shiite?"
Don’t panic. I’m not saying every American ought to know this, but I’m right with the reporter who felt that people making decisions on our national policy in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan ought to have some sense of the split that runs through the Arab-Moslem world.
Like Protestant and Catholic are not the totality of Christendom, there are a few other sects and branches, and even Sunni and Shiite (like P’s and C’s) are not monolithic in and of themselves. But broadly speaking, you can probably summarize the difference between the Vatican and the independent church down the street. Shouldn’t our policy folk be able to do that in the Middle East? They know, don’t they, which one is predominant in Iran, or Saudi Arabia, and among al-Quaeda?
Yep, that’s right – they don’t. Hardly any of them even had a clue. Which tells me this: they are decent, hardworking people for the most part, who review masses of data everyday about the situation in the Moslem world. But they come out of a context, OURS, with an almost criminal lack of curiosity about how other people think, choose, and make decisions about their lives.
An Iraqi farmer is not a midwestern soybean farmer with a headdress in place of the Pioneer seed corn cap. They are human and feel and live and love just like any of us, but they do view the world through a different set of propositions. If you haven’t even tried to figure out what they are, I’m betting it’s because it hasn’t occurred to you that they’re different to start with.
So let’s start here and now. Come watch "Luther," reflect with us about how some major worldviews make us distinctive in America, and then get curious about other patches of this world we’re together on. Like Sunni and Shiite, whether interpretation of tradition and sacred writings can develop over time, or is held by a central body of religious leaders, will affect how you look at more than just your faith.
And if I’ve made you want to read more in this space about what sets Shiites and Sunnis apart, great, and see you next week!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; ask him about something that’s puzzled you for years in the faith dept. by e-mailing

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-22-06
Jeff Gill

Making Room Amid the Clutter

As the weather gets fouler, the Little Guy spends more time indoors, and his stuff spends more time on the living room floor.
This works well enough until we decide we want to, oh, walk across the room or find the carpet. Then the cry goes out from the sofa, "Time to tidy!" Books, papers, small toys, atlases, pencil boxes, household objects used for non-intended purposes, the stray ibex or emu: they all have to go into their proper folder, closet, or shelf space.
Over time, the cumulative weight of school handouts, church fliers, and Star Wars figurines threatens to crack the foundation, shift Earth’s gravitational field, or at least crowd we the humans out of the house. Which is not true, of course. Too much stuff, maybe, but a little of Tidy Time ™ and the house is cleared for strolling, or at least pacing.
In the same sense, there’s been a variety of odd reactions to the Tuesday observance-celebration-hysteria over the United States hitting 300,000,000. I learned in school 220,000,000, have been used to writing in stuff like, oh, columns, that our nation has 260,000,000 souls, but we’ll all mentally adjust to a nice handy round 300 million and use it for years, even if the National Population Clock says 314,268,752 when we type it next.
300,000,000 is a large and quite frankly unimaginable number; by the same token, India has 1 billion plus another set of 300 million and China continues to dwarf us both (note to self: learn Mandarin). Depending on where you drive, you may feel that you share the road with a major portion of that population explosion, or see the houses going up for most of them.
We do live in Licking County in one of Ohio’s few growth zones, and while growth is a double-edged sword, the fact of the matter is that many of Ohio’s problems have less to do with Emily Kreider’s non-payment of student loans (and shame on her, but still) or whether Mike DeWine occasionally sends out form letters to constituent inquiries, contrary to the current crop o’ ads, but to the fact that our state is shrinking. Population, youth, jobs, locally owned pharmacies – all shrinking.
Which is why I’ll be voting for our local open space purchase levy, and for the Licking County Parks. Before the accessible, non-agricultural, recreationally and environmentally inviting space is all snapped up, we need to give our public servants, of which we have many good ones in this county (along with a few, very few, dunderheads), the latitude and resources to purchase some well placed parcels.
Especially to my conservative friends I would say: This is not one of the areas we let the free market run unfettered. No private interest really wants to provide free, general public green space, but it is a public need and the common good. Plus, we vote for these and the use of eminent domain is pushed to the far margins of public policy where it belongs.
Licking County has a cost-effective park system with a priority on families and wise use of natural resources; they hope to be empowered to enter the market while some tracts in the western half of the county can still be selected to maintain natural areas, recreational use in helpful locations, and keep our area looking and feeling like a good place to live. Townships like Licking, Union, and Granville (to name ones I keep up with, but by no means all) have trustees and employees who are trying their best to balance a healthy environment and citizens’ interest.
There are no boondoggles for the powerful and well-placed here, and our community has quite a few people who use their wealth to advance this agenda as well. But gifts of land and cash here and there can’t replace a secure funding source.
As for school levies, let’s talk about that next week, but green space and open land purchases are a public service we can and should empower.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your favorite hike or stroll in Licking County at
Faith Works 10-14-06
Jeff Gill

