Monday, December 31, 2007
"What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism."
Friday, December 28, 2007
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On Christmas day I weep
Good Friday to rejoice.
I watch the Child asleep.
Does he half-dream the choice
The Man must make and keep?
At Christmastime I sigh
For my good Friday hope
Outflung the Child's arms lie
To span in their brief scope
The death the Man must die.
Come Christmastide I groan
To hear Good Friday's pealing.
The Man, racked to the bone,
Has made His hurt my healing,
Has made my ache His own.
Slay me, pierced to the core
With Christmas penitence
So I who, new-born, soar
To that Child's innocence,
May wound the Man no more.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
more locally, try:
The "Service of Nine Lessons and Carols" from King's College Cambridge will be "live" at 10 am Christmas Eve Day and repeated at 8 am Christmas Day on WOSU-FM.
And the Nativity in St. Peter's Square is just about in place -- look HERE.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Past and Future and Coming Attractions For All!
What’s the point of life?
More to the point, am I allowed to ask that question in church? Any church?
What, um, exactly is it that people of faith think happens when we die, and what do they base that on?
And could someone explain to me just why a guy who died 2,000 years ago has anything to do with my life today? I can tell that’s something Christians put a lot of stock it, but why?
. . . do any of those questions sound familiar? Would you or anyone you know want to know about where you could go and feel OK about asking them?
Would it help if dinner was served for free so you could just focus on hearing what the answers on offer are?
“The Alpha Course” is a Christian program that has roots in an urban parish near the heart of London, and now rattles literally around the world in 152 countries.
You might say that “the sun never sets” on Alpha, because Africa and Asia and Alabama and East LA all have congregations which have chosen to offer this unique opportunity.
You can see a bit about the general approach at www.alphausa.org, and Centenary United Methodist Church in Granville is the latest county church to offer Alpha to their community.
Starting Jan. 15 and running for ten Tuesdays until Mar. 18, folks are invited to come for a dinner and conversation. 6:00 pm is the start around the mealtime table, and each Tuesday is a different part of the well-tested Alpha program, with videos from Nicky Gumbel, one of the pastors with Holy Trinity, Brompton (London) where Alpha was launched in 1973.
You’ll see people on the streets of London and New York and other cities answering questions for interviewers that lead to other, even deeper questions, and Centenary has trained local leaders like Mike Evans who will take it from there as the tables lay out their own questions and work up some answers.
To have the table set up and meals ready, they’d love to know how many are coming, but they want you to come regardless. You can call 587-0022 or drop a note to 102 E. Broadway, Granville 43023 to let them know how many chickens to put in the pot.
One more invitation, even if you already have all the answers; you probably don’t know much about Chaplain David Jones, a fellow I argue may be the “lost founder” of Licking County.
In honor of the bicentennial of the establishment of Licking County on March 1, 1808, I’ve been asked by “The Works” to tell the story of Rev. Jones next Sunday, Jan. 13, at 2:00 pm. I’m going to wear what he would have had on in 1773 when he became only the second European to leave a record of passing through this terrain, but his story just gets better from there. Until the end of his long, fascinating life in 1820, he sent many (most?) of the early settlers to the forks of the Licking River, and returned here, making the long journey from his home by Valley Forge (yes, that Valley Forge, and he was there in 1777) to preach here for the first Baptists in Licking County time and again, well into his 80’s.
I’ve been looking forward to getting the fruits of my research into this amazing character and great soul out in front of a wider audience, and couldn’t be more delighted to help launch the county bicentennial observances with this presentation. Drop by, won’t you?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been working on uncovering the lost story of Chaplain Jones since 1989, and he promised that it’s a doozy! Tell him your lost tale or unknown account at email@example.com.
So Much Amazement, So Little Time
2008 is off to a flying start, and there is so much to marvel at and be surprised by.
We have an awesome bowl game here at the end of the college football season, begun back in August (or was it the spring scrimmage, which is just a few months ahead).
Many, many fans in central Ohio, more than just alums, and quite a few traveling to watch them battle it out against a wily opponent. And think about going down into the heart of the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina just a few years ago, now the place again for vacationers and warmth-seekers who will be in a stadium tonight to watch . . .
No, you think I mean tomorrow, Monday night, Jan. 7? Sorry, I was talking about the GMAC Bowl with Bowling Green playing Tulsa, in Mobile, Alabama. That’s Sunday night, Jan. 6, and it oughta be a barn-burner.
Sure, I’ll watch the thing Monday, too; who were the Bucks playing? Actually, I may watch “Good Eats” instead. Tune in for the last quarter, late.
What we can reflect on to our mutual benefit is a year that is still early in a new millennium, where fears about resurgent militant Islam and internal conflict among Western nations can and should be balanced with the rise of new technologies and strengthened religion in some nations that had in recent years become indifferent. New initiatives to build relationships between Islamic and Asian nations make some in the West nervous, but a new global economy is starting to benefit those who had formerly been at the very bottom of society.
I’m talking, of course, about 1008.
Then there’s . . . ok, I won’t go for the same cheesy effect for describing 1808, but you know I could! They had their own worries and unique challenges when the State of Ohio was young, but the human condition was not so different that you can’t find much to empathize with in their struggles and small victories.
Even a few big victories.
What I will do is invite you all to come next Sunday, Jan. 13, to “The Works” just south of Newark’s Courthouse Square, for a 2:00 pm lecture given by . . . well, me, sort of.
I’m coming in the garb and guise of one Chaplain David Jones, the second recorded European visitor to the terrain of what’s now Licking County, a county that formally came into being on March 1, 1808, carved out of Fairfield County which itself was taken from Washington County, which was originally the entire expanse of the Northwest Territory.
This year is the bicentennial of Licking County, and the “kick-off” event of a series of talks and programs is my presentation on, or as “Chaplain David Jones: The Lost Founder of Licking County?” I want to tell the story not only of his remarkable 1773 visit to the area, but of his many other visits through his death in 1820, the people he sent to this region, the institutions he directly or indirectly helped found, and his role in American history from Valley Forge (chaplain for Anthony Wayne) to the Battle of Fallen Timbers (he was there, with Wayne) to the Treaty of Greenville (he’s a signer), and beyond.
Granville and Union and Licking Townships, Baptists in general, and Owl Creek Baptist Church in particular up into Knox County, maybe even Newark itself all owe Rev. Jones some modest acknowledgement of his role right here. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather talk about to launch the bicentennial celebration of Licking County as a cultural and political institution than Chaplain Jones.
Come on by, won’t you? It’s not everyday that it’s 1808.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been digging away at the story of Rev. Jones since 1989, and can’t wait to tell someone about it. Tell your unappreciated story to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
What Are They Saying About That Baby
“Jesus is Lord.”
Lots of you reading this don’t find that an odd statement. You should, but it’s a phrase that’s been around long enough to lose the edge of strangeness.
Others of you may think “that’s quite a claim y’all make,” but consider your Christmas season appearance at a church to be a time for quiet courtesy, so it goes right on by.
But standing near a living nativity scene or small tabletop manger, the very ease and comfort of the homey display should make this central point of Christendom stand out.
“Jesus is Lord.”
People often make radical, not to say ridiculous claims about their children. Of course, neither of the birth narratives from the two Gospels have Mary or Joseph telling their visitors to look at their future high-achiever infant with wonder and awe.
You can’t say that about some of the Christmas letters that came in the mail.
It was an assortment of the unlikely and unworthy and utterly unexpected who came ready to call this child “Dominus,” Latin for “Lord,” “he who has dominion.”
The claim of “Jesus is Lord” is no less radical, but a bit more understandable when you consider that the Caesar Augustus mentioned at the outset of the Luke, chapter 2 narrative (beloved of Linus VanPelt on stage explaining to Charlie Brown “that’s what Christmas is all about,”) is the adopted Roman son of “Divus Julius,” Julius the Divine. For almost 40 years before the birth in Bethlehem, the Roman Senate had affirmed that Julius Caesar was a god in the Roman pantheon, and it was clear as Mary and Joseph made their way for the census, that the “son of Caesar” would be divinized soon by the same senators.
Caesar was just a guy’s name, but not after the Roman Empire made it a title of office and a label for a man above men, a human who took on the attributes of the gods on Olympus. By the time Mary’s son had left the carpentry shop behind and walked the shores of Galilee, Caesar was “Dominus,” the one who had dominion.
