Thursday, May 31, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 6-10-07
Jeff Gill

Summer Reading Program Time

Some folks like to read in the depths of winter, when the sun sets early and the chance to curl up on the couch makes an opportunity for books on the endtable.

Others claim beach reading is a great opportunity, which has never made sense for me. Sand in the bindings, water all around, and sunscreen on the fingers make for oddly discolored pages.

Considering the kind of doorstop-sized, steamy-covered books that usually get called “beach reading,” a little unintentional vandalism might be OK. Summertime just feels like a period filled with lots of slow spots where books can fit in, even if not the beach.There is plenty of fiction to stretch your mind and expand your experience that doesn’t involve embarrassing covers. Everyone else promotes non-fiction these days, so I'm just going to talk novels here.

You can have some reading in your backseat of the car, your knapsack (!), or whatever carryall you carry through the summer – and we all have a bunch of stuff to carry about in the summertime, so a book is an easy addition.

What’s out there to read, though? A ways back I praised Elizabeth Crook’s “The Night Journal,” and it is now in paperback. This is a semi-modern setting in Texas and New Mexico with extended flashbacks and reappearing letters and photos from a century and more ago. You get some US history, a murder mystery, and adventures from Utah to Mexico across the Rio Grande.

“Suite Francaise” is in paperback as well, and the story of the novel (actually, two novellas) is as gripping as the story in the novel. Irene Nemirovsky was a French Jew who not only saw the dim outlines of the Holocaust coming, but died in it, leaving the beginning and outline of a projected five novella sequence that took place in, what was for the author, “real time.”
Nemirovsky’s daughter survived, and was given the manuscripts after the war in a suitcase. She didn’t realize what she had, and thinking it would be too painful to read through her mother’s letters and journal, kept them without either reading or destroying the contents.

You don’t have to read recent fiction. Trollope and Dickens and Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, that is, aka George) are all waiting for you right where you left them, next to the Brontes and Jane Austen and Jane’s misplaced later brother Patrick O’Brian, he of the Aubrey/Maturin series of twenty seafaring novels set in Austen’s day.

I have a major weak spot for Iris Murdoch, who wrote some amazing novels before she got a movie made about her death, let’s not forget. “The Bell” and “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” are mind and heart grabbing stories that reward a slow, second reading.

John Irving is the uncle you swear you won’t invite over next Thanksgiving, but then do anyhow because the whole event isn’t as fun without him. “A Prayer For Owen Meany” makes up for a great deal of his latest work, but I like to recommend “A Son of the Circus” which even many of his fans haven’t gotten to. Richard Russo is working on a new novel with portions set in Venice, Italy, which makes a certain contrast with post-industrial rust-belt cities where his books tend to set up shop; I can’t wait, but I’ll have to. Might be time to go back and re-read “Empire Falls,” which got him a Pulitzer and an HBO movie.

Wendell Berry and Jon Hassler are two major Midwestern writers, and either might say that “major Midwestern” is an oxymoron, but hey, I’m from here. This is my world, and those two describe elements of it beautifully. The problem is that you have to be pre-slowed-down. These aren’t books like Gail Godwin or Carol Shields that help you gear down; Berry & Hassler assume you’re already trotting at their easy going pace, and then slow down some more.

Marilynne Robinson has precisely two novels in print, but she’s rightly considered one of the best prose writers working in American fiction; “Housekeeping” and the recent “Gilead” are both in paper covers, and cover some of Russo’s and Berry’s terrain. Oddly, I think of her work alongside (mentally) with Susan Howatch, whose Starbridge and St. Benet’s series’ of books are all set in the context of faith at work. Robinson writes about Iowa and the non-pretty, working class Pacific Northwest, while Howatch is firmly rooted in the cathedrals and parishes of the Church of England. David Lodge does much the same for English Catholics trying to be faithful and hopeful in work and academia, though his most recent novel is a semi-bio of Henry James.

Without even getting to Robertson Davies or Dostoevsky . . . is that enough to hold you ‘til autumn?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him a book review of your own at
Faith Works 6-2-07
Jeff Gill

Sunscreen, check; tickets, check . . . what else?

You may have plans for a great summer vacation, whether to Trinidad & Tobago, or just down to Toboso.

You pack all the kids’ swimwear, sunscreen rated 78 or so, a good book (a portable copy of The Good Book?), and remember the tickets.

Have you remembered your church?

No, not to put in your luggage, but your regular support of the ministry there.

If you have a church home, of whatever faith or denomination, I don’t have to tell you that there’s been a financial campaign, commitment cards or pledges, budgets made and bills due. Even if you work off of a purely faith/tithe basis as a church, let alone individual believer, there’s still that offering plate or Joash box or however you gather up the first fruits.

But the importance of that regular support often slips off the mental radar screen when vacation time drapes over the congregation. It may be that you say, at some point, when you realize you’ll miss five Sundays this summer, “I’ll make it up at the end of August.”
You’ve made a plan for giving, worked out the amount or (better yet) figured out what percentage giving of your income that’s going to support your fiath community, and you really are faithful.

What is surprising to people when they realize it about themselves, but is old, old news to church treasurers and financial secretaries, is that the human (sinful) tendency is too slip behind and not catch up. Out of sight, out of mind, and not out of pocket.

Plus you spend a wee bit more than you meant to on vacation, where you really ought to have a plan and a budget, too, and the next thing you know is that you’re rationalizing just picking up after Labor Day.

