Thursday, March 27, 2008

[Link set for last weekend's Licking County Jail Ministries series of stories is on down, just keep scrolling -- thanks! jbg]

Faith Works 3-29-08
Jeff Gill

How Simple Life Is, Or Can Be

Spiritual disciplines have some constants, like the written prayers of your tradition (from the “Lord’s Prayer” to entire prayer books), wordless prayer (see Romans 8), time spent in solitude (think Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge”), and with the gathered community (often known as “goin’ to church”).

There are also the variables growing out of our unique gifts – song for some, art for others. Making lists, keeping journals: these are all spiritual disciplines that I’m happy to commend, but not as a one-size-fits for all comers.

Along with my Bible reading practice, I find poetry reading a very useful tool for prayer. Not just religious poetry (although George Herbert started me on this, and is still a constant companion), but the craft of paring down words and forms to express the heart and soul sets off a sympathetic echo for me.

Sometimes the echo is in reaction against something I read in a poem. Garrison Keillor, the radio humorist of “Prairie Home Companion,” also has a brief daily piece called “The Writer’s Almanac” on NPR stations, with some literary birthdates and milestones for the day, and a short poem. I don’t often get to hear the broadcast, but you can sign up for a daily e-mail with the text of the almanac and poem.

Over Easter week, Keillor has some wonderful poems that added to my experience of Holy Week. Then the usual secular poetry came back in the cycle, with a pleasant sonnet titled “You Made Crusty Bread Rolls . . .”

Gary Johnson, I find, is head of research for the “Jeopardy!” quiz show, and has been married for over 40 years to the same woman from their hometown of Omaha, now living in Topanga Canyon on the edge of Los Angeles. And I’m happy for him! He wrote this sonnet about a dinner and quiet evening at home with his spouse, closing with two lines that includes the statement “How simple life is.”

Can anyone argue with that, after a recitation of salmon and dill and garlic and olive oil, jeans and stylish green t-shirts, “candles and linens and silver”?

“How simple life is. We buy a fish. We are fed.” Really? The fish comes from an Alaskan salmon farm or wild from declining ocean fisheries, the silver from deep in the earth and forges in China, the t-shirt out of an Indonesian factory. Dill probably grown in Venezuela or India; maybe the garlic came from California, but the olive oil from Italy or Turkey, and brie in the crusty bread rolls from France.

The lights of Topanga Canyon are powered by nuclear energy from Diablo Canyon, or natural gas from Canada, or coal mined out of Black Mesa alongside the Hopi Reservation in Arizona – as is the oven that cooked the salmon and garlic.

How simple life is? To eat, to love, those are simple things, and to be thankful – but thankfulness in the world today I think requires a little more care and attention to what we’re thankful for.

Bill McKibben is an author, a Methodist Sunday school teacher at his congregation in New England, and someone who has helped me reflect and respond to the complexity of modern life with simple faith leavened by a more comprehensive understanding. “Deep Economy” is his best known recent book, subtitled “The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.”

He’s going to speak on the Denison campus, up the hill in Granville and in Herrick Hall (the round building behind Talbot Hall of Science, next to the Slayter parking garage). Wednesday night, April 2, at 8:00 pm, McKibben will speak to students but in terms I’m sure that will be of interest to all, and I’m looking forward to the question and answer time following most of all.

I want to hear what kind of questions the students ask, and I know from previous experience that McKibben is at his best in the back and forth, explaining the implications of the simpler life he suggests should replace the “More” that is the one word poem of today.

And thank you, Gary Johnson, for getting me thinking about it all with your poem.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; one of his prayer disciplines is to read the tags on his clothes when he puts them on in the morning, and lifting up each country where they were made. Tell him about your prayer practices at

Monday, March 24, 2008

[Scroll down for the link set to the Newark Advocate series on the Jail Ministry program]

Notes From My Knapsack 3-30-08
Jeff Gill

Keeping Out of the Trash Heap

In our current economy, most of us are used to seeing senior citizens working at fast food joints.

The first time I saw a grey head wearing a uniform cap and name badged polo shirt asking “do you want fries with that” it was a bit jarring, but I’ve gotten used to it.

Trainers at those fast food joints have told me that there’s an obstacle seniors have to get past in order to be effective, lasting employees in a place like that.

