Saturday, December 22, 2007

Faith Works 1-5-08
Jeff Gill

Past and Future and Coming Attractions For All!

What’s the point of life?

More to the point, am I allowed to ask that question in church? Any church?

What, um, exactly is it that people of faith think happens when we die, and what do they base that on?

And could someone explain to me just why a guy who died 2,000 years ago has anything to do with my life today? I can tell that’s something Christians put a lot of stock it, but why?

. . . do any of those questions sound familiar? Would you or anyone you know want to know about where you could go and feel OK about asking them?

Would it help if dinner was served for free so you could just focus on hearing what the answers on offer are?

“The Alpha Course” is a Christian program that has roots in an urban parish near the heart of London, and now rattles literally around the world in 152 countries.

You might say that “the sun never sets” on Alpha, because Africa and Asia and Alabama and East LA all have congregations which have chosen to offer this unique opportunity.

You can see a bit about the general approach at, and Centenary United Methodist Church in Granville is the latest county church to offer Alpha to their community.

Starting Jan. 15 and running for ten Tuesdays until Mar. 18, folks are invited to come for a dinner and conversation. 6:00 pm is the start around the mealtime table, and each Tuesday is a different part of the well-tested Alpha program, with videos from Nicky Gumbel, one of the pastors with Holy Trinity, Brompton (London) where Alpha was launched in 1973.

You’ll see people on the streets of London and New York and other cities answering questions for interviewers that lead to other, even deeper questions, and Centenary has trained local leaders like Mike Evans who will take it from there as the tables lay out their own questions and work up some answers.

To have the table set up and meals ready, they’d love to know how many are coming, but they want you to come regardless. You can call 587-0022 or drop a note to 102 E. Broadway, Granville 43023 to let them know how many chickens to put in the pot.

One more invitation, even if you already have all the answers; you probably don’t know much about Chaplain David Jones, a fellow I argue may be the “lost founder” of Licking County.

In honor of the bicentennial of the establishment of Licking County on March 1, 1808, I’ve been asked by “The Works” to tell the story of Rev. Jones next Sunday, Jan. 13, at 2:00 pm. I’m going to wear what he would have had on in 1773 when he became only the second European to leave a record of passing through this terrain, but his story just gets better from there. Until the end of his long, fascinating life in 1820, he sent many (most?) of the early settlers to the forks of the Licking River, and returned here, making the long journey from his home by Valley Forge (yes, that Valley Forge, and he was there in 1777) to preach here for the first Baptists in Licking County time and again, well into his 80’s.

I’ve been looking forward to getting the fruits of my research into this amazing character and great soul out in front of a wider audience, and couldn’t be more delighted to help launch the county bicentennial observances with this presentation. Drop by, won’t you?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been working on uncovering the lost story of Chaplain Jones since 1989, and he promised that it’s a doozy! Tell him your lost tale or unknown account at
Notes From My Knapsack 1-6-08
Jeff Gill

So Much Amazement, So Little Time

2008 is off to a flying start, and there is so much to marvel at and be surprised by.

We have an awesome bowl game here at the end of the college football season, begun back in August (or was it the spring scrimmage, which is just a few months ahead).

Many, many fans in central Ohio, more than just alums, and quite a few traveling to watch them battle it out against a wily opponent. And think about going down into the heart of the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina just a few years ago, now the place again for vacationers and warmth-seekers who will be in a stadium tonight to watch . . .

No, you think I mean tomorrow, Monday night, Jan. 7? Sorry, I was talking about the GMAC Bowl with Bowling Green playing Tulsa, in Mobile, Alabama. That’s Sunday night, Jan. 6, and it oughta be a barn-burner.

Sure, I’ll watch the thing Monday, too; who were the Bucks playing? Actually, I may watch “Good Eats” instead. Tune in for the last quarter, late.

What we can reflect on to our mutual benefit is a year that is still early in a new millennium, where fears about resurgent militant Islam and internal conflict among Western nations can and should be balanced with the rise of new technologies and strengthened religion in some nations that had in recent years become indifferent. New initiatives to build relationships between Islamic and Asian nations make some in the West nervous, but a new global economy is starting to benefit those who had formerly been at the very bottom of society.

I’m talking, of course, about 1008.

