Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Faith Works 8-17-19

Faith Works 8-17-19

Jeff Gill

 

Can you hear me now?

___

 

This is an exhortation, a challenge, and a confession, all at once.

 

I'm talking to you, and also trying to continue to remind myself. You know, "do as I say, not as I do."

 

It's this thing about microphones. And primarily, this is intended for everyone who says, as I have in the past, when offered a hot mic: "oh, I can make myself heard – I don't need that."

 

Using microphones is an art right up there with riding a bicycle or using a keyboard to type. It's not beyond almost anyone, but not everyone knows how to do it without some lessons, some practice, and some continual attention to what you're doing.

 

How to hold it, what can cause you to create feedback (the relationship of the mic to speakers being the main challenge), and how to speak into it means that not everyone is just automatically good at using the sound system.

 

Which leads many of us to decline, and try to bellow. Because we're confident and proud and sure we don't have to have the darn things, unreliable and tricky as they can indeed be.

 

But here's the thing: if you get offered a mic, you should take it. If there's one around, you probably need it. Not because of any failing of your own, not that it's an admission of weakness, but because frankly expectations have changed, and listening patterns, too, and if you don't use amplification you are going to miss reaching part of your audience.

 

And here's another thing. As I've become much more aware of the need to use amplification when it's available, I've become acutely aware of when people airily brush aside an offered pick-up and say "Don't worry, they'll hear me!" Very, very often that's true for the first couple of sentences – and then they slowly slide back into the normal speaking voice and cadence which is fine for conversation, even loud face-to-face, but in any space bigger than a restroom gets lost past the first row. Human bodies soak up sound waves, they really do. And you put forty, fifty, a hundred people in a room you can fill with your voice empty, and those sound sponges that are your audience are going to get left out. Generally, loud people don't stay loud, they just think they do.

 

I was that guy, for a long time. Readers know I've spent the last two years going through learning how to deal with spasmodic dysphonia, and earlier when we thought I had a different problem with my vocal cords I was already giving myself permission to use tools I had always declined before.

 

The scientific jury is still out on whether or not use and abuse of your voice creates spasmodic dysphonia, but there's plenty of evidence to show it helps. When I began my public speaking career, I didn't have easy to use and portable amplification, and I had to learn how to project over a walk-in cooler compressor kicking on during lunchtime announcements in the Scout camp dining hall, or in an outdoor firebowl surround by trees and a few hundred kids. I did fine for many years, but I know I strained my voice, almost every summer losing it for a time or two. Or as the years went on, three or four.

 

As equipment became available, I should have used it, but I didn't. Now I need it, and I have to, but it's helped me both look back for my own vocal maintenance, and now around me as others speak in public (or sing on the radio, a whole 'nother subject). Too many people make me wince by casually, even sneeringly, push aside mics saying "I'll have no trouble reaching the back row, am I right?" And the back row to the first bellow smiles and nods, but soon looks lost and confused as the sound level drops.

 

Recently, though, I had a microphone in my hand that sputtered and whined and squeaked, and I had to put it down and speak up. I still can, to a degree, but it just made me think all the more about needing to check out the sound system in a strange place in advance. Because most of us, most of the time, need it.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he used to be louder, but quieter isn't all bad. Tell him how well you can hear speakers for programs or preaching at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Notes From My Knapsack 8-15-19

Notes From My Knapsack 8-15-19

Jeff Gill

 

School is beginning again, always

___

 

While writing newspaper columns is one of my favorite hobbies, I am employed other than tapping away at my keyboard. One of those vocations I serve is that of mediator, and I am employed by the county Common Pleas Court system to provide mediation services, mostly in regards to youth and families.

 

We had a meeting recently at Family Intervention Services downtown (years ago, we were in the now demolished county Children's Home on the East End), talking about online education and how we as a court interact with families, helping them get their students on track for a high school diploma. And talking about the changes we've had to adapt to in the last few years about testing, graduation requirements, and open enrollment, it got me to thinking.

 

When I began working for Judge Hoover and the Licking County Juvenile Court in 2005, there was no Facebook. There were no iPhones, none; "candy bar" cellphones were popping up in student bookbags, and occasionally early flip phones, but they were expensive and rare.

