Sunday, June 07, 2015

Faith Works 6-27-15

[Here's my last get-way-ahead pre-submitted column for June! Pax, jbg]

Faith Works 6-27-15

Jeff Gill


Weddings and June and what will change



You may have figured out, and I do mention from time to time (I trust not too often) that these columns are usually written well in advance of when you read them, in print or online.


I sketch out arcs and themes and look to particular date convergences, and there's more need, both for me and for the newspaper, at certain points of the year to write well in advance.


So this column is almost never "breaking news" of any sort, often not even within the same week. And the focus of "Faith Works" as a running feature on the "Your Faith" page is different from that of the pastor's columns that are expected to be more particular, more even doctrinal on occasion, crafted from a very particular perspective. That's what pastors are invited to do in their own voice, from their own tradition, in that space.


This is different, aimed both at the broad swath of Licking Countians who already have a faith commitment, and also at those who don't have that, but are interested in matters of belief and religion and practice. It is, in an awkward one word description, more "general."


So it is possibly a handicap, or in my own thinking an advantage of sorts, to be writing about marriage and churches and the Supreme Court well in advance of their anticipated decision this June. Odds are good you've heard about or read more by now as to what the justices have decided to rule regarding same-sex marriage and recognition of that innovation across the states of the union. Some states do, some don't, and Ohio is directly involved in one of the cases being decided this June, having been sued over not recognizing a same-sex marriage conducted in another state.


I am semi-certain that whatever the Supreme Court has decided, it's going to take a few weeks to process what they've presented as their ruling. I could be wrong, but odds are good in my reading of the landscape on this contentious subject that, even if the decision was provided a couple of weeks before this column hits print, we're not done figuring out all of the impacts and complications of their majority opinion. (And again, I don't know at all what that is, as I'm writing this.)


Here's what I am fairly certain of in advance. However the court rules, no clergy person is going to be required to marry any two people they don't wish to unite in Holy Matrimony. That's a First Amendment matter, and I don't see any way that's going to be impacted. Not as a matter of law.


As a matter of practice, this will create complications for some clergy. There are denominations that are more in support of same-sex marriage than others; some of those religious bodies are going through debates this summer at national gatherings as to how or if they will treat such unions as acts of the church, which is a different question than an act of the state.


So if you as a particular clergyperson choose not to perform a marriage ceremony under any new provisions created by Supreme Court rulings, you won't have an issue in terms of litigation or coercion, but you may have difficult conversations with your congregational leadership or denominational officials. Many of us have begun to have these conversations within our churches and between our official structures, but if you've hoped this issue would go away, it could be a summer where you're going to have to face the question.


And many pastors, even when their denominational affiliation is supportive of keeping close to a traditional definition of marriage, are considering no longer serving as "agents of the state" in signing marriage licenses. I think there are concerns afoot that signing any one license might create an obligation to "solemnize" any and all, and I don't see that happening. But with private businesses facing litigation and social pressure to support the new legal definition, I can see why many of my colleagues are saying "I will perform marriages, but only within the church context." It is a quirk of the evolution of the law on marriages as a civil contract that has left the last step for officially sealing that agreement in the hands of clergy. Where that role will end up . . . well, there's more to say next week on this.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; if you tell him he's falling behind the headlines, he will simply smile and agree. Tell him what news you think needs attention from the churches at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 6-20-15

[Yep, getting ahead for the summer schedule! Pax, jbg]

Faith Works 6-20-15

Jeff Gill


And now, a bulletin from the field



Midsummer night, longest day of the year, summer solstice. That's where we're at.


Midway between a more ancient measure of summer as a season, from May 1 to August 1, in today's America June 21st has really never felt like the middle of anything, until very recently.


Now, with school schedules running until Memorial Day and even beyond, and classes starting up again in the middle of August -- unless you have sports or band camps that mean it's more like end of July or the first of August! – June 21 is back to feeling more than a bit like mid-summer indeed.


If you have kids in school, scheduling vacation time is ever trickier. Will snow days eat into June? What is the first thing your child has to be in town for before classes themselves start? So church camps, summer revivals, and family treks to distant relatives are all as under pressure as are resorts and theme parks.


But I still suspect many of us will be taking some time away and out of town this summer. Family visits or vacations mean that church on Sunday (or other days!) may be somewhere else other than at your home place of worship.