Casseroles, Compassion, and Incomprehension

Head up to Utica and turn right, and before long you can expect to find yourself tailgating an Amish buggy if you aren’t careful, and you should be careful.
The yellow diamond signs with a black outline of a horsedrawn vehicle are not a tourist directional indicator, but a warning to fast-moving moderns. There are people living around here who move at a different pace, by other means – make adjustments, please.
But if you zoom around with a kick to the accelerator, and spray gravel into their horses’ faces, they will forgive you. They may even feel sorry for the forces which you let drive your life, and lead you to drive that way. Poor English, they may think, and likely say a prayer for you.
Aside from pumpkin pies and spiced candles, what has us thinking about the Amish these days is the tragedy in a one-room schoolhouse almost two weeks back now. And the forgiveness.
Many of us can relate to the scene of a warm casserole in hand, standing at a door where grief has visited. We’ve made those dishes, and stood in the doorway, offering condolences, and not a few of us have been the ones opening the door, saying thank you for your sorrow.
What many of us marvel at is the idea that before the day was done, there were people, people who had lost a child or grandchild themselves, standing casserole in hand at the door of the widow of the killer, offering their sorrow for her plight. We hear, we acknowledge, but we think "I could not do that."
And the fact is that most of us could not. It is too much of a stretch to forgive at that extension of self, to sincerely grieve along with the family of those who did us grievous wrong, and offer our broken heart for their sorrow along with our own.
We could not, because we have not practiced forgiveness, just as few of us could lift 500 pounds. But someone who often bench presses 250, and has done 450 recently: when that person raises 500 off the ground, we nod approvingly.
In forgiveness, most of us avoid the gym. The practice in daily life of forgiveness, the exercise of the muscles of compassion, is a discipline few of us maintain.
The Amish, on the other hand, for all their other particularities, if not peculiarities, are seasoned veterans at forgiveness. The odd stares, the passing cars, even rocks thrown for no reason out of the night at a peaceful buggy: Amish folk forgive us, called by most of them "English," most every day for our impatience, our pushiness, our rudeness.
The acts of the Amish community in Nickle Mines, PA are remarkable and worth our praise and reflection, but they are part and parcel of their everyday life as Christians. They read their New Testament, they see certain expectations God has of us in this life, and they practice that understanding as best as they are able. Modern American society helped to put another 50 pounds on the bar, but they lifted the extra weight without hardly a hitch. They’d been training for such a day all their lives.
The Amish are not exceptional people, really, but they are everyday people who have followed an exceptional discipline for nearly 400 years. What can we learn, aside from mashed potatoes and bigger slices of pie, from their example?
It will come step by step, slowly, plodding even, like the pace of a buggy on a blacktop road.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a tale through
Notes From My Knapsack 10-15-06
Jeff Gill

What Would You Carry Along?

