Thursday, January 21, 2016

Faith Works 1-30-16

Faith Works 1-30-16

Jeff Gill


Cell phones and ring tones


I've been putting off writing this one because I honestly don't know what to say.


In my own congregation, there have been many and various conversations on this subject. I attend live performances fairly often around Newark and central Ohio, and am accustomed to the announcement at the outset (and have done it myself at the Midland in years past):


"Please silence or set to vibrate your electronic devices!"


Different churches put it on a screen in the front, print some version of those words in a bulletin or weekly print page, and some places even have signs at the doors.


Yet still they ring.


Except, of course, they don't ring. They chirp and tweet and chime and play tunes, often jarring and intrusive music. The "Sex and the City" theme, super hero music from the movies or TV themes or hip hop anthems. Occasionally classical, but of a "Jupiter" or Wagnerian ilk; often popular and sometimes obscure, but clearly music meant to tell you, your seat mates, and those for fifty feet and more around you "I've got a call coming in."


Then there's the throwback sound of a big black heavy handset dial phone ringer, piercing the silence. That would evoke a smile from me, and from others who recall that clarion call . . . if it weren't during a funeral, a prayer, a time of meditation and devotion.


Or when I'm pausing for effect, to gather attention and make a preaching point. My words stop, I look intently out, a hand softly pressing down to one side, the other rising up and everyone leaning in, anticipating that the preacher is about to say . . .


"Da dadada, de dadada, is all I want to say to you . . ."


Interestingly there are often a half dozen hands scrabbling for pockets and purses and under hymnals or coats or diaper bags. Maybe they all have that ringtone, or perhaps the offending sounds remind them that they may not have remembered to silence theirs.


Except that I'm as accustomed to it happening twice, with two different phones, across the room from each other, as I am to an intruding sound occurring even once. I cannot recall the last funeral I attended or officiated at where there wasn't at least one phone going off; most Sundays during the sermon there's one, but more often on two occasions before we get to the final "Amen."


So I've been asked to make an announcement each service for a month at our church, to see what happens. I resisted, actually, because I listen to directors like Adam and Aara and Russ and others at Weathervane and Licking County Players and the Heisey Wind or high school concerts, all gamely reminding everyone, as an act of courtesy, to turn 'em off . . . and there is still the interruption, the distraction, the break in our collective attention.


In other words, I don't know that it works. My strategy for the last few years has been to ignore it as much as possible, and encourage others to do the same.


I've heard people try to shame and embarrass offending phone owners, but I'm aware that often the shocked scrambler after a worst-time-possible ring is a fine person, a gentle old soul, a quiet pillar of the community. They forgot, even with the announcement. Do I help, or add to the embarrassment, by making a larger point of it?


And there are also some who pretty clearly don't care. They are certain their calls are important, their lives the main priority of the world's operations, and if they have a phone going off in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, they're certain the Lord will understand, and answer the call unruffled. It's baffling, but not unusual.


So what will happen? I don't know, but I'm going to try for the next four weeks to find some creative and hopefully charming ways to tell everyone "your ring tone is none of my business, so don't let it come to our attention for this next hour, please!"


If anyone has found an effective way to deal with this issue, I would truly love to hear about it. But don't call me. Just text or e-mail.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hasn't had his phone off vibrate-only since he bought it. Tell him your favorite ringtone tale at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 1-28-16

Notes From My Knapsack 1-28-16

Jeff Gill


Here In a Small Town



What does it mean to live in the village of Granville?


Having now passed the decade mark as a resident, I should be feeling even more a part of this historic community. I'm woven into the local landscape through the schools and Scouting and churchly involvements (and more than one congregation at that), have told some of our two century and ten millennia old stories in print and to the public, all of which should make me feel a part of this place.


It's long been true, though, that "Granville native" is not a title someone like me is likely to receive, even after two more decades pass (if I'm so blessed). Some would say that not only will the likes of me won't ever be really "from here," neither will my child (true, we neglected to give birth to him in Ohio). My wife and I are entangled, deeply, with the "fair college on the hill," but that hill sets apart much; not just the university but the staff & students thereon from the village below.


What would it take for me to be "a true Granvillian"? I'm not sure. If lighting luminaries for the walking tour in December and and shoveling horse droppings for the July Fourth parade doesn't qualify one, maybe it's just not possible. Perhaps there's a late night, closed-door meeting where these things are decided, in which I'm not yet approved. It comes up in the darndest moments, the observation of "you're not from here," and those saying so are rarely the older multi-generation residents as they are the ones just a bit older than I am, but with a few more years to their credit.


