Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Faith Works 12-13-14

Faith Works 12-13-14

Jeff Gill


May Christmas lift you up, not carry you away…



Before I get to a more somber subject, I'd like to add to last week's "open to all" suggestions for boosting your dosage of Christmas spirit with two more opportunities in this coming week.

Tomorrow night, Sunday Dec. 14 up atop College Hill in Granville, the entire Licking County community is welcome to join the Denison University campus in sharing "Lessons & Carols" in Swasey Chapel. Starting at 7:00 pm, with parking in Slayter garage if the lot next to Swasey fills up fast, it is a beautiful and meaningful way to get in touch with the scriptures and songs of Christmas.

Then the next Sunday, Dec. 21, Licking Valley's churches are offering a Holiday Church Tour, starting at 5:00 pm on our eastern border with Toboso United Methodist, concluding up in Hanover at the Presbyterian Church from 7:15 pm, after visiting Perryton UMC and Marne UMC in between. All the churches are selling the $5 tickets ($10 per family), or you can get them at the door that night. This is a fundraiser for the United Way of Licking County, and you may call or email Luellen Deeds for more info at 349-7502 or

There's more going on out there, I know, so if you're looking for your Christmas uplift, keep your eyes and ears open. Children are singing somewhere!

What could bring you down in the Christmas season? Well, fraud, for one.

A number of years back, in West Virginia, I was yanked out of bed by my phone ringing at 2 am. The person on the other end of the line was sobbing, near incoherent, said she was a Mrs. Robinson who came to our church, not as often as she should, but she didn't know what else to do. Weeping and talking in circles, she had been in an accident in Florida and was stuck and had no money and . . .

Yeah, sitting there reading this, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? And she kept calling me "Rev. Gill" which had me quizzical from the outset. I mean, no one calls me that, or rarely. I'm Pastor Jeff then and now. I couldn't identify the name, and I've got a pretty good memory for such things.

Anyhow, as she calmed down, I started asking some questions: which started the sobbing and shrieking again. And when I said "so what do you need me to do next?" the answer was, in essence, wire money to an address I'm going to give you. As I probed back for what mechanic I could pay or garage I could call in the morning, the retorts got faster, and frankly, more snappish. Until finally, I said "Hon, here's the thing. I don't give anybody money directly. Never have, never will. But if I can help cover a bill directly, I'll move heaven and earth to help you and…"

She'd hung up.

I talked to a local cop the next day, and we found out what pay phone my call came from, and I ended up talking to a cop down in the Sunshine State, and marveled at how this all happened, and that cop asked "Sir, have you been in the paper lately?"

Ah. In fact I had been profiled in our local paper just three weeks earlier, about some projects we were doing in the congregation I was serving. "That's how it happened, sir. You probably have snowbirds who subscribe to the home paper during the winter, read it, throw it out, and there are folks who grab them, look for info about someone up north, and call from the truck stop in the middle of the night with a likely story you can't quite be sure is wrong, and they seem to know you and your church, and they get people to send them money."

Today, we have the internet. And trust me, I could tell you a very painful story from right this month, but the scam, 1994 or 2014, is the same. And as Walmart's cash registers all say right now, under a stop sign logo "Don't send money to people you don't really know." Does that tell you just how common these scams are? Be skeptical, check things out, ask someone else for perspective before you send money: even at Christmas.

Maybe especially.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about con games you've known at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 12-11-14

Notes From My Knapsack 12-11-14

Jeff Gill


Tell of holidays gone by



Listening to a radio program about holiday cookies, one caller noted that she'd been trying to make some old family recipes, and had noticed something odd.


These cookie recipes, many from the Old World, a few from early days here in the New, didn't call for much sugar. And they weren't very sweet.


The guest on the program, a chef and author of cookbooks, confirmed the caller's impression. "No, those older recipes aren't that sweet. Yes, everything today is sweeter." She went on to hint that, in her opinion, today's recipes might even be too sweet.


You've no doubt heard it already, that we put sweetener in everything. High fructose corn syrup in our ketchup, our fruit snacks, our vegetables, emphatically so in processed foods. And our tastes, in general, are more to the sweet, from the sauces we want for our nuggets to the desserts we consume Рdeath by chocolate, cr̬me brule, tiramisu, lava cake with extra chocolate sauce.


Shocking, isn't it, that diabetes is a problem? There are many triggers and vulnerabilities, but first and foremost, we're dealing with an addiction to sugars in general that we have yet to really confront.


During the holidays, sweets and sugarplums are part of the very essence of what we think of as a traditional, old fashioned Christmas. But the truth is that, a century and more ago, what they called sweets we'd call a bit dull, not too tasty, un-sweetened sweets.


Gingerbread was common, and it was more bread than ginger, and precious little sugar to sweeten. Sugarplums were nuts or seeds, almonds or cardamom or cinnamon bits dipped or "plumbed" into a sugar syrup repeatedly, to put a hard candy coating on the heart of the treat. You could suck on a sugarplum for some time, and the total amount of sugar in one sugarplumb would disappoint most Oompa Loompas, let alone modern children.


We have a Sugar Loaf in Granville, a conical hill. There are a number of them from Massachusetts across to the Mississippi valley, where they peter out because by the time Euro-American settlement rooted itself across the Big Muddy, sugar had become at least somewhat processed, and cheap. Sugar loaves were not known there.


In 1805 and for a generation or two after, sugar came in great hard lumps; think your canister of brown sugar if it had gotten damp and neglected and a solid block you couldn't soften in the microwave. They were melted, poured out into cones of sweet goodness, such as it was, and once cooled to room temperature were nearly indestructible and very transportable. These piles of solid sugar-ish-ness looked like . . . Sugar Loaf. If you wanted to cook with some, or put a bit in your tea, you took knives and cutting tools and even a chisel, and knocked a piece off the intact sugar loaf, piece by piece until it was gone.


It was dear, that hard nasty sugar was, and you didn't use it up freely or fast. So the snickerdoodles and gingersnaps of that earliest era had a taste more tangy than sweet, were more bready than chewy – but back then, any sweetness was a treat. Let that memory sweeten our appreciation of the Christmas season, and perhaps motivate us to a bit of restraint, as well.


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