Monday, March 30, 2020

Faith Works 4-4-20

Faith Works 4-4-20

Jeff Gill


Disoriented is a word with many meanings


In the ancient world, the cosmos of the Bible as it was written down, the core direction was the East.


Our more modern scientific technological age uses magnetic North as a compass bearing, an earthly version of the heavenly pole star. Maps and our mental models all put North at the top.


But older Roman and Greek and Hebrew maps put at the top, the anchor point of their maps, not North, but East. The Orient, the East. The Latin word "oriens" means "rising," "the direction in which the sun appears" (depending on your dictionary and etymology).


So to orient a map means – then – to put East at the top. Oriens, orient, the East. Today, orienting a map means putting North in its place, at the top, and orienting your compass arrow pointing reliably to the north with the map's directional arrow. Our planet's magnetic field creates a compelling focus towards the north, and True North is how we orient a map today. Even if the word "orient" means . . . East.


Head turning, isn't it? I know. And right now, we are all DIS-oriented. Disorientation is common. Our standard points of reference: leaving for work, heading to school, home versus activities outside of the home, they're all disoriented. Everyday schedules are disoriented.


And as I've been working through these last few weeks, I am myself disoriented. My East is now North, or maybe not even that well oriented. Everything is at least a quarter turn off kilter. I am in many ways a typical American male, and whether as a Christian minister or community member, I define myself in reference to my father.


Dad was an active force in my life, and often when I encountered a question or a curiosity, my first reaction was "Dad will find that interesting." A book I'd read, a situation I was in the middle of, the times and the seasons in general: what would Dad think about that? He was my East, my basic orientation.


East is now shadowed, darkened, set aside. East is no longer the primary orientation. Now I'm trying to adjust to a new True North, magnetic and scientific and objective and impersonal. Where the compass points, which should be good enough. It works for many, after all.


Yet it's still new, and different, and disorienting. If my Dad is dead, and he's not my primary orientation for navigating through life, then . . . sure, there's the compass in my hand and the other navigation tools he's helped me master through the years, but it is still . . . disorienting. And I am . . . disoriented.


No less so are many of us. Without Sunday worship, at 10 or 10:30 or 11 am, even Saturday night or Monday morning, it is truly disorienting to not have a gathering for praise and thankfulness and petition with the Lord our God. I am being blessed weekly by friends and colleagues who are putting the basic outlines of worship and communion and preaching online, but to not have the experience of going to a place, and coming together in a space, and worshiping as I've done my whole life, minister or not, it is truly disorienting. My East is misplaced, and there's not even a solid North to latch onto.


Yet Christendom made our way from an Eastern, Oriental focus for navigation through maps to a magnetic and Northerly orientation. It had to be confusing at moments, but we made the shift. We will all navigate this pole shift of a transition, from public worship to online services and back again. Some things will change, and in fact much, after it's all said and done, will not.


None of which means it isn't terribly, painfully, confusingly disoriented. I know that's how I feel right now. But as the compass needle swings back and forth and back and forth and back, it will at some point settle down again, and orient us, and show us in which direction we should go.


Jeff Gill is a writer and storyteller and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you've felt disoriented at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Faith Works 3-28-20

Faith Works 3-28-20

Jeff Gill


Social dislocation vs. social distancing



Greetings from sunny, hot, and very windy Texas. Most of you know why I'm down here, missing out on floods and such in Ohio.


As I pack my parents' residence here in the Rio Grande Valley, in the retirement community where they lived half the year the last fifteen, I've had many sincere and lovely expressions from their long-time friends and neighbors down here about their love for my folks, and sorrow over Dad's death.


But as my sister and I have tried to observe the most basic precautions, since we did arrive here recently from out of state, we've been regularly handshaken and hugged whether we wanted to or not, and then told how silly all this worry about some flu bug is. Usually in some version of "we have the flu go through every year, and yes, a few older people are taken by it, but it doesn't warrant all this hooey."