Then there’s . . . ok, I won’t go for the same cheesy effect for describing 1808, but you know I could! They had their own worries and unique challenges when the State of Ohio was young, but the human condition was not so different that you can’t find much to empathize with in their struggles and small victories.

Even a few big victories.

What I will do is invite you all to come next Sunday, Jan. 13, to “The Works” just south of Newark’s Courthouse Square, for a 2:00 pm lecture given by . . . well, me, sort of.

I’m coming in the garb and guise of one Chaplain David Jones, the second recorded European visitor to the terrain of what’s now Licking County, a county that formally came into being on March 1, 1808, carved out of Fairfield County which itself was taken from Washington County, which was originally the entire expanse of the Northwest Territory.

This year is the bicentennial of Licking County, and the “kick-off” event of a series of talks and programs is my presentation on, or as “Chaplain David Jones: The Lost Founder of Licking County?” I want to tell the story not only of his remarkable 1773 visit to the area, but of his many other visits through his death in 1820, the people he sent to this region, the institutions he directly or indirectly helped found, and his role in American history from Valley Forge (chaplain for Anthony Wayne) to the Battle of Fallen Timbers (he was there, with Wayne) to the Treaty of Greenville (he’s a signer), and beyond.

Granville and Union and Licking Townships, Baptists in general, and Owl Creek Baptist Church in particular up into Knox County, maybe even Newark itself all owe Rev. Jones some modest acknowledgement of his role right here. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather talk about to launch the bicentennial celebration of Licking County as a cultural and political institution than Chaplain Jones.

Come on by, won’t you? It’s not everyday that it’s 1808.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been digging away at the story of Rev. Jones since 1989, and can’t wait to tell someone about it. Tell your unappreciated story to him at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Faith Works 12-22-07
Jeff Gill

What Are They Saying About That Baby

“Jesus is Lord.”

Lots of you reading this don’t find that an odd statement. You should, but it’s a phrase that’s been around long enough to lose the edge of strangeness.

Others of you may think “that’s quite a claim y’all make,” but consider your Christmas season appearance at a church to be a time for quiet courtesy, so it goes right on by.

But standing near a living nativity scene or small tabletop manger, the very ease and comfort of the homey display should make this central point of Christendom stand out.

“Jesus is Lord.”

People often make radical, not to say ridiculous claims about their children. Of course, neither of the birth narratives from the two Gospels have Mary or Joseph telling their visitors to look at their future high-achiever infant with wonder and awe.

You can’t say that about some of the Christmas letters that came in the mail.

It was an assortment of the unlikely and unworthy and utterly unexpected who came ready to call this child “Dominus,” Latin for “Lord,” “he who has dominion.”

The claim of “Jesus is Lord” is no less radical, but a bit more understandable when you consider that the Caesar Augustus mentioned at the outset of the Luke, chapter 2 narrative (beloved of Linus VanPelt on stage explaining to Charlie Brown “that’s what Christmas is all about,”) is the adopted Roman son of “Divus Julius,” Julius the Divine. For almost 40 years before the birth in Bethlehem, the Roman Senate had affirmed that Julius Caesar was a god in the Roman pantheon, and it was clear as Mary and Joseph made their way for the census, that the “son of Caesar” would be divinized soon by the same senators.

Caesar was just a guy’s name, but not after the Roman Empire made it a title of office and a label for a man above men, a human who took on the attributes of the gods on Olympus. By the time Mary’s son had left the carpentry shop behind and walked the shores of Galilee, Caesar was “Dominus,” the one who had dominion.

And not long after that empire had him executed, to do business – sell property, get a license, pay your taxes – meant going into a Roman public building, a basilica, and like getting your documents stamped by a clerk today, you then sealed the process by going to the central altar, dropping in a pinch of incense, and repeating the holy words that ordained the Pax Romana: Caesar is Lord. The godhood of the ruler ensured the stability of the rule, and conferred a certain status on the ruled.

It was in response to this environment that some rose out of Israel to say “Jesus is Lord.” The realm they saw before them was not guided by a diplomat-general-soothsayer-adopted-member-of-the-rapacious-Caesar-family, but a government on the shoulder of a gentle shepherd, who kept his heavenly attributes in the service of reaching down the cliff face for that hundredth sheep.

