Saturday, January 11, 2020

Notes from my knapsack 1-16-20

Notes from my knapsack 1-16-20

Jeff Gill


Waiting, not impatiently, for winter



This winter there seems to be a majority in favor of this warmer weather we've been having.


Facts and opinions about climate change aside, I haven't run into very many people in the last few weeks who are complaining about not being cold, or even the lack of snow and ice.


Granted, I don't know any ski area operators or cross country ski rental managers. Anyone in those categories in Ohio is probably discontented. Otherwise, I'd say a clear majority wants more of the same, only with a little more sun.


I don't get out in the woods and on trails as much as I'd like, but probably more than most. And yes, I can assure you that it's soft and mucky out there off the paved pathways. Even if you have no intention of checking this out for yourself, it's worth telling everyone that it's squishy like spring time already out in nature.


There's an old saying that if you don't have any spring in your winter, you'll have winter in your spring. So a warm stretch is almost mandatory (if that's scientifically valid, which I can't support). If this year's winter is any indication, though, we've had so much spring in our winter then there shouldn't be any winter in our spring, right?


The popular assumption in fact is that "we're gonna pay for this in March." Or April, I like to add helpfully. It does seem likely. And Ohio is known for our "surprise!" snowfalls right up to Easter (which is April 12 this year, for what it's worth). What we're almost certainly not going to get this year, though, is a good hard freeze down deep into the soil. As the sun starts to climb higher in the sky with the accompanying longer days, the angle of the sunlight means deeper penetration of that solar warmth, plus the duration of that radiant energy.


Believe it or not, a little bit of longer freeze can be good for the soil and the ecosystem. Less of it means changes to the environment, from earlier germination of certain plants to shifts in migration patterns and also developments below the surface.


I remember learning in a college biology class that a teaspoon of topsoil has in it more micro-organisms than there are people on the planet. Of course, that was a long time ago, and there are more people, but I think it's still true. Fungi and bacteria and nematodes and tardigrades abound (if you don't know what a tardigrade is, you should go online and look them up, cool tiny creatures), and their life cycle along with the roots of plants and shrubs and trees are used to a certain pattern of dormancy and reactivation. We're learning even now about what changing that pattern does, leading to the end of some life forms in this area and an overgrowth of others. Have you noticed how much more often you have to clean the north side of your house, and that black fungus getting more and more common earlier in the summer?


A hard freeze can also protect the deeper soil and the warmth locked up in it, so paradoxically, a mild winter can make it colder deeper. Anyhow, it's all about trade-offs, and I suspect most of us are on board for a warmer winter. Just be aware of the fact that, like every pleasure, it comes with a price to be paid sooner or later.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he generally likes cold weather but admits to having his own layer of insulation to allow for that. Tell him what climate you prefer at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Lenten devotional - March 17 CCINOH

March 17 "From Ashes to Rejoicing" devotionals

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'

~ Acts 13:47 (NRSV)

Saint Patrick is a Christian figure who floats into and out of our consciousness from the mists of time, and of legend.

He's associated with Ireland, and the day is an observance that has a pretty spectacular secular association, but the good saint and bishop didn't convert water into green beer.

Patrick was a victim of slavery and oppression who chose not only to forgive his captors, but to commit his life and ministry to their benefit. Patrick, in short, wasn't Irish. It was Irish pirates who captured and sold him, and it was from his home in England and his adopted land of France where he was trained for ministry, out of which he dedicated his life to return to the Emerald Isle.

That's a tough calling to fulfill. We have only fragments to tell us about how Patrick must have wrestled with God over this call, to go to the place he had escaped, and work for the good of those who had hurt him. It may be enough to know that someone can, with God's grace, do such a thing.

How to forgive people who have hurt you, and in many cases are unrepentant, is a pastoral question that has no short or easy answers. And it's a process of recovery and redemption that you can't just pretty up with a few shamrocks and green hats. There's no happy veneer of "yeah, it's in the past, let it go" which can really hide the pain. Some victims never hear an apology, and some offenders never really do get it. "Avoid them" is the cop-speak answer; "give them over to God" is a faith response that's accurate, if incomplete.

And surely we're not all called to be Patricks, or even to be Jesus. We have our own mission fields to find, our own crosses to bear. What the essence of St. Patrick offers, as a gift for us in Lent, is the way his choice to accept his missionary field shows how forgiveness and reconciliation and redemption are all necessary parts of the work of mission. If you engage in any mission or ministry worth doing, you will encounter injustice and pain, sorrow and suffering, and yes, even evil. Some of that encounter will evoke for you parts of your own history that has brought you to the present moment; sometimes it does seem as if God uses our experiences to bring Good News into the world to help us deal with our own unhealed wounds.

