Monday, September 26, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 9-29-16

Notes From My Knapsack 9-29-16

Jeff Gill

 

 

An Interesting Few Weeks Ahead!

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Yes, there's an election season all around us, and oh my, is Ohio a battleground of appearances and advertising and excitement (including our neighbors in Newark with an on-again/off-again Michael Moore program about the campaign). Historical precedents are being cited, smashed, and put back together again in new ways.

 

We've gone in fifty-seven years from the first televised debate and the question of whether or not Nixon should have used make-up (short answer: yes, but he still would have lost) to this month as podium height and spray tanning are part of the civic if not civil discourse.

 

So let's add sex to the volatile mix. Sure, why not? We're looking at the first woman to earn the right to be on the final ballot across the nation for President of these United States, and in Licking County we remember that daughter of Homer, Ohio who first addressed a congressional committee, who first made a plausible run for the presidency (even if she couldn't legally vote for herself, or anyone else), and who is uniquely memorialized in Granville.

 

There near one of only two memorials erected to honor Victoria Woodhull's memory, inside the Robbins Hunter Museum on Thursday, October 6 at 7:00 pm, I will speak on "The Dilemma of Sex: The Free Love Debate Within Victoria Woodhull's Writings." My talk is free to members of the museum, and only $5 for the general public. As candidates get accused of all sorts of things today, so did Victoria Woodhull in 1872. I may not clear up the current election for anyone, but there may be some elements of the contest today that are echoed in that earlier era's debates.

 

I don't think history repeats itself, but as many a sage has observed, it does tend to rhyme.

 

And stepping back into even earlier history, the amazing 2,000 year old Newark Earthworks continue to make progress towards their rightful place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sadly, this year the fall open house at the Octagon Earthworks, a 135 acre portion of the once four-and-a-half square mile complex of geometric earthworks in full, will be on a Monday, not on a Sunday afternoon when so many more could visit. On Monday, Oct. 9, from sunrise to sunset, at the corner of 33rd St. and Parkview Road just off of West Main St. in Newark, you may freely roam the octagonal and connected circular enclosures, and we will have guides available for tours at points through the middle of the day.

 

Monday, Oct. 9 is also a day dwindling in observance, Columbus Day. It didn't become a federal holiday until the 1930s, and was a state observance in a number of places from early in the 1900s, but began to draw attention around the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Columbus "discovering" the Americas, in 1892 and along with the Chicago "World's Columbian Exposition."

 

Today, Columbus Day often gets shuffled aside unless you're trying to get your mail or do official business. I think it may be time to repurpose the observance, and call it "Encounter Day." What we realize is important about that event in 1492 was the beginning of an ongoing encounter between the Old World and the New, with tragedy and terror one result, and biological exchange and cultural impacts another. We are still learning (in books like Charles Mann's "1491") about what that encounter has done and is still doing to the world and its peoples: maybe making the second Monday of October a day to reflect constructively on cultural and ecological encounters and how they can be used for mutual benefit.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about stories you'd like to hear more about at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Faith Works 9-24-16

Faith Works 9-24-16

Jeff Gill

 

Is Decency Ever Graphic?

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There's an old story about Justice Potter Stewart and the Supreme Court trying to come up with a definition of obscenity under "community standards" and he finally said more out of frustration than insight: "I know it when I see it."

 

Some words are pretty generally accepted as profane and, at least once upon a time, not to be said in public. Let alone in church.

 

But as I started to wade into last week here in this space, community standards seem to be changing (again). There's a marching band that wears scarlet and grey, with a certain tagline that I, at least, just can't say from the pulpit. But I've heard folks I think of as quite decent saying in full "TBDBITL" (not just the incomprehensible but immediately recognizable acronym), and yes, in church. Without any overt sense of irony, it's said in what is taken to be a different context.

 

To use such a word as an expletive, rather than an adjective . . . but there's a well-worn preacher's story about a staid and decorous evangelist using an Anglo-Saxon profanity in observing "it's a darn shame that more of you are upset I used a swear word than you are that your friends and neighbors are going to Hell." Except he didn't say darn.

