Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith Works 10-21-06
Jeff Gill

Can You Explain the Differences…

Next Sunday, Oct. 29, at 3:00 pm in the Midland Theater on Newark’s Courthouse Square, there’s a free movie.
For some of us, that’s all we need to hear. No charge to enter one of Licking County’s most attractive public spaces, and a movie to boot: we’re there.
Others might want to know "what movie?" Fair enough. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is inviting everybody – i.e., not just Lutherans – to come watch the movie "Luther." This was a theatrical release not long ago, and stars Joseph Fiennes, the fellow who had the title role in "Shakespeare in Love," and cameos Alfred Molina, Spiderman’s nemesis Doctor Octopus, as Luther’s nemesis Tetzel.
Lots of period atmosphere, if you like the period 1517, some gorgeous location shooting, and a slice of history not too terribly off kilter.
But you may ask, "Jeff, I’m not Lutheran, and I’ve seen the Midland, and I’m not so cheap as to jump at just any old free movie. Why would I go and spend a couple hours in this story?"
A fair rejoinder, and there’s a direct response. What Martin Luther set loose in 1517 shaped the Western World right down to the present day, and not just in denominational divisions. The path toward the Enlightenment, modern nation states, and global discovery was set by how the Lutheran Reformation set the pace.
The Roman Catholic Church was spurred to Counter-reformation, the Council of Trent, and changes in the institution of the papacy that still marks the role Pope Benedict XVI holds today.
From the Bible in common tongues (German for Luther, English for us today) to congregational hymn singing (even if Martin didn’t write most of the ones we credit him with), Luther is a pivotal figure in world history, whether you are Protestant or Catholic, American or Asian, northern hemisphere or southern.
This is particularly on my mind after reading a recent piece by a Washington DC reporter who covers defense and intelligence issues. He interviews a number of key congressional and Pentagon players regularly, and recently he started dropping a final follow-up into his interviews.
"What’s the difference between Sunni and Shiite?"
Don’t panic. I’m not saying every American ought to know this, but I’m right with the reporter who felt that people making decisions on our national policy in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan ought to have some sense of the split that runs through the Arab-Moslem world.
Like Protestant and Catholic are not the totality of Christendom, there are a few other sects and branches, and even Sunni and Shiite (like P’s and C’s) are not monolithic in and of themselves. But broadly speaking, you can probably summarize the difference between the Vatican and the independent church down the street. Shouldn’t our policy folk be able to do that in the Middle East? They know, don’t they, which one is predominant in Iran, or Saudi Arabia, and among al-Quaeda?
Yep, that’s right – they don’t. Hardly any of them even had a clue. Which tells me this: they are decent, hardworking people for the most part, who review masses of data everyday about the situation in the Moslem world. But they come out of a context, OURS, with an almost criminal lack of curiosity about how other people think, choose, and make decisions about their lives.
An Iraqi farmer is not a midwestern soybean farmer with a headdress in place of the Pioneer seed corn cap. They are human and feel and live and love just like any of us, but they do view the world through a different set of propositions. If you haven’t even tried to figure out what they are, I’m betting it’s because it hasn’t occurred to you that they’re different to start with.
So let’s start here and now. Come watch "Luther," reflect with us about how some major worldviews make us distinctive in America, and then get curious about other patches of this world we’re together on. Like Sunni and Shiite, whether interpretation of tradition and sacred writings can develop over time, or is held by a central body of religious leaders, will affect how you look at more than just your faith.
And if I’ve made you want to read more in this space about what sets Shiites and Sunnis apart, great, and see you next week!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; ask him about something that’s puzzled you for years in the faith dept. by e-mailing

