Thursday, September 19, 2013

Faith Works 9-21

Henry (and Jacob) --

Hold the one I sent you for next week, and put this in for Saturday. Hope you like it!
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Faith Works 9-21-13

Jeff Gill


"I am the one who knocks"



"Breaking Bad" is down to the last two episodes in a five year run on AMC.


If you've not seen this TV show, all you really need to know for the moment is that it is a story that starts in a tragic-comic mode with a put-up father and husband who is a high school chemistry teacher who learns he has probably six months to live.


Their finances already stretched to the breaking point, and with this prognosis in hand, Walter our . . . protagonist? We can't call him a hero, not where he's gone now; Walter justifies to himself cooking up methamphetamine to sell and build up a secure pile of cash for his family when he's gone.


As you may know, people around us right here in Licking County "cook" meth, often blowing themselves up in the process, poisoning the barns and abandoned homes and cheap hotel rooms they use and producing fairly impure product because, well, they didn't pay attention in high school chemistry, if indeed they took it at all.


Walter, as I said, was a high school chemistry teacher, and he finds that he can make meth at a level of purity that attracts the attention of the drug dealers he needs to move his product and make his profit. That attention gets him money, and it also gets him in deeper.


By now, five seasons in and we estimate about two years in "show time" from the initial diagnosis, Walter is a monster. He has killed, oh has he killed, and he has had people – many people – killed. He prefers to keep some distance from killing, but it's getting closer to him, as last week, right in front of his face. If you haven't watched "Breaking Bad" at all before, this column is NOT a suggestion you start now. Truly.


The usual aside about the "theme" of this show is "the journey into evil." Walter justifies doing a wrong thing to do what he sees as a good thing – care for his family – and the one wrong thing leads to another and another and another and . . . you get the picture, whether you know the show or not. You can't be a little bit evil. That'll preach, but it's a different sermon.


I've come to realize, the last few weeks as we approach what can only be a wrenching and apocalyptic finale (last Sunday night's episode left Twitter aflame and most of the AMC audience with heart palpitations), that Vince Gilligan, the show's creator and producer, is after something a bit more than "Evil leads to evil."


There's a mediation going on here, I believe, about facing death. How we all do it in ways large and small, with a terminal diagnosis or just walking out into a sunny day hoping a meteorite won't strike us down in a flash.


Walter is unwilling to face death, and finality. He's turned out to be pathologically unable to confront his own ending, to the point that he's willing to deal out endings a plenty in order to forestall his own. The death that happened rather early in the show last week, the one that took place right in front of him, he tried to stop, and he clearly could not see that it was over until it was, and even then . . .


A debate among fans of the show has sprung up that maybe NOW Walter has realized what evil he's done, and is trying to make amends, and will somehow turn out to be good at heart after all. Ruefully, sadly, tragically, I doubt it entirely. Death is for lesser beings, but not for him. "Not yet" means "not at any point I'm willing to contemplate."


Just a few episodes ago, his wife (now there's a story about evil, and . . . well, another story) was starting to realize how far gone her family was down the rabbit hole of darkness, and she tries to express her fears to Walter, when he turns and erupts to contradict her anxieties by saying "I am the one who knocks!" Killers don't come knocking for him; he, Walter, is the threat that even Death should fear.


He is, of course, wrong. Death is the one who knocks. And how you prepare to answer that call may be the answer to how you deal with Life.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him about your temptations and testing at, or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Faith Works 9-21-13

Faith Works 9-21-13

Jeff Gill


Ordination, seminary, and other changing concepts



Christian ministry in this country has long been tied to the concepts of seminary and ordination.


Ordination is the practice with a much longer pedigree, going back to the earliest days of the Christian church, "setting apart" certain leaders. Paul talks about "preaching and teaching elders" and that having a role or an office in church life where someone receives compensation is sensible: "you should not bind the mouths of the kine who tread the grain" being an earthy catchphrase in the ancient world for "those doing the work should be able to make a living from it."


To hold such an office, certain traditions and even rituals were part of the "setting apart" for ministry, to be ordained to this service. In these acts, authority in Christ's name is passed along through acts like the laying on of hands, or the giving of particular items of garb, such as preaching stoles, echoing Jesus' towel in footwashing and also as a yoke worn in tandem with Christ to do his work.


By the Reformation era, ordination was one of the "seven sacraments" of most liturgical traditions like Catholicism; some branches of Reformation theology like Lutherans moved to a "no less than two sacraments" understanding (baptism and communion) with various stances on the other five, while the Anglican tradition which becomes Episcopalianism in the US calls the same two "necessary" with the other five significant or even labels them "sacramental rites."