Walking through the museums of Roscoe Village and Granville recently, a number of objects made me think about the hands that carried them.
For the first European pioneers into this area two hundred years ago and more, there were choices to be made. Whether in Conestoga wagons or earlier buckboards pulled by oxen across Raccoon Creek or the Tuscarawas River, there was only so much room, so many pounds that could go. A piano? Not likely. A millstone? Better find one there at the destination, but let’s bring the metal gears, and the steel tools to make an axle and belt system a millwheel could turn.
Wooden buckets could be assembled at the other end of the journey, but you may bring some iron bands to hammer around the oaken staves. A brass bucket? You could cook in it, carry water, or flip it over for a stool: throw it in the wagon.
Books? A Bible yes, novels maybe later. But a printing press to typeset a newspaper is tops on the order list when the cabins get set up.
Then there’s the bassoon. A bassoon? That went on the "can’t live without it" list? For someone in 1805, it came instead of a second jug of molasses or a spare wheel hub. A bassoon? What songs do you sing to a bassoon?
It turns out that in the days before organs, church music was usually – when it wasn’t a cappella, voice only – a violin, a viola, a trumpet for accents, and . . . a bassoon. Instead of the left hand on the piano, the "oompa-oompa-boom-pah" of a bassoon rhythm set the tempo.
Still, I wonder about the thoughts that led to that vital decision, a choice that couldn’t be reversed around Bedford, PA. "Music is important, I have a place in the worship service, and we might have a dance or two after the cornhusking, so I guess I’d better bring the bassoon." Did someone else say, "What on earth are you thinking? In the space that yard and a half of ebony and brass takes up you could carry the whole next winter’s worth of candles! We can wait a few years before we get a bassoon shipped over to us."
In 2006, with the days shorter and the trees turning, while the temperatures drop and even a few wisps of snow haunt the fringes of the sky, I think about being somewhere between the Ohio River at Fort Henry and the Pataskala valley, bumping along a blazed trail, marks in tree bark with horse-high hatchet chops all I have to see my path.
I think about the blankets and grain and preserves bundled up between my family members shivering in the back of the wagon, and then I remember my bassoon. Does that sign of civilization and culture warm my heart just a bit, or do I think: "Why didn’t I bring more socks?"
The presence of that bassoon here in Ohio, two centuries later, tells me that the place of music wasn’t just entertainment or diversion. It was life itself, along with matches and food and clay jars. They didn’t have CDs or iPods or radio stations to tune in, but their music was all the more important for how they made it themselves.
Give ear to that thought the next time you hear a tune you like, and imagine not only enjoying it, but being fed by it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio who is lucky to play the radio successfully; sing him your song of musical significance at

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Faith Works 10-7-06
Jeff Gill

