Monday, December 30, 2019

Faith Works 1-4-20

Faith Works 1-4-20

Jeff Gill


You might be surprised by what you see



How many ways have we seen 2020 as a year conflated with 20/20 as a measure of vision?


I was in seminary when I first heard reference to goals and planning towards the year now begun, mixing up the usual metric for "clear vision" with the Anno Domini, "Year of Our Lord" Two thousand and twenty.


And I hate to tell you but it was thirty-five years ago.


That's almost four decades of beating that metaphor into the ground, and it's with a measure of relief I mark not just having lived to this date, but seeing start to move past us. No more 20/20 riffs or reminders or relationships.


I'm not a person with 20/20 vision. I've worn glasses since third grade and probably needed them earlier than that. I'm about 20/60 in one eye and 20/200 in the other.


What that means in everyday terms is that what the normal person can see at 200 feet of, say, a set of letters on a poster, I can only see at 20 feet. 20/20 vision just means that you see at 20 feet of distance what most people see from 20 feet away. That's why a person with truly acute vision might have 20/15 vision, because they can see at 20 foot range what the basically enabled watcher would need to step five feet closer to make out.


Which is where I think the idea of labeling a "visioning process" for a church or any other faith community as "20/20 vision" is not a sign of acuity or excellence, but you're actually asking for the average, the generally accepted. And is that the kind of vision we want in our spiritual insight?


I'd hope as a congregation that my church members would ask and pray and work for a measure of vision that is better than the run-of-the-mill eyesight. Certainly, we don't want worse, and I'm glad to have my own corrective lenses to get me roughly back up to 20/20, but our hopes for vision and anticipation should be more for . . . well, how do they measure telescopes or microscopes?


So to see well into the future, we might want to aspire to "28x" vision like a good home telescope, or for insight "100x" magnification akin to a desktop microscope. That's the kind of vision worth pursuing, don't you think?


Anyhow, 20/20 is dead-on average, and while that's useful and common, I think the year 2020 is a good time to retire that image, and maybe even rethink the whole concept of "vision statements." Mission statements have been boiled down to a phrase or short set of words for quite a while now; you don't see long mission statements as a standard "quote" line on either business or non-profit documents very often anymore. It's not "to be the leader in every market we serve, to the benefit of our customers and our shareholders" or a "company that builds value for its shareholders through its employees by creating an atmosphere of optimism, teamwork, creativity, resourcefulness and by dealing with everyone in an open and ethical manner": now you're more likely to see "Peace of mind" or "To inspire humanity."


A vision statement should state the goal you're working together to achieve, and a mission statement your particular part of making progress towards that vision. My own congregation filed a very forward looking vision statement with the Ohio secretary of state back in 1891: "To glorify God and better humanity," and while we have a more recent and much longer mission statement, we work with a simplified condensation of it as "Worship, Serve, Grow." Those three words offer a visitor or guest our sense of how our church is participating in that larger vision "to glorify God and better humanity," through the values of corporate worship, shared service, and a commitment to personal growth in spiritual maturity.


How does your church community envision the goal you're together to support? And what are you particularly called and gifted to accomplish in that pursuit as a local church? I'm betting you can do better than an average, common, 20/20 vision of those ends.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you're thinking about vision at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-20

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-20

Jeff Gill


Tied up in knots



One challenge in growing up today is knowing when you have.


As the oldest in my family, I think back to the important step it meant when Mom let me put down a regular fork for one of my younger siblings instead of the salad fork that "little kids" used.


Older folk than I talk about getting long pants or other now past rituals of maturity. One that I share with earlier generations, which now is starting to make a divide between me and my younger cohorts, is the masculine act of tying a tie.


In younger days, I had the classic clip-on tie, bow or straight down type. But you knew you were on the direct route to manhood when you learned how to tie a tie, and it was your road to walk on your own when you tied it yourself.


Now I have about thirty ties in my closet, and rarely wear them. The holiday season gets out the six or seven I have that are Christmas themed, and there's a couple of Halloween and patriotic and religious ones each, plus a Chicago Cubs tie I had to get in the year of their World series victory. But more and more, ties are an anomaly, an aberration where they were once an expectation.


I'm a Christian preacher, yet even in church I'm often the only one in worship with a tie on, and truth be told I have a fair number of Sundays when I don't even wear one to preach – something I could not have imagined 30 years ago. I still feel a bit obligated to put one on for funerals and weddings, even when I'm not the officiant, but it's not unusual for even the groom to be open collar.


