Thursday, January 11, 2007

Faith Works 1-13-07
Jeff Gill

Care . . . For Some Pasta?

The Coalition of Care might be a good name for a restaurant, but they aren’t actually in that line of business.You could say it is their line of work, though.The Coalition of Care is a group of churches, still expanding in number, who are pooling resources in order to more effectively assist needy families and individuals who are looking for help. Along with the Crisis Information Center of Pathways at 345-HELP, the CoC number at 323-0603 is a place where you can find out where resources are available, and get a listening ear to help you put those scattered pieces together.Food help, housing emergency counseling, and some basic life skills guidance are all part of their menu. Friendly volunteers are at the CoC number from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every weekday.But tomorrow, they want to serve a warm, welcoming pasta dinner to folks who will support their weekday program. For just $15, $5 under 8 years old, you can come to Granville’s First Presbyterian Church on Sunday anytime between 5:00 and 7:30 pm. Chefs Jay and Alfredo will serve up antipastos, other salads, a range of pastas from Meaty Marinara to, of course, Alfredo sauce (and a Vegetarian selection). Mama Carmen’s own Lasagna is on offer as well.Like the work of the Coalition of Care, the breads and desserts come from bakers and pastry chefs out of many local churches.Take home orders may be offered after 7:30 depending on availability.Just as the St. Vincent dePaul Help Line at 348-0989 gives the St. VdP Societies at Roman Catholic parishes of the area a way to offer direct, faith-rooted assistance, the Coalition of Care wants to be the same kind of opportunity for Protestant churches to offer help out of their own faith commitments. Anyone who calls 323-0603 can count on respect and compassion, coming from trained volunteers who are motivated by their beliefs to help anyone who is in need, without regard to what culture or church they come from. And while The Salvation Army, at 345-8120, is a church itself, with a worshiping congregation as part of the emergency shelter options they offer, is also open to all faiths (or none) -- there is room in this county for a variety of approaches and methods in serving those who live on our societal margins.Any of the four groups and phone numbers I’ve mentioned in this column can get a person on the most direct, helpful path to finding the assistance that may be housed in a couple, or a couple dozen other agencies all hard at work every day here. The problem is that when the chips are down for a person, that’s a tough time to ask them to navigate a slew of phone numbers and doorways to find the aid they probably already qualify for, if they can find it. Pathways/Crisis Info at 345-HELP, St. Vincent dePaul at 348-0989, Salvation Army at 345-8120, and the Coalition of Care at 323-0603. Keep those numbers handy if you think you might ever want to know how to connect a person in need with help that will get them back into stability and security.But only the Coalition of Care is having a pasta dinner tomorrow night! Drop by First Pres in Granville off the four corners, and grab a bite. You’ll feed more than yourself that way, and you might feed more than just your growling tummy.Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; pass the word about food anywhere to him through

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Faith Works 12-30-06
Jeff Gill

Give Up Resolutions Now!

Some New Year’s resolutions may be on your mind this week.
"Never again will I purchase items that require so much assembly; this year I will figure out what they actually want instead of what I want to give (at least to start); next year I will not spend money I don’t have."All good ideas, but true any time. New Year resolutions tend to go into the category of "change my life" decisions and plans, and then tend to go into the dumpster of life faster than last week’s wrapping paper."I will exercise every day but Mondays, eat more green vegetables, and lose 45 pounds.""Starting now, I will not lose my patience (or temper) with the kids, and start coaching some of their activities.""I will register for those classes and finish the program to get that certificate.""When I empty the milk carton, I will no longer put it back in the fridge; I will also consider purchasing milk occasionally myself when it runs below a quarter.""Mornings, I will try to throw outfits together that do not make my spouse wince with actual pain, because some colors are not meant to go together.""Mornings, I will try to throw yesterday’s clothes closer to the hamper than I usually do.""Mornings, I will get up more often.""I gotta clean the place up this year."All good ideas, each of ‘em, for all of us. What makes traditional resolutions so traditionally unobserved, I have observed, is our tendency to "over-elaborate" them. "I gotta clean up the place, so I should buy a carpet shampooer, except first the clutter needs to get out of the piles on the carpet all over, so if the plastic bins go on special after the holidays, then I can buy a label maker at the office supply store, with a color code for each category to match the bins, where I can label the outside of those to. . . why look, a puppy!"End of resolution.What I would commend, instead of a resolution, is an ancient Christian practice known as discernment. What’s discernment? Well, first, it involves prayer (actually, it’s pretty much prayer all the way through). You offer up your questions well before you sweat the answers. What is it you lack? Why are you feeling a need for change? Where is your life not working out? Lay it out in the presence of God.Yes, yes: God already knows. Not the point. It’s the practice of telling the truth, clearly and coherently to someone you can’t buffalo that helps to start.Now, you’ve laid out the situation as fairly and fully as you can; stay with that in prayer. Don’t rush for a solution or a tidy answer, so much as give God a chance to help you see your situation clearly. Prayer has a way of doing that.Discernment is considered a gift in the Bible, and as such is available to all believers in some measure, but a special capacity given to a few. This is where your life in community comes in; not just being part of a church or faith community of some such, but having a group that relates to you and you to them. They could be a fellowship circle or study class or just friends who come together regularly, but with a sense that you are especially responsible for one another. Or to put it more simply, people in your life who are almost as hard to buffalo as God is.Odds are there is someone in that group that has the gift of discernment. (PS – You my have the gift yourself, which is not the same as being able to apply it to yourself!) If your prayers lean in this direction, tell them about what you’re working on prayer-wise, and invite them to pray along with you.What discernment is ultimately about, in Christian understanding, is not a way of getting magical, mystical answers handed to you on a plate. Discerning is about the idea that each of us has been given some kind of gift (see entry under "Spirit, Holy, gifts of") and the world around us has certain needs. When the needs and gifts are put together, amazing things happen. When they go in different directions, problems occur for all involved, including the gifted.Do some discerning this new year as 2007 gets going. Be open to what you already doing, doing well, maybe even gifted for. And keep your eyes (and heart) open for what brokenness near you might be healed by you, and few other than you. The resolution to what ails you might just be in working on that other person’s problem.Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story about how faith works for you at