And not long after that empire had him executed, to do business – sell property, get a license, pay your taxes – meant going into a Roman public building, a basilica, and like getting your documents stamped by a clerk today, you then sealed the process by going to the central altar, dropping in a pinch of incense, and repeating the holy words that ordained the Pax Romana: Caesar is Lord. The godhood of the ruler ensured the stability of the rule, and conferred a certain status on the ruled.
It was in response to this environment that some rose out of Israel to say “Jesus is Lord.” The realm they saw before them was not guided by a diplomat-general-soothsayer-adopted-member-of-the-rapacious-Caesar-family, but a government on the shoulder of a gentle shepherd, who kept his heavenly attributes in the service of reaching down the cliff face for that hundredth sheep.
“Caesar is Lord” says that you’re part of the empire which will bring peace with imposed forceful quiet; “Jesus is Lord” speaks of the peace that passes all human understanding, except perhaps that of a child, calm yet expectant, excited while delighted, even as they drop off to a hopeful sleep.
On Christmas morning, children are absolute rulers, kings and queens in this society, and that’s not a bad one-day arrangement. We’ll survive that day. Whatever our faith perspective, as December 26 dawns, we go back to the question which our everyday actions and casual affirmations answer – who do we say is Lord, our “Dominus;” to whom or what do we give over dominion for our lives?
God bless us, every one.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
* * *
Faith Works 12-29-07
Suddenly, Your Church Is Crowded
Here’s the deal – the new year comes right on the heels of Christmas, where all kinds of visitors wander through almost every church.
Let’s hope you didn’t greet them Christmas Eve with any sarcastic remarks about how nice it was to see you . . . for the first time since Easter.
Yes, there are plenty of Christmas and Easter folk still around, and you know what? Many of them really do think of your church as, well, their church. They know they don’t have as many votes as you folk do who come every week, but if they made it from the parking lot in the door, trust me, they feel fairly comfortable in your church.
And if we don’t beat them away with sticks (you laugh, but some churches very nearly do just that), some will come back. They are a few steps behind in knowing when “everybody” stands up, or sits down, or says certain phrases or prayers, but they are back, and they’re looking for something.
The following is not meant as an exhaustive, scientific analysis. It is a prod to those already well-settled into a church to think about how folk think who are new to the pew, how d’ye do?
1. Now that I’m here, what do I do? Who do I watch? Does the bulletin tell me, or is there a person I should be looking at?
2. What are the basic disciplines everyone else here practices everyday, and how do I do them? Are you doing them?
3. The sermon was great, but it’s not enough. I have questions. Is there someone I can follow up with besides pestering the pastor?
4. Yikes, prayer. I don’t know how to pray. I find it very awkward and yet I want to pray, and I try to pray. I’m not really sure I’m doing it right. Can somebody show me how?
5. I want to get involved, but I have a very irregular schedule. I sure can’t teach, at least, not yet. Are there ways I can get involved that are meaningful and important, but don’t scare me so much I’ll run away?
6. If I do volunteer for anything, who defines what is a good job? Because I want to do it well, and I want to find a place here. What are the expectations? (Not a job description. Everyone knows about job descriptions. Ha.) When do I know that I’m done?
7. Mainly, I want to get connected. I’m connected to God I know, but through Jesus – how does that work? And I want to be connected to other people.
8. I know I need to learn more, so what’s the basic stuff I need to read? What are the first things that you read in your faith walk with God that helped you the most?
This list is adapted from a list made up by a new member of a church who wrote them down long before he showed them to anyone, thinking “Someday, if I get really active and end up in leadership with this faith community, I want to remember what these early days felt like.” Bless him!
These are some of the questions new believers ask. Don’t be afraid of them. Embrace them. Bring them in and include them. You’ll be incredibly glad you did.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your “starting out” story in a congregation with him at email@example.com.
Monday, December 17, 2007
* * *
Notes From My Knapsack 12-23-07
You May Be An Angel, This Week Anyhow
When the lady opened the door for him, he knew this was going to be a talker.
She was asking him questions even before he got his shoes off and set them on the mat in the front hallway. Questions that were in the form of statements about the filter she’d had her nephew change last month, how old the furnace was, the way she made sure not to let boxes and bags of water softener lean against the ductwork.
She was elderly, but he’d been certain of that from the first conversation as he answered her worried message on the voicemail. If you were going to do HVAC work these days, you had to have voicemail, though it always tightened his stomach a bit to work the buttons on his cell phone and listen intently to the muddled recordings coming to him from who knows where.
In December folks always sound fearful and a bit defensive on their messages, needing heat to come back soon, and knowing that, since they’re calling, they can’t fix it themselves, and resent needing his expertise more than a little bit.
This lady, though, was sweet and courteous in the way you expect grandmotherly types to be. He’d not known any elderly women like that in his family, but he knew they were out there, somewhere, often making cookies when he came to repair their furnaces just to confirm the image.
There was no tell-tale scent in the air this early in the morning, but she was his first stop since kissing the kids goodbye and waving across the living room to where his wife was diapering their youngest. He listened to the quavering voice standing by the sink in the kitchen, where the ruckus of off-to-school prep was around a corner and blunted just a little. She was the third message of five, but the first in need as he heard out her situation.
She continued a rattling stream of cheeriness as he levered the panel off the side of the furnace, looked about with his heavy yellow-cased flashlight, and twitched the main flow knob. Then she stopped as he leaned back and looked thoughtful.
“Is there any dreadfully wrong, after all?” she asked, this time a direct question.
“No, ma’am, but I just realized I forgot to do something.”
“Do you need a tool from your truck?”
“Not exactly,” he smiled reassuringly, and walked past her and back up the stairs.
Turning the corner where his experience told him it must be, he stood in front of the thermostat. Yep, that’s it, he thought.
With a careful check of his tone, he said “The, uh, furnace was turned off. Here at the on-off switch. I usually call and tell people to check that before I come by, but I just came right over. My mistake . . .” As he spoke, he flipped the toggle to “on” and immediately heard the hum below his feet confirming what he already knew.
“Oh, oh dear, I am so . . .” the lady started to say, and was cut off by an upraised hand, and the words “No, this happens all the time when the temperature swings around, and folks assume the worst. That’s why I should have called and even looked here first; please don’t worry about it.”
“Well, certainly I owe you something for your . . .” and the hand again, so gently raised, barely waist-high, and a response “Please, ma’am, don’t even fret a moment. Glad to ease your worries.”
He went on down to the basement, set all to rights, and came up to get his shoes on and make an exit. She stood in the same spot with a bright look on her face as he went, and just as his hand reached the doorknob, said “You are my Christmas angel, you know that? Thank you so very much, my dear.”
Driving to the next address he’d listed on his notepad, the image wouldn’t leave his mind. Him, an angel. Right.
Except for her, it was true. The heat was back on, confirmation that all was well, and no trace of his having been there – mud on the carpet, a bill on the table – all meant that, for her, he had been exactly what she called him: “my Christmas angel.”
So that’s what I am, he chuckled. An angel. OK.
With that acceptance, he pulled into a parking lot to call the next two homes and ask them to check their “on” switches. Just in case. Couldn’t be an angel that much this week; it’s hard on a man to be nothing but an angel.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he wishes one and all a Merry Christmas, and you can wish him one at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
Notes From My Knapsack 12-30-07
Christmas Day, 2007, Drawing To a Close
In some families, there are movies that make Christmas Day, whether it’s the repeating cycle of “A Christmas Story” on TNT or “White Christmas” with Der Bingle crooning alongside Rosemary Clooney.
When he had married his wife and her two daughters, they had always watched “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve or on the day in between presents, but their Dickens movie version was different from the one he had grown up with – plus, he was convinced that the Mr. Magoo version was the best, anyhow.
After some good-natured disputing about which line or another “really belonged” in the story, his wife had pulled a dog-eared paperback copy of the actual story out of some box, and he read it to everyone after dinner.
The book went into the Christmas decoration box that year, and came back out for a Christmas Day evening reading each of the last five years. From 1843 to today, the language gap was wide, but he suspected the girls were just starting to make the leap and really hear what the words were saying.
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
One of the girls asked if there really were people like this around today, and he sadly nodded his head. “I used to work for one, which is how I started my own business. It’s scary, but not as scary as working for someone with ice for a soul.” OK, she replied, keep going.