 

Tablet computers were essentially non-existent, laptops unusual, and my desktop Dell ran Windows 98 SE. E-cigarettes did not exist, and we still handled unruly cases based on a complaint from a parent that a child was swiping their cigarettes. We'd still take one down at the courthouse, but as far as I know such a stand-alone complaint hasn't been made in a decade.

 

For my first dozen or so years, I was an un-official resource in our office helping explain computers and devices and platforms and apps to our staff . . . now, I'm playing catch-up along with everyone else, as newer staff is more familiar with technology but newer developments keep us all back on our heels. But my office computer is all the way up to Windows XP!

 

Online schools didn't exist, not as they do now. Credit recovery was a by mail thing. Our vocational education was at a place called JVS, now known as C-TEC, and the offerings were fewer than they were now. Home schooling was an option, but if you wanted to participate in your school district's extra-curricular it was effectively not an option.

 

Today, as the 2019-2020 school year begins, for the vast majority of students school looks, on the outside, largely the same as it did for their parents, and even for their grandparents. Student registration and the handbook is online, and Mom and Dad complain about not understanding the way they teach math nowadays, but in general you go to a building in your geographic area, walking or by bus or dropped off at the door, find your rooms and take your classes and get grades and aim for graduation in the twelfth year after kindergarten at around age eighteen.

 

But in 1970, a school district that graduated 50% of the students who began first grade with a diploma was considered successful. Today, a district that graduates 95% is just crossing the threshold of acceptable. Not until 1975 was the education of children with disabilities a legal requirement; Licking County was an early adopter in the 1950s, but many students in outlying areas were missed and it wasn't the school's responsibility to find them or educate them until after '75.

 

We are educating more children on more subjects with a higher level of success than ever before. And as the environment children are being raised in changes, we're going to see the school environment continue to change. I suspect in another fifteen years we will see changes in the nature and structure of schools that will surprise even me.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's fascinated by what's changed and what hasn't in education in general. Tell him what changes you think are coming at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Faith Works 8-10-19

Faith Works 8-10-19

Jeff Gill

 

The Church's One Foundation

___

 

Thirty years ago, we were worried about instability in the Soviet Union while welcoming the dawn of democracy in Russia. As I graduated from seminary, we watched uneasily the Tiananmen Square protests play out in China, and by the time of my ordination service hundreds had been killed in the suppression of that gathering, with a like number executed for promoting it, possibly including the inspiring Tank Man whose identity and fate are still unknown today.

 

Thirty years ago, the first cracks were appearing in the Berlin Wall following the rise of democratic representation in Poland through Solidarity, and other Warsaw Pact countries began to take down their barriers to free movement across national borders. Mid-August 1989, the final outcome in Berlin where so much tension had played out literally my entire life (the wall and I were born within a few weeks of each other in 1961) was still more than somewhat in question. F. W. deKlerk was voted into office in South Africa, but few saw the end of apartheid coming soon, and most feared a bloody and terrible end to white minority rule. Bombs were still going off in Northern Ireland, and that conflict seemed to have no end in sight, either.

 

Thirty years ago, the World Wide Web was being started by Tim Berners-Lee in Switzerland at CERN; the first commercial dial-up connections were available before the end of the year for businesses, but as Thomas Watson of IBM had said years earlier, how many households would want a computer? Apple came out with its first notebook or laptop type computer, but most of my seminary classmates were using computers with maybe 4 MB (even commercially you couldn't get more than 2 GB unless you were the Pentagon).

 

Thirty years ago, savings and loans were closing fast, ultimately a third of all of them across the country. People were anxious about the increase in illegal drug use, and Pres. George H.W. Bush's drug czar, William Bennett, asked him to approve a temporary ban on the importation of semi-automatic rifles, which was done after 34 children and a teacher were killed in a schoolyard in Stockton, California. Health insurance premiums went up that spring across the country an average of 18%, triggering talk of a health care insurance crisis, with many denominational plans hit with increases from 23 to 40%; as I approached graduation from seminary, the seniors were gathered together for a workshop on clergy and church approaches to health care insurance, and were assured that increases of this size couldn't continue indefinitely.

