Sunday, September 02, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 9-13-18

Notes from my Knapsack 9-13-18

Jeff Gill


Simple math, once upon a time



From older records of Granville by Henry Bushnell and Henry Howe, to the more recent reminiscences of Charles Browne White and William Utter and Minnie Hite Moody, I enjoy reading about the simpler way things once operated.


With Ellen Hayes, whose 1920 "Wild Turkeys and Tallow Candles" still bears re-reading, I am sanguine about how much of that simplicity is recoverable in the present time. There are outlines, though, that are clearer in the sparer, harsher times of the past than we can easily pick out today.


I'm a history junkie from way back (blame my dad, inveterate stopper at historical markers), and as a preacher, old church records are for me a kind of fun (I know, I know). In the earliest decades of the 1800s through the Ohio Valley, you can read about how they built churches.


Someone would donate a piece of land. That's step one. Then you'd have to get some wood, right? Well, blue ash and yellow poplar were still common enough, but your need was for a sawyer and logger or two or twelve to come together and donate their labor for a set period of days. The rest of the furnishings? The bell, the lamps, the stove, the windows? Often, these items would have to be shipped in, but to pay for them, the congregation would pitch in sacks of grain, bolts of cloth, a chicken here, a pair of sacks of onions from another.


Some of the in-kind gifts were directly useful: a small barrel of nails, a bundle of bar stock to take to the blacksmith. Others, like a young hog, would have a more indirect if important part in getting the new church building put up.


Or you can go back farther and read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, and realize what the heart of insurance was when it had to do with fires and fire departments, such as they were. You paid your dues, and you got a plaque up on your house: the symbol in cast iron up on the brick wall said "if this house burns, put me out!" No sign, no water.


Pretty simple, eh? And as for insurance, you can tell by Poor Richard's saying "one move is like three fires" that house fires were both more common, and somewhat less devastating in the 1700s than you might think today. Chimney fires, trash out back catching the cedar shakes on the roof, candles catching the drapes . . . it happened a lot. So the idea was if each house puts $1 a year into the common pot, and if the odds were that but one house in twenty would have a fire each year, and the average fire did $20 damage, then a voluntary "company" of householders agreeing to share risk between some 5000 residences could break even. Of course, you have a year with 257 houses burning instead of 250, and you're $140 in the hole, so you collect a bit more than you need, keep a reserve on hand, and start reminding people in the company of the insured that they should always have their chimneys inspected each year.


And you get a year when only 214 houses of the 5000 with fires means $720 left over at the year's end, and then the debate is how big the reserve should be, but someone mentions the great fire in Philadelphia that spread to burn 500 homes last year, so . . .


Then there's schools. (To be continued!)


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been paid in turnips once for preaching, but it was probably all the sermon was worth. Tell him about your interests in the past at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 9-9-18

Faith Works 9-9-18

Jeff Gill


Days of awe, days of wonder



Rosh Hashanah, the "head of the year" in Hebrew for the Jewish calendar's 5779, begins at sunset tomorrow, and that also opens up a period of ten days concluding with Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement."


The ten days altogether are known as the "Days of Awe" in Judaism, and are often in the Midwest the gates of autumn, with no little awe and wonder in the air, scrawled across the sunrises and humming with expectation in the evening.


Trees are starting to turn, farmer's thoughts turn to harvest, football is all around us on Friday nights, and the night starts a little bit earlier to the point where you can't help but notice it as September rolls along.


It may not be a part of my faith tradition, but there's something about the beauty and sadness of the gathering gloom that fits with the idea of the gates of Heaven being opened a little wider for our petitions, even as the shrinking daylight gives us cause to listen a little more closely to what Heaven might be saying back to us. A period of preparation for winter to come.


And the truth is, as a Christian pastor, my marking of the Days of Awe are also for me a reminder to get myself ready for . . . Christmas.


Sure, it's a bit of a leap, but keep in mind the baby we celebrate was born a good Jew, whose family went to Jerusalem for the Passover, and who knew all the traditions and tales of atonement. Jesus went to weddings and feasts and doubtless marked the turn of a new year in Nazareth (back in the 3000's as it would have been), and the fast of Yom Kippur.


What makes Christmas as a season joyful for me is if I've prepared myself properly for it. When it sneaks up and catches me as a calendar responsibility only, my thankfulness and celebration can become rote, pro forma, less meaningful. If I get ready in both personal and practical terms, it can be a different sort of stretch of time.


The Days of Awe are ten days . . . Advent challenges us to try to wonder at the mystery and majesty of creation for twenty-four days!


I might lose my minister card for saying this, but I love Christmas. The sacred and the secular parts of it; both the sequence of Advent themes for four Sundays in December, and the crescendo of kitsch and relentless retail. The story of Mary's simple faith, and the complex narrative of a Saint named Nicholas who somehow becomes a cultural icon. The Bible, and yes, the Hallmark Channel movies. I love it all – if.


If, that is, I've got my own house in order. The plans for worship and fellowship at church, my own intentions for giving and gifts and sharing forth with others, the special responsibilities that can come in the Christmas season. If I remembered not to forget those parts of the program, I love Christmas. If it gets away from me, I'm like anyone else – I can start to lose the awe and wonder and delight, and just go through the motions.


So whatever your faith tradition, however you do or don't do Christmas, the social reality is that there's quite an opportunity ahead to either enjoy or despise the maelstrom that is December, but the necessary preparation has to begin now. You may be Jewish or Christian or entirely secular, but from Hanukkah to Yule to Festivus, there's an opening ahead to walk through into something wonderful.


And I tip my hat to the Jewish readers of this "Faith Works" running feature, for their particular understandings of what it means to have a door open, to take advantage of what God has first begun, and to make the most of what we are invited to be a part of.


For all of us, it's simply a time of year to savor the moment, and to catch a glimpse of deeper connections ahead. Let's all make the most of it!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; yes, he likes Christmas. It's not a crime. Tell him how you are dealing with autumn's arrival at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.