Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 5-7-15

Notes From My Knapsack 5-7-15

Jeff Gill


A Body in the Well (pt. 6)




Hezekiah Mirk and Job Case paused at the banks of the Pataskala to take off their boots and roll up their leggings.


"Heaven's my witness, I don't know what I'm even going to tell Tirzah Munro," said Case absently. "Her . . . first husband dead in the Avery well, and her second . . . newest . . . um, husband disappeared, and she . . ."


"That's her, isn't it?" asked Mirk. They both looked up from the log they were sitting on, across the river. There where the path from Lancaster crept sideways down Flower Pot Hill to end at the water's edge, a tall woman stood with her fists on her hips.


Case only nodded, then stood and nodded towards her, almost but not quite a bow.


"He tripped." She did not shout, but the words were said loudly, with emphasis, and in the same way she said them again. "He tripped."


"Who tripped, ma'am?" asked Mirk, rising awkwardly to his feet, one boot on, one boot off, a woolen stocking in his hand.


"My Judson tripped Caleb as he flew at him in a rage." The light breeze and gurgle of the flowing water did not mute the clarity of the statement, across a rod's worth of creek bottom. She folded her arms, and went on.


"Caleb heard somewhere on the north edge of town, as he came back, poor soul, from his long trip to Montreal and down and around back to Ohio, that his wife had remarried. He didn't come looking for me for explanations last night, he went looking for my Judson."


They nodded, both feeling at a distinct disadvantage sinking into the mud, one barefoot and the other half so, but also knowing they stood as witnesses to a statement she wanted to make in her own time.


Tirzah, once Mrs. Munro, looked down at the water flowing past her feet, then looked up sharply and continued. "Caleb found him at work at the distillery, took him out, and hit him. Again and again. His face is much battered. Judson's no man of violence."


They both nodded at that, encouraging her to go on. The mud was cold, too.


"They fought, though Judson kept trying to explain what had happened, just blocking the blows, but Caleb would not hear. He simply swung, and swung again."


It was clear to Mirk that a turning point was coming in this tale. He said gently "And Caleb's face, ma'am, was not marked, which supports your account."

For the first time, Tirzah smiled. Both men could see in that smile something that would drive a man through a Great Lakes winter. And the smile faded, as she understood and envisioned what Mr. Mirk had seen to tell her that.


"Yes," she said. "He tried to tell him. But he was backed to the well they'd driven to get fresh, pure water for the workings; Caleb rushed him in a rage again, and Judson stepped aside and tripped him, hoping that sprawled on the ground he could have a moment of pause to reason with him. But the kerb of the well mouth is low, and Caleb hurtled in, head first. Judson stood there, listened a moment, and realized there was no living man to come back out of that shaft, so he came back here to tell me of the tragedy."


There was no love in Tirzah's eyes as she said that, but her emphasis on the word "tragedy" was clearly meant to include all three of them.


"Where is Judson now?" asked Case.


"Halfway to Lancaster, I'll be bound," she replied, letting her arms fall to her sides. "He felt that he should get away, at least for a time. I can call him back if need be."


Mirk and Case looked at each other in puzzlement. What should be done next? Other than putting back on their socks and boots, that is.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to learn about Granville history at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Faith Works 5-9-15

Faith Works 5-9-15

Jeff Gill


Mothers, and worship, and remembrance



Mother's Day. I just helped my wife bury her mother, and have done so for a number of other families in the last few weeks. It's going to be, well, tough.


Sometimes I think we can almost overplay our "qualifications" for Mother's Day in this ever more inclusive age. We don't want to offend the childless, irritate the unmarried, or further grieve the bereft by putting too much weight on the occasion.


It's been true for the century or so we've been marking Mother's Day in this country that we need to acknowledge those who have lost mothers recently, and those for whom motherhood is a lost or blasted hope. There are an assortment of ways to do this, and I pray I've been appropriately sensitive from the pulpit on occasions when I've been involved as a pastor in Mother's Day observances.


And there's an argument that Sunday worship is not a time to drag into the church, or at least into Christian worship, any cultural creation. It's the same one that leans against Memorial Day and Fourth of July being carried into church for fear that they will (and they can) obscure the real reason why we worship.


I take a more nuanced, if cautious view on that question, but I've certainly seen boundaries crossed that are hard to uncross in the middle of the service. And I have a certain sympathy for those who say that having mothers stand up or that sort of direct recognition can be cause of a pang for those who are not.


This year it's a different pain I'm contemplating, though; it's the unavoidable pain of little reminders of loss, and grief, and sorrow. No one can protect you from those cobwebs of remembrance suddenly snagging you on your way down today's path.


There's an anniversary coming up May 21 for a well-remembered occasion ten years ago, just up the road. A nationally, even globally famous author came to Kenyon College up in Knox County, to give a commencement speech. These things happen every spring, and as a commencement speaker once said to me just before taking the podium, "If you manage to get onstage and off again without embarrassing yourself, you've done a good job." Let's say that expectations are low.


What David Foster Wallace delivered ten years ago was a speech that is today probably the most remembered, and certainly the most cited commencement speech in history. It's known today by the title "This is Water," and while it's been turned into a full-length book and some video treatments, you can find the full text and even a video of his original speech at Kenyon online without too much effort.


The single most cited passage in the address goes like this: "There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."


Everybody worships. Wallace perceptively goes on to outline some of the most common forms of "default-setting" worship that many of us engage in:

money and things, body and beauty and sexual allure, power, intellect. He takes them apart by cutting directly to how the worship of each can only eat us up alive.


Wallace, for all his inner torment (he died three years later under the weight of a lifelong struggle with depression and addiction), is starkly honest with his somewhat stunned audience about how soul-deadening it is to worship that which does not give you life. My words, those last, not his, but that's my take in brief on his not-overlong speech – seriously, look it up and read for yourself.


And we can, by focusing purely on externals, "worship" motherhood in unhealthy ways. Mothers do, indeed, give us life, but rituals of keeping up appearances can be more a burden than a blessing.


What I think Wallace wanted those graduates ten years ago to consider, and I'm happy to affirm, is that what we become what we worship, that our choices consciously made or not shape us. The affirmation he specifically makes in "This is Water" is "The only choice we get is what to worship."


I would suggest the question is really better understood as "WHO to worship," not what; a person more than a proposition. Mothers help us know who that person is, and at their best, that Someone shines through them clearly.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your prayer without ceasing at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.