Thursday, May 24, 2007

Faith Works 5-26-07
Jeff Gill

Is There a Text at the Statehouse?

So, I won’t be delivering any public prayers at the Statehouse.

Not a surprise, since no one’s asked me. That is, not for a while, and all the spoken, public praying I’ve done in the past has been technically next door, in the Atrium.

I’ve offered invocations for a wide variety of gatherings outside of worship services, and as I’ve discussed here before (and gotten some interesting and thoughtful email in response), I will often choose not to close with “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

To recap, that’s because a) I don’t end every prayer I pray that way anyhow, so b) why should I do it just to make a point, and c) there are interfaith occasions where my Christian faith is clear enough, and I feel it is both appropriate and courteous to keep a general setting prayer as broad based as seems right, which sometimes means a wrap-up along the lines of “as we are called to express Your love in this world,” or “committing ourselves to the work of Your justice and truth, Amen.”

No one has ever asked me to do a “public” prayer and said “um, please don’t say the ‘in Jesus’ name’ thing, OK?” If I were asked to not say it, I’d probably defer the whole occasion, or ask what the concern is and see where the conversation takes us.

Which isn’t why I won’t be praying over in the State Capital any time soon. Well, that’s part of it. About a year ago I wrote here about the dispute in my old home state, Indiana, where there was a fight over House rules that ended up in a court decision saying that the Indiana legislature needed to ensure that any opening blessings or invocations were Jesus-free.

When a number pointed out, “so I can pray to Allah, but Jesus is right out?” then they got a revision to the guidelines that basically said you can’t say anything but “God” or maybe “Lord” in the prayers to open proceedings.

Which meant rabbis who normally prayed their first half of an invocation in Hebrew were in a grey area, and some women objected to privileging “Lord” as an acceptable term.

Last I heard, Indiana went to all prayers offered by members, not invited clergy, where they could invoke Vishnu, Brahma, and Ahriman if they chose as elected representatives.

Fine, you say, that’s Indiana. Ah, but could Ohio be close behind?

Apparently some legislators have had their tender ears so wounded by sharp edged swinging of Jesus’ name (note to secularists, whom I trust some are still reading: most Christians regularly affirm that Jesus is, in fact, God, which means if you can call God Allah, you should be able to call God Jesus – that’s the point), that they’ve laid down two guidelines.

Remember, your faithful columnist has said that he’d be willing to pray without an obligatory use of Jesus, but I don’t feel comfortable being told that I can’t (He might come up, is all I’m saying).

It’s the second guideline that is surprisingly uncontroversial, or maybe the political reporters just haven’t asked enough clergy about it. Guideline two is, to check for appropriate names of the Most High, any invited prayin’ clergy need to submit a text of their prayer three days in advance.

To be fair, I would probably write a few notes down on a card if I were doing a public prayer in a place like the Capital, just as I do for a Scouting awards event, or special program. Maybe.

But for many clergy, the idea that a prayer has to be written out in advance is problematic. Does anyone involved with this decision know that?

Some folks can take this principle to a fault, and condemn anyone who doesn’t pray entirely spontaneously. That is not entirely fair, and many of those who so aggressively mock “set prayers” in favor of “letting the Spirit move” can sound awfully repetitious themselves over many different prayers – “Lord, we just want . . . We just ask, Lord . . . etc.”

There is a definite place for thought and preparation in prayer, and the great prayers of the saints used again and again, not to mention the Lord’s Prayer.

But to tell clergy that they can’t pray in a way that touches on events of the moment, or of last night; to set a guideline that requires the words to be set down in advance, let alone approved . . . never mind, say I.

Don’t worry, though; I will certainly still be praying for them. Just not up in front of them at the opening of their day. You can pray for them, too (see 1 Timothy 2: 1-3), and say whatever the Spirit leads you to offer.

In all fairness, quite a few of them appreciate those prayers, and count on them. Lift them up, and keep on praying for them all.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; say a prayer for him or just drop a line to

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 5-27-07
Jeff Gill

Denison & My Name Is Earl

Many of you know that Steve Carell of “The Office” went to Denison, living here in Licking County for four years.

Usually on right before that show is “My Name Is Earl,” and as far as I know there are no local connections to that program (except some major déjà vu moments while viewing).

But I want to bookend our graduation season glance at the large inscriptions on the College Street campus gateways with an “Earl” connection of sorts.

Along with Earl and his brother Randy there are a number of recurring characters, including Earl’s ex-wife Joy, and a lady she does not get along with at all named Catalina.

Catalina’s immigration status is, um, currently under debate in Washington. Stay tuned to that… Anyhow, Catalina is pretty fluent in English, putting her a step ahead of most illegal aliens in the US, but occasionally, mainly when her character is angry, she launches into Espanol. Having taken Latin and German in high school, I have only scraps picked up on Southwestern trips and in reading the menu at Taco Bell.

But those years of Latin and culinary clues gave me just enough to prick up my ears when I was watching a re-run of an Earl episode.

In a first season episode called "Barn Burner,” it appears that Catalina is cursing out Joy in Spanish. It didn’t sound quite right, though. Later on, I did some Googling about on the internet, and found out something I think is quite clever: what she’s saying is "I want to thank the Latino audience that tunes in to watch the show every week. And to those of you who aren't Latino, I want to congratulate you for learning another language."

Catalina does the same trick, it turns out, at season’s end for both the first and this most recent season, and we can expect more hidden surprises and in-jokes with season three picked up by the NBC network.

Back to those distinguished looking campus gateways at Denison! Down by the intersection of Burg St. and College is the final pair of inscriptions, one long known to be a Ben Franklin classic about time being the stuff life is made of, and don’t waste it.

Opposite is a statement that has long been listed in college lore as “unattributed,” which just means that somewhere since President Emory Hunt picked it out a century ago, no one has been sure where it came from.

It’s kind of appropriate that the obscurity of the quote is tied to the quotation, which says in full “Languages are no more than the keys of sciences; He who despises one, slights the other.” The source is hard to track down because the original is in French, from an author named Jean de la Bruyere. La Bruyere was a student of Pascal and Montaigne, a contemporary of Racine and Corneille, and over to the English side of the channel, he strongly influenced Joseph Addison with his “The Characters, or Manners of the Present Age,” where the quote derives.

Addison went on to create the idea of short essays in cheap, public settings like broadsheets and newspapers, with a connection over time not preventing the enjoyment of any one.

Or, you could just say that Addison invented the role of newspaper columnist!

La Bruyere wanted, like Catalina, for us to appreciate the importance of having knowledge and familiarity with different languages. Emory Hunt wanted Denison students and any passers-by to see quotes affirming hard work (George Crabbe), aspiration (Longfellow’s Augustine quote), good use of time (Franklin), and the value of learning languages (La Bruyere).

In that way, the four quotes on the two gates from lower to upper campus make a perfect summation of what a liberal arts education is all about.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he speaks no French at all, sadly. Parleys-vooz with him at