Friday, March 24, 2006

for the March 30, 2006 "The Granville Sentinel"
Letters to the Editor

To the Editor --
"Prom," it should be observed, is short for promenade.In the recent debate over the wheres and hows of the Granville, or many other schools' prom, I'd like to add a few reflections on where this tradition comes from, and possibilities for where it is going, in future years if not this spring.(I'm going to leave the Stepford comments alone; having never seen either movie, from the book my impressions are perhaps skewed, but of the numerous Granville women I know, many of whom are indeed attractive, I can think of none who are robotic and compliant.)The promenade was once a rite of spring where the entire senior class, and later lower grades, put on their best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and "stepped out." Think Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in "Easter Parade" and you get the idea.Instead of a linear parade on the avenue (Fifth Avenue), a room and some music, with a general movement in possibly a counterclockwise motion, was the scene of those young adults' promenade.I use the term "entire" quite literally. As my parents both have retold, the point of "The Prom" was a) for everyone to participate, and b) for adults to view their own and others' offspring with pride and approval.Over time, couples became more the norm ("will you be my girl at the prom?"), but not the rule. Packs of young men and gatherings of young women filled in the vast interstellar deeps between dancing couples, perhaps jealously watching them out the corner of their eyes, or maybe not caring. You were as likely to be there with buddies and friends as you were to have "a date."And one was promenading so that, from the gym balcony or behind the cafeteria railing, parents and even grandparents could see you, see that your friends in fact can clean up, and maybe even see that you have a sweet date.
Let's not even discuss cost.
Of course, one can reply that the train has left the station, the station has been closed and converted to a tourist mall, and anyone waiting for the train to return is mildly delusional.
But what does one make of the idea that parents seeing the prom is an affront and offense? Why should the school officially affirm an event where if you have no date, you have no place, in Granville or Columbus? And could the community actually conceive of this possibility: that a festival of excess is not something that is absolutely mandatory?
What would an event look like that involved all the students, and was available to all regardless of wallet . . . and that didn't regard parental pride as an abomination to be suppressed? Other than assemblies and awards nights, could a social activity full of joy and excitement not require the hint or promise of inebriation, reckless behavior and abandon?
And isn't it interesting that it is, indeed, very hard to imagine what such an event would look like.
But it's worth our while to consider that, within living memory, we had such an evening in the spring, called "The Prom."

Historically yours,
Jeff Gill

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Note to occasional readers: This is where i post my original copy with my own headlines from the columns i write for the Newark Advocate and Community Booster. For this "FaithWorks" column in this Saturday's "Your Faith" page in the Advocate, i'm adding below a little more context from the Warren Tribune-Chronicle.

Pax, Jeff

* * *
Faith Works 3-25-06
Jeff Gill

Lots of Venting, a Little Hope

This Lenten season, I’m doing weekly programs at three different churches, so I’ve been getting a wide range of very helpful and interesting feedback on this column (and appreciation of the Advocate for running it, so thanks to Alicia and Mike as well!).
It’s been very nice to hear how many people say "FaithWorks" is cheery, informative, and inclusive.
So of course, this week’s column is mordant, opinionated, and divisive. Any regular readers who want to flip the page now and look for Nancy and Sluggo on the comics page, we’ll see you next week, no problem.
Right now this writer is in a foul mood, and I want to share that sensibility with you, if you don’t mind – but hey, you’re still reading.
Here’s what won’t work, isn’t working: we can’t crank up the DUI laws any further, if not only idiots can drive about with eleven (11!!) on their record, but we have judges with eight still sitting on the bench. As a pastor, I get second chances, but that has nothing to do a) with eight chances, and b) whether the privilege of being a judge, dispensing justice, falls under that category. I learn from a fellow journalist that: "In Ohio, a fourth DUI offense can be considered a felony if a driver has three prior convictions during a six-year period, or five convictions over a 20-year span."
That seems clear enough, doesn’t it?
And here’s what won’t work: decreasing the intoxication level. I get the argument for .08 vs. .10, but when so many of the folks arrested after accidents have .24 and .37 alcohol levels in their blood, moving the bar (ha! He said mordantly…) to .06 or even .04 ain’t gonna touch the heart of the problem.
And raising the drinking age from 18, when you can vote and join the Marine Corps and get shot by your nation’s enemies, but drinking a beer is illegal until you make sergeant, while the horror stories on the roadways are generally triggered by inebriated 30, 40, and 50 year olds, that didn’t work very well and may in the long run backfire.
But here’s what really won’t work. Standing at the casket, looking down at a marvelous 18 year old you had watched grow up at church camp from kid to back as counselor, whose female friend had died immediately the week before, already in the grave.
A third college freshman in the back seat gets to live, although after months of therapy ahead he’ll likely never run and jump, but we believe he will walk. Slowly. Painfully.
And the man who did this to them, age 47, drunk at three times the legal limit, with eleven DUIs, and driving his girlfriend’s truck that the state police had warned twice to quit loaning him, in writing.
There are no laws to stop someone like this. We can’t write enough new ones, or field enough cops (they were right there, following him to pull the vehicle over for, yes, a busted taillight, and the drunk accelerated away, crossing the center line to head-on the kid’s car, which went as far over as he could and still was hit, rolling them into the ditch).
The man in question will no doubt spend the rest of his life in prison. Boy, I feel better now, don’t you? No, I didn’t really think so. He won’t kill anymore, good kids or even very annoying ones, young or old. The next guy with a case of Blatz in him? Will the sentence move him to bum a ride off of a buddy, or let his girlfriend drive?
Only transformation from within can change this kind of situation. The only hope I can offer in such a tragic place is that the effects of religious conversion and transformation can do what the fear of jail and public revulsion can’t. Faith in a larger, wider reality than the twelve ounces in your hand, and belief that you are made for a higher purpose than draining it, that can make a difference.
Red lights in the rearview, for too many, just press the gas pedal, as they try to drive away from their demons. But you can’t go that fast, and you’re likely to drag those burdens into the path of innocent others.
The police and justice system will need to keep doing their work, mainly cleaning up the broken glass and busted lives after the tragedy strikes (but can we move that judge along, please?). What gives meaning and purpose to the simple preaching and elementary study and corporate prayer we share together, in our faith communities around Licking County and beyond, is that we may be making the impact that matters.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story of transformation with him at