Whichever way you go with the theological categorization, you still have an act of the church that calls for more involvement than just the parties involved. We don't consider two people off by themselves to be able to "get married" on their own, whether our faith tradition calls marriage a sacrament or not, and in almost every branch of the Christian family, no one person can just announce "I'm a minister" by themselves. Sacramental ordination or not, there needs to be the assent and active involvement of the church to say you are ordained.


Between the more liturgical and less so (or "low church") branches of Protestantism, ordination can be seen as requiring a unit of the larger church involved, whether a diocese or conference or synod, down to asserting that an individual congregation can ordain persons to Christian ministry. Even in most modern low church traditions, a local church ordination may be recognized as valid, but if you wish to exercise ministry beyond that congregation, some form of credential is going to be needed, liturgical or educational.


This is where seminary comes into the picture. From high church to low, everyone from sacramental to casual, Catholic to hyper-Protestant, has for the last few generations expected people called to ministry to pass through a post-bachelor degree program of seminary education. This echoes, but lagged behind a similar shift in professions like medicine and the law, where once apprenticeship was the norm and even a college degree was unusual, or at least a marker of special training.


Abraham Lincoln was not terribly unusual in his day and age for having never attended a single university class, but started with independent reading, found mentors and guides, apprenticed "to the bench" and then founded a small partnership from which he earned his legal credentials by being a good lawyer, from small cases to large. Even into the 20th century, many small town doctors were of the same sort of "training."


As expectations of the professions rose, so did the requirements to receive formal acknowledgement of one's place in a profession. Lawyers and doctors and soon most clergy had to have a college degree, and then learn their particular craft in a dedicated, accredited institution: law schools, medical schools, seminaries or Bible colleges.


Formal, public requirements have supported and even increased these expectations for the legal and medical fields, but ministry has no such formal role, except in certifying marriage licenses. Ironically, an increasing number of those doing weddings & "solemnizing marriages" in the legal sense are people who have declared themselves to be clergy, sending away a check in return for "ordination credentials." That and another $25 to the Ohio Secretary of State makes you fit to sign a license.


So we see a steady move away from formal credentialing for ministers, and an increased interest in even fairly liturgical traditions around a more congregation-based form of ministry training towards ordination, while seminaries are closing, or at the very least being marginalized.


We'll talk next week about changing trends in seminary education and ministry formation.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him about your training in ministry at, or @Knapsack on Twitter.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mission and motivation - Newark Central 9-18-13

Notes from my Knapsack – Newark Central 9-18-13


Mission and motivation


By the time most of you get this (by mail, anyhow), our mission team will be at work in Joplin, working to rebuild housing destroyed two years ago by a massive tornado sweeping across that western Missouri city.


Many of you already know the story, about how members of Newark Central, their hearts broken by the devastation across the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina, went down to Louisiana, and ended up in Mississippi, and found fellowship and relationship with brothers and sisters from the Moss Point Christian Church just outside of Mobile, Alabama.


As a congregation, our work in these mission trips has gone to those three states, to Kansas, and now to Missouri. In years past, back to the summer of '93, we've seen our youth go in mission to Texas, to West Virginia, even to somewhere as distant and alien as Michigan.


Our sense of Christian mission as a congregation is not limited to these mission trips: we've found the opportunity to live out our faith right here in Newark with refugee resettlement and support of transitional housing through the Licking County Coalition for Housing, and in Ohio we've put our hands as well as our resources to work in building up Camp Christian as a ministry center for the Christian Church in Ohio . . . and our youth, with their Super Bowl subs, have added to the CYF "SCOOP" funds that help maintain a missional presence in the Hocking Valley Parish and with the Cleveland Christian Children's Home.


Once in a while someone will ask "aren't there needs here in Licking County?" of course there are, and we respond powerfully and faithfully to those needs as a ministry opportunity: our Medical Loan Closet is a widely admired outreach in Licking County, our Men's Ministry is largely a "Guys Who Build Ramps" series of events through the year, and we are involved in feeding the hungry in more ways than fit into one paragraph. We know something about local needs, and the mission God calls us to in this area.


But we also know our Bible. Paul in II Corinthians 8 and Romans 15 makes it clear that the church of Jesus Christ has a calling to share from those who are blessed to those who are in need, and that such sharing is a witness to the unity of the Body. That alone would be reason enough!


And in Acts 11:27-30 we see how the early church lived out a commitment to relief; this comes literally on the heels of 11:26 where we first get our name as "Christians", and seems to be part of our very identity as a believing community.


When we share our time, our treasures, and our talents with those who are not similarly blessed, and we do so without any expectation of benefit or blessing from doing so, we give glory to God, and we are living out one of the most powerful witnesses there are to the Good News of God's love made known in Christ Jesus.


Please keep our mission team on the road this week in your prayers, and part of the blessing will return to you, wherever it is that you labor!


In joy and hope, Pastor Jeff