College presidents and captains of industry are eschewing neckwear; putting on a tie is a statement of sorts, but darned if I know what it is. I know bow ties are a Gordon Gee thing, and wearing one seems to suggest a certain sort of intellectualism, or at least idiosyncrasy. But I have to say on those occasions when I put on a hand-tied (not clip-on) bow tie, there's a certain awe, or perhaps just bewilderment, as other men ask "did you tie that yourself?" Knowing how to tie a necktie knot is an esoteric skill up there with rebuilding carburetors or sharpening an axe.


And I've found myself tying a great many ties at weddings for the groomsmen in the last decade. It's no longer a rite of passage for young men, and even fathers often aren't themselves up to speed with the whole Windsor, Four-in-hand, adjustable knot concept, so they can't teach it to sons.

Somewhere I heard that the necktie craze began with Croatian mercenaries having a certain flair for how they tied their scarves, marching into Paris, and these Croatians from Croatia by some linguistic devolution became "cravats." Could be, and I'd hate to look it up to disprove it. A fascinating book my fashion design professor sister told me about, "Sex and Suits," explained how the modern dress suit got its medieval start as foundational garb underneath a suit of armor. So why not a Croatian scarf giving birth to my Italian silk tie?


As you prepare for work, or play, or going to church, or costuming for an occasion, men just need to remember one thing: don't complain to women about having to tie a tie. Seriously, just don't.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he still wears ties, but not as often as he used to. Tell him about fashions you're glad or sad to see go out of style at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-28-19

Faith Works 12-28-19

Jeff Gill


The Package – a story



[This is a piece of fiction, fourth of four parts, for the Christmas season]


On the way into his town's only shoe repair shop, Jerry reflected on all the twists and turns that had taken him to this place.


He had gotten a package on his front porch, nicely wrapped in Christmas paper, which after some hesitation he'd opened up, to find a box re-used from another address, which he visited in hopes of clearing up the mystery of the gift.


The lady in a wheelchair there had confirmed that the box inside the wrapping paper was something she'd discarded, and together they'd opened it up to find a used but well repaired pair of boots. They enjoyed their conversation over the puzzle, talked about their personal history a bit, and agreed to meet again; Jerry had also agreed to deliver a load of boxes she had waiting on her porch to the Salvation Army, filling in for a church friend whose vehicle had broken down.


He'd ended up eating at the soup kitchen, making more friends with the cooking crew and had offered to come back next month to help them cook – he'd make more new friends in the last 24 hours, Jerry reflected, than he had in the last fifty years. And then he was about to introduce himself to the cobbler whose tag was still attached to the boots he'd received without any other information.


Inside the shop, he did just that, explaining his curiosity about the nearly-new boots that had come to him in such a seasonal but surprising fashion. The cobbler at the counter turned the boots over, looking at the soles and nodding in agreement: "yes, that was my work." And he flipped around the tag, where only a number remained above the missing part below the perforation.


"Do you know who had you fix up these boots?" Jerry asked.

"Well, yes," said the cobbler. "I have the records, and I know who, but I'm not sure about telling you. It seems almost, well, unethical."


"Oh," replied Jerry. He hadn't considered the possibility that the shoe repair place wouldn't tell him. The trail ended here.


"Look," the cobbler said, leaning across the counter. "I don't think I can tell you his name or give you his phone number, but . . . you see him every week."


Jerry walked out, holding his boots, and went back home thinking through what he'd learned at the shoe repair place. The package came from someone he saw every week. Not the mail delivery person, that was someone he saw multiple times a week, ditto the paper delivery. He was lucky, he didn't see his doctor every week like some did; he didn't attend church, or hadn't for years, anyhow, but it wasn't a pastor. So who was it? And then it hit him.


The next time Jerry took his trash tote out to the curb, he waited until he heard the rumble of diesel around the corner; he stood there with it as the garbage truck came up and the driver swung down out of the cab. His beard was broad and white and bushy, and while his tan coveralls were stained and a bit ragged on the cuffs, he had a bright red stocking cap with a bright fuzzy snowball on the top.


"Hey there, Jerry," said the garbage man.

"Hello, um – I don't think I ever learned your name," he answered.

"It's Nick. Good to meet you official, like; don't shake, I'm sticky," replied Nick, offering a fist bump. Jerry bumped him back, then pointed down.


