Saturday, December 25, 2010

Knapsack 12-30

Notes From My Knapsack 12-30-10

Jeff Gill

Putting the Genie Back In the Bottle


Where should I begin?

The usual place is at the beginning, I know, but even that starting
point has a number of candidates.

Symbolically, they all loop through a little Christmas tree ornament
that for twenty years has been the one ornament that never gets put
away, and is sitting right now in our kitchen window.

It's from a series of "matchbox" ornaments that reveal a miniature
scene when you slide them open. The scene is of a couple sitting in a
booth at a diner, holding hands.

My wife and I had driven through Granville a time or two before the
Christmas walking tour in 1989, but that was about it. We came over
from where we'd just moved into apartments on the west end of Newark
a couple months before, walked around the four corners' churches,
watched the snow fall on the luminaries, and ended the evening with
yum yums at Aladdin's Diner, holding hands about like that little
ornament I saw the following week.

By a long and winding road, as Mr. Lennon & Mr. McCartney would say,
we live here now. I walked along these last two years with our son,
setting out and lighting and then taking in the luminaries that give
the candlelight walking tour its name, in between eating home cut
fries with grilled cheese at Aladdin's, pickles on the side.

When we sat there first, we hoped, we dreamed, we prayed that we
might yet have a child; we spoke of many things. Some of them have
come about, a few have had to be set aside, and others turned out
differently but in the very best possible way.

Dreams, hopes, prayers, wishes – in today's world, a genie,
especially a genie cutout in plywood with peeling paint, has little
enough to do with such plans and intentions. Health inspections and
nutritional recommendations and food pyramids (or dodecahedrons or
whatever they are now) have not been kind to diners in general.

I know that there are those who have had their magical family moments
at inns and pubs and other hostelries in the area – and we have our
list for those spots, as well – but for this family, at least,
there's a special alchemy, a particular vibe that only goes with a
diner. And that we got from Don and the crew in this particular
diner, the one we're about to lose tomorrow, with the end of 2010.

Perhaps the genie will do a phoenix, and rise from the ashes, or the
grease trap. There's more than just this couple, now with a charming
child, who want the kind of atmosphere that only a diner can provide,
and I hope we number enough to make up a market niche.

However the last few years have wearily worn down on the old
Aladdin's, there's a brightness to the memories my wife and I have
focused there. We may have to abstractly polish them just as
memories, and store them in a matchbox on the kitchen windowsill, and
wait for the Fourth of July to get our fresh cut French fries. I know
that I could do with a break from country omelets, at least for a
little while.

Whatever establishment takes up the spot on the north side of
Broadway where, for a little while longer, the genie still hovers
benignly, I just want to say thank you for every server and cook, for
Don and his mom, for the days and nights and in-between seasonal
moments when Aladdin's was the only place to go.

Last winter my son and a couple friends spent a frigid afternoon
sledding off the front of Bryn Du. When it was time to thaw them out
and take them home, the road there had to go the long way, through
Aladdin's for hot chocolate and grilled cheese and fries.

I will never forget those fries, and those booths, and the
conversations that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime within
them, and had an import far beyond ringing up the tab and leaving our

We probably never quite left enough of a tip, but I hope this helps.
Good night, Aladdin's.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around
central Ohio; he ate far too often and not often enough at Aladdin's
Diner. Send him restaurant recommendations at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Faith Works 1-01

Faith Works 1-01-11

Jeff Gill


Out of Egypt, Up From the Depths




One of the quirks of the Christmas story that's often overlooked is the immediate aftermath.


There's the well known if rarely retold "massacre of the innocents," instigated by the great villain Herod, quisling Jewish leader on behalf of the Roman Empire. He fears the loss of his position, and craftily getting a sense of the story from the "wise men from the East" as told in Matthew 2, he quickly moves to forestall any member of the legitimate royal house of Judah from gathering a following, ordering a general slaughter of all the boy children under two. That age range hints at the idea these "magi" came along in the wake of the birth in Bethlehem, perhaps months or even years later, not on the heels of the shepherds as our manger scenes tend to show.


That part of the story is known, but more intentionally edited out than overlooked; how do you include that in a children's pageant?


What is clearly described in the story, but rarely touched on other than as a closing aside, is that to escape the clutches of Herod's minions, Joseph and Mary take their little baby boy child and flee into Egypt.


Some argue that this is a fabrication of Matthew's own agenda, with an interest in cobbling together proofs of Jesus' messiahship by creating from whole cloth neatly fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, such as where Hosea says in chapter 11 "Out of Egypt have I called my son."


You could convene a series of academic conferences just on Hosea 11 and whether or not we're talking about a reference to the people Israel coming out of Egypt (see the Book of DeMille, chapter "Ten"), or if this is meant as a foretelling prophecy about the messiah to come.


