Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Faith Works 6-25-16

Faith Works 6-25-16
Jeff Gill

What is the attraction?

[[[To be edited further closer to print date -- The day after the Orlando killings, there were two shot in Newark. I know (at this moment) very little about the details, but guns and violence associated with them are very much on everyone's minds these days.]]]

Reading on social media, and having many friends and associates who are progressive in their politics, and also knowing many well who are conservative, the debate over gun control and how the laws of the land should be written in the light of the Second Amendment has been loud, long, and strident.

As a preacher and leader in a faith community, I don't know that I have anything new to add to the legislative discussions. I do know that there's precious little middle ground online or in the media, but my pastoral work tells me that the vast middle ground is where most people are at least in central Ohio. Add some common-sense limits on how fast and who can obtain weapons, especially the most deadly, but if you start talking about a general ban on private ownership of firearms you're preaching to your own choir . . . and in Licking County, a pretty small choir.

But I have many friends in that choir, and in similar choruses around the country, and in some of the commentary on this subject I think there is something a parson can helpfully add.

What has come up a few times as a plaintive, but sincere cry in these debates is the question "Why do people even want these weapons?" In a time when the population shift from country to city has been decisive; as fewer people not only don't hunt, but do not know people who do; with a smaller percentage of the population having seen military service or have immediate family under arms . . . it's a relatively reasonable question. I wonder why people want to own a Hummer, but I have many friends who wonder why anyone would want to own a semi-automatic rifle.

There's a new political line out, too: "weapon of war." Clever, but disingenuous. Semi-automatic rifles have been in Model A back seats, in pick-up truck racks, and sitting behind tractor drivers for generations. They are a tool, a dangerous power tool to be sure, but just as most farmers and rural laborers have power tools in the shed out back, they have rifles out in the fields. And they shoot at things, with intent to kill. If you didn't know that, you should. There are threats to crops and flocks that farmers have to manage, and rifles are part of that.

There are hunters. Even today, many of them. And not all hunting is one big blast in the fall to "get your deer," although that's all most people hear about once a year.

My mother remembers during rationing in the 40s that, when the meat coupons ran out, her father the high school principal would take his shotgun to work, lean it in the corner of his office (yeah, just think about that one!), and on the way home go by a certain grove he had privileges in and shoot a few squirrels. Mom eats stew carefully to this day.

And if you have served in the US armed forces, you learned something that started: "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine." My M-16A1 had, if memory serves, the serial number 5145159. I learned how, in the dark, bare-handed, how to field strip, clean, and reassemble that weapon. If I were to buy an AR-15 today, I could probably still close my eyes and break it down. For those baffled by the popularity of those semi-automatic rifles, I think that's your answer in a nutshell. Millions start out already knowing how to use and care for that model.

Finally, there's target shooting. If you've never handled guns, I understand your puzzlement, but for those who are used to them, it is – and I do not say this lightly, or flippantly, but by way of explanation – a form of meditation. To control the breathing, your movements, to slow yourself down and center on the target at the end of your sights, and to put your shot into the bullseye: it is a very peaceful practice. And the methodical work of cleaning and stowing away your gear is a kind of ritual act that itself is very peaceful, and peace giving.

I believe we will see some new restrictions and controls over who and how can obtain weapons, but if we as a community are to reach those decisions in consensus, I think it's important for those who know nothing about guns to learn a bit about why those who own them feel as they do. It's about understanding, and we all could use some better understanding of each other in this dialogue.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what your community of faith is saying and doing this summer at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.  

Faith Works 6-18-16

Faith Works 6-18-16

Jeff Gill


You are not alone



In this column, I want to speak personally, sort of.


I am a pastor, a preacher of the Christian gospel, a minister with standing in a particular religious tradition, and I serve a congregation in Newark.


