Friday, December 26, 2008

Arctic Circle Press news release

Dec. 26, North Pole

Santa Claus Enterprises, LLC, has formally approached the incoming Obama administration team for a share of the bailout dollars, or TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) Fund, saying that "Christmas toys for girls and boys" may be endangered next year if access to capital and debt relief is not provided.

Kris Kringle, president and CEO, says "our operation has been a successful model for business success over generations, but when people are cutting back the way they have, we may not be there when the economy recovers without a boost to tide us over."

Mr. Kringle pointed out that they are, in fact, already needing to purchase supplies and materials for the 2009 Christmas season even before January. "Our supply chain is stretched tight, and we don't carry lots of materials inventory through the Christmas season - we're used to cleaning this place out, and then picking right up on Jan. 2 to get ready for next year."

Jimmy Jingle, senior provost of the Ancient & Honorable Order of Workshop, Delivery, and Transport Elves (also known as the "Little Teamsters"), agrees that a capital and credit guarantee is in order. "We think it is very important to maintain confidence in the entire North Pole operation -- there are very few mass gifting and very-special-delivery models out there, and this one, with the active support of parents and grandparents and local retailers, is doing the very best they can. We stand behind, while standing on each others' shoulders, the choices the Old Man has made that led us to this point, and are certain he will lead us into a brighter, more efficient, and new holiday season."

Kringle notes that in his initial contacts with Congress, he has made but sparing use of the fact that, in his words, he "knows who's been naughty and nice." Admitting that the senators and representatives he speaks to are aware of this capacity of his position, Kringle doubts that it has unfairly influenced any of the key committee chairs -- or Mr. Obama.

"President-elect Obama is acutely aware, through his two daughters, of how important continuity is to the Christmas morning surprise from year to year. We hope that no political considerations would end up endangering a smooth transition from one season to the next." Kringle has not spoken to the Chinese government about their possible underwriting of his operation, but he does say "we have talked, and that channel will always be open as long as parents want cheap toys."

As a privately held company, there was no immediate response on Wall Street from the news of the bailout request.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Christmas" by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again

And lamp-oil light across the night

Has caught the streaks of winter rain.

In many a stained-glass window sheen

From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green.

The holly in the windy hedge

And round the Manor House the yew

Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,

The altar, font and arch and pew,

So that villagers can say

"The Church looks nice" on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze

And Corporation tramcars clang,

On lighted tenements I gaze

Where paper decorations hang,

And bunting in the red Town Hall

Says "Merry Christmas to you all".

And London shops on Christmas Eve

Are strung with silver bells and flowers

As hurrying clerks the City leave

To pigeon-haunted classic towers,

And marbled clouds go scudding by

The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,

And oafish louts remember Mum,

And sleepless children's hearts are glad,

And Christmas morning bells say "Come!"

Even to shining ones who dwell

Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,

A Baby in an ox's stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare –

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

May Your Heart's Desire Be At the Heart Of Your Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 1-1-09 – Granville Sentinel
Jeff Gill

December 31, 1945

George hung up the phone and looked up at the picture of his father.

Just beneath it was the cross-stitch his mother had made for him of his dad’s favorite quote – 'All you can take with you is that which you give away.'

He looked past them to the window, where the snow was still falling outside. The building whose owner had just been speaking to him was sifting into invisibility behind the mist and growing dark.

Potter wanted him to know they had “found something of interest to both of them.” It was the much-searched for $8,000, in an envelope left in a deposit slip rack. A good-hearted customer had discovered the crumpled packet and turned it in to a teller; they had given $50 of it to the finder, which he was sure George would approve of.

Sure, said George. He was surprised how little excitement he felt at the return of the prodigal deposit, although he was amused at Potter’s generosity with George’s money. For a moment, he thought about asking “If I had found $10,000 of yours, and had given $20 as a reward, would you have been fine with that?” But he just added “Thank you for thinking of that, Mr. Potter.”

There was a peculiar tone to the rest of the call, though. Potter sounded positively wistful, asking him about his children’s Christmas day, and how the aftermath of that already fading Christmas eve had gone, with half of Bedford Falls crowded into his house on Sycamore Street.

It was true that the hall carpet was essentially ruined, but he didn’t tell Potter that.

Harry had left yesterday for Pensacola, where he would be training new pilots. “Watch out for that Potter,” he said at the train station, adding “he’s got something he wants to prove, and you’re in the way of it.”

So it was with an extra sense of unease George had heard the words “Why don’t you and that charming family come over to my house for dinner tonight, and toast a new year, and the prosperity of peace?”

There was silence on both sides of the line, long enough to punctuate with a couple of Potter’s carefully controlled wheezes, just enough sound to indicate listening silence.

“I’ll have to check with Mary first, Mr. Potter; to tell you the truth, things have been so busy I’m not sure what our plans at home might be.”

“Of course, of course my boy, you do that; wouldn’t want to upset the missus. Just give me all call when you get home out here to Beech Grove.”

Potter’s father had begun a large rambling Georgian home on a knoll well out of town, and built barns and a pond and trails for horseback riding around the wooded acreage. It was along those, everyone knew, that a young Potter Junior had been thrown by a spooked horse, and been paralyzed ever since. There were stories about a young woman and a broken engagement, but all that was before George was even born.

The current Mr. Potter had added wings and grey stone and a high iron fence, but the few who had been on the grounds reported back food that was excellent, cooked in Continental style by a chef who it was rumored spoke no English. George said “I will certainly call as soon as I get home.”

“Excellent, excellent. George, we have much to talk about. My best to your Mary,” followed by a decisive clunk.

Should he go out there, he wondered? Should he even mention the invitation to Mary? She would wince and shake her head, but then say sternly, “We ought to say yes, if only to find out what he’s up to.”

And just how would it be, with his children, no doubt in danger of breaking a priceless object at every turn, sitting there about to say things they’d heard at home? There was no way it would be a pleasant evening.

Yet there was something in the old man’s voice, or in that silence as he chose not to wheedle or plead ingratiatingly, as was his usual style. Something *was* up, that’s for sure.

George reached for his hat, and thought “at the very least, I’ll have a story for Harry the next time he calls.” And then stopped and read for the millionth time those words of his father, neatly stitched by his mother - 'All you can take with you is that which you give away.'

Well, I’ll always have this evening then, thought George.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Faith Works 12-20-08
Jeff Gill

A Scrap of the Pageant

She sat in the back of the now darkened sanctuary, watching the first few children come onto the lighted platform. It is Christmas Eve, and the beginning of the service tonight is a Christmas pageant, with costumed young people acting out the Christmas story.

Mothers with cameras filled the front pews, so she was content to be further back, even her grandchildren now adults, and mostly far away. The story was as familiar to her as her own life, from engagement to wedding to childbirth, though she didn’t have the memory of being Mary herself when she was the age of the kids on stage.

That old country church so long ago didn’t have the tradition of a Christmas pageant, but she’d gone to this church since her marriage. She’d been on the altar guild and with the mission circles and helped in the kitchen, and she’d made most of the costumes now appearing in the front of the church.

Hardly anyone here tonight would know that, she reflected. It’s been a long time since most of those were made, and they’ve held up well. Her gift for the Christ child, and he gets the honor, so she was content.

The angels were in wings that had been made more recently – angels are always hard on their wings. It looked like that foam sheet material, with sparkle edging, which made her think about what a sturdier set might be made from with materials available now. Her first set was wire frame with cheesecloth covers, and they lasted about four years, even with patching.

This year’s Mary walked to her place next to the manger, and set herself down on the stool that normally sat behind the pulpit for shorter speakers. The blue of her cowl was a bit faded, but the woman in the back row knew that you’d have to have seen it new to realize that the color had changed. Or maybe it was her eyes.

Either way, the flow of fabric and the gather at the waist still looked good, although she couldn’t help a small internal wince at seeing the young lady dressed as Mary had a black turtleneck on. Ah well!

