Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Faith Works 5-18

Faith Works 5-18-13

Jeff Gill


Winds of change, flames of celebration



Happy Pentecost!


We Christians occasionally note that the prevailing culture likes to snap up religious holidays and turn them into occasions for merchandizing. Which it does, because that's what our culture does.


In a capitalistic market economy, opportunities to make money will be seized by someone, and if there's a better way to find a profit, competition will either push the prices down or make the product more widely available . . . which is how you get mountains of junk shipped here from Shanghai every November for Christmas presents at every possible price point and color combination.


Even Easter, with evocations of Spring and hints of fertility across the landscape, gets everyone of whatever faith tradition the chance to buy pastel candy eggs and brightly colored new clothes.


So it might be a good sign, from a religious leader point of view, that no one has figured out how to make a buck off of Pentecost.


Fifty days after Easter, hence "pente" like pentagon, but with the ending for "times ten," Pentecost is described in the New Testament book called "The Acts of the Apostles," or just "Acts," in the second chapter.


It marks the descent, or "pouring out" of God as Holy Spirit on the gathered community of believers, praying together in the upper room where they had last been with Jesus less than eight weeks before. They were united in a spiritual experience that both spoke to each of them individually, and bound them to one other in an ecstatic awareness of the divine presence that filled them and overflowed them so much that . . .


Well, the stated initial reaction was "Yo, Peter, a little early in the morning for hitting on the cheap wine!" (You can look it up. Acts 2, remember.) They were happy, and joyful, and singing, and shouting, and apparently the neighborhood reaction wasn't entirely out of line, and Peter was very understanding.


He explained (yep, still in Acts 2) that they weren't drunk, but filled with enthusiasm over what God has done, and is doing – en-theos, literally enthusiastic because they had God, "theos," in them, "en-" and around and with them. And the listeners were invited to join in with the celebration.


So it's also called the "birthday of the church." Some congregations will even have cake, or a lunch followed by cake (that's how my church is celebrating, because that's how we roll).


It's a little surprising, actually. Folks could sell church birthday cards, or special cake toppers, or just party hats that look like little flames on top (sound odd? Read Acts 2), and the list goes on.


But what neither we within the church nor the world around us has managed to do is to make this spiritual celebration too tangible. There's just not much stuff you can attach, and market, and sell, when the focal point is spiritual intensity. The only real connection you could make to the event to be commemorated is through a gathering, around 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning as they did that day in Jerusalem, where people get together from a wide variety of backgrounds, earnestly seek the presence of God in their lives, and then sing or even shout for joy when that presence is felt.


And that marketing angle is already pretty well covered. Drop by any congregation you like and see how they sell it: they may even have cake, with candles.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your celebrations of God's presence at knapsack77@gmail.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Knapsack 5-16

Notes from my Knapsack 5-16-13

Jeff Gill


First, you have to escape yourself




Beneath the news that's so horrified and transfixed us out of Cleveland, there's a question that keeps popping up.


Why didn't those three women try to escape?


In fact, it appears that they did try, and that their captor is said to have been quite adept at mixing physical restraints on the doors (multiple locks, boarded windows) and on their persons (ropes and chains) with psychological manipulation. It even looks like his decision to let one woman have a child six years ago might have been to give him even more leverage over his tragic, twisted household.


If you live a life filled with choices and possibility, where you have options and autonomy on an everyday basis, you may be a bit slow to realize just how tightly circumstance can bind a person, no less than cords and chains. But we have in our local history another point of contact with these sorts of situations, even if two centuries intervene.


Billy Dragoo was a boy of twelve or a bit more in 1786, along the upper reaches of the Monongahela River in what's now West Virginia. His family had recently moved to the area  following the formal end of the war with Great Britain we call the American Revolution, with peace in 1783 ending, it was hoped, overt hostilities between the western parts of the colonies, now states, and the British fort at Detroit.


Col. Henry "Hair Buyer" Hamilton was no longer paying bounties for American scalps, but the Ohio country on either side of the river was still unsettled: in both the lack of permanent farm communities, and unsettled as well in the mood of the Shawnee, Mingo, and Wyandot peoples whose way of life was severely compromised by the withdrawal of British support. Hunting was hard, the old ways undermined by the arrival of guns and trade goods and the collapse of the beaver market, and alcohol kept the pot on simmer all around the region between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River.


