Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Faith Works 3-15-08
Jeff Gill

Don’t Skip the Middle Part

“Unseen heavenly storehouses laden with snow . . .”

That’s a line easily brought to mind these days, a piece of Chris Tomlin’s song “Indescribable.” The image is directly, like so much of contemporary Christian music, from the Bible, out of the Book of Job.

In the final climactic revelation of God from the whirlwind to Job himself, the string of questions with which God answers Job’s question about the meaning of human suffering includes “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?” (Job 38: 22, NIV)

Many of us have read the start and finish of Job’s tale, set among “the writings,” the “Ketuvim” right before Psalms and Proverbs. 42 chapters long, even those who say they know the story likely only have read chapters 1 and 2, and skipped to 38 through the concluding and very short close in chapter 42.

What about chapters 3 through 37?

Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday tomorrow, would be a good time to read those pages hidden in plain sight. Just as Christians can tend to want to jump from the high place of Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem, and kids waving greenie things in church, right to Easter and resurrection and kids hunting eggs, we skip from chapter 2 to 38, or even straight to 42.

The in-between, though, is where we live most of the time, and what holds Holy Week together in the Christian narrative. And the Book of Job wouldn’t have the lasting impact it does without the three friends, and the angry young man (yes, the original angry young man).

For an angry young man, we have Elihu, who steps in about chapter 32, having listened courteously to his elders, the three friends of Job named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (you can see why these names didn’t catch on like Benjamin, Levi, and Nathan did).

They each have tried to explain to Job why he must have deserved his suffering in some way, and dealt kindly with his response to each one, with Job growing more passionate in his confidence in God’s justice, but his equal certainty that the pain and misery he is in can have nothing to do with his actions or intentions.

Elihu’s tirade is interesting because he is specifically described as angry at Job for not accepting responsibility, and the older men for not being able to defend and maintain God’s innocence as to this injustice (which we know, from chapters 1 & 2, is actually very much in question – God does specifically allow this to happen, through no fault of Job’s).

When I read the discourses of Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar and Elihu, I hear things I’ve said myself, about social ills, civic problems, personal situations, even in response to pain and suffering. And when I hear in my mind’s amphitheater the words of Job, sitting on his dunghill, covered with boils, his tongue thick and dry, struggling to make clear his faith and confidence in an ultimate justice which he cannot account for, I hear words I’ve said myself, in private prayer, and occasionally in argument with others.

The “Why” of cruelty and senseless accidents does not go away in the light of eternity. Job affirms, in one of the best known passages plucked out of this little known stretch of Scripture, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (19: 25-27 RSV)

This is seen by many as a powerful witness to Jesus Christ, a prophecy of what the human condition cries out for in the heart of life, and a description of what God promises to provide.

But you don’t, I maintain, get the full force of this statement of faith without immersing yourself in the debate that goes before, to which these words are a direct, connected response.

Just as you can’t really taste the joy of Easter if you skip from palm branches to chocolate eggs. Take the journey, step by step, and take Job along with you.

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

Monday, March 10, 2008

[a poem by William Stafford, read today by Garrison Keillor on "Writer's Almanac" - jbg]

Home Town

Peace on my little town, a speck in the safe,
comforting, impersonal immensity of Kansas.
Benevolence like a gentle haze on its courthouse
(the model of Greek pillars to me)
on its quiet little bombshell of a library,
on its continuous, hidden, efficient sewer system.

Sharp, amazed, steadfast regard on its more upright citizenry,
my nosy, incredible, delicious neighbors.

Haunting invasion of a train whistle to my friends,
moon-gilding, regular breaths of the old memories to them-
the old whispers, old attempts, old beauties, ever new.

Peace on my little town, haze-blessed, sun-friended,
dreaming sleepy days under the world-champion sky.

Lawrence, Kansas
c. Fall 1941
out of "Another World Instead"
Notes From My Knapsack 3-16-08
Jeff Gill

Is Your Street a Fjord?

From the seat of a basket-laden old bike, the streets of my paper route looked like fjords this time of year.

The high walls of plowed snow started calving off bergs in the late afternoon onto the shiny blacktop of the street, almost looking like dark still water. March snows work against the higher sun angle, meaning that the roads would clear, but freeze quickly in a glare of ice as soon as the sun’s direct light dropped even before dark fell.

Growing up further north and off of Lake Michigan, the snow of Christmas tended to form a base which ebbed and grew, but never vanished until past St. Patrick’s Day. Shoveling took extra oomph to toss over the ever higher embankments.

What I loved about that time of year was flying my Ford Trimotor with Bernt Balchen towards the South Pole, where I’d meet Paul Siple, the Eagle Scout who won a contest to go with Admiral Byrd on an expedition.

Yes, just try to imagine that happening today – it would be an on-line competition and the winner would get a live uplink for their classroom, but to go with them? Ha.

No, I didn’t go myself, but in the 60’s and 70’s I got interested in all the Shackelton, Scott, Amundsen tales of polar adventure, right down to the story of the submarine Nautilus running right under the North Pole.

Where my imagination ran more amok than usual was in making my bike a plane, and the necessary landscape of street and sidewalks a geography of adventure, with each driveway the bumpy landing zone marked out for my craft, where there were no runways, and vivid since many driveways weren’t shoveled, either. That would be when the dads got back from their shift at the steel mill, after the sun went down.

Sometimes I was Noel Wien, flying a Misso Standard or even a Curtis Jenny through the Alaskan bush, looking for a starving camp of prospectors. Most often I was flying along with Balchen or Bennett over the poles in a Trimotor, the plane which I’d actually seen up close at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

Books like “The Sledge Patrol” by David Howatch, set in Greeland’s fjords, or “Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan about the Norwegian kids who helped smuggle gold past the Nazis on their sleds to a waiting ship in a real, honest-to-Norway fjord: these were the context for my paper-delivering reveries. “Snow Treasure” didn’t have a plane in it, and there’s only a brief sighting overhead in “The Sledge Patrol,” but I had no trouble extending an aviation component to my internal versions.

I learned later that the events in “Snow Treasure” probably didn’t happen, but on the other hand I learned that Paul Siple, Eagle in the Antarctic, went on to get a Ph.D. and invented “wind chill” and the original scale for measuring it.

The point wasn’t the history as much as the immersion I could feel, gliding on my path between grey-blue walls of snow and ice, bumping to a skidding stop, and making a delivery. The Gary Post-Tribune wasn’t sulfa drugs or emergency rations, but it was my job to get it through the snow, and I took pride in keeping on my bike when other route carriers gave up and slogged on foot through the snow. (Purely pompous paperboy note: those other ones also went door to door direct, and I stayed on sidewalks. Which always helped at Christmas tip time, since many folks didn’t like you walking right past the front windows and squishing onto their porches. You saved time, but like I said, it paid off at Christmas, along with getting the screen door latched after delivery.)

Then you turned in the runway, got moving, gear up, and into the air – onto the street – and circled to find your point of entry through the mountain ranges to the next bush camp or science base or hidden military installation, and then swooping past the glacier’s face to a narrow landing zone, marked (in my mind’s eye) with smoke grenades laid by grateful troops down below.

Spring was almost a disappointment after a few months of that.

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