Thursday, June 21, 2012

Faith Works 6-23

Faith Works 6-23-12

Jeff Gill


Repetition, again and again




Last weekend I ended up, by an odd and delightful chain of coincidences, standing and talking for a while with Matt Romney.


He's got a father who's been in the news and in the Newark area recently, and is a father himself.


You might or might not be surprised to know he wasn't entirely thrilled about the idea of dad running for public office again, because at 39 he's been through this before, and knows the hard work that is a modern political campaign, air conditioned buses or not.


"So how do you end up enjoying this?" I asked, not telling him I wrote a weekly column on faith and life, but not really thinking about the column, truly.


His answer, which I can't quote precisely, so I won't pretend to put it in quotes, was that in each place, he looks around and tries to find what's unique, what's particularly characteristic, of the place and the people, and reflect on what that special quality has to teach him.


This may not sound like much, and it beats doing dishes or raking dross off a blast furnace ladle in the mill, but it's a skill, a practice (I would argue) that few have mastered. For most of us, riding a bus from stop to stop, scanning a script that doesn't change much, stepping out into a space between barricades lined with sunglassed dark suited men talking into their sleeves, and shaking a few hundred hands before getting on the bus and . . . yes, doing it again, and again, and again: it gets old. You get pro forma and ritual and mechanical, and your face starts to get stiff and the answers canned, tasting of tin when they come out.


To look out at a crowd, look around a courthouse square (which often looks remarkably similar from town to town, let's be honest), and scan the faces and the platform, and find what's new, what's worth absorbing and reflecting upon: it's an almost spiritual act. Matt said that the more he did this – looked for the particular and the special – the more he found it, and enjoyed it. And I think that enjoyment showed.


My own son, on that Father's Day, got up to do something he'd done many times before, leading a group in the Pledge of Allegiance. It's a familiar act, but one that can be dangerous in how familiar it is until something unusual happens, and then you suddenly can't even think of the words.


The Lad hit his cue and his mark, ready to speak clearly and directly into the microphone, an object which also holds no terrors for him, but there was a glitch. The plan was that the color guard would be to one side, and he was ready to turn as the crowd joined in, but due to a quirk of the staging, the flags ended up directly behind him.


He handled the awkward pivot like a pro, starting to the front, spinning right around as it went on, and at the close shook hands with the mayor like he'd been doing this all his life, and calmly strode off stage.


This is the same young man who, earlier in the week, had said to me with horror after the first day at Cub Scout Day Camp as part of the Scout staff: "I have to do the same thing every hour, exactly the same, over and over!"


"Yes, and . . .?" Dad responded unsympathetically. But we talked about this, and the fact that much of life is repetitive, and there's just not much you can do to change that. Doing dishes, taking out the trash, shopping at the grocery, folding the laundry, filing papers, clearing the supply shelves, sweeping the shop floor . . .


What you CAN change is . . . you. Your approach, your understanding, your awareness. Why are you reacting negatively to a new chance to do something worthwhile for or with a different group of people? "But it's the same thing!"


Actually, it isn't. And every courthouse square across America is uniquely itself, and even two identical buses apparently (so I'm told) have switches in different places, and when I really think about it, each time I pray the Lord's Prayer, it's different. A different day, different circumstances, changed inflections, new people standing nearby saying it with a slightly different emphasis.


Could repetition, as much as variety, be the spice of life? Do our beliefs about the world and what it means help us see value and specialness where the world-as-it-is sees sameness and monotony?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him a story, even a twice-told tale, at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My note to FCC-Valpo for this weekend

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 175th Anniversary
Valparaiso, Indiana

"Good to be done more abundantly"

To look at our history as a congregation, I'd like to start somewhere about in the middle, just to keep us thinking about history as something more than just a series of dates and an orderly sequence of events. Life rarely feels like an orderly sequence of events when you live it, and it's the life of this congregation I'd like to help celebrate this summer more than our history. 

In "The Life of A.B. Maston," published just two years after his death at 54 in the year 1907, there is the following note about 1878:

"Valparaiso has, besides the City College, a flourishing Normal School, said to be the largest in the United States. Has about 1,200 pupils. The school is under the superintendence of Prof. H. B. Brown, a member of the Christian Church. While in Valparaiso, we visited the Normal School during chapel service, where we met over 600 pupils, who observed the most marked order during the services . . . We met Bro. A. B. Maston, a young man of fine natural abilities and good attainments, who will finish his course in the Normal School this year. Bro. Maston expects to enter upon the work of the ministry in full. A congregation wishing the services of a young man would do well to call him."