The three Spirits made their appearances, the revelation at the gravesides for Tiny Tim and Scrooge himself hit hard, and then the sun rose over London:
“He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said, "Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.”
Can people really change like that? They both watched him closely, wanting to know the answer; yes, he said, but not often enough. Most of us get set in a course early on, and don’t leave it.
You told us that you did, though: did you see a ghost?
Yes, I did, he smiled back, but kind of like Scrooge, it was my ghost I saw. And I didn’t want to be him, I wanted to be your dad someday. They smiled back, and then looked at the book; he picked it up, and concluded:
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a
master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. . .and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; Happy New Year to one and all, and may you and your family be blessed with health and hope and happiness in 2008. And Go Bucks!
From Glasgow, Scotland, a view from today on Christmas worth considering . . .
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Not So Far Away In a Manger
We have four manger scenes here at Sycamore Lodge. The Little Guy and Lovely Wife have arranged the Christmas décor just so, on the stair rail and in the windows and around the tree. Inside, we have a set of Nativity figures on the mantelpiece over the fireplace made by my great-aunts, a felt set that serves as an Advent calendar made by a lady at New Life Community for the children a few years back, and a molded plastic hinged scene in the basement.
But right by the front door, at the foot of the stairs where we come down each morning, and where you see it on Aunt Alice’s table from anywhere in the living room, is my mom’s family crèche. The simple lines of the stable were made by my grandfather, from wood out of an old barn behind a house where she lived as a child.
For the occupants, their origin is Italy, by way of the Sears catalog, made of some kind of hard rubber with handpainted detail that is remarkably durable for the mileage they’ve traveled over a half-century and more.
When I use this depiction of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth as the focus for my morning devotions, I’m looking at signs and symbols drawing together almost the entire sweep of the Bible, not just a quick cut-and-paste job on Matthew and Luke’s respective second chapters.
Even the animals, the particular creatures found in almost every variety of manger scene, tell a story of prophecy and promise, from Genesis to Revelation.
The Old Testament book of Isaiah is the prophet most on the lips of Jesus the teacher, through all four Gospels in the New Testament. In the first chapter of Isaiah, when the son of Amoz recounts a vision he had of God’s promises coming to fulfillment, he says “the ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib.” Near the end of Isaiah’s work, in chapter 60, verse six, he says “a multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”
So the “magi” of Matthew 2 have their place, but the camels carry their own symbolism, a fragrant part of the crèche scene.
Among the minor prophets, Amos was a shepherd, and in Micah, chapter five, we read his account of the Lord’s saying: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth. . .”
That woman in travail – some have asked why the lady Mary, having just given birth, looks so calm and bright. But Phillips Brooks, Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts a century and more ago, understood the meaning of that unruffled appearance of Isaiah’s “virgin” after bringin forth “Emmanuel, God-with-us.” He wrote in his lyrics for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” from an 1865 visit to Israel, the phrase “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.”
The implication goes back to Genesis, and the warning of God as Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden in disgrace, telling the woman that “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen. 3:16). A tradition of the church through the ages is that Mary was spared the pain of childbirth, though she would be pierced through the heart with pain over her son’s sacrifice (Luke 2: 35, echoing back to Zechariah), but clothed in blue and gold, and with the moon under her feet as promised in Revelation, chapter 12. The colors are in most nativity sets for Mary’s garb, while the moon at her feet and stars above can be seen in the Hispanic traditions around the Virgin of Guadelupe, celebrated last Wednesday on Dec. 12.
And in the tradition of Martin Luther, the words of “Away in a Manger” echo Mary’s calm and the same tradition, that “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Thus do most manger baby Jesuses smile and almost laugh. As any parent of a baby can tell you, a smiling baby that doesn’t cry is indeed a miracle.
There is a element of the miraculous in every “presepe” (to you Italophiles), going back to the beginning where Francis of Assisi had the inspiration to take models, even real people in costume, to carry the story of the Christ Child from the printed page to flesh and blood. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible comes alive in every manger scene you see, as you pause to reflect, and marvel, and pray.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your Christmas tale at email@example.com.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Sunrise From Days Gone By
Normally, he would leave for work this time of year before the sun was up.
He was used to tip-toeing around the scatter of toys and newspapers in the living room, quietly pitching his lunch into the cooler bag without turning on any more lights than the one inside the refrigerator.
Not a sound rose out of the sink other than running water, since he and his wife had strong and shared views about doing dishes before bedtime, going back to their separate but shared childhoods in homes filled with chaos.
You may not be able to clear every item off the floor with kids in the house, but you can at least wash up or load the dishwasher. He smiled in the dimness while he entertained that recurring thought.
A late night and a slow day ahead meant that he’d slept in, which meant 6:30 am today. Within minutes the kids would be up and turning on the Christmas tree lights and flipping the TV to some animated oddity. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be around for that activity, which he rarely got to experience. Whether he was there or not, the kids would look to Mom for breakfast and lunch money, so he could just be a cheerful observer, which was his plan.
The cheerful part took conscious effort, not because he wasn’t happy this pre-holiday week. Every year as Christmas drew near he wondered when he would feel the weight of Christmases gone by lift a bit, and maybe even fall away entirely.
The joy of his own children lightened his spirits no matter what, yet it always made him think about the young boy he had once been, living with his father in a shabby double, his mother gone almost before he could recall. There was something about shopping for gifts that made him think of the year, heading into middle school, when Dad gave him a six-pack of beer for Christmas. From Dad, that was a real gift, and it was a measure of the side of him that wanted to be a good father that he never, no matter what, asked for one of those beers, even the first few years when they stayed on the fridge shelf for weeks.
As he got older, the misguided gift continued year by year, along with valiant paternal attempts to find a wallet or belt or knife that would work as a Christmas surprise for a kid who never played with toys. Then it was college, and a beer sodden first semester, a near-death moment for a friend so drunk his lungs forgot to pump air, and then the awkward statement a week before Christmas when he got home: “Dad, please don’t give me any beer, because I don’t want to drink ever again.”
Dad didn’t argue, he recalled, looking out over the sink and into the backyard where a swing and sandbox and treefort looked almost oddly normal to him, even now. He just said “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.” Other than a muttered “don’t know what I’m gonna get you now,” there was no complaint, and no further comment, even when a case of cream soda showed up next to his father’s usual case of beer.
They had three more Christmases like that, until the spring when a one car accident on the interstate took dad out of his life. There was never much curiosity about the why or the how of his choice not to drink, but he was grateful for the fact that there was not much grief about it either. He was already dating a woman he’d met at an Al-Anon meeting, and there was a tiny bit of relief swirled with guilt over not having to introduce her to the man who was the reason why he’d come to those meetings.
Right after they’d married, trying to build a world for themselves that began from nothing, they came to Christmas morning with not an empty fridge, but very near one. Not empty wallets, but near enough that going out and buying fancy food items was not in the picture.
So they went to Skip’s Big Boy, where they’d heard from the single lady in the apartment down the hall that Christmas dinner was served on the big day. They figured they could afford that, and walked over in a light snow.
Not only was it cheerful in a quiet way, not only did they hold hands right through the meal, talking of dreams that looked a lot like what the rising sun was revealing this morning, but when they went up to pay, the cashier said “Somebody already got you guys, and left your tip, too. Merry Christmas!”
As he thought about the walk back home, marveling at the possibility that the world had some good in it after all, there was a thunder on the stairs, and a shrieked “hey, my pick on the channel this morning.”
Then a tug at his pants leg, and the words “it’s not fair, dad. It’s my turn, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is, son. It’s not fair, and it’s your turn now. Let’s go talk about this.”
(Continued next week…)
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Bottom line -- I'm certain Walden Media will make all seven Narnia books into movies; while I would not put the same confidence in even the three "His Dark Materials" volumes going to film. "The Golden Compass" has striking images and a decent story, but I suspect "The Subtle Knife" will sag considerably in audience draw, forcing some hard decisions around how to put "The Amber Spyglass" on screen. It will lead them to diverge even more widely from the preachy, fairly tedious third book, except for somehow holding onto the "saving humanity with a kiss" scene, and of course Nicole Kidman falling into the abyss while the Authority does a Wicked Witch CGI melt. No spoiler alert, because those are all the plot points we got to go with, and anyone who knows the series knows those three key wrap-ups. Which leave us at . . .
