Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 2-14-19

Notes from my Knapsack 2-14-19

Jeff Gill


Not our best look



It's understood that the latter half of winter is not Ohio's best look.


Filthy piles of melting snow, crystalized and refrozen around revealed trash and debris, scattered in between the soggy yellow-green patches of grass. Soil mostly mud around the edges where we're often having to step, not always in waterproof boots, grit and salt tracked into our homes and stores and churches, a fading trail of filth that custodians struggle to keep up with.


Trees are starting to crack and split, a few sagging over as the ground releases its hold on root balls with the deep saturation. The wet bark is a slimy sort of black and one tree can barely be told from another, just a handful of upright splinters against a grey backdrop.


What I'd encourage you to remember during our slow return to longer days, brighter hopes, and more stable soil underfoot, is that the look of the natural world right now is kind of like someone finishing a stretch at the gym, or a runner completing their day's training, or a laborer heading home after a rough day at the salt mine. That's when you might look sweaty and bedraggled and haggard, but the hard work is done. The benefits are yet to be repaid, in muscle tone or endurance or just the pay check, but it had to be completed for the payoff to come in.


Winter, hard winter, is just that for the landscape. Dead branches are fallen, weaker tree structures revealed, leaves are mulching into the soil if they weren't mown over before, and beneath the surface, below the dreadful looking turf, worms and bugs and stirring rootlets are stirring the earthy pot.


Hibernation for some animals, migration for others, means a turnover in the fauna as well as the flora, and while we've come into a time with climate change where robins are here year round and even great blue herons can be seen in January, beating their slow steady way across the valley below, soon we will have the smaller birds making their way north.


Within those grim ghostly trees, the warmth of a higher sun angle, let alone more hours of its light, are drawing up from the roots the sap, which is beginning a process that will feed the inner life of those woods and to each branch spur the buds to become leaves . . . and a bit of it will be diverted by local syrup makers in the next few weeks, tap by tap, bucket by bucket, heading for the kettles to boil down to the sweetness meant to feed the canopy, used by us for our blessed pancakes.


It's not a pretty time, but there's as much going on in nature right now as was true back in July or will be this June. The life of the world is hidden in plain sight, and ready to burst out. When you slow down to notice the signs of this enlivening energy at work, it makes the grey gravelly days of February a good bit more tolerable, and even encouraging.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you see signs of pre-spring at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Faith Works 2-9-19

Faith Works 2-9-19

Jeff Gill

Conversation hearts by any other name

Yes, there's more to say about emergency shelter and addiction and the faith community coming together. Not this week! But more to come. Thank you again to the more than a dozen congregations which shared time, treasure, and talents to shelter over 30 persons who are currently homeless in our county, plus another dozen who for a variety of reasons stayed out of any shelter, formal and ongoing or temporary, but who received care and concern in a time of need.


Much more to say here. But not yet!


This week, we honor an obscure saint of the Christian faith who once lived in an ancient imperial capital.


Valentinus lived in Rome, did something for a young couple out of his faith in Jesus, which resulted in his martyrdom. Certainly he deserves honor and respect for that example, that witness – and that's what the word martyr literally means, witness – which lives on in the Christian community today.


The normal way to do that in the church calendar is to mark a saint's day, like St. Nicholas on Dec. 6 or Saint Lucia on Dec. 13. So St. Valentine is remembered on Feb. 14.


The commemoration has, um, changed over the years.


The community leader who died a martyr has been replaced with cupids and hearts and lots and lots of candy. It has become a festival of love, and that's not entirely beside the point. Love is at the heart of what Christians believe, and everyone knows something about love and its transformative power whatever your faith perspective. So Saint Valentine certainly can be shared, even if some of us would like to make sure he doesn't get buried in the cards and decorations and boxed delivered sets of pajamas and giant teddy bears holding a heart.


Saint Paul wrote a powerful passage in I Corinthians chapter 13 about faith, hope, and love, and how the greatest of these three is love. He didn't mean sentiment, and he surely wasn't talking about romance, but his Greek original talks about "agape," one of four Greek words that can be translated as "love" but is specifically "sacrificial" or self-giving love. It's not about deciding who gets the rose, or the chocolate covered cherries, but about giving of yourself.


My own Valentine is a woman who has given much to me over the years. Ministry is, to be blunt, not always the best thing that can happen to a marriage. When I was a little tiny baby minister, there were still older clergy who would come and tell seminary students, and I quote, "you need to understand that between the church and your family, the church will always come first." Ahem.


The hard reality of this is that there's a particular bandwidth of life and ministry where this is true. When a family event is happening, and the message comes that a church member is being rushed to the Emergency Department of the hospital; when the family schedule is set but a funeral plan intrudes, it's often true that the family has to make the change. But those critical incidents shouldn't become anything and everything to do with church life . . . yet I recall when I first moved to Ohio an older clergymember asking why I didn't come to a particular event in the region, on hearing me say "because it's the same weekend as my wedding anniversary," responded "I haven't been home for my anniversary for thirty years, son."


That's not the Body of Christ, that's just stupid. Thirty years ago, I didn't say stuff like that out loud, but I'm now that older minister, and I want to say loudly "don't go down that road." Sacrifice that is compelled is no sacrifice at all, it's basically theft.


Yet I know my wife has given up much so I can serve, and I honor her for that; she's gotten a chance in the last couple of decades to do some leadership of her own in building up the Body of Christ, and I hope I am at least making some offerings in response. We've learned, as couples do, that there's always the need to adapt, and to change. This year, the originator of "conversation hearts" has ceased production, but other makers have stepped in. Things change, and to keep the continuity of love, we have to figure out how to deal with the sacrifices of the temporary and external to allow the essence to carry on.


That's where many older couples are indeed a witness to us; my prayer for you, dear readers, is that you have an older couple or two around you to witness to what a life of adaptation and stability, change and enduring love, can look like. Sacrifice, and gift, and change, but something truly permanent in this changing world.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; write him at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.