Then they came out, and she squinted just a bit to watch for it. The magi, the “wise men three” as the hymns and carols say, if not the scripture. Three unique, brocaded, bejeweled, shining costumes. And for each, a unique headpiece, each not quite a crown, all seeking an eastern exoticness. Turban and fez and flared hat that her grandson accused her of stealing from the third Star Trek movie, but was a picture stuck in her memory of a great-aunt’s manger scene on a coffee table from years ago.

Like the costumes, the hats for the wise men were a bit over the top, with trim and edging filled with gold thread and fussy embroidery – she noted with satisfaction that all three looked as good as they had when new, even after (as she knew) they had been tossed about in the church hallway before the service began.

The turban had an alternating series of diagonal panels, all curving into the topknot. Half of the panels were a particular fabric of light blue and grey stripes, with just a touch of silver thread woven through a black line between the stripes.

When her husband died, she took months to finally sort through his clothes and set aside some for Goodwill, some for the family as mementos, and throw out much of the rest. There were a few items she kept for herself, and there was one shirt in blue and grey stripes that she couldn’t stand, so of course he wore it almost every Saturday. Now she couldn’t bear to part with it.

That year, now long past, they asked her if she could make new headpieces for the wise men to go with the costumes she had made earlier; there were crowns that had been used that went back to who knows what, but they were crumbling and shabby looking. Could she knock something together?

As she planned out her design, she saw that shirt in the closet, and then she saw it in the turban, on a young man, coming out each Christmas onto the platform at the church. Without hesitation she took it off the hanger and began to cut.

It was Christmas Eve again, and there he was again, the young man she married memorialized in a way no one but that one elderly woman in the back row would know . . . that woman, and the young man grown old and now sitting waiting for her, in a Pageant that began in Bethlehem.

She gazed on the scene, and that turban, and sat back content. Tomorrow was Christmas, and she had her gift already.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

Friday, December 12, 2008

[Scroll down past two columns/posts to see the pictures from the Candlelight Walking Tour last weekend, which are much more worth looking at that reading these columns . . . really!]

Notes From My Knapsack 12-18-08
Jeff Gill

Toys In a Less Than Playful Time

With the economic downturn, and retail sales down five months running, I know stores and shop owners are nervously watching their sales this Christmas season. That three percent growth that we keep hearing is a baseline for a healthy economy makes me wonder what a healthy economy is by their definition.

Still, there’s that whole tradition of gift giving that the Magi got started with their dratted myrrh, gold, and frankincense, and the children expect something under the tree.

Between the recession on steroids and a kind of retreat into nostalgia that times like these promote, we’re seeing less of the hip, cutting edge, high tech look for what is the ad world’s normative seasonal atmosphere, and more knit mufflers and carolers and even the stray top hat and lantern.

What would happen if we got really all throwbacky about Christmas for the kids? The Granville Historical Society had a set of old-timey tools out for the Candlelight Walking Tour which generated a great deal of conversation on the streets about rug beaters and sugar shears and all those things labor saving devices were invented to save us from. But what about toys?

Somehow the standard street scene meant to holler out to us “olden times” in movies has come to include a lad in knickers with a hoop and stick. Currier and Ives put this young fellow in a number of their atmospheric scenes, and whether in old engravings or today’s TV programs, you get the impression that this was all the rage at some indeterminate point, long ago but recently enough to have metal barrel hoops.

I can’t find a reference that tells me if children got a hoop with a special stick for a present, or if it was more like kids playing with the cardboard box Christmas afternoon. A found toy, perhaps, but what an interesting toy for today, promoting getting outside, aerobic activity, and hand-eye co-ordination? (The Lad says “No, it isn’t.”)

Those of you who loved “A Christmas Story” (25 years last month, with the house in Cleveland now a delightfully kitschy shrine – see, and you can search my site for photos from there, see archives at right, scroll down) remember the Red Ryder BB gun, which I still can’t recommend: you’ll shoot your eye out!

But there was a prequel made later, with a different cast yet the same names, Jean Shepherd narrating, and filmed at that house again, called “My Summer Story.” The plot anchor here is not an air rifle, but a fighting top.

Yes, a greatly desired and fondly hoped for gold painted top that you tossed with a pull string. If it looks easy, try it sometime; cracking a whip is easier. I played with one, with grim intent, over at Ohio Village years ago, and the movie makes group play with them look like marbles with attitude.

Dolls are a whole ‘nother category of then vs. now. In keeping with laws first outlined in “Brave New World,” no new toy can be released, apparently, without being more complicated and feature-ridden than their predecessor.

Try to find a doll that is warm, soft, well stitched, and without any Velcro pockets for batteries, voice recorder devices, or embedded aliens to burst from Betsy-Wetsie’s chest (you thought excreting baby dolls were bad). They do exist, but they are well hidden. If the voice and posture and activities are to be supplied by the owner from her or his own imagination, you’ll not find them on the front shelves in the larger stores.

This isn’t just to idealize corn husk dolls – my brother and I loved to play with some rubber figures with internal wires in what was a high-techy play set for the late 60s, Maj. Matt Mason and Sgt. Storm. I looked on-line to see if I could recover a bit of our childhood for both of us, and wow . . .

If we still had ours, and they were in good shape, let alone in original packaging, they . . . just go look at eBay and marvel. They’re worth something, but apparently (gulp) as antiques. Our guys lived full and active lives before vanishing into wherever their tattered bodies and plastic parts ended up. (I didn’t buy him any; he couldn’t let his girls touch them for what they cost now anyhow.)

But for those few fellow astronaut toy fans out there, consider this – Jeff Long just beat Matt Mason for President!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send him a word at

PS - If you're having trouble remembering Major Matt Mason, but think it rings a faint bell, here's the line's 1969 Christmas ad, which has it all (i think my brother and i had about half of it all between us):
[For painfully lovely pictures of last weekend's Granville Candlelight Walking Tour, scroll past this blather, which is my Advocate column for tomorrow. pax, jbg]

[seriously, just scroll down! jbg]

Faith Works 12-13-08
Jeff Gill

Your Family May Be Dysfunctional

Just taking a wild shot in the dark, but I’m gonna guess your family is dysfunctional.


You’d think pretty much every family is. This Christmas season is cinematically all about “Four Christmases” and now “Nothing Like the Holidays,” along with movies like “The Family Stone” from a couple years ago (telling us that if we only would “fly our freak flag” then all would be well).

Actually, I’m ready to embrace my inner AND outer dysfunctionality, not to mention that of my family. All families are dysfunctional in some way or another, even if we rarely make it to “Momma Mia!” level chaos.

Leo Tolstoy, whose “Anna Karenina” somehow hasn’t made it to film as a heartwarming family holiday classic (the ending needs some work), famously opened his novel with the line “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

That’s a clear signal for a novelist that you want to write about unhappiness as much as possible, because happiness, sameness – yawn. Who wants to read about that?

The uniqueness of unhappiness, though, gives you texture and novelty and a narrative arc to follow.

So we have the uniquely dysfunctional family at the heart of our seasonal story this month. There’s a fellow who had some kids when he was younger, working hard, traveling a great deal to follow the major construction projects contracted by the Romans. His first wife dies, and as time goes by, he is set up to be engaged by concerned family members (he’s a busy working man, remember), to a young woman . . . a very young woman.

She’s of good family, good enough that they probably aren’t exactly thrilled by the workman, skilled though he might be, who is older and rough-hewn and is engaged to their dear one. Who turns out, she says one day, to be pregnant. The circumstances are, from the point of view of most of Nazareth, murky.

Business and taxes and family ties force them to make a trip while she’s pretty far along, making you suspect already that the older half-siblings aren’t exactly excited and supportive of Dad’s late in life remarriage. She gives birth on the road, in a strange town, away from her OB/GYN and neo-natal intensive care unit back home, but everything works out.

They meet some of the kind of folk you expect to meet on the road, dusty and stained by labor and their last meal, not to mention by their work (think herding), accepting the aid and support of this aromatic and picturesque crew -- again, Mary’s family, coming from the lesser aristocracy, can’t have been charmed by all this picturesqueness.

