Thursday, May 08, 2008

Faith Works 5-10-08
Jeff Gill

Faith Of Our Mothers, Living Still

Frederick Faber was not writing a hymn about Mom when he wrote “Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.”

And in Grafton, West Virginia back to 1908, Anna Jarvis was not thinking about warfare, spiritual or otherwise, when she began her fight for a day set aside to honor mothers, particularly her own.

You’ve no doubt already heard the story about Ann Jarvis, tireless worker for health and sanitation through the Civil War and advocate for community causes of all sorts, whose daughter Anna decided that she and all mothers deserved a special commemoration all their own after her death on May 9, 1905.

So in Grafton, West Virginia, she set aside the second Sunday of May, when the trees were all in bloom and the Appalachian spring was at its height, beginning with a few friends at home in 1907, leading to the first official “Mother’s Day” event at her Methodist church this week (this very day!) 100 years ago.

Next was the governor of West Virginia, then the General Conference of the Methodist Church (not United back then), Congress made a proclamation, and finally President Woodrow Wilson made it nationally official in 1914.

Now, “Mother’s Day” is not an official part of the Christian Year from Advent to Lent through Eastertide to . . . Pentecost, which is what tomorrow should be, 50 days (“pente”) following Easter itself. Then is the long, hard slog through “Ordinary Time” until the first Sunday of Advent sets the liturgical year in motion again.

Pentecost marks the birth of the church told in Acts, chapter 2, with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem. Among whom, we know from Acts, were Mary and other wives and widows and young women.

Many pastors will struggle tomorrow with how to properly balance the observance of this major feast of the Christian calendar with a high holy day of cultural celebration, complete with cards and flowers and the biggest day for eating out of the entire year (Waitresses Day, anyone?).

What most congregational leaders know is that women, and especially mothers & grandmothers, are the very backbone of most churches. Any student of church history knows that in Antioch and Edessa, from Constantinople to Copenhagen, whether Katerina von Bora or Susanna Wesley, mothers have been the rock on which much of the church we know today was founded.

In this past week I had the sad pleasure of attending a funeral for Betsy O’Neill, of whom it may almost be said that she “gave birth” to the parish of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church. As a mother in her own family, and for many beyond her immediate circle of relations, she mothered and loved and cared for a community that made God’s love visible. Without Betsy, there would likely have been a St. Ed’s someday, under some name, of some sort, but it would not be the vibrant parish you pass in Granville today.

She grew up Methodist, and on learning my own affiliation, she told me with great glee some years ago a story, told again for her at the memorial service by Father Paul, of how the Granville Inn’s Sally Jones Sexton threatened to sell out to a convent of Catholic nuns -- if she didn’t get a liquor license.

So good Methodists like young Betsy and her mother marched out on the streets, petitions in hand, to stave off the dread prospect of nuns in Granville, even if it meant the arrival of Demon Rum. She had 61 years of happy marriage to her Jack as a faithful Catholic to balance out those signatures she gathered years before, so she laughed.

That is the laughter that the Devil runs away from, the good cheer which helps build the Kingdom of Heaven, the rock on which the Church of Christ is built. Mother’s Day and Pentecost will coexist very nicely, as signs of the Spirit of God which gives life to the world and points us all to the life eternal to come.

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

Monday, May 05, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 5-11-08
Jeff Gill

Making Do and Making Last

The Lovely Wife and I usually go for the proposition that paying a bit more for quality adds up to frugal in the long run.

Buying something that’s half the price which lasts a third as long means you replace it faster, unless the cost consideration makes you realize you don’t need the item in the first place (hence the other household principle of not buying something, anything, on sight).

Clothing gets to be an interesting challenge in this category. Like the “sawdust in the transmission” trick of olde tymes used car salesmen, they’ve gotten good at masking poor stichery and inferior materials until you’ve had the item for long enough that you don’t feel like looking for the receipt and going back to wait in line at (Ha!) “Customer Service.”

Kids’ clothing is the real puzzle, because you’re not buying for the ages, anyhow. I’m delighted to own jackets and shoes with decades of wear in them, since I dress in a fairly neutral (read: dull) style (read: none) that doesn’t go out of style because it wasn’t ever all that much in style. So twenty year old jackets work for me, and buying something twice as expensive as the one that would open up across the seams in eighteen months is a good purchase.

For the Little Guy’s stuff, you know that he will outgrow it in a month or a season or at least a year. You could say that we should go easy on the Earth by getting the better quality stuff and handing it along to other families, but that doesn’t always come to mind when you’re looking for a pair of pants that isn’t blown out at the knees RIGHT NOW.

Equally, we keep messing up on the accessory department, like school backpacks. The lure of Buzz Lightyear or Spider-Man draws us into the shelves of . . . well, junk. Piping that peels off in a week, mesh than snags and tears like tissue paper, and odd inner seam chunks of left over material that endlessly spin off threads and bits to hook on notebook spirals and dump out on the kitchen table or living room carpet.

Next year, no major store or theme branded backpack, we say. Sensible, durable, rugged (pricey) bookbag or satchel is the way to go – until the Little Guy sees a brightly colored logo of some sort, and the negotiating begins.

“Planned obsolescence” first hit the national consciousness in 1960, when Vance Packard, author of “The Hidden Persuaders,” wrote “The Waste Makers,” explaining how manufacturers no longer had a business interest in making lasting, durable goods.

In fact, Packard could document how the retail industry did research and development in how to make things that would have a useable life just long enough for us to tolerate it, and then break down, wear out, or become useless at just the right time for us to buy a new one.

Add to that functional obsolescence something called design obsolescence, which is the mysterious art of making something wear out in your mind – it’s out of date, looks old, isn’t cool anymore.

Packard wrote about “the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals.” They’re still doing good work in this department almost 50 years later. Meanwhile, finding stuff that is effective and durable is like going on a mastodon hunt.

For all the mothers who search the shelves and dig through catalogs and hunt the wild internet to seek the right item that serves your kids’ needs while not wasting the Earth’s resources, a Mother’s Day salute to you.

Keep on stalking and trading and swapping and bartering, O maternal hunters and gatherers! Your family and your planet will appreciate it, in time.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s not a mother, but has one and is married to another. Tell him your hunt for the perfect pair of shoes for your children at