If Pullman is going to undermine the foundations of Christianity, this wet firecracker that may not even go off isn't gonna get the job done. Meanwhile, appetites are whetted for Peter & Edmund, Susan & Lucy, Cair Paravel and the Western Isles. Boycott "The Golden Compass"? I say, bring it on.
Oh, and watch the trailer. I'm looking for a bumper sticker -- "My other vehicle is parked in Narnia"
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Winter Magic, Majesty, and Mystery
Crystalline mist is a magical sight, all the more so as a horizontal sheet drifting in the air below a hilltop, hovering above a valley floor turned ghostly in filtered shadow.
With sub-freezing temperatures floating over still flowing water, as often happens in December around these parts, the rising sun evokes a strange reaction that raises these sorts of low-lying layers.
Then, as the watercourses freeze, but temperatures swing back above freezing (as also often happens in this neck o’ the woods), thick rippling fogs fill valleys and pour slowly up out of them, edging hesitantly into open fields.
Evenings come shockingly soon after noontime, and candles in windows trace out homes well before dinner. Fast dropping temps add a coat of frost to plants still not quite beaten down by winter weights of snow or ice, and roads start to adopt new outlines more suited to rutted lanes and bygone paths than modern paved, painted, reflectored highways.
Inside, we put trees in our living rooms, and to do that, move about furniture and indoor traffic patterns. Late, late at night, when we’re up against our will or better judgement, we move through a darkened house with strange shapes and new arrangements that our sleep clouded brains don’t quite recognize.
There are odd figures on the porch that we remember a beat and a half late is the large nutcracker we found at a craft fair, but for a moment, think is . . . what?
At the foot of the stairs is a huddle of . . . no, not that, but the stuffed reindeer someone gave us last year. Unnerved, we turn on a light, and see our stretched face reflected in an ornament that seems to show us the visage of a parent, or grandparent, who gave us the chrome, glittered oval so many years ago.
December is a haunted season. Forget Hallowe’en, which is a time for coming to grips with decay and death, but it’s not as filled with spirits as most Advents are. Think Ebenezer Scrooge, if you doubt me, he who saw three and myriad more spirits to bring him to a better appreciation of Christmastide.
There are smells and tastes which speak to the deepest recesses of our brains, just this once a year, and we are transported to grandmotherly kitchens and childhood stores where we held the hem of motherly coats.
Decorations that sleep soundly in boxes and bins for eleven months rise up, and ask us to reflect back on those who made, or gave, or handled these objects before they came into our keeping.
Pastorally speaking, people say that there is depression this time of year, and that may be, but I would mark Spring as the danger zone for that problem. What I’ve always heard the most in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the dilemma of family, or decisions about relationships. Some of those are good, like proposals of marriage, so common on Christmas Eve. Others are rooted in frictions and hostility that seems bearable all year, but suddenly has to be resolved *right now*.
This is the time of year I most often hear people say “Hey, the other night I dreamed about my grandmother. What do you think that means?”
Which brings me, the long way ‘round, to “The Golden Compass.” First of a series of three books rooted in images from William Blake and John Milton, with scenes that echo C.S. Lewis not in Narnia, but “Perelandra” and “That Hideous Strength.” Philip Pullman uses dark echoes of Oxford spires, Victorian airships, and otherworldly bears that seem lifted directly out of Lewis’ lesser known trilogy.
Yes, Pullman has done a poor job of hiding his contempt for Lewis and his atheistic triumphalism. He’s also done a poor job of hiding his debt to faith and wonder and yes, Lewis himself. I’ve not seen the movie, but have read the books; I will wait for the home version but have no interest in mustering a boycott. Christianity is safe from feeble tantrums like Pullman’s, and the books get progressively more preachy (ironic, ain’t it?), so the films will necessarily get more distant from whatever the author had in mind.
Out of the shadows and the dimly seen figures of the past, in our homes and on the movie screens, Christmastime, or better, Advent, is an excellent time to take the provocations of our guilty consciences and quest for connectedness, and turn them to the cultivation of holy waiting, waiting with expectation for a child to be born who will reconcile the fractious family of humankind.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at email@example.com.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Christmas Across the Border; Many Borders
Jesus saved a nine year old boy in the Arizona desert a few days ago.
No, that’s not a religious remark. The man is named Jesus Cordova, and he saved a young man named Christopher whose mother had been driving down an unpaved, Forest Service road in desolate area just south of Tucson.
She took their van over a blind curve into a gully, where she barely survived while trapped in the crushed vehicle, as her son scrambled out and back onto the road. He wisely saw that it was beyond him to get mom out of the wreck below, so he set to lighting a fire, trying to attract attention. In t-shirt and shorts with no shoes (they were in the van), he needed the warmth to survive as well.
This is where Jesus comes in. A grown man, he was entering this country illegally from Mexico, and after two days of walking, was just a few hours from making it into Tuscon, work, and the underground economy.
What sheriff’s deputies from Santa Cruz County tell us, with admiration, is that Jesus tried to clamber down to where the woman was dying, and saw he could not help her, either, then sat down next to the boy and made sure he was warm and joined him in tending their watch fire until help did finally come.
Saving Christopher, trying to rescue his mother, who did die shortly after help arrived, and arresting Jesus, deporting him back to Mexico. That’s the law, as Jesus certainly knew. But he couldn’t leave that child and dying mother behind.
While the various candidates for President of the United States are posturing and posing for the cameras on immigration, I’m thinking about Jesus, now back in Mexico, but no doubt dreaming of America.
But I’m also thinking of the entire Cordova family, given that since 2000 we’ve had the highest number of immigrants in US history, with almost 11 million people estimated coming into this country, over half of which come illegally (hence the estimated part).
Today, one in eight residents of the US is an immigrant; in 1970, that number was one in 21, climbing to one in 16 with 1980 and one in 13 for 1990. With that one in eight, immigrants, legal and illegal together, have 31 percent of their adults without a high school diploma, compared to eight percent of the general population. Immigrant headed households have a one in three chance of using some major welfare program, compared to less than one in five for the native-born population.
And since 1989, 71 percent of the increase of uninsured households is connected to immigrants.
So there’s reason to wonder whether even this great country can afford to invite the whole Cordova family, cousins and all, to walk right in.
But then I wonder about Jesus: who wouldn’t want more immigrants like him? Even if he needed a little public support in education and health care to get started, isn’t the kind of family values and commitment to service beyond self that his choice represents the very embodiment of everything we want our county to stand for?
Or sit for, by the side of the road, as night falls, by a small frightened boy.
Tonight, in a ramshackle shack somewhere in Mexico’s dusty hills, a man named Jesus is helping his community prepare for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He may be telling a few kids about Juan Diego, and the miraculous appearance to one of the “first Mexicans” of the mother of the Christ Child, whose birth we will all celebrate two weeks later.
They may take out and shake and try on the costumes for Mary and Joseph, outfits that two lucky children will wear around the village for “Las Posadas,” asking from door to door for room, to which everyone, laughingly, will say “no mas, no mas,” until they reach the crèche scene in the central square.
And I suspect Jesus will think of Christopher, and of his Christmas, without his mother, and he will think of what Christmas might be like in America.
I just hope we can come to an immigration policy that finds room for Jesus.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of Christmas traditions kept and passed along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Relational Giving? What’s That?
Let me commend to you, this first weekend of Advent, a website for the Advent Conspiracy, which is simply www.adventconspiracy.org.
They are an eclectic clump of Christian groups with a passion for something called “relational giving,” which you can read about in brief or at length at the website, but is an approach for reducing consumerism and refocusing on mission during the Christmas season.
One element of relational giving is giving people a note of appreciation that includes that you’ve given a gift to an organization whose work is in line with the ideals you and the recipient share. The Lovely Wife and I usually do this aligned with the Licking County Coalition for Housing and The Salvation Army, but part of the point is for you to prayerfully discern which gifts are right for you and the person on the other end.
Jim Wallis is an evangelical pastor who would doubtless like pretty much everything about Advent Conspiracy. He is one of the founders of the “Sojourners” community, editor of their award-winning magazine (see www.sojo.net), and recently wrote “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”
This nationally recognized preacher and teacher will be offering the ordination sermon for Ohio’s first state organizer for Sojourners’ activism arm, “Call To Renewal,” whose mission is “to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
The woman taking on this daunting challenge is Virginia Lohmann Bauman, and from a background in law and a degree from Denison and Newark Catholic before that, she will move into ordained ministry with an ordination service on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007 at 7pm at First Baptist Church of Granville.