Yet those relatives and in-laws should have been pleased, since they made contact with some minor royalty (so they claimed), exotic celebrities who had been received at court. Herod’s rule might have been shabby and disreputable, but a king’s retinue is nothing to be sniffed at, especially by people with a tendency to sniff at many. Noses wouldn’t have turned up, though, at a house with a hatful of kings in residence. Soon enough they leave, and the image becomes an almost legendary part of neighborhood lore. “Do you remember when there were wise men from the East staying with those two?” It was an unpredictable house in many ways, so soon the story no longer sounded to their credit, but was just more evidence of their peculiar nature.

This non-traditional family finally comes back home with many strange tales of close calls and grim danger, which just makes the neighbors ask each other, after the couple is out of earshot, “What were they thinking, taking a baby into a war zone? When they made such a long jaunt, a side trip into Egypt – did he say he had a dream? – how could that have been a good idea?”

Then they try to get back into the usual groove of life back in the home place, Joseph working up the road in Sepphoris and the family back in Nazareth, tending the shop, baking bread, whittling scraps of wood next to the earth oven. They join the throngs heading up to the Temple for festivals as any prosperous craftsman might, but they keep losing track of their boy – can’t these two keep a sharp eye out on their child? He just roams at will and rules the roost – let me tell you, say some, I’d let that child know who was in charge if I were in that house!

As best we can tell, the older Joseph dies well before the boy gets too old, but seemingly not before his chance to teach a trade, which is a father’s chief role, then and now. If the son became a carpenter, then the father had done well by him.

Is that a dysfunctional family? Is yours? So what?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and is part of a gloriously dysfunctional family. Tell him about yours at

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Just a few more assorted images from the Granville Candlelight Walking Tour, starting with a view of the front of the Avery-Downer House (1842), and the Mower House next door (1824), followed by the interior of Centenary Church (1894, founded 1810) where the 6 pm youth musical was getting started --

Christmas in Hogsmeade

Call this little sequence "Christmas in Hogsmeade" if you like (we do like!); they're from last Saturday's Granville, Ohio Candlelight Walking Tour. It was even more beautiful than usual, and as the evening settled into darkness, the snow began to fall. The inn at the end isn't the Three Broomsticks, but the Buxton Inn, built in 1812; the white pillared building is the Avery-Downer House & Robbins Hunter Museum, with an odd little folly built onto the very back, an octagonal study that Mr. Hunter would go into at night to play one of his three organs, much to the discomfiture of the neighbors.

That may not go on anymore, but it still is the kind of town where the volunteer fire department brings Santa Claus in with Mrs. C and an elf all in the bucket of their big truck, down past Sugar Loaf and stopping at village hall where they were gently lowered to earth amid cheering throngs of children. It's quite a town, Granville is.

The church down towards the bottom is Centenary UMC, where the Little Guy did essentially the same part Linus did in his Christmas program as his part of the Walking Tour, and it made the whole evening for his mother and me, snow and all.

This is one of the walls of the former stable of the Buxton Inn, which is now the Tavern in the cellar -- in this space, if Johnny Appleseed spent a night in any building still standing in Ohio, it was here. These walls, and the timbers overhead, are what were put in place in 1812.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Faith Works 12-6-08
Jeff Gill

A Baby and The Scandal of Particularity

When I was in high school, the movie “Oh, God” was out in theaters and my church youth group went to see it. The trip had the result no doubt hoped for by our advisors, with a long and specific conversation about theology happening at Mickey D’s that we didn’t know was theology.

In our conversation, we kept coming back to a conversation where the character played by John Denver (yes, that John Denver), a grocery store manager in Tarzana, CA is asking questions of God, played by George Burns (he did God before Morgan Freeman cornered that market).

Our mild-mannered manager asks if Jesus was God’s son. George played the moment with a moment of serious gravity, looking and sounding quite sad and sincere. “Yes, Jesus was my son.”

Pause. Then, gravely, “Buddha was my son. The man who said, 'There's no room at the inn'--he was my son, too. Let’s move on.”

The characters went on with other questions (“What about Judgement Day?” God: “I’m not looking forward to it.”), but our group didn’t. We were wrestling with it right on through our fries long after the movie had ended and we were waiting for parents to come pick us up, and some of us wrestle with it still.

Leslie Newbigin was a Christian thinker and leader through the 20th century, whose writing on Christian mission is very powerfully active in the “missional church” movement today. Newbigin is one of those rare figures as appreciated in evangelical circles as in liberal seminaries, but a real sticking point for some on the theological left is what Newbigin called “the scandal of particularity.”

Bishop Newbigin’s point was that the universality of Christ was made all the more effective by the particularity of who Jesus was; he argued passionately to Western culture after his years in leadership in South India that “the scandal of particularity” was a uniquely western problem, where our secularizing desire to see Jesus as “one of” God’s children eroded the impact of how Jesus came as embodied “Good News” for all. The particular and the universal had, for Newbigin, a very direct connection, while general categories lead us to the selective and the approved.

So for Lesslie, the idea that God’s love had a unique embodiment in a particular child in a certain village at a precise point in time was absolutely necessary to making the case that God’s saving love was offered to absolutely everyone – even those who came before that moment, let alone long after.

Which is why, when I look at a manger scene, I think of Lesslie Newbigin and Francis of Assisi more than I do George Burns or Avery Corman (the fine author who wrote the script for “Oh, God”). To make Jesus one of the many “sons of God” starts us down the road of who is, who isn’t, and who can’t even be considered as one of the One.

To proclaim the child born in Bethlehem as the “Prince of Peace,” to sing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” means not that I’m emphasizing who isn’t included in the grandeur and sweep of God’s grace, but that this baby born in a stable, laid down to sleep in a feeding trough, is a reliable sign for not only the religious and observant, but for the lost and seeking, the struggling and starving.

For the Licking County Food Pantry Network, St. John’s United Church of Christ on the south edge of Newark on National Drive is sponsoring a “Festival for the Christ Child” tomorrow afternoon, Dec. 7, in their sanctuary. It’s a concert, made up of a number of acts from around the county, with prelude music from 1 to 1:30 and the formal program starting at 1:30 pm, and your scribe is honored to serve as the emcee. Tickets can be reserved in advance at 323-2407, or you can buy them at the door for $10. All proceeds go to the area food pantries, who need to be a sign of hope in a dark time themselves. St. John’s is well known for their “Bethlehem Marketplace,” which is held every other year, and they didn’t want to wait until next year to make a particular, specific stand on behalf of our community’s hungry.

However you choose to proclaim the Christ Child in your life, spending a little time and money at this gathering can be a real gift to someone for Christmas. You may never know who that particular person you helped is, but they will know that their whole community has not forgotten them.

And what might grow from that one particular act of kindness, a point of grace?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your particular joys or concerns with him at

Monday, December 01, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack – 12-4-08
Jeff Gill

Making Memories, Creating Experiences

This is the week when you start to almost get used to the unusual sight of trees, trussed and tied down to car and van roofs, whizzing around the village.

Some go off to the pick and pay lots, while others, quite a few others in fact, go further afield to Walsh’s Tree Farm or up to Timbuk, where they can set out into the carefully managed forest to cut down their own. (Those places will just sell you one, too.)

Other than giving a family material for later Clark Griswold stories about dad severing an artery, or the flying squirrel jumping out onto Mee-maw’s towering blue wig, why? Why would you go out to do such a thing on a cold day, when the last thing you cut down was three inch tall grass blades?

Because it makes a memory. Creating experiences is a powerful part of what this time of year is about, from roasting an entire bird when your usual poultry option is take out stir fry, to carefully mitre-folding shiny decorative paper around a box already impregnable by most country’s special forces untis, so children can shred your handiwork in less time than it takes Michael Phelps to swim a pool’s length.

Spending your money on making experiences that last in the memory may be the smartest expenditure you can make for the holiday season. With planned obsolescence making your laptop out of date in a year and inoperative without cracking open the motherboard in three, with materials from overseas saturated in lead and melamine, and that’s the sturdy part of some purchased goods, memory may be more durable than you think.

Age and ailments can take a toll, but the memories that last have a shelf life that stands up pretty well next to consumer goods, and you can pass those memories on to your children and grandchildren – who knows which stories they actually listened to while they were typing on their iPhone screen?

