Saturday, September 20, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 9-25-08
Jeff Gill

Where the Foundations Are

It was likely after watching a Chicago Cubs game on WGN, the snowier channel on UHF (kids, ask grandpa what that is), that I was down in the basement getting my hair cut by mom.

At one point, there in the unfinished part of the basement, that I was looking up at the joists and stringers and ductwork branching off of the furnace, and suddenly realized – our house was not solid.

My home was a structure, a framework like the newer houses down the street going up as I watched after school, with two by eights and two by fours and a main support I-beam across the center line. The apparent unity of the exterior was an illusion made of aluminum siding and fascia board and shingles up top, while a balloon frame of lumber and sheathing held up the floors and ceilings, plywood and sheetrock coated with paint and paneling and spackle.

This new realization helped me figure out how to hide stuff in switch plates and under vents that lifted quietly away from the floor, where you could reach down into the ducts beyond what was visible. Comic books you wanted safe from little brothers, or money and trading cards you wanted safely out of sight could go behind those vents.

I never forgot, though, the real shock of seeing clearly that a house, or any building, was really the sum of parts more than it was a whole.

Years later I was involved in laying block atop footers, mixing mortar and finding out the obvious, that most homes are not built on bedrock or stone of any sort, but actually float atop soil on the pontoons of the foundation. The lowest level of most structures is not anchored in an irrevocable way to solid stuff, but moored, if you will. A foundation is as much a boat as it is roots, and the heave and sag of seasons and eras is taken into account as most substructures are planned.

Then I worked on archaeological digs, and found that soil is, if anything, even more fluid than I realized. Slopes migrate and new layers slowly build up, so that any stratigraphy is not an irrevocable record of immutable time, but is a slippery and suspect document in its own right. Delve into the geology behind the soils, and you start to catch a glimpse of glaciers plaining continents, and continents playing bumper cars with one another, sliding first against one land mass and then another.

So to find that the wisdom of Wall Street is actually a body of suspect conventional wisdom mixed with fragile trust, a confidence that can evaporate in a single trading day, is not so surprising. If a building is a collection of parts that work together, and the earth itself not immutable, but constantly changing, then the stock market may well be something less than bedrock itself.

Can the earth move? Ask a Californian. Do buildings collapse? Ask a firefighter; faster than you might think, and even when it looks stable from the outside. Do markets always self-correct? Check your mutual fund.

Somehow, the wisdom of markets needs to be tempered by human hearts, but those hearts need wit alongside of compassion. Myriad minds buying and selling have an economy of common sense that is hard to replicate in any one thinker or decider, but in unusual times a single thought may need to have a place to stand and be heard.

Clearly, one of the themes of the national election and state policies here in Ohio is who knows the right balance between decisive compassion and generalized calculation. The short-term caring choice could actually hurt more in the no-so-long run, but “help me now” always carries its own logic.

As does “I’ll help you, right now.” Is there help that isn’t worth the taking, because of the price on down the road costing more than the crisis at hand? That’s the choice we’re all working on right now.

Sept. 30th is the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 4th election!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been a Cubs fan since his birth in Chicagoland a year or two ago (but not longer ago than their last World Series appearance). Give him your thoughts on impermanence at
Faith Works 9-20-08
Jeff Gill

Rock Of Ages, Rolling Thru Generations

One of the many benefits of living in Licking County is that we have so many opportunities to hear live music performed, often by people who live right down the street from us.

All day down in Hebron next Saturday is their “Music & Arts Festival,” with high school bands at Hebron Elementary from noon, a “Battle of the Bands” on High Street from noon next to the car show along the National Road; country, bluegrass, and gospel over at Canal Park from noon as well, all culminating with McGuffey Lane at Main and High for 6 pm. (Details at, thanks to the Hebron Business Association, the Greater Buckeye Lake Chamber of Commerce, and the county Convention and Visitors Bureau.)

