Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Faith Works 8-26-17

Faith Works 8-26-17

Jeff Gill


It's a privilege just to be here



There's this thing people are talking about called privilege.


It's the better-heeled brother of racism. We know, sort of, what racism is (although it seems to always have another rancid layer to it, like peeling a rotten onion), but the counterpart to racist animus against people of color is the ability of those of us not in those communities to worry about racism, much.


Privilege. I have it. I get to write this column, for one. I try to use this privilege, and in fact responsibility, with care and consideration. Many of you who read this are involved in churches, but I know full well that many of the regular readers here are what's called "spiritual but not religious," not attenders anywhere but interested in spirituality everywhere.


In truth, I'm interested in getting most of you into some form of community, but I don't write or preach from this platform with the assumption that's where you are. For those who have a parson preaching to them each week, or an elder teaching or convener moderating discussion, you have the privilege of assembly and structure.


And I have a very particular sort of Christian privilege, which is having grown up in a household of belief and practice. Not everyone got that, and I think it's only right to allow for those differences in experience. I didn't pick my childhood home, so why should I get credit for it? If you never heard much about God or the gospel in your earlier life, why should that be held against you?


My photograph, inflicted on many of you reading this on the page or online, shows that I have what's known as "white privilege." It's true. I grew up not wondering if people would watch me closely in stores, especially the pricey ones; as I got older, I never had a concern that I couldn't rent a place if I had the green in my wallet. There are many ways that a white man even if not from wealth has certain economic and social advantages, ones we don't think about and can be touchy about if pointed out (since as far as we know they don't exist).


Oh, and I did say white man. There's white privilege, and there's still – whether you believe it or not – male privilege. I know all the counter arguments, but there are so many ways and places where being a guy gives me a certain place that a woman doesn't. The pulpit is one.


Should I add Christian privilege? Before my church-going readers say to themselves "but isn't there persecution against Christians around the world, and even here at home?" I will note that I am indeed irritated by the growing trend in print and online to put the word "god" in lower-case, making it clear that many folks like to make it clear they don't think God is a proper proper noun, since capitalizing God implies the divine One is a person. But why should I make someone who doesn't believe that God is a person affirm that in their punctuation?


Regardless, there's still some privilege to be had in our culture from being a part of the mainstream. Some are not in that mainstream, and it takes nothing away from me to acknowledge and honor that there are those who find themselves on the outside looking in.


We are working through a national inventory of privilege and privileges these days, alongside the struggle to change racism into acceptance and hate into love. Some say those transformations are impossible. My privilege is to believe that there is a God, and this God wants to change us all for the better.

Not all of you believe that, but you are curious. How can this be, and how can we be part of it? Included or excluded, faith communities in general and Christians in particular should be a living witness to the possibility of transformation of not just human persons, but entire cultures. It is my privilege to believe and to proclaim that this is happening all around us even now.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he believes it's a privilege to answer your emails, no matter how briefly! Tell him what you think is being changed in our community at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Faith Works 8-19-17

Faith Works 8-19-17

Jeff Gill


Four hundred times, times two



It's one of those elements of the created order that's enough to make you think about a Creator: our Moon is four hundred times smaller than the Sun, which is four hundred times farther from the Earth than the nearer orbiting body.


So while they are massively different in size, from the surface of our planet every so often the looping paths of lunar orbits intersect the apparent course of the Sun across our daytime sky: a lunar eclipse. And they perfectly match in our sky.


Well, sometimes. In some places. On Monday, in the afternoon, it's gonna get dark. Ish. We are not in the path of "totality" but we're near enough to get some observable impact, between 1 and 3:45 or so, with the greatest dark shadow cast for a few minutes around 2:30 pm. Even in the path of totality, the full darkness in daylight will only last two minutes or so . . . but what a two minutes! Stars will appear in the sky, bird song will stop and crickets start calling.


There are many devices and special glasses available to allow you to safely watch the progress of the moon's face across the radiant surface of the sun, but I've often "observed" eclipses simply by taking two index cards, punch a circular hole in one, and go outside, turning your back on the sun. With it shining over your shoulder, hold the card with the hole in it up, and get the spot of light to shine on the second card – you will see the circle begin to have an arc cut across the side of the brightness, and at 2:30 on Monday you will see all but a crescent obscured. Whatever you do, don't look directly at the sun, on an eclipse day or any day.


Eclipses were part of the astronomy and often the spirituality of many ancient cultures, and when you experience one, it makes sense. The sun is the source of life, as any farmer or gardener knows; the regularity of the sun may shorten and lengthen, and that annual cycle between solstices with the mid-point equinox is part of many worldviews and ritual calendars. For the sun to suddenly stop shining is . . . terrifying. It implies it could happen again, for longer; it undermines the existential confidence we bring to each sunset that in the east the sun will rise again.


The ability to predict an eclipse is a mathematical and astronomical achievement that tells a culture they're figuring out some data that's central to the working of the cosmos, even as those of us without the math know to respect the ability of those predictions, when they dramatically but simply come to pass.


