Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Faith Works 12-9-17

Faith Works 12-9-17

Jeff Gill


Simon lives! (part one)



[ital.] A story of the Christmas season [end ital.]


"Simon is alive!"


It's not what I expected to hear Ernestine saying when I came to her door a few days before Christmas.


She and I had stood by his grave just twelve months earlier, after his sudden and unexpected death. As her pastor, there was a note in my pocket to check by her house this Advent to see how she was doing (the first anniversary of a death is often harder than the shock of the passing itself), but she had texted me a message asking if I could stop by, first.


We walked into the living room and sat, I admit with a quizzical look on my face. I am a Christian, and Simon's life with the Lord I did and do believe in, but what was she trying to tell me?


"Padre, I know this sounds crazy, and you and I both know we stood there together as they closed the casket, but things keep happening as if Simon were still alive. I know he's dead, but something is going on, and I need your help to figure out what."


Ernestine and Simon had been in their eighties, but both in good health; she was one of the last of that era who had never learned to drive. I knew there were many friends and two sons who lived locally who got her around to where she needed to go since Simon's passing, but while she wasn't reclusive, she did tend to be at home for the most part.


"What kind of help can I give you, Ern? Do you need a ride somewhere, or for me to contact someone?"


Her explanation made it clear it was something else entirely she was looking for. "No, I want you to go around and do some checking for me. I got this call from a lady who went to pick up her layaway, you know how they do it at those big stores, for Christmas: and there was a note, saying 'Merry Christmas, Simon' so she looked us up in the book – his name is still on the phone bill – and called to thank us!"


I nodded, thinking it was some sort of good deed from one of their many friends in Simon's memory, but she went on: "Then I got a letter in the mail from a man who said a fellow stopped when he had a flat tire, changed it for him, and said he was my Simon! On top of all that, I heard from the Salvation Army. They've gotten three gold coins slid into their red kettles, wrapped in a piece of paper, and all three said . . ."


"Merry Christmas, Simon," I finished for her, and she nodded vigorously. "But what can I do to help you?"


"Well, pastor, I have my suspicions. It could be one of the boys, it could be one of the guys in his coffee group – you know, the Golden Cuppers – or it might be one of the men from the church on the repair ministry team. Could you just, I don't know, snoop around and see if you can find out something for me? I'd love to thank them. Honestly, it's been a nice feeling: I was kind of dreading this Christmas, but now I'm just wondering what I'll hear Simon's up to next!"


Snooping around is not exactly something they teach in seminary. But I was delighted to help Ern, and indeed these little pleasant pranks were right up Simon's alley. He was always the one with a joke sign he'd put up on a classroom door during Sunday school, or would slip a buckeye into your pocket without your noticing, and he had a generous streak.


The difference between this Simon we were dealing with this year, and the one Ern and I knew, is that he was usually very careful not to let anyone know it was him – or he and Ernestine – doing the good deed.


"Ern, I can't promise anything, but I'll do what I can." What else can a minister say?


She gave me a big hug, and as she escorted me back out the door waved and said "I'm sure you'll find out something for me!"


(Part one of three, continued next week!)



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

Monday, December 04, 2017

Notes from my Knapsack 12-7-17

Notes from my Knapsack 12-7-17

Jeff Gill


A question of culture, and community



One of my most vivid memories of college was an anthropology class I took in my first year; I entered, and mirabile dictu, departed an anthropology major.


So a discussion of what "culture" was certainly makes sense, and our professor, who had recently returned from years above the Artic Circle living among the Sami people, herding reindeer, surely had much to tell us.


But maddeningly, at first, she would not tell us what "culture" was. She insisted we define it ourselves as a class. And across a week and a half, five class periods as I recall, we had at it. And found it a very difficult challenge, indeed.


My own horseback answer for now, since I'm not an anthropology professor rightly wanting to challenge my students, but a popularizer and columnator in these pages, is this: culture is that set of norms and values, often unspoken let alone unwritten, that frame the reception of experience in the thinking of the participants in that community, and guide them in actions of everyday life, and major life decisions.


No, I didn't get that from Wikipedia. I just wrote what I recalled coming to earth with after lots of airy speculation . . . and Myrdene, our teacher, as far as I recall never did choose to award any one definition with the prize of "rightness," she just pointed at various elements of different definitions we'd come up with and walked us through the strengths and weaknesses they each had.


Culture is amorphous, mutable, and also scalable, in the computer-based metaphors of today. There is such a thing as "American culture," but are we talking the 1950s or post 2000? Within that construct, you have Midwestern culture, and Eastern or Northeastern culture; inside those matryoshka dolls of meaning, you encounter some unique qualities to Philly culture versus New Yawk culture, and I had the change recently to catch a glimpse of Manhattan, where there may well be a different culture between streets and avenues of that city.


What I carry with me still from that class was the realization that culture, however defined, is how we filter experience. Culture tells us what we see, and what we don't see. Have you heard about some powerful men being powerfully brought low recently, in the news? Yes, I was twenty feet from Matt Lauer a few weeks ago, days before he lost his chair on TV. But I recall when men in authority hitting on young women in the office was . . . not seen. Not commented on. Women would warn each other, quietly, but officially, it was invisible. No more.


Because culture changes. Granville is wrestling with our own culture. We think of ourselves as a place where education is honored – heck, we put it up on a hill in the middle of town! – and where a certain New England . . . ethos? atmosphere? culture? is part of how we see ourselves.


How we celebrate, say, Christmas, and other ethnic or racial cultural observances is still new territory in Our Fair Village. Not long ago, they were invisible. We're starting to see them. And we look at our traditions with new eyes in the culture being contested, struggling to be born, today. And tomorrow.


This is not the Granville of 1855, he said all too obviously, and it's not the Brigadoon of 1955, either. What will the norms of 2055 look like, and could we see them from where we stand today? We might, because culture is a lens, not a hood. Well used, our culture helps us improve our focus both near and long-range.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you see our community culture in transition at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.