Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Faith Works 9-9-06
Jeff Gill

Sept. 9 – 2006, or 2001?

Five years later, and what is different?
For those who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan, and especially for those who have had those they love go and not return, much has changed. For the rest of us, I wonder. I really do.
A few weeks ago, five years ago, I was driving back from my last church camp responsibility of the summer, and listening to the one station that I could get on that stretch of road. The host was talking, on and on and on, about Chandra Levy and the congressman suspected in her disappearance. As I wondered if he had absolutely nothing else to talk about, he went on to discuss the dating travails of either Jenniston or Jlo or Beyond-saying. I forget.
At any rate, it was a beautiful day, and Columbus area stations began to come in with music I liked. Then I got home, and shuffled through a pile of papers and magazines, most of which had cover stories on shark attacks. "Could You Be At Risk?" shouted the headlines, and I hope I wasn’t too casual about the miseries of others when thinking, "not in Licking County, I’ll bet."
Last night, this year, a host on cable TV sternly asked me, in regard to stingray barbs, "Could you be at risk?"
George Barna is a leading pollster in the Christian community, having worked for years on market research for a little bizness called Disney. He did a specific survey which was announced last week, telling many of us what we already knew. "9-11 had no appreciable impact on faith for Americans."
I was wrong five years ago. I really thought that we would see a new seriousness, a healthy seriousness in this land, and in churches, about our calling to respond to crisis today with timeless teaching, our need to promote better understanding of a complex world and where a simple faith can change it.
Yes, I thought it would get a few more people to church, too, not that any pastor saw that as a good or God-sent thing, but a situation that God could craft good out from. What pretty much every church I know saw was two weeks of attendance spike, and then a soft "whooshing" sound as the bubble deflated.
Barna’s data says that was nationwide, the two week up-down thing. If it promoted any further reflection on why God would allow evil acts to play out on the earthly stage, or what my role in confronting anger and destructive vengeance would be, it doesn’t show up in the polling data. Apparently some individual responses, like Pat Tillman or Oliver Stone, were the exception and not the rule.
And no one has to tell you about the pictures of Baby Suri, do they?
When the planes hit, I was in a meeting, at a church, working on a co-operative ministry project. When I first heard what was going on, I was in my car on Rt. 16 heading to a meeting with the chaplain at Denison. After we got together, and huddled around a TV with many others, and watched the first tower collapse, we hurried to a gathering of clergy where we began to plan what a prayer service for that evening would look like. Then I left them to their details, and drove back to my (then) church and opened the doors, where people began showing up looking for a place to pray within minutes.
That night, hundreds showed up from five or six churches and some from none, but we prayed and reflected together on what God asked of us in a situation like this. Most of us left still rattled and worried, but a bit more hopeful.
Looking back, at lest for me, the church as a whole and my faith was doing what it should have been about on 9-11, in 2001.
Maybe we didn’t need much to change from five years ago, looking back on that night, so much as we needed something to grow. A wider vision, and a more solid hope based on a broader community. We still need that to happen, and we still can be part of that growth.
And we don’t need Hollywood baby pictures, unless they’re your grandkids. Then you can just show them to me in person, and not on TV. They grow up fast, don’t they?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; offer him your perspective at

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 9-10-06
Jeff Gill

In a Missing Shadow

Five years on. Hard to believe, in so many ways. Anyone over the age of 10 recalls that day, the experience of watching TV, talking to neighbors, going to church that night as houses of worship and clergy all over threw open the doors and put together a service of prayer and searching.

Searching for . . . well, answers, understanding, sense: about the motives of the action (still not really understood), the roots of the effort (rarely discussed, even now), the nature of God and the place of evil (resolution still pending).

Looking back, I think about a group of young men, gathered around a charismatic, shadowy leader, who mustered anger. Anger at the presence of foreigners in their land, at exploitation of natural resources and the spectre of privilege in the wealth of these alien interlopers, coalesced around a resentment at their strange religion, making inroads through their homeland.

Even with the out of scale hostility, all this can make a measure of sense, until it erupts in senseless slaughter of men, women, and even children; worse when you look closely at their ideology’s activity in their own lands and realize how many of their own people they have killed.

You know this kind of cruelty and rage must be faced, named, and not allowed to spread, but observe with unease how the swift, massive multinational effort to put down this movement generates a new and different level of resentment that has the capacity to spread far beyond the grievances of the original brutal terrorists.

Which is my way of describing the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising a hundred years before 9-11 slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

The "Righteous Harmony Society" had a martial arts element to their group exercises that led to the English nickname "Boxers." In Peking, China, by 1899, diplomats, businessfolk, and missionaries saw the Boxers grow, but labeled them as a threat more to the Imperial House of China than to themselves.

They were tragically wrong.

The Boxers would have happily flown planes into buildings in London or Berlin or New York, if there were planes then, or if they could have even imagined the other side of the world. Instead, they seized and decapitated all the westerners they could, children included, and did their worst to Chinese Christians and any others who associated with the buyers and sellers from across the ocean.

Eight nations, America, England, Germany, Russia, and Japan among them, joined forces to invade and rescue the occupants of western embassies, including many who had taken refuge there other than diplomats. This multinational effort, in hindsight, needed a United Nations, taking a long time to co-ordinate simple processes to get to where they were going. Individual contingents went off on their own national agendas – German soldiers first gained the nickname "Huns" from their British cousins for their treatment of innocent civilians as instructed by the Kaiser.

The Boxers were crushed, some executed, and China returned (briefly) to Imperial control. Popular distaste for the government’s involvement with foreign powers led to civil wars for decades, only ending with Chairman Mao. Russian adventurism and Japanese expansionism, fueled by the Boxer events, set the stage for the Russo-Japanese War, the prelude to the disastrous symphony of 1914 to 1945.

What we are of necessity doing in response to 9-11 has many potentially unnecessary outcomes. National choices today are directly shaping future events ten, twenty, even fifty years and more down the path. Do we know what kind of world we are trying to create? How are the actions we take now forming those future possibilities?

It can take a while to get perspective on such questions, but time doesn’t always give the clearest point of view. In recent years, Oberlin College to our north has had a problem on graduation day. Since 1903, a Memorial Arch has stood near the center of campus, remembering 19 alumni and their children who were killed by the Boxers, missionaries trained at that school. The commencement procession marches through the arch and colonnade on their way to their diplomas.

The problem is that a number of today’s students have decided that they cannot walk through this arch, out of disagreement with Christian evangelism or American imperialism or a lack of mention of Chinese victims on the plaques. So they break from the procession and run around the wings of the Memorial Arch, rejoining their fellows on the other side.

History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him a tale through