Sunday, December 05, 2010

Faith Works 12-11

Faith Works 12-11-10

Jeff Gill


A View From the Steeple




Teetering out along the gable end, he took each shuffling step a little bit more carefully. Each movement was half as far and twice as hesistant as the last.


This can't continue indefinitely, he thought with a touch of amusement.


Finally both feet were perched in the spot where he had ended up every year for more decades than he cared to recall, lifting the string of lights over the nail he had pounded in place as a much younger man.


They had been those big bulbs. with the paint making the different colors slowly flaking off, then smaller ones, just as bright, with colored plastic shells, then narrow tiny bulbs, and now these LED lights. Saved energy, or so they said.


Didn't look quite right, he felt, but he also remembered that his grandmother hadn't liked electric bulbs at all.  "We had candles on our tree, lit 'em just for Christmas Eve, looked like God's own tree that way in the glow of the flames, just like the burning bush," she said.


There had been some discussion when the church first started putting lights up on the steeple. A few old-timers felt it was too worldy, just a little tacky to have colored lights on the house of the Lord. Now he was an old-timer, but he was still crawling out the hatch, behind the tower, through the attic roof, to get to the steeple.


A couple of pastors back, one had told him that one of the symbolisms of a steeple was that "parallel lines intersect in eternity, so a pointed steeple hints to us of the ultimate destiny of us all.' That had stuck with him. In many ways, a church steeple gets you closer to God.


Right now, the goal was to not suddenly find yourself going in the opposite direction. He reached, and at the very furthest extension of his arm, the line of Christmas lights hooked over the last nail along the gable.


The hardest task done, he looked up and down the street below. Each streetlight had an ornament affixed just below the lamp itself, a star or lantern or holly leaf in outline. In between the posts, houses stood both decorated and unornamented.


After this many years, he knew which house was whose, and he had some idea about why certain homes had no lights or decoration, and why others were almost excessively so. Marriages in trouble, happy homes, widows who turned aside all assistance, mothers whose sons and daughters were happy to help and then some. There was one house where he knew it was time to go by and knock, and offer again. There'd be a "no, I'm fine" at first, but if he sat down in the front room, and drank some tepid coffee, ate some cookies, he'd probably be able to get her to let him put out her lighted deer and a few strands of multicolored lights over the bushes.


Or get permission to send his grandson over to do it, he smiled to himself.


Up here, all looked tidy and squared away. Down at street level, along the sidewalks, the house numbers and backyards told a different story, but there weren't any tales that couldn't find their way to a happy ending with a little help. That's what a church was for, you know.


It was nice to look around the area from up here, but cold aside, it was time to come down, to go along door to door and talk face to face. As the snow started to fall, the view was lovely, but you couldn't stay.


Slowly, but steadily, he inched back along the peak to the hatch, and the warm glow of the single bulb in the attic below. Time to work back down the ladders, into the sanctuary, and lock up behind him, going out into the streets to talk to his neighbors.


That was the real view of Christmastime, he thought. At the door, in the house, under the tree. But it sure looks nice from up here.


Sooner or later, though, you have to come down.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Tell him about your unique viewpoint on Christmastime at, or Knapsack

Knapsack 12-16 (or 12-9)

Notes From My Knapsack 12-16-10
Jeff Gill

Twelve Years Old in Granville  --  1850

[This is fourth in a series of stories called "Twelve Years Old in Granville," each set in a particular year from the perspective of a twelve year old, based on our local history with a bit of literary license to help the narrative along.]


The fortress was impregnable, of that they were all certain.


Perched on a spur of Prospect Hill, glowering over towards Mount Parnassus, the walls had steadily risen, lunch hour by lunch hour, during this last week of nightly snows and bright sunny (if frigid) days.


The boys of the upper form in the village school house said to each other that they were no colder out on the hillside, looking over Granville, than they were inside the gloomy brick chambers of the aged structure that peered south down the Lancaster Road.


Even the face of the sun, they said, the one carved into the keystone over the central arch of the lower market level, looked pinched with cold. They were happy to hoot past his stony, warmthless gaze, running outside after flying down the stairs from the third floor (the youngest scholars being on the second), and clambering along the hillside, working up behind the row of homes they now looked down the chimneys of.


Their mothers had called out "Dinner is ready!" over and over, echoing across the snowdrifts and backyards, finally giving up and eating their own luncheons in peace and quiet. Their boys would rather play than eat, and it wasn't as if they had anywhere else to get a bite before supper and bed.


Today, though, would be different. The week was ending, and while all the town could see their commanding location, that included the sworn foes of the public school lads: their counterparts enrolled at the Academy. Each considered the other faction beneath their notice, and either could not stop noticing the others' antics.


All week, the young men of the Academy on Elm Street looked up at Prospect Hill during their all too short (as they saw it) dinner break, and they had been planning.


No sooner had the dinner hour been declared than the Academy boys trotted quietly, but in a body, along Elm over to Pearl, then up the road until they were even with the heights the public school lads had fortified.


They worked their way along the slope on the east, just as the builders had side-stepped from the west to begin their redoubt. A fusillade of snowballs announced the public opening of hostilities, with the winner being the final resident of the fortress.


Flocks of flying snowballs all at once pelted the interior of the icy enclosure, and sharpshooters kept up a more targeted spatter of individual shots.


A rush of bodies from below, and the Academy crew suddenly filled the embrasures and openings, vaulting into the sacred precincts themselves. Those who built this stronghold were soon cruelly forced to retreat, under fire, uphill.


This state of affairs did not last long. The public boys plotted behind a handy hickory close to the brow of Prospect Hill, and shortly they charged down in two files, attacking with pockets filled by pre-made snow (or ice) balls.


Their pincer assault was not only successful, but continued on down the hill. Volley by volley the public school lads pressed their social so-called betters back, step by step, until they made their final stand on the public square itself.


One o'clock, then two o'clock passed, with even the teachers as well as parents watching with smiles that almost seemed to indicate approval.


By three o'clock, the lack of lunch, the presence of ice fragments within the snowy spheres, and general weariness began to slow down everyone. Suddenly, as if by a prearranged plan, a number of parents and pastors emerged from behind the broader tree trunks nearby, and declared "a truce." The occasional bloody cheek or brow bore witness to the prudence of this enforced diplomacy.


Four hours of snowball warfare may have seemed too short to some, but it was as long as such an epic could unfurl, for a crowd of twelve year olds who really needed to get home and help get ready for supper.



[This tale of the greatest snowball fight the village may have ever seen is from Dr. Horace Bushnell's "History of Granville, Ohio," while the keystone from the school can be seen in the Granville Historical Society museum.]