Ahem. What I haven't been saying, mainly because a) I'm trying to be polite, and b) I really need to get back to packing and loading, is to point out that if we just see an infection rate in the US of 40%, and a mortality rate of 1% (I join Dr. Fauci in hoping it will be closer to .5%, but he warns it's as likely to be above 1% than down closer to the .1% of seasonal influenza), with those parameters the number who would die from coronavirus would be equal to the number we "know" statistically will die from heart disease & cancer . . . combined. We expect about 1,250,000 persons to die from heart disease (which took my father a week and a half ago, unexpectedly) and cancer. But a 40% infection rate, which is conservative, and a projected mortality rate of 1% would give you that many more deaths in 2020, the overwhelming majority being deaths that otherwise would not happen this year.


For everyone telling me that these "silly" restrictions are media hysteria and damaging to the economy: I don't know that you are taking seriously the economic impact and social dislocation (vs. social distancing) of a death. When someone unexpectedly dies, many more lives are put on hold, yanked out of shape, and turned inside out. Normal patterns end, and basic survival instincts kick in (not always productively). People take time off work, and are largely dysfunctional anyhow if you had them working. I'm still having to think steps for leaving the house or completing a task through twice and three times, and I make errors everyday of a basic sort.


Social distancing is a major pain in the kiester. I get it. I didn't have a funeral for my father. I'm still wrecked over that. But here's the thing: death is permanent. We can get through this, but I know many workers and businesses and yes, churches will be deeply scarred, even disabled functionally for some time to come. But death is permanent. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about a new source of bereavement and sorrow and loss rippling into our society which we have a chance to freeze and still and slow, and save many, many lives.


I can get over not having a funeral shortly after my dad's passing. But I could not get over knowing that an event, to do what I deeply wanted to have done, might be the indirect but very real source of even three or four avoidable deaths. Because death is permanent. And as a pastor, I know that while there is life there are options, choices, possibility, hope.


For a Christian, in death there is indeed hope. For this Christian, it's still a truth I'd share that in death there is an ending to many earthly options. Full stop. So I'm not in a hurry to die. I don't fear it, and I have hope for my dad and many others who have gone on before. But there are plenty of people waiting for me on the other side. I don't want to add to the greeting party by my actions.


The pool here in this retirement community is jam packed, and behind these walls and gates people forget that the troubles of the outside world come in and out with the caregivers and maintenance workers and yes, family packing up trailers to move surviving spouses home.


I just hope anyone reading this who thinks it's all hurting our country, and the recommendations just more foolishness from political manipulators, understands the difference between 40,000 deaths a year nationwide from seasonal influenza/flu and even a low mortality from coronavirus of 650,000 from 40% infection across the country and a .5% mortality. That's 650,000 families dropping everything to reach out and try to put their hearts and heads back in order, and that's an economic and social and spiritual impact that I fear is the least we can expect. And it's what many of us are bracing to handle in the year ahead.


Because there's already more than enough death to go around.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's handwashing and sanitizing as best he can. Tell him about your experiences with illness and contagion at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Faith Works 3-21-20

Faith Works 3-21-20

Jeff Gill


The Great Hiatus will be with us for years



At this time, if anyone tells you they know when the public gathering restrictions will be lifted, or how soon large worship gatherings will be encouraged, they're guessing.


I'm in south Texas right now, as in you can almost see Reynosa, Mexico from where I am, and thank you for the many kind words and expressions and prayers that have followed me here, to honor the end of my dad's life last week and support me in caring for my mom and her needs right now.

As in Ohio (how'd that election go, anyhow?), Texas is dealing with a variety of reactions by faith communities, consumers, and the public at large. I ran into a guy . . . okay, my sister ran into him, but we stood by the side of the road for some time waiting for wreckers to show up (long story), and he told me about how he's not convinced this is really a problem. We've been part of the problem – people from one state traveling to another – and some react by hearing we're from Indiana and Ohio by stepping back, and some by shrugging and hugging us whether we want one or not.