An Advent wreath on the dinner table, in observant Christian homes, can create a focus for remembrance that also is good for many years, with just a set of new purple candles needed to start again. Advent calendars, at least the ones not focused on chocolate behind each little paper hatch, can return and be passed down through a family, creating layers of memory.

In your Christmas season shopping, we’ll all spend some money, recession or not, but one way to maximize minimal dollars is to think “how can I buy a gift that makes a memory” for the person or family you’re shopping for? That helps us get off the treadmill of stuff (What stuff do they already have? What stuff can I afford for them? Is this stuff in style?) and reduces questions of storage or even usefulness, questions all the more nagging for the fact that we hate to ask them of ourselves as we shop for others.

Restaurant gift cards or certificates are easy to mail and always can fill a niche, but what about getting someone a chance for a meal somewhere different? Wherever they don’t often, or ever eat, try that as a present and as a provocation. Help people get out of their rut, which is usually less to do with actual tastes and more to do with habit. Take a chance, get ‘em to eat some hot Thai spice or at an Italian restaurant they didn’t even know existed.

Books are my favorite gift to give or receive, but it’s true that not everyone welcomes reading as a present (it feels like a homework assignment, the Lovely Wife tells me). A picture book can take you somewhere cheaply without assuming they want to commit to a sit down readthrough.

And a cookbook with a few interesting spices wrapped into the package can be a fun way to invite some adventure right in your own kitchen.

Does anyone out there have any other ideas for helping people make memories out of this Christmas season? Write me at and I’ll use ‘em here for last minute ideas . . .

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; write him at

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Traveling from Indy back thru Columbus to home, we took a small diversion to see the 6 pm lighting at The Clifton Mill -- and it is the most amazing kitschfest i have ever seen anywhere.

OK, i haven't made it to Wall Drug yet, but it's on my bucket list.

From now to Jan. 1, if you've got a chance and you're around I-70 and Springfield (just east of Dayton) around sunset/early evening, it's worth a ten mile side trip and $10 a head ($8 Sunday to Thursday) to wallow in America's finest holiday season schlock (my son says the chili dogs are good, which they oughta be at $3.75).

Plus, the mill actually works, and you can buy a sack of buckwheat pancake mix.

Friday, November 28, 2008

This is both funny, and not-funny -- having watched a mall die while living in West Virginia, and now watching Indian Mound Mall go on life support (some vital signs, but a few extremities and internal organs shutting down), you see how a downtown can go into hibernation and come back, but a mall is like a shark.

If it stops moving through the waters of commerce, it dies, from the head down, and the rot isn't pretty.

What are some new business models for a mall? Churches in the former anchor store spaces? Remodeling into senior housing on one end? I'm not kidding -- they need some ideas beyond the newest tchochkey outlet . . . unless Les Wexner figures out how to make us all believe we need another overpriced personal care product in 43 varieties to stave off bankruptcy: "Follicles, Defoliation, and Finance" might do it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Faith Works 11-29-08
Jeff Gill

Old Fashioned Means Many Things

Last week many of us sang the Thanksgiving classics, “We Gather Together” and “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Come, Ye Thankful People Come.”

These aren’t songs the ad business folks have figured out how to co-opt.

They not only come with a fair amount of theological content, but they swing with a heavy load of archaic imagery – tares cast out, grain put in a garner, “first the blade and then the ear,” before the whole shebang “doth appear” to “lay down in store.”


Even those among us who actually live their lives around a harvest season and know what a harvest home looks like (usually needs sweeping daily) don’t call any building on their farmstead a garner, and tare weight is a cryptic label on a scale readout unless you’re in charge of setting pricing.

Never mind, because this time of year makes singing about grain and corn and sheaves feel right at home in our harvest homes, cornucopia stuffed with fruits and gourds as a centerpiece until the Christmas decorations come out.

Thanks to the election and the near monopolization of the airwaves by political spots, we didn’t start getting slammed with Christmas (koff) Holiday season ads until, oh, Nov. 5. Which is about two months later than it’s been the last couple years.

The Lovely Wife and I have noticed that there’s a bit of a theme to the ads on TV this year, or at least in the tube we’ve seen – nostalgia.

Traditional scenes, and classic music, with a focus on family and fun and snow that seems to us a shift from what had become (in this household’s perspective, at least) a rolling attempt to out-cool the competition during the “Holiday (koff) season.” Edgy music, surrealism with red and green tones, and a general effort to stretch the boundaries of you might still consider “oh, an ad to buy stuff for Christmas.”

What we’re seeing now is a wide range of commericals that all aim at a fairly narrow band of 70’s era musical variety show sets, all of whom have an Andy Williams clone in them wearing a striking sweater (yes, that trend is his fault – age 80, still wearing them in Branson) that stands out against a stark white set, among other colorful people mainly organized into recognizable family groups (young couple, young family, older couple with a teen, elderly couple beaming at them all).

Christmas music for some years now has been “officially” limited to “Deck the Halls,” “Ring Christmas Bells (sans words),” and “Jingle Bells,” so I understand why some ad agencies went with 50’s finger snapping hipness just to get out of that box, but this year we’ve climbed back into the box and put a big honking red ribbon on it.

Is this the economy? If so, how does that logic flow? Are ad buyers less interested in taking risks in a tanking economy? Does the TV ad trend mean that traditional is safe (well, duh), and it pays?

It does seem safe to guess that all sorts of families, traditional and non-traditional, will be looking for safe, cheap, simple ways to celebrate the season in the way they’re used to, or remember being used to, or would like to learn how to do in the first place.

Thursday night is the downtown Newark “Sights and Sounds” tour, which you can learn more about at A family can learn a little about local traditions around Advent (starting tomorrow!) and the Christmas season for very few dollars and much enjoyment, with the Courthouse Square lights anchoring it all for free.

Also at no cost is the Granville Candlelight Walking Tour, next Saturday Dec. 6 with various events from 1:00 pm through 9:00 pm all over the village – see for sites and times of various musical and performance venues. Most all are free, but lots of chances to spend money if you want!

And that Saturday is also “Christmas in the County” down at Infirmary Mound Park from 6:00 pm through the evening, no cost but much merriment for all, including the legendary Christmas pickle.

Is your family thinking along more traditional lines this Christmas season? Are those of other faith traditions doing things differently in their different observances through the end of 2008? Drop me a line and let me know; I’d love to share those ideas with our community.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your traditions at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So, a lovely mountain pass in the Swiss Alps. And a scene from memory of . . . Licking County?

Ellen Hayes, in her 1920 book "Wild Turkeys and Tallow Candles," said of her growing-up years just before the Civil War that, as a much older woman, a professor at Wellesley College, she had been on the Grand Tour of Europe.

It was in passing through the Furka Pass, seen above (click to enlarge), that she was struck with how much the scene around her felt the same as how she, as a child, viewed passing through "the Dugway" alongside Raccoon Creek, bending around the hill now sliced off by Rt. 16 heading east into Newark. The sense of scale and wonder to young eyes, and the expectation of adventure beyond the bend around the river, a steep slope on your left hand, made her feel a sudden direct link between that experience long before and her travel in that moment.

And now i think of that connection almost every time i zip around that bend at 55 mph, the "vale of Newark" opening up before me. Can you see it? Or more to the point, can you feel it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith Works 11-22-08
Jeff Gill

When the Frost Is On the Punkin’

James Whitcomb Riley is known as the Hoosier Poet, creator of “Little Orphant Annie” (yes, that’s how he spelled it) and “The Frost Is On the Punkin.”

He’s an acquired taste, though you’re required by state law to acquire it as a schoolchild in Indiana. So I didn’t learn as I should have, being a small Hoosier lad, memorizing dialect doggerel, certain small points of neighboring history. Such as the fact that Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and later went to West Point having realized that pounding tacks into his trunk lid for arrival at the United States Military Academy would spell the initials “HUG,” so he wisely adopted his mother’s maiden name to create Ulysses Simpson Grant, or “USG,” a much more patriotic abbreviation.

