Monday, January 16, 2006

Faith Works 1-14-06
Jeff Gill

Watching Out For Kids With Open Eyes

According to an online poll, a case of sexual abuse of children by a person in a position of trust (in this case a youth minister) was the "biggest story" the Advocate covered in 2005.
I hope so. If biggest means the story we remember and work on preventing in the future from happening again, then fine.
But this year was a clergyman, and just before that was a volunteer and then director of a major social service agency focused on kids, especially kids at risk who also are infamously targeted by molesters, pedophiles, and users or abusers of all sorts. And next year?
We want to believe that child abusers, especially of a sexual sort, "look the part" and stand out in the crowd. I knew the pastor and the agency director somewhat who have since been found guilty and sentenced for unimaginable crimes. Neither had a look or quality or obvious sign, and I’d like to think that by now I’d now if there was such a thing.
No, I haven’t got a story of molestation to tell of my own, though I note that just a few days ago a Catholic bishop shared his story of having been sexually abused by when he was a boy. But there are hundreds of people in Licking County (and a few hundred in other states) who have heard me present a program that the Boy Scouts of America calls "Youth Protection Training" or YPT. I’ve done it for church groups as well as all manner of Scout gatherings, where it is a mandatory training for certain leaders.
Scouting was the first to put "Youth Protection" front and center of youth-serving agencies, back in the early 1980’s, which was also when I first began directing summer camp residential programs. New expectations like "two deep leadership," where adults are never to be alone with children under any circumstances, or background checks for unit leadership, were not terribly popular with volunteers, but Scouting had come to a clear realization that their programs were regularly targeted by people with horrible tendencies, and that strong measures were needed to protect the outdoor program and character building activities that make Scouting what it is.
One can argue whether some of the steps then, and now, are too extreme, but everyone understands that we can’t just shove adult molesters down the road after turning a blind eye for too long.
Doing YPT for so many years, I’ve also learned that at almost every training event, someone will quietly come up to me afterwards, women and men, young and even very old, and tell me they are glad for this requirement, because . . . and then tell me of their own story of abuse at the hands of an adult when they were a child. It was often decades ago, but still fresh and raw and tugging at the ragged edges of their lives to this day.
Part of my motivation in doing YPT for the Scouts, and arguing in church settings for comparable policies, is that over my five years spending the summer running a Scout camp, I had to fire and report five adults, some volunteers in for just the week, and twice my own staff, for inappropriate behavior with kids. It was hard, and none ever admitted anything other than misunderstandings . . . and all five were arrested on other charges of sexual abuse and jailed within the year, our report just one point on a terrible graph.
That wasn’t the fun part of my job, but it was rewarding along with all the other good that a camping week with a values-based program can bring to young people. It was a big part of my call to ministry, and when I was ordained, there was in the program a reading done by a man in Scout uniform, who was also ordained in the Methodist Church, a friend who had been chaplain and aquatics director for me.
A few years later, he was arrested, tried, and convicted for molesting kids at the school where he worked; in his testimony, it became clear he had also done so at our camp, though no charges were ever filed by parties involved.
And he was, in fact, filling in at my ordination for another man, a priest of the Holy Cross order at Notre Dame who first encouraged me as a fellow camp staff member to go to seminary, and was my model as a camp leader in many ways. He couldn’t attend because he had been transferred to Arizona that year.
Last week this man was sentenced to 111 years in prison for molesting at least three boys, with testimony at his trial from young men whose cases were beyond the statute of limitations in Indiana. Turns out he was transferred to Arizona after accusations in our state by his superiors.
So friends, make sure your church has guidelines for working with youth, but here’s the really hard part. Make sure they are followed, and be willing to stand up and make a fuss when they aren’t. No one gets an exception, no one, because you really don’t want to wonder for the rest of your life what you could have prevented, if only you hadn’t wanted to not make too big a deal out of something.
When it comes to youth protection, you can’t make it too big a story. On that much, trust me.

Jeff Gill can be contacted at
Notes From My Knapsack 1-22-06
Jeff Gill

Getting’ In the Garden

Two pots of lentil stew later, and the last of the green peppers from the garden are gone. Well, used up, anyhow.
Which means this is the right time to start planning for warmth and light and growth and greenness!
True, the frosts are still coating the browns and yellows of our lawns and planting areas most mornings, and the trees are bare sketches of what will be, but all the more reason to think life.
First, because it’s good for your soul: the daylight is lasting longer, but our bones don’t quite believe it, and need convincing from deep within that the seasons are turning ‘round again. I don’t know about "seasonal affective disorder" or the benefits of personally making your own Vitamin D from sunlight on your skin, but I do know that too much grey muck can make anyone feel down and out of sorts.
Second, because this really is a the best time to start planning, indoors during the sleet storms and freezing drizzle, what you want to do when you first stand outside with the birds singing around you and a spade or trowel in your hands.
Pencil and paper still work, but computer programs now abound as well, to help you envision what you can do on the land you’ve got to work with and how to arrange it. There’s what you think at the store looking at flats of plants (hmmm, six to a block, they oughta be a few inches apart, I’ve got something like three yards along there) and then there’s what happens when you get home (whoa, I’ve got way too many). Some quick measurements and calculations can save money and bother, not to mention guesswork, in March and April.
Some folks are so ambitious, whether around their home or in garden plots elsewhere in their community (municipalities, neighborhood associations, churches, and other groups make plots available for gardeners with minimal space of their own), that they order seed and plant seedlings themselves, forcing them to young maturity under grow lights or even atop refrigerators.
Refrigerators? Sure, since the back of your fridge puts out major heat which naturally flows up between wall and appliance, steadily bathing your little peat pots with warmth. That more than actual light is what many plants need to get going.
Another thing pre-planning, purchasing of seed packets, or a little reading can do this time of year is to remind you that not only the time for planting is not so far ahead, but the growth that follows is right behind. Are you about to buy some flats of stuff that will grow taller than what’s behind it? Boy does that feel silly when you realize you’ve done it. . .
Even for those of us who don’t garden and plant extensively can start now to think about the biggest crop most of us manage: lawn grass. I may fantasize about a neatly paved expanse around the house when I’m rushing to mow on a steamy day between appointments with impending rain on the horizon, but that’s not really a good idea in any way. We might be better off with more of us having natural prairie on our property, but we can do some planning to avoid using excessive fertilizer and herbicide treatments on our laws if we start now. Any garden center is happy to see a customer right now, and if you go in and tell them about what your lawn looks like and how big or sloped or weedy it is they will gladly guide you to the products and amounts that are right for you. In my experience, they really don’t want to sell you a ton of nasty chemicals that sit in your garage hardening into a toxic block. They want to give you a healthy lawn at minimal price – so you’ll be happy and come back and buy a bunch of plants and shrubs from them!
At any rate, if you start thinking about this after the grass is growing, some approaches that can safe time, money, and reduce environmental impacts are no longer possible. Ditto the lawnmower, which is probably the single biggest polluter in America (maybe personal waterscooters a close second). Sharp blades, a tuned engine, and a clean air filter can help you put less hydrocarbons into the air and soil, not to mention save you some money on gas, oil, and the life of the engine.
So clear the south 40 of the dining room table and start ploughing a path into a greener 2006 this February!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; as a gardener, he does better in the produce department, but the intention is there! Send him garden tall tales at