 

Standards are changing, though, and that word I'm feeling constrained to work around in this column is showing up on TV in the long-lost "family hour" and printed on billboards, let alone in print. Am I just being . . . prissy? (Can I use that word?)

 

One of the common complaints about political correctness is that often objections to some insensitive terms are raised in profanity-laced tirades, with the justification that the racist label is more hurtful than monosyllables about human biological functions. To some, that un-distinction makes sense, while others of us just shake our heads.

 

I'm not horrified or offended by swear words or harsh language. I've been on Boy Scout campouts and to Marine Corps basic training, I've helped move dead bodies to the mortician's vehicle and cleaned out abandoned homes, I've been to court and to the jail. I won't say you can't surprise me or make me flinch, because life is funny that way, but it's just not that I want to live in a happy-clappy bubble of pink cotton candy.

 

Yet as I see the coarsening of the culture and the ratcheting down of standards about language in public, in entertainment, in life in general, I can't help but wince. "For the children" is one battle cry for this concern, but I'm more concerned for us all than just for the kids. I think there's a certain set of rules and guidelines and, well, decorum that can ease the unavoidable strains of everyday life. Is it sexist to hold doors? Well, I try to hold them for about anybody; is it ageist to say "sir" let alone "ma'am" if you do it across the age ranges?

 

And yes, when I post on social media, I try to add a "language alert" up top if there's profanity. It just seems appropriate, just as some ask for "trigger warnings" on violent or disturbing content (which basically I just don't post, given my roles in the community).

 

But then I run into some pretty insoluble dilemmas, between a graphic description of life and sorrow and yes, sin, and the proprieties we've tending to think of as necessary in church life. Our church library has a large number of lovely Christian romance novels, and they're quite popular; one author got a little more raw-edged about what happened to his protagonists, and I heard a great deal of dislike for that shift on his part.

 

I've got some books I'd like to put into our church library, for the "equipping of the saints" for the battles we are fighting. "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance is one; a marvelous treatment of growing up in a town not at all dissimilar to Newark. But it is rough, and raw, and definitely with profanity throughout. It also reads like what I live as a minister here: should I shelve it? "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr I think can offer a measure of hope to women who lived through childhoods like her own, and the adult end of her story in "Lit" surely would speak to many Christians: but oh, the content. I recommend it, individually, cautiously.

 

Please bear with me if you would, as I spend one more week on this topic next Saturday. Thank you for the feedback last weekend!

 

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he still has a tendency to say "sir" and "ma'am" even when people ask him not to, and let's not even talk about holding doors and chairs. Tell him your ingrained habits at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Faith Works 9-17-16

Faith Works 9-17-16

Jeff Gill

 

Decency and decorum and faithful living

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My great-aunts, who were a sort of extra uber-grandparents to me and my brothers and sister growing up, had a very precise and certain sense of decorum. Things had to be a certain way, and to not be that way was indecent, "wasn't done."

 

They surely taught me enunciation (as did my mother, who got some of that from them herself), and table manners, and how to behave in public. Not that my parents didn't tend to such things, but the great-aunts lived in and took us to the big city, where the restaurants we visited and the sights we saw were not what we had in Indiana.

 

What those extra pieces of silverware were for, and who stood up when or held which chair for whom: they knew all that and how to tip, too.

 

They were devoted members of churches out of the same religious tradition in which I minister, and while they moved a number of times, they tended to look for congregations of that sort. I probably associate the Disciples of Christ with them more than is strictly accurate, but the truth is that quite a few of us grew up in this denomination surrounded by the spiritual sisters of the great-aunts.

 

Part of what made us a culture and set of social traditions that attached themselves to a Protestant Christian practice of our faith is that we were a frontier tradition, starting in pioneer communities, moving out with the plough and the log cabin, then sprouting in small towns and rural villages, pushing on into county seats, and only lastly emerging or being planted in urban settings.

 

One of the great-aunts' books (they lived together most of their lives, elderly maiden ladies who chose schoolteaching when it required the unmarried state, a rule which changed long after they had any thought of changing their state), I have my own copy of today, as a reminder, and a warning. "Evils of the Cities" by T. De Witt Talmage, D.D. This stern parson (his engraving facing the title page) preached a warning to all the fine folk of the countryside who might themselves, or sadly their children might find their way into the "evils of the cities." Primarily, cities were . . . indecent. Indecency, it seems, is the main reason cities were built in the first place, at least according to this book. Indecency around every corner and through each doorway.