 

Thirty years ago, electrostencil machines entered the church office where I worked, and you could put original art alongside of text and cut a stencil (can you feel the excitement, kids?) right off of your page, from which you could run hundreds of copies through your mimeograph machine. Oh, and we had a small desktop copier secondhand but the supplies were expensive so we just made a few copies at a time on it. The newsletter and bulletin were mimeo produced; or you could find a copy shop with a professional copier to make hundreds of pages, but usually at 10 cents a page, fifty cents for color. Answering machines were rare in church offices, but since even small congregations had a full time secretary (plus a full time custodian) it really didn't matter. You heard that pastors of big city churches had beepers, which sounded cool.

 

Thirty years ago, I was ordained to Christian ministry. My home congregation and the church I served in seminary plus a UCC church I had some wonderful history with jointly sponsored me, and I was blessed into the work of sharing the Gospel through preaching and teaching ministry. I had some vague general ideas about what the future would look like; I'd had a preliminary interview with a church in Ohio looking for an associate pastor, but I kind of figured that I'd end up staying an Indiana preacher. My eight years of student ministry in a campus ministry and through seminary had given me a healthy sense of what the Hoosier State had to offer, and it seemed like enough.

 

But a month later, I'd drive a 20 foot U-Haul truck across the Indiana-Ohio line on my way to Newark. Turned out I was wrong about some of my assumptions about the future. Of all the things I was sure of then, about only one thing has remained certain: the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he arrived an associate minister, and now is a senior minister, but he doesn't know that much more than he did then. The difference is that he knows it: tell him what you think you know at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Faith Works 8-3-19

Faith Works 8-3-19

Jeff Gill

 

Looking along the midway

___

 

Sometimes I worry that I've written a column before.

 

And I know for certain I've at least noted something of this sort in previous years, if not the whole reflection: I go pretty much every year to the Ohio State Fair at least once, and the Hartford Fair, our independent fair that includes Licking County, multiple times each August.

 

In fact, tomorrow I'll be helping lead an ecumenical worship service at the Hartford Fair, at 8:30 am in the Natural Resources pavilion on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds. Those with fair animals residing on the grounds for a week or more, concessioners, and even just passing visitors get a chance to stop and pray and give thanks and share community, out there north of Croton.

 

We get 4-Hers and carnies, cooks and ticket takers, parents and children and grandchildren, all glad to have a chance to include an act of worship in this week set apart, but a fair week which is one of the central parts of many people's lives.

 

That's always rewarding to help offer, and I'm looking forward to it, but there's also the whole experience of "walking the fair." You can also call it people watching, but for me as a Christian minister it has another overtone.

 

Out along the midway, whether in Columbus for the state fair or at the Hartford Fair closer to home, you see everyone. You pass by, you stand in line, sometimes you end up talking to people who are from everywhere, at least from among our everywhere. And many of them don't want a church service, aren't church goers at home, and quite a few have never seen the inside of one in person.

 

God loves them, every one. There is a divine purpose for each one to find and fulfill, or to reject and ramble away from that, in my faith, I believe causes God to simply come up with a new plan and purpose from that point forward . . . and on and on until we take ourselves into the presence of God at the end of all things, and we see and hear the greater purpose of everything, ourselves included.

 

How am I, how is the church, how might a witness to this hope and anchoring understanding be made to those I'm walking among? I don't have these thoughts as much in a mall at Christmastime, though I could. I might experience the same evangelistic tug at a football stadium or basketball arena, but it's at the state and county fairs that I always know that prayerful realization will walk along with me.

 

These are the people for whom Christ died, and many of them think no one in this life or the next care for them even enough to give up a minute of prayer for them, let alone lay down their lives for them. There are joys outside of the church, and many are celebrated at the fair, but a joy that lasts beyond the cotton candy delights of this life is something that I would argue everyone is looking for, in one form or another. How do we communicate effectively "the faith that is in us" to those looking for what it is we've been given . . . especially when that search is taking people into some pretty problematic dead ends and false corridors that will not come out where they want to go.

 

I know my limits as a preacher and a pastor. Some can hear a person like me speaking and teaching where others would give me a look and immediately dismiss what I have to say. We're each given a certain audience to which we're best suited, and we can all grow in understanding those to which we're not familiar, but few of us can, like the Apostle Paul, be all things to all people.