At any rate, I wrongly said here last week that Grant was born in Illinois, and thanks to Gary from Lancaster for catching that online; Galena, Illinois has a home and museum and claims U.S. Grant pretty comprehensively, but he’s born in Ohio (Grant Park in Chicago is named for him, though).

Illinois has a number of politicians that they kind of inherited, like Lincoln (born in Kentucky), Grant (born in Ohio), and Obama (born in Hawaii). All three are associated with the state, but weren’t born there . . . though your faithful scribe was. Who knew?

It’s amazing how many things we know that we don’t know, and don’t know that we think we know. As days get colder in the morning, we may idly cite “the frost is on the pumpkin” whether our gardens grow gourds or not, not ever having heard of old Mr. Riley who wrote over 100 years ago that “O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,/ When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

But what is fodder slowly drying on the shock? ‘Tis corn, destined for the crib to feed the stock (that’s the animals on your farm), but preserved best by desiccating while in the field still up on the cornstalk, or “shock.”

Few enough of us are dependent on the fall harvest to feed us through the long, cold, desolate winter. Even so, down in our bones, we have a sense that gathering up food and fat and fodder is a really good idea when the days get short and chill and frosty.

So a good hearty meal with lots of grease and butter and oil has a unique appeal to any of us human creatures in the month of November. And our cultural memory is triggered with spices and dried fruit from August and herbs put up back last April – “Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!... “

We enjoy our gravy and our earthy spices this time of year, and the observations that put our anachronistic meal in context . . . seriously, we don’t raise big birds in the backyard anymore, or even grow gourds in the garden, but we do love Thanksgiving.

And it’s the experience of gathering with neighbors and family known well, and new friends to meet, that makes a Thanksgiving meal taste the best. A community worship service where multiple churches gather together to focus the whole “giving thanks” idea is the best seasoning I know (even if rosemary is every November cook’s secret weapon).

You can go tomorrow, Sunday evening, Nov. 23 at 7:00 to Hebron United Methodist Church if you live in the Lakewood area, or that same night at First Presbyterian Church in Granville; Wednesday, Nov. 26 in Newark is their Community Thanksgiving at Trinity Episcopal.

Somewhere near you is a service where you can join fellow citizens to give thanks this week. Make sure to find your right way to step into and support an ecumenical service in your neck of the woods!

“I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he loves “The Bear Hunt”, too – let him know what you’re thankful for at

Monday, November 17, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 11-20-08
Jeff Gill

Thanks To Give

Sunday night, at 7:00 pm in First Presbyterian Church, Granville’s Ministerium is hosting a Community Thanksgiving Service open to all.

“Giving thanks for what,” say younger retirees with their money largely tied up in a cratering stock market?

“Giving thanks for what,” ask breadwinners who just lost their job. Those who had hours cut might say “should I be giving thanks for not losing my job, but just living in fear now that I will?”

“Giving thanks for what,” might be the retort from those who still have their job, but realize that many of their lifestyle and family choices are now hemmed in and constrained in ways not imagined last November.

Those are all tough situations, and even here in Brigadoon the prospects for Christmas in many families are grimmer, if not actually grim.

Parents are having late night conversations with each other about how to talk to the kids about where they won’t be going, what won’t be bought, what has to stop happening in the new year. That’s hard, and whether in an upper income bracket or down in the dumps, moms and dads don’t want to have to say these kinds of things.

Giving thanks for what we do have is a good place to start, though. You focus on what you don’t have, and the big ol’ world will always keep you on your heels.

The band Switchfoot has a song titled “Gone” with a passage towards the end you have to hear jauntily sung to really appreciate, but the idea is the same: “Gone, like Frank Sinatra, gone, like Elvis and his mom; like Al Pacino's cash, nothing lasts in this life. Gone, my high school dreams are gone, my childhood sweets are gone -- Life is a day that doesn't last for long.”

In other words, everything is “gone” sooner or later. How are you going to deal with that? To grab ahold of stuff with all the more desperation, or start to look at what’s really of value to you? How do you communicate to those around you what really matters?

Switchfoot goes on to sing “Life is more than money, time was never money.” Time is the one thing that everyone has the exactly same amount of – Now. That’s all you have, but it’s all anyone has, so no complaining. Now. Whatcha gonna do with it?

Time isn’t money. You can use money to shift your time around a bit, but there’s still one now to a customer, step up and spend it well. Is a super cool vacation helping to justify not spending time together the other 50 weeks of the year? Are restaurant meals saving time at home but resulting in store-bought conversation that isn’t bringing anyone any closer than watching TV? And do the extra cable channels give you all something to talk about, or do they keep people from talking to each other in the first place?

“We've got information in the information age / But do we know what life is, outside of our convenient Lexus cages?” Switchfoot asks us if we might step out of the boxes we’ve made, whether willingly venturing out, or pushed by circumstance, and realize that life truly is something to give thanks for.

Come join us Sunday at 7 pm at First Pres; I’d be thankful if you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what you’re thankful for at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Faith Works 11-15-08
Jeff Gill

Startling Echoes, Head-turning Parallels

These last few weeks have been dramatic and evocative on so many levels.

I’m enough of a history geek to recall in the middle of so many other associations that Grant Park in Chicago is named for the general who began a career in Illinois, and who played a key role in ending the Civil War. I’m also old enough to remember Grant Park as a place forty years ago where “armies of the night” surged against police barricades with angry shouts and raised fists, as a Democratic candidate for president was being nominated to fail.

And my own heritage out of Illinois and Indiana, and my wife’s from Kentucky, keeps the thread living and vital pulling through the fabric of today about a tall young man who ran for an Illinois Senate seat 150 years ago, losing to Stephen A. Douglas after a dramatic series of debates over freedom, slavery, and the place of liberty in this nation.

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12th exactly 200 years before the January 20th we have ahead of us, entered office without an official faith stance or church membership. We’ll have a number of opportunities these next few months to review and rehearse Lincoln’s journey of belief, but I’ll just note that perhaps no president has written so thoughtfully and so well about discerning God’s will in human affairs than the man from Springfield.

But I was mc-ing a clergy gathering just a few weeks, and got some very uneasy laughter from partisans of both candidates heading for Nov. 4 when I pointed out that pastors had an interesting choice ahead of them in the two major parties: one a fellow who had sent a letter quitting his church because he didn’t agree with the minister, and the other a guy who wouldn’t formally join the church where he attended with his wife because he had a busy travel schedule.

I’m pretty sure both McCain and Obama supporters laughed, and both laughed uneasily, because that knife really does cut both ways. Men are bad about “joining” and more likely to “quit” over conflict than women are.

Men’s ministries have never held the role or influence, ironically given other aspects of American culture, that women’s groups or ladies’ aid societies have maintained. They’ve always been smaller and shorter-lived compared to their female institutional counterparts. In mainline/oldline Protestant denominations, another era of die-off is hitting men’s programming, and among evangelicals the Promise Keepers’ movement had great impact for a season, but has generally faded into obscurity (though Bill McCartney and Raleigh Washington have just returned to leadership with PK, so we’ll see what happens there at

Why are men so resistant to “joining” and so quick to cut ties? Some suggest that women are more invested in relationship as a basic quality and value, hence their structures are more important to them on a personal level.

Others note that much of modern church life is in a more feminine mode, starting with singing (yes, I know Billy Ray Cyrus sings, but in general . . .), the d├ęcor, and often even the preaching, focused on feelings and emotions and personality.

John Eldredge has become a kind of one-man movement among evangelical Christians with his books and weekend programs starting with “Wild at Heart” and “Waking the Dead.” He argues that a more masculine faith is needed to most effectively reach men, which makes a certain rough sense of the face of it.

A number of Reformed and Calvinist pastors have expressed alarm at John’s use of popular movies and books to present a worldview that is “not quite Biblical” in nature; liberal mainline writers are concerned at what they see as his glorification of combat and warfare in those same images.

Eldredge argues that he is using those popular images to tap into an essential hunger for men to be part of “spiritual warfare” to defend and protect their families, and can quote Scripture just fine for his own defense. He’s happy to admit that his oeuvre isn’t for everyone, but is an outreach to an audience that has tended to sit outside in the car reading the Sunday paper waiting for the wife and kids to come out of church.

You can judge for yourself at, but the two candidates present an interesting test case for any faith community – if you met Barack Obama or John McCain through work or community business, and wanted to invite them to your church, how would that offering look to them?

(CORRECTION: the original version of the first para said Grant was "born in Illinois," which of course is incorrect, said the guy living in Ohio. His business career which turned into his return to the Army with the Civil War began in Galena, Illinois, but he was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just upstream from Cincinnati.)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; suggest a way to reach those left out by modern church life at

Friday, November 07, 2008

Faith Works 11-8-08
Jeff Gill

Points of Light, Circles of Hope

Last Sunday evening I had the distinct pleasure of Emcee-ing a “Gospel Celebration” concert at the Midland Theater in Newark, on behalf of the Licking County Coalition of Care.

Funds were raised and spirits raised higher, but I had an interesting moment when I got a round of applause I wasn’t expecting.

During one of the transitions between groups, which is when the master of ceremonies is actually useful if they fill the time productively, I tossed in a little speech about how “no matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the kind of work the Coalition does will still be vitally needed; government is not good at providing time, a listening ear, and a word of hope.”

Trust me when I tell you that I was acutely aware that the hall and the 600 audience and some 200 performers included the most passionate of Obama supporters, and hearty advocates of John McCain, and at least one Bob Barr stumper that I knew of. But what I was pleasantly surprised by was how the crowd thundered applause, as one vast meaningful rumble, when I noted that the change in presidency will not change the need to support work like what the Coalition of Care does.

I was thinking that again Thursday night, when I was standing in a more modest throng, but significant for a candlelight vigil after dark on a November evening. Just to keep things a bit confusing, I serve as board president of the Licking County Coalition for Housing, a group which works on providing transitional housing to people and families leaving emergency shelter and needing assistance to get to stability, along with a major financial literacy effort to do preventive work to fight homelessness.

For the last seven years, we’ve done something inspired by a very moving exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, where a wall is simply twenty feet of empty shoes, echoing a pile found at Auschwitz. The mind quickly thinks to fill those shoes with bodies and faces and people, but the emptiness remains and helps you imagine and understand loss, to resist invisibility.

That’s why we’ve set out some 1,400 pairs of shoes, discards from other agencies, for the last six years, to show the number of people who come to the Housing Coalition for assistance and support in staying housed, one way or another. We get federal funds to maintain the 38 units of transitional housing we provide as the core of those supports, so we don’t pray with our clients the way the Coalition of Care can, working as they do with entirely local funds, but I know that many of our staff and friends pray for the people they work with, every day.

And even the Housing Coalition can have a little ecumenical prayer in our public education efforts, which I got to do at noon on Courthouse Square and what I listened to Brad Isch, pastor of Narrow Road Community Church on Fifth St., do in both prayer and a bit of preaching about the need to go from awareness to action, in this as in so many areas of our lives.

The Housing Coalition needs support from those of us who still have jobs, who can afford to share with those who are hurting, for unrestricted funds and also for local match to qualify for those useful if restricting federal dollars (give us a few hundred thousand a year and we could walk away from those HUD bucks, but . . .); the Coalition of Care needs your help because no one anywhere else is going to help pay to keep the lights on and support people here in Licking County in that way. We can count on them to pray with and listen to and share a little aid provided by congregations working together, and they can help direct people most efficiently from church referrals to the state and federally funded agencies they need to talk to, but with the knowledge that someone will stand behind them or even with them as they make their way through those systems.

It is said about prayer in schools that as long as there are algebra tests, there will be prayer in school; we will always have much prayer around all the efforts in our community to help people in need. Pray for those folks, pray for those working to make that aid usefully available while strengthening the recipients at the same time (a tough, tough challenge), and pray for those making decisions through this holiday season about their giving.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s happy to remind you that donations can come online at! Or just write him at

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 11-6-08
Jeff Gill

Presidential Candidates in Black and White

One of the interesting challenges of writing a newspaper column these days is that you get to write material days (sometimes weeks) before a print run, while the internet never sleeps.

So my writing of this piece precedes the election itself, but will necessarily appear after the results have been splashed far and abroad. What to do?

Actually, given the historic role of the Obama campaign, let alone a likely victory, my thoughts have tended towards putting his story in a broader, but also Ohio context.

One of the aspects most remarked upon about the Barack Obama candidacy is the fact of his African background, with a Kenyan father and a Kansas mother, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, and matured in Illinois by way of Columbia and Harvard.

In fact, Barack Obama would not be the first President of the United States to carry some African heritage. Surprised? Well, this gets to be a complicated and obscured history on many levels.

Quite a few U.S. Presidents have had African ancestry claimed for them, but mostly it’s been political opponents making the claims, hoping to rally racism and xenophobia against the other side.

Ohio’s own Warren Harding was said to have African American ancestors. His usual response was along the lines of “who knows what my ancestors were up to?” makes you think he wasn’t quite saying no to a claim that was political poison in the 1920’s. Modern genealogical research leaves the question open, which is as good as a “Yes” for me looking at the 19th century.

Saying that Harding was the great-grandson of a black woman was supportable enough for the New York Times to print in April, anyhow. Less proveable is the persistent claim that Andrew Jackson, namesake of Licking County’s Jacksontown, was as much as one-quarter black, and that an older brother was sold as a slave until redeemed by family. These stories trace back to a common and unsubstantiated source from a political opponent, but intriguingly they can’t be entirely dismissed, either.

Dwight Eisenhower was quietly but persistently said to be one-quarter black, perhaps largely based on two points about his mother: she was a committed Jehovah’s Witness to the end of her life, and her younger portraits do look quite African American, if in fact such a thing can be usefully said.

For an Ohio connection to the presidency and African Americans, the most interesting is to Thomas Jefferson.

As Annette Gordon-Reed, in her new book “The Hemingses of Monticello” points out, not only is Sarah, or “Sally” Hemings most likely the effective “second wife” of our third president, she is almost certainly mother of six or possibly seven of his children.

From 1790 to 1808, the births of each of Sally Hemings’ children match a documentable presence of Thomas Jefferson nine months before, where no other male in his line would fit as precisely – and DNA test results show that the narrative of Eston Hemings in the Pike County Republican of 1873 is supported by scientific data.

Not only do Eston and Madison Hemings end up in Ohio (though Eston continues on to Wisconsin before his death, to put more distance between himself and slavery), but Thomas Woodson, whose family maintains by oral tradition that he is the first son born to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings out of their Paris sojourn in 1790, is the founder of a settlement of free blacks in Milton Township, Jackson County, Ohio.

Madison Hemings’ son becomes the first African American elected to public office on the West Coast, becoming a California State Assemblyman in 1918, though born in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1879.

Sally Hemings’ last resting place is to this date unknown, as she was a 56 year “old woman worth $50” according to probate appraisal in 1826, after the death of Jefferson on July 4. He could not see his way clear to freeing his slaves upon his death, as did George Washington, but his daughter Martha gave Sally “her time,” a form of freedom that allowed a former slave to remain in the area. But did she?

Scholars believe that Sally Hemings died in 1835 in Charlottesville, VA, down the hill from Monticello where she lived from her childhood, to nursing her half-sister Martha Wayles Jefferson through her death in 1782 when she was nine, through the trip to Paris at 14 or 15, the two years overseas, and then the return to Monticello which she never left . . . until Jefferson’s death.

Is it possible that like many widows of that era or even today, Sally Hemings went to live with one of her more prosperous sons? The gravesites of Thomas Woodson in Jackson County, Ohio, or Eston Hemings in Ross County, Ohio, are not well marked or fully recorded. Rather than beneath a parking lot in downtown Charlottesville, VA, could the “second wife” of our third president be buried in southern Ohio? It is quite possible.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about anything other than the election at
Faith Works 11-1-08
Jeff Gill

A Man Who Rippled the Waters

Last weekend I got to spend my time with members and leaders of the Church of the Brethren in the “Western Plains District,” which includes all of Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Colorado and New Mexico, and a mission on the Navajo Reservation.

