Saturday, March 01, 2008

Words fail me in describing what went on yesterday at Nancy Nall's blog -- -- and i'm both proud and saddened to have played a small constructive role in the whole bizarre thing (see the last couple days before "Copycat" to see how this came about). The "resignation" is now front of the and, but will soon fade. The puzzle of why someone would do something so stupidly public and easily catchable will linger.

Anyhow, i'm sure we've all helped set a Nancy Nall record in the comment box: 278 when last i looked. This was truly a team effort led by a sharp journalist who happens to have a regular blog . . . or is that a regular blogger who happens to be a sharp journalist?

Friday, February 29, 2008

My dad's new toy down in Pharr, Texas; he calls him "a Danish sentry"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Faith Works 3-1-08
Jeff Gill

Marching Into a Sea of Numbers

Christians aren’t exactly known for their math skills.

Maybe “be fruitful and multiply” and “they divided his garments,” but generally the practice of adding one to one to one and getting not three, but one – well, that makes you an unlikely candidate for treasurer.

There is one math problem that gets frequent discussion around Christian circles, and that’s how to calculate ten percent (hint: divide by ten).

The Biblical tithe gets a fair amount of discussion and debate, with some arguing that the storehouse tithe spoken firmly of in Malachi is still binding on believers today, and others looking at tithing from one set of qualifications or another.

Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, hold to a firm tithe on the gross that is used for what the storehouse tithe was intended to do, which was feeding the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner. The “Bishop’s storehouse” is meant to provide for member needs, so that they can count on the faith community for support and not a governmental entity, but is often used for general relief as well.

Islamic folk have a smaller percentage that goes to the poor and needy, but the “zakat” is also for them a firm number, easily calculated. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it 2.5% of your gross income, beyond the amount of your income needed for basic subsistence.

What bothers me as a Christian pastor is that so many believers and couples don’t know what 100% is, which puts every other percentage into play.

What’s 100%, and why do I care?

Well, if you don’t know what you make a year, then you can’t honestly make plans for the year in giving or saving or anything else by percent or even in round numbers. So many people only know what they make an hour, or a week, maybe what they bring in per month.

If I were to suggest to such a person that the monthly figure could be put times twelve, there might be an angry “sure, I knew that” coming back at me. OK, fine.

But you need to know what your personal or household gross, or total income is before any other percentage has any meaning, from giving to savings to taxes.

A for instance – many households see their tax refund as “magic money,” a kind of bonus that shows up to brighten their springtime.

But the reality is that the refund is your money, withheld beyond what you owed in taxes, returned with no benefit from savings or investment. You earned it, pay period by pay period, but if you enjoy general ignorance of what you’re making, you won’t be bothered by what is or isn’t coming home.

This is why I’d say, before anyone gets out in the weeds of debating what constitutes a proper modern-day tithe, they need to know a) how much does this household bring, in total, from our paid efforts per year, and b) add up all the federal, state, local, property, and calculated sales taxes, and divide b) by a) and multiply times 100. That will tell you what percent of your gross income goes to care for today’s poor and needy, maintain education, and other functions once provided by religious bodies.

Some folks get all rhetorical and think “I pay half my income in taxes,” and others have no idea how big the number is, never having considered the question. I’ll tip y’all off that most of you will come up with a number somewhere between 18% and 40%, with a third most common.

Is doing that math a religious duty? Nope, but if you think your faith calls you to be responsible and accountable for your overall stewardship, I’d think that this is a necessary first step towards your religious duty.

So, if you’re entirely average, you’re now looking at a bit more than 75% of what you earn in total. What will you do with that? Set aside ten percent for the work of your faith community?

That’s fine, except if you think doing so means you can do whatever you want with the stuff that’s left over, I’ll hazard a guess that God would rather you kept your money, although the church treasurer would have different opinions in all likelihood.