Which can, itself, be a source of refreshment and renewal. I'd like to suggest that wherever you're going this summer, you would to plan to attend worship somewhere. Truly, you can come home to your own faith community with a new and different bulletin and two blessings in your pocket: you may find new ideas for how to greet visitors, share worship life, and conduct prayer and praise by seeing how someone & somewhere else does things; you might also realize in ways you'd never considered how your congregation is doing things well! Either are lessons worth learning, and sharing when you get back home (including that bulletin!).


Through the years, some of the most meaningful and memorable worship services I've attended during the summer have taken place in the middle of a lake with a cluster of canoes gathered around a pontoon boat with a preacher and communion table, in the shadow of Southwestern canyon walls in a national park before the sun even cleared the local horizon, or gathered with a congregation in a resort community where the outreach to the world beyond their walls had some interestingly unique challenges. I've been inspired by preaching and spoken prayers offered by people I might never had heard the like of, if it weren't in a vacation context.


And yes, not infrequently when I worship on the road, there are things that are done that make me wince, and realize "that's really better the way we do it." Which isn't about smugness or being resistant to change, but it's about consciousness of parts of our worship pattern we can go years without actually considering.


For some of us, worship on vacation may involve a very large stretch of our spiritual muscles, attending a service of a tradition very different from our own. Again, we may see and hear and experience elements that make us think "we could try that back in Newark," or notice parts of the program which cause us to newly appreciate something we even thought we wanted to change, because we got to see how it worked when someone else did it, and it didn't.


There's a Benedictine monastery my wife and I have visited twice and hope to make a third time to this summer, up the Chama River far off the beaten track in New Mexico, and candidly? There's really almost nothing I could imagine directly borrowing from how the Monastery of Christ in the Desert does their prayer and proceedings that's useable back in Newark at our church.


But the length and format and setting of the sanctuary all combine to allow me to step back from myself and my own tastes and temptations, and see worship in a new light. Jolted out of my usual ruts, the landscape suddenly looks entirely different all around me.


If you get a chance to attend a different service this summer, my prayer is that you take advantage of that opportunity. It may just be going with ol' Aunt Alice to her Wednesday night prayer meeting, or getting in the car with Cousin Zach to visit his sharing group. You may not end up wanting to do that again, but I strongly suspect you'll be glad you tried it once. (The canoe service thing is really cool!)

Faith Works 6-13-15

[Getting ahead for summer vacation time! Pax, jbg]

Faith Works 6-13-15

Jeff Gill


So many important people, so little time



Snark is not my natural rhythm, and I don't really want to get proficient at it, as a Christian, a pastor, or a person.


Sometimes, though, it's the only response I can think of.


Because I do marvel at just how many important, critically needed, vitally significant people live here in Licking County. Maybe there are this many people on a mission elsewhere, but I can only report on what I bemusedly witness.


I refer to the fact that a significant number of our fellow residents are engaged in activities through the day that make it impossible for them to slow, let alone stop for a funeral procession. They are so in demand that it is incumbent upon many of our friends and neighbors to swerve in and out of lines of cars, all with lights on and those charming little orange or purple flags magnetically attached to each of them atop the roof, making it clear this is not just a bunch of people following each other to find their next stop, but something different.


The funeral coach with the coffin in it at the front of the line is kind of a dead give away.


Honestly, I'm being snarky because it's better than being unpleasant, but I have to admit to having a few unpleasant thoughts as I see fellow Licking Countians zoom out to cut off a family in grief, following their loved one's remains, almost not slowing in time to avoid a collision with someone who clearly cannot be expected to arrive at their destination two minutes later (and that's an overestimation, in my experience).


Passing on the left in a multi-lane context is legal, if tacky (if tacky is the right word); passing a funeral procession on the right, especially when it's on the shoulder – c'mon. Seriously.


If you see a funeral procession coming towards you on a two-lane road, turn on your lights, ease over, and where you safely can, come to a stop until the last car or truck with flags and lights on passes you. If it's a four lane, at least get over, no? And four lane divided highways certainly don't require oncoming traffic to stop, but I'd commend a gentle slowing and that acknowledging salute of your lights on as a simple message to the family and friends in the cortege that you see, you acknowledge, you understand.


