Thursday, September 14, 2006

Faith Works 9-16-06
Jeff Gill

Starting With Now

So you have some questions.
Your faith isn’t what you think it should be (or what you think others think you should think), and you don’t know where to start, or where to go.
Maybe you’ve bought a book – someone’s purchasing the bazillions of self-help, personal affirmation, "seeking the truth through more fiber in your diet" kind of books that clog the book stores and pile on the remainder tables at the door two weeks after they come out.
Didn’t do much for you, did it?
Actually, most of us don’t finish them anyhow, so maybe they could help. But a book on the nightstand or a stack of them on the side table in the living room only works for some. A relatively few some, in fact.
What you need to do is go to church.
Right, right, someone is already thinking of emailing me to say "your way ain’t my way, fella, so don’t go pushing me into your church." So let me rephrase just a bit.
Get out of the house, and go somewhere and be there with other people who have some of the same concerns, questions, and hopes. It might be an AA meeting, could be a small support group, it could be in a building with a cross on the steeple or not.
I will affirm my personal beliefs this far without qualification: I do believe that you can start just about anywhere, because if you are sincerely seeking a truth beyond your self and are open to God’s call, you will end up in the right place. It may not be where you first went, but you will get there. Christians call that "discernment," and it is available to anyone, but some are better at it ("gifted") than others.
But if you just stay inside your own head, you will start to hear the echoes answering back to you. If you just use the entire weekend to pursue personal preferences, whether golf, flea markets, or TV, the questions will remain and nibble at you.
Get out into a church – because that’s what most of you in Licking County are likely to do – and you will find strange traditions that no one can explain to you because they don’t even know they have them, like when to stand and sit. You will find aggravating people (kind of like you) and folks who have some pretty amazing ways of looking at world (kind of like you) and some who want to be part of something of lasting meaning (very much like you). They will not always sing songs you like, or have the exact activities you hoped would lead you to a clearer picture of the world and your place in it.
So if you can’t find a sense of place there after a few weeks, quietly move on. If you find yourself doing that three times in a year, stop and ask yourself, or ask someone you respect, how you are making yourself uncomfortable, but this is America. You can go wherever you want to worship.
And once you get settled in, speak up and listen closely. Ask questions, share your perspective, invite others to tell you their story and pay attention.
This is the time of year most places of worship of all sorts see the most visitors who are looking for a home for their faith. More visitors at Christmas or Easter don’t often mean they’re there to think about getting involved, although that can happen.
But Fall and school starting up and the days getting shorter is the season when people all around you start to think "should I be attending to my soul as well as I do my cholesterol?"
Churches of all sorts should be aware of that, as well. How do you welcome visitors? Not just when they come through the door, but when they come down the steps to the basement or go back into the ed building or whathaveyou. Is the whole fellowship attuned to the challenging work of welcoming new attenders into the life of the community?
The leaves are turning, and hearts are turning toward home in many ways. Watch the faces around you with the same interest you turn to the changing colors of nature.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you found a faith and fellowship to support it at
Notes From My Knapsack 9-17-06
Jeff Gill

Get the Wideblade Shovels Out

Every election season there are certain constants.
Fall color, which is coming out on tree tops and forest edges, in soybean fields going yellow north to south, is also showing in yard signs for candidates and issues. Their red, white, and blue motifs, or focus group tested swirls of more exotic colors, clash a bit with the sweetgum leaves turning a more muted rainbow, but they are a sign of the times.
Another indicator is the BS output factor going on setting "high" from all kinds of candidates, state and local.
Writing for the papers, one is expected to avoid using the words "lie" or "lying," so any of us who try to scribble down something for print have to dance around words like prevarication, unsubstantiated, patently untrue, and so on.
Our Ohio governor’s race is pushing my good will to the absolute limit. Frankly, Ted Strickland has hardly said a word to make me want to vote for him, but he can rest easy on my account. Ken Blackwell has done a masterful job of making me want to crawl over ground glass lit on fire with kerosene to vote against him. No, I’m not holding back.
First we get the TEL amendment, which aside from any other dishonest statements made about how it will impact local government, Blackwell has made a sudden post-primary about-face and says, with Emily Litella, "Never mind."
But this utterly disingenuous education funding plan makes my blood boil, or at least causes a neck vein to throb. Aside from the demonization of administrators – and aren’t we all getting pretty tired of this one? – his plan will pass no additional dollars to the budgets of local school districts, but he’s skating on the thinnest ice of truth when he claims it will.
Like so many state funding of education tricks (see entry under "lottery dollars, no net gain from"), he proposes to give with one hand and take away with the other.
Because, you see, and trust me, Mr. Blackwell knows this quite well, the money he’s not giving to what his campaign calls administration, so he can give "more" (coff, hack, arrrgh) to the classroom, is required by both state and federal to be spent. It includes special education and special needs programs that delivers or provides education to kids we didn’t used to even try to teach. All those dollars that are spent on aides and health care support and special instructors and program support: the Blackwell plan calls "adminsitration."
There’s more like that, but you get the idea. And if we are required to offer this – which is a great thing, by the way, as opposed to warehousing the disabled and handicapped – and the state is "giving" us those dollars for the classroom (as they define it) only, where do the missing dollars come from?
Need I tell you?
So if this benighted plan were to be implemented, there would just be that much more pressure on passing local levies at higher millage. Which is their point. Make the funding process so byzantine and opaque, and on purpose (why do we have to pass 5.99 mills to get 1.7? It takes a powerpoint and thirty minutes to explain, but it’s all mandated by state law), so local voters get mad at their school boards and, here they are again in the bucket, the administrators.
And Blackwell isn’t even the worst of it. We’re treated to yet another round of skillfully misdirectional ads about "Ohio Learn and Earn," with the tagline "A lot of good will come of this." My Aunt Sadie. This is effort number 27 from the gaming industry (did you hear the words "slot machines" in their ad, at a lower sound volume and in a rush of words, otherwise carefully stated) to con us into giving them, well, OK, we’ll settle for 70% of the profits this time. But you poor saps get 30% for yer kids scholarships, so vote already!
No good will come of this, and when they trot out the line that sulky horse racing folk are really small family farmers who need our support in their tourism related business, I want to gag.
Am I making endorsements here? Sadly, there isn’t much to endorse in Ohio politics right now. But I can see what could actually be worse than the status quo, and that’s what we’re looking at this November.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he isn’t too happy about state-supported lotteries, either. Argue with him and make your points at