The point of tithing, however defined, is to remind us that the money we receive is a gift, no matter how hard we worked for the paycheck. We give so that we learn how all our income is a blessing, which is from God, and all that we have will be God’s again, if not into a landfill. Our giving is where we come to understand what the true nature of what we “have” can be, and starts the process of looking at everything from a different, eternal point of view.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how your church deals with stewardship and giving at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

[soft, distant whisper . . .] "Baseball season, baseball season..." [fades slowly, repeating]
Cubs, 1969 –

A summer day, a pennant race — Fergie Jenkins pitching to Randy Hundley;
Joe Pepitone, Glenn Becker, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo;
Billy Williams, Jose Cardenal, Ernie “Let’s Play Two!” Banks; Leo Durocher in the dugout, Jack Brickhouse in the WGN booth. Park district bus tours to 1:10 pm weekday games, coming back with mini-bats ("kids, don’t swing those at each other!") and real cloth baseball caps in Cubbie blue. Vienna red hots, and Heilmann’s Old Style beer scent on our sneakers, even as we drove past the steel mills (still operating, still erupting smoke and flame) on the way home.

There is an angel with a flaming sword standing between me and that Wrigley Field scene.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 3-2-08
Jeff Gill

Ohio Gets National Attention, Not Bad News

Ohio has gotten some major national press in the last few months, over home foreclosure, declining property values, job loss (well, second in this one area to Michigan), college grad departure rates, and bankruptcy.


Tuesday will give us a little different coverage with the primary vote, since against all expectations back in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential race is open while the Republicans are busy laughing over Nader’s entry into the race as an Independent (no final word from Ron Paul yet on a third or, uh, fourth party run).

How do the tough economic circumstances impact the decision on who will run for the D’s in November? Some say the proposals of Clinton and Obama are barely distinguishable, and that leaves style – advantage Obama. Others say that the ability to deliver complicated policy maneuvers through Congress takes a skilled and experienced politician – advantage Hillary.

Others say we need a strong international presence which is willing to project force to defend the national interest against global terror blocs – advantage Republicans, already forming up behind McCain. And some say we should treat foreign entanglements like the flu and wash our hands of ‘em, while stripping back the feddle gov’mint as small as we can get it – there’s your Paul/Nader support.

So, which course will Ohioans follow? I wouldn’t betcha a nickel on any of ‘em, but a close vote in November is likely, while in the short run I think Hillary will turn out the most core supporters, whatever early March weather throws at us next Tuesday between 6:30 am and 7:30 pm. Clinton will win Licking County on the D-side, but Obama will make the state as a whole closer than Bill would like.

And on we go to Denver and the convention? Could be . . .

Local races will be all about name recognition, and the best known folk will beat the lesser known names. Levies and bond issues will be the focus of interest and discussion, mainly for schools but Fire/EMS and cemeteries and senior services are way up there this go ‘round.

Full disclosure: I have a part-time job that takes me in and out of the Licking County Court Annex, aka the old Children’s Home, quite often. If I wanted to stay quiet and comfortable, I’d want to stay put there, but in the debate over the Senior Levy a bunch of chatter has focused on that building and its likely demise.

Folks, if this were an historic church building, it would be doomed. If George Washington slept here (a neat trick, given that he died in 1799 and it was built in 1886), it would still be slated for demo. The problem is that to save the building you’d have to start by pulling the slate and cast-iron trusses off the top, and tear down the third floor. Then you’d have to rebuild either a new floor or just rebuild the roofline a story lower, at the cost right there of many millions – at which point you’d still have a rabbit warren of small rooms with heavy masonry walls between them, with little adaptability for any purpose other than offices, which can be provided more cheaply any number of places.

The basement would need to be entirely dug out around the exterior and resealed and properly drained, as mold and damp are endemic in the gloomy depths now. Heating and cooling are currently provided room by room mostly, at major electric cost, while the wiring and phone lines would need a long-overdue upgrade. We’re getting into $13.5 million territory right there. It just isn’t worth it, and it isn’t historic enough for anyone to help pay for it.

I hope people understand I love history and respect greatly the particular history in the walls of this structure, which Jon Emler has done much to keep in the public eye. But I’ve rambled from the bat-filled attic to the depth of the old laundry and kitchen in the basement, and this building can’t be saved.

Designing the new senior center to echo the outline of the Licking County Children’s Home of 1886, and reincorporating some ornamental stonework, is a wonderful and appropriate gesture by the county officials in charge. Add to that the fact that Licking County school districts are across the board spending less per pupil than almost any other neighboring or state-wide comparable districts, and I can say honestly I hope both the seniors’ and the school levies up this Tuesday all pass.

As for the state funding system for education, well, that’s another day.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’d love to hear your ideas about how to reform the state funding formula at