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Faith Works 12-23-06
Jeff Gill

A Family That Makes Do

You knew that Uncle Charlie and Aunt Edna were coming with their three kids some time ago, and between the guest room and a cot along with the sofa in the basement would set them up well enough.A conference in the hotel nearby, races down at the track, and parent’s visitation weekend on campus across town meant you’d have to put them up; even if you offered to pay for the room, "no vacancies" were lit up far and wide.Then your brother Martin dropped by, which he always does. He never calls, and you’re always glad to see him, and please would you call ahead next time? You say this as you make up the daybed in the sewing room.What you couldn’t have expected was Gadja and Grandpa showing up, since they usually don’t travel much, and they are getting on in years.But they heard Martin was passing through, and apparently he never drops in on them on the other side of the state. That would be rude, to just impose on your elderly grandparents (unlike your siblings, you think, but only think).When they see Charlie’s kids sprawled across the sofa and living room floor, they immediately say they’ll just sit and visit a bit, and then drive straight back.Right. Well over 80, they’ve driven four hours, and it’s already three in the afternoon. You say with perfect sincerity that you don’t want them to even think about doing that, and that if they don’t mind taking turns in the bathroom, we can make this work. You make eye contact with your dearly beloved across the room, who lifts an eyebrow, and then somehow points it at the sofa, currently covered with Charlie’s offspring. Nodding back, you blow a kiss across the room, and go downstairs to the camping closet where the foam pads are. You have time to rummage and assemble while Grandpa talks about how many months it was between hot showers during the war in Europe.And then the bell rings again, and since you’re in the hall you open it before the second chime. There stand cousin Joe and his – girlfriend? Fiance? – Mary. Or maybe they’ve gotten married since you last heard from him, but she certainly is pregnant.Someone quickly and graciously slides a chair from the kitchen across the back end of the living room to the edge of the wood floor near the entry, and Mary sits, with visible relief. Talking to Joe, you sketch out the situation, trying to stay cheerful while feeling "why me, Lord?" Then you see the worry and tension only slowly slipping off Mary’s face, as Joe stands close, one hand steadily rubbing her shoulder, and you think "OK Lord, I guess it’s me."You could put her in your bedroom with Gadja, and Grandpa could share the sewing room with Martin (Martin can go on the floor, you think with momentary satisfaction), and we’ll sleep on the sofa and floor out here. Joe winces and says very slowly that he’d rather sleep out in the garage than be separated from Mary right now.In a burst of noise behind them over the control of the TV remote, you and Joe put your heads closer together, just above Mary. There is a back room out there with a heater and actually even a toilet and shower, but with twenty feet from the house and cold nights and no real bed, you hadn’t planned to use it. There were straw bales there, though, for the rabbits and sheep you keep in the field below the house, and you could put a big foam roll over the top of a dozen of them on the floor, lay down a big sleeping bag from the hunting gear, and tuck in sheets all around and it’ll look and almost feel like a bed – if you don’t try to slide your shoes underneath.That gets a laugh even from Mary, and Joe says he’d be so thankful for that much, and still sorry to impose. You remind him that the rabbits will enjoy the company, and if Charlie’s kids get much louder you’ll be out to join them, so don’t even talk about imposing.Hardly anyone in the jammed living room notices when you all bundle up and go out the front door. There’s a stiff wind going around the house, but you hold the door for the two of them and they walk into what the family calls "the shop." With the lights on (florescent, but hey) and the heater already running, it looks spare but comfortable indeed after the chill outside. A little shifting of bales, the roll and bags from the loft (thankfully, you washed them this year before they went up that ladder), and the sheets on top really do look like a bed, if you ignore the plywood walls. Checking out the little bathroom, you point out they may have more hot water than anyone inside; and given where you’re sleeping, that’s only fair, you add, when you see Joe react. There’s a TV on the workbench, and CD’s in the player if they want, and don’t worry about the volume!With everyone laughing at that, you close the door firmly behind you, and head back to the house, with the snow starting to fall. Good thing you convinced the folks to stay the night, and now you have to convince them to take your bed.The only thing left, you think, is for that girl to go ahead and have her baby out there on the straw. Could this night get any crazier?Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; have a blessed and safe and warm Christmas in every possible way, and offer your seasonal wishes to