Church, State, People, and Identity

We have the head of state of a sovereign nation visiting Licking County next weekend, and a religious leader. Actually, a co-head, since the Creek Nation of Oklahoma traditionally has two.
This translates fairly well into the western European perspective, since Rome, like the Creek, has twins at the heart of their myth and symbols of their founding: think Romulus and Remus, and co-consuls of the Roman Republic.
Some Americans have trouble understanding how Indian tribes can be sovereign nations, but that’s what many of our ancestors set up when they made treaties with some of the now 500 Native American groups found around this country, some in reservation-based arrangements, others living in a more geographically dispersed pattern.
As Vine Deloria liked to point out to Anglo audiences, "you said these rights would be ours as long as the grass grew and the water flowed. Then you put us in places where no grass grew and no water flows." Deloria’s father and grandfather might have been Lutheran ministers, but their Lakota roots never left the soil they drew strength from, no matter how dry the ground.
The Honorable Alfred Berryhill is coming from The Mound, Oklahoma, to be one of a day full of guest speakers at OSU-N for "Newark Earthworks Day" on Saturday, October 14. Beginning with a Native American style procession into the Reese Center on campus at 9:00 am, local speakers and visitors from Illinois, Indiana, and of course Oklahoma will share perspectives on our 2,000 year old wonders of the world. Indians, archaeologists, astronomers, schoolteachers, and even a local columnist (as the MC) will fill out the day until 5:00 pm. The day will close with a Native feast in Hopewell Hall cafeteria which is $10 for adults and free to children under 12; the day itself is free and open to the public thanks to the work of OSU-N’s Newark Earthworks Center.
I am particularly interested in hearing Mr. Berryhill, as we’ve learned in recent years that the Creek and Ho-Chunk (aka Winnebago) Indians still build mounds as part of their ceremonial year. Much of their tradition and practice is not for all eyes or public description, but elements are intended for an interested public, Native and non-Native, and we hope to learn and share much in that respect.
There are still many stereotypes and images we have to overcome in communicating between cultures in this world, and my own involvement with the "moonrise efforts" over the last few years has taught me much, about how my own assumptions deserve challenging, and how to respectfully challenge the pre-conceptions of others.
For instance, some ask me "Jeff, what’s the right manner of address here? Indian is OK? Or should I say American Indian? And some say Native American…" Well, you can see in this piece I’ve used all three: the fact is, you have to do what you’d do with any new friend or acquaintance. Ask them what they would like to be called. Some have strong opinions as to which "label," while others prefer only tribal affiliation, such as "Dine" or "Cherokee." A few just say "Call me Bob." But you need to ask, and respect their choice.
And as for assumptions . . . that two chief thing? I asked if that signified "war chief and peace chief" or some other distinction. I wasn’t expecting the answer I got.
Turns out that, after some debate and discussion a hundred years ago, the current understanding among the Creek is that one chief is always Baptist, and the other is . . . Methodist. The Honorable Alfred Berryhill is a second generation Methodist pastor, who is honored for having collected hymns in his native language together for congregational use. And he builds mounds with his people.
I can’t wait to hear what he has to say, and to simply listen.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been known to emcee and event or two, too. Check for details about Newark Earthworks Day and the speakers, or e-mail Jeff at

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-8-06
Jeff Gill

After the Moonrise

Sir Isaac Newton, inventor of calculus and one of the smartest people in recorded history, famously said, "The only mathematical problem which ever gave me a headache was calculating the movements of the moon." And he invented calculus, which has given many of us headaches.
Those irregular, hard-to-predict movements, were mastered by the inhabitants of these valleys around Newark 2,000 years ago. The evidence is encoded in the massive, landscape embracing earthworks shaped as an octagon and circle at the end of 33rd St. and behind Licking Memorial Hospital.
Our fellow citizens, in 1892, voted to tax themselves a bit more to buy and preserve these mounds, the "Great Circle" already in semi-public hands as the county fairground, now Newark Earthworks State Memorial on Rt. 79 by Heath. Octagon Mound, owned along with the Great Circle by the Ohio Historical Society, is leased to Moundbuilders Country Club since their founding in 1911.
If you check out, the folks at the club are working with the hospital to allow the public to come out this Wednesday and see one of the very last "close approximations" of the moonrise along the main axis of the circle and octagon structure, marking the peak of an oscillating 18.6 year cycle. After 9:00 pm, you may walk onto the grounds and join a group that will be escorted to a viewing area for the moonrise which will be visible, weather co-operating, sometime not long after 10:00 pm.
Of course, this being Ohio, weather may not co-operate; for those of us in the community who have been learning about and presenting this story and opportunity to the public, we see why the near-northernmost moonrises had to be as important as the absolute peak of the cycle. Fog, as well as rain or just socked-in cloud cover, means that you need a series of cycles stepping in and the movements walking away to help bracket the precision that allowed these earthen arrangements to work so well.
Some of us have been reading wistfully the last few months about a similar site in the desert southwest of the US, which is a thousand years younger (and so, I’d say, only half as cool as our Newark Earthworks), where the US Forest Service and a community group have hosted moonrise viewings and visitors from around the globe. We hope to do a bit better in 2025!
Many thanks to Moundbuilders Country Club for their invitation this week to see a remarkable sight, and follow the other local media for word of any weather related complications.
If you are intrigued by all this, then you can come to the OSU-Newark campus on Saturday, October 14, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm where a free program at a civil hour is open to all for "Newark Earthworks Day." The Reese Center hosts informational booths, vendors, and guest speakers from around the country on subjects relating to Native American history and activity today (including mound building!), archaeologists and astronomers, and local teachers on a panel about "teaching the earthworks."
An opening procession following Native American practice will open the day, with a moment to honor the now-fifth graders from Miller Elementary when fourth graders who got the Newark Earthworks named the official state pre-historic monument, introduced by Sen. Jay Hottinger. You can come at any point through the day and hear and see what you can.
After the daytime programs a Native feast is offered following 5:00 pm, asking $10 for adults and free to children under 12.
If you want details of the program, click; your faithful scribe will be the MC for the speakers, and I’d love to see you all there!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been known to MC an event or two as well. Tell him about your interesting local event at