My own faith community, both the larger body of which we're a part, and the local church of which I'm a member, is not doctrinal. Outside of a personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ, you don't have to subscribe to a list of specific beliefs or practices in order to join. There are traditions of how we are Christian together, such as weekly communion, and in baptism by immersion of those who are of an age or condition where they can make that confession of faith for themselves (often called "believer's baptism"), and there are more uniquely local traditions we have in our church (shredded chicken sandwiches at many events, hamloaf when we're more formal, letting the minister swipe the first deviled egg at potlucks), but in general, we are free to discuss and debate what we mean by "the Trinity" or how the action of the Holy Spirit informs a believer's understanding of the Scriptures or many other subjects that divide various religious communities.


Some of those points of distinction have to do with people like me, clergy if you will, or ministers or evangelists or what have you. The longer history of my Restoration Movement forbears tends to avoid the term "Rev." for ourselves, although my branch of the movement came to terms with it a couple of generations ago. The question around it has to do with the belief affirmed in some churches that once ordained to Christian ministry you are, yourself, sacramentally set-apart, and so those churches rightly state that by referring to "The Reverend So-and-so." But the prefix "Rev." has become a professional recognition that you did your advanced seminary training as part of ordination to ministry, just as "Dr." is used for medical professionals or "Esq." as a suffix can be applied to lawyers. I don't ask for the title, but if it's used I don't fuss.


But I'm not, in my own eyes or in those of my church, someone who is intrinsically to be revered. I am the preaching and teaching elder in our congregation, an elder among the elders of the local church, with my role set-apart and supported so that I can put the time in to study and teach and communicate the faith. Not as a sacramental and authoritative voice, but as the baseline teacher for the community.


That teaching represents the congregation, and since I'm a public teacher in many roles, not the least of which is this column, I try to make it clear when I'm speaking as and for "Jeff" and when I'm representing Newark Central Christian. They put up with a great deal from me, and I appreciate the forbearance!


We also have the usual round of communications that I am de facto the "editor" of. Twice a week devotionals online by email and to a Facebook page, which often include prayer notes and short-term announcements, a monthly newsletter in electronic and print form, and Sunday's print bulletin serves many forms.


And we have a sign out front on the road. Truth be told, that's the "publication" seen by more people than all the others put together. 90 characters (including spaces) and just enough limits on what letters we have in quantity to make it tricky at times. What I choose to put out there speaks for us, and often I think, and pray over what I'm saying there as much as I do in the entire monthly "Newark Christian" newsletter.


This past week, our sign said "We pray with Orlando – We stand with our LGBT brothers & sisters."


I think that statement, in its brevity and simplicity, speaks for us. I hope I speak truly for our whole congregation. There are many views in our fellowship about the right use of the gift of sexuality; I've spoken before and will again about my concerns over the state of the family and the changes our culture is going through in relationships and child-rearing and responsibility. But there can be no doubt, no question, no hesitation, I would say clearly, that we as a Christian community – and I pray that we all as a wider community – stand with any group threatened and made to feel fearful simply because of who they are.


No one should feel alone at such a time as this.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what your community of faith is saying and doing this summer at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.  

Notes From My Knapsack 6-23-16

Notes From My Knapsack 6-23-16

Jeff Gill


Waiting for a light to change, or go on...



What did you learn from your experience?


That question kept coming up in the wake of my column about spending a month following the speed limit. To briefly recap, I spent the month of May trying my level best to observe the posted speed limit wherever I went. 55 out on the highway to Newark, 70 on into Columbus, 35 on the main drags and 25 or even 20 where applicable.


And I got honked at. A lot.


Not complaining, just saying.


I will freely admit it was an experiment, and it's over, and I'm not doing quite the same thing anymore. We all learn, even from driver's ed teachers, that there's basically a "cushion" out there, and unless there's a "Strictly Enforced" sign attached below the speed limit placard, or allowing for weather or other special conditions, you're not going to get a ticket for going 59 miles an hour in a 55 zone, and so on. How much of a cushion you think the Flying Tire Salesmen or local constabulary allow is up to you to estimate.


But what did I learn? A good question. Did I learn I generally drive too fast? That's the kind of answer you're supposed to reply with. But I didn't, and still don't think so.