With yesterday as “Reformation Day,” the anniversary of the nailing by Martin Luther of his 95 points for reforming the Church Catholic of his day in 1517, Lutherans are remembering their roots.

However, it was a movement called “Pietism” led by pastors like Phillip Spener and others that helped to create a number of other movements that we don’t always associate with the Lutheran end of the Protestant Reformation. John Wesley was deeply influenced by Spener’s writings in college at Oxford, and encountered Pietists at key moments in his faith journey that helped produce the Wesleyan/Methodist communion.

Pietism was behind a number of German, or “Deutsch” groups that came to William Penn’s colony in the New World. They were often called “Dutch” by the English speaking Quakers, but the Pennsylvania Dutch included not only the Anabaptist movement communions like Amish and Mennonite, but Pietists who were tagged with names like “German Baptist Brethren,” “United Brethren,” and other religious societies who withdrew into institutions like the Ephrata Cloister (a possible inspiration for the Shakers later) and the Harmonists, who ended up on the Ohio River founding New Harmony, Indiana.

Between Philadelphia and New Harmony there are a number of Dunkard Creeks and Dunkard Hollows, remnants of the folks who in large part became what is now known as the Church of the Brethren. They are still found in Ohio, but many moved west with the frontier, and their congregations still tend very strongly to rural settings, and are rare in cities.

As they migrated west, some of their number slid over into the E&R branch of what is now the United Church of Christ, and others into the old EUB, “Evangelical United Brethren,” which is now part of the United Methodist Church. Ohio still has quite a few Grace Brethren congregations, and Ashland University is one of the legacy institutions of a group named “The Brethren Church”, another branch of the Brethren stream.

However those rivulets meander, you can trace them all back to a place in Germany called Schwarzenau, and a miller’s son named Alexander Mack near the Eder River. The Schwarzenau Brethren arose in 1708 with baptisms of adults in the Eder by Alexander Mack; this break with the established church of their German state, and the official requirement for infant baptism, led to persecution and finally a migration that went first to the Netherlands (like the Pilgrims did before 1620), and then to America in 1719.

So 2008 is a 300th birthday for the Brethren movement, and my Church of the Brethren friends shared with me their pictures and stories from a summer visit to Scharzenau and the Eder River, where the Mack Mill and many other structures from their heritage are still standing.

I brought home from this gathering for the Little Guy a book, lavishly illustrated, called “Alexander Mack – A Man Who Rippled the Waters.” It tells the tale of Mack, the Brethren, their travels, and the hunger for freedom to worship and seek God as one’s conscience dictates. You don’t have to be related to the Scharzenau Brethren to enjoy the text or the paintings on each page . . . but odds are you are, in some way!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a sainted story at

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Faith Works 10-25-08
Jeff Gill

Looking Up Into the Rafters

Thanks to the marvels of them internets, especially that Ebay person who is so busy doing all these auctiony things, I will shortly have a Dickens’ Village “Peggotty’s Cottage” to put under my Christmas tree.

My tastes in reading and, sad to say, writing, were long ago warped and distorted by having read “David Copperfield” when I was far too young. Long sentences and repeated semicolon-related offenses are the least of my sins that trace back to following the tale of Trotwood.

On the Norfolk coast, David Copperfield encounters a home made from an overturned boat, described as charming and cozy beyond even the label “Dickensian.”

The Peggotty family lives there, overlooking the North Sea, and I had a sense of what it felt like to live in such a house when I looked up into the criss-crossing rafters of my home church and a number of nearby churches I would find myself in, from time to time, growing up.

I had a slightly mistaken idea that “worship” related to the idea that we gathered each Sunday under the outline of an upturned ship, a “wor-ship” that sailed us into God’s stormy seas of trial, where we had refuge with Jesus at the helm and worked together as the crew.

When pastors and preachers talked of the honored dead who had gone before, the saints in glory who were now a great cloud of witnesses, whether in my Disciples congregation, the Episcopal parish across the street, or the Lutherans to our north and west, they pointed up – at the rafters and joists and hammerbeams.

That was a picture of heaven and the realm of glory that stuck: those knurled knobs and solid timbers spanning the nave (recalling “navis,” Latin for “ship”) were an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible place. High ceilinged woodwork hinted at heaven, and still does.

It was pleasing to see the ancient timbers and lathed ornament of Trinity Episcopal, 1834, on the front page of the Advocate some days back. As I had the chance to tell the congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran the next Sunday, where I was filling the pulpit and whose history followed Trinity in that same space, it was oddly pleasing to reach up on the third floor of the current spatial arrangement, and touch those finials and brackets.

My very strongest sense is that myriad young eyes, and a few adults, had looked at those upper ornaments during church services and thought “I will never actually touch that, but it appears so familiar to me.” And with that thought, I could reach out and touch them.

These were the hints and signposts of heaven, the home of the saints, the pointers to All Hallows for many people over many years.

In the illustrations by Phiz in the Dickens original for “David Copperfield,” and with color and more perspective reading the “Classics Illustrated” comic version, I’ve always had a picture of Peggotty’s cottage, where the ship’s braces and struts are just overhead, within reach. I suspect part of my great love of the movie “Local Hero” is due to the key appearance of a Peggotty-type residence near the conclusion of the story.

Something solid and real and mundane, but just out of everyday reach, visible but almost unapproachable, except by extraordinary means, maybe a little extra assistance not our own. That’s what it means to reach up to heaven, to join the saints in glory.

The eve of All Saints, All Hallows, is of course the night before Nov. 1, that feast day; October 31 is All Hallows’ Eve. Thursday is “Beggar’s Night” in most central Ohio communities, leaving Friday in a bit of limbo.

But Nov. 1 is called, on a liturgically oriented calendar, All Saints’ Day, backstopped by Nov. 2, All Souls’, when everyone from humble Barkis to hopeful Micawber to striving Trotwood Copperfield himself is lifted up as a member of the honored dead, those who have gone before yet still cling closely to us.

Except they’re fictional. Yet their example is as real to me as the long torn down, demolished, vanished roof timbers of my childhood church that I will now never touch. I touch someone else’s reverie on First Street, in the 1834 church building there. And with the saints, I enter the blessed realm through the merit of others’ works, earning nothing on my own but graced and gifted by the generous offering of others.

And we can give one another the gift of a thoughtful and well-considered vote on Tuesday!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a haunted tale at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Faith Works 10-18-08
Jeff Gill

Take a Hike

October 4 was the “feast day” or commemoration of Saint Francis of Assisi, who brought an appreciation of nature and animals back into the heart of Christian faith and imagery.

Give Francis credit for those sheep and ox and donkeys that are so prominent in our coming Christmas celebrations and decorations; they’re in the Bible, but had been dropped from our iconography until Francis led them back into the heart of the stable where they belong.

The outdoor tradition of that rustic saint has led to his religious community, the Franciscans (the friars and monks who still wear a simple brown robe and a belt made of rope), keeping up the practice of “prayer walking,” praying and focusing on God through the rhythm of step and pace and slow, steady progress.

The tradition of walking meditation can be found today in Dominican houses, Franciscan monasteries and retreat centers of all sorts today; Methodist “Emmaus walks” and Orthodox Easter processions round and round the churchyard, even an interfaith expression with Buddhist meditation teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, with a book and DVD on “Walking Meditation.”

So when Church World Service’s multi-denominational work invites churches to join in a “CROP Walk,” they’re not only raising funds to fight hunger, but giving you a chance to practice a form of prayer and devotion that has a long and broad tradition perfect for this beautiful season of the year.

The central Licking County CROP Walk starts after 1:00 pm and an opening prayer and registration at OSU-N, walking along the bike path to the YMCA and back. Other communities, such as Granville and Buckeye Lake, will have their own walks at the same time. Pledge envelopes are available at many area churches, or you can bring and/or make your own donation that day and just join in the procession.

CWS does work around the world in the name of dozens of Protestant denominations, and works closely with other denominational relief and development bodies in the “Third World” or Global South, while a major percentage of the dollars raised by a CROP Walk stay for hunger relief efforts right here in Licking County. The Licking County Food Pantry Network is a major participant in this program each fall.

