Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Faith Works 7-11-15

Faith Works 7-11-15

Jeff Gill


Your choices, everyone's considerations



Thank you for the fascinating and thoughtful e-mail these last few weeks.


I want to promise everyone that I do, in fact, read every last bit of it, and I try to answer, even if briefly, all of them (although I do suspect in the clutter of my inbox I may miss a few, so feel free to re-inquire if you've asked me a question and heard nothing!).


And occasionally I even get a hand-written note, which is delightful and something I wish I did more of.


On the controversies swirling around us all in the United States these last few weeks, I could take any number of directions to address what I think faith communities can and should do, what I believe will or won't happen down the road as the implications of Supreme Court decisions and denominational stances play out.


In this column, as I've reminded many of the correspondents who've written in, I'm not representing my faith tradition per se, or the congregation I serve as pastor, or even my own beliefs. I try to be open and honest about them as I address subjects that go off in a different direction, but the goal here is to keep a conversation going in Licking County about faith and life and choices. The pastor's column is where any faith community leader can put their beliefs and practices front and center.


But since it's come up from a number of angles, I think I should simply say something clearly for myself, but that I believe is in everyone's best interests.


I believe that Christmas presents should be opened Christmas morning, not Christmas eve.


Yes, there are many of you who choose to open the packages the day before Christmas. I've heard reasons and explanations for why that's so, and there are also compromises made by some, where one small item is unwrapped before the services at church, the rest saved for Christmas morning, or the big presents are opened before but the stockings get saved for the big day under the tree. Fine.


I am not interested in saying those of you who do so are bad people, or that your lives are hopelessly ruined by having done so. I just don't believe that's the best path for happiness and contentment and thankfulness.


You could also ask me "is it in the Bible, specifically, that things should be that way? Or is it just a comment made by Crash Davis in a movie and your personal opinion?" Well, it's true, you're not going to find a single verse that spells out in particular that this is the only way to live your life and build up your household. That's why in this as so many areas I tend to talk about the role of "Scripture and Tradition," because there are beliefs and practices I would say are Biblical that might not have a single, unitary verse behind them, but can be explained and taught and interpreted through the practices of the church and the reading of narratives and passages taken together in the Bible. A critic might take any two and say "I'd put these together differently than you are," and I'd respond "yes, but there's a weight of tradition behind why we read them *this* way, it's not just personal preference."


Of course, there's not even a smidgen of Biblical authority or church tradition behind when you open up your Christmas presents. Do what you will and harm none.


I would say, gently but unambiguously, I still teach and share that my understanding of Scripture and Tradition is that the best path to receiving the blessings God intends for us is to reserve sex for marriage. I am perfectly aware that few agree with that position, and fewer follow it as their own pattern of life. And I don't refuse to do weddings or condemn individuals based on this, I simply try to keep preaching what I believe is true. I'm aware that doing otherwise does not always result in great harm, that many argue for benefits accruing from living otherwise, and some say my way of living could be harmful and that I'm not only wrong, but dangerously wrong.


Yet I would not say those who disagree with me are thereby directly endangering their future prospects, in time or eternity, nor would I make it the central element of my preaching. I just ask that folks understand: I teach this simply because I believe it is true, and a path for greater blessing.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think about traditions and practices at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 7-9-15

Notes From My Knapsack 7-9-15

Jeff Gill


Ceremonial occasions and fried food



What a pleasure it was to attend a community event recently, where the citizens gathered in the middle of the village, and former residents returned from far and wide.


It was a delight to see the festivities begin with a foot race that involved both young and old, more for the pleasure of participating than for the chance that most or any would win a prize.


Then the familiar glow of seeing honored emblems come forth to lead a procession, pride of place given to those who have served honorably in years past in the military, aged faces yet proud eyes staring straight ahead, as behind them rose the music and that began the dancing and in and among us all the costumed participants began a journey, through reshaped and almost unfamiliar streets between the homes, a path used for generations on this day, in this way.


Soon there would be food, especially fried food, and meals shared both standing up and sitting down, strangers cheek by jowl with lifelong residents, everyone reaffirming the values and meanings and turning of the year in this annual celebration.


I would understand perfectly if you thought I was talking about the Fourth of July, down Broadway through the village of Granville. But actually, I was first referring to a stop my family made on vacation back in June, as the feast day celebrations began June 23 and 24 at a place now returned to its own name, Ohkay Owingeh, formerly called San Juan Pueblo. Along the upper Rio Grande River in northern New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, the Pueblo villages scatter from Taos up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains down to Albuquerque and southern Pueblos like Sandia and Zuni.


Since Juan de OƱate encountered a pueblo he named for his own patron saint, San Juan, in 1598, the people of Ohkay Owingeh had calmly adopted, and adapted the Catholic faith presented to them, and brought to St. John's Day, also known as Midsummer's Day in some cultures around the world, their own Buffalo Dance ceremonies. They begin the day before, with a footrace around the "kiva" or ceremonial house in the heart of the community, and then the elders and veterans in their proper garb come out to sing their songs with drum and chant and stomp, rustling fresh cut cottonwood branches that did indeed sound like the gentle rain was falling already.


Then the Buffalo Maiden and two Buffalo Spirit dancers came out of the kiva, and in each plaza of the village, in stately procession not unlike a parade, the accompanying drummers kept the heartbeat of Ohkay Owingeh loud and strong, with the dance carrying to all who watched meanings both obvious, and hidden; the reasons for some of the practices are well-known, and for a few simply "the way we've always done it."


Is it any different for us on July Fourth? Why do we let so many politicians wave at us? Do they represent the ritual invocation of democracy for the people, or is it just about the candy for the kids? Is the race in the morning a distraction and modern addition to the day, or a new expression of old hopes for this nation on the move?


And for ritual behavior, the bands and the floats and the . . . bare-bellied people wearing giant hats over their torsos (are they our Koshare dancers?); we've got it all, right down to the need to get in line with strangers and feast until dark.


All across America, communities have their rituals, and we can begin a new cycle of the year having performed our own last week.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about community rituals you have known at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.