Gini says “although ordinations tend to be more private church affairs, we have decided to extend an invitation to the wider faith community to attend the ordination due to Jim Wallis' involvement in the event. It is quite extraordinary for him to be available to speak in our local community.”
I certainly plan to come hear Wallis preach, and welcome another laborer into the vineyard.
If you just have to buy stuff for some folks this Christmas, or were looking for an ordination present for Gini, you might want to check out www.tradeasone.com for a place to look for “fair trade” gifts that contribute to environmental sustainability. People like Nancy Ortberg, one of Willow Creek’s teaching pastors, and Brian McLaren, author of “Everything Must Change,” are part of a Christian initiative to honor the oneness of creation, and to practice our responsibility as stewards for the integrity of both the Gospel and “the least of these, my brothers.”
And since we’ve lifted up three Christian oriented efforts to make this season a bit more outwardly focused, let me offer a shout-out to consistent commenter on our on-line forums, Gary from Lancaster! The Humanist Community of Central Ohio has a website at www.hcco.org, where if you click on the “Community Service” link you’ll see their own efforts to join together to reduce suffering and build community connections.
Atheists and humanists (they aren’t always the same thing, remember) have their own reasons for caring about the world beyond their own lives, even if they don’t think those lives have continuing meaning. I’ll work with just about anyone with shared goals, and not just because it gives me a chance to share the vision behind my take on those goals while we labor together!
The “holiday season,” as folks navigate how and when to wish “Merry Christmas,” or learn who responds with a cheery “Happy Hanukkah,” can be a good time to learn about friends and co-workers faith perspectives. If you want to share your views with someone around you, the key is this: you have to listen to theirs first.
Really listen, and not just for holes in their story. Listen, and appreciate, and you’ll very likely be invited to share your story.
Which is where I Peter 3:15 comes in.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; as a Christian, he’s preached for Unitarians and Jews when the invitations arose (the Atheists haven’t called yet, but there’s always hope!). Invite him to tell your faith community’s story here at email@example.com.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
You Will Be Festive, Or Else!
Licking County is mustering her best resources to put holiday cheer front and center as December begins.
This column is just going to continue for one more week helping get the word out, about worthwhile and wonderful seasonal events. Many are free, and most that have a fee direct that to groups like the Licking County Food Pantry Network – and don’t forget the Elves in Action by the Gazebo on Courthouse Square for that cause!
Handel’s “Messiah” echoes from the historic walls of Second Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening, Dec. 2, at 7:00 pm, with their choir along with those of First United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, guided together by Jeanette Muzzalupo and Rick Black. There will be a reception afterwards.
If you’d like a second look at Second Pres, they’re one of the eight downtown sanctuaries on display for the Newark “Sights and Sounds of Christmas” on Thursday night, Dec. 6, starting at 6:00 pm. The full details can be found at their website, www.sightsandsoundsofchristmas.org. Eight years makes this a well rooted tradition, supporting the Food Pantry Network, of course.
Licking Valley High School will offer a Christmas Concert by their Band and Choir programs that Thursday night, at 7:00 pm, in the HS auditorium. Their jazz and concert ensembles will include seasonal favorites along with a few unexpected surprises, and the drive out through “The Valley” will no doubt make it even more worth the trip, seeing the Christmas lights along the hillsides, and the many banners celebrating their state champio. . . oh, I can’t say that yet? Sorry. We’ll say more about that later, then!
Then Friday night, Dec. 7, Dawes Arboretum lights up their grounds with luminaries around the Daweswood House loop; from 5:30 to 8 pm you can enjoy the beauty for two cans of food or $5 for the . . . yes, the LCFPN. You’re catching on!
Park National Bank and Time-Warner is helping to get enough bodies out to place the hundreds, thousands maybe, of carefully placed sacks, and light their candles at the proper time. Sounds a little risky, weather-wise? Well, they have good fortune in the past with this, but Saturday Dec. 8 is the “rain date.”
We hope they won’t use that, because the Newark High School Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra is presenting Vivaldi’s “Gloria!” at Second Pres that night at 7:00 pm.
And before everyone leaves College Hill in Granville for the holiday break, the Denison University Office of Religious Life and the Dept. of Music will open wide the vast doors of Swasey Chapel for a “Service of Lessons and Carols.” Open to the community for the Sunday, Dec. 9 service at 7:00 pm, the program is directed by Mark Orten, chaplain, and Kevin Wines, liturgist and conductor.
If you just catch half of those opportunities, not only will you know more about your community, you will have helped make it a better place for all of us to live, and you’ll be feeling downright festive. Or else!
Or else what? Well, take a kid with you down to Courthouse Square in Newark, and some cans of soup or tinned meat or jars of peanut butter, then drive around the square a few times.
Ease over to your left past the Wendy’s and the old man handing out candy bars in front of the county building, and slide up to the gaggle of elves. Give the sack of food to the child in the car, and let them give the items to the friends of the food pantry on duty.
Watch the kid’s eyes, and that’s what else. You might just see reflected in their eyes the reason for the season.
Look close, and listen well, and rejoice.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you wonder why your group’s special event isn’t in this column, you need to send it to him (with a couple weeks leadtime!) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Setting the Table
First, we sit ourselves with the other kids at the card table or the dinette.
We have more mashed potatoes than corn, pass the relish plate and wait for the rolls, and even the turkey holds little interest for us in the shadow of whipped cream with a thin pumpkin pie underlay.
Then we end up at the adult table, acutely aware of the need to stick to silverware more than fingers, and hearing conversation that is mysterious when it isn’t boring.
Time goes on, and we begin to join in the discussion, even when it grows into debate. We can correctly identify about half of the relatives’ names as they go by, and put the napkin on our lap well before the end of the meal.
About the time we reflexively put the napkin on our lap right after grace, we’re using it for our own children in the old, old highchair which went back to your grandfather, wiping the strained squash from their chins.
Some of us move right on up to joining the ranks of the anointed, rustling and bustling about in the kitchen through the morning, to the hour of dinner, and back and forth right on through the meal.
From the salad forks at our plates to our roles in the preparation, we track one of the few clear “rites of passage” our culture offers. Beyond the driver’s license exam, the first date, and going off to college, there are few across-the-board shared experiences in American society that tell us we’re growing up.
Judaism has bar- and bat-mitzvahs entering adolescence, and Hispanic culture has the “Quinceañera” for fifteen year old girls, which middle-class “sweet sixteen” parties and debutante balls don’t quite track. Midwestern young men have making the team and varsity letters, which is significant for the small percentage of youths who get that experience. For the rest . . .
Thanksgiving dinner is still a common, shared, near-universal experience enough that it makes a cultural mark in more ways than the official, thankfulness-y purposes. I strongly suspect that the role alcohol and other substance abuse issues play among young adults is tied to the fact that lacking any other marker, drinking says “I’m grown up now, I’m moving forward in my life.”
But some families have such a strong sense of ritual and tradition around the meal that it can help bridge our cultural gap. You know what it means when you get a sharp knife at your place setting, and when that setting is at the big table.
Being invited to help mash the potatoes, or even to make the pies (!); joining the crew arms deep in soapy water, and not just running straight out to play touch football in the backyard after – these are ways to know, in your heart, you’re growing up. And we all need to know that, from some confirmatory source outside of ourselves.
When you help to lay to rest, in a small country cemetery, far past the last paved stretch of road, the woman who taught you how to put on a Thanksgiving dinner for twenty and more, and smile while you’re doing it, you know you’d best be about growed up. When you say the prayer of committal at her graveside, and stir gravy two days later while calling out instructions over your shoulder about the rolls, teaching your son how to put together the family feast, you know you’re pretty much an adult.
The new bifocals kind of drive the message home, too.
Many of us will be preparing for a different sort of ritual over these next few weeks, leading to the celebration of a birth into a very unusual family. The family is humankind, and the child is divine, and yet still human, and needs to grow and develop and know that he grows “in wisdom and in stature, before God and man.”
Think about this: how can our family rituals be signs and markers of maturity and growth for the children and youth among us? This may be one clear way we can set a path for them, in the direction we would hope.
