Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith Works 11-22-08
Jeff Gill

When the Frost Is On the Punkin’

James Whitcomb Riley is known as the Hoosier Poet, creator of “Little Orphant Annie” (yes, that’s how he spelled it) and “The Frost Is On the Punkin.”

He’s an acquired taste, though you’re required by state law to acquire it as a schoolchild in Indiana. So I didn’t learn as I should have, being a small Hoosier lad, memorizing dialect doggerel, certain small points of neighboring history. Such as the fact that Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and later went to West Point having realized that pounding tacks into his trunk lid for arrival at the United States Military Academy would spell the initials “HUG,” so he wisely adopted his mother’s maiden name to create Ulysses Simpson Grant, or “USG,” a much more patriotic abbreviation.

At any rate, I wrongly said here last week that Grant was born in Illinois, and thanks to Gary from Lancaster for catching that online; Galena, Illinois has a home and museum and claims U.S. Grant pretty comprehensively, but he’s born in Ohio (Grant Park in Chicago is named for him, though).

Illinois has a number of politicians that they kind of inherited, like Lincoln (born in Kentucky), Grant (born in Ohio), and Obama (born in Hawaii). All three are associated with the state, but weren’t born there . . . though your faithful scribe was. Who knew?

It’s amazing how many things we know that we don’t know, and don’t know that we think we know. As days get colder in the morning, we may idly cite “the frost is on the pumpkin” whether our gardens grow gourds or not, not ever having heard of old Mr. Riley who wrote over 100 years ago that “O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,/ When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

But what is fodder slowly drying on the shock? ‘Tis corn, destined for the crib to feed the stock (that’s the animals on your farm), but preserved best by desiccating while in the field still up on the cornstalk, or “shock.”

Few enough of us are dependent on the fall harvest to feed us through the long, cold, desolate winter. Even so, down in our bones, we have a sense that gathering up food and fat and fodder is a really good idea when the days get short and chill and frosty.

So a good hearty meal with lots of grease and butter and oil has a unique appeal to any of us human creatures in the month of November. And our cultural memory is triggered with spices and dried fruit from August and herbs put up back last April – “Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!... “

We enjoy our gravy and our earthy spices this time of year, and the observations that put our anachronistic meal in context . . . seriously, we don’t raise big birds in the backyard anymore, or even grow gourds in the garden, but we do love Thanksgiving.

And it’s the experience of gathering with neighbors and family known well, and new friends to meet, that makes a Thanksgiving meal taste the best. A community worship service where multiple churches gather together to focus the whole “giving thanks” idea is the best seasoning I know (even if rosemary is every November cook’s secret weapon).

You can go tomorrow, Sunday evening, Nov. 23 at 7:00 to Hebron United Methodist Church if you live in the Lakewood area, or that same night at First Presbyterian Church in Granville; Wednesday, Nov. 26 in Newark is their Community Thanksgiving at Trinity Episcopal.

Somewhere near you is a service where you can join fellow citizens to give thanks this week. Make sure to find your right way to step into and support an ecumenical service in your neck of the woods!

“I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he loves “The Bear Hunt”, too – let him know what you’re thankful for at

Monday, November 17, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 11-20-08
Jeff Gill

Thanks To Give

Sunday night, at 7:00 pm in First Presbyterian Church, Granville’s Ministerium is hosting a Community Thanksgiving Service open to all.

“Giving thanks for what,” say younger retirees with their money largely tied up in a cratering stock market?

“Giving thanks for what,” ask breadwinners who just lost their job. Those who had hours cut might say “should I be giving thanks for not losing my job, but just living in fear now that I will?”

“Giving thanks for what,” might be the retort from those who still have their job, but realize that many of their lifestyle and family choices are now hemmed in and constrained in ways not imagined last November.

Those are all tough situations, and even here in Brigadoon the prospects for Christmas in many families are grimmer, if not actually grim.

Parents are having late night conversations with each other about how to talk to the kids about where they won’t be going, what won’t be bought, what has to stop happening in the new year. That’s hard, and whether in an upper income bracket or down in the dumps, moms and dads don’t want to have to say these kinds of things.

Giving thanks for what we do have is a good place to start, though. You focus on what you don’t have, and the big ol’ world will always keep you on your heels.

The band Switchfoot has a song titled “Gone” with a passage towards the end you have to hear jauntily sung to really appreciate, but the idea is the same: “Gone, like Frank Sinatra, gone, like Elvis and his mom; like Al Pacino's cash, nothing lasts in this life. Gone, my high school dreams are gone, my childhood sweets are gone -- Life is a day that doesn't last for long.”

In other words, everything is “gone” sooner or later. How are you going to deal with that? To grab ahold of stuff with all the more desperation, or start to look at what’s really of value to you? How do you communicate to those around you what really matters?

Switchfoot goes on to sing “Life is more than money, time was never money.” Time is the one thing that everyone has the exactly same amount of – Now. That’s all you have, but it’s all anyone has, so no complaining. Now. Whatcha gonna do with it?

Time isn’t money. You can use money to shift your time around a bit, but there’s still one now to a customer, step up and spend it well. Is a super cool vacation helping to justify not spending time together the other 50 weeks of the year? Are restaurant meals saving time at home but resulting in store-bought conversation that isn’t bringing anyone any closer than watching TV? And do the extra cable channels give you all something to talk about, or do they keep people from talking to each other in the first place?

“We've got information in the information age / But do we know what life is, outside of our convenient Lexus cages?” Switchfoot asks us if we might step out of the boxes we’ve made, whether willingly venturing out, or pushed by circumstance, and realize that life truly is something to give thanks for.

Come join us Sunday at 7 pm at First Pres; I’d be thankful if you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what you’re thankful for at