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Faith Works 12-16-06
Jeff Gill

The Privilege of Faith

Once again at Christmastime, we pick up stray echoes of arguments over trees in airports, greetings at cash registers, and analyses of greeting card inscriptions.What religious traditions should show up in public spaces, and how many private arguments will hinge on outward displays of personal faith?In debates about the role of religion in "the public square," the strict language of the US Constitution is no longer the actual point of dispute."Establishment" of an official state church is what is clearly forbidden in the first clause of the Bill of Rights. Then you read a promise for the "free exercise" of religion for all, and there hangs in the air, if not in print, a fainter echo from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote later in life about "separation of church and state."What people today are actually arguing about for the most part is a very modern concern, that of "privileging" a particular religion or faith tradition. To privilege a particular point of view is a cardinal sin in the modernist (not to say post-modernist) world view, as most if not all points-o’-view are supposed to be equal, or at least interchangeable.For Christians, a quick read of Philippians 2 will show that privilege is something to be willingly set aside (go ahead and check the reference, I’ll be here when you get back). Even someone with a very strong sense that Christian truth claims are absolute and exclusive can trust that "truth will out." In a marketplace of belief, the value of gold will always end up outweighing straw.An interesting example of this is playing out on the slopes of Granville’s College Hill leading up to Denison University, one of Licking County’s oldest institutions, civic or religious.This last week marked the precise 175th anniversary of the first classes at the Granville Theological and Literary Institution (Dec. 13, 1831, 2:00 pm, NE corner of Cherry and W. Broadway). Most of the observances which have already taken place and will be observed through the remainder of the academic year refer to the founding purposes of the Baptist worthies who started the school now known as Denison University.Those were to a) train ministers of the Christian gospel for the Baptist faith, and b) build up laity (OK, laymen) in citizenship and leadership for the same Baptist creed. From the very start, it was often mentioned in early records that they didn’t have as many Baptists as they had hoped would be attending the school.As time went on, not only did that problem continue, but Baptist denominational officials regularly made grand promises for fundraising and support which almost invariably fell less than short. Books could be, and have been written on what distractions kept the church from fulfilling its commitments to their academic institutions, but it can be fairly said that the move to a secular basis of schools like Denison – and Harvard, and William & Mary, and Brown, and most every other historic college in America – had as much to do with self-preservation as it did with a desire to cast loose the bonds of ecclessial limitation. Churches said to colleges, "go ye and be fruitful in the marketplace," and they have.Ironically, the landscape today shows that private, non-sectarian institutions like Denison can now more freely and easily contain clear and explicit expressions of, say, Christian faith (to pick one, not quite at random) in events and programs, as part of a range of religious offerings on campus. Meanwhile public schools, both secondary and post-secondary, fear including just some Bach in a choral concert.So even as Denison University removes the granite inscription from their main entrance saying, in part, "A Christian college," there is more room for Christian expression there, in that statement’s absence, than on any educational property owned by the government. Many would happily agree that this is what the Founders were after: private institutions offering religious viewpoints with designated support, and public institutions with no religion "privileged" only engaging churches as historical or social players.

I doubt if the Founders could make head or tails of the current scene when it came to faith, even with a majority of them Unitarian Deists. What they did secure was the utter absence of a "state church" collecting their income through government taxes, and beyond that they expected a wide range of religious perspectives to flourish both on and adjoining the public square.