I do know that I like being from a small town, yet Granville has never quite reconciled itself to being one. We began with New England aspirations in our DNA, and the Averys and Roses and Bancrofts and their ilk all hoped to bring business and industry to these valleys. Periander Taylor, whose Tan Y Bryn home is now in use by the Granville (Township) Fire Department, was a man of strong words and vehement exhortations: he challenged God to rain properly, and was not abashed by record floods on Raccoon Creek in response. Ahab Jinks knew what architecture worked for him, even if building it meant he no longer worked for the leading church in town. Granville has long had cosmopolitan and in truth global aspirations, even if circumstances have kept us focused on the local, the regional, the particular.


Where I most feel at home is with my fellow local residents who are not "from here," but have claimed a place here as their place to stand, a place to pitch their tents, a place to rest. People who have not only come from but made a way for themselves in the big city, the big leagues, in a big way, but are looking for something smaller . . . not even smaller, but more intimate.


Today's modern urban usage is to sneak through life anonymously, not being noticed by no one, expecting nothing from nobody. We're to be part of nothing and not attached to anything because no one's going to stick around. Everyone around you is transient, which gives you a place to be on your own.


Cities do not tend to create community. That may not be what they're for, but what they do create is an ideal place to hide. If you fear commitment, rootedness, connectedness and accountability, a city is the place for you.


You can avoid all those things in a village, too, but here you have to work harder to do so. And why would you want to work that hard?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County, and a discreetly lazy resident of Granville. Tell him where you pick and choose your labors at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 1-23-16

Faith Works 1-23-16

Jeff Gill


"In diet, in exercise, in spiritual discipline and financial health: we have to find a place of peace, from which we can grow as we ought."


I said that in closing last week, and in between I read an online essay by United Methodist pastor and writer Joe Iovino, from whom I am about to borrow (because I'm giving attribution, otherwise it would be stealing, somewhat...).


Joe suggests starting a new year with some spiritual decluttering, with ideas that go right to the heart of helping any of us find that place of peace if we're not finding it where we are right now. If your closets or garage are keeping you on edge because of useless debris or just impending confusion getting in your way, a decluttering is a way of peace: so why not a spiritual declutter?


One proposal: change pews. Right, or seats if your worship space isn't furnished that way, but you know what Joe means. Rather than worry about "getting your seat" and the view you're used to, why not make a Sunday morning move? See how the prayers and the music and the message sound when you're on the other side of the aisle, or from the front if you sit in the back, or vice versa.


What about trying a different Bible translation, asks Rev. Iovino? This doesn't mean you throw out your familiar one, the one you were given at fourth grade graduation, but take up another – they're easy to find, you know – and see what a season in a new edition does to your reading of passages worn smooth with repetition. Try the old and new in tandem, or stick with something different for a while, then go back. You may find yourself with new appreciation of the version you're accustomed to, but don't think much about.


It may be time, I would agree with Joe, to take up a different author or devotional this Lent, starting in just a few weeks. If you're a Beth Moore fan, fine, but see what another Christian writer does to your spirit. Try Max Lucado or Will Willimon, Phyllis Tickle or Anne Lamott, Lysa TerKeurst or Tim Keller (just to name a few). There's The Upper Room, The Secret Place, Christian Standard and Our Daily Bread (just for starters) as devotional options, monthly, weekly, daily.


And is there a group or book club or class you've thought about joining? Nothing like different voices sitting right next to you to startle you out of complacency, or worse, ennui. Take the plunge, try some new community in your life.


As to your church activities in general, maybe it's time you reassess those, too; what you've always done isn't necessarily what you've always got to do. Yes, some will say "what will we do without you?" In this world, maybe we all have to learn the answer to that for others, and for ourselves. If you've always worked with the Christian education, but have a hankering to sledgehammer down a wall or two, maybe it's time to volunteer for the Property team?


Spiritual decluttering can take many forms, but like a closet or even just a desk drawer, it can simply be going through some stuff and deciding "is this necessary to keep, or is this something I can do better another way?" And it may be addressed as simply as walking into the sanctuary and sitting down where you never have before.


Which might make you the cause of someone else's reassessment, as you take their seat from them and they walk in later and wonder "what will church be like if I don't sit THERE?"


It may just be time to find out.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; this is all very unfair for him to write, because he has a seat up behind the pulpit that rarely gets taken by anyone else. Tell him where you like to sit in church at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.