Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 5-26-16

Notes From My Knapsack 5-26-16

Jeff Gill

 

A Conversation That Can't Really Happen

___

 

If I could go back and talk to myself, when I was turning eighteen . . . a silly conceit for a newspaper column, I know. Because you can't, and anyhow what you've learned in (say) almost forty years has been largely invalidated by changes in technology, society, and the economy in general.

 

Hasn't it?

 

Or are the things you really wish you could return and clue in your clueless-ish self about not the sorts of things that are subject to the vicissitudes of time and trends? Does it matter that you spent so much time working with audio and radio equipment that now deserves a place in a museum, or that your earliest attempts to be creative on your own terms involved printing equipment that no museum would accept, even as a donation?

 

My Social Security review statement came in the mail, and I look back across the income amounts for each year and they represent less sums of money than they remind me of the jobs they represent, what I learned and how I maneuvered to get them . . . or what other job I got manipulated out of that would have paid a different sum.

 

It's funny, but the dollars don't count as much as the memories they evoke. The year I made $700 I couldn't tell you what I spent it on, but it was when I got picked for the position of Nature/Conservation area director at summer camp. $1000 was my first summer as Program Director at Camp Tamarack, a job I'd long hoped for, and which did turn out to be what I expected, but in the end was even more.

 

$7,415 was my student church in seminary, half paid by a Lilly Endowment grant and the other half by that congregation. There was nothing to negotiate and it wasn't enough, but we got by mainly because my wife made more than me. No one warned me that would happen, or that it would be true more years than not through our marriage. I could have better prepared myself for that, if I'd been able to imagine it.

 

So I'd say to me, back in 1979, that money isn't everything, but how you handle your finances can be. If you make fifty bucks a week and spend forty-nine, you're richer than the poor fellow who makes two hundred but spends two-twentyfive, piling up a load of debt and chains that bind you. Living simply can allow you to make some interestingly complicated choices.

 

While you work through your choices and plans, tell people what you're thinking. You can't tell just anyone everything, but don't think those who are close to you are mind-readers. Assumptions and expectations make fools of us all, so say something.

 

If you love someone, make sure to tell them how you're feeling. If you think you love someone, but you can't tell them how you feel, either you need to work on that, or you don't really love them. Find someone you can speak your heart to.

 

And love? Love is when the happiness of another person has become essential to your own. I borrowed that line, but it's made sense to me over many years. How to know that's true is something we each have to work out for ourselves, but it's a good measure. And from another reliable source, I'd remind my younger self that Meyer is correct when he says to Travis "In any moral conflict, the more difficult choice is the right decision."

 

That's what I'd say to myself at age eighteen if I could go back and tell him. Or I'd be happy to offer it for whatever use someone turning eighteen might find in it today.

 

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you make a day out of the tools at hand at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Faith Works 5-21-16b

Faith Works 5-21-16b

Jeff Gill

 

Ordinary Time Is Anything But

___

 

In liturgically oriented Christian churches, the season of Easter ends with Pentecost, just last Sunday.

 

Which means in those traditions that Monday was the beginning of "Ordinary Time."

 

Ordinary Time is best known to worshipers as the unbearably long stretch from May to the end of November when the green cloths on the pulpit, lectern, and communion table are on view week after week.

 

Advent is four weeks, Lent seven or so, all in purple (or royal blue, ask your altar guild); white and gold come out a few weeks for Christmas and Easter, and you see red "paraments" (as they're called altogether as worship area d├ęcor, sometimes including special banners) at Pentecost for a week and on some other saint's days and for ordinations.

 

The Red doesn't get much wear, while the Green tends to fade fastest of the whole four color set of cloths.

 

The green paraments, longer days, and meandering course through the lectionary means that "Ordinary Time" can seem pretty ordinary, in the ordinary sense of the word. It's just church, as usual. Right?

 

It's also the stretch of time when youth and counselors are sent to camp, Bible schools and conferences are commissioned or put on in Fellowship Hall, school ends in the latter days of spring and then begins again as fall starts to jostle past summer.

 

Vacations for worship leaders and preachers mean that different faces show up in unusual places in the service, new voices and completely different approaches to the sermon or mediations or even at the table for communion.

 

In Ordinary Time, a number of extraordinary things happen: Memorial Day, the longest day of the year with the summer solstice, Fourth of July and all the events around that week, Labor Day, All Hallows Eve (which you may know by another name). Some of these nudge into the worship space, while other parsons keep them at the door.

 

Regardless, there's harvest time in the autumn – planting may or may not take place entirely within Ordinary Time, but it always overlaps with the beginning of it to some degree. Whether your congregation has farmers or not, the movement of the field equipment and the gathering in of the crops catches the eye and mind even as the days shorten up again.

 

Most congregations at harvest time do some sort of special stewardship emphasis, in education or a full-on campaign, talking about the gifts we've been given and the gratefulness that leads us to give something back, to pay forward on our blessings to a generation still rising, or yet to come.

