Saturday, December 19, 2009


Christmas 2009
Dear Friends and Family,

As 2009 comes to a close, our family has many things to be thankful for. Home, health, work and community are among the many blessings we count. Joyce will soon finish six years as Chief of Staff in the President’s Office at Denison University and Jeff continues his busy schedule of supply preaching and speaking, freelance writing and consulting, and work as a mediator for the county juvenile court system. In these uncertain times we are blessed by work that both meets our needs and fulfills us.

We still stay busy with community involvement, Jeff with scouts, transitional housing and financial literacy issues, and local archaeology and Joyce as an officer of the Environmental Education Council of Ohio (EECO) and as worship leader (music director) of New Life Community United Methodist Church. After starting out as a new church five years ago, New Life chartered as an official United Methodist church this fall and just opened a community center in the show room of an old car dealership. Needless to say, the young ministry is blossoming.


11 year old Chris is in sixth grade and seems to get noticeably taller by the day.
He crossed over into boy scouts last spring and has already been on several campouts with Granville Troop 65. He joined the band this year as a beginning clarinet player and is loving it. He’s also becoming quite the young thespian (can you say chip off the old block?), recently drawing rave reviews as “Boomer” in Christmas from Scratch at Centenary UMC here in Granville. His youth group puts on two mini-musicals each year, so we’ll have another to look forward to this spring.

A highlight of our year was a week spent in Disney World this summer. It was Chris’s first visit, and I think it’s safe to say that it exceeded his expectations. He especially liked getting autographs from his favorite Disney characters. It was great fun, but not exactly relaxing. We learned later that the average family at Disney World walks 7 miles a day. We’re pretty sure we did at least that much.


We hope you are well and happy, and we wish you a
blessed Christmas.

Love,

Joyce, Jeff & Chris

Friday, December 18, 2009

Knapsack 12-31

Notes From My Knapsack 12-31-09

Jeff Gill

 

A Summing Up At Year's End

___

 

 

Jacob Little was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Granville from 1827 to 1865. For these thirty eight years, he not only preached for his flock, but he tried to lead the entire community through both example and exhortation.

 

The Granville Historical Society has just published an attractive and wonderful volume titled "Jacob Little's History of Granville." It includes not only Rev. Little's early attempt at a summary of the first decades of this community, but an assortment of other writings, not only by the parson but from a number of local historians (your columnist among them).

 

Laura Evans is well known to readers of these pages in the Sentinel, and was the presiding eminence over the effort to not only republish these early essays on Granville, but to help bring some historic context to these documents that are very much of their time.

 

At some future date, slighting asides about Sarah Palin, angry commentary about the DeRolph ruling, or rude jokes about Bill Kraner may be utterly incomprehendible, and it will take a meticulous historian or twelve (or 14!) to make sense of current observations, as it has with Jacob Little's work. Not to take anything away from Parson Little, but the lasting value of this book may well be the assembly of framing essays and inserted articles which helps the reader along in understanding what Little was making much of.

 

Most infamously, Rev. Little would issue a "New-Year's sermon" which would be presented both from the pulpit on that day, and usually found its way into print. These sermons were intended to be an assessment of the town as a whole, not just of "Congregationalist Presbyterians" in his own congregation.

 

As Dick Shiels says in an introductory essay for the volume, "Jacob Little aspired to be the pastor for the entire town." His was probably the last era of American life where that aspiration was even imaginable; there have since been a variety of movements and organizations that claim to speak theologically for a majority, silent, moral, or otherwise, but no one imagines that any pastor could really serve as chaplain to an entire community.

 

Little knew there were those in opposition to his stands on subjects such as temperance (for it) and dancing (agin' it), and not everyone was as passionate as he about education for all and even more for those pursuing clerical status, but he truly believed that through a mix of inspiration and shame he might well draw the entire village into his beliefs, if not into his church building.

 

What does unity in community mean today, when diversity and multi-everythingism is the single standard all are expected to salute? Is there any "unum" to which all us "e pluribi" should aspire to? And what would happen to any person, let alone a pastor, who tried to name in public the people whom they saw as breaking down the moral fiber of the community? Even before the defamation lawsuits were filed, can you imagine it at all, or even what categories would be described?

 

In the 1840s, listing who owned a household Bible, or specifying the drinking habits of elected officials down to the quart, or naming those who (gasp) danced last month – it wasn't necessarily popular for Little to do (ultimately, he was forced out of his position, albeit after 38 years), but it was imaginable. Today we fall back on broad, generic survey numbers that safely wag their percentages at how many spouses cheat in their marriages, or poll how many parents purchase alcohol for their children's parties.

 

It was different over 150 years ago: that may seem incredibly obvious, but sometimes I think we forget how different a place, how foreign a country the past really is, even when that place is right here.

 

If you'd like to take a quick trip to that distant nearby land, you can drop by Reader's Garden in the heart of the village, and plunk down $27 (tax included), or go to the website of the Granville Historical Society at www.granvillehistory.org and follow the instructions there for ordering by mail.

 

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is very proud to be in the distinguished company that was assembled by Lance Clarke and Laura Evans to produce this book. Write him at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Knapsack 12-24 -- Granville Sentinel

Notes From My Knapsack 12-24-09

Jeff Gill

And Everything Changed

___

The baby was born, and everything changed.

I talked to a mother this week, here in Licking County. She and her
husband began the paperwork for an international adoption, reaching
out to a country where poverty and social norms combine to generate a
disturbingly large number of babies without homes.