“Caesar is Lord” says that you’re part of the empire which will bring peace with imposed forceful quiet; “Jesus is Lord” speaks of the peace that passes all human understanding, except perhaps that of a child, calm yet expectant, excited while delighted, even as they drop off to a hopeful sleep.

On Christmas morning, children are absolute rulers, kings and queens in this society, and that’s not a bad one-day arrangement. We’ll survive that day. Whatever our faith perspective, as December 26 dawns, we go back to the question which our everyday actions and casual affirmations answer – who do we say is Lord, our “Dominus;” to whom or what do we give over dominion for our lives?

God bless us, every one.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

* * *
Faith Works 12-29-07
Jeff Gill

Suddenly, Your Church Is Crowded

Here’s the deal – the new year comes right on the heels of Christmas, where all kinds of visitors wander through almost every church.

Let’s hope you didn’t greet them Christmas Eve with any sarcastic remarks about how nice it was to see you . . . for the first time since Easter.

Yes, there are plenty of Christmas and Easter folk still around, and you know what? Many of them really do think of your church as, well, their church. They know they don’t have as many votes as you folk do who come every week, but if they made it from the parking lot in the door, trust me, they feel fairly comfortable in your church.

And if we don’t beat them away with sticks (you laugh, but some churches very nearly do just that), some will come back. They are a few steps behind in knowing when “everybody” stands up, or sits down, or says certain phrases or prayers, but they are back, and they’re looking for something.

The following is not meant as an exhaustive, scientific analysis. It is a prod to those already well-settled into a church to think about how folk think who are new to the pew, how d’ye do?

1. Now that I’m here, what do I do? Who do I watch? Does the bulletin tell me, or is there a person I should be looking at?

2. What are the basic disciplines everyone else here practices everyday, and how do I do them? Are you doing them?

3. The sermon was great, but it’s not enough. I have questions. Is there someone I can follow up with besides pestering the pastor?

4. Yikes, prayer. I don’t know how to pray. I find it very awkward and yet I want to pray, and I try to pray. I’m not really sure I’m doing it right. Can somebody show me how?

5. I want to get involved, but I have a very irregular schedule. I sure can’t teach, at least, not yet. Are there ways I can get involved that are meaningful and important, but don’t scare me so much I’ll run away?

6. If I do volunteer for anything, who defines what is a good job? Because I want to do it well, and I want to find a place here. What are the expectations? (Not a job description. Everyone knows about job descriptions. Ha.) When do I know that I’m done?

7. Mainly, I want to get connected. I’m connected to God I know, but through Jesus – how does that work? And I want to be connected to other people.

8. I know I need to learn more, so what’s the basic stuff I need to read? What are the first things that you read in your faith walk with God that helped you the most?

This list is adapted from a list made up by a new member of a church who wrote them down long before he showed them to anyone, thinking “Someday, if I get really active and end up in leadership with this faith community, I want to remember what these early days felt like.” Bless him!

These are some of the questions new believers ask. Don’t be afraid of them. Embrace them. Bring them in and include them. You’ll be incredibly glad you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your “starting out” story in a congregation with him at

Monday, December 17, 2007

The next two weeks' columns, which constitute a story series along with Notes 12-16 -- pax, jbg

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-23-07
Jeff Gill

You May Be An Angel, This Week Anyhow

When the lady opened the door for him, he knew this was going to be a talker.

She was asking him questions even before he got his shoes off and set them on the mat in the front hallway. Questions that were in the form of statements about the filter she’d had her nephew change last month, how old the furnace was, the way she made sure not to let boxes and bags of water softener lean against the ductwork.

She was elderly, but he’d been certain of that from the first conversation as he answered her worried message on the voicemail. If you were going to do HVAC work these days, you had to have voicemail, though it always tightened his stomach a bit to work the buttons on his cell phone and listen intently to the muddled recordings coming to him from who knows where.

In December folks always sound fearful and a bit defensive on their messages, needing heat to come back soon, and knowing that, since they’re calling, they can’t fix it themselves, and resent needing his expertise more than a little bit.

This lady, though, was sweet and courteous in the way you expect grandmotherly types to be. He’d not known any elderly women like that in his family, but he knew they were out there, somewhere, often making cookies when he came to repair their furnaces just to confirm the image.