 

United Methodists got so weary of "Ordinary Time" that they tried decades ago to break it in half, and call for a "Kingdomtide" in the latter half of the season between the liturgical seasons, calling for late summer and early fall to be a time for churches to focus on social ministries, care for the poor and those in need. It tied back to an older model of Community Chest (now United Way) when there was a fall "black out" period for fundraising to any group other than the shared appeal in the area.

 

Kingdomtide, like so many well-meant ideas, never really caught on, but you run into hints and traces of it. There are other special Sundays in various faith traditions (Higher Education Sunday, Rally Day, Week of the Ministry) that tended to dot this season, many of which are faded along with the green cloths on the pulpit and lectern.

 

Ordinary Time. It's the time in our life when we work to live as Christians without the immediate inspiration of a baby's birth, wise men on the road, or the journey to the cross, and beyond. Advent and Lent, along with their counterparts Christmas and Easter, are key productions of the worship dramas in our repertory, but ordinary time is when we tend to the everyday business of love and forgiveness, maintenance and mutual upbuilding.

 

The ordinary parts of life are often the first to be neglected when things aren't going well for us, and that's no less true in our corporate life. Any church can pull of a Christmas pageant when it has to, but keeping up with the week by week gathering in fullness and fellowship is the real test of our faithfulness.

 

Welcome to Ordinary Time. I pray that it is extraordinary for you and your church!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your ordinary adventures in faithfulness at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Faith Works 5-21-16

Faith Works 5-21-16

Jeff Gill

 

We Can Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

___

 

There are two passages of Scripture much abused these days by partisans of the right and of the left alike.

 

They're found in Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, in a passage about midway through, and I'll stick with the 1611 classic English translation for now; in 6:14 (KJV): Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And Paul adds at 6:17: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.

 

This counsel to the early Christian community in the worldly & cosmopolitan city of Corinth (think Vegas mixed with Manhattan), has been turned into a justification for congregational and denominational splintering, and I have to be honest: it's starting to tick me off.

 

Today, because of relatively sudden and startling changes in our cultural assumptions about sexuality and gender, faith communities (especially of a Protestant orientation) are going through major tensions over what traditional morality has to say about leadership roles in church life, how to teach our children and congregations about the right use of our sexuality in our personal and spiritual lives, and what provision and arrangements for differences and choices can be made in our organizational structures, let alone our buildings.

 

For a large chunk of the country and a great many churches, this is baffling stuff that has little to do with our own every day life. A good case can be made that almost every one of the subjects now in dispute about sex, marriage, and personal freedoms has an impact in any congregation, no matter how small or isolated (we think), if only we would open our eyes and see more clearly who our neighbors really are.

 

But it's also the case that there are many who would argue that some of these subjects are settled, with great weight of history and precedent and tradition behind them, and they should not be moved . . . and they cite Bible verses to support that.

 

Even as others speak of some traditions as standing on "the wrong side of history," greater acceptance of others being a value well supported by Jesus, and our need to affirm the personal rights and integrity of all . . . and they cite Bible verses to support that.

 

I won't resolve any of those issues in a few hundred words here. But I do want to address what I strongly believe is an unseemly hurry on the part of some to see to it that local congregations and national or global church bodies divide themselves up over such issues, with (again) both partisans of the left and of the right using one translation or another of "come out from among them, and be separate."

 

There's a purist perspective at work here, and I fear the church has caught a cold from the raging influenza of today's politics, sniffling about how we can only work with people who already completely agree with us. It began in political matters, was magnified by the "culture wars" of the Seventies and Eighties, and has now bled over into the doctrinal battles most evident in Protestant Christian bodies over the last two decades or so.

 

Paul was speaking in Second Corinthians directly to marriage, and how it can be dangerous to the believer to marry an unbeliever, and the logic of that he works out in the chapter in full. "Unequally yoked" can also be seen as any sort of formal obligation where your relationship, contractual or matrimonial, forces you to act against your faith, and avoiding that simply seems prudent.

 

But when that idea gets wound up in the phrase "separate yourselves from the unrighteous" (which, read it carefully in any translation, is not what it says), it turns into a belief that faithful living requires that you have no churchly relationship with anyone or any group with which you have disagreement, substantial or slight.

 

Which is, to use a theological term, hooey. In my own congregation, I am a Cubs fan, while almost all of the rest of us are Indians or Reds fans. Ah, but that's not about unrighteousness, I can hear some ask. Well, my retort would be that when you turn this into a need to keep your distance from any disagreement that has to do with the nature of truth, we have all sorts of points of departure, from sports to sexuality to the nature of authority. There are some church folk who think I should be able to just tell people what they must do, and would you believe it, but I disagree with them?

 

How can we continue as faith communities worthy of the name, even as our members have differences of opinion? I plan to return to this subject from a number of angles this summer. Please feel free to share with me any particular aspects you'd like to hear addressed.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; you can email him at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.