Walking as a tool for sustaining and deepening prayer may be just the approach your prayer life needs, and a CROP Walk may be the place to get it started. The distractions even in a quiet home can be multiple, and most who struggle with keeping a prayer practice talk about their challenges to keep in a prayerful state for an extended period, or just maintaining focus.

A prayer walk can address all of that: you have the progress of the walk as your indication of where you’re at, and that you aren’t done; you can steadily increase the length of the walk to bump up the time spent in prayer; there may be less distraction in your mind when your body is needing to keep up the thump-thump-thump of walking steadily along.

If you’re just looking for a beautiful environment and less people right around you to try a prayer walk, the Octagon State Memorial, also known as the grounds of Moundbuilders Country Club, is having an open house from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The Ohio Historical Society will have formal tours leaving regularly and children’s activities and such, but the over a hundred acres that enfold the majestic 2,000 year old mounds are filled with fall color and are a wonderful site for a prayer walk.

Did Native Americans two millennia ago have prayer walking? I can’t imagine that they didn’t!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a prayer practice that works for you at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel 10-23-08
Jeff Gill

Is Granville Haunted?

What a rich and beautiful season, if you’re watching the hillsides and treeline instead of the financial and news channels.

Pumpkin patches like Devine Farms down Rt. 37 (turn left at US 40 for the Devine’s, or right a bit further to Pigeon Roost Farm) are a riot of orange and yellow and many shades of brown. Summer spoils us with green, and we brace ourselves for the whites and greys of winter, but the rich palette of autumn deserves some close attention.

You have to look fast, because of the shortness of the season, and with night falling ever sooner (and look past the political signs with their own unique color schemes). But even the nature of the darkness has a special fall quality, with mists in the early morning and still a wisp of hanging smoke some evenings.

It’s just warm enough to let a few more grills to fire up for dinner, and a fire pit or chiminea is especially welcome for a group to huddle around when the cold knife of an October night slices the sunset away.

As a general rule, I don’t tell ghost stories. We have plenty of practitioners of that art, starting at certain inns with great skill, and being told alongside the stray bonfire or camping lantern by us amateurs.

Granville is haunted, though. Make no mistake about it. I actually am quite skeptical of ghosts and hauntings and poltergeist tales; the Bible has a couple of ghosts in the Old Testament, but they seem to be more dream figures and guilty consciences than apparitions of the sort featured in your usual ghost story.

Haunted is another story. Haunted is a state of mind, and an openness to evocations that help to make us sense, more directly, of the reality of lived experience not our own. A moment that may be long past, but still moving through and past our lives today.

Passing the Four Corners, with a “ghost” of a high conical mound in the center of the original street plan, a point from which the very visible grid we now drive was platted; a block north, where “The Drag” curves up College Hill, there was set into that alcove where a stone panel now faces south, once a building, a market and school and structure whose keystone stares at you in the basement of the Granville Historical Society. It may sit in darkness most days on the floor there, but I see the sun-face gazing back contentedly, above the spot where Denison’s open book now looks blankly down Main.

East of the village, where new and comfortable homes now spread past Bryn Du, I walk often through an intersection where the first European settlers here, a young Welsh couple, spent a winter, survived a year, and then Lilly Jones died a few weeks after giving birth. Some evenings, you can almost hear the low cry of a baby, and the muffled sobs of a strong man brought low by frontier life, punctuated by the impact of a spade into cold earth, now simply still-green lawns.

Heading back towards the village, past the Great Lawn, over ground well populated two millennia ago, with the rustle of fallen leaves turning into the shuffle and stomp of moccasined feet, a chant blending into gospel cadences softly sung by escaping slaves not two centuries back.

The historic center of the village spreads out before you as Mount Parnassus, spirits of the Greek Muses hovering over the very name, recedes to your left, and John Chapman walks past you, padding along barefoot and long-limbed, invisibly returning to the forest where Mr. Appleseed is most comfortable, even if he did sleep in the stable basement of the Buxton Inn on harsh wintry nights. The sidewalk past the Granville Inn, with the remnant of one of our many vanished colleges now just the back wing, was once the favored stroll for courting Victorian era students. Kept male and female on their respective ends of Broadway, healthful walking, at least, was never discouraged, so this very promenade was where those young passions found their object and focus . . . who courted and proposed and plighted their troth in front of a tree shaded lawn where now couples marry under vast white tents, right into October.

Is Granville haunted? I should think so. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a haunted tale at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Faith Works 10-11-08
Jeff Gill

Sing, Shout, Celebrate, Support

Ephesians 5.19 reminds us of the role “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” have in Christian communities, from the earliest days of the church.

Spiritual songs may have been an assortment of things in the earliest days of the Christian church, but the musical label “spirituals” is the unique blend of African traditional forms carried to this continent by the unwilling immigrants aboard slave ships, mixed with the Scots-Irish traditional music of congregational singing in the southern highlands.

While early urban and cultured American worship still hewed close to the classical forms of the Old World, the participatory art form of congregational singing, encouraged by traditions out of Welsh singing and northern European Pietist practices, helped to bring about the art form that we now call “Gospel music.”

Gospel music is a wide river with many tributaries, flowing down out of the highlands and down through verdant swamps, coming together into a Big Muddy of gospel music rolling power, drawing so many sources into a single deep expression.

Gospel can have a country sound among white folk, a distinctly African form with rural black hymn singing, and all these streams converge in the roots of blues and jazz and rock and roll, but the idea and ideal of “Gospel music” endures for all races and ethnicities in this country.

So if you go to a Gospel music concert, you may hear what you expected, or you may hear something more; you are almost certain to hear music that takes you beyond your expectations.

The Licking County Coalition of Care, a co-operative outreach ministry of 43 Christian congregations in this county (43 and counting!), has put together a Gospel Celebration for Sunday, November 2nd, at 4:00 pm in Newark’s Midland Theatre. You can click to for ticket information, if you go to “tickets” and look under “Gospel Celebration” for Nov. 2.

They’ve got Vintage Voices, Christian Apostolic Church’s Sanctuary Choir, a quartet from First United Methodist Church in Newark, the choir from Shiloh Baptist Church, the Granville High School Chamber Singers, and even more groups scheduled to sing between 4 and 6 p.m.

Churches that purchase a block of 20 seats can get that chunk of theatre for $15.50 apiece, but you’ll be buying individual seats the “day of” for $17. So check or call 345-LIVE. You can buy single tickets for that amount on Nov. 2, but why not buy a block of 20 seats now, and gather up the faithful to come and fill them?

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that in the last few weeks, this faith-based group has heard from an average of over 100 families a month, people needing support for their efforts to keep the lights on and stay under a roof. The Coalition of Care has tried in their first couple years of existence to meet and pray with families asking for aid, spending an hour and a half in follow-up conversation with households that average 4.3 persons per home.

“Putting God’s love into action” is the emphasis this community group keeps as their priority; The Coalition of Care works to maintain an ongoing level of conversation and communication with those they assist, using funds offered by local congregations through the co-ordination of the Coalition of Care.

You can learn more about their mission and plans at, or call 670-9700. But right now, they need people and particularly churches to buy up blocks of seats immediately (20 seats @ $15.50 each, vs. $17 per otherwise), and then make sure to fill those 20 or more seats with church members and friends – put people in those seats who need not only a little spiritual boost from listening to the superlative singing of spirituals, but also the chance to get excited about the coalitions and collaborations that mark Licking County charitable outreach.

And your columnist has been invited to participate, not as a singer – it’s safe to come listen, then – but as your Master of Ceremonies. Wa-hooo! I hope to meet many of you on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 2, for a marvelous afternoon of Gospel music in all the forms that wonderful art can take, from 4:00 pm forward. I suspect that the wrap-up will give us all a chance to sing along a bit, and between the economy and the election, we could all use a little singing together.

“Joyful Voices, Helping Hands” – watch for the posters and flyers, and come join us that afternoon. I’ll be the one singing just a little bit off-key, off to one side!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s looking forward to preaching at St. Paul Lutheran tomorrow where we’ll “recall” the old Trinity Episcopal building that’s been in the news lately. Tell him a tale of history at