Thursday, March 22, 2012

Knapsack 3-29

Notes From My Knapsack 3-29-12

Jeff Gill


Easter blossoms and bitter herbs



Passover meals always have bitter herbs along with the sweets and salt; good quilts need the dark colors arranged to help the bright squares pop.


Visual art pays close attention to negative space, and any musician or actor knows that silences are a crucial part of what we listen to, and how everyone hears.


Even if John Cage took that idea about 4'33" too far for some of us.


Easter needs Good Friday. No crown without the cross, goes one old saying, and if you try to leap from Palm Sunday's kingly procession to the glory of the resurrection a week later, you're likely to fall hard into the valley of the shadow of death.


As Winston Churchill liked to point out, the 23rd Psalm says "though I walk *through* the valley . . ." not "as I stop and sit a spell in the valley."


So we make our way from the rented rooms and furtive, yet fraught with significance meal, a scurry through the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane to a betrayal, and an imprisonment, a scourging, a crucifixion.


You've seen the movie.


Maybe you don't want the whole Technicolor visual, but if you don't "go there" in some way, you'll lose the contrast that helps make sense of the raucous, gleeful, incredulous joy of Easter Sunday. At Centenary UMC, we're going to try to wrap up the Maundy Thursday service next week, for those who are game, with a footwashing.


John's Gospel skims the communion story of that Holy Week Thursday, the usual heart of why Christian churches do a Thursday night service, and tells a story his predecessors skip past themselves: Jesus gets down on his knees, wraps a towel around his waist or neck, and washes people's feet.


This, in a society where that was not only a social no-no, but where many wore no shoes, most who did had but sandals, and the streets were filled with camel droppings. Foot washing was a real humiliation.


We just have to warn the women who want to participate not to wear hose. Do women still wear hose? We'll warn 'em anyhow, just in case.


For all the cultural distance, there's something strikingly counter-cultural in 2012 to wash someone's feet. It's a situation and position whose essential humility can still be felt, and it's hard to lord it over someone while you're holding onto their foot while sitting on the floor.


So towards the end of the 7:30 pm service, as the sanctuary lights darken with the reading of what is to come, and under our willful forgetting of what will be brightly unveiled, just beyond that night on the coming Sunday morn: some will choose to leave through a side door, and sit in a circle in Shepherd Hall, and take off their shoes.


That's what Moses had to do first, too. Barefoot on the soil, the humus, humility, on holy ground; standing to look into the depths of the darkest night, before the coming dawn, waiting for a place of promise to be revealed.


May this spring fulfill some hoped for promises in your life!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he wears size 14.5s, so you don't want to have to wash his feet, it will take longer. Tell your spring story to him at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Faith Works 3-24

Faith Works 3-24-12

Jeff Gill


Let the Games begin



As someone already said on Twitter, "It's beautiful outside, so let's all go indoors, sit in darkened rooms, and watch children kill each other."


For the three or four of you who haven't had the pleasure, I'm giving you the major plot device of a book and now, this weekend, a movie called "The Hunger Games." These "games" are a bread and circuses sort of gladiator ritual in a dystopian future USA called "Panem" (and all the one-time Latin students nodded their heads sagely).


Panem has a Capitol which is the Roma Eterna of this nation, the pagan heart of the culture where simple folk living close to the land are in "districts" of which there are 12, though rumors of a 13th will crop up in the books to come (there are three in total). The Capitol has all the money, all the power, all the fun, and apparently neither taste nor morality. To make their authority absolute, every year there's a drawing (Shirley Jackson, call your agent) and two teenagers from each district are picked as "tributes," to compete in a . . . yes, that's right, a battle to the death. Think Survivor, but no walk out of tribal council with an extinguished torch. Your lights get put out, and by one of your peers. Permanently.


If you're not exactly thinking "oh joy" at this bullseye shot into the heart of the young adult publishing marketplace, I have little comfort for you, except the observation that there are no vampires involved. Or 104 year old guys who look like teenagers wooing and winning a sixteen year old girl. That's the story arc of the "Twilight" series, after all.


Do we live in a world where teenagers kill each other, whether on mean streets close to home, or in isolated battlefields under jungle canopies far away? Yes, horribly so. Is it good for young people to get a message about the potential evils of absolute power, and the need to hold onto your core values even under severe stress? Certainly. Does "The Hunger Games" communicate these concerns effectively? My definite answer is: maybe.


In a vacuum, the answer would be "no." These stories don't stand on their own; their internal inconsistencies and implausibilities make the "Star Wars" saga look like documentary filmmaking. But for their teen audience, and for most of us adults uneasily looking in over their shoulders, we know they aren't intended to stand on their own. These narratives are islands of their own reality, surrounded by the ocean of everyday experience, just like any allegory or parable.


You can make the case all too well that middle and high school feels like "The Arena," just that the backstabbing is literal. When young people see characters like Katniss still trying to figure out who she is inside, but having to work out a persona at the same time to make the right impression on those around her, they feel very, very close to her. You can tell kids (and their parents) that acceptance and achievement in school isn't a life or death battle, but they might not believe you.


This is why parables are so effective: they echo reality, and intensify it, even as they allow you to try it on or set it aside. You can listen and choose to step inside, or not, but if the storyteller is compelling enough to get you to enter into the story of your own volition, the impact is so much stronger than any amount of instructive preaching.


So what is "The Hunger Games" a parable of? The jury is still out. Many note that you have to look at the trilogy it begins as a whole, but I will hint that the end of the first story and the grim games is not with just the one traditional survivor, and there is not, as Walter Wink would warn against, "a myth of the redemptive blow" so common in Western visual arts, where a justified punch in a villan's face or bullet in a bad guy's heart changes everything for the better. There is sacrifice, early and late, and of course there is the power of love.


So my son will go see the movie, and we will have some long conversations about it when he comes home. It's a starting place. For us adults, may I recommend coming next Wednesday over to the Bryn Du Mansion at 7:00 pm to watch "A Canterbury Tale" from 1944, filmed in wartime Canterbury starring a onetime Granville resident who passed away just last year, John Sweet. He played himself, a young man caught up in a war beyond his comprehension.


Sound familiar?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he really, really loves "A Canterbury Tale." Tell him your movie obsessions at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.