"How do you like my boots?"


"They look good on you. Hey, I hope you didn't mind; I pick up all kinds of too good to toss stuff and throw it in the cab. You came running out a few weeks ago with your trash late, and your boots looked so ratty I thought, hey, why not. You seem like a nice guy, and they looked like your size. They fit?"

"They do. But those were just my, sort of, slipper boots for shoving my feet into. I have a good pair."


"Oh, I'm sure you do," said the garbage guy, having swung the totes into the truck as they talked, and as he was about to jump back into the cab. "If you really can't use 'em, pay it forward, I always say. You never know what good you do by passing your blessings along."


As the truck moved on down the street, Jerry thought, no, you never really do, do you?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you've learned about paying it forward at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Faith Works 12-21-19

Faith Works 12-21-19

Jeff Gill


The Package – a story



[This is a piece of fiction, third of four parts, for the Christmas season]


Jerry looked at his rear view mirror at traffic behind him, over the top of a pile of large boxes in the back seat sticking up into his usual field of view.


He'd just been at a lady's house, whose address was on a package inside of gift wrapping, and learned what he'd been fairly sure of but had to check: the package that mysteriously showed up on his doorstep wasn't from her. She'd discarded the box, and someone had carefully marked through (but not obscuring entirely) the mailing information before wrapping up . . . a pair of old but nicely reconditioned boots.


Later, he was going to the shoe repair shop whose tag was still attached to one boot, but first he was delivering a back seat and trunk full of coats to the Salvation Army. The lady he'd interrupted in her day at home needed a hand with coats from her church she was trying to get there, and Jerry was happy to solve her problem in return for her courtesy. He wasn't sure he would have been so cordial with a stranger on his front porch asking about an old box of his, but they'd talked so long they'd decided to exchange phone numbers and continue the conversation another day.


Since her church friend's truck had broken down, he was in an ideal position to help out on his way to the cobbler's, but his sedan wasn't a pickup, and what had been two heavy boxes in her hallway were multiple piles and a stack of smaller boxes she'd offered from the garage. Watching traffic over the coats in the back piled high, he changed lanes and turned off to head for the Salvation Army building.


A few more turns, and then he drove past the front of the building, parked and hoped he could find some help in unloading. His new friend, the lady whose name was on the box, said her coats were expected, and he should just go in and ask where they should be placed. Seeing a few people heading in a door in the back, he shut the car off and slowly got out, thinking his back was really going to need some helpers to get these coats inside.


Jerry walked in the door, and the warmth fogged his glasses, pausing him as he entered. Through the haze, he heard a friendly voice say "you got here just in time, we were starting to shut down the line!" As he wiped clean his lenses, putting his glasses back on Jerry realized it was the soup kitchen door, and the people behind the counter in front of him were setting up a tray of food for him.


"Oh, no, I'm not here to eat, I'm delivering coats?"

"Doesn't matter, we're all going to eat, and then we'll all help you: got many?" the cook asked cheerily? Jerry tried to describe what he had as he shuffled sideways along the line, and was swept into a group coming out from behind the counter, each with their own trays, and then scattering out into places around the long tables.


The soup was good, and mac and cheese, and he realized he was having trouble telling who was a customer (or guest, it sounded like they were saying about the visitors to the soup kitchen) and which were volunteers. They talked about weather, family, two at one end of the table about hunting and three on Jerry's other side about the Browns.


As everyone seemed to finish, the woman who'd greeted him at the door said "Jerry needs some help bringing in donated coats!" and it seemed half the room got up, cleared their trays, and went out into the parking lot to gather in an armload of coats from the back seat and trunk. The job took seconds, and they were done.


"Jerry, we serve here every third Sunday evening; come on back any time to eat or to help!" she said, shaking his hand.

"I can make a mean lasagna," he answered and the host loudly shouted "Yes! There's our plan for next month! Give me your number and I'll get ahold of you for shopping to get the ingredients."


He was making more friends in a day than he had in the last ten years, Jerry reflected, as he got in his car and finally headed for the shoe repair shop. Now it was late enough it would probably be closed. His errand could wait until tomorrow, but since he was out . . . he thought he'd drive by just in case.

Jerry was really getting curious about those boots now, even though they didn't have much to do with everything that had happened to him. They were just a cause, a trigger, of something much bigger that was changing for him. But he wanted to know about the boots.


[to be continued]


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think is up with the boots at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


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