Saturday, January 24, 2009

Forty years, two cars, one trophy -- for more photos, see Jeff's Facebook or the Pack blog at

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
Faith Works 1-24-09
Jeff Gill

Two Visitors At the Church Door

If you’re looking forward to Feb. 12, 2009, just because I’ll quit talking about it on the 13th, I guess that’s fair.

The combined 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin is worth some extra reflection and contemplation for myriad reasons, first and foremost because they are people whom any educated person ought to know about.

As with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, both on July 4th (and precisely on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence they both brought into being), some coincidences make us marvel, and wonder, and consider . . .

People of faith particularly note with a smile the usual ironic comment that as John Adams was dying, his last words were “incorrect,” saying on his deathbed “Thomas Jefferson still lives,” when hundreds of miles away at Monticello his friend had passed on some hours earlier.

Or was Adams ironically wrong? Did the dying man somehow see, or know, that the questioning, seeking, challenging Jefferson was, in fact, at that moment “alive”?

Granted, Thomas Jefferson is no evangelical’s idea of an ideal founding father, clipping Bibles during late nights in the White House, pasting together an “improved” version without the miracles and commentary. He loved Jesus, but on his own terms . . . well, that’s a common problem many of us have.

But then we have Abe and Chuck, born on the same day in two different hemispheres, going on to change the world in ways that are still debated to this day. Now, I’m acutely aware that I may yet manage to annoy or upset every friend I still have who reads this column through, but make no mistake about it – I think Charles Darwin is one of the most fascinating, idealistic, and faith-full people I’ve ever read umpteen biographies about.

Oddly, to say you admire Lincoln won’t get many rocks thrown at you by the most conservative of Christian believers, but a compliment for Darwin and his work are likely to get you peculiar stares even on a good day – for some, “them’s fighting words.”

What they both have in common, though, was a sincere desire to find their place in the faith communities of their day, and a reaction to being told “fit in THIS way and you’ll be fine.”

Quite frankly, their scruples and hesitations are very, well, modern – this is the worst of historic heresies, but they’re recent enough that I think this comment is fair.

Lincoln watched his father and step-mother get caught in the frontier warfare not between settlers and Native Americans, but between denominations competing for adherents. The “heresy” trials of southern Indiana and Illinois of their day had less to do with Calvinism and Arminianism (note for future column!) and more to do with earthly competitiveness between pastors and organizations.

Lincoln actively supported the organization and building of churches in Springfield for the Catholic faith, for the Campbellite heresy that his parents were accused and acquitted of, and the Presbyterians – everyone but the Methodists, whose leader, Peter Cartwright, ran against him for Congress and hence would have nothing to do with him, nor would he let him aid fellow Arminians.

Which is too bad, because Lincoln’s writing showed him to be much more Arminian than Calvinist in his understanding of God’s will and the human capacity to respond. But those doors were closed to Lincoln for social more than theological reasons.

So Lincoln died never having been a member of any church, though his wife was a staunch Presbyterian. Sound familiar to anyone today?

Likewise Darwin had a very religious wife, who raised their children in the church that anchored their small village south of London. A member of the vestry, or church board, Darwin wrestled with his doubts and questions more openly than most, and had a parish pastor who was sympathetic while affirming the creeds and teaching of the historic Christian confessions.

Then a new pastor came in who was upset that Darwin’s wife led a program, funded by Charles’ inherited income, that did what we would call “adult education” and a sort of “GED” program in the church hall. This fellow, whose name I use as an expletive (Ffinden, if you need something to shout when you hit your thumb with a cleaver), worked hard to get all of the poor relief and underprivileged education programming out of church buildings altogether, and Darwin ultimately removed himself from any connection with the church after losing that conflict with the parson.

What would have happened if Rev. Innes had stayed, or if Ffinden had a clue about what faithfulness to the Gospel really meant? We’ll never know, but the state of Darwin’s heart and soul may not be quite what you think.

And yes, I’ll return to this subject for one more week! Next Saturday, the faith of Charles Darwin. It might surprise you. At any rate, do you start to see in Lincoln and Darwin the kind of challenge that the churches of today still struggle with? Men who want to know if it’s alright to ask questions, who are weary of denominational politics and competition . . . what would your church say to Abe or Chuck if they were married to women active in your congregation?

Because they very well might be.

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