Friday, January 21, 2011

Knapsack 1-27

Twelve Years Old In Granville -- Granville Sentinel 1-27-11

[This is one of a series of stories I'm offering over the next few
months, telling stories based on historic details from the viewpoint
of a twelve year old in that time and place. I hope they promote
some reading out loud, a little sharing of family stories, and maybe
even a bit more digging into history by children & their parents.]

About 2000 Years Ago

This was the first year he had been allowed to come to the men's camp
where the special, sacred blades were made.

When his father had solemnly affirmed that twelve laps of the sun
across the eastern horizon had passed since his birth, the other men
of their village had gathered around to place their hands on his head
and shoulders, and sung their song over him.

When they came to the special spot, men of the other families
connected to this valley were already present, bending the sapling
poles and weaving the mats to set up the workshop.

It was the young boy's first time here, rather than further up into
the hills where the women and small children stayed during the
regular trip back to the ceremonial grounds. Almost exactly halfway
between the watercourse to their south, and the sudden lift of the
hills to the north, they had been coming to this place before his
father's and his father's father's days.

In a few more years, he might join the parties that traveled west,
beyond the wide river there, across three more great streams, and
almost to the Great River to which all of these waters ran. There
they would find the source of the smooth, grey, milky flint from
which they carefully shaped the bladelets for this place of preparation.

Likewise, if the years were good to him, he might find himself
walking just a short distance to the east, through the squeeze where
the creek bent around the bluff that reached the closest into their
valley, and so into the open land where the great shapes were laid out.

Father had explained how the wisdom of the sun's motions, and the
mysteries of the moon's both shorter and longer cycles, was
considered and consulted through these enclosures, and the healers
and singers who had their own set locations in the arrangement. The
boy understood little of it, for now, but knew as he sat through the
nights listening to the singers of his own clan, more would be made
clear, just as your eyes adjusted to see easily on a full moon night
even after a bright sunny day.

Today's clear weather helped him as he picked carefully at the dirt,
gathering up all the debris from the making of the bladelets from the
distant flint source, and laying it on a deerhide which would then be
taken to the trash pit nearby. These fragments could cut your feet,
but would never be simply cast aside as some of their local flint
would be back at the hunting and cooking camp.

So much to learn, but so many to teach him; not only his father, but
uncles and uncles unknown who came to greet them as family, here in
the preparation camp.

What would the next week be like, here in this place with so many
memories for all of his family, men and women, adults and children
alike? He did not know, but he was sure it would be wonderful.

With the discarded flint flakes all in a tidy heap, old single edged
bits, a few broken spear points and a worn down spokeshave, he
carried it all over to what he knew now was the proper spot, and did
his part with a prayer in his heart.

From the earth it came, and to the earth, returned as a blessing.

[Near Cherry Valley Road, south of Newark-Granville Road, a series of
archaeological sites revealed concentrations of Wyandotte chert, a
flint from southern Indiana used in the Hopewell period of Native
American earthwork building. Little is known for certain about the
material's significance to the users, or its use.]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Faith Works 1-22-11
Jeff Gill

Dialogue, By Any Other Name, Would Sound As Sweet

Back in seminary, studying for my preparation for ministry, one of my mentors and professors then is now “general secretary” of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (, aka the National Council of Churches, or plain old NCC.

Then and now Michael was interested in ecumenism, the field of building bridges and connections between various Christian denominations – a subject related to, but different from interfaith discussions, which would be between Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.

In constructing ecumenical dialogues, Michael taught and preached over and over something that has always stuck with me (and hope it’s what he wanted to stick with us): when you are truly trying to maintain dialogue, you engage with the best of the tradition you are addressing. If you are focusing on weak spots, as you perceive them; if your discussions tend to always gravitate quickly to the areas where you find their doctrine or structures or practices to be deficient, you’re not having a dialogue, you’re trying to win a debate. And the response, on both sides, will be to retreat into the mutual fortresses of apologetics.

This is not the same as saying you never talk about the tough stuff, or that you can’t disagree with a dialogue partner; what happens, though, when you look for the strengths of the other side’s position, and open by discussing what you value and why of their own way, it does two things.

First, it creates no little pressure for the responding party (even if they were ready to rip into your flaws) to do the same, and secondly the most worthwhile part of the discussion comes from your own (on each side) reflection on the often unique way the dialogue partner has honored who you are. Very often, in these sorts of discussion, the reaction is “we never thought about our own approach in that way: wow!” (Or a more distinguished phrasing of “wow!”)

I had the chance recently to preach for a congregation whose denominational practice is infant baptism, and I spoke about what is valuable, from my viewpoint, about the primacy of God’s role and proper subordination of the role of our “choice” in baptism as a means of grace, both in remembering your own baptismal status, and how that informs your witnessing of baptisms in worship again and again through your life – and I made it clear I come from and still affirm what’s called a “believer’s baptism” practice of my own Christian tradition, where a decision for Christ, confession of faith, and full immersion are the norm.

It was fascinating to hear from folks, after the sermon, who said they had not considered the significance of their own baptism as God’s gracious act more than something our choice, or our parents’ choice, did for us in our lives. They had heard those words, but knowing that they were hearing this appreciation from someone who, as a pastor, could ruefully note that “believer’s baptism” can turn into works-righteousness if we’re not careful: that made aspects of their baptismal practices jump out into sharper and clearer contrast.

Mind you, I still don’t choose to do infant baptisms (traditions like mine do baby dedications, and then what many churches call confirmation becomes a baptismal preparation or “pastor’s class”); in the same manner, I prefer weekly communion, while respecting how some churches make a very special worship experience out of less frequent reception of the bread and wine; likewise, I’m not ready to see myself under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, Archbishop of Canterbury, or any other local person with a funny hat, yet I am all too aware of how chaotic and counterproductive a purely congregational approach to ministry & evangelism can be. And so one.

There’s something about Dr. Kinnamon’s call to engage with the best of a tradition that you are standing against that is very effective, and not just for a rhetorical version of “cheap grace” and easy, inoffensive agreement. I could throw out cheap shots about baptizing anyone and everyone including the village cat, misbehaving cardinals from the Inquisition to the internet, or run down denominational structures both hither AND yon.

Which just begs those parties to snarl and start dissecting my own numerous sins and trespasses.

Will we find a new culture of civility? Standing before the Great White Throne, alongside the glassy sea, near the river shaded by trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations – we’ll find it there, I’m sure. Short of the Kingdom of God, I’m not so certain. If we do find some islands of civil discourse, I think they’ll start with an approach very like a healthy ecumenical discussion, where we begin not with where our distinguished colleague is an idiot or a Nazi or a (insert party label here), but with an opening consideration of the areas where we think our good friend and dialogue partner, who is sadly if mildly mistaken on a number of subjects, has made some excellent points.

Come, let us reason together.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s won a few debates that he might have done well to lose. Make your points to him at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.