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-22-06
Jeff Gill

Making Room Amid the Clutter

As the weather gets fouler, the Little Guy spends more time indoors, and his stuff spends more time on the living room floor.
This works well enough until we decide we want to, oh, walk across the room or find the carpet. Then the cry goes out from the sofa, "Time to tidy!" Books, papers, small toys, atlases, pencil boxes, household objects used for non-intended purposes, the stray ibex or emu: they all have to go into their proper folder, closet, or shelf space.
Over time, the cumulative weight of school handouts, church fliers, and Star Wars figurines threatens to crack the foundation, shift Earth’s gravitational field, or at least crowd we the humans out of the house. Which is not true, of course. Too much stuff, maybe, but a little of Tidy Time ™ and the house is cleared for strolling, or at least pacing.
In the same sense, there’s been a variety of odd reactions to the Tuesday observance-celebration-hysteria over the United States hitting 300,000,000. I learned in school 220,000,000, have been used to writing in stuff like, oh, columns, that our nation has 260,000,000 souls, but we’ll all mentally adjust to a nice handy round 300 million and use it for years, even if the National Population Clock says 314,268,752 when we type it next.
300,000,000 is a large and quite frankly unimaginable number; by the same token, India has 1 billion plus another set of 300 million and China continues to dwarf us both (note to self: learn Mandarin). Depending on where you drive, you may feel that you share the road with a major portion of that population explosion, or see the houses going up for most of them.
We do live in Licking County in one of Ohio’s few growth zones, and while growth is a double-edged sword, the fact of the matter is that many of Ohio’s problems have less to do with Emily Kreider’s non-payment of student loans (and shame on her, but still) or whether Mike DeWine occasionally sends out form letters to constituent inquiries, contrary to the current crop o’ ads, but to the fact that our state is shrinking. Population, youth, jobs, locally owned pharmacies – all shrinking.
Which is why I’ll be voting for our local open space purchase levy, and for the Licking County Parks. Before the accessible, non-agricultural, recreationally and environmentally inviting space is all snapped up, we need to give our public servants, of which we have many good ones in this county (along with a few, very few, dunderheads), the latitude and resources to purchase some well placed parcels.
Especially to my conservative friends I would say: This is not one of the areas we let the free market run unfettered. No private interest really wants to provide free, general public green space, but it is a public need and the common good. Plus, we vote for these and the use of eminent domain is pushed to the far margins of public policy where it belongs.
Licking County has a cost-effective park system with a priority on families and wise use of natural resources; they hope to be empowered to enter the market while some tracts in the western half of the county can still be selected to maintain natural areas, recreational use in helpful locations, and keep our area looking and feeling like a good place to live. Townships like Licking, Union, and Granville (to name ones I keep up with, but by no means all) have trustees and employees who are trying their best to balance a healthy environment and citizens’ interest.
There are no boondoggles for the powerful and well-placed here, and our community has quite a few people who use their wealth to advance this agenda as well. But gifts of land and cash here and there can’t replace a secure funding source.
As for school levies, let’s talk about that next week, but green space and open land purchases are a public service we can and should empower.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your favorite hike or stroll in Licking County at
Faith Works 10-14-06
Jeff Gill