It isn’t the pace, which grandma usually maintains better than her youthful co-workers. Older counter workers may need to sit down from time to time, but not as often as teenagers try to slip into a chair while on the clock.

The equipment holds few terrors for them, since the challenge of computer readout is small change compared to work they did forty years ago (now that thing woulda torn your arm off!) and the many different devices they’ve mastered over the decades.

And they know how to make change. I’ll say no more.

What seniors have trouble adjusting to in the modern fast food workplace is . . . waste. Waste is built into the system in so many ways: pots dumped after twenty minutes, sandwiches tossed in the trash after forty, bags and pouches replaced with quarts of product (orange juice, shake mix, sauce) still visibly sloshing around in the bottom.

“Some of these old timers just can’t take it,” a guy told me (chain and name deleted to protect both the innocent and the guilty). “They want to scrape stuff out or set stuff back, and I tell ‘em it’s company policy and health code rules, and they can’t even take it home, and some just have to quit because it makes them sick to throw out so much stuff they think is good food.”

In most cases, it is good food, but the packaging or the pace just doesn’t allow for frugality of the sort they grew up with. It’s cheaper to toss it, and make more.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was cooking and baking for Easter Sunday, and scraping with a spatula right down to the clean bowl, with a vigor not my own. My long-deceased grandmother was leaning over behind me, watching to make sure I wasted as little as possible.

She wouldn’t have survived one shift at a fast food business.

She might have liked Bill McKibben, though. Author of the recent book “Deep Economy,” he’s also written “Hope: Human and Wild,” and “The Age of Missing Information.” He will be up on the Denison campus in Granville on Wed., April 2, speaking at 8:00 pm in Herrick Hall (the funny round building past Talbot Science Hall).

“Deep Economy” is subtitled “The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.” McKibben makes the practical, ethical, and spiritual case that we can’t build our economy on the value of waste and the imperatives of “more” for much longer. He’s got some questions for us to wrestle with about the meaning of life and what really makes for quality – quality of life, of lives in community, and for a future worth beginning right now.

Is it possible that “more” no longer equals “better”? Could less be best, and small beautiful after all? And what do we need to say and do as a community to make that better future?

It may start with a spatula, and a clean bowl, not to mention cooking a bit more at home, with food that comes a little closer down the road to your counter-top.

See you next week at Herrick Hall!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he makes skewed versions of global recipes with local products, and they aren’t often inedible. If they are, there’s always fast food . . . send him your recipe, righteously twisted, at
FAITH BEHIND BARS -- Licking County Jail Ministries on Easter Weekend 2008

Hooray for the Newark Advocate! This is a remarkable multi-part story about a remarkable ministry (and yes, i'm more than a bit biased, from being involved in getting it going in 1989-93, and being president of it 2001-3). There is really almost no other locally supported, one-staffer, volunteer-based, comprehensive ministry like it around the country; there are large cities that have trouble maintaining a co-operative ministry like this, and almost no smaller counties like this one. Two dozen churches pooling resources and laying aside doctrinal matters (yes, they come up, and that's what board meetings are for!) to serve the staff and inmate population with a heaping helping of Good News right where they are.

This account confirms that "lives do change", which is why Scott Hayes is one of the central characters of this narrative, which probably embarrasses him a bit, but it's all true! There are many folks who think that lives don't change (see the comments in some of the stories below), and that's why we need to tell this tale:

Other stories in the series, and click the video/gallery links -- there's a baptism in there (actually, a couple), and just some amazing stuff showing what a ministry in action looks like:

Women's ministries:

Volunteers make an impact in the "Be A Friend" program:

Storybook program:

Prayer returning an inmate "home":

A Better Life (the comments on this first installment stayed active all weekend):

One inmate's story:

One volunteer's story:

Baptisms in the jail -- -- this baptistry is actually under the communion table/altar, and was bought by the LCJM in 1991, and getting that big old hunk of wood and polymer up there was an epic struggle! The chaplain fills it with a hose, and drains it by siphon.

Many other short videos are linked to each of these stories; check 'em out while they're still posted! Lives are transformed, and hope shines out. You'll be glad you spent the time on these.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Vampire Lady nails it . . .
. . . but we knew she was a good writer already. Now, this!