Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Faith Works 3-11-17

Faith Works 3-11-17

Jeff Gill


So Much I Still Can't Anticipate



No, I haven't seen "The Shack" yet.


Yes, I've been told I should; no, I don't have a problem with the author's or filmmakers' view of the Trinity. I'm just not up for the window into tragedy and trauma right now. In time, I will, I'm sure. But not just now.


It's clear from the trailers and promos that we get a taste, insofar as Hollywood and special effects can do the Biblical interpretation, of what Heaven is like. There have been a string of movies in the last couple of years that take a shot at that one, the "beatific vision" granted only in former times to saints and mystics, now available to anyone with a debit card and a tub of popcorn.


I know, I should be more appreciative of any attempts to consider religious faith in the public sphere. Once we painted the heavens opening onto the ceilings of central churches and even public buildings – the US Capitol rotunda is, directly overhead, a view of George Washington being bodily assumed into the divine realm – or let natural light filter through stained glass showing the pearlescence of St. Peter's gates and the feathery beauty of angels' wings. So why not movies?


Hell, intriguingly, gets attention from a relatively limited number of producers and directors. Disney has not been afraid to take on the infernal, from "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and the fires from below erupting around Scrooge's potential future grave, to the live-action movie of "The Haunted Mansion" at the conclusion, or at the end of "Fantasia" when Chernabog's terrifying rise is beaten back only by a chorus softly singing "Ave Maria."


Everyone likes Heaven, though. Even atheists tend to speak well of it, though more as a misplaced metaphor for a better life on earth. Since the Apollo program, preachers are much less likely to refer to Heaven as simply "up" or even "out there," so much as "within." For which we have some Biblical warrant, as when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God being in us.


The problem with most casual reflections on Heaven, I believe, is that they tend to be focused on "after." As in "the afterlife." When you die.


That, of course, is when we're thinking most about the place. (Or "place" if you prefer.) When someone has died, someone we love, even a person we barely knew but we're in line at the funeral home waiting to hug the family and passing close to the casket, when we ourselves start reflecting on our mortality, on our own limits, on our own death waiting for us on ahead, we like to push fast-forward and think about Heaven.


Except – and warning, this is one of those times your "Faith Works" columnist is much less generic and more specifically the Christian pastor he is – the point and reality of Heaven is intended to be present to us right now, not just later. Heaven is a promise of a secure future that gives us a solid place to stand in the tides of the times today. The Realm of God is a reality in which we have citizenship and standing even as we live and work as "strangers in a strange land" through the brokenness of the here and now.


I know "The Shack" is meant, considered in full, to address just that. Paradise is a place where we not only see those we love as saved, as secure, as solidly present even as their bodies have given out on them, but it's a connection for us to hold onto between their lives and our own in this life. Papa wants Mack (the protagonist in the story with which we're to identify) to know his love for his daughter is still a real relationship, different for a time, but not ended entirely.


We do get stuck on those pretty pictures, though. The perfection and the power and the glory. How does a believer keep on feeling that connection to the celestial as we step over broken glass and kick aside the trash in our journey through today? And are we just marking time until we can get to that "better place" (a term I'm not exactly in love with, by the way)?


Or is there something of Heaven present in the world we know right now, obscured a bit, but when you change your angle of vision, startlingly apparent all around? Could we already be halfway home and only just be starting to realize it?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he lived for years in "Almost Heaven" which, after all, is just across the river from Ohio. Tell him about where you see Heaven breaking forth at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 3-9-17

Notes From My Knapsack 3-9-17

Jeff Gill


A rivalry for the ages



I've read with interest the efforts of members of the Newark and Granville Police Departments to get proper honors due to Carl Etherington, a duly deputized marshal of Granville, who served his brief term on behalf of the Anti-Saloon League in Newark, and therein lays a story.


The tragedy, and the honors, came as he was killed by a mob in the line of duty, lynched on the night of July 8, 1910, which was the same day he was deputized that morning on the courthouse steps.


Those details have been narrated elsewhere in this paper and our sister publication, the Newark Advocate. I was privileged to be part of a quiet memorial on July 8, 2010, when a few of us met by the Old Jail, walked the path the young man was dragged along, past the Brunswick Building, under the stony gaze of Adam Kiesel and east along South Park Place to the site of his hanging just off of Courthouse Square. We set a wreath on the site, and 24 hours later I took it to Kentucky and placed it on his grave in the Willisburg Cemetery, in view of his childhood home just up the road.


In the years since, I've had reason to reflect on the animosities between our village and the county seat, and how they might have begun, and why it endures. I now live in Granville, but serve a church in Newark: a church that first brought me to Ohio in 1989 as an associate pastor. In those years, my wife, while working on her doctorate at Ohio State, was also the handbell director for First Presbyterian in Granville…and I began to learn that there was some tension in the jokes between our two communities.


In truth, I couldn't have then done what has worked out to be the case today, living in Granville and serving in Newark. It would have been at best hard, and at worst failed entirely. And even now, comments get made. Jokes, you know. With an edge.


But from 1808, there was a clash. Granville's area hosted the first meeting of the Common Pleas Court as Licking County was first established, under a tree just west of Cherry Valley and Newark Granville Road. We hoped to keep the courts here, but Newark took that round.


In 1815, Sereno Wright moved here from Randolph, Vermont, where he was a printer, and published the largest newspaper in that state, "The Wanderer." That masthead continued in Granville, and by 1822, Bushnell's history recounts something of the competition between the Advocate, founded by Benjamin Briggs in 1820, and Wright's "Wanderer." Apparently "about seventy copies of the paper were taken at Granville. The paper displeased its Granville subscribers on some political ground and they gathered all the copies of the paper at hand, formed a mock funeral procession and marched to the beating of a muffled drum, from the hotel to the old parade ground, or further east, and after a speech by Jerry Jewett, the papers were buried. Mr. Briggs had advertised to receive payment for his paper in produce. The subscribers then gathered the most inconvenient kinds of produce they could find, went to Newark, paid their bills and stopped the paper, and the circulation in Granville was reduced from seventy to two."


And then there was 1910. The leaders of Granville were "drys" who had won election on a Prohibition platform; technically Newark should have been dry, too, but the popular sentiment, at least downtown, was very, very "wet." The Anti-Saloon League out of Westerville agitated for "right thinking citizens" to take action, and the mayor of Granville at the time chose to lead the push to close Newark's bars by force. So it was that deputies were recruited, sworn in, and sent to work.


The aftermath of the debacle was essentially state control of Newark, imposed by the governor (a Denison alum) to reform both the mayor's office and police department, plus the county sheriff was drawn in as well. Hard feelings went deep, and arguably still echo, even if not quite audibly to the casual listener, between Granville and our neighbors to the east.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the stories that whisper within your earshot at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.