Clergy of all faiths know that summer is a season when you hope to go into June with a solid cushion, because so very many churches have major shortfalls of giving versus expenses during July and August, and you spend fall not focused on evangelism and outreach the way you hoped, but on picking up the pieces fiscally and supercharging the November giving campaign.

Repeat cycle more years than not, and you can see why clergy don’t love the summer.
Pretty much the same bills come in the summer as any other month of the year, more or less, but not the same giving.

If you have envelopes, think about using them as summer benchmarks, whether weekly or monthly. You could send your offering back home if you’re gone a long stretch, or even give ahead for the summer (trust me, the treasurer will looooove you for it), which helps you remember not to spend all that money on a four foot tall brass parrot for the porch that your wife will never let you put up anyhow.

There’s a protocol thing that folks sometimes ask me about: if we visit a church on vacation, should we give at the offering? First, kudos for going to worship on vacation. You’re teaching your kids and reminding yourself of the importance and place of worship in your lives. It isn’t just a community obligation, but a positive value of prayer and praise that happens wherever you go. Second, you get a chance to do something many worshipers don’t get, which is to feel your way through what it’s like to be a visitor, and how that affects your experience of a worship space and service. Make sure, the very next time you’re back home, to think through that experience as you park, enter the building, and find your way into the worship space. How can we be more and more effectively welcoming to folks who feel like I did last Sunday in a strange place?.

You can see where I’m going with this: thirdly, most churches worth their name are absolutely fine about folks who just pass the plate along, or hold up a low-slung hand when the basket swings their way. You’re a guest, and guests aren’t paying the bills here. Please feel welcome.

But I can’t imagine, for myself, not putting at least a five or a ten in the offering as a thank you to God for a chance to worship far from home, to learn new lessons, and get re-energized from a whole new angle in a different service while on vacation.

And it reminds me that I should keep up my real offering back home!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been a church treasurer and a parish pastor, and doesn’t like looking at August budget reports any more than the next fellow. Share your stewardship tips at

Monday, May 28, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 6-3-07
Jeff Gill

A Few Words From 1889

Long, long days, warm nights, and food cooked outdoors.

Summer is here, and with the end of school and graduation behind most of us, camp season begins.

There are families that have their own hunk of land and a cabin they may call a camp, and many others camp at a campground that may have little enough ground showing in the camp full of asphalt and travel trailers.

But camp season for me is Scout and church camp, with the opening week always Cub Scout Day Camp.

Next week the Licking District Cub Scout Day Camp takes place out at Camp Falling Rock, under the faithful direction of Ric and Angie Eader from Etna. Over 300 Cubs, and nearly 100 adults and a dozen older Boy Scouts all come together with the theme “From Sea to Shining Sea.”

For seas they have Lake Peewee on the old camp end off Rocky Fork, and the pool up top, where the week long residential camps will fill with Boy Scouts all summer.

For this shakedown week, the younger Cubs will have their turn in the newly cleaned and filled pool – if they can make it up Cardiac Hill. More positive-minded Scout leaders try to call it “Cardio Hill,” which is a good intention, but tradition dies hard.
Some older traditions at Cub Day Camp are carved in stone, like making bird houses and tool boxes, or learning how to fold the American flag, or archery.

When I’m out at Camp Falling Rock, meandering from the original part of the camp around Franklin Lodge (75 years old last year) to the new camp “up top,” the road winds up past Lake Peewee, and levels a bit as Amphitheater Creek gurgles across the rocky path. It’s a kind of breather, with cool air coming out of the stone bluffs, before you slog up Cardiac.

If you look up as you step from rock to rock across the creek, you can barely make out an inscription cut deep, but weathered into the same lichened grey of the surrounding stone.

All it says is “Camp Whip-poor-will,” with the next line “Mount Vernon, 1889.”

It appears to be some kind of church camp, but I’ve never found a precise reference.

What I surmise (note: all that follows is eddicated guesswork, in other words) is that the area was used as a very early Christian Endeavour camp.

Christian Endeavour was originally a youth program, back when no one had youth programs, just a nursery and then “sit in church and be quiet!” It began in Maine at a Congregational (now UCC) church in 1881, and quickly grew, spreading across the US and around the world. The headquarters of this still-extant organization are in . . . Mount Vernon.

An ecumenical youth program, the strength of it was such that whole congregations were founded from the effort, such as Newark’s own Christian Endeavor United Methodist Church. Meanwhile, existing churches could pick it up as their youth meeting structure, and I found a century old, mostly decayed “CE” poster on oilcloth in the attic when I served at Hebron Christian Church.

Now youth programs are the norm, not a new idea, and camps are everywhere. 1889 was well past the pioneer phase of central Ohio, but I suspect Camp Whip-poor-will represents some real pioneering spirit. Whoever organized and led a camp program in 1889 out in northeastern Licking County had enough strength left to carve a message in stone, which tells me they must have planned pretty well.

We don’t believe in marking up the environment today (can you imagine a century of inscriptions each summer?), but most of the values and practices of Camp Whip-poor-will probably line up pretty well with what we do there today.

Whatever you do this summer, make sure to get outside, look around at nature, and make some food for yourself and others without a microwave. Watch a sunset, identify a bird, read a few psalms.

And find something to be thankful for. Thinking about how life was in 1889 can be a good start; then you can think about 2125 and how they’ll marvel at the inconveniences we put up with back in 2007.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about an inscription that caught your eye at