Casseroles, Compassion, and Incomprehension

Head up to Utica and turn right, and before long you can expect to find yourself tailgating an Amish buggy if you aren’t careful, and you should be careful.
The yellow diamond signs with a black outline of a horsedrawn vehicle are not a tourist directional indicator, but a warning to fast-moving moderns. There are people living around here who move at a different pace, by other means – make adjustments, please.
But if you zoom around with a kick to the accelerator, and spray gravel into their horses’ faces, they will forgive you. They may even feel sorry for the forces which you let drive your life, and lead you to drive that way. Poor English, they may think, and likely say a prayer for you.
Aside from pumpkin pies and spiced candles, what has us thinking about the Amish these days is the tragedy in a one-room schoolhouse almost two weeks back now. And the forgiveness.
Many of us can relate to the scene of a warm casserole in hand, standing at a door where grief has visited. We’ve made those dishes, and stood in the doorway, offering condolences, and not a few of us have been the ones opening the door, saying thank you for your sorrow.
What many of us marvel at is the idea that before the day was done, there were people, people who had lost a child or grandchild themselves, standing casserole in hand at the door of the widow of the killer, offering their sorrow for her plight. We hear, we acknowledge, but we think "I could not do that."
And the fact is that most of us could not. It is too much of a stretch to forgive at that extension of self, to sincerely grieve along with the family of those who did us grievous wrong, and offer our broken heart for their sorrow along with our own.
We could not, because we have not practiced forgiveness, just as few of us could lift 500 pounds. But someone who often bench presses 250, and has done 450 recently: when that person raises 500 off the ground, we nod approvingly.
In forgiveness, most of us avoid the gym. The practice in daily life of forgiveness, the exercise of the muscles of compassion, is a discipline few of us maintain.
The Amish, on the other hand, for all their other particularities, if not peculiarities, are seasoned veterans at forgiveness. The odd stares, the passing cars, even rocks thrown for no reason out of the night at a peaceful buggy: Amish folk forgive us, called by most of them "English," most every day for our impatience, our pushiness, our rudeness.
The acts of the Amish community in Nickle Mines, PA are remarkable and worth our praise and reflection, but they are part and parcel of their everyday life as Christians. They read their New Testament, they see certain expectations God has of us in this life, and they practice that understanding as best as they are able. Modern American society helped to put another 50 pounds on the bar, but they lifted the extra weight without hardly a hitch. They’d been training for such a day all their lives.
The Amish are not exceptional people, really, but they are everyday people who have followed an exceptional discipline for nearly 400 years. What can we learn, aside from mashed potatoes and bigger slices of pie, from their example?
It will come step by step, slowly, plodding even, like the pace of a buggy on a blacktop road.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a tale through
Notes From My Knapsack 10-15-06
Jeff Gill

What Would You Carry Along?

Walking through the museums of Roscoe Village and Granville recently, a number of objects made me think about the hands that carried them.
For the first European pioneers into this area two hundred years ago and more, there were choices to be made. Whether in Conestoga wagons or earlier buckboards pulled by oxen across Raccoon Creek or the Tuscarawas River, there was only so much room, so many pounds that could go. A piano? Not likely. A millstone? Better find one there at the destination, but let’s bring the metal gears, and the steel tools to make an axle and belt system a millwheel could turn.
Wooden buckets could be assembled at the other end of the journey, but you may bring some iron bands to hammer around the oaken staves. A brass bucket? You could cook in it, carry water, or flip it over for a stool: throw it in the wagon.
Books? A Bible yes, novels maybe later. But a printing press to typeset a newspaper is tops on the order list when the cabins get set up.
Then there’s the bassoon. A bassoon? That went on the "can’t live without it" list? For someone in 1805, it came instead of a second jug of molasses or a spare wheel hub. A bassoon? What songs do you sing to a bassoon?
It turns out that in the days before organs, church music was usually – when it wasn’t a cappella, voice only – a violin, a viola, a trumpet for accents, and . . . a bassoon. Instead of the left hand on the piano, the "oompa-oompa-boom-pah" of a bassoon rhythm set the tempo.
Still, I wonder about the thoughts that led to that vital decision, a choice that couldn’t be reversed around Bedford, PA. "Music is important, I have a place in the worship service, and we might have a dance or two after the cornhusking, so I guess I’d better bring the bassoon." Did someone else say, "What on earth are you thinking? In the space that yard and a half of ebony and brass takes up you could carry the whole next winter’s worth of candles! We can wait a few years before we get a bassoon shipped over to us."
In 2006, with the days shorter and the trees turning, while the temperatures drop and even a few wisps of snow haunt the fringes of the sky, I think about being somewhere between the Ohio River at Fort Henry and the Pataskala valley, bumping along a blazed trail, marks in tree bark with horse-high hatchet chops all I have to see my path.
I think about the blankets and grain and preserves bundled up between my family members shivering in the back of the wagon, and then I remember my bassoon. Does that sign of civilization and culture warm my heart just a bit, or do I think: "Why didn’t I bring more socks?"
The presence of that bassoon here in Ohio, two centuries later, tells me that the place of music wasn’t just entertainment or diversion. It was life itself, along with matches and food and clay jars. They didn’t have CDs or iPods or radio stations to tune in, but their music was all the more important for how they made it themselves.
Give ear to that thought the next time you hear a tune you like, and imagine not only enjoying it, but being fed by it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio who is lucky to play the radio successfully; sing him your song of musical significance at