Less congenially, I will say that you all drive too darn fast. You just do. Maybe not you, but it sure seems like it's most of you. Not to go all Andy Rooney on y'all, but this experiment made it even more apparent that turn signal usage is at a minimum, getting passed on Newark-Granville Road is not as unusual as it should be (yes, on double-lines, too), and the general impatience, agitation, and near-insistence that getting somewhere faster is a constitutional right leaves me as depressed as a Republican after listening to a Trump speech.


For the most part, we all just need to ease up, share the road, and calm down. A lot.


What I worry will sound contradictory is that the other thing I learned is that following speed limits strictly is a real pain in the tookus. I was constantly trying to figure out exactly what it was in any given stretch, and I'm almost of a mind to say there needs to be some attention given to rationalization of speed limit postings.


It jumps up, then backs down again, and suddenly pops up. Having the experience I do in village governance, I have a sneaking suspicion that not a few of these changes in posted speed limits have to do with who in that area has been able to make a loud enough fuss for long enough to get a change made.


It could also be the case that, to simplify things, more speed limits should be made lower. And I might still need to slow down myself. My experiment showed me over and over again that people who jerked forward, honked, passed, swerved around to my right at intersections where I didn't turn on red fast enough, et cetera et cetera . . . they generally were just getting out of their car as I pulled in next to them at the same destination, smiled at them, and walked in seconds behind the one in a hurry. Some of you know who you are.


It's just a good time this summer for us all to try it. Slow down.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's usually in a hurry, but tries not to rush whenever he can. Tell him your high-speed troubles at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Faith Works 6-11-16

Faith Works 6-11-16

Jeff Gill


Water will out, always



You can eyeball a stretch of floor or pavement or lawn, and say it's flat. You can put a carpenter's level down on one stretch, but it only indicates for where it sits. If you really want to know if everything is really on the level, pour out a bucket of water.


A yard alongside a house might look straight across, or a landscaper might even up the terrain, but the reality is that sooner or later, rain or even heavy dew, let alone gutter runoff or buckets dumped from washing the car, will tell you where the slope is.


It all goes somewhere.


Up at camp, there was rain the first night, and someone tried to dig some drainage ditches to dry out the road past Franklin Lodge, soaking the back of the circle where the Cub dens stand. It all goes somewhere.


Our church's Mission Team likes to re-tell the story of a mucking-out they did on a half-ruined house, shoveling buckets full of mud out of the basement, passing them along to the head of the stairs, and passing them along to the level stretch alongside the home . . . or so it seemed.


After a while the crew wondered why they didn't seem to be getting ahead in digging out the mud, and looked around to find a window well in the back that had a slow but steady trickle of liquid mud dripping steadily down into the basement. They went out to see where it came from, and traced a grand arc of muck from the window well around the side yard and up to where the crew was dumping the buckets.


It all goes somewhere.


Water will out. It finds its level and an outlet, filling up an area until it can start overtopping somewhere and flowing out and down.


Look at interesting geology or landforms more generally, and there's a story of how water will out behind almost any terrain. Work on landscaping, and you find yourself thinking like water, trying to determine where it will go, and learning that you have to work with it, giving it a place and a path. You may try to impound it or hold it in reserve, a reservoir, but even then you have to allow for overflow, passage through.


It all goes somewhere, and water will out. We can't treat it as an intruder or unwelcome guest, because we need it. Dry out the lawn too much and you have to end up watering it; raise up your beds for gardening, but then you're working out how to keep the crops from getting parched.


Most of our house architecture, most of human architecture when you get right down to it, has to do with taking the local materials at hand, and building up walls and stretching out roofs while making allowance for the inevitability of water. Rain, dawn damps, snow as the frozen form of it, water trickling here and there but always seeking a path down. The Seventies were cruel to churches and schools as architects overestimated their materials and underestimated water (Frank Llyod Wright could sit in Arizona and dismiss guttering, but even adobe has to take rain into account, sooner or later). Flat roof construction is, to most ministers, a hole into which churches pour money year after year.


Even so, a steep pitch and good drains can't keep water from sometimes backing up and working down through the shingles or roofing, drip by drop by trickle. Inside architecture has to bow to the needs of water management as well, in repairs if not in allowance.