 

And some of my fairground reflection is not so much to seek the absolute answers for my ministry, my sharing of Good News, but to be chastened and reminded of my own limits, of how each church fellowship might just have its own unique place in God's plan.

 

In the middle of diversity and complexity and even more than a little confusion, I look for those small openings through which God can do great things.

 

And I make sure to have some fair food. God's at work along the food trucks, too.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he invites you to come to church on Sunday morning at the fair if you want! Tell him about your summer in faith and life at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Faith Works 7-27-19

Faith Works 7-27-19

Jeff Gill

 

Church meetings can be more than agendas

___

 

Even among those of us who take the clear teachings of holy scripture very seriously, it's not a highly respected passage.

 

Acts 15:6 says "The apostles and elders met to consider this question."

 

That's right, having church meetings is in the Holy Bible. And the next words in verse 7 are "After much discussion . . ."

 

By the time you read this, I'll be home from my religious tradition's "Y'all come" gathering that's held every other summer, a "General Assembly." Some denominations have very strict rules about who comes, and who votes, and may be a bigger church than my own but have many fewer in attendance.

 

We had over 3,000 people, clergy slightly in the majority but not by much, together for four worship services, two with communion, dispersed last Sunday morning across the region to different local churches (and almost always communion there), and nine hundred and seven business sessions.

 

Okay, I may be a little high on the number of business sessions. There were over a hundred workshops across three afternoons, and I took two in as an attendee, and did two long afternoons as a workshop leader myself, on my tradition's history and polity.

 

Trust me, I have been and can be jaded about stuff like banquets at conference centers, and tech complications in meeting rooms. I feel a stiff smile fading on my face after a couple of fourteen hour days and long walks through seemingly endless corridors.

 

But I come home from Des Moines having heard inspiring preaching, from getting the Bible opened up for me in new ways (I have to look up some information on the Sheep Gate when I get home!), and from having had communion and also communed with people I just would not have met had I just stayed put in Newark, Ohio.

 

Though I did keep running into people who were from Licking County, who grew up in Newark, who had been past the giant basket building, who had connections to me and us and ours in ways I wouldn't have known unless I went to Iowa to find it out.

 

It really was inspiring, for me as a Christian, to experience my unity with Haitian preachers in Miami and pastors who lead Hispanic congregations on the Mexican border, with women and men new to ministry and those who have been mentors to me since before I even was ordained thirty years ago. I also got to travel with my dad, as we've done for three other General Assemblies (I think this is my ninth or tenth); he just turned 85 and through his eyes I'm learning something about the challenges of accessibility in a convention center and sports arena – oh, the stairs! The endless, ubiquitous stairs . . .

 

My faith tradition stretches across the United States and Canada; while they are Americans, the Christian Church in Puerto Rico has been an "autonomous national church" for many years (a long interesting story of polity and history). Miguel Morales, the leader of that church, came to express in many different settings and meetings within our assembly, the appreciation and stories of the faith at work in that island nation.

 

Miguel explained that Hurricane Maria was unique not because it was a hurricane, but because normally a hurricane hit the north side of their large island, and the southern side would keep electric and open roads, and help the other half with recovery; in the past a bad, big hurricane might strike the east end, while the west would remain intact and be the engine of recovery for the whole.

 

Hurricane Maria, as we saw in a striking projected satellite radar image, ran right over the center of Puerto Rico, and took its time passing over. The entire island took damage, severe damage. And as you have probably heard in the news, they've had their own problems with governance.

 

Rev. Morales said again and again that our relief and support agencies of our shared church fellowship called him BEFORE the hurricane struck, and got aid to him and his churches BEFORE any governmental assistance arrived. I knew a little of this story, but I heard the whole narrative in full, and it made my assembly.

 

Not just that we helped each other, but to hear about the resilience and renewal felt in so many congregations which lost everything, and realized that in their faith they still had everything necessary. The generators rushed there by our Pension Fund and Week of Compassion agencies were incredibly important, but it was a kind of communion, then and felt again now, that gave them hope.

 

Attending this meeting gave me hope, too. I hope to bring some back to Newark with me.

 

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he is really ready to go home. Tell him how you experience fellowship at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.