Saturday, March 27, 2010

Knapsack 4-1

Notes From My Knapsack 4-1-10

Jeff Gill


Putting Things In Their Proper Place



Not to be mean, or anything like that, but it's kind of amusing to watch my fellow grocery shoppers down at Ross Market, now that the expansion is pretty much rolled out and open.


Some of us take a Delta Force approach to stopping by the store: get in, get out, be noticed by no one other than our target. Even the more leisurely of us have a pattern, a cycle of up one aisle, down the next, weaving through most but maybe skipping the soap & cleanser aisle two out of three weeks.


All of us have had to readjust, and set new patterns, as the dairy and lunchmeat products, "phase two" after produce, have been flung to new corners of the gladiatorial arena, and while the chow mein noodles, dal tadka, and Sriracha hot sauce are still where they "belong," most of the rest of our mental snooze button semi-conscious shopping now must be intentional, and awake, or at least aware.


Chips and crackers? New spot. Tomato paste? Same old spot, but mozzarella: new spot. Connect the spots, and make a wobbly spiral as our new cycle jerks into motion, pulling us from what we thought was the end of our errand, back across our path to go back and get an item we didn't know we only remembered for lo, these many years, because of the thing next to it that caught our awareness. If it isn't there, we daydream or anticipate our way right past the item that brought us to the store in the first place.


We like what we're used to, and what we're used to, we like, even if we don't (or shouldn't) like it, because we're used to it. And if it isn't what we're used to, even when it's better, almost exactly what we'd grumbled ought to be, we grumble that it's been changed, and we don't like it. Poor us!


I can only imagine how the poor Romans must have felt. There they were, 2,000 years ago, accustomed to the idea that when they cruelly executed a dissenter, he stayed dead, and went to anonymity in a borrowed grave or common trashpit. The Roman Empire was good at law, architecture, and killing, whether wholesale (legions) or retail (occupation governments). If you wanted a successful co-optation of local leadership, you didn't slaughter wholesale (legionaires), but picked a few to kill who had stuck their necks up and out, in such a way as to make sure everyone tempted to kick against the traces would notice (Judean procurator handbook).


When things don't go the way you're used to, it seems to provoke a bit of peevishness, some contrary reactions, even when reasonably considered it's news that's good for you and for many. An expanded local grocery store, one with a commitment to cultural diversity in selection, Ohio foods where possible, and global sensitivities for all tastes, can only be a good thing, right? Yet there we frown and fret up and down the aisles as we grapple with existential angst that the rye bread is not where it once was.


And the possibility that a political prisoner, once executed, might reveal by his return something essential about the very nature of reality itself – that should be good news, but neither occupier nor occupied seemed to see it, at the time, as a blessing. Easter morning is about people not quite being where they were "supposed" to be: Jesus not buried in his tomb when it was time to apply the mortuary spices; women running into men's gatherings with incredible stories, centurions saying "Surely this man was the Son of God."


Unlikely, and inconvenient, I know. But somehow, it all works out in the end.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him something unexpected at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Faith Works 3-27

Faith Works 3-27-10

Jeff Gill


Palm Fronds Above and Below




You may well know that this Sunday is Palm Sunday. The first of the events recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that begins the final week of Jesus' public ministry is a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus rides into the city evoking all kinds of signs and symbols from Judaic tradition to say that he was fulfilling what the Torah and the Prophets had promised, from the humble animal he rode to the Psalm 118 chant of the crowd.


We tend to turn fairly quickly in church to the fact that it's this same crowd, so to speak, that will be calling out "Crucify him!" in mere days.


But before we go there, I want to stop and think a bit about those palms, and what they mean. In the traditions of the wider church from Augustine through Alexander Campbell to Tom Wright today, there's the reminder that each story and key element of the Biblical narrative has a practical, contextual meaning, and also a symbolic, spiritual level of understanding, then both triangulate a new meaning into our time and place. So the donkey Jesus rides isn't a parade float because they didn't have those back there (don't laugh, kids don't know that, and it helps to explain it), and it also ties Old Testament scripture from the Hebrew prophets into the New Testament gospel account, making us think about what it means to celebrate Christ's entry into our own lives.


And there's the palms. They have the same sort of layered meaning that kicks up some dust we have to sort through for modern comprehension. There's a quick note that is often made in Sunday school materials or in preachers' sermons, as to the fact that palms were laid in the roadway to mark the procession of a king or great leader in triumph, so doing this for Jesus was a message to the Roman authorities that they couldn't mistake about how the crowd looked to him as the promised one, the Moshiach, God's anointed.


Why, though? Why palms? Well, think about ancient near eastern roads, even in a capital like Jerusalem. They aren't paved with asphalt or striped for passing lanes: they're dirt. More to the point, they're either impassable mud, or they're dust. Thick, heavy, choking dust, and the passing of a cart or the running of a pack of dogs could raise up a cloud that dimmed the sun.


If someone was about to pass by that you honored, that you respect, that you want to see clearly, and they have a large crew of fellow celebrants with them, then you're going to have a problem. They're going to kick up huge clouds of dust, and not only will you not be able to see them, but you can't say to your friends "Hey, look there, this is the one I was telling you about!"


It's all dust.


So your response is to go to the date palms nearby, climb up to their spreading tops (or pay a child a shekel to climb for you) and tear off as many fronds as they can reach. The green branches with their broad flat leaves will be crushed and soon enough dust themselves, but for that first passage over them, the dust below will be held at bay.


There's another thing, though. Those palms can come back, even if only a couple of the highest leaves are left to draw the sun for strength (and no farmer's child would ever be so foolish as to strip every leaf off a single palm), but it takes a while. A year at least, maybe longer to get the level of shade you had before. You can't just do this every week for the latest singer in the marketplace who passes by.


You will lose your shade, a bit of your own comfort, and set yourself up for a hard stretch ahead if you choose to make this act of honor in your own stretch of road. Should you do it? Who will pass by next?


Or do you want to sacrifice your spot of cool ease to help others to see this person; someone you think, you suspect, you believe to be the Christ of God?


The shouting draws nearer, the kids up in your palm tree look down, asking with their eyes, "well, do we or don't we?" What would you sacrifice to help others see the man on the donkey more clearly?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has no palm trees in his yard, drat the luck. Tell him what you'd do to help others see clearly at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.