What is really not much of a stretch, though, is that in the era when Jesus and Mary and Joseph lived, there was a great deal of traffic between Egypt and Israel. The Elephantine papyri, the Gospel of Mark itself, and many other specific textual and archaeological proofs show that Jewish people were a large and vital community in Egypt in general and Alexandria in particular.


People went back and forth across a challenging, but not impossible caravan route, especially those in skilled trades, and that would surely describe Joseph, a "tekton" or highly skilled worker in wood – carpenter doesn't quite translate the word in Greek, which tells us Joseph was no casual chopper of cedar.


But what's the point? Why do we even care? Well, there's that prophecy in Hosea that a trip to Egypt will check the box for, but more to the point, it tells us something about Jesus' background and experience of the world.


Jesus spends an important part of his childhood across the Nile, and later in his adult ministry he is at ease going north of the border into Syro-Phonecia, modern day Lebanon. For an average Galilean, it's like saying about an otherwise everyday Ohioan "she's been to Mexico and Canada!" A Frenchman might sniff at said Buckeye's knowledge of the world, but for any of us hereabouts, we'd know that this is a person who's at least left Licking County and seen a little more than just German Village or Napoleon, Ohio.


"Out of Egypt have I called my son," says the prophecy, reminding Israel that the one who is the sign of God-for-us, Emmanuel, may come from a place where we're used to assuming otherness, even enmity. It's like Woody Hayes leaving behind a letter telling us "My future chosen QB will come from the State-Up-North."


From the heights of Mount Zion, the metaphoric peak of Jerusalem itself, you go down, down to the Dead Sea, down to the Jordan, but also down to the Negev desert, down into the Sinai wilderness, even further down to the depths of the Nile Valley itself. From the banks of the great river through the pagan, polytheistic, perilous provinces of Egypt, there's nowhere to go but up, and to the pinnacle of worship and promise is where God is wanting to lead us.


Every step of the way, from the depths of down-ness all the way up to the top of Zion, to Calvary, God sends someone who knows the path, all the way from the bottom to the top. In that sense, it only makes sense for Jesus to get his start in Egypt, and work his way back up. It's a necessary part of his whole life story.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your trips up out of the depths at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Faith Works 12-25

Faith Works 12-25-10

Jeff Gill


No One Is Ever Really Ready For a Baby




There are books and videos and websites, all telling expectant parents what to expect, how to prepare, and the stuff you need when a baby is on the way.


Plenty of advice and counsel and even some cultural assumptions (color of nursery, having mother come stay with her daughter and new grandchild, rituals at the door), but in the end, it comes down to this: they send you home with the kid, and you think to yourself "I have no idea what I'm doing."


This may be a guy thing, but I've talked to enough women about their first day home experiences to know it's pretty common for mothers themselves – although men may find it easier to forget about what's about to happen than does the expectant mother.


For me and my wife, we were both a little later-in-life parents, and with a fair amount of experience with other people's kids, plus I'm an oldest of four, so we felt pretty prepared. Even prepared for the feeling "Whoa, this is happening now" before it happened, thinking of it akin to the first day on a new job or sliding down your first solo rappel rope.


What we hadn't considered was, of course, what happened. There were a few complications, and my wife had to go back into the hospital . . . and I had to go home with the baby. Alone. Well, he was there, but you know.


It wasn't the stuff you had to do that was daunting: strapping into the car seat, feeding the bottle of breast milk to him, bathing, diapering, diapering, putting him down to sleep, diapering, and so on. That was familiar from my own siblings and other experience, and it wasn't the very first day, anyhow. (Did I mention diapering?)


The frightening part was when there was nothing that needed to be done. Thought one: I'm forgetting something that should happen next. Check, check, diaper check, no. Thought two: is the baby still breathing? If you've never had children, you have no idea how much time a parent spends at first checking that simple fact. The absolute unreality of a new life, where there were just kicks and ultrasound pictures before, and then the amazing rugged fragility of a baby – you just can't quite comprehend it all, and you respond by checking to see if it's still breathing. Often. (And the diaper.)


I got through those days just fine, but never without a vague sense of unease when the tasks were done, and the child was sleeping. Because the next thought, after breathing and diapering, was "What next?"


My vision of the next few decades ahead, and even beyond my own appointed span on the earth, had a different focus. A little bit longer view to the horizon, a tiny bit sharper in some places, and surely a wider field of vision. It takes some getting used to, and I'm not entirely there yet. It only took me four months to get used to bifocals, but having a baby is an orientation changer that keeps you squinting.


Christmas is a celebration about a baby being born; born then, and born now, "in your heart" as the pious phrase has it. If that doesn't work for you, think of it this way: for Christians, the birth of that Bethlehem baby changes our view of everything as far as the eye can see. We can't look at anything in our world the same way after that baby came into it.


In a sense, that's true, or should be, about any baby, though we tend to only really feel it when the baby is "our own." The infant Jesus is a baby for all of us, and he's offered into our arms, our care, our lives . . . our hearts, if you will.


Take him to yourself, and then look up, and look out. What do you see?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your childlike wonder at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.