Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Faith Works 9-2-06
Jeff Gill

Free Exercise of Religion, and Freedom of the Press

The page you’re reading right now represents an interesting intersection of two elements in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That’s it, that’s the First Amendment, so often cited piecemeal or selectively.
My thought is that this statement is meant as a whole, one entire thought expressed in 45 words.
These words were written almost 220 years ago. Just 35 years after that, Benjamin Briggs founded the newspaper we still call the "Newark Advocate." (We don’t know if they pronounced it "Ad-vo-kate" or "Ad-vuh-kit" back then.)
For 185 years, people have both expressed their sentiments through the pages of this paper, and expressed their frustration with the opinions expressed by others in this paper. Hill’s 1881 history of Licking County recounts the ire of Granville citizens over slights they perceived coming from the county seat in the early days of the paper, and records:
"Shortly after a number of subscribers took produce of various kinds to Newark to pay their subscriptions and stop the paper. Briggs published in his next issue an article in regard to the matter, attempting to ridicule the people, and there the matter ended; but the Advocate, after that time, never had much circulation there while he conducted it."
Sereno Wright began "The Wanderer" in response, but that paper lasted only a couple years, and irregularly at that.
But it wasn’t closed by government action or any other reason than that it couldn’t pay the bills. Meanwhile, one way or another (maybe he took the produce to the farmer’s market and cashed it in), Mr. Briggs kept the paper going. He sold it in later life, having served in Congress and other public offices, and the community institution many still call "The Aggravate" has passed through many hands, now owned by the Gannett Corporation and with a significant internet presence.
Likewise our churches are free to thrive, or close, independent of any legal pressure or support. Times change, and many of the houses of worship lovingly depicted in 1800’s histories are both closed and forgotten. Newark’s "New Jerusalem Church" once had a vital congregation and many civic officials in her pews, and by 1890 their building site was a brewery.
Freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Both are freedoms to close up shop as well as to open new branches, a marketplace of ideas seeking support from the public. A.J. Liebling famously noted that "freedom of the press is limited to those that own one," but the internet has made it possible for all sort of purveyors of news and information to provide their service and seek compensation in new and unexpected ways, even without a printing press and all that messy ink in the basement.
Freedom of religion is expressed both by those choosing to opt out of joining a church altogether, and by the right to open up a church in one’s living room or nearby storefront. Licking County has her share of both.
I appreciate the opportunity this newspaper gives to engage freedom of expression and freedom of religion on this page and in my column, and I really can’t express how engaging it is, for me personally, to try to communicate the breadth of how those freedoms are lived out around our area.
185 years later, I think Benj. Briggs would approve, and offer me a tomato, only slightly bruised.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has plenty of tomatoes. Exercise your freedom of expression by writing him at

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 9-3-06
Jeff Gill

Pestofest 2006 Draws To a Close

Three basil plants on the Gill acreage (OK, maybe 50 square feet) are still pushing out the foliage, but the stalk is getting woody and the lower leaves yellow.
The cicadas are in the thirtieth day of their infernal racket, which may be the sound of romantic murmurings by Julio to certain female insects, but sounds to me like the singing of Hasselhoff. Folk wisdom sayeth forty-five days after the cicada chorus begins, the first frost wins, so we’re two days from our initial morning dusting of white.
I could eat pesto and tear up basil leaves over food all year long (except raisin bran), but they are a taste of late summer at heart, with the season cheating pleasure of some pesto from the freezer in October.
My colleague Trish elsewhere in these pages said, last week, that her pesto recipe uses walnuts. I’m gonna have to try that; we both know the canonical ingredient is pine nuts, which can be found nowadays in this area, but before that became common I got into the habit of making it with almonds. I even used macadamia nuts once when I was out of almonds and didn’t know it until I had started food processing the leaves of basil, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.
She also recommends adding parmesan cheese to frozen pesto only after you thaw, which makes sense. Probably would keep it less clumpy, which doesn’t bother me much, but helps in serving.
Trish has well-explained recipes in her column, which I can never do, because, well, here’s why. Another seasonal favorite of mine is a Tuscan salad, which I make this way: take a bunch of onions from the garden, and some big handfuls of basil, including the budding tops of nested crowns which are where the plant gets its name ("basilea," or kingdom in Greek). Chop ‘em up, and then find some tomatoes from friends who don’t live in a deer browsing zone and chop them up. Mince a few cloves of garlic, and toss it all up with them and a few dashes of balsamic vinegar. Take a big hunk of mozarella cheese and cube it up, toss in not long before serving. Serves lots.
You can see why I don’t write a recipe column.
What I do like to write and talk and even preach about is the value of eating food you raised, even in modest amounts, or at least food grown locally, or at least making sure of putting some emphasis on eating seasonally.
There’s a fine line, and one I probably cross, between tooting your own horn and letting people know "hey, this is food I grew or was grown by people I know down the road." There was a study done recently looking at some average Iowa families and their dinner tables. Turns out that while they were primarily eating food that could be grown and raised in their county, let alone their state, they were actually consuming mostly food from California, Oregon, and other countries.
Start with the fuel costs (and pollution) of getting that food down the highway to them, add chemicals and processes needed to ship foodstuffs that kind of distance and under those pressures of packaging – oh, and the environmental cost of packaging – and don’t forget the health aspects of all that plus the still studied issue of what eating food out of your own ecosystem does for you, and it looks crazy, doesn’t it?
When I’ve defended Wal-Mart in the past (and I will again, probably), what I’m thinking we should be concerned about is the model that creates illusory, or at least very short-term cost savings. Cheap energy makes it look like radishes from Ecuador cost less, but that simply isn’t true in a global sense. Beef from five states away and even sweet corn from the other side of the Mississippi is costing the global system somewhere, even when we think we’re getting a deal.
So promoting the concept of eating locally is important to me. I’m not a fundamentalist in religion, politics, or the environment, so I’m not a vegetarian and I don’t throw a fit (in front of company) over fisheries degradation when swordfish is served. It just makes sense to grab the local gusto or pesto when it comes by, and if more people did a bit more of that some more of the time, we’d live more lightly on this lovely planet filled with so much food and so many hungry people.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s a bit of a gardener, too. Send recipes or rants to