Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Faith Works 9-20-14

Faith Works 9-20-14

Jeff Gill


Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart do ministry


Talk of a "black market" tends to come to mind, not surprisingly, in chiaroscuro shades of black and white, film noir and at its brightest, "Casablanca."

"I came to Casablanca for the waters." "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert." "I was misinformed."

That dialogue between Monsieur Rick and Captain Renault is misinformation about being misinformed, one suspects. And the grand closing at the airport is a mystery of who knew what about whom, when…but there's a wistful happy ending (no spoilers here). You leave that film wondering, though, who really knew what at which point.

There's no confusion about Ugarte, the amoral black marketer played by Peter Lorre. He knows what he wants, and he doesn't care what he has to do to get it. Yet he loses everything for lack of a sense of the bigger picture.

Is there a black market in Newark, Ohio, or elsewhere in Licking County, in Ohio? Oh, I'm sure of it. We have drugs, we have prostitution, perhaps much less than within living memory, but there are illegal exchanges around us, perhaps hidden in plain sight.

As a pastor, I don't deal with the black market. I'm sure I brush up against it, but I don't go looking for it, and it rarely jumps out to force my attentions to such matters.

But the grey market . . . oh my.

What's the grey market? Well, as the term implies, it's not quite illegal, it's not quite legal. Let's start simply: garage sales.

If you are selling items for less than you paid for them, you don't have to worry about income or sales taxes. And even "hobbyist" type income, if it doesn't rise above the expenses incurred in the fun and enjoyment, isn't taxable.

But if you have more than a couple of garage sales a year, at what point does it become a business? Interesting question, legal sources conflict. Three a year? Four? It's not clear. Is that my problem as a pastor to point out to a family that does twenty a year? Well, no, but . . . hmmm.

If someone wants to do all their business with you in cash, no checks: are they trying to stay under the official radar because of wage garnishment, collection of back child support, or outstanding warrants? Should you go along with their flimsy explanation of why they need an envelope full of bills and not a church check?

And what if you're working with a family that is stuck in one of those categories. Perhaps (and I've not dealt with this one recently, so I can use it without making anyone wonder if I mean them) you have someone with a newer family which is really struggling to pay bills and put food on the table for their children, but he is not using public services they qualify for because he owes tens of thousands in another state to an ex for unpaid child support. What's your obligation as a pastor, as a provider of aid?

National Public Radio has run a series of stories this past week on the growing use of wage garnishment in the US, using opportunities in the law to collect debts from individuals and families. In many cases, these are obligations that I'd tell a parishoner "hey, you spent that, you need to pay it back and get square with your debtors." In not a few cases, folks are trying hard to pay back as well or as fast as they can given their current income, but there are legal Ugartes out there, who are coldly and cruelly misusing the law to bend and break families. I recommend listening to the NPR series online.

Over the last five years, I've had to learn about car title loans, payday lenders, "tax preparers" (quote marks intentional), child support plans, and wage garnishment. People pressed to their limits, who need help if only in counsel if not cash, often muddle their own best case in the telling…and sometimes, people are lying to me. It requires that we "be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves."

To help with talking through a plan with a frightened family, and to offer limited aid in the best way, means we have to learn about the bigger picture, if only so we can help people look up, look out, and lead them to the Bigger Picture.

How has your church dealt with the grey economy?


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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Notes from my Knapsack 9-18-14

Jeff Gill


Granville's Highest Inscription



"In His Temple Doth Every One Speak Of His Glory"


Far above the main doors of Swasey Chapel, itself high atop College Hill overlooking Granville, those words are carved in stone where only the attentive might see them.


I've been up there for programs about to begin inside, or outside waiting on the end of the annual Good Friday Cross Walk, and pointed the panel out to long time residents. They invariably say something along the lines of "I didn't know that was up there."


It sounds Biblical, and you'd be right about that. There's a Psalm-like quality to it, too: bingo.


The words are the second half of the verse found at Psalm 29:9, in the King James Version of the Bible.


The passage in the context of the psalm as a whole is interesting for two reasons: one is that this psalm is the one specified for the congregation to chant or sing together in the synagogue as the Torah scroll is carried back to the ark, or cabinet in which it is kept, on the Sabbath. A lullaby, if you will, for the scrolls of God's Word carried like a child cradled in loving arms back to a place of rest.


The other is easy for Jew, Christian, or non-believer to see in reading the psalm as a whole. While this half-verse talks about the temple, the building where worship takes place, and so seems quite right for inscription on a college chapel, the rest of the psalm talks about nature and the wilderness and creatures real or even mythical, evocations of storms and earthquakes all of which stir up awe and amazement for we humans . . . but it begins in "the beauty of holiness" and ends with "the Lord will bless his people with peace."


When this text was chosen in 1924 to decorate the fa├žade of Swasey Chapel, I like to think the decision included awareness of the Hebraic significance of Psalm 29. As the Torah Scroll was carried into the safekeeping of the synagogue ark, so the students might have been envisioned filing into the chapel pews beneath these words, where within they could worship for the safekeeping of their spirits.


More likely, as students and staff and faculty left the chapel, with the commanding view out across the valley of Raccoon Creek to Flower Pot Hill and Spring Valley beyond, they would be given a hint of the glory of creation; some days seeing storms sweeping down the valley from the west, other times exiting into a landscape transformed by a light dusting of snow, and today at least, you're likely to see one of those leaping, unpredictable creatures of the wilderness wandering across the bricks of Chapel Walk.


In God's temple we do, of course, speak of divine glories; the psalm and the chapel are well-situated to remind us that this glory is not just a matter of words and sermons and Sundays, but can be seen all around us. And that learning to see God's glory all around can be a path to peace.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you've found unexpected inspiration at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.