They will need two to three years to complete the whole process, and
their plan is to request not a newborn, as so many do, more than are
available, in fact, but to pursue a child who is already a few years
old. A child who has not been adopted.

Which means, of course, by simple math and painful reality, that this
child is born this week, or thereabouts. Already, but unknown,
unknowably distant; God willing, as this all works out, a child is
born to them in a land far away, but just now come into the world
with tears and smiles and hope.

For this family to take in another child, since they have some of
their own already, they will have to make adjustments. Some have
already been made, others are in the works, a few more are
contemplated. As experienced parents, they know the biggest
adjustments are yet to come, for each child is unique, even if the
experience of diapering is mindlessly the same.

When the baby enters your life, everything changes.

There's something deep within almost everyone that makes the cry of a
baby pull our attention and focus away from the most compelling
reality show, off of our favorite activities, out of ourselves, and
shift to asking "what does the baby need?" Even childless "civilians"
know that tug, at the mind and in the heart. For some it is merely an
irritation – "why doesn't someone do something about that crying
baby?" but for most it becomes a question – "what could I do to help?"

In an international adoption such as the one I heard about, there is
a response to a cry not yet heard, by the prospective parents or
indeed by anyone. It is, you could say, a hypothetical cry, of a
child needing love and care and devoted attention. The idea that a
child, anywhere, is lacking any or all of those things is hard to
ignore; so hard to ignore, we mostly have to block out such awareness
altogether, since to dwell on those ongoing forlorn cries is too much
for any heart to bear.

Yet when you pick up a child and it stops crying, not necessarily
because of anything you did (just as some of us pick up happy babies
and they start crying because sometimes, that's what babies do), that
contented armful is the whole world for you in that moment. Peace,
and love, and joy: and hope.

When you let a baby enter your life, everything will change.

A baby is the center of both the religious and secular celebration we
all share, in certain ways, this week, because a baby means
something, even when that child has no genetic or genealogical
connection to us. A baby means promise and commitment and the future,
even when those who should deliver on all those things walk away. And
they do, sometimes.

A baby, not even born yet, can change your life; a baby, born long
ago & far away, can change the world, your world, right now. In
either case, it happens when you decide that your life is connected
to something beyond yourself.

Then, everything changes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Faith Works 12-19

Faith Works 12-19-09

Jeff Gill

 

When a story can't be told too often

___

 

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" has been filmed over and over again since the very dawn of photography, starting in 1901 (less than 60 years after the tale was first told!), and Disney has taken another crachit at it.

 

Using "motion capture" animation, Jim Carrey does for multiple characters, starting with Scrooge, what Tom Hanks did in "The Polar Express." The computer animation, tied to human acting while wearing "mo-cap" suits, continues to amaze, and makes set builders weep. The virtual camera swoops around St. Paul's Cathedral and through the City of London, perching a moment on the Tower itself, never filming a bit of tangible reality.

 

Dickens' story touches hearts in every form, from Mickey Mouse as Bob Crachit in an earlier Disney cartoon venture, or the classic old black and white Hollywood versions.

 

Or you could read it, out of a book or even on your computer screen.

 

What makes this cast of characters and particular plot so affecting is the change of heart, the transformation of the unseen center of Ebenezer Scrooge from the cold and unmoved fa├žade against the outside world to an equally mysterious, but outwardly apparent celebrator of Christmas, of whom "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

 

The question for Scrooge, and for all of us traveling in company with old Ebenezer on his nightlong journey, is whether in fact he *can* change. To quote the reforming miser himself:

 

[blockquote] "Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."
The Spirit was immovable as ever. [end blockquote]
 
Dickens was too good a storyteller, and perhaps enough of a theologian, to tell us directly whether "certain ends" are inevitable. There are inevitabilities in this world, and there are things very hard to change indeed, and then there are those moments of transformation where only a Spirit can account for the change that results.
 
As much as Americans enjoy their Scrooge, our complement to "A Christmas Carol" is a story that began and really only exists as a movie, "It's A Wonderful Life." George Bailey, too, is haunted by supernatural beings, the angel Gabriel and a Joseph who may or may not be the fellow with relatives in Bethlehem. And Clarence Oddbody.
 
Mr. Bailey wants to know, and doubts, whether his life has changed anything. The weight of predestination, of inevitability, weighs equally heavily on George as it does on Ebenezer.
 
Can one life make a difference? Can small choices make a change, or are we just pawns to "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato," as Scrooge tried to account for Marley's apparition by means of his indigestion?
 
[blockquote]"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this …. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?" [end blockquote]

 

Jim Carrey plays not only Scrooge in the new "Carol," but also all three Spirits. It's an interesting approach, hinting at not only the acting prowess of the human beneath the animated pictures, but also at a modern attempt at explanation. The three Spirits of Christmas are simply psychological expressions of Scrooge's own interior desire to change.

 

Perhaps. Many want to change, and cannot, but continue to try. This we see all around us every day, and sometimes in the morning mirror. Could it be that it is inevitability itself that is the Ghost, a persistent haunting imposed from within; and to change, to be transformed, requires a nudge from without, from beyond, from Another?

 

Might something as faint, as distant as a baby born in a backwater, thousands of years and as many miles away, be the external, even the supernatural influence that moves us where all our wishes and desires cannot take us?

 

Could the Christmas child make all the difference?

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a reason to change you've experienced this Christmas at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.