Thursday, January 22, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 1-29-09
Jeff Gill

Threads and Holes and Wholenesses, Always Needing Darning

We haven’t had a “real winter” for some time, in my opinion. A real winter is one where the snow stays atop the lawn if not the rooftops for more than a day or two at a time, when you actually put your coat on before going into the garage, let alone outdoors.

A real winter is one where you actually wax your shovel because it’s getting enough use to get the maintenance it deserves – even a sharpening pass over the leading edge with a file.

I have three pairs of gloves, lucky fellow that I am. A nice pair for wearing at official events (funerals, mainly), a set with leather palms double layered where you grab the rope tow, woefully underused in recent years, and a couple of wool, fingerless glove-ish things.

Every year I buy a new pair of jersey glove liners that go inside, about $1.98, but I don’t remember what I paid for the wool outers because they’re something like 25 years old. They’re what I wear most of the time, in the car or out shoveling snow.

Starting last year, the palm of one woolie began to show a hole. This winter, that hole has steadily grown. It’s with the arrival of the hole that you start to look clearly at the warp and woof, the horizontal and vertical weave of the fabric, and you realize that this glove is in trouble.

In a not so long ago world, I’d know someone who would darn together the broken strands of yarn and repair the fabric of my glove – as it is, I’m thinking “where can I find a new pair of woolen fingerless gloves?” But not yet. Meanwhile, I keep looking at those broken, unraveling ends around the gap in my left hand palm when I pull on these gloves.

There’s not so much a subtext as a supertext to these gloves for me as I think about the double bicentennial coming up on Feb. 12, 2009. 200 years earlier, both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on that very date.

Lincoln is likely to get his due in the general media. One of the reasons the Illinois legislature found their gumption in getting Blagojevich impeached as Governor was learning that, if he’s still in office Feb. 12, there’s a whole bunch of plaques and new memorials for Lincoln that would have Capt. Clueless’ name on them if they don’t get him officially out of the job. Lincoln will be big news next month.

But Charles Darwin is, well, controversial, and I think that’s too bad, for a number of reasons. His biggest detractors are among my friends and most frequent co-workers in the traditional faith community, and there’s an assumption that Darwin’s whole life and career was about undermining and disputing the central beliefs of religion.

In fact, Darwin very much wanted to hold onto his childhood faith, and his life was an ongoing struggle to find ground on which he could stand to believe in God, a sense of eternity, and the place of those he loved in that enduring reality. Some of the threads of his childhood belief had snapped during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, traveling to the Galapagos and beyond, and throwing those beliefs out onto the scrap heap was the last thing on his mind.

He was, to put not to fine a point on it, not well served by his parish clergy and the religious leadership of his day. Darwin saw class and status concerns more than Biblical beliefs driving the positions held by the church of his day.

To do even a little research into the religious views of Charles Darwin is to realize that his supporters, let alone detractors, tend to promote a caricature, a stick figure propped up by polemic and disputed claims.

In brief, Darwin’s struggle to find and hold onto a faith beyond his immediate circumstances has inspired me as a pastor; and when you look at Lincoln’s personal history, you see much the same. Two men, both asked to forget their ethics and scruples, and to adopt certain beliefs more for social than theological purposes. Bravely, each chose to stand apart from the church of their day and place; personally, neither denied God’s place or plan, just their ability to know it with certainty.

They were agnostics, not atheists (though Lincoln didn’t live to see that word, created by Thomas Huxley in the late 1860’s). They did not know, by the standards of their day, but what they believed and expressed went far beyond the flabby and unthoughtful beliefs of many who call themselves believers today.

If they came to your church, how would you invite them into further dialogue and understanding? Because there are Darwins and Lincolns walking through our doors every day . . .

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

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