It can start at the sink, or by the oven, and somehow it always ends up at a table. For boys or girls, young women or teenage men, the meal is what makes us, and we also make the meal.
For that lesson, thank you, Aunt Georgia. She’s earned her rest next to Aunt Chloa out at Greasy Point, and we will remember them every Thanksgiving.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s got a fair number of family buried in the Illinois prairie above the Embarras River (They pronounce it “Am-braw”). Tell him about a rite of passage you commend at email@example.com.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Pickles, and Candles, and Flautists, Oh My!
Next weekend is quite simply an embarrassment of riches for Licking County.
All on Saturday night, Dec. 1, there are not one but three choices for you to get into a celebratory mood, and our family will get into at least two if not all three.
You can put on your giant bow tie and go to the dressier of the three events, starting at 7:00 pm in The Ohio State University, Newark Campus’ Reese Center ballrooms. President Gordon Gee will join Dean & Director Bill MacDonald in leading a celebration of 50 years for “the branch,” our own piece of Buckeye Nation.
Along with State Senator Tim Schaffer, State Representatives Jay Hottinger and Dan Dodd, and Newark’s Mayor Bruce Bain, the distinguished platform party includes Tim Klingler.
Who is Tim Klingler?
Tim is the first person to complete all his coursework for an Ohio State degree at Newark Campus, that’s who. The original building in October of 1957 was the old Newark High School, across from the new library building where there’s now a playground. The first building on the new campus, Founders Hall, was dedicated in 1968 (wow, even that’s 39 years ago), but Tim represents the human side of the achievement for the entire Licking County community that is OSU-N.
Other historical displays and presentations will be all around the welcoming hallways of the Reese Center, and surely a speech or two will be made. Call 366.9211 for more info; the evening is free and open to the public, but rsvp’s are appreciated for planning purposes.
History in a different register will play and sing and shout and laugh, all along Broadway in Granville with the annual “Candlelight Walking Tour.” Some programs begin long before sunset, as this first Saturday in December tradition grows and develops. The heart of the evening is when the Scouts light the luminaries all around the historic four corners, and musical programs from children’s choruses to professional musicians (mmm, flautists) are in all four corner churches from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. Programs change every half-hour, and the best plan is no plan – just wander around!
Wander into Granville and look for a bright red poster for the detailed outline of events, meander about and be surprised.
St. Nicholas appears both in Granville, and just down Rt. 37 at Infirmary Mound Park, where “Christmas in the Country” runs from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The OSU-N event is “business attire,” while the Licking Park District is a bit more stable-wear friendly. Horse-drawn wagons, bonfires, and the search for the Christmas pickle all call for Carhartts and mittens, or at least bundled up good. Inside the warmth of the Bradley Center at the entrance to the park, the Shiloh Baptist Angelic Voices Choir will sing out in celebration, not just for the cookies indoors and the roasted marshmallows by the outdoor fire.
Those in business attire will, of course, be welcomed; LPD director Russ Edgington may wear a tuxedo, as long as he doesn’t have to put on . . . well, parents, you know which outfit I mean. Call with questions to 587-2535.
Full disclosure: I once found the pickle, so am retired from Christmas pickle hunting. Your children are safe, and won’t be trampled by me. The Little Guy, I’m not so sure.
When Sunday dawns, as it must, on however little sleep the night before, the first Sunday of Advent means for churchfolk that the four weeks of preparation for Christmas begin in earnest.
Let all the earth rejoice!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Now Thank We All Our God
Back a few weeks, I asked for your prayers and I know I was blessed with them, many fold.
The reason I was looking for a little extra divine boost was a trip to meet with a few dozen pastors and lay leaders to discuss evangelism. The workshop was based on the book “Unbinding the Gospel,” which I’ve written about in this space before, and Gay Reese has two more books coming out Jan. 1, designed to help congregations implement the ideas presented in “Unbinding.” Together, they’ll be known as the “Real Life Evangelism” series, and I’ll have more to say about them after, oh, Jan. 1!
(But you can scope out amazon.com for pre-release info on ‘em.)
We’ll know more as the congregations involved work the process, but the sense of the workshop day was that we were doing something exciting and worthwhile. Thank you again for your prayers!
Soon, in some communities even tonight, there will be gatherings for a Thanksgiving service. Odds are good that you will sing, at some point, a hymn I grew up hearing referred to as “Nun danket alles Gott.”
In the very, very German town where I grew up, hymn tunes were noted in the church bulletin, and the tune name was usually “auf Deutsch.” Lutheran, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, or Roman Catholic, we all had our organists from the doctoral program at Valparaiso University, where Bach, Buxtehude, and Beethoven were the holy trinity.
What we also got were stories, probably told at choir practice and often folded into the sermons, about where these warhorses of church life came from. “Nun danket,” or “Now Thank We All Our God” is one of those.
1636. The Thirty Years’ War had been going on for, well, about thirty years, but they weren’t calling it that yet. It was the just the war they’d always known.
In Eilenburg, Saxony, a dukedom of what is now Germany, this small walled city was the front line of the north German war against Sweden. The Swedish army had invested Eilenberg in a siege, destroying hundreds of homes by fire and shot. The pressure on food and forage, the lack of sanitation and fresh water meant disase and plague started to aid the Swedish side.
Eilenberg had a number of Lutheran churches, including Pastor Martin Rinkart. Those churches dealt with a steadily increasing number of funerals each and every day, and even pastors began to die.
Martin Rinkart survived, until he was the only living pastor, doing up to 50 funerals a day, for young and old, soldier and grandmother alike. As with most sieges, the strain of maintaining their position led even the near-victorious Swedes to look for a speedy resolution for the conflict, before plague got into their wells and camp kitchens.
So the besieging army asked for a huge ransom, hoping for a payday that would break the city, and allow them to return home with pride. Rinkart, as the last clerical official, chose to go out to the commander of the opposing army, and plead for mercy under a flag of truce – a flag often disregarded in the last thirty years.
Hearing the tale of Rinkart’s faithfulness and steadfastness, the general was moved, and lowered his demands to what could reasonably be paid that day, and the army disappeared by the next morning.
It was just after the relief of Eilenberg that peace was declared between Saxony and Sweden, long overdue but cause for great pent-up rejoicing. Part of the city celebration was a worship service for the whole community, planned by Pastor Rinkart.
He wrote a hymn for that service, the song we know as “Now Thank We All Our God.” When you sing it in the knowledge of the hundreds of deaths and funerals and committal services the author had just seen before writing these words, it has a very different ring to the announcement of Thanksgiving.
May you find much to be truly thankful for this Thanksgiving season, and do it with your community in prayer and song!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; alles gut, danke, and your good news kann gehen zu email@example.com.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
What Goes In First Comes Out Last
Basic to the challenge of making a traditional Thanksgiving feast is timing.
Each dish has its own demands on the stove or fridge or freezer, and the varying times and stages are the real trick of an all the trimmings dinner.
Truth be told, roasting a turkey is fairly simple – take the bag o’ stuff out of the body cavity, and the rest is easy.
Unless you leave it in the freezer until Wednesday night. That’s fine if you were serving steak, or an eight pound shoebox bird, but a twenty pound classic fowl needs a step-by-step plan for thawing, prepping, roasting, finishing, and carving, and that can be a two or three day sequence.
In between the occupancy of the oven by big bird, your other side dishes and baked goods weave in and out, with the rolls zipping through last. Meanwhile, the stove-top is bubbling on all four burners for many of us, with green beans and quartered potatoes and gravy and stuffing and noodles and a small saucepan of peas for we happy few.
But that’s more than four, which means some dishes have to rotate on and off the stove – no one gets to be too at home on the range, if you know what I mean.
Then there’s shuffling the refrigerator space, for jellos and relish trays and icebox pies and suchlike.
That’s the true art of a calm, happy Thanksgiving: to do all this and still smile, get the table set, and not bite the head off the first person coming in the kitchen to look for some ice for their soda.
I’ve done a few Thanksgiving feasts, but I have to admit that my overall affect of peace and tranquility was lacking. Gravy I can do, even pie crusts while roasting tom turkey I can do, but doing it all and not getting testy, not so much.
One piece of paper, with a rough sketch of an action plan, a timeline, would have done me and my loved ones a world of good. As it was, my sequence was largely in my head, which did no one any good who wanted to help, or even figure out how to get out of the way. (Dad wanting to know why there was no creamed corn -- he was lucky not to end up wearing some vegetables, but that wasn’t really his fault.)
Working with the Homer Curry family Christmas dinner years ago at St. Francis de Sales, my real joy in that was not feeding the lonely and hungry as much as it was having responsibility for gravy . . . nothing but gravy, about thirty gallons of it. Finish the gravy, and step onto the serving line and ladle your wares onto waiting plates, and life is good.
For Christmas, my dad has had the good idea of focusing the mealtime part of the day onto a massive pair of lasagna pans. You want starch, meat, dairy, seasonings, vegetables – they’re all there. Have seconds. Garlic bread on the side, and then back to sorting the stuff out of the stockings.
None of which helps us on Thanksgiving Day. Even Italians (which we’re not) don’t have lasagna on the fourth Thursday of November. Bird and beans and berries and bread must be served, whether at home or at some separate venue. Eight hours for the turkey, three stages of boiling and mashing and mixing with garlic cloves and butter for the mashed potatoes, and a hearty pan full of stuffing to stand-in for the former output of the interior, woven in with the boil and simmer of saucepans you’d forgotten you had from the back of the cabinets.
Here’s the good news, though; we will all forget to put something on, or out, or mix it up, and that thing will be found about when the pies get cut. And no one will care. We will be stuffed ourselves, not willing to even entertain the possibility of having wanted any more than we’ve had, and the missing item will go into the rondelay of leftovers for the next week. Our excess of cooking, to make up for the general lack of culinary effort from the preceding year, is enough for a a platoon of gluttons even when shy a pan of sautéed Brussels sprouts or some such.
Your gathering is thankful for whatever’s on the table, and that’s the truth. Me, I actually like green peas, especially with the last of the gravy. Enjoy the company first, the food second, and worry about the cuisine last, if at all. And give thanks.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your gravy-related misadventures at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Click the question below to take the test yourself!
What's your theological worldview?
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|You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan|
You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
What We Don’t Own (Mostly Everything)
Working on important family projects with a vital household tool in hand, I suddenly realized that I didn’t own it.
Waiting for a small printer to spit out a receipt, I read on the back of my debit card from the bank: “This card remains the property of Major Financial Institution . . .”
This slab of plastic I use everyday isn’t mine, but the bank’s. Kind of like my house, which I own in some senses, but don’t in others. As divorcing folks realize quickly, there’s the spousal interest; even for those of us happily married, we own a home as a couple, in full partnership with the mortgage holder.
Which leaves me owning the eaves and gutters, it would seem, but I share those with the trees as a handy place to store their fallen leaves.
The bank never offers to help mow or trim shrubbery, but the neighborhood association has a claim on a broad swath where bushes suddenly appear, and then disappear in the maws of ravening deer, who have a family claim on my whole neighborhood going back to the last Ice Age.
Then there’s the municipal folk, who offer a courtesy call just before a truckload of workmen show up to dig holes in “their” easement and imperfectly replant the desirable, deer proof shrubs they shoveled aside.
The Lovely Wife and I do, in fact, own our cars, but many in our neighborhood lease, a relationship I’ve never quite understood. But you don’t own it, so you’d better not cut a moon roof in the top – can you put college stickers in the windows of a leaser?
Some of these leased vehicles get parked in front of my house, blocking the postal worker’s access to the mailbox, which I’m told we don’t own, mostly. Even if we bought it at BigBox ourselves and dug the hole and poured the concrete, the box itself is somehow the property of the Postmaster General (when is his turn to paint?), so the right to store or swap items around the block in that space is limited.
The upside being that this is why folks dropping fliers around the neighborhood are breaking the law if they put stuff “for free” in the PG’s mailbox.
Back in my wallet, there’s the driver’s license which allows me to drive the car I do, sort of, own; property of the state. Try to ask for the picture half back when you get a new one and see what I mean. It’s like you asked them to give you a $5 from their wallet.
Oh, that Lincoln engraving? The money you carry, that you earned, this “legal tender for all debts, public and private”? Not yours. It remains the property of the Federal Government while you make use of the symbolic value in everyday transactions.
And the change in your other pocket? That board almost filled with 50 state quarters? Well, the board may be yours, but not the quarters, not technically.
Just like the license plate on that car you “own,” the trash roller bin from the service company, the downloads on your computer, “your” library card, and your Tivo box. But unlike a few years back, we own our phones now, which may or may not be a good thing.
Your body, though, that you “own,” right? Well, science tells us that every seven years is the “turnover period” for your cellular material, with the stuff that makes up your corpus delicti swapped out for new matter on the old design. Which gives a whole new understanding to “you are what you eat,” doesn’t it?
The upshot of all of this being: we don’t really own much, even in an age of consumerism and materialism. We really are stewards in this life, the only question being whether we are conscious, intentional stewards, or fumblingly wasteful caretakers who deserve to be fired.
That’s the upshot of most stewardship campaigns that many churches conduct in November, reminding their members of what giving is really about, which is just putting our treasures in the right places. Giving as a primary part of our personal stewardship is a key step to remembering that we own nothing, really, but have a great gift in our care for a season, life itself, and what that life can shape and effect.
For the more hardened materialists, good news! Under Ohio law, your estate owns your corpse, and has a pretty much unassailable right of disposal as you choose. So there’s one thing you can own without variation or dispute, but only after you die.
Me, I’m thinking organ donation.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s a blood donor now and an organ donor on his driver’s license (property of ODMV). Tell him what you value at email@example.com.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Veterans and Voters and Vehemence
Booster Snapshots’ publication date is November 11, which puts the anniversary of the end of World War I smack on Sunday. Some of you get tomorrow (Monday) off work, and the mail and banks and courts hesitate a day, along with a few schools.
Generally, the once Armistice Day, still Remembrance Day, is marginally recalled as Veteran’s Day, and is a good time to say a “thank you” to those who returned, just as we honor those who did not make it back from their service on Memorial Day in May.
But with the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month falling in the middle of many worship services, I hope there’s an acknowledgment on Nov. 11 of the significance of World War I, and a recollection of what this country began learing about wars overseas.
The lessons, of course, continue.
With the detritus of Hallowe’en still laying around the house, this is a good time for me to introduce you all to the Lovely Wife’s contribution to economic forecasting. Perhaps you’ve already heard of the “Chocolate Percentage Trick-or-Treat Index of Economic Optomism,” or CPTTIEO (which has a nice, authoritative ring to it).
When the Little Guy returns from his Beggar’s Night rounds, his practice is to carefully sort the candy into types and sub-types by brand. What the Lovely Wife adds to this process is a casual eye to how much of the total candy haul are chocolate-based goodies, or as she puts it, “real candy.”
Apparently pixie sticks and suckers never did much for her.
What my wife believes is that when the percentage of a standard haul on Hallowe’en night that is chocolate-based (C-B), then a decline in the C-B% indicates reduced economic optomism, while a C-B% uptick shows people feel flush and want to share it.
Sounds as useful as anything else Jim Cramer has to say. What did your neighborhood show?
There was also some interesting seasonal news out of Iowa, where some officious idiot realized that the profusion of small pumpkin sale operations (y’know, entrepreneurism) was due, in part, to the fact that if they only sold pumpkins, they didn’t have to mess with sales tax, since Iowa like most states exempt food items.
Ah ha, said the said bureaucrat, but they do not generally eat them, they use them as décor, which means – tonight, we tax! (Mwahahahahaha. . . .)
So the Iowa Farm Bureau and others put together a form, akin to the legal lie that associates itself with fireworks, for people to attest that they will eat some portion of their pumpkin purchase. No, really, this happened.
Which then made a number of religious thinkers ask: “Is it permissible to avoid an unjust tax by telling a lie?” Owww. Meanwhile, the bad publicity did what it was designed to do, and the legislature in Iowa will likely craft an exemption for pumpkins by next fall.
Around Sycamore Lodge, we avoid this whole problem by making pumpkin chicken soup, roasting acorn squash with butter and brown sugar (or maple syrup does nicely), and we always roast the pumpkin guts, both seeds and strings, on a cookie sheet with salt and olive oil. Take that, Iowa!
Spaghetti squash is a tradition in my family around this time of year, and the Little Guy was very skeptical as I made the sauce with the last of the garden basil, tomatoes, and green pepper. He had already figured out that the acorn squash, sweet and tasty as it may be, was a vegetable, and he was against it. So why would this big yellow thing be any different?
But the weird alchemy of scooping out real spaghetti looking stuff after an hour in the oven won him over, and he ate it all, including the sauce. Thus are small parenting victories won.
A last note, which I’ve been sitting on for a while as I don’t want to lapse into Andy Rooney parodism. This is something that’s really been bugging me for a while, though.
Surely someone can invent a radar speed measurement device for our fine state troopers that doesn’t involve shaping it like a cannon that works best when said trooper adopts a firing line stance, arms extended, sighting along the barrel, aimed right at your face?
My brief military service never involved getting shot at, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time around guns, and have spent much time teaching young people never to aim a firearm, even a toy one, at someone. And I’ve been shot at, twice, both in odd circumstances precipitated by irresponsible idiodicy on the part of others.
Anyhow, I’ve never been able to avoid a clench of my hands on the wheel and had to fight an urge to swerve when I round a bend on Route 16 and see, up ahead, someone lined up in ready position. Why should I get used to that feeling? Can’t we invent a more citizen friendly radar device? Peace out, y’all.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you know how to get the state to quit pointing things at us, contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Fall Back Into November
“Novem,” the Latin word for nine, reminds us in this eleventh month of our year that New Year’s in ancient Rome was March.
But the new year, and all the events leading up to the turn of the calendar, liturgically and socially, are pressing in close.
On this fine fall morning, if you’re reading this and not planning to trot over to Columbus for the Wisconsin game, there are a number of options.
The Habitat for Humanity folks are working their way through the very last steps of completing the last house they’ll build on Monroe Street. The dedication has been pushed back to the start of December, and a few volunteers for trim painting and tacking up shed siding will be welcome today – just drive through the E. Main and Buena Vista intersection, cross the tracks and turn south immediately, then turn right before you enter the railyard, and go to the street’s end.
For the faith-formed folk who have kept the momentum behind our local chapter, many thanks; the new homeowners have been doing their sweat equity to make their down payment, and the interest-free payments they’ll make will roll on into the next house. Stay tuned for more updates on that!
Also today out at Camp Falling Rock is Apple Butter Day, which has no real religious connection at all, but if you want to start feeling thankful as practice before the big day, there’s little else that shows the bounty of nature and the grace of creation than an autumnal trip out past Wilkins’ Corners and up to Houdeshell Road, where you can help stir the copper kettle and smell the heavenly scent of apple butter cooking down from the beautiful fruit of the trees.
Some of you will start turning your clocks back around noon, which makes evening a preview of the official end of Daylight Savings Time, which isn’t chronologically until 2 am Sunday. Given the number of clocks we have around the house (coffee maker, blender, microwave, curler set, sound system, car dashboards, digital fireplace, light timers, watches, washing machine, electric toothbrush, running shoes, toaster – reset ‘em all), you may need to start before dark today.
Make sure that in the morning you didn’t forget that last clock-radio by the bedside, or you’ll find yourself at the early service. Or go and find out who attends that one! And check the church kitchen for clocks that may not get set back until Christmas (crock pot, can opener, dishwasher, battery clock on wall above the stove).
Speaking of which – if you haven’t already been hearing Christmas music, you must not be working with the children’s choirs at your church. They are all deep into rehearsals for programs and worship music and Christmas Eve, which I hear is on Dec. 24 this year.
The Granville Candlelight Walking Tour kicks off the season with Sat., Dec. 1, where children will sing all around you as you walk from corner to corner through the evening.
Thursday, Dec. 6 is the annual Newark downtown “Sights & Sounds” around the churches of the historic core, with many musical offerings in preparation even now. Mark your calendars, and if your town has a special community event for the holiday season, let me know.
For the liturgically minded, the First Sunday of Advent is actually Dec. 2 this year, so the Sunday after Thanksgiving is not a headlong rush into hanging o’ the greens and starting the church calendar (the first Sunday of Advent begins the new lectionary cycle, among other patterns which begin here, not with the calendar year). Many clergy and lay leaders look with special warmth on those years where a “breather” falls into the calendar, and you can stay an extra day at a family gathering or some such.
But for the very, very liturgical, this is “Christ the King Sunday,” as the grand wrap-up of the ending cycle of the church calendar, with the role of Christ Jesus as cosmic redeemer, enthroned in the heavens, highlighted in the songs and readings. That can clear our heads and hearts from cornucopias and turkey feathers from construction paper, putting us in a receptive frame of spirit for the day by day approach to a savior born in a stable.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your community Thanksgiving service coming up in a few weeks at email@example.com.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
As the cycles swing back south, not to return for another 15 years to the main alignment at the Octagon Earthworks, a last time-lapse photo of this awesome phenomena from the night of Oct. 29th. Thanks, Tim, for the careful work over a looooong evening . . .
[click on image for a larger picture]
Monday, October 29, 2007
Connections Hanging By a Thread
What does voting this Tuesday, with a lever, a punch through card-stock, or a touch on a television screen, have to do with the governing of our county?
Does the simple act of voting, with our limited knowledge as individuals and the unpredictability of human nature, actually mean much of anything to the choices our elected officials make? Or does election day just anoint one over the other on a basis perilously close to drawing straws?
Last week I was walking across the long lawns of a local soccer field, where the morning fog was melting off a wide stretch of grass still green. The nearest trees were a hundred yards and more away, and the only objects waiting for our arrival were a number of eight foot high goal cages, with a mesh net of woven twine hanging across the back and sides.
Even twenty feet to one side, as I walked past each soccer goal, I would feel the light, lengthy swipe of spider web stretch and snap across my face. A tall man, I’m used to getting those strands across my face and caught in my hair when walking forest trails, but rambling over a broad lawn is not where I expected to smack into spider web.
So I looked around for an anchoring point, and quickly realized that the spiders would logically enough clamber to the top of the goal, ready to cast their line far across the Midwestern plains. With a slow, steady breeze, they would unlimber many yards of webbing, hoping to snarl in a distant tree where the would walk, highwire fashion, over into a new world.
Or even more amazingly, they may have clambered up one of the riverside sycamores a hundred yards away, and attaching to a high branch, launched themselves out into the void, spinning a strand behind them, the gossamer thread billowing in the carefully calculated (but never predictable) breeze, until the long low arc intersected with the metal bar to my left.
Looking up to trace the possible sources for these weblines, I saw in the sky extended plumes with a feathery uplift at one end. These cirrus clouds, tens of thousands of feet in the air, were puffs of ice crystals caught up in the high blasts of the leading edge of an air system, ghostly trumpet heralds of weather to come tomorrow. That night I would see the circular rainbow around a full moon, made by the refraction of those ice crystals now spread across the sky more evenly, bending the reflection of the sun’s shine off the round moon into a circle of dim but distinct spectral colors.
The next day I took a walk in the light rain that fell from overcast skies, a result neatly predicted by the cirrus of yesterday morning stretching above the spiderweb. Up the road from me is the field that embraces a small woodlot where a house built in 1810 once stood. Paralleling the rows of corn, is a line that separates a modern development, in what was once a farm field, from where crops are still planted and harvested.
From back when that work was more by hand and closer to the ground, that line on closer inspection is a wall, or at least the remnants of a wall. Laid of field stone, slabs of sandstone, there are still about six courses worth of rock, stretching for over a hundred yards and surely once even longer, on to the side of the next hill. Overgrown with Virginia creeper and poison ivy, the wall is nearly invisible until you’re right on it.
Once you see it, though, you can’t help but think about how 200 years ago these stones were taken from freshly plowed fields, one by one, and carried over to slowly build this wall. How tall once was it? Hard to tell.
Webs and clouds and walls and lines of connection and separation – and votes. We connect ourselves to the process of government, and connect that process to ourselves when we choose to step aside from the everyday and wait in line, cast our vote, and cast our voice out into the electorate. It is a thin strand, to be sure, that connects us to great affairs, but a little more substantial if low to the ground when we vote on our local officials and levies.
Tuesday morning, 6:30 am sharp, the officials and judges and your neighbors will be waiting and ready. Connect yourself to the work of government, and while you’re at it, enjoy the fall as you walk away from the polling place. You’ve earned it!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; throw him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.