It becomes a metaphor for many things, spiritually and culturally. Not inaccurately people have talked about an "eclipse" of American values in Charlottesville last weekend, a darkening of the usual light and warmth by some intervening stony obstacle that we don't think should be able to obscure that which normally guides our path.


It can also be encouraging to remember that an eclipse is, at essence, an illusion. The moon is not shutting down the light, it's just getting in the way for a little while. It's not a dragon eating the sun, nor a crack in the universe, it's just a shadow which passes as quickly as it comes.


Mark Twain made a whole tale out of a Connecticut Yankee being cast through time into King Arthur's court, carrying an almanac; Bing Crosby played him in the movie of the same, and was able to bamboozle the king and court by using his ability to predict the eclipse as leverage to imply he had much more power than he did. He could predict, but he could not compel.


The racist mob that came together under the pretext of a statue and other cultural debates was trying to make their influence appear, by torchlight and implication, larger than it is, more lasting than it will be. Their swastika flags and Nazi salutes are a blot, a shadow on the nation, but their dark impact is only lasting if we let it be one.


In this case, we can speed the sun itself. We can be light ourselves, and fling the shadows of hate and intolerance out and away from where we stand. May we shine, together, always.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he will be outside on Monday afternoon watching the day battle against the darkness. Tell him about your experience with shadows and light at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 8-17-17

Notes From My Knapsack 8-17-17

Jeff Gill


Other ideas for the fire station



Apparently there is some interest in moving our current fire station from its charming location on N. Prospect St.


In one way or another, change is gonna come (as the song says), since the current facility is greatly in need of significant upgrade. So the one constructive piece of counsel I have for township and village residents and officials is that this isn't about "stay" or "go" but where the fire service should "be" in the near future. It will, beyond doubt, be in a new facility not too many years hence. Will that new facility be on the current footprint, or in some new location entirely: that's the question.


One proposed location has some controversy about traffic and watercourses and emergency preparedness already around it. But I started wondering, sitting on my porch perhaps sitting a little too close to the citronella candle, about other options we might have for our proud and historic fire fighters to operate out of.


It occurred to me that across the street, the hill of which Prospect is named (some call it all College Hill now, but historically the eastern promontory was Prospect Hill and the western, where the academic quad is, was the part labeled College Hill), offers an interesting alternative.


Tunnels could be bored into Prospect Hill, and spring loaded ejection systems could launch fully prepared crews off into a system of ramps and overshoots to miss the traffic lights on Broadway. My son had a toy car set which worked rather well with fire trucks launched out of a mountainside, and the excitement can be mitigated with safety harnesses and such, I'm sure. An underground lair with a pole connecting two levels is always a popular bas of operations for most important rapid response units on television and in the movies, so there must be plans out there to build them.


Likewise, SHIELD has helicarrier technology which allows a platform to hover over an area, with some ability to move the entire HQ from one location to another. A helicarrier fire station with four large turbofan lift units could generally operate over the backstreet parking area behind the current station, and with minimal damage to trees and satellite dishes be moved wholesale to one end of the village or another, lowering the units on repellor platforms.  When I was younger, I could have sworn SHIELD had refueling craft to supply the helicarrier, but in today's movies it seems to be a mix between Stark Industries arc reactors and solar panels.


Either way, if it's good enough for Nick Fury, it should be good enough for our fire crews.


Competition also could create some interesting benefits: what about two smaller stations at either far end of the village, and they race to see which crew arrives first, getting a bonus for their speed (losing points for hitting any cars or pedestrians along the way).


Those are some of my thoughts about fire station location; I may need to get a new citronella candle, too.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he likes his front porch. Maybe too much. Tell him where you think the fire station should be at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Faith Works 8-12-17

Faith Works 8-12-17

Jeff Gill


An anniversary, and time to reflect



Have you enjoyed some outdoor worship this summer?


The early Christian church worshiped in homes and catacombs and where they could find a safe place to gather; we developed into more formal spaces with a Roman influence after Constantine's ambiguous gift of official status, but the spread of Christianity around the world meant divine services had to adapt to a variety of settings.


John Wesley in England and his followers like George Whitefield into North America celebrated the rightness and even importance of preaching out of doors. It began by being shut out of churches, but it was a value they enhanced through the realization of the larger and more diverse audiences such settings allowed.


Benjamin Franklin had some complicated personal religious opinions, but he greatly admired Whitefield, not just for his theology but for his volume. When he would preach from the courthouse steps in Philadelphia, Franklin would back away to determine just how far down the block Whitefield could be heard clearly, and was stunned to realize that his voice carried widely enough to allow crowds of 30,000 to hear him.


John Chapman in this part of Ohio preached his Swedenborgian view of heaven and hell from stump-tops in Newark and Mt. Vernon, when he wasn't busy being Johnny Appleseed, and Lorenzo Dow passed through in his unique Methodist manner, announcing his return in a year and coming back to preach outside to large crowds.