If we are to be bearers of good news, which is what evangelist means in the original Greek, just someone carrying word that others need to hear, we have to be ready to face those obstacles. If our buttons get pushed by the bad news we're pushing back against, we can find ourselves trapped in a cycle of reaction, stuck in recriminations even inside our own heads, turned aside by past fears that make present challenges loom larger than they are. Henri Nouwen famously asked us to consider "the wounded healer" in all of us, and how we are often called to be healed in the midst of healing work we're doing for others . . . and they can't be separated.

With God's help, Patrick dealt with his own pain, and ministered not just through it but used it to empower a ministry to Ireland that likely no one else could have done as well. We can try to follow Jonah, Patrick's opposite, and run in the opposite direction as far as we can from our own call, but the Book of Jonah lets us know that our need for healing will travel with us. The Feast of St. Patrick tells us that our hurts can be healed, and our wounds might be a way others can see the journey we've taken, and why we are willing to be vulnerable in the places the Gospel puts us today.

Oh, and Slàinte to you!

Jeff Gill
pastor, Newark Central Christian Church

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Faith Works 1-11-20

Faith Works 1-11-20

Jeff Gill


Another step into tomorrow



My faith in the future is strong, but my hopes for the near term are, well, limited.


God has sent a strong witness into the world for us, a sign of life beyond life that points toward a promise that is offered to us all. And if you read your Bible with heart and attention and care, you'll see clearly how that future prospect is intended to strengthen us for the now.


And now is where we live, where we make decisions and take action. Now is important.


Then, on the other hand, the moment now past, is not when we choose or do. We've chosen, we've done, and it's memory where we reflect perhaps on what we should have done, might have decided to do, but can't change. That's what then, or once upon a time, is for us in the now. It's a huge part of us, maybe the biggest part in many ways, but it is relatively fixed.


Now, on the other hand, is filled with expectation and anticipation and opportunity. Now is when we grasp the nettle or take the helm and set our course, one direction or another. Now is the moment in which we shift into drive or back into reverse, and either way step on the gas pedal.


If the road ahead seems clear, we can accelerate accordingly. If there's a path forward, we step out and start with that proverbial single step onto a greater journey.


Where we get gummed up is with soon, or next, or even just tomorrow, let alone next week. It is amazing, really, to see how much possibility can be taken up just in consideration of tomorrow. Today we are where we are, we go as far as we can see, and we've got what's at hand. Our now is a developing, evolving, possibility consuming reality, but tomorrow is filled with everything from uncompleted tasks to long deferred potential and much put off possibilities. Tomorrow you could step on a plane to Orlando; that can't happen at 2 pm today (getting tickets, passing through security, travel time), but tomorrow? It might be far down the list, but it's not off of it.


So we've got our past to hand over into forgiveness, and the farther future into the care of an eternal hope, both of which are intended to allow us to make the most of our now – this is a largely Christian formulation, but its also a common understanding in our culture in general.


The flaw in all of this for most people, myself included, is tomorrow. Not the deeper, more distant future, but getting our plans and motivations worked out from just past now to "next." And my pastoral sense is that the dilemma is that we're just too used to ratcheting up our expectations too quickly up out of now into what's possible next, what's necessary soon, what's right for us later, from the limitations of the moment which we might well accept, to a series of steps into possibilities that should be close at hand, but keep receding into a fog of more of the same.


In practical terms, it's called procrastination. Putting off. It's all around us in various forms. Every burden we carry unnecessarily, every pile of stuff we can't figure out what to do with, every obvious option we delay in starting until it's too late: procrastination. It can be delaying the start of a task we don't want to do, but it can also be our hesitation to do things that are not only good for us, but that we want to do, but don't . . . because to do so would be to deny some even greater, if unlikely option.


Paul says in Romans, chapter 7, verse 15: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Given that he wrote this nearly 2,000 years ago, this problem is clearly not unique to our age. The tendency to ratchet up our own sense of possibility from the now into our then, our next maybe, our could be soon, opens up so much potential for our imagination that we can't even be practical about what our simple steps forward beyond now should be.


So I am trying in 2020 to abandon my hopes for tomorrow, to look at my now a little more realistically, and let the light of my lamp show me one step forward at a time, and let that be . . . enough.



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