Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Faith Works 7-29-06
Jeff Gill

To a Faraway Place in Heartfelt Prayer

Damascus is a city I have long hoped to visit, but doubt if I ever will.
Many years ago, from a ridge in the Golan, I looked over the plain where Saul so famously rode, and heard our guide say that the hazy buildings ten miles to our northeast were the southwestern suburbs of Damascus.
That view may have to suit me for some years to come. The results of the last few weeks’ bombardment is further instability and tension in a very nervous, if historic corner of this troubled world.
In Damascus Paul came to his defining faith and was nurtured in an early Christian community near what is still "the street called straight." Straight Street, the central artery of the city, has seen Suleiman the Magnificent and Saladin the Great and Lawrence of Arabia all march its length.
The original "bazaar" is found near the heart of this most ancient of cities, almost as old as Jericho and Ur, and sites of import to Islam and Mohammed’s history are found there, near to Mecca’s significance.
And to the west of Damascus is Mount Hermon, whose snowy heights, far above the source of the Jordan River, cool by sight if not in degrees the parched plains below. Stretching north are more mountains, whose western slopes once produced tall, straight cedars, the cedars of Lebanon which made possible the wide roof of the Jerusalem Temple built by Hiram of Tyre for King Solomon. They would have been cut, and hauled by oxen across the Bekaa Valley to Tyre, sailed south along the Mediterranean coast, and landed at Joppa (near modern Tel-Aviv) to make the long way up into the Judean hills.
Those ships would have passed Haifa, just below the Mount Carmel headland, where high-up caves once harbored Elijah and later monks known as Carmelites. From Tyre to Haifa is about the same distance as from Columbus to Newark, and on to Gratiot to match Joppa.
Christian, Jew, or Moslem, it is painful to see the familiar names and journeys from holy writings punctuated by rockets, missiles, and bombs, by killing and burning and demolition.
Your columnist is broadly speaking pro-Israel, and John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, broadly speaking, has tended pro-Palestinian. Our respective senses of what problem started when and who is responsible for next steps in that region are usually widely divergent.
His prayer, though, recently offered at a church event and made available on-line, speaks very pastorally to all of us, and in this moment I want to thank him by offering that prayer to you all:

A Prayer for the Middle East at a Time of War

You did not make us, O God, to die in bomb craters or to huddle through the night in basement shelters. You made us to play under olive trees and cedars and to sleep soundly with animal toys and gentle lovers.
Lord, have mercy.
You did not make us, O God, to hold hostages for barter or to rain deadly fury on innocent children and beautiful coast lands. You made us, O God, to welcome strangers and to cherish all creation.
Christ, have mercy.
You did not make us, O God, to oppress in the name of security or to kill in the name of justice. You made us, O God, to find security in justice and to risk life in the name of peace.
Lord, have mercy.
While leaders in Tel Aviv and Damascus, Tehran, Washington, and southern Lebanon pander to ancient fears, claim the mantle of righteous victim, and pursue their little empires in the name of gods of their own devising, the people of Lebanon and northern Israel are made captive to fear, true victims whose only advocate is You.
Save us from self-justifying histories and from moral equations that excuse our folly. Search our hearts for our own complicity. Spare us from pious prayers that neglect the prophet's angry cry. Let us speak a resounding "no" to this warring madness and thus unmake our ways of death, so that we may be made more and more into your image.
Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him at

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 7-30-06
Jeff Gill

Malletheads, Unite!

If Jimmy Buffet fans are "Parrotheads," then could polo fans be called "malletheads"?
Each Sunday afternoon through September, the sport of kings and the king of sports, as polo players would have you believe, is played in front of the Bryn Du Mansion on Newrk-Granville Road.
Despite the horsey implication of wealth and cost, admission is free, and some fairly average people play the sport. I can’t say normal people, since Bernie Brush is one of them, but many Licking County residents spend more on their hunting dogs than it costs to maintain a horse or two.
Your columnist doesn’t get up on top of animals bigger than he is, but it is fun to watch – did I mention it’s free?
Adding to the fun in a few weeks is a little "value-added" experience that you can spend a bit of money on and help a great local cause. Sunday, August 13 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm the Licking County Coalition for Housing will set up a "professional" croquet area up by the mansion, and for $50 a person, $75 a couple, Bake-n-Brew is setting up a buffet and wine tasting to go with one of our last summer afternoons. Why croquet?
In part, because croquet is a spin-off of polo for those of us who don’t get up on animals larger than we are. The balls were originally old polo balls, and the mallets broken polo mallets (and they break often enough to keep up the supply).
Add a few horseshoe gates and the other end of the broken stick for a wicket, and you have ur-croquet. The game has evolved, and a croquet professional is part of the afternoon, who will show us how to (I suspect) put backspin on our cross court shots and jump balls to get around a sticky wicket.
The beverage set-up is a cash bar (hey, it is a fundraiser), but admission to the event does not include mandatory white clothing, so dress for the outdoor relaxation of it all before school starts nine or ten days later for most of us. Call LCCH 349-1921 during weekday business hours to reserve tickets, or go online at
As this catches on, Shani Smith and I imagine theme foursomes playing cutthroat, full-contact croquet; or at least with the costumes competing while the field of play is more peaceful. Whether you want to wear Edwardian whites or Bermuda shorts, just plan to wander by the Bryn Du Mansion on Aug. 13 and help more modest housing stay open and available to those who need it in Licking County.
And the polo alone is still free from the Newark-Granville Road entrance!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him your croquet balls, bouquets, or brickbats at (note new email!).