So it was that a raiding party, years after such raiding was supposedly no more, came through today's Barrackville, West Virginia. A party of young men, dispossessed Native Americans, were stealing horses, grabbing stores from gardens and unguarded cabins, and on this October day in 1786, they killed most of two settler families in a surprise encounter. Letting a few run off to escape, they kept with them young William Dragoo.


He became only the third European person to have left a written account of passing through Licking County (after Christopher Gist & Rev. David Jones), and though he was a captive led against his will from the Muskingum watershed through the heart of our area, its beauty made an impression.


Known at the end of his life as "Indian Billy Dragoo," his story is more fully told elsewhere, but he found himself as winter came in the Detroit area adopted into an Indian family to replace a lost son, then married to a widowed woman who needed someone to hunt for her.


It was not until 1804, a year before Granville was "settled", that the now at least thirty year old man returned to Pittsburgh, in search of a good hunting gun, and learned in a chance encounter that his father and brother had survived the attack that killed his mother and so many others, and even then, he was slow to return to "his people." Ultimately, he remarried another Euro-American woman, and came to farm and live out his days in Licking County. The full story of his life can be found elsewhere, and is well worth the reading. He died in 1856, and is buried off Briarcliff Road west of Perryton.


Did "Indian Billy" just like the lifestyle in the woods, with his adopted family? Or did he reach a point where he simply couldn't imagine being welcomed back home? We don't know. Seeing his mother die at his feet, and the distance he traveled, and what he had to do to survive: slowly, the very idea of escape can become distant, dim. And you stop believing that you even can.


I suspect only William Dragoo could understand the courage it took Amanda Berry to even imagine escaping, let alone to do so.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your favorite story of escape and rescue at knapsack77@gmail.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Newark Central "Knapsack" 5-14-13

Newark Central – Notes from my Knapsack 5-14-13


To print or not to print, that's the question


Jesus says in Matthew 13:52 "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."


On the other hand, the Board of Governors of the US Postal Service just said to the Postmaster General that they want him "to evaluate further options to increase revenue, including an exigent rate increase to raise revenues across current Postal Service product categories and products not currently covering their costs."


That would include bulk mail like our print newsletters, which are estimated to need at least a 30% rate increase just to cover the actual cost of processing and delivery.


Now, even if just that happened, our costs per newsletter for postage would still be half of what it would cost to put a First Class stamp on them. But you add on the increasing delays, and generally erratic delivery times for Second Class/Bulk mail . . . but talk among direct mail professionals is that the threshold for those rates is likely to go up from the current 200 piece minimum to something like 500, or more. We put out about 220.


I'm coming up on my one year anniversary of serving you in pastoral and administrative leadership, and probably no subject, no change or adjustment in congregational life has gotten me more questions, more concern, and yes, more anger than the decision I made to shift to every other week print newsletters. We've been accustomed to a weekly newsletter for many years.


"The Newark Christian" began 74 years ago as a monthly, and as we head for a diamond jubilee commemoration in 2014, it has been a key part of our life as a faith community, right along with the building at Mt. Vernon Rd. & Rugg Ave. and our Cedar Run Lodge. We use it to communicate with each other as much or more than the telephone.


Of course, before 1939 we didn't have a newsletter. But the cost of technology and staff to produce such a thing, along with cheap postal rates, made it feasible, and it has been incredibly useful.


Now we spend (with new USPS regulations) about eight cents per piece to create (not counting staff time) and moving past twenty cents to mail. Which arrives anywhere from the next day (as it used to be mostly for most addresses) to two weeks later for many of us just a few miles away.


And then there's e-mail. Not everyone uses it, but many do. It arrives pretty much when the office hits "send." In the face of that technology, our "peers" in size and type of church around the area either have stopped mailing newsletters, or have monthly only, with few "snail" mailed and those First Class.


So as your pastor, I'm thinking about all of this, and about Mt. 13:52. We will still be mailing some, of something, in 2014, of that much I'm sure. And Lisa and I still want your e-mail if you don't get this already on your computer!


In grace and peace, Pastor Jeff