There was no tell-tale scent in the air this early in the morning, but she was his first stop since kissing the kids goodbye and waving across the living room to where his wife was diapering their youngest. He listened to the quavering voice standing by the sink in the kitchen, where the ruckus of off-to-school prep was around a corner and blunted just a little. She was the third message of five, but the first in need as he heard out her situation.

She continued a rattling stream of cheeriness as he levered the panel off the side of the furnace, looked about with his heavy yellow-cased flashlight, and twitched the main flow knob. Then she stopped as he leaned back and looked thoughtful.

“Is there any dreadfully wrong, after all?” she asked, this time a direct question.

“No, ma’am, but I just realized I forgot to do something.”

“Do you need a tool from your truck?”

“Not exactly,” he smiled reassuringly, and walked past her and back up the stairs.

Turning the corner where his experience told him it must be, he stood in front of the thermostat. Yep, that’s it, he thought.

With a careful check of his tone, he said “The, uh, furnace was turned off. Here at the on-off switch. I usually call and tell people to check that before I come by, but I just came right over. My mistake . . .” As he spoke, he flipped the toggle to “on” and immediately heard the hum below his feet confirming what he already knew.

“Oh, oh dear, I am so . . .” the lady started to say, and was cut off by an upraised hand, and the words “No, this happens all the time when the temperature swings around, and folks assume the worst. That’s why I should have called and even looked here first; please don’t worry about it.”

“Well, certainly I owe you something for your . . .” and the hand again, so gently raised, barely waist-high, and a response “Please, ma’am, don’t even fret a moment. Glad to ease your worries.”

He went on down to the basement, set all to rights, and came up to get his shoes on and make an exit. She stood in the same spot with a bright look on her face as he went, and just as his hand reached the doorknob, said “You are my Christmas angel, you know that? Thank you so very much, my dear.”

Driving to the next address he’d listed on his notepad, the image wouldn’t leave his mind. Him, an angel. Right.

Except for her, it was true. The heat was back on, confirmation that all was well, and no trace of his having been there – mud on the carpet, a bill on the table – all meant that, for her, he had been exactly what she called him: “my Christmas angel.”

So that’s what I am, he chuckled. An angel. OK.

With that acceptance, he pulled into a parking lot to call the next two homes and ask them to check their “on” switches. Just in case. Couldn’t be an angel that much this week; it’s hard on a man to be nothing but an angel.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he wishes one and all a Merry Christmas, and you can wish him one at

* * *

Notes From My Knapsack 12-30-07
Jeff Gill

Christmas Day, 2007, Drawing To a Close

In some families, there are movies that make Christmas Day, whether it’s the repeating cycle of “A Christmas Story” on TNT or “White Christmas” with Der Bingle crooning alongside Rosemary Clooney.

When he had married his wife and her two daughters, they had always watched “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve or on the day in between presents, but their Dickens movie version was different from the one he had grown up with – plus, he was convinced that the Mr. Magoo version was the best, anyhow.

After some good-natured disputing about which line or another “really belonged” in the story, his wife had pulled a dog-eared paperback copy of the actual story out of some box, and he read it to everyone after dinner.

The book went into the Christmas decoration box that year, and came back out for a Christmas Day evening reading each of the last five years. From 1843 to today, the language gap was wide, but he suspected the girls were just starting to make the leap and really hear what the words were saying.

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

One of the girls asked if there really were people like this around today, and he sadly nodded his head. “I used to work for one, which is how I started my own business. It’s scary, but not as scary as working for someone with ice for a soul.” OK, she replied, keep going.

The three Spirits made their appearances, the revelation at the gravesides for Tiny Tim and Scrooge himself hit hard, and then the sun rose over London:

“He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said, "Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.”

Can people really change like that? They both watched him closely, wanting to know the answer; yes, he said, but not often enough. Most of us get set in a course early on, and don’t leave it.

You told us that you did, though: did you see a ghost?

Yes, I did, he smiled back, but kind of like Scrooge, it was my ghost I saw. And I didn’t want to be him, I wanted to be your dad someday. They smiled back, and then looked at the book; he picked it up, and concluded:

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a
master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. . .and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; Happy New Year to one and all, and may you and your family be blessed with health and hope and happiness in 2008. And Go Bucks!

From Glasgow, Scotland, a view from today on Christmas worth considering . . .