Saturday, March 14, 2009

Faith Works 3-14-09
Jeff Gill

Bernie Madoff Is Set Free

So Bernie Madoff, swindler, Ponzi scheme financier, charity-robbing con man, has gone off to jail. Overdue, I’m sure, and no reason to weep for him, while there are many who grieve the loss of dreams and plans for the future because of his lies. For them, we may shed a tear.

It won't be Sing Sing that Madoff will check into, but I think Martha Stewart can assure you that the image of "country club corrections" is a bit overdone -- non-violent offenders are put in less restrictive environments, with health and recreation options that actually save the taxpayer money over the long run (inmate health care is expensive, and not because it’s so high quality), and those offerings also help maintain order by giving the staff privileges that they can withhold. I'm not bothered by some tennis courts and a few TVs with limited channel selection. Those inmates don't lose track for a moment that they're in jail.

But as for being set free -- If I can read body language at all, Bernie Madoff is utterly, utterly relieved to be done with the game, and I suspect actually relieved, if a bit apprehensive, about going to jail. It’s not a point made in sympathy, just a practical point of psychology: he’s been imagining this day for decades, apparently. He never imagined it would even last this long, and it’s done, and he’s ready to go. The fascinating story, and I look forward to Michael Lewis (I hope, I hope) writing it, will be about how it began. How did the first fateful choice to not invest the investment deposits get made?

When did Madoff first realize the how and in what way he could do this iteration of the Ponzi scheme, and at what point did he realize, probably not long after that, that he could go no way other than forward . . . or throw himself into jail by a full and immediate unprompted confession in media res (which never happens) . . . so he continued, and probably marveled over and over that it kept on going, beyond his wildest fears, let alone hopes, which he probably abandoned years ago.

Bernie Madoff, like anyone trapped in a lie of their own making that keep on growing (read or watch "A Simple Plan"), is really and truly imprisoned in a horrible place -- no matter how reprehensible they are and how deserving we may think they are of our contempt. The fact is -- Bernie Madoff has a chance at freedom now. He will have to figure out how to live his life in that newfound freedom while in jail, to be sure, but I really do think that he has a chance to figure out what freedom is once he's locked up, because he can tell the truth.

The real jail, the real incarceration, is a lie. Lies chain us and bind us and weary our body and soul. And the only freedom is truth, no matter where telling that truth places us physically. So many people try to trade a little of their freedom for the quick convenience of an easy lie, and find that it's almost impossible to give away a little of your freedom.

A closing change of subject: may I suggest to pastors and congregational leaders that there’s a meeting on Monday morning, March 16, that you might want to consider. It will be down at Opportunity Links on East Main (next to Miller’s Essenplatz), hosted by Licking County Job and Family Services, the Community Mental Health & Recovery Board, and the county Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities.

At 7:30 am (yep, am) on Monday, a community forum has been assembled to discuss the cuts already impacting social services in this county, and ones that are coming. Some, maybe much of the fallout from where the aforementioned agencies are having to cut staff, cut outlays, and cut grants to other agencies they work with in Licking County, will mean both different stories heard at the doors of our county faith communties, and a different set of requests and needs showing up on those doorsteps as well.

All are invited, and churches in particular I think would do well to participate. I know I’ll be there!

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

Monday, March 09, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 3-12-09
Jeff Gill

Food Matters, and Some Food Matters Quite a Bit

Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes a column called “The Minimalist,” about culinary simplicity.

If that makes you think of excruciatingly tiny entrees on handcrafted pottery plates served in a restaurant with tables smaller than most of your dinner plates, think again. Mark Bittman likes to eat, and wants us to enjoy eating as well. Minimalism, Bittman style, is about offering a minimum of excess and an excess of healthy options without an extreme approach that leaves most of us thinking “that may work for some, somewhere, but I can’t live that way.”

Most of what Bittman cooks he does in a tiny kitchen with a, well, minimum of tools and gadgets. We, the readers and erstwhile home cooks, are pushed beyond some of our own minimal repertoire of staples and proteins and veggies, but not to hopelessly pine after ingredients only available two months of the year in street markets by the quays of Marseilles. Try something new, that you can find locally, and cook easily but in a new way – that’s the classic Bittman offering.

He thinks that “Food Matters,” which is the title of his new book which is as much a cookbook with an attitude as it is a polemic with recipes. Michael Pollan has trod this ground already with books like his recent “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and the mantra, which Bittman largely adopts, of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

For that “Mostly plants” part, our author proposes a clever twist that most of us can adopt without vast contortions of adaptation: “Vegan until 6.”

The growing consensus is that Americans eat too much meat, and often in too large a portion at any given time. Our health on so many levels is impacted by the ingestion of so much high fructose corn syrup and juiced up meat (which, in brief, means that the average beef cow by slaughter has consumed through corn feed a barrel of oil).

So Mark Bittman says “try this.” He tells us how to get more whole grains and fruits ‘n vegetables into our meals, and suggests we try avoiding all meat and processed foods . . . until after 6 pm. The trick here, I think, is that if you’ve really filled yourself well with the complex carbs and fiber-rich good stuff, grown as locally as you can manage (he’s got hints on how to do that, too), you won’t be jonesing for a huge hunk of protein on the middle of your plate, shoving the overcooked and unappetizing green stuff over to the edge.

This is from “The Minimalist,” not “The Puritan,” so when life calls for a steak, enjoy! Bittman’s book is filled with little ideas and suggestions that you can act on right now, and not stuff that requires throwing out your entire pantry today and buying a tofu press or high power juicer.

My only regret about buying this book is that it doesn’t have a spiral binding for laying flat next to the stove, but I think I’ll have the spine broken down soon. Watch this column for a few more borrowed points from “Food Matters” as we head into planting and growing season for our local deer ravaged, but still doable gardens.

Speaking of food, kudos to Granville Pack 3 and all those who helped with their food drive – our community supplied the Licking County Food Pantry Network with 8,152 pounds of canned and non-perishable goods, plus a raft of friendly checks and pats on the back for the Cubs who worked so hard. In an effort like that, everybody comes out ahead.

Over 4 tons!

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