Friday, February 01, 2008

What's for Lent?

For me, this Lenten season, my spiritual discipline will be:

Other than some reading in Desert Monasticism (St. Anthony, Abba Poemen, et alia) and Ephrem the Syrian, I mainly know the early church second-hand in history and theology, so this felt like a good plan for me.

If you're looking for something different from giving up chocolate, this might be the Lenten practice for you!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Faith Works 2-2-08
Jeff Gill

Give Churches Some Credit

Consumer spending only increased 3.5% last Christmas season, say economic news stories.

Only? Only that percent of growth in spending is bad news for our economy?

Our economy is well and truly broke, then.

Economic news is everywhere, and much of it sounds bad. The worst stats have to do with foreclosures, and I keep thinking I’m missing something. In Licking County, for our 150,000 souls we have 55,000 households, with not quite 42,000 owner-occupied households.

When I read that we had nearly a thousand foreclosures a couple years ago, a thou one year back, over a thousand last year, and we’re guaranteed 1,200 at minimum this year, that’s 4,000 plus households dealing with mortgage foreclosures in the current time frame.

That’s one in ten Licking County households.

Faith communities obviously have a stake in talking about finance and personal restraint and stewardship in a good season, let alone right now. With the deeply disturbing trends knocking around, there are a number of good responses from church bodies and gatherings of concerned religious folk.

One is just called “The Compact.” You can google around a bit and find some of the groups, which started on the West Coast and Pacific Northwest but is spreading to all kinds of locales around the county.

Their proposal is simple: we make a compact together not to buy anything new for a season, whether Lent or a year or whathaveyou. If you need something, you find it used, you trade or borrow, or you figure out how to do without. Food stuffs are an exemption (more on faith and food next week!), and there are some other common-sense exceptions, just look for “The Compact” and add in search terms “consumer, consumption, used” to find all you need to know.

There’s a fellow called “the Cheapskate” who has been writing about living cheaply for years; with Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent this Wednesday it makes sense to lift up his new idea -- a money fast! Jeff Yeager is looking for meaning and purpose in life, and one of the steps he commends is to set aside a week a year to spend no money.

If that sounds silly to you, ask yourself: “Why is that?” Why should our need to define ourselves by what we purchase, the things we consume, be an absolute?

And that’s what any discipline of fasting is about: remembering that eating or whatever special thing we set aside for a fast is not who or whose we are. Yeager says try a day, or a day a month, but try a money fast. I think he’s on to something important.

Over in England, the Methodist Church of Britain is launching a credit card. Today, it seems every organization wants us to get “their” credit card, to merge their identity and our own into another tool to consume.

But this credit card goes in your wallet, in front of your cards that work, because it doesn’t. it just makes us stop and think. The English Methodist card is a bright cheery red plastic reminder saying on its face “Buy Less, Live More,” meant especially for the Lenten season. Where the card number would go, it says “Mark 10: 17-27.”

Go to their website, and you can register to get daily e-mails with ideas on how to “live life in all its fullness” by buying less and living more. They welcome Americans, too.

Or you could just look up the Bible quote on the card each day.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 2-3-08
Jeff Gill

Do Not Call Me, Skip the Please

Rudeness is something we’re trying to avoid teaching the Little Guy, whether at home or away.

Away is going fine, but at home . . .

It’s hard to hide your phone etiquette from your son, especially around dinner time while you’re preparing a meal and he’s doing homework at the kitchen table.

The phone rings, and the mental algebra begins: what are the odds? Where is the Lovely Wife at currently, could it be her calling, is there anyone else with a pressing need for your ear today, this week, right now?

You shift into “I’ll answer it mode,” dry your hands, catch the receiver before the machine picks up at ring number four (and when nine out of ten calls click dead at the start of the message).

“Hello, Gill residence,” you say as you were trained from a pup, on a large heavy black unearthly dense plastic phone. Today’s device is smooth and light and small, but the courtesies are the same.

Your greeting gets no response, other than a crackling silence and then a very faint click, followed by a voice of robotic precision and recorded cheer. “If you are interested in a great deal that sounds too good to be true, please hold the line . . .” the disembodied lady’s voice went on in this vein a bit as I fumed and planned my next step. She concluded with “if you would like to hear more about this offer, press 1.”

Grimly, I stabbed the first key. Immediately as a voice began to ask me something, I said with great clarity and firmness “I would like to speak to a supervisor, immediately.”

You see, that’s supposed to be a law or something – you ask for a supervisor, they have to give you one. And obviously I’m not the only one to know this, because his response carried the mild weariness of someone who’s been down this route before. “I’m sorry, my supervisor does not wish to speak to you.”

Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised by this news, but thought a little persistence might help. “I am asking you, sir, officially and formally, to please connect me with a supervisor.”

With equal politeness, almost to the point of derision, he replied “Sir, my supervisor has specifically said he does not wish to speak to you. That is not going to happen. Are we done here?”

With the last idea I had, my retort was “If there is no supervisor available, I’d like a mailing address for your business, please.”

There was a brief silence, and then I think I heard a soft chuckle. “Sir, we have no address. We do not exist. And that, I believe, is the end of our conversation; good night.”

Well, if I were more committed to spending my precious free time aggravating people calling numbers on the “Do Not Call” registry, I could have played along a while and at least found out what they were selling – some kind of financial instruments, probably sheep futures or hedge trimmer funds or something like that – and maybe gotten a business name before calling on the no doubt still distant and inaccessible supervisor.

On the other hand, yelling and ranting on the phone while the Little Guy listens isn’t my best use of time, near 6:00 pm or any other time.

For all of you who have wondered, the “Do Not Call” registry at is still working, works for mobile phones, and isn’t going to require you to call in every five years. Many of us did register our phones five years ago, but Congress has put the renewal question on hold.

If you’ve gotten one of the every January and July e-mails that float about referring to releases of cell phone numbers to telemarketers, don’t panic, and you can go to and type in “Do Not Call” and “cell phone” to learn more about that internet myth (always check for those fwd: e-mails you get).

And if your phone isn’t on the registry, click or call 888-382-1222 and get yourself some minimal protection from the phone vultures. I can say when a local business in Licking County called at dinner time and I asked for a supervisor (they said, “I’m my supervisor, sir”), then pointed out it was illegal to call me, they immediately apologized and said they’d fix their, um, list (right, they have a list – they have an auto-dial machine is what they’ve got).

Then they offered me something free that was what I didn’t want to be called about, to make it up to me. I cheerfully observed that, from where I knew they were, it was five minutes to my house, and if they brought it, I’d feed them dinner. We both agreed that neither of us needed what the other offered, and there it ended.

For now.

Jeff Gill is in the book, perhaps foolishly; just e-mail him at