 

Granted, most of the warnings are about East Coast cities, and the book was published in Chicago in 1909; Dr. Talmage served in Brooklyn, which clearly he believed he was keeping a moral and bucolic refuge in the hills beyond New York City proper. Brooklyn was more of a suburb then, the trolleys only just getting there in his era, making the local Trolley-Dodgers a crew worth naming a base-ball club after.

 

My great-aunts came from the farms and one-room schools of downstate Illinois to Chicago to make their way, and I never heard if the book was given them as a warning on departure, or purchased ironically by them in an old book shop after arriving. But it sums up what marked my mother's family, and in many ways my denomination in that era: social advancement was important, and even necessary, and could be honorable if it was done decently.

 

To curse and swear and spit and drink were perhaps ways to get ahead in the shop, on the Main Streets and Broadways of growing middle America, but the Christian way of temperance, chastity, and deferred gratification were not only the path of divine blessing, but the surer and more secure path to the social heights as well.

 

Candidly, decency has been a two-edged sword for us.  While Christianity has affirmed its unique gift of chastity since the earliest days of our faith, the larger bundle of "decency" has picked up a great many hats and girdles and neckties along the way. The first big church fight I remember from my youth was over the propriety of putting married women's first names in the directory (i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Doakes, vs. Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Esmerelda Doakes… they settled it by putting Mr. and Mrs. Joe (Esmerelda) Doakes which, of course, satisfied no one).

 

Cleanliness is next to godliness is the old phrase – also not in Scripture, albeit beloved of John Wesley – there are many practices that are good that are not necessarily an index of faith in God, pro or con. Whited sepulchers, et cetera. I hope you'll bear with me as I carry this theme over into next week's column as well!

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he still has a tendency to say "sir" and "ma'am" even when people ask him not to, and let's not even talk about holding doors and chairs. Tell him your ingrained habits at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Faith Works 9-10-16

Faith Works 9-10-16

Jeff Gill

 

September 10, 2001

___

 

Today is an anniversary of sorts.

 

Fifteen years ago, I had a quiet day as a pastor.

 

The next day I'd have an early morning meeting of the jail ministry board of which I was president, so I needed to make some preparations for that; and I had a trip Sept. 10 to meet with other church camp directors to review the summer, and start the plans for next year's camp and conference weeks.

 

It was relatively cool, and drizzly, not many people on the road. On the radio, the talk was about Chandra Levy (still missing) and summer shark attacks (still worrisome). That morning, before I headed out on the road, the Today Show talked about how to get good deals on airline travel.

 

And some 3,000 people across the country east of me were having their last full day of life.

 

In worship, falling as the observance does on a Sunday this year, we will mark the losses and the lessons. We will remember 343 firefighters who ran towards the smoke and flames, 60 law enforcement officers who died at their posts or putting themselves on duty at the Twin Towers, another dozen paramedics and elevator technicians who came to help of their own free will and did not leave; we will honor 125 who died at the Pentagon, military & civilian employees, and will salute 246 passengers and crew on the airplanes used in the committal of the crimes.

 

(And you may see different numbers for these categories in some tributes, as rightly the authorities have begun to include people whose deaths since 9-11 are clearly & unmistakably connected to their work "on the pile" including some survivors of the day who died in the next few years from breathing problems arising from what they inhaled in those next few hours or days.)

 

As preachers and pastors and many others have said in these last 15 years, no one caught between the plane impacts and collapse of the Twin Towers picked up their cell phone and called to settle scores or air out old grudges. No one is known to have spent their time trapped between flame and falling remembering former honors or past workplace promotions. They called people, or left voice mails, or did whatever they could to tell certain special persons in their lives that they loved them.

 

On Flight 93, the last of the four planes to crash, short of the hijackers' goal, phone technology was used to share love, and to pray together before that final assault on the cockpit. There was no more business to do, no need to worry about schedules or push agendas. Just "tell my family I love them, okay?" and the words of the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.

