Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Faith Works 12-29-18

Faith Works 12-29-18

Jeff Gill


Too much Christmas? Or maybe enough.




So, how much Christmas did you have? Too much, not enough, just right?


Goldilocks may not be a happy camper this time of year. Just right is a state of balance that few can achieve. The Three Bears may include in one house out in the woods the full spectrum of plenty, scarcity, and satisfaction, but as many have wondered, the odds are good that Goldilocks would get eaten by bears before she could complete her testing of chairs and beds and porridge. Anyhow.


I've listened to plenty of people say that Hallmark Channel movies are too much. Well, so is CNN. Ads at Christmastime for cologne are too much, but so are the calorie counts. And in the end, your excess may be my standard practice; my over the top could seem too little too late to you.


But it keeps seeming as if excess has become part and parcel of the Christmas season, from Dickens' "Spirit of Christmas Present" and his cornucopia of plenty, to the last few ad circulars in this paper (or the pop-up ads online at our webpage).


On the other hand, falling short at Christmas time is the tragedy of all tragedies; to be left all alone, to miss your connections, to not get the gift you fervently hoped for, those are the plot points for holiday films that speak of disaster. Only a last minute miracle, usually involving the right thing showing up out of nowhere, can save the story, or the hero.


Is there any miracle that could possibly occur, though, to allow us to have enough Christmas? For enough to be . . . enough?


Christmas Day is 24 hours long, like all of them; we may wake up early, even before dawn, say 6:00 am, and struggle to stay awake to 10:00 pm or so, making the Christmas we experience about 16 hours worth. It winds down slowly, and there's always a wistfulness to realizing that Christmas Day is ending, and won't be back again for another 364 days.


But isn't that true of Dec. 29th? Why is there no bittersweet sense as we realize that it, too, is coming to a close as the streetlights flash on and the sky darkens? Dec. 29 will then be just as gone, for just as long, until the year makes another 364 day round.


Sure, other days don't get you presents. But some do! And any could. This is all why it's a commonplace saying to wish for Christmas joys and the spirit associated with the day to last all the year round. "If only every day were Christmas!"


Every day already is, I think. Not just by keeping your tree up (I leave mine to Jan. 6, another story there) or leaving the lights stapled to your eaves right into Fourth of July, but in the precious gift that is any day in this world. It is irreplaceable and unique and unrepeatable.


What we do with Christmas in all our over-the-top festive excess is a way of putting a pin in our mental maps, tagging the day memorably so we might have some of that specialness carry over to the rest of the 364. If one day that is, after all, exactly like all the others can be made that special, then maybe it means they all have the same potential.


And in the same way, it would be good if we could learn from our occasional lapses into excess, or those moments when we find events falling short of expectations, and not hang onto having gotten too little or too much Christmas, but let those ends of a celebrational spectrum remind us that there is a happy medium, a place in the middle of "enough." Enough is possible, and could be a goal any time.


Part of the mystery and, yes, magic of Christ is how his life is a message to me, from humble birth to sorrowful death, out of his incredible arrival and unexpected return, about both the value of every person, and the meaning to be found in each day. And his way of love and life tells me something about the possibility of finding "enough." That the person I meet, the resources I have, the moment I am in, could be enough, and not just a stepping stone to the next encounter, to more stuff, to a later event when things will really be enough, then.


Christmas, and season after it, is a good time for me to reflect on when and what is enough.


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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Faith Works 12-22-18

Faith Works 12-22-18

Jeff Gill


Room at the inn - a story that might have been



After the pre-flight safety briefing, it was time to sit and wait.


She was my seat-mate, but I hadn't actually related to her at all. She was much older than me, and came in almost as the hatch was being closed, clambering past me to the window seat. I wondered how often she'd have to get back out past me on the aisle.


The overhead light was almost out of her reach, and I offered to help adjust her vent, which apparently was blowing cold air on her.


"Thank you so much, young man. Those always frustrate me."


"Happy to help."


"What brings you out flying terrifying heights into the air?"


So I found myself talking to a woman that, it turns out, lives not two miles away from me. We were both flying back home from family visits, each for our own purposes of supporting relatives who had just suffered tragic losses. She seemed better equipped to provide that sort of moral support that I thought I had been.


We talked about family and parents and aunts and uncles, and I realized she was talking about the start of the Great Depression, and World War II. She was born in 1924, and her husband had piloted some kind of landing craft across the Pacific, sending cryptic postcards all postmarked "San Francisco APO."


Me? I remembered when MTV started, and the day Challenger exploded. But then again, so did she.  And she had met both Orville Wright and Buzz Aldrin. "Well, I shook Orville's hand, anyhow. Buzz I got to talk to. He's a hoot!"


"This is going to be a quiet Christmas, but I think I'm about due," she said. "Last year I was with my late husband's family in Pittsburgh and they about deafened me. What are you going to do?"


"Well, not much." Honestly, my plan was pretty much non-existent. I had moved to central Ohio the year before, my parents had moved twice since I finished college, and I'd ended up living in Licking County just because the house I rented was the first click on my web search that wasn't already under contract.


"If you want some egg nog that will tell you what day it is on the 25th, you can come by my house. My great-niece doesn't like it much, and her kids aren't old enough to taste my recipe." It occurred to me that this meant she was a great-great-aunt, which was not a title I'd even thought of existing until just now.


We made good time, landed and the usual scramble for luggage and the aisle began. I realized, thanks to my newfound friend, that there was an upside to just sitting and waiting until the pack had thinned out. We chatted until the aisle cleared, then I reached up and got her bag and mine down from the bin overhead, and we marched at her pace down the rows of seats and out the tunnel into the airport.


In the concourse, she stopped and so did I, helping her re-sling her bag as she dug out a, yes, flip phone. "I'm going to call and get my great-niece to come and get me, but it's been nice talking to you!"


To my surprise, I heard myself asking "would you mind if I gave you a ride home and saved your great-niece a trip out so late?" In the end, she still had to call her to tell her not to worry about coming to the airport, but we made our way to the shuttles, the lot, and into my car and down Route 161. We reached her house, and I carried her bag in as she unlocked the door.


She insisted on making me coffee before my trip home, which I pointed out was less than two miles away. But I did welcome the pause. There in her home, surrounded by pictures of family, all of whose names she rattled off any time my gaze flickered in their direction, and knick-knacks each of which carried a story of their own.


By the time I got up from her table, it was late enough that I needed that coffee in me. But I promised to come back in a few days for a Christmas Day visit.


"Not until after 11 am, though. I always watch the Christmas parade past the castle in California; took my kids there the year it opened." I assured her I would not interrupt her time with those magical mice. "I want you to come by, though. There's always room at this inn."


Driving home, I thought about family. This was a family time of year, but I'd always felt on the outside of those sorts of things. For her, it was as simple as an invitation, and family was created right there in an acceptance of the offer. Anyone who wanted to celebrate Christmas was family to her.


Could it be that simple?


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