Saturday, November 17, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 11-25-07
Jeff Gill

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Faith Works 11-17-07
Jeff Gill

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 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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 11-18-07
Jeff Gill

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