Saturday, November 23, 2019

Faith Works 11-30-19

[Getting ahead for Thanksgiving week, expecting advanced deadlines . . . pax, jag]

Faith Works 11-30-19

Jeff Gill


Can we disagree without being disagreeable



Tomorrow, Dec. 1, is the first Sunday of Advent for many Christians. In this column, you've got four weeks of holiday good cheer ahead, and then we're into a new year.


Before we drift into our seasonal daze of sugarplums and angel songs, I might just want to disagree with you. About what? Well, as Marlon Brando said in a movie once about rebellion, "whaddaya got?"


Thinking about a persistent disagreement I've been in for a while on social media with a couple of people, I have found myself reflecting on that fact that for centuries, it was actually kind of hard to find a major difference of opinion. You could subscribe to a periodical – I'm reading my way, page by page, through the 1820s right now – but they were monthly at best, and usually aligned according to faction or ideology or theology. Disagreements were featured briefly in their pages, just enough to allow for their dismissal in detail.


And in your average Ohio county community, you had mostly unanimity. I know, I'm certain of it, there were other opinions, but they tended to be kept quiet. There's documentation of that in letters and diaries, but it is told to support the fact that public disagreement was rare, and mostly "not done."


Every two years, an election season would whip folks up into a disputational frenzy, but it seemed to pass quickly. Religious revivals swept the land, but as I read my trove of 1820s and 1830s journals, they didn't seem to be a subject of everyday conversation. It was more a question of public meetings, sermons preached, and when a couple of key leaders changed their sense of how baptism or communion should be, the village or church as a whole followed suit.


Today, if you want to hear someone vigorously disputing what you think, just post it online. They'll find you if you don't think you know anyone of a different opinion.


There's a painting, made into a print, which I have an obscure fascination with titled "Politics in an Oyster House" which could be depicting a tavern on Courthouse Square in Newark, or a stagecoach inn along the National Road. An older gentleman is abstractedly looking off into the snug, the common room, as across the table, about to kick over a spittoon, a bewhiskered younger man leans in making a vehement point. It's from 1840 or so, and became popular because of how it seemed to sum up the peculiarity of America, where people took their polemics so seriously.


But it wasn't part of everyday life. The oyster house or courthouse, newspaper or magazine, perhaps, but it didn't consumer people as they shoed horses at the forge or harvested corn as the first snows fell. Or so it seems.


Our challenge today is that disputes and disagreements are eating away at us from get-up to go-to-bed, and even for too long after we've put on our night cap and pulled up the covers. Through phones and tablets and devices, we can hear the shrill call of "you're wrong, and here's why!"


I think this is what's made the whole "fake news" debate take on such unpleasant urgency. For at least a century or more it was understood that news came with a partisan spin. Independent journalism, both political or cultural, is a fairly recent historical development. The American experience has largely been until the last few decades a place where each periodical came with an official position, and if you didn't agree with that stance . . . you didn't read that paper. Or if you wanted to find disagreement, you had to go looking for it.


We've lost much of that non-partisan ideal in news coverage, but we've not yet figured out what to replace it with. And as a preacher who writes, I've done articles for denominational and religious outlets for years: most of them don't exist anymore. So the blogs and websites that solicit content today usually have a very strong stance (not to say bias), and the combination of partisan output that way with the ongoing argument that is social media and the comment threads below posts and tweets, we just don't now what to make of. Yet!


The Newark Advocate is entering, in 2020, our two hundredth year of continuous publication. For much of its life, it was a Democratic Party paper, though you might be surprised to go back and read what that meant in application in, say, 1859. I'm glad in the ongoing disputes of modern life, they make room for some conversation about faith, opinion, and truth.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you do to read different viewpoints at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 12-5-19

Notes from my Knapsack 12-5-19

Jeff Gill


I saw the decade end



In just a few weeks, the decade will end.


It was the . . . wow. We still haven't quite figured out what to call this stretch. Thankfully, not the World War I era, which was the work-around a hundred years ago.


The first decade we tried to call "the Oughts" which frankly did not catch on, but nothing better rose up to replace it. The Zeros? Nah, doesn't work for me, either.


But the Teens? That's a demographic, or a cover band. We just don't have our decade nomenclature really worked out, which is embarrassing.


Another embarrassing thing is the social media query that's gone around asking what you've done with the last decade. It makes sense, like using New Year's week as a time to review the year past, to take this month and look back over the . . . yeah. This last ten year period from 2010 through 2019, the Teen-ish decade.


What's hard to read for some of us is how much some have accomplished. Completed advanced degrees, given birth to children, built additions onto their homes, received a Rhodes Scholarship, that sort of thing. Like a decadal Christmas letter (note to self: work on Christmas letter to family and friends).


Some of us are happy to report we have survived the past era, more or less. We're still here, okay? But I'm more than willing to admit that there are things I dreamt of, or hoped for, or just planned to do in the last nine or ten years that didn't happen. Reading online that many did all of that and more can be a bit of a downer.