Administrators, bureaucrats, and politicians have a sort-of "constitutional" dislike of messiness and complexity and nuance.

Whatever "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion" means in a wider sense, it has been used to try to flatten and homogenize public discourse on the beliefs that will always underlie our choices.But Americans, however they feel about churches, are fine with messes. They are more comfortable with conflict and engaged, ongoing disagreement than their leaders are. Evangelical Christians will support the display of menorahs for Hanukah, Jewish leaders will affirm Christmas trees, and Wiccans will file briefs to keep Moslem crescent and star insignia in public use.

Colleges may take down the word Christian from their facades, but collegians can practice their faith all the more passionately in lecture rooms and on bulletin boards.

We may no longer sing "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" at civic events, or send angel-bordered Christmas letters, but it becomes all the clearer that those who do so nowadays really mean something by it.That strikes me as a good thing!

So Merry Christmas from my house to yours, and I welcome whatever seasonal greetings you freely choose to offer.

Jeff Gill

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 1-14-07
Jeff Gill

Bright Side, Or Right Side?

This is what I'm talking about.
Ohio State's football team goes, what, 15 and 1, plays in the national
championship game, has the quarterback win Coach Heisman's trophy, and everyone
is in mourning, downcast, muttering "what went wrong?"
Yes, I did watch the game. To the end. We stunk. Over seven weeks off, eating
banquet food five nights a week, and watching way too much football on TV
(think about it: how many college games do you think they watch during the
season other than "film" in the locker room?), and their brains were flabby,
not their bodies.
One more half and they woulda had 'em, I am sure.
But the point is, why are so many of us so very down? It was a good season,
with much to remember with contentment. Great moments, stellar performances,
and carrying the burden of a Number One rating almost six months. Yeah, and a
huge loss on Jan. 8.
This is what I was getting at about Newark and Licking County last week. Are
there problems here? You don't have to be clever a'tall to find 'em. Can you
honestly, accurately, precisely say that there are good things happening in
Licking County in general, and right down to Courthouse Square in Newark in
particular? Sure, and it doesn't take too much looking.
Last week I was waiting for a class tour at the Octagon Earthworks in the
parking lot of Moundbuilders Country Club. While the Little Guy and I were
waiting, a car pulled into the otherwise empty parking lot. They had North
Carolina plates, and walked over to the interpretive sign, so I said hello,
introduced myself, and said I'd be happy to answer any questions 'til the class
showed up.
This couple was interested in history, culture, and art, and they "chose" to
drive through Licking County on their way from Buffalo to Cincinnati to back
home. (I didn't ask, but got the impression it was a second honeymoon/25th
anniversary trip for them from Niagra Falls to family in Lexington KY.)
After talking about the 2000 year old mounds, the almost 100 year old golf
course, and the weird weather, they said "This sure looks like a nice place to
live! Can you tell us where there are any art museums, anything else to see?" I
gave them direction to The Works (and told them to see if they could get up to
the second floor courtroom in the Courthouse), LeFevre Hall at OSU-N, and Burke
Hall on the Dension campus, mentioned some galleries on Broadway in Granville,
and then said goodbye as the students arrived.
Do you hear what I'm saying? Of all the towns and all the attractions they
could have seen between western New York state and Kentucky, they came through
Licking County. And they were glad they did. And they bought at the very least
a meal, and may well (I don't know) have ended up staying a night, maybe even
bought some stuff. Like art.
The Urban Institute is an organization that does fascinating work on assessment
and policy for communities. You can look at most of their publications online
in "PDF" format through their website, They aren't just about
big cities, but the nature and development of places where large numbers of
people come together, and how to make those interactions positive, mutually
beneficial, and sustainable.
They have found that in measuring typical "quality of life" benchmarks, far too
many areas end up unintentionally following the "drunk under the lamppost"
method: looking where there's the most light, not where you need to be looking.
Analysts tend to follow the most available data, so Census Bureau numbers and
standard economic measures carry the most weight.
Two insights they gave me in reading through a chunk of their material have to
do with "creative classes." Community vitality and quality of life are often
tied at one level or another to the raw numbers of artists, art galleries, art
sales, and other artistic venues like theaters, concerts, et cetera. Urban
Institute scholars have asked whether or not we're missing "the rest of the
iceberg" in that approach -- those are the visible creative professionals, but
doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers, and many other professions are all
creative in different ways. Those "hidden" creative professionals usually know
that the creative process can be spurred by experiencing other forms of
creativity, so a programmer at State Farm is interested in the fabric art of an
executive at Longaberger who goes to hear a concert where one of the players is
county coroner (none of those three are made up, by the way).
So the second insight is that a community, while being careful not to find what
they want to find, needs to make sure they use not only standard quantitative
measures, but figure out some benchmarks that are meaningful for who and where
they are.
And promote the heck out of 'em.
Technically, that's called "indigenous venues of validation," but it just means
don't measure yourself against Albuquerque or Santa Fe or Taos, or even the
Short North Gallery Hop. Art and creativity are bubbling up all over Licking
County, in local libraries, school shows right down through elementary grades,
and in church fellowship halls.
I don't think we've even begun to correctly calculate the value of what we
have, which is why so many people aren't sure we have much. The Ohio Arts
Council ( has some approaches you can read as well.
Licking County, let's finish brushing the lint off our lapels and step out
proudly. We're competitive way above our weight class, and in ways we have not even
acknowledged yet.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio;
tell him about a creative endeavor near you through

