Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Faith Works 5-10-14

Faith Works 5-10-14

Jeff Gill


Washed in the water of life



You will not find much in the way of doctrinal debate here in this column.


There are a number of reasons for that, starting with the fact that there's usually a clergy column on this same page or nearby, and there this paper welcomes local pastors to speak very specifically and directly from their own particular faith tradition.


This column has a slightly different purpose, being a running dialogue for the width and breadth of our area, with particular attention to the 70% or so who don't attend or are members of any church . . . but many of whom have an interest in faith and matters of belief in general.


I suspect there are about as many regular churchgoers reading this feature each week as there are committed non-attenders or skeptics, but the point is that "Faith Works" is not where I make vehement statements about which tradition is correct.


There is a subject I've gotten a number of questions about, though, in the lead-in and follow-up to Easter, and that is baptism.


Full disclosure: I am a pastor in a denomination where baptism by immersion, or "dunking" is the norm, and we practice what's called "believer's baptism," which means we don't baptize (sprinkling or dunking) babies. One should choose to make this step, we assert, based on our reading of the Gospels and Acts.


So what I have to say is unavoidably colored by the fact that I was born into and raised and baptized myself into a tradition with a particular perspective on how God works through this act, and if we didn't think our practice was valid and well-rooted, it would be odd for us to persist in it. Which is a fancy way of saying "we believe we're right."


But even among those who affirm and practice believer's baptism by immersion, there's a bit of a debate. When, some ask, does the forgiveness of sin and redemption of the believer take place? Is it at the moment we say "yes" to God's grace, or is it when we are immersed in the water as Jesus was by John the Baptist?


That's an easy one. The answer, I'd say, is neither. We were forgiven on the cross, just outside of Jerusalem, about 2,000 years ago, by Jesus: and in that atoning death, our redemption was made complete. "It is finished."


Our part in that? It's negligible. As the song says "It's not about what we've done, but what's been done for us."


So I'm not entirely patient with arguments about "when you are truly saved." Look to the cross. That's always the correct answer, I've found. Now, if someone makes a confession of faith, and then keeps avoiding taking that last step to seal their membership in the visible church, if they are unwilling or uninterested in making any kind of public witness of their faith, I can see where one might want to ask "was their confession of faith valid?" Maybe not.


What I am quite confident of, though, is that God works through all things, and particularly through certain acts testified to in scripture. Baptism is one of those, communion the other most clearly significant (and various traditions would add ordination, marriage, and so on, calling them all "sacraments"). To be crudely theological, "something happens" in baptism. I can't entirely explain it, and I'd be reluctant to try to trace it in thick, dark, solid lines. Exactly how and for whom God works wonders in the act of baptism is still a bit of a mystery.


But I think it is more than "just" a commemoration, or a mark of membership in a congregation only. Something happens in baptism, something amazing, something wonderful. Check out Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Dive" for what I mean.


And I can honor and salute my infant baptism friends and fellow believers across Christendom in that, when you baptize a baby, there's no question about whose initiative, who is in charge, who is the active party here. A baby simply receives baptism as a gracious gift of those who love that child, and God is entirely the agent of change. In those traditions, something called "confirmation" celebrates the role our "yes" can play in fulfilling God's intentions for us, reaching back for a baptism that just happened to happen earlier.


Baptizing new believers into the waters of life is one of the great joys of my work as a pastor. Helping people think about what baptism means is a close second!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your baptism at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Knapsack 5-8-14

Notes from my Knapsack 5-8-14

Jeff Gill


Every walk is an adventure, or can be



Our weather in all its springtime glorious confusion at least allows for the possibility of walks.


Threats of ice and snow will keep all but snowshoers at home, yet the mere threat of cold and even rain shouldn't stop a devoted stroller from hitting the trail.


As you might hear from Scout Troop 65, and many avid adventurers or at least Everest Gear customers will tell you, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.


Some wear ponchos, or have hi-tech rain coats and pullover pants, but I tend to just stick with a cap to keep the droplets off my glasses and a sturdy jacket that's rain resistant. It's enough to keep a drizzle from bothering me, and just absorbent enough to convince me to find shelter if it really comes on to a downpour.


Out at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico last summer, we had our pack covers and mandatory waterproof rain jacket and pants, made necessary by the 10,000 foot elevation possibility not just of rain but a hard shower combined with major temperature drops, where a soaking can lead even in July to hypothermia.


We only used it all on the trail once, in a brief series of spattering rains that petered out before we got to the campsite, maybe twenty minutes all told; but out backpacking, raingear is like a parachute. You may never need it, but when you do, it had better be there.


Closer to home you can take some measured chances, and only worry about having to cut short your walk. The hardest rain I've walked in the last few weeks came down out of a sunny sky, the kind of shower that some mark by saying out loud "the devil's beating his wife again." It's a saying Germanic in origin, and who knows what it originally means, but I recall older leaders saying it at camp while the rest of us kids looked for a rainbow, the other common outcome of a sunshine shower.


Every good long walk includes something of every other walk you've taken in it. I've noticed that each exertion up a hill, curve of trail, or opening of an unexpected vista triggers a cascade of memory, some visual and others more visceral, scent or sound, of other hikes I've gone on.


The multifloral rose and garlic mustard have nothing in common with juniper and sagebrush; and there's a big difference between the air at 750 feet above sea level and 12,441 of 'em, but when you're walking up a steep slope, there's a slip and a steadying sidestep, and suddenly you have a vivid memory of a stretch of trail.


I may be in Ohio and in 2014, but cresting a hill and seeing a particular curve of the next valley, and the angle of the trail ahead, and I recall hiking with my dad in the 1960s at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana.


And settling into a steady stride with blue skies above and a certain pattern of the crossing clouds across the sun, and there's a flash of heading up to Fort Adams on Mackinac Island.


Someday, I trust, this walk just finished will be brought to mind by the angle of the sun in early May, a quality of the wind and clouds, and the sensations of movement forwards. Every walk contains every other walk, I believe.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your favorite walk at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.