Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 4-28-16

Notes From My Knapsack 4-28-16

Jeff Gill


Conversations at dawn



Sunrise is not everyone's favorite time of day.


There are morning people and night people, we're told, and while I'm skeptical of such a simple dichotomy in all things, let alone nocturnal preferences, it's a general pattern I'll accept for the moment.


Some folks are just not set up for an appreciation of the finer things early in the day. They question whether life is worth living for an hour or two after waking, and even coffee isn't enough to change their minds (poor souls).


That's fine, it means a little more peace and quiet as the sun rises, and April means I can come out on the front porch with a steaming mug and enjoy the train whistle in the distance down along Ramp Creek, echoing off the Welsh Hills behind me, birds singing overhead, and the occasional jake-brake rumble down on Rt. 16.


But I often do have conversations early in the morning, thanks to the complicated blessing of social media. I'll pick up the phone and check texts or e-mail, see which messaging platforms have a "ping" on them.


And it's often early in the morning, even more than late at night, I'll find myself advising or reacting or suggesting guidance for a friend or acquaintance who is going through a challenging situation. The full story seems to come out faster in a morning "talk" and the details go right to the bone more directly than they seem to at other times.


Maybe it's because it's a new day. Perhaps new light on a situation brings clarity, and a full day ahead gives impetus to honesty. I don't know, but I do know that many similar conversations that come up, in person and online, later in the day more often go in wide, free-ranging circles for some time before we get to where the inquiry or request is going.


And for my own prayer life, I think my morning devotions get real and go deeper with God than they do as I'm tumbling into sleep with a simple "thank you."


Anyhow, in my more religion oriented column that appears Saturdays in the Advocate, I recently talked about stepping back from social media during Lent. I couldn't call it a fast, really, because in 2016 it's almost impossible for me to do my work without using not only cell phones, but to monitor texts and email accounts and now also messaging services. Different people communicate through different platforms, and if you work in human services of any sort today you're just about obligated to keep up on multiple channels.


It was a good thing, though, for me to take on a practice for 40 days of not posting or commenting. That adaptation gave me a chance to use the devices, but also to step back and assess my relationship to how they influence my life.


Likewise, the Granville Public Library is again sponsoring "Turn Off Your Screens Week" May 1 to 7, which you can honor in whatever manner works for you, but they support by offering a variety of programs and activities, in the library building and around the community. Look up, get out, and be connected in new ways to the world around you! Check out the library webpage or Facebook for details.


And starting with the dawn of the last day of that week, on May 7 – the Great Granville Garage Sale returns, a chance to get stuff out of your house, money into your pockets, but also to support the Licking County Coalition for Housing through your $20 to become an official GGGS sale site and appear on the official map. Locations can still be purchased for $30 downtown; check their Facebook or webpage for info.


It all begins officially at 8:00 am, but you know some will be out, coffee in hand, at dawn…


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what time works best for your coherence at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Faith Works 4-23-16

Faith Works 4-23-16

Jeff Gill


Where There's a Will, There's a Way

[ed. note – if you use this, "Will" must be capitalized!]




"The Devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose."


That line is found in the Bible where, exactly?


Yes, you can look at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in Luke's gospel, and Satan does quote the Torah and the prophets, but that pungent phrase: not there.


You may look in Paul's letters and beyond, but a quick online search will reveal it's not in the Bible. It's in "The Merchant of Venice," and the line belongs to William Shakespeare.


Today is the 400th anniversary of his death; indications are that he was (poetically) born in this day, as well, in 1564.


No one has to be told that Shakespeare dominates our cultural landscape four centuries after his passing, and his words have entered our language, both individual coinages (the words "addiction, "arch-villain," and "assassination" just for starters) and mellifluous phrases ("If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it!").


But good old Will of Stratford has also snuck into our religion, and our Bibles.


There's a bit of folk etymology and linguistic analysis that makes a case that Shakespeare helped translate the King James Version of the Holy Bible (c. 1611, so it's possible), leaving his "signature" behind in Psalm 46. You can look that iffy claim up for yourself, but don't be bedazzled* by coincidence.


(*Bedazzled, also coined by Shakespeare.)


I've also heard a claim that Will's fingerprints are on the 23rd Psalm, but that's an uncomfortable* stretch as well.




What's perhaps due to the resonance of the language of that cultural moment, as Queen Elizabeth's reign ended and King James' began, is that there are many phrases of Shakespeare that are commonly attributed to Holy Writ.


"Forget and forgive" – King Lear, not in the Bible.


"Neither a borrower nor a lender be" – Hamlet, not the Bible.


"This above all: to thine own self be true" – Ditto.


Likewise, the twist can turn in the other direction: you can find smart people saying something like "As Shakespeare himself said 'eat, drink and be merry'!" Nope, Jesus used that line in Luke 12 as he told a parable.


The Bible is full of poetry. I'm not sure we remember that often enough when reading and studying and sharing God's Word as those words have been passed down. The art and craft of poetic language and meaning, and in the original, occasionally in carefully crafted translation, there is a rhythm and pattern that also evokes meanings beneath meanings, the body in motion beneath the silken robes.


And Shakespeare, too, saw himself more as a poet than a playwright. Perhaps because of questions of propriety and status, or maybe it had to do with patronage, but his pride of place was clearly in the poet's role. Iambic pentameter aside, the plays are rich with poetry in how they are constructed, how the characters speak but even in the stage directions. There is a level of nuance and subtlety to Shakespeare that ironically both makes it live beyond the usual span of years for a dramatic work, but also makes his plays hard to study, as any English class student can tell you.


But a good teacher will always remind students "say it out loud, speak it in order to understand it." If you just try to pry meaning out of Shakespeare reading one line at a time in a darkened room under a study lamp looking at the dead page, you will indeed struggle. When you start to say it, the pageantry* and swagger*  will show themselves.


(*Uh huh.)


This is also true of the Bible. If you find yourself in study wrestling with the text, speak it. Say it out loud, and as most of the original audience experienced it, you will hear new meaning. "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue…"


Right, that's Hamlet. By Shakespeare! It works for the Bible, too.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how you hear the Bible speaking to you today at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.