If we were asymptomatic carriers of the virus, we've had far too many opportunities in two planes, a van, and now a rental car, shopping for necessities for a new widow and her two adult children now Texas occupants, to spread a virus if we had one in our system, just by walking around and breathing. We've neither had a temperature or other symptoms, but it hasn't been a week since my dad's death, and I'm behind the curve on almost everything, including noticing my symptoms. So who knows.


And yes, my father's memorial service here in Pharr, Texas where he's lived half the year for fifteen years is cancelled. Gatherings are banned. So we're doing a strange, surreal version of "calling hours" from the porch. I will say more about this once I've processed it.


I picked up my father's ashes, which I've done with more people than I can count, but yes, doing it for your own parent is . . . no, I don't have a great deal to say about that experience yet. But that modestly sized box, whose contents (black plastic box, certificate of cremation, heavy duty plastic bag, metal seal affixed to the neck of the bag, contents which are, frankly, undescribable other than as ashes) are no surprise to me, yet are a world shaking, reality shattering gift handed over with a matter-of-fact statement of "that will be [price stated like a bag of apples].," to which you hand over your credit card like you do for groceries . . . do I sound rattled yet? Yes, you're welcome.


So we are in what I firmly believe will long be called something like "The Great Hiatus." A pause in normal life, which may or may not change how we do normal. I am quite old enough to recall the events both of 9-11-01 itself, and the weeks that followed. Many of us, myself included, thought certain aspects of community life would change after 9-11, but by October we had plowed over much of those assumptions. Other than boarding at airports, I'm not sure how much in faith or community changed.


Wrong once, shame on me; wrong twice, shame on you? But I really do think that this time we will see some significant changes in social and faith community life after the current coronavirus crisis ends. It's too soon to speculate too broadly,  but I have a few in mind. Many churches will see some major changes over these next few weeks. When I'm back in town and into ministry, I hope to share a few thoughts on that.


Meanwhile, for your prayers to what we are still able to do for my dad, I thank you. These are hard days for many, and the obstacles to a "normal" funeral for so many is one of many hard things we have to grind our way through.


Again, thank you for the many prayers and expressions of support.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's in the middle of planning memorial services for his dad. Let him know how you've dealt with such times of transition at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Faith Works 3-21-20

Faith Works 3-21-20

Jeff Gill


A column I'd rather not write



My father died.


Many of you reading this have been through that, and God bless you. I have not, though I've been with more families than I can count as they dealt with this personal and existential shock.


In fact, I was with a family at a funeral home going through calling hours for their father when I got the call from my mother that . . .  right, what I just said.


It does not feel real, and I suspect it won't for some time. He was 85, and it couldn't be called a complete shock, but it was. No doubt for him, too. He sat down to drink his coffee and didn't get back up.


I'm writing this just after I learned the news, and well before you'll read it, because I may be off my feed for a few weeks. But if you find my stories of interest and my faith as expressed, even obliquely, to have any solidity and substance, Ronald B. Gill gets the credit.


He worried that his sons might inherit his flaws, so he was always very forthright with us about mistakes he'd made (less than you might think) and honest about their impact on his life, which always frustrated him a bit that we pretty much all three boys (I'll leave my sister out of this) managed to echo his foibles in one way or another. "Why did I tell you all about my foolishness if you're just going to go ahead and make the same mistakes?"


But we had to make them for ourselves, like most people do; I'd like to think we made quicker recoveries having heard Dad's experiences preceding our own. His fondest hope, like most American fathers of his era, was that we'd all four kids do better than he had done. That was a high bar to set, though.