In fact, he ended up called not so much to a congregation as to a continent, and became one of Australia and New Zealand's foremost evangelists. You can read more about him at:

"People's minds in this county are taken up with the truth, and are searching the Scriptures to see if the things of which we speak are so." So said the article in Alexander Campbell's "Millenial Harbinger" about what was going on in Porter County, Indiana, at the county seat of Valparaiso, on June 22, 1837.

The August 1837 issue went on to state "there is great prospect for good to be done more abundantly."

Campbell himself never came to Valparaiso, but he did dedicate the Christian Church in Wooster, Ohio, from which came Elias & Phoebe Axe. The Axe family name is still remembered with honor at First Christian Church in Wooster, and Elias & Phoebe of that clan came to northern Indiana not long after, with "the principles of Restoration" still fresh in their hearts. Those were central to the establishment of this new congregation, and the Axes carried into this body of believers the outlines of what they had learned from Campbell and the early Disciples' preachers.

What they began shifted about in a variety of locations close to downtown Valparaiso, and most recently has found a home on Glendale Boulevard, but is centered now as then on the communion table. A table to which all are invited, but away from which some carry a calling, a commission to go out and tell others about this open banquet of God's grace. Or as Sri Lankan theologian D.T. Niles said, "Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread."

Bread has been found, and good has been done abundantly, at First Christian Valpo. My own memories of this congregation don't go back 175 years, they go two thousand, and more. When I think of First Christian, I think of home baked bread, bing cherry jello salad and deviled eggs on the long pitch-in tables just inside the kitchen doors off of Fellowship Hall, and we kids playing (during programs for adults) up in the coat room, where the brick foundations of the high tower above sloped inwards, brick by brick, like an Egyptian temple. It felt ancient and mysterious and downright Biblical.

We ran haunted houses through that mysterious room, hid from junior choir directors in there, tied knots during Troop 7 meetings around the heavy pipe racks, and even occasionally hung coats from hangers in there.

Our history, at least by way of the Bible, goes back at least to Exodus and watching "The Ten Commandments" in a Sunday school classroom, and as a small child I thought of Rev. Percy Thomas as a patriarch from the prophetic books; Rev. Tom Alston talked about working in the pickle factory when he was young like the Hebrews spoke of making bricks without straw. The historic and the contemporary were casually entwined for me in growing up as part of a church family.

I think of Christmas baskets delivered, with bread and more, to home bound members, and others whose names had come to the attention of the elders, and then a pageant in the sanctuary when the brightly colored windows were dark; it was the crowns of the wise men, looking *exactly* like those worn at the stable in Bethlehem, that cast flashes of light and hue across the polished wooden pews with the glitter of their marvelous fake jewels and carefully wrapped foil. Their brocaded robes and gently cradled gifts were messages directly to me from across the ages and the pages of the gospels, promises of God having even more to say when I learned how to hear.

Nowhere did God's voice seem clearer than at communion, if only with the words across the front of the table: "This Do In Remembrance of Me." There is a promise of bread in the grain framing the grapes in the Benham Room windows under the balcony at the back of the church, those elements of communion being the only actual images shown in the geometry of the stained glass, other than the Holy Bible perched atop the south wall. Communion was real, and nothing made it more real than the Sundays when you knew, looking at the nested tower of communion ware, that the elements were there because you and your family had put them there, either that morning or the evening before. Bread, in the form of small rectangles of inedible off-white something, was always carefully poured out into the smaller plates as we filled the larger cup holders with small glasses of grape juice right out to the edges.

Sharon Watkins, our current Disciples' General Minister and President, and former neighbor minister down the road at Boone Grove, likes to tell a story about something she learned from a neuroscientist. "Where is the edge of your brain?" she asks. It turns out that it isn't a horizon in your skull, but your brain extends through your nervous system, and in fact the edges of it extend to your outstretched fingertips.

"Where is the edge of the church?" Dr. Watkins continues. For First Christian Valpo, it turns out that our fingertips, our extensions of contact and touch and feeling reach as far as Australia & New Zealand; to Bethany, West Virginia by way of Wooster, Ohio; and an odd assortment of other places we've gotten our fingers into. Our Timothys and Eunices are in congregations around the United States, and our influence extends even into other denominations . . . but if you grew up at First Christian, you still look to the Table for your focus, for your center, for a place where you can count on being welcome.

And we carry forth our welcome, our invitation to God's table, into homeless shelters and jail ministries, through regional & general assemblies to our fellow Disciples, as part of food pantries and Mother's Days Out; at World Jamborees of the Scouting Movement, with retirees to the Rio Grande Valley and the Smoky Mountains, among Civil War re-enactors and pilots and police officers and nurses and college professors and steelworkers.