Over in Granville today on Broadway the Hot Licks Bluesfest ( starts at 12:30 and runs to their final act, The James Cotton Band at 8:30 pm. The Granville Federation for the Appreciation of the Blues raises thousands of dollars for Licking County charities like Big Brothers, Big Sisters or the Licking County Coalition for Housing, all through custom t-shirt sales and some really good eating.

There will be good crowds turned out for both of these events, as there was for the big Dawes Arboretum concert Labor Day weekend. Live music pulls in ears and minds and hearts, and pulls people together.

You should know, if you’re not aware of it already, that thousands upon thousands of Licking County residents turn out to share together in the joy of live, participatory music every Sunday morning. They don’t call it a concert, or a show, they call it worship and praise and even prayer itself.

Many don’t realize that quite a few of the musicians playing so well on stages and in clubs and late into the night on Saturday are getting up and anchoring a praise team or choir or sitting at a console on Sunday. They lead worship bands or play the organ or just lead congregational singing (a harder craft than almost anyone realizes who hasn’t done it).

Live music has long been a core element in worship, alongside of preaching and printed bulletins. Some just think of it as background noise, keeping the odd interruption from the outside away from the quiet ambiance of the sanctuary.

What music has become for many congregations, especially new church starts, is the core defining characteristic of their approach to faith and worship. If you are more of a piano and organ kind of worshiper, that implies many other elements of what kind of church you’re likely to be, while a drum set on the platform says volumes to many, let alone a stack of Peavey speakers.

Sunday afternoon at 3 pm St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Granville will have a piano and organ recital, dedicating a new piano and offering their powerful Casavant pipe organ with selections from Bach to Widor. Marcia Brannon and Julia Parker will present a concert that is free and open to the public as the dedication service for their new concert piano.

Is that a worship service? No, it’s yet another free concert with live music in Licking County, but all of these opportunities and venues speak to a connection between faith and music that is essential for many of us.

Can you worship God without music, in utter silence? Sure. But can you imagine worship without words, but music only? Can you imagine worship with music that isn’t your own preferred style? Can you imagine worship in any music style at all, or is it only fit and proper in some?

These are vital questions, and ones congregational and worship leaders wrestle with every week. You might want to think about them as you attend one, or two, or even three and more different chances to enjoy the music that lifts your spirit this weekend.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; sing him a song at

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Constitution Day!

Sen. Robert Byrd and i agree on very little, except on this day, and its significance.

July 4th is not only the wrong day to celebrate the Declaration of Independence (you could go with July 2 or 8 just as accurately, first reading and vote on 2nd, most signed it on the 8th), but as for the day we began to be the country that we are, we have been, and that we might just yet fulfill, Sept. 17 is THE day -- the day the Constitution was officially voted into existence under the preamble: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Modern historiography tends to focus on the compromises and the shortcomings, which are many in the document (the 3/5th compromise the most egregious of them all, putting a lesser work on some humans while still leaving them in bondage even as you gave their owners votes based on their bleeding backs). What Catherine Drinker Bowen called it in her still readable account, now almost 50 years old itself, is a "Miracle at Philadelphia."

They gathered to tweak the Articles of Confederation, which were nearly unworkable from 1776 over the next ten years. Unlike the blazing talent of a Thomas Jefferson writing the whole, the group process -- with leadership like Benjamin Franklin and James Madison and Edmund Randolph and Governeur Morris, to be sure -- created a remarkable document that has just enough flexibility to work without being so rigid as to require constant adjustment.

The European Union tried to write themselves a constitution starting in 2004, and they came up with an unreadable volume that to date has not been ratified (they're starting over after a "period of reflection."). The length and comprehensiveness of the EU draft constitution is a big part of why they can't get it passed; our Constitution, for all its flaws, can be read in just a few minutes by anyone.

Why don't you read it today yourself? Or you can listen to it by clicking the buttons on the sections -- either way, at this link:

If you are a teacher or educator of any sort, here's a slew of links at the Library of Congress for getting into the many fascinating details of this truly Founding Document: