Thursday, December 18, 2014

Faith Works 12-27-14

Faith Works 12-27-14

Jeff Gill


The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle



There's a Christmas season tradition in our household that may not be quite to your tastes, but it suits me right down to the ground.


Along with all the other seasonal favorite movies, from "White Christmas" to "Christmas Vacation" to "Fred Claus" I like to slide in, somewhere between "Christmas in Connecticut" and "The Family Stone," a Sherlock Holmes episode.


Holmes has been interpreted in recent years by Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Jeremy Brett's PBS programs recounting the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. From 1984 to the early 90s these were the best Sherlock stories to be seen this side of Basil Rathbone.


They're not at all Christmas-y, except for one. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," as filmed let alone as told in the print original, is soaked through with Christmas spirit and imagery. The music, the pub atmosphere, the markets of Victorian London, are all at work to serve the idea of an English traditional Christmas.


It is also the story where most famously, after the wrongdoer has admitted his guilt and explained the turns of events to Holmes and Watson at 221B Baker Street, the consulting detective says to the criminal "Get out." When the law abiding doctor hints at even a slight note of disapproval, Holmes emphatically retorts that he is not employed to resolve the deficiencies of the official law enforcement services.


"Get out. Not a word."


Holmes is, in his own roughhewn way, engaging in restorative justice. And there's more of that built into our legal system than you might think, from judicial discretion (less of it than there used to be, but that's a whole 'nother discussion) to jury verdicts, where a tribunal of twelve citizens tasked with a decision can make their decisions within a certain area of latitude. Plus the more affirmative forms of restorative justice that include victim-offender mediation, whether as part of a diversion plan or built into a sentence; all mediation-based approaches are a way to say that retribution is not the only path to justice. 


An older tradition in the West, still seen in various parts of the world, is a Christmas parole, the release of prisoners by act of the executive or senior magistrate. Sentences are commuted, the imprisoned are released, time off for good behavior is given even to those who've been more naughty than nice.


Our modern justice system does not have any seasonal adjustments built into sentences. If there is a change in warmth or good cheer inside the facilities, it's an unofficial thing.


In general, the Christmas season has this thread woven through it of forgiveness. Which makes sense when you think of whose birth we're celebrating.


The best scene in "Home Alone" to me isn't one of the spectacular torments of the self-named "Wet Burglars," or even the shock and scream when the little boy puts aftershave on his face, but it's the discussion in the church between Old Man Marley and Kevin.


Marley is there at a rehearsal to see his granddaughter, because he and his son are at odds. Kevin, who's learned a thing or two the last couple days about facing fears, suggests to his elderly neighbor that he needs to let go of his anger, which goes along with letting go of his fear that it won't work out, and call his son. I trust this isn't a spoiler for much of anyone when I tell you he did, they did, and the little red-haired girl is seen again in her grandfather's arms.


Forgiveness. It takes a number of forms, and requires both an interior shift and external actions, but the Christmas season is not just for giving stuff, but for forgiving. That might be a gift only you can give. And even a couple of days after the Big Day, it's a gift that's still going to be welcome.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; forgiveness is in the heart of the Christmas story if you read it all the way through. Tell him where you've given or received forgiveness at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Faith Works 12-20-14

Faith Works 12-20-14

Jeff Gill


Christmas 70 years past



This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.


It was the last offensive by Nazi Germany, a final desperate attempt to force the Western Allies to sue for a negotiated peace rather than accept unconditional surrender. Adolf Hitler ordered his war-weary troops to a last massive thrust against American and British lines even as his defenses in Italy and to the east against Soviet Russia were crumbling.


Wehrmacht General von Rundstedt directed a push that created a "bulge" in the formerly solid front that the Allies had been driving steadily east from the English Channel coast towards the Rhine and ultimately the German heartland, and Berlin itself.


In truth, fuel as much as personnel doomed this last spasm of the Nazi war machine. Hitler simply didn't have the gas to fulfill his intention to get his troops from the Rhine valley to Antwerp, Belgium, cutting the Allies in half and slowing even further the advance of their armies to the defeat of Germany.


They had enough to muster a powerful, concentrated thrust that pushed in, dangerously far into Allied lines, dangerous for the German troops isolated into a salient with Americans now behind their advance on one side, and British and Canadian troops near to flanking them on the other.


And the dogged resistance at Bastogne by the 101st Airborne under Gen. Anthony McAuliffe was summed up seventy years ago Monday in his response to a flowery and threatening demand for surrender from the Nazi forces encircling him.


"To the German Commander.




The American Commander"


The junior American officer who delivered this answer had to do some colloquial re-translation for the benefit of his German counterpart. McAuliffe was a gentleman of the old school, and rarely used profanity, but a profane equivalent was soon understood.


For the next few days, the unseasonable cold of an Ardennes winter, and restrictions on fires and warmth in general, left the besieged Americans in a grim state, even as the day of Christmas crept closer. Cheer was in short supply along with food, fuel, and yes, ammunition.


I was born nearly a generation after these events, yet I grew up hearing again and again stories about Christmas Eve, 1944. From members of my church growing up, from Scoutmasters at camp, in movies shown on television in my youth, and still today I am honored to hear from a soldier of that time and place a couple of times a week in the congregation I serve, on that cold December and the days too short and nights eternal (hi, Joe!).


They shivered their way through the long dark wait, hoped as they watched the steel-grey skies by day, then felt their hearts leap when Christmas Eve day saw the skies open, the USAAF zoom in . . . and I've talked to pilots and crew of those days about the cold of the airs above Belgium, but the warmth of bombs felt even from far above, as they relieved the siege and opened up corridors for Patton's army to push the bulge back into place, and then the other direction.


You've all watched the opening scenes of the movie "White Christmas," which for years I thought of as happening in and around Bastogne. It seems that the intention of the screenplay was for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to serve under Dean Jagger's Gen. Waverly in the Italy campaign, but the sense was the same. It's Christmas Eve, they're far from home, they have only each other right now, but their dreams of home are the largest part of what's getting them through the fighting, the frozen nights, the fearful destruction of towns, troops, and time.


"White Christmas" came out as a bit of a novelty song by a Jewish tunesmith based in New York City but working for Hollywood. There's a whole story in the original opening stanza. But it showed up before the public just as Pearl Harbor had turned the nation's attentions from domestic concerns to foreign affairs.


The song "White Christmas" became a sign, a signal, a totem for both the homefront and those serving overseas, a good luck charm that promised a safe return. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" was an even more overt down payment on such a hope, but it was the dream of a white Christmas that kept hope alive in foxholes such as dotted the Belgium-German frontier seventy years past.


We sing it still to their memory, as much as to the statement of faith at the heart of Christmas itself.


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