 

We would pray together that none of us ever has to face such a time of trial; Jesus himself put that thought into his basic outline of prayer for his disciples -- "lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil" -- and he gives us that prayer because we know that evil days will come, and we need to remember that evil does not have the last word.

 

Today is a September 10th for us; it always is, in a way, and we never really know what tomorrow brings. That awareness can chill our hearts and stop our souls with fear and doubt.

 

As there are trials and temptations to worry and fret and fear, let us remember that Jesus came to tell us, and to show us, that God desires peace for us, healing for all of creation, redemption for everything created. Salvation is not a dream for only the secure and the confident, but a promise to "all who labor and are heavy laden."

 

There is an upside to political candidates of all parties to keep us unnerved, anxious, worried, burdened. In large part, so that they can promise to be the ones who will bring us peace, lighten our load, and from them we will receive rest.

 

Friends, pray for those running for office, pray as Scripture teaches for those who are holding office and responsibility and are on guard for us; but as we honor and salute and vote, remember that our rest is in the Lord, that peace is a gift of the Christ, and that only God can save us . . . and that salvation is a gift of love. And love endures all things, always.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; his September 11 fifteen years ago seemed like it would never end, and in some ways it hasn't. Tell him about your reflections on that day at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 9-8-16

Notes From My Knapsack 9-8-16

Jeff Gill

 

Granville in the Movies

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We're still in the "middle" of filming for a real, live, Hollywood feature here in the village and environs.

 

Hat tips all around to director Steven C. Miller's choice to bring Bruce Willis and Hayden Christiensen to Granville, along with his crew and all the local spending they'll do here. The Granville Chamber of Commerce and Explore Licking County (our convention and visitors' bureau) have to be over the moon with excitement.

 

Granville has long had a sort of cinematic image in people's imaginations after they experience the actuality of our town. I've had occasion to reference our fair city as "Brigadoon," a sort of impossibly sweet place that can't really exist and only occasionally does in this world.

 

Many others besides myself have found themselves thinking in the last couple of weeks about Waterford, Vermont, the default filming location for the cast and crew of "State and Main." David Mamet should make more comedies, in my opinion, because this one is a hoot, and if you've not seen it, you need to find it and watch it soon – not that I'm making any comparisons between Alec Baldwin and Bruce Willis at all! (You'll get it when you watch it.) If director Miller would get Bruce to say "Go Blue Aces" just once in "First Kill" though . . .

 

Having just finished getting a child through the Granville educational gauntlet, I've heard enough "Hunger Games" comparisons to the high school experience to last me a lifetime. And I've heard many parents of young women make comments about how they feel like "Clueless," "Mean Girls," and even "Heathers" have come to life around them (maybe even especially "Heathers").

 

"Guarding Tess" is a movie I was told repeatedly when we first came back to the area that Granville had been considered for, or even used in filming; I've never seen any indication that this is so, but it's like the old story that Walt Disney almost built Disney World at Buckeye Lake – his people went all over the US checking locations, so you can't say for sure it never happened. "Tess" is a sweet little implausible tale that was where I realized "Moonstruck" was not a fluke, and that Nicholas Cage could act when he wanted to put in the effort ("Leaving Las Vegas" was the next year, which fortunately does not remind me of Granville in any way, shape, or form, blessedly).

 

But perhaps my favorite cinematic connection for our village is where "Sgt. John Sweet of Granville, Ohio" unexpectedly starred in the British World War II "A Canterbury Tale." Made by the famous team of Powell and Pressburger, known as "The Archers" production and direction partnership, they found John Sweet on Eisenhower's staff in the south of England, and needed a convincing American soldier for one of the three leads in their magical 1944 movie.

 

Filmed in and around Canterbury, England as the work was silently going on all around them for the Normandy landings, Sweet's character is presented as being from the American West, but I think you can hear the Granville boy in his lines and reactions all through this charming and, to me at least, beloved story.

 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's appeared in the movie "Hoosiers" but he and his wife are in a crowd scene, so… Tell him about your brushes with cinematic glory at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.