Water will out, because it is a quiet and inexorable force that will go on through, no matter what we try to do to stop it. It's like time, in a way. Despite your best efforts, you can't stop it from having an impact. As is well-known, water can wear away stone just in a very slow drip; it also can pull down ceilings and undermine walls and bring down hillsides if it's of a mind to. It all goes somewhere.


Water is a source, some say *the* source of life; you can drown in it, and it can destroy, but without it at all you have desolation and dryness. That's why, I think, we read in the Bible so often of God as giver of springs, source of rivers; in the Psalms again and again, and in Isaiah 43:19 the prophet tell us that God says – "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."


Water, and God, will out.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what metaphors of the spirit and the divine catch your attention at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 6-9-16

Notes From My Knapsack 6-9-16

Jeff Gill


Different pace, different drummer?



So I spent a big hunk of last month getting honked at.


Not in a good way.


To explain, I have to go back to the end of April. I was coming back into the village, heading west down the hill on Newark-Granville Road, slowing to pass the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses where not infrequently a Granville police cruiser is sitting, passing the time as it were.


So I know where I was, as the hill leveled off, and I know my speed, because I checked, having made an involuntary contribution to village coffers at that spot a few years ago. I was over the speed limit by a good five miles per hour . . . and was passed, at a fair clip, by a vehicle whipping around to my left and zooming on ahead past Welsh Hills School (20 mph when children are present).


Of course, there was no cruiser present that day. I shook my head at the blazing impatience of the passing car, already long ahead of me, and kept on my way. At the Cherry Valley Road intersection, a found myself behind my high-speed acquaintance, who was stuck as we often are behind someone trying to turn left, waiting in the face of a stream of oncoming traffic. Such is life.


When we all were released, the parade rolled at a more stately pace into Granville proper, and we both veered off at College St. at the foot of Mount Parnassus, and I couldn't resist. The distinctive vehicle in front of me didn't have much farther to go, and turned into a driveway. I pulled in immediately behind, and pulled out a pen and paper and started writing down the license plate number.


The driver got out, glanced back quizzically at me, then walked to my window, pointing at my pen and paper. I rolled it down, and said as cheerfully as I could "You know, passing inside village limits, on a double line, at 50 mph or more, just strikes me as a bad idea." The intrepid motorist looked on aghast as I reversed, backed into the street, and went on my way. I can only hope for some anxious thoughts over the next few hours or so, since I threw the note away not long after, doubting that such a citizen's report would do either of us any good: I was going for the look of horror, and got it, and hope the lesson was useful.


It was to me. It got me thinking about impatience, and impetuousness, and speed, and I tried an experiment. I spent the next thirty days doing my level best to drive the posted speed limit wherever I went.


Yes, that's right: 54 or 55 on the expressway so-called, and only 70 or even 69 when going on west along our new superhighway. There, I just got odd stares from people passing me, which pretty much everyone but farm equipment did.


It was in Granville and Newark I got the honking. And lots of it. If you stop thinking about the infamous "10 mph cushion" that even driver's ed teachers tell us about, and actually follow the driving instructions as posted, you are stuck trying to keep up with changes (25, 35, 45 mph within a single mile sometimes), and I for one was struck by the fact that I was either always having cars – or trucks, oh those pickup trucks – right up against my rear bumper, or passing me wherever they could and even when they really, reasonably could not. But they did anyhow.


What's the message here? Well, on one hand, I think there's a saturation point on speed limit guidance that's going to take some study and attention. Too much monkeying around just makes people ignore what's posted, so there's that. The counterpart question is simply: what's the hurry? Really, why are so many so quick to leap around at turns on intersections, pushing and flashing along residential streets, and honking at cars going the speed limit?


In any case, my thought to Granville and environs: ease up. Slow down, even. Take it easy. And no, I'm not sticking to the speed limits anymore, but I'm not zooming past them as quickly, either.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's usually in a hurry, but tries not to rush whenever he can. Tell him your high-speed troubles at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.