Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Faith Works 12-12

Faith Works 12-12-09

Jeff Gill


Working On the Daily Grind, With Love




Four floors of rumbling kept a fine sift of flour shimmering through the setting sun.


The mill was a century and a half old, and today was working in full flow, the millrace off the creek turning the wheel, whose gears and belts and grindstones were in motion, parallel and perpendicular, all through the open frame structure.


With the leaves off the trees, the light of sunset slanted directly through the windows on each of the three levels above the entrance. Late fall and harvest meant that wagons filled with whole grain had been pulling up with great regularity, and everyone working around the mill had taken a turn pulling sacks of corn up to the peak.


What wasn't powered by the water wheel or elbow grease was moved, through the mill, by gravity; many of the first steps of the milling process started on the top floor.


But the grain, as it ground down to floury powder, would rise up again through the floors, lifted by slats on long leather belts through wooden boxes called elevators, since they elevated the grain to a higher level through their constant turning, powered by an axle which in turn rotated off of the mill wheel itself.


The miller worked by ear, and feel, more than by sight, which was a good thing when the dust off of the milling process filled the air and the sun caught each mote so as to blind you more than a creekside fog.


Tap, tap, he gently rapped the planking of the elevator, one which his ear and the soles of his feet told him had shifted a bit with the creaking of the building itself, built of black walnut timbers in 1849 – some of those timbers starting as young seedlings in 1609 before cut and seasoned and built into this mill.


Now, 160 years later, a voice came up to the second floor from below: "Honey, the router went out again, and I can't get the internet on the cash register."


The miller looked thoughtfully at his large wooden mallet, and then laid it on a beam nearby and walked downstairs, brushing dust and flour off his jacket and jeans.


Coming through the door into the gift shop, another man walked inside at almost the exact same time. He looked cheerful, if a bit grim.


"Hello," offered the miller. "My wife is in the back just now, can I help you?"


"You sure can," said the visitor. "I'm looking for something for my wife, and this mill's gift shop, people tell me, has no end of unique stuff. That's what I need, unique," he nodded vigorously.


"Alright," said the miller. "So, you want to get her something that she wouldn't already have, or . . ."


"Something none of her friends already have, and something that will really 'wow' her," answered the man, placing his hands on the counter next to the register.


"What does she most want for Christmas?" asked the miller. "Has she given any hints about anything?"


The well dressed visitor laughed. "Hints? You must be married, too; I get nothing but hints, every day. Get home earlier, go to church with her, just sit on the sofa with her. But not a clue on what to get for Christmas for her."


"Really? It sounds like she's told you already what she wants," replied the miller. "Is that out of your price range?"


"No," and he shook his head, "I'm interested in whatever you've got. Some of that art pottery, maybe? Or a sculpture. Price is no object."


The miller laughed, gently but easily. "I can tell that. What I meant was if the cost was a bit too much to give her what she wants. My wife wanted to get this mill running again, and we could afford the property, but I wasn't sure I could cover the cost, if you know what I mean."


"I think I do," the visitor replied. "This is hard work, isn't it?"


"Not as hard as you might think, but long, and steady. You have to know how you intend to finish to even get started. I didn't know if I could do it, but when I knew she wanted to with all her heart, that set me on the path that led me here."


"It looks wonderful," said the man, looking around.


"And it is, but you have to believe in what you're doing. We started in church, and that's where we remember why we keep going, like that wheel out there, turning in the stream."


The miller's wife came out of the back room, saw the visitor and smiled. "Do we have here what you're looking for?"


Looking back at the miller, the man said "Yes, I think you do."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he thanks Bear's Mill in western Ohio for inspiring a story this Christmas. Tell him about your search for a gift at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Faith Works 12-5

Faith Works 12-5-09

Jeff Gill


Happy Holidays To You, & You, & You!



My e-mail box and Facebook page all tell me, with the best of intentions, I'm sure, that there are retailers who are "officially" informing their employees to say "Happy Holidays," and not "Merry Christmas."


No doubt.


Yes, we've been here before, haven't we? The so-called "Christmas wars" are right up there with Black Friday, extended warrantees, and heart-plucking tales of seasonal reunion as the Greatest Hits rotation for December.


Speaking purely as a Christian and as a pastor, I'm delighted that places of commerce, businesses with goods to sell and no time to spare, shops and stores and malls and merchandisers are all wanting to help make a very important point.


With all due respect to Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, buying gifts has not a thing to do with the birth of Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nada.


Shopping, gift cards, exchanges, layaway, and most emphatically cashback credit card transactions are all activities which are near to the heart of our culture, but having little or nothing to do with spiritual growth. Catch me in a truly Scrooge-y mood, and I might observe they can erode and undermine the development of healthy spirituality.


So the news that stores are NOT saying "Merry Christmas" bothers me not at all. Good for them. And for those who say they won't shop at a store which says "Happy Holidays," good on them, too. If you want to make your retail line up with your religion, good luck with that, and I hope it goes beyond season's greetings (good luck with *that*).


Meanwhile, for all the militant secularists who are quite delighted at the faux culture war over "Merry Christmas," and are pleased that a misreading of the Constitution leads schools to ban instrumental versions of "Ave Maria" and want no one outside of a church building to say "Merry Christmas" –


What was that alternative you wanted to use? Oh, right, "Happy Holidays." Fine, except . . . nah, I'm sure you already know that.


Huh? No, I'm talking about "Holidays." It's a word derived from "holy day." A holiday is a day that is set apart, beyond the secular, everyday, a day marked as sacred, or "holy." A holiday.


Not liking "Happy Holidays" so much? Sure, there are other options. Some municipal celebrations have shifted over to "Winter Carnival."


Except the whole concept of Carnival comes from a church season still a ways down the road, the season of Lent, preparing for Easter. You fast and pray in Lent, so before the fasting begins, you feast on all the meat and fat and animal flesh you are supposed to avoid in Lent – in Latin, "carne," or "flesh." A carnival season is when the flesh is shared out and enjoyed to then shift focus to the spirit and the spiritual.


Carnival seems too churchy, then? How about a "New Year Festival"? That seems as safely, blandly generic as you could hope for.


Golly, though, it turns out . . . well, do you want to know? OK. A festival is a feast, a meal shared together by many. You can sort of see the word "feast," right? But the word itself, working back through Middle English to Old French and back to Latin once again is derived from "fanum," or temple precinct. In the fanum, a sacred meal was set apart for divine purposes, opened to all, and this is where the word "feast" comes from, out of the fanum. And then festival.


You almost get the idea that avoiding the holy or the sacred or the divine in celebrations is almost impossible, except maybe in Esperanto. By the way, according to the internet, Santa Claus in Esperanto is "Avo Frosto." Ah, Grandfather Frost. That worked out so well for the Soviet Union, didn't it?


Anyhow, if someone wants to wish me "Happy Holidays," I'll recall that this is indeed a time in which we should seek the holy. If the school calls it a winter carnival, that puts me in mind of the larger church calendar and that ultimately the flesh, the "carne" must be set aside, that the shopping will end.


If a festival is what we must have in whatever setting, my prayer is that we find that sacred space within which all may gather and feast on the goodness of God's gracious gift.


Or as a rabbi I once knew liked to say this time of year, to all us Goyim after the Hanukah celebration, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you'd like to label the season at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.