Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Faith Works 5-19-07
Jeff Gill

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Does your church have a “no smoking” sign?

No, not the yellowing old hand drawn one on a shirt carboard made thirty years ago that’s taped to the back of the downstairs bathroom door.

I mean the “official” ones by the entrances that tell you what number to call if you find unauthorized smoking in progress.

Somewhere here in the last few years there was a major infiltration of the Statehouse legislators by the powerful, implacable “Sign Makers” lobby. We got a concealed carry law, which allows law abiding citizens to carry shoulder holstered weapons about inobtrusively. They ask you if you’re planning any criminal acts and if you’re crossing your fingers while you answer, and you fill out a dozen forms and then you are licensed for “concealed carry.”

Which was meant to get some balance through making the law inactive if you have a certain size, type, and design of sign at the entrance of your building.

Many businesses chose to put up an “uh-huh, sorry bud, not in here” sign, while many did not, whether they really wanted handguns waved about in a robbery or not. Most retail establishments have, as the centerpiece of their training for armed robbery, the principle “give it to ‘em, and ask if they want fries with that.” You could probably get fired for shooting a patron, even if they drew down on you first.

So that’s business, but then there’s other offices, like not-for-profits who serve the public directly.

I’m part of a service agency board that has long had a no booze, no drugs, no weapons policy built into our service program that all participants understand and sign. Apparently, the law didn’t take such common-sensical approaches into consideration, and we were told that if we didn’t a) vote to exclude concealed weapons, and b) put up the canonical signage to say so, we might not have the right to just tell them.

We voted and signed, like good citizens.

And churches?

Well, I’ve seen quite a few churches with the red circle, handgun, and red slash ornamenting their front entrances. I’ve also seen quite a few without such signs, most where I doubt packing heat is part of the approved vestment for Sunday worship. Maybe they assume that since they preach peace and affirm non-violence they don’t need lame graphics to make the point, nor would they sue a member who chose to take advantage of the absence of a sign to carry a blunderbuss under their choir robes some Sunday.

The fact is, tho’, that if a gun related crime takes place in a church where no vote or signage went into effect, there could be no charges related to their concealed weapon per se. Should we worry about that?

More problematic is the growing impetus behind that ominous word “fairness” when it comes to churches as “public space” and the state smoking ordinance. Will churches be required to put tacky plastic panels with bright red logos (which, by the by, inevitably fade over time, looking even more tacky, and maybe leaving a distinct gun in black but the faint memory of the slash), with the creepy “call this number to report smoking” tagline?

“Call this number” to report animal abuse, school threats, child neglect even, but a central state number to report smoking?

Did I mention that I don’t smoke, dislike being around lit cigarettes intensely, and wish people wouldn’t smoke right next to doors I’m going through?

In Great Britain, there is debate in Parliament over whether or not Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and every other place of worship large and small will be required to post “no smoking inside” signs at every entrance. Y’know, like the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral, with massive Romanesque arches, Norman stonework in the arcading, and large Plexiglas placards with red circled butts of the tobacco variety bearing their heraldric slash.

For future debate in Columbus, or London, shall we discuss a “No Lawsuits Between Christians” sign, “Gossip forbidden here” banners, or just “Only Good Thoughts Welcome”? Is there a logo that affirms healthy eating, or regular exercise?

Or what about just posting the Ten Commandments at the door? That would set a comprehensive tone for what’s expected in a public space, wouldn’t it?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he did not have the foresight to invest in signmaking companies ten years ago, more’s the pity. Tell him about a sign that caught your eye at

Monday, May 14, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 5-20-07
Jeff Gill

Imagine a sailor, long away from England.

His last leave-taking turned awkward, and our Roger was estranged from three brothers.
Forty years passed, and he returned from the ocean trade wealthy, looking to retire quietly in his home county. There were three nephews, a niece, and a cousin once removed who lived a bit of a recluse life in the forest.

Roger said to himself, as people say in poems of the year 1801:
“Yet hold! I’m rich; - with one consent they’ll say,
‘You’re welcome, Uncle, as the flowers in May.’
No; I’ll disguise me, be in tatters dress’d,
And best befriend the lads who treat me best.””

You’ve heard these kind of stories, no doubt. Roger goes as a beggar to the three nephews and is roughly treated and ill-used by each; even the niece shrieks and shies away.

When he wanders into the woods to search for “surly John,” where Roger finds him and says “I hunger, fellow; prithee, give me food!”
John does not run him off or condemn him for the “sin” of poverty, but simply replies:

“Give! am I rich? This hatchet take, and try
Thy proper strength, nor give those limbs the lie;
Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal,
Nor whine out woes thine own right-hand can heal;
And while that hand is thine, and thine a leg,
Scorn of the proud or of the base to beg.”

Our incognito wealthy sailor is delighted by the answer, reveals himself, and shares his fortune, saying to John “With beef and brandy (we’ll) kill all kinds of care;
We’ll beer and biscuit on our table heap,
And rail at rascals, till we fall asleep.”

When John dies, Roger leaves the rest for the benefit of the poor, but still none as inheritance for his relations. Or at least, that’s the story.

If you have walked from Denison’s lower campus along Granville’s Broadway, across College and up to “the Hill,” the gate next to Cleveland Hall carries an inscription on either side.

On the left, many laugh at the sentiment, proper for a long, long stairway leading up a steep hillside, speaking of “The heights by great men reached and kept/ Were not attained by sudden flight,/ But they, while their companions slept,/ Were toiling upward in the night.” a piece from Longfellow’s “The Ladder of Saint Augustine.”

The right hand inscription sticks in the imagination of many a DU grad, but the source is little known. It is two lines from a 2,400 line poem (filling around 58 standard pages) called “The Parish Register,” written in 1801 and published in 1807 by one George Crabbe.

Students are directly admonished: “Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal,/
Nor whine out woes thine own right-hand can heal.”

Crabbe is little known today but indirectly; his poems were a major influence in Thomas Hardy’s novels, and a segment from another long poem, “The Borough,” was the basis for Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes.”

Already a century old and obscure in 1906, these lines stuck in the memory of one of Denison’s better read presidents, and they a literate bunch, to be sure. Emory Hunt was president at the college from 1901 to 1912, and was the first occupant of a new president’s home he named “Beth Eden,” or “House of Peace” in Hebrew. Oriental and English literature were all one to President Hunt, and when new ornamental gates to join upper and lower campuses were planned early in his administration, he personally selected the inscriptions, leaving an impression on students that continues today.

There is a second inscription-flanked gate which contains quotes from Franklin’s “Poor Richard” and another mysterious source, which will be another column anon.

The soft limestone of the panels had worn dangerously over the decades, and President Blair Knapp renewed them with sterner stuff in the 1960’s, but the cryptic quotes remained the same.

As honorary degree recipient Douglas Holtz-Eakin, economic adviser to the McCain campaign and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, said to the graduating DU class of 2007, “Your first task now is: Get a job.” He got the applause of many parents on the lower campus lawn last weekend, and I thought of George Crabbe, and hoped he was smiling.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; while approving of pastors who write poetry, he’s not so sure about a 58 page poem. Send him anything but a 59 page poem to