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-1-06
Jeff Gill

Here’s a Frightening Statistic

"Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics." True words about lying numbers, indeed.
An internet company says they’re "the fastest growing." Are they lying? Well, not quite: if you go from 5,000 users to 10,000 users, you’re growing at a 100% rate; if you go from 3,000,000 to 3,500,000, your growth rate is just over 15%, but I’m thinking you want to stick with number two, lacking other data.
The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are beginning their popcorn sales this weekend around central Ohio – their version of the Girl Scouts’ famous cookie sales. Parents ask: "Is it safe for my child to sell this door-to-door?"
A fair question, and hard to answer. The official stance of Scouting is that no one should sell alone, but with a buddy, and there should be an adult shadowing them from a nearby car or sidewalk.
In the late 1960’s and 70’s, I sold popcorn and football chocolate up hill and down dale, with the one family rule "you can’t sell on Sunday." No one went with me; if my folks’ protective side showed at all in the process, it was in "what time will you get home?" after which, my name, complete with full middle name, would be shouted from the back porch. Loudly.
I really wanted to be home when I said I would.
But was I in danger? The statistics are hard to interpret. Is there more child molestation reported and in the courts? Yes, but people are less willing today to settle for going down the street, beating up a stranger and telling them they had a week to leave the area, and going home to tell the child involved: "We will never speak of this again."
So you can say the statistics are up, but is the actual frequency on the rise? It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, out of years of pastoral counseling (not to mention Scouting), I think we had about as many people with pedophilia disorder fifty years ago (and more) than we do today, but there’s no way to prove any of us right or wrong on that supposition.
So are we over-reacting today? I really don’t think so. Where I grew up, we had the whole "never lock doors, keys in the ignition, kids play outside until the street lights go on" mindset, but looking back . . .
There were stories of kids who disappeared back then, and women who came home to find someone took their purse off the counter, and cars taken on "joyrides." We just got less comfortable with allowing that opportunity.
I remember vividly riding, next to my dad, standing with my feet planted on the bench seat of the Ford Galaxy, hands on the dashboard. If I did that with the Little Guy today (well, now he’s too big anyhow), I’d be pulled over and arrested for criminal stupidity.
So was my dad wrong? Not in 1966 he wasn’t. but we have car seats and shoulder restraints (my grandmother hated those when they came in, and she was the most cautious member of our entire family) and bike helmets now.
Nothing bad ever happened to me when I walked the streets selling Scout popcorn, but I can remember some really odd characters who left me feeling the creeps as I backed away from the porch. A bit more vulnerability on my part, a little more opportunity on their part, and who knows?
There are some problem today that we face more honestly, and that can’t ever be a bad thing. The buddy system was a good idea at swim time, and now we know it’s a good idea out on the sales trail, too.
What we don’t want to do is let a new sense of precaution and prevention give us a false sense of threat and danger all around. Avoid scary situations and give yourself a margin for safety (like a buddy), and you can still find the world is generally a welcoming, wonderful place.
And I close these thoughts with a salute to Susan Verkest, who died very unexpectedly last week. She was passionate about seeing the Newark area look honestly at the problems we do have, but taking meaningful action so children and families can enjoy a community that really is basically safe and fun.
Godspeed, Susan.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what your youth activity is selling through