On the other hand, most of us low achievers haven't posted anything, so it's not like on social media platforms we're looking at a true random sample. If you have something to brag about, you're motivated to post your accomplishments; if you went to prison for life six years ago, I doubt you're posting a thing.


Leaving the rest of us somewhere between achievement and incarceration to ask: how was the past decade, anyhow? Obama's two terms and the start of Trump's first as President; we've moved into the future projected by "Blade Runner" which opened proclaiming "November 2019" as the unimaginable yet to come. Which is now here.


Thirty years ago, my wife and I were childless, and came over to discover Granville's candlelight walking tour back when Oese Robinson's lifestyle was still a museum, heard oboes in St. Luke's, and she hadn't yet directed the handbell choir at First Presbyterian. In a few weeks, I'd be pulled into the excavation and preservation of the Burning Tree Mastodon, soon thirty years re-discovered here in Licking County on Dec. 12.


Ten years ago, our son was a Cub Scout when girls were not invited to join; he was a student at the still new-ish intermediate school out in the countryside, and wondering what the middle and high school would be like. Now he's approaching college graduation. That's his achievement, but it might have to do for us as parents.


What has your decade been like? It's about to end, and we will soon be into the Twenties. What would you call the one past, and how do you feel about it? I hope to have one more column in this decade to talk about that.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you call 2010-2010 at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Faith Works 11-23-19

Faith Works 11-23-19

Jeff Gill


Thankfulness as a reflex



Thankfulness seems like something that, like decency, should be easier. But we're all surrounded by evidence that this is simply not the case.


This time of year we regularly exhort others and ourselves to "be more thankful." And there's no real argument against it: being thankful is good for our attitude and our blood pressure, thankfulness helps us be more aware of little and large things alike that we can gloss over in our attention to what we don't have, and giving thanks just feels right. It's probably why this non-religious festival is perhaps our nation's most intentionally observed event, with special dinners in the home and gatherings that have much less external or theological reinforcement, like Christmas and Easter.


Yet we struggle with it. There's a phrase that's been around a while on social media, one of those hashtag labels – #FirstWorldProblems. If you wrestle with your lack of a pool or a boat, that's probably a #FirstWorldProblem. In fact, if you get home and find your dishwasher isn't working, that's certainly an event qualifying as a #FirstWorldProblem. Or even a light bulb burning out.


The flip side of the snark is asking yourself what it would take to be thankful simply that the lights go on at all, which in many places around the world is not an everyday, 24 hours a day certainty. We fuss over our generators and whether we remembered to run the monthly or quarterly or annual test (when did we last test the darn thing?) of it automatically kicking on when the power goes out. Last summer, I got to hear people being thankful to me from Puerto Rico, because our larger church body had done an incredibly effective job of finding and transporting generators to the island after that terrible hurricane a couple years ago. They still remembered how much it meant to them for those shiny new red and black gas powered generators to show up. They were still, many months later, intensely and tearfully thankful.


I found myself thinking "I really need to get a generator at home." #FirstWorldProblem, indeed.


Thankfulness is an art, and not everyone practices it. Some people can be cranky in the midst of plenty, and we all know them, and try not to look at them in the mirror in the morning. Being thankful is an exercise, a choice we have to make, and I could even call it a habit worth cultivating. Thanksgiving is an annual event, and I'm sure there are folks who visit a gym once a year; I know some people visit church annually. But exercise and prayerfulness and thankfulness need some regular, even daily attention. It's not about worship services or turkey or owning the right stationary bicycle, but a habit of the heart, a reflex we've tended to around the gift and blessing of being thankful.


Grace at meals, even ones without a turkey on the table, can be a quiet, common reinforcement of being thankful. Pausing to notice blessings (counting them, even) is so close to prayer it might even count. Doing a regular review of what's working in your life, before you start in on your list of what's wrong, might just be a better way to work for self-improvement.


One of my favorite stand-alone verses in the Bible is Colossians 3:15, and the closing phrase, or sentence (Biblical Greek didn't come with punctuation, so it's impossible to say how independent this statement was meant to be). "And be thankful."


In the original Greek, it's even more beautiful: "Kai eucharistoi ginesthe." Or, "and thankful, be." You don't have to be terribly religious to notice the word here generally translated "thankful" is also the root word for "eucharist," the central celebration of Christian communion. "Eu-" is the prefix for all, or good, or true; "charis" is gift or grace or, yes, thanks.


So literally, "And for all good gifts, be; be mindful, be aware, be sensible of them." In the economy of the Koine Greek, just "be" or "ginesthe" carries a great deal of implied weight, but the meaning is quite clear. "And, thankful be."


This Thanksgiving, may the day be the start of a new habit that carries us into 2020, to thankful, be.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got much to be thankful for, and often is. Tell him what you're thankful for at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.