If you're coming up behind a procession on a road, two, four, divided, whatever: think carefully about why or whether you think you should pass these people. They've almost without exception just been to a memorial service for someone they care about, at a church or funeral home, and are now going to a cemetery or mausoleum or sacred place of some sort to conduct the wrenching act of leaving there the earthly remains of that person they are mourning.


Do you really have to zip past them? You can keep your eyes fixed straight ahead, certainly communicating clearly your indifference to their plight; you can try to guiltily glance and jerkily nod your head, especially to the next of kin in the first few vehicles, and the funeral director and clergy in the lead coach, which really makes everyone feel uncomfortable.


Honestly, I don't want to say you should never, under any circumstance, along every type of roadway, ever pass a funeral procession. But you surely should always ask yourself "is this pass necessary?"


Or you might end up like the benighted, agitated tool who leapt around a long line of cars at the first opportunity on a two lane, curving rural road, and of course couldn't pass the entire procession before an oncoming truck forced them back over and now into the sad parade. Where they were stuck until the turn-off for the cemetery. Good job!


Snark aside, I'd like to close with this. Those of you who stop when you could have sped up, who slide onto the shoulder and stop and take off a cap when the hearse goes by, who turn on headlights and nod even three lanes over as oncoming traffic along a highway: to all of you, I want you to know that the family notices, and appreciates the gesture. They really do; on a hard day, it means something gentle and warm and real, even if they can't quite see your face and will never know who you are.


But they know what you did, and it means something to them.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's ridden in quite a few hearses lately. Tell him your funeral procession story at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 6-18-15

[Getting ahead for the summer schedule! Pax, jbg]

Notes From My Knapsack 6-18-15

Jeff Gill


Light in the east, wind in the west



In a few days, the sunlight will be as long and high and bright as it will be for another year.


Call it a summer solstice or "midsummer's night" or even St. John's Day, but there's a quality to this season that endures in the memory long after the sun starts moving at sunrise back to the south.


Rising now as far north on the eastern horizon as it will, as directly overhead at noon as it ever will get, the real astronomical quality most of us will observe is that morning begins so early, sooner than even early risers get up.


More of us note that as a mild inconvenience, it seems, with the real enjoyment being the long, leisurely evening stretching dangerously close to ten o' clock. Winter will come again, with dusk seeming to start about two in the afternoon, but it is a distant memory and a far-off anticipation. Let's keep it that way for now.


You might be surprised what an early riser gets to enjoy. Whether on a porch, a patio, or a walk to a nearby village bench, the riot of bird song with the dawn is musically thunderous. The growing light from the east starts to pick up the silvery trail of snails on stretches of pavement, glittering strings of dewdrops on spider webs, animal tracks almost as sharp on damp grass as they were in winter with snowfall.


Seeing a white tailed deer stroll by slowly, almost incuriously, is no longer a curiosity for village residents, since we all can see them doing that any time of day on the path up to Denison or even in our backyards. There are also raccoons and opossums and skunks peering out of burrows and hollow trees and storm sewer gratings, settling down with our morning as we do in the evening. Often great blue herons slowly beat their way across the sky overhead, their unique profile clear when you stop to look having noticed they aren't gliding on still wings like our more common turkey vultures.


From the earliest light, the runners fly by on a lower horizon, along the bike path or shoulders of roads or down the middle of your residential street. More of them these days are wired into their pods or widgets or whathaveyous, pacing to their own carefully selected beats. My running is sporadic and shorter, with just a small radio with an earphone and NPR, but I tend to distract myself with an audio soundtrack just as many do. It's not an activity where you're wanting to stop and say "hi," anyhow.


There are also many walkers, though they're more the second shift. Not as driven, not half so compulsive, often happy to not only say hello but to stop and talk about the weather and the light and the state of the world in general. Along Newark-Granville Road are many clumps of walkers who make good time, but a great deal of conversation. If you're on your way to work or whatever in a car, you pass them marveling at the amount of hand gestures it takes to talk to a group…and wonder if the aerobic benefit of the arm-waving along with the power walking has a cardiovascular bonus.


If you don't have to get off early to work, or aren't putting your exercise routine before your leisure first thing in the day, one thing is for certain: no coffee, no matter how sourced, how roasted, how made, can match a cup of coffee drunk early in the morning, as the sun rises, while sitting somewhere that asks nothing of you other than an appreciation of morning new born, long to endure.


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