Many people have made the modest mistake of thinking my dad was a minister, because of some of the ways I cite his influence. But he was never in that role: he was a Christian, first a Congregationalist, later (due to marrying my mom) a Disciples of Christ adherent, a deacon and elder and chairman of the elders and building committee chair and board chair and constitution revision chair and most of those multiple times. When my childhood church building was condemned, and my ordination held under a tent next to the unusable building, he led and guided and motivated the effort to build a new building in an even better location, and then chaired the second group (after swearing he'd never do that again) to build the current sanctuary.


Ron Gill was a local historian and genealogist and Civil War re-enactor and storyteller, in print and in person. Oh, I hear many of you saying, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.


No, it does not. I've tried to make him proud. Last summer, our church body had their biannual General Assembly in his native Iowa, and in Des Moines he heard his son teach our Christian tradition's history for two long afternoon workshops. After it was all over, on our way to dinner, I asked him what he thought.  "Not bad," Dad said. "I learned some stuff I'd never heard." That's what he always was looking for.


Recently, I finished a doorstop of a book I was looking forward to passing along to him. He loved those finds, the thicker the better. He was reading one of them as he drank his coffee and sat in his recliner, no doubt thinking about his next project, when Jesus said "Ron, I need you to help set up some chairs."


So he went. See you later, Dad. Love you.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's proud to be Ron Gill's oldest son. Tell him about your family at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Notes from my Knapsack 3-19-20

Notes from my Knapsack 3-19-20

Jeff Gill


A bubble over Brigadoon


If there is really a bubble over the top of Our Fayre Village, and Granville surrounded by high walls to keep out development and tacky businesses from intruding into our community, we should be fine with the whole COVID-19 virus deal.


After all, if intentional distancing is now something that the CDC and WHO are recommending, then we're on the right track here, aren't we?


To be serious for a moment, I feel badly for the students from China at Denison, and international students in general. To return home, and be uncertain about when you can come back, or to stay here and hope something can be worked out… no one saw all this coming, and we might not see the like of it for another decade or two, but right now the situation for family and friends is uncertain back home, and the course of the viral outbreak still unclear here in the United States, let alone around the world.


So even within our friendly confines, between Raccoon Creek and the Homestead, from Cherry Valley Road over to Loudon Street, we will still have to observe all the same precautions of hand-washing and elbow coughing and self-quarantining. The odds of a coronavirus making its way into to Welsh Hills are pretty good, considering our highly mobile population and much vaunted proximity to the John Glenn International Airport. The intersection of Broadway and Main is not far from Trafalgar Square and the Champs-Élysées and Tiananmen Square.


And this, too, is part of being a participant in a global culture. As the saying goes, we are all downstream. The idea that an infection or an idea is the property of any one corner of the globe is gone, and even the concept of a non-native species is problematic, when our "native" dandelions and plantain came from abroad, if longer ago, and now garlic mustard and purple loosestrife are so deeply woven into our landscape as to be inextricable. (Go look up Louis Bromfield and multiflora rose, or Johnny Appleseed and dog fennel for an education in global realities and the last couple of centuries.)


On the other hand, how can local areas maintain their own unique qualities while interacting with a much, much wider context? We don't want to encourage zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, nor have leaping Asian carp in Lake Erie. By the same token we're concerned about changes in the streetscape or local economy that transforms the entire experience beyond recognition.


It's a series of trade-offs and resistances and acceptance that can manage to make everyone uncomfortable. Lots of hand-washing and sanitizer and avoiding handshaking is not what most of us are used to, but it might need to become more common. The current virus will crest and fade in time and with summer's sunlight, but the seasonal influenza will always be with us, perhaps with our being a bit more vigilant the next time. And we're not likely to see grocery stores downtown again in our time, but the nature and mix of shops and retail will continue to change and surprise us.


Our resistance to change has been a community strength in some ways. That's worth maintaining, up to a point. But the idea we can avoid every bug in the system, any passing viral trend, is not only impossible, it would be unhealthy in the long run. We can build up some immunities to worse things by letting a few new ideas infect us from time to time.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's probably less into change than he should be, but doesn't care. Tell him what you'd like to change in Granville at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.