As one of First Christian's Timothys, I have an ordination certificate on my office wall with signatures on it like Irene Roeder, C.D. Clover, William Eckert, and Ronald Gill. My service of ordination was almost but not quite at 7 Chicago Street, since by August of 1989 the building had been condemned, but not yet brought down . . . so our worship was in a large tent in the west yard across the alley. We had more Scout uniforms than robes, and folding chairs instead of pews, and canvas in place of stained glass, but it was still First Christian Valpo in worship: because the Good News was proclaimed, and the Table was shared. Everyone was invited, and we ate and drank and gave thanks. Then, we left.

To share the bread, we have to break the loaf, and distribute the pieces. You can't have your cake and eat it, too; you also can't just set a lovely loaf up on a shelf and expect it to just sit there. It's meant to be broken, and eaten. And then it finds new life in we who partake. When we worship, it continues in a new way after the benediction, as the body that has been gathered, and formed, is dispersed. Are we still a church then? Yes. Just as a loaf of bread has meaning even after – maybe especially after – every scrap of it has been eagerly eaten by hungry people.

Then, that loaf of bread is at work in and through those who ate it, who are thereby empowered to go out and do what needs to be done. Maybe even doing some good more abundantly. That's what our history at First Christian Valpo is about: we know where bread, the Bread of Life, can be found, and we want to share it, and we want to make use of what that Bread does in us, "for good to be done more abundantly."

In grace and peace,
Rev. Jeff Gill
Granville, OH

Newark Central 6-27-12

Newark Central – Notes From My Knapsack 6-27-12

Travel and vacation time is all around us, and we see seats around us on Sunday fill and empty from week to week, with it hard to tell sometimes who's home and who's away.
It's an interesting pastoral challenge, because the elders don't want to assume someone's on vacation when they may be ill, and we can't imagine that every summertime absence is due to health or other problems because usually they aren't: so we have to keep our ears so close to the ground grass grows out the other side!
And then some of us are gone; your friendly neighborhood preaching & teaching elder (that's me) is off to Zion National Park for some canyon rambles and scrambles with my wife and son, and other elders have already been to Florida and even further abroad. Add in some family weddings and reunions and such, and you really do need a program for the Sunday service, even if we don't have big numbers on our backs . . . speaking of a summer trip we need to take to go see the Clippers . . .
Next week begins our alternating week schedule for the newsletter. Since Wednesday is July the Fourth, that's an obvious week to leave "blank." The following week, our office "elder," Lisa, needs to be with family and a sister-in-law who just had brain surgery, so we will be working ahead, she and I, to have the newsletter ready, but the office staffing will be a friendly assortment of fellow parishioners from July 9th to the 13th, with hours trimmed to 8:00 am to Noon.
And as you can tell from the rolling "Month of Sundays" preview article in our newsletter, we will have old friends Bob Boyte on July 8th preaching, and Ken Coy July 15th, with Mark Katrick at St. John's UCC here in town available for pastoral emergencies. God and the airlines willing, I'll be back July 16th as will Lisa!
Then we have the summer special treat of an outdoor service at the Cedar St. Lodge for the 10:30 worship on July 22nd, with our Vacation Bible School picking up that evening and rolling through Thursday night (see elsewhere in this newsletter).
So keep in touch, and come back with stories of how you saw Jesus out on the road, because he likes to show up out there in unexpected encounters!
In grace & peace, Pastor Jeff
p.s. – Route 66, our Wednesday Bible study at 6:00 pm, is on break for the month of July; we're on the road again in August!


Newark Central 6-20-12

Newark Central – Notes From My Knapsack 6-20-12


Wednesday nights we're having a great trip at 6:00 pm down "Route 66," a long summer ramble through the Bible without a particular plan or itinerary, just the road before us, and plenty of places and markers to stop and see along the red line across the map.


We've begun at Acts, chapter one, and we're not making time because Route 66 is no interstate freeway express: three weeks in and we haven't finished the third verse. Truth be told, we'll probably take a July vacation from this journey, what with the Fourth of July coming on a Wednesday, and conflicts two of the next three. But August, we'll put down the top and cruise back out onto the road, and maybe even make it into chapter two!


There've been a few small changes this summer, like moving the study from 6:30 to 6:00 pm, or switching the hymn and prayer at the opening of the Sunday service. A few people have asked, and not in a negative way "do you have other changes in mind for the Sunday morning service?"


Actually, for an answer, I want to reach back, waaay back. Back to about 160 AD, and the earliest description of Christian worship we have for the early church. Justin Martyr's writings were also referred to by Alexander Campbell in the founding years of our fellowship, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), when people asked him how worship services should go.


"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead."
Sounds to me that we're on the right track!
In grace & peace, Pastor Jeff