Monday, September 12, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 9-18-05
Jeff Gill

Easier than You Think

Can you really help people a thousand miles away, who have literally lost everything of earthly value they’ve ever owned?
So far, Licking County seems to have answered with a resounding "Yes," loading trailers with vital necessities, sending those irreplaceable checks, and eating spaghetti at Cherry Valley Lodge (and hooray for all those Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts helping out for that delightful fundraiser).
Church groups are working their usual disaster relief networks, and the American Red Cross is doing their usual great job arriving the usual five minutes behind the Salvation Army, which knows how to get hot coffee into the darndest places right after the storm breaks. (PS – Did you know that the Salvation Army had a truck at 9/11 so fast it got largely demolished when the towers went down?)
Commentators have started to hint at the usual concerns of "compassion fatigue," that Americans will "grow weary with well doing," even though all indicators point to the contrary. Now, if you accuse us as a nation of having a short attention span, maybe so.
It can get a little tiring, though, when the stories pile up of tragedy and loss as hopelessness, and you look at that fifty dollar check and think, "is this just a tiny drop into a deep chasm of need?"
Well of course it is. Just a drop. Like the rains of Hurricane Katrina, made up of tiny drops, too. Put enough little drops together and blow on it, and you get a levee breaching storm surge leaving destruction and devastation in its wake; put enough little drops of compassion together, and you get a countersurge that is already leaving construction and redevelopment in its wake.
What we definitely don’t want to weary of, on the other hand, is the recollection that what we are doing right here in Licking County is actually part of making a difference in the Gulf Coast region. I’ve no doubt told this story too often as it is, but here we go again: when a number of us were working towards the effort that turned into the Licking County Coalition for Housing, and things were going slow and hard, I was part of a youth trip to Washington DC.
Our group, as a church fellowship program, visited one of the largest homeless shelters in the city, smack between the White House and the Capitol, right along our way just a block north. We saw the signs reminding us that most of the residents had jobs, and heard the residents tell us a little of their stories that were temporarily leading through this bleak, but hope-tinged building.
Then we went to the staff quarters, where many of the workers there lived as part of the shelter itself. Carol, the head of the place, told us the story in tones that said she’d run this tape many times before.
And in the Q&A, after a bunch of the kids had asked the usual questions, I asked her, thinking of collection drives and fundraisers, "what can we do to help you folks out?"
Her answer was immediate. "Go home and take care of your own homeless there so they don’t think they have to come here!"
Which is what we did.
And the point for Katrina is: if we support our local Red Cross and Salvation Army and food pantries and that Housing Coalition that did get off the ground, thank you very much, we are reducing the load in other parts of the country, which is just what they need.
So send checks and flood buckets and health kits, but also walk in the CROP Walk Oct. 16, and go to the Phil Dirt and the Dozers concert for the Housing Coalition Nov. 11. When we take care of our own, we are also helping in the recovery nationwide.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your tale at

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Faith Works 9-17-05
Jeff Gill

Can a Hurricane Blow Away God?

It is certainly possible that consciousness is just an echo effect of memory and reactions bouncing around inside my cranium. I am perfectly aware of the case to be made for how protein chains are chasing each other in chemical tag teams, spiraling into cells and organelles and larger forms from slime molds to humans. And there are some people, like looters of nursing homes while the patients are still in the beds, who embody a good argument for the basic infrequency of goodness and the non-existence of altruism, other than as a cover for protecting the survival of one’s own DNA.
Yep, I know all of that, and have assessed the various narratives that claim to account for the universe as it is, and have chosen to believe in a storyline that includes higher purposes, lasting meaning, and enduring values. That story includes a person named Jesus, who embodies what I think that story says to us. That is where my certainty rests.
I am very aware of, and am respectful of other narratives that present answers to who we are and what we’re here to do. Where I’ve placed my confidence is not where others choose to, and all I can do is live out my understandings and share them when the opportunity arises.
Which comes up because of e-mails I’ve gotten asking "how can you believe in God (OK, in fairness, they typed "god") when he allows something like what happened in New Orleans?" A fair question, but without meaning to be difficult, I think they’re asking what kind of God I believe in, given that this hypothetical "god" must have the power at least to allow hurricanes if the questioner thinks this "god" could have prevented it. Do I believe in a powerful God who is good, but allows evil? Or a loving God who is impotent in the face of nature? (or "Nature"?)
"Stones Falling Westward" helps me answer this question with a question, in the Biblical tradition of the Book of Job. This historical pageant, which I hope gets repeated, was put on in the Old Colony Burying Ground as part of Granville’s bicentennial observances. Nine players and many more supporting crew told the story of Charles Webster Bryant in the last summer before his death in 1886.
He transcribed the tombstones as they faded and fell, even then, and helped create both the Granville Historical Society and was a charter member of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, now OHS. His interest in preserving the past is embodied by those who lay under those stones, talking to him as a friend whether he had known them in life or not.
And he is our friend today as well, having pressed urgently for clean water and effective sewerage long before such causes were popular; he died of a water-borne illness just as the public system came "on line."
Is this story simple grinning-skull irony, despairing hopeless tragedy, or simply the duty of the present to respect a past which still lives within us, accountable to a future we can barely imagine? Do we have duties to both past and future, or shall we live only for the moment as all that we can know and experience?
"Stones Falling Westward" had no sectarian or denominational purpose, but it told Bryant’s story in a way that reminded me of where my certainty rests. No storm or flood or disease can topple that faith to the ground.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your tale at

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