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Notes From My Knapsack 1-07-07
Jeff Gill

Choosing a Place To Live

A few weeks ago, our family meandered to downtown Newark in the evening. It was
a weeknight, and we had a bag of canned goods to deliver to the "Elves in
Action" with the county Food Pantry Network by the courthouse square gazebo.
Turning off of Rt. 16, we came up West Main Street with a glorious view of the
Christmas-lit Courthouse. A lap around the square wove around many cars, since
Marie Osmond was appearing within the hour at the Midland Theater. On the
second lap, we pulled into the elf lane and the Little Guy handed out the bag
to waiting hands, getting a discreet candy cane in response.
We paused to let a mass of pedestrians cross to where a smaller crowd was
taking pictures of each other sitting with Mark Twain by the box office under
the marquee. Park Place Coffee Roasters was open, and the Natoma Café had a
full complement at the bar. Our last lap showed the Manna Restaurant and their
McCousin in the eatery business down the block both bustling, and then we were
on our way home, but first we looped south of the square, past the lovely Penn
Depot, turning just past the attractively exteriored Lil’ Bear downtown
grocery. Finally, around The Works complex where we had been to an art show and
bought quite a few presents a few weeks before.
And people fret about Newark’s downtown why, again?
Sure, it is no doubt an ongoing effort to keep businesses going these days in
the Ohio economy. Not just downtowns, though: I know folks out at the mall in
Heath who worry about the foot traffic volume and sales figures. American
willingness to walk twenty feet to save a buck versus spending more at drive-up
windows is fading to non-existent, and spending more for quality along with
walking around a (gasp) corner seems to be a lost art.
All true, but the bottom line that strikes me as worth underlining is that
Licking County has a vital, vibrant county seat downtown.
Hey, I heard that snort.
It baffles me as to why so many can’t believe it when people like, um, me say
that we’re doing great. There’s a combination of living in the past ("you
shoulda seen it when…") and not getting out much. Like to Columbus, f’r
Do we have problems? Oh, sure. Read a little microfilm on downtown Newark over
the last hundred years, and I’m liking our current crop. We’ve come a long,
long way. There are no department stores near Park National Bank, but Lazarus
and Ayres aren’t looking too good these days either.
If you have business that takes you to downtown Mansfield, Springfield, Akron,
Canton, Lima, Toledo, Xenia, or Portsmouth (just to name a few I’ve been to in
the last couple years), let alone nearby Columbus, tell me you see a place you’
d swap with downtown Newark.
Yes, the Licking County Convention and Visitors Bureau recently was very kind,
and honored me as their Volunteer of the Year (aka "sucker who always says yes
award"). I point this out only to say I have no personal angle to polish in
promoting our communities in Licking County, since I already have the award. I
enjoy doing local tours and what they call "step-ons" with tour buses passing
through because I really, truly think this is a wonderful place to live and
raise a family. The Lovely Wife and I came here from elsewhere, and came back a
second time, because we chose this place.
Which brings me to a web site that might be the nugget of a good idea for
someone here to put together. When we were visiting family over the holidays in
Indianapolis, a county seat with a few urban problems, but a truly awesome
downtown, I found out about a web site called "I Choose Indy." You can go to and look around.
Some infotech professionals wanted to share their own take on how they chose
that town, as opposed to a marketing set of slogans.
Why have people chosen Licking County? They are, and in growing numbers. What
would we learn by giving them a chance to tell us why? It might even help us
all, longtime, newer, and just arriving residents of the Land of Legend, to
figure out what we need to protect and preserve and maintain, along with a few
new ideas for how to all make a community.
And look for more on why this is not only a great place to live, but to have
people visit, in 2007.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio;
tell him why you chose Licking County at