We have many National Parks where a special ministry comes in to offer Sunday services in campground amphitheaters, and I've always enjoyed the experience; my own call to ministry began in helping lead vesper services in Scout camp firebowls and lakesides.


Five years ago, Central Christian Church formally called me (indoors) to be their pastor, and it was a deeply meaningful date. Because 28 years ago on this day I was ordained, under a large National Guard tent erected by my Boy Scout troop, since the church building I'd grown up in had been condemned. And a decade earlier, 38 years ago today, I had received my Eagle Scout award inside that sanctuary.


So August 12 is a special date to me, and it picks up on the indoor/outdoor element of my own sense of ministry, where it happens, and how we serve out our callings. The church building is important for stability and continuity, but it is not an essential. Faith is essential, and our story about where we met the living Christ: well, if you go by Luke's gospel, you can see where those encounters are as likely to be on the road and under the open sky as they are inside any enclosed space.


My own tradition had a start in outdoor communion celebrations on the American frontier where Thomas Campbell saw others, not of his official religious body, hanging back in the weeds from the communion table, and said "Come." The other side of that movement out of Barton Stone's church in Kentucky also arose from a great assembly that couldn't fit in the large log structure that was their home, and the Cane Ridge Revival took place atop stumps and had communion off the back of wagons, where the winds blew and the Spirit was moving the people.


Our church has a small lodge on the east end of town, and we like to worship there at least once a year as a congregation. The creek nearby, the trees, and the sky above, all are part of God. We have a connection to God inside and outside, and it is good to keep those connections connected, I believe.


Last week, we also helped to sponsor worship up at the Hartford Fair, in an open-sided shelter with the sights and sounds of the world all a part of our gathering. It's good to find those moments where we can shut the world out and focus on our relationship with the Lord, but if our faith only works for us when we can do that, it's not a faith that can travel far.


On this August 12, I hope you have found a faith that can go with you wherever you are; I'm thankful for the blessing of a faith that has taken me so many different places, including right here in Licking County.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he wasn't born here, but he got here as soon as he could. Tell him about outdoor worship you've experienced this summer at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 8-3-17

Notes From My Knapsack 8-3-17

Jeff Gill


Gentrification by any other name…



In struggling, dated urban neighborhoods, there's a phenomenon that's quite a two-edged sword, called "gentrification."


The gentry start to move in, and where the moneyed and well-to-do folk move in, those with less cash move out. Or at least away.


So a neighborhood association in a city or an isolated community with some local assets goes to work turning around years of decline in housing stock, jobs, and retail opportunities, and then when they get the restaurants and art galleries and quirky boutique shops, and better-off people move in to renovate, reconstruct, or outright tear down and rebuild homes in the community, you start to see a rise in housing values. Which is good, right?


Except when the property tax reassessment goes through, and in general property taxes increase, and suddenly lower income workers have trouble holding onto their homes, and seniors exclaim that their fixed income did not include the prospect of increased payments to the municipality and township and county.


Aspen, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico have famously noted this problem in their midst; it's not just an urban core thing. You make a place so "nice," so "cool" that people show up and buy homes and property values shoot up, and suddenly everything costs more, and the long-time locals drift away, retirees chose to cash out and downsize elsewhere, and newer families with very young children don't show up, at least until their kids are older.


Your school demographics get weird (as opposed to being able to look at your entering first grade class and having a good idea how many graduates you'll have in twelve years), and you realize all the clerks and servers and staff in the places you frequent in town live out of town . . . far out of town.


Is this sounding familiar? Of course it is. Granville has been worrying about this problem for some time, rightly so. But the truth is that we haven't seen any new middle-income housing for quite some time in this area. So not only do down-sizing retirees not tend to stay if they want to continue in their own home (vs. a retiree condo sort of place), younger families find it hard to get into the Granville market. Denison's new professors do not, as a rule, tend to put down roots in the village for the same reason.


So I'm curious to see the outcomes and residents in the new small-footprint developments on the east and west sides of the village. We have an assortment of opportunities ahead for making sure this friendly community is not only welcoming to new residents, but that we're also supportive of all the elements that make up a sense of place, the vitality that we want in Granville.


One thing I've noticed, learning about the history of our community since my family moved here in 2004, is that we didn't plan to turn into an upper-income enclave, it just sort of happened. We did always highly value education, and that investment paid off unexpectedly, with some sharp-eyed developers like the Murphys and Kents capitalizing on opportunities that were waiting for someone to take a chance. Those paid off, and the village and school district have been in a fencing match with a variety of other developers ever since.


Our 2012 Granville Comprehensive Plan is available online, and is worth a little of your time (www.granville.oh.us/comprehensive-plan). Reading it, I'm wondering if it doesn't already need some updating.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still trying to figure out exactly how the landscape of the village has changed with the new SR 161 corridor, but he's sure it has. Tell him where you think our growth needs to be at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.