Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Faith Works 1-24-06
Jeff Gill

Sacrifice, Saints, and Scout Sunday

Next weekend many congregations will mark Scout Sabbath or Sunday, honoring the Scouts and Scouters (adult leaders) among them, or possibly even the Packs or Troops or Crews that are sponsored by their faith community.
The Scouts may carry in the colors to their proper positions in the building, or enter the sanctuary as a group to worship together whatever their own tradition. Scouts will lead singing in some churches, read Scripture in others, even offer the message in a few places.
What is slowly getting nearer is the chance to honor a Scouting saint, at least in the Catholic Christian tradition. Francis "Frank" Parater of the Diocese of Richmond is a young man who was one of the early Eagle Scouts in the USA after 1910, when the BSA was founded. He went on to run a summer camp, and then to enter the priesthood, finally sent to Rome for advanced study.
Once there, he was quickly struck down with a debilitating illness that took his life, but not until he was able to pen his thoughts, his prayers, and his devotions in words that are read to this day in both Rome and America. This faithfulness and commitment even in the face of his impending death have led Christians in the Richmond area to petition Rome for recognition of the sainthood of Frank Parater. His "cause," as such an effort is known in the Catholic sainthood process, is making progress in Rome this year.
With the centennial of the Scouting Movement worldwide coming up in 2008, the anniversary of the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island off southern England in the summer of 1908, this first saint for Scouting (in part at least) will be watched with great interest.
The chaplains of the USS Dorchester are honored each year at this time, Feb. 3 always coming just before Scout Sunday. Four chaplains, a priest, a rabbi, and two Protestant Christian clergy going down with a troop ship during World War II after giving their lifebelts to young soldiers in their care after the Dorchester was torpedoed, have long been remembered among veterans and pastors alike. You don’t have to have Navy traditions or a particular denomination to honor the supreme sacrifice made by those four men, whose story has been told before at length in this space, but whose memory should annually be rekindled among us all.
In terms of kindled memory, tended and kept burning bright, we might draw some motivation from a small but very significant loss the world experienced just before Christmas this year past.
You may well have missed the modest news coverage of the death of the last living survivor of the famous 1914 "Christmas truce" during World War I. Alfred Anderson was the only man alive these last few years who knew exactly what the silence on Dec. 24 and 25 meant in the early days of the first World War. He was 18 then in the Black Watch regiment of the British Army, and lived to be 109 in Perthshire, England, telling all who asked about how Germans and British came together in "No Man’s Land" to sing "Silent Night" or "Stille Nacht," but either way to sing together and not to shoot. The shooting started up again soon enough, but Alfred Anderson survived to tell the tale.
Just before Christmas of 2005 he died, and that living memory is nowhere to be found on earth. Only the fainter echo of story and song and commemoration.
A book by Stanley Weintraub, "Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce" recently came out in a paperback edition. There are a precious few vets of World War I left, and only a couple can still tell their stories; we can narrate for them now, and record the events of more recent days for generations yet unborn, from World War II through the day after yesterday.
So we talk quietly, but persistently, of Frank and Baden-Powell, of the Dorchester and the Black Watch regiment singing carols across the trenches, about Easter on Guadalcnal and in Baghdad, of warriors and peacemakers.

Propose someone for sainthood at; Jeff Gill is just a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher, but he promises to pass it along.

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Faith Works 2-04-06
Jeff Gill

Episcopal Angst or Bonhomie

NBC has pushed "The Book of Daniel" from the narrow ledge on Friday nights they’d given it, which means I can avoid having to say much of anything about it.
I’m not a TV critic, but while I found much to dismay me in the muddled, careening plot (was there a plot? …asks the Lovely Wife), I actually liked how Jesus was presented. As an internal dialogue made visible, all of the back and forth between the Rev. Daniel Webster and Christ the Lord made sense, as an internal dialogue.
What made many react strongly to the premise of the series was the portrayal of a clergy family and church politics in a very specific context, an Episcopal one. The fact that the producers got basic facts of Episcopalianism wrong was bothersome even to some who really wanted to like the melange of issues embodied by the characters inhabiting the Webster home, let alone the parish.
With the every-three-year national meeting for the Episcopal Church (ECUSA for short) coming to Columbus this June, local Episcopalians are no doubt already weary of mass media depictions. Not surprisingly, given the literacy and verbal emphasis of historic Anglicanism (the branch of Christianity the ECUSA springs from), they get a much better break from books than movies or TV, which I suspect like the ambience of their liturgy and tradition more for the visuals than the verities.
Everyone knows something of Jan Karon’s Mitford series, found on paperback racks in grocery stores and in church libraries, with charming covers and a series now running to seven easy to read volumes. If you haven’t read them, you’ve seen them laying around on someone’s kitchen table.
The lead character is Father Tim Kavanaugh, and his parish in Blowing Rock, North Carolina . . . whoops, I should say Mitford, since even Karon realizes that no one would believe that a bucolic community could have the name "Blowing Rock" and not immediately become a complete joke, except that it really does exist, where Karon lives and writes.
If her life is as delightful as most of the events she describes in Mitford, she is truly blessed. The small town simplicity and elementary complications that drive the, um, plots (in their own way, as improbable as much of "The Book of Daniel" in the other direction) have an undeniable appeal.
And the simple, traditional faith presented by Father Tim and most of the cast deserves the respect this series gets from Karon’s many fans.
Much less simple, and I would argue much better written, are Gail Godwin's "Evensong" (1999) and "Father Melancholy's Daughter" (1991), each focusing on Margaret Bonner, daughter of an ECUSA priest who is ordained herself at the end of "Daughter," and as "Evensong" begins is married to Adrian, a priest himself serving as a school headmaster. All Saints High Balsam is the Revs. Bonner’s little patch of North Carolina, where the new millenium’s arrival is no respecter of parish realities. Ironic that the two sets of books are all based in the Tarheel State.
Personally, I enjoy the Mitford books, but never as a pastor have I felt an author was looking over my shoulder more than when I read "Evensong." Is that an endorsement? Read it and see what you think.
What I can most delightedly endorse is a series of murder mysteries that look over the shoulder of the Rev. Clare Fergusson and Millers Kill, N.Y., police chief Russ Van Alstyne. Julia Spencer-Fleming has written "A Fountain Filled With Blood," "Out of the Deep I Cry," "In the Bleak Midwinter," and now "To Darkness and To Death." They all take place around the parish rhythms of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Millers Kill, with the most recent in one day as the bishop is about to visit. Let me pay Julia, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, the compliment of noting that unlike a major television network, she gets the basics of bishop-ingcorrect.
In the conflicts rending today’s ECUSA, some have offered a new pair of terms to replace the unhelpful (as somewhat inaccurate) liberal/conservative dichotomy. One group might be called "Reappraisers," those who belief that modern life demands a reappraisal of ancient tradition and interpretation; the other "Reasserters," who see the modern world as calling even more urgently for a reassertion of orthodox values and stances.
In this pairing, Father Tim and the Mitford church are Reasserters, while Mother Margaret and High Balsam would come down on the Reappraisal side. Maybe why I enjoy the Miller’s Kill series is that Rev. Clare and St. Alban’s can’t be too neatly categorized, with a female cleric having an obvious attraction to reappraisal, but circumstances leading her to reappraise the tradition as worthy of reassertion.
Or if you like your Anglicanism straight, try the English authors Joanna Trollope and Susan Howatch. There you’ll find the Church of England in all its complex glory. Either way, their prime time has always been during library hours, not in the TV guide.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; the best stories in his experience have been in print before they saw film. Tap out a tale to him through

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 1-29-06
Jeff Gill

"People For Parks" Serve You . . . Breakfast!

Resolutions are not my cup of tea, or java, or anything else. As noted previously, most so-called "New Year’s" statements of intent to change, grow, or shrink in some form don’t seem to work.
Anytime is a good time to decide to improve your life, but choosing the day you start writing a new number for the date after the comma is not so much random as forced. People who think "hey, it’s 2006, so I’ll stop smoking this year" are often going with peer pressure more than coming to a firm internal conviction. Everyone is talking "new you," so they think "I should join in."
What the January period can offer is a great set of motivations to do stuff you’ve intended for a long time anyhow. Even if it isn’t cold, it isn’t warm enough to do casual outdoor stuff; you can’t really get much done on the yard or the house (except take down the Christmas lights, because you gotta), but there’s a bit of a break before the big surge of events and activities with the springtime.
Take a walk, then. Put on a coat, but don’t bundle up. If you move, you generate warmth, but if you sweat, you’ll get cold for sure. Cover your head and your hands, make sure you have sturdy shoes that walk well, and leave the house.
You get more of what sunlight there is (hahahahahahahahah), you see farther with the leaves gone and get views normally hidden the rest of the year, and the fresh air does sharpen your perspective and lift your heart a bit.
After you’ve done the block around you and few adjoining, it might be time to go further afield. This is where the rich resources of Licking County really come into their own. Your own community likely has walking paths or hiking trails on public property to start close by. Dawes Arboretum, Black Hand Gorge with Ohio DNR, even Hebron Fish Hatchery all have some walks and paths that stretch both your legs and your mind.
The there’s the Licking Park District. We have in this county, thanks to the vision of the county commissioners and the work of the park commissioners they’ve appointed, three major facilities along with the rail trails from Johnstown to Newark and from East Newark on east, with spurs hither and yon like up to OSU-Newark campus and down towards Heath. Many of these tie into city and village paths, as well.
Along with the park offices and central facility on Rt. 37 at Infirmary Mound Park, the William C. Kraner Nature Center out Linville Road just onto Fairview north of US 40, and Lobdell Reserve north of Alexandria, there are walking and horse trails on each of these properties.
"People for Parks" is working to secure the future of open space and outdoor recreation in Licking County on behalf of the Licking Park District. They invite you to come have breakfast at the James Bradley Center of Infirmary Mound Park this Saturday, Jan. 28, from 7:00 to 9:00 am, with donations accepted. You can just come to eat, meet other nature lovers, and learn a bit about work to secure dedicated funding for Licking County Parks in the future.
Then you can go walk off the eggs and pancakes and sausage by walking back around the horse arena, down past the osage orange trees, and up through the pines. You can eat just about anything you want if you only do the work to justify the calories; the farmer’s breakfast isn’t a health hazard if you pitch straw bales into the barn loft all day after eating it!
Seriously, look at your plate: you should see some china under the food, and you should see some color. That’s the best diet advice you’ll get anywhere in 2006. If your food is all white, tan, brown, and grey, you aren’t getting what you need. Color means health, with bright reds and greens leading the pack . . . no, I don’t mean jello, but that’s fine too in moderation.
Keep your plate lightly loaded, don’t refill it, keep the color in your diet, and drink plenty of stuff that doesn’t have corn syrup in it (you don’t drink corn syrup? Check the label, my friend), and get out and move.
Dr. Phil charges a sawbuck for that much advice in a book, and you just got it in a free paper with a breakfast invitation. Life is good, isn’t it?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; pass word of breakfasts and health tips to