* * *

Andrew J. Hopkins,1987-2006

CHAMPION - Andrew J. "Andy'' Hopkins, 18 years old of Champion, Ohio, died Monday, March 13, 2006, in Cleveland Metro Health Medical Center, after a brave battle to recover from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
Friends will be received from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, 2006, at the Champion Christian Church, 151 Center St. West, Champion, and one hour prior to a 9:30 a.m. funeral service on Saturday, March 18, 2006. The Rev. Roger McKinney, Senior Pastor of Hiram Christian Church, will officiate.

Interment will follow in Champion Township Cemetery.

Contributions may be made to the Andy Hopkins Fund, established at Cortland Banks, 194 W. Main St. Cortland, Ohio 44410, to defray the family's unexpected expenses and ensure a lasting legacy for Andy. Carl W. Hall Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

* * *

Driver in fatal crash is indicted

By CHRISTOPHER BOBBY Tribune Chronicle

CHARDON - The man accused of causing the March 2 crash that killed two Hiram College students was named Friday in a multiple count indictment issued by a Geauga County grand jury.
His girlfriend also was indicted on an involuntary mans-laughter charge because it was her car.

James D. Cline, 47, and Karen Hensley, 50, both of Burton, are scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Tuesday by Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry.

Cline was indicted on four counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault that include specifications that he was impaired by alcohol at the time. He also faces a charge of failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, two counts of involuntary man-slaughter, driving on a suspended license and driving under OVI (operating vehicle intoxicated) suspension.

The vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and manslaughter represent a duplication of the allegations stemming from the accident, and Cline can only be convicted on some of the charges. Hensley's indictment charges that she knowingly provided Cline with the vehicle to drive.

"Hensley owned the vehicle being driven by Cline the night of the crash, even though she knew his license was suspended,'' according to Lt. Heidi A. Marshall, commander of the Chardon post of the state patrol.

"She had also been warned by the Geauga County Sheriff's Office in June 2005 to stop providing Cline with vehicles to drive.''

She said lab results indicated that Cline's blood-alcohol content the night of the fatal crash was 0.26 percent - more than three times the legal limit in Ohio of 0.08 percent.

Cline has been convicted 11 times for DUI dating back to 1984. In Ohio, a fourth DUI offense can be considered a felony if a driver has three prior convictions during a six-year period, or five convictions over a 20-year span.

The crash this month claimed the lives of two 18-year-old college students, one from Champion. Andrew Hopkins, a 2005 Champion High School graduate, died Monday at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland from injuries he received in the crash.

Hopkins funeral will be held today.

Grace Chamberlain of Kirtland died shortly after the crash at Geauga Regional Hospital.

A third passenger in Hopkins' car, Evan DaSilva, 19, of Rhode Island, is listed in fair condition at MetroHealth.

According to the Chardon post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cline was fleeing from police when his car went left of center on state Route 700, hitting Hopkins' car head-on and rolling the teen's vehicle into a ditch just after 9 p.m. March 2.
Notes From My Knapsack 3-26-06
Jeff Gill

Cheaper Than Dirt?

Every year it surprises and bothers me.
There’s usually a need in the Gill lawn for some topsoil, and this spring very much so. I went out and without much bother, let alone comparison shopping, found a big pile o’ sacks labeled "top soil."
When it came to asking "how much," it felt as if I were doing them a favor by hauling it away, and the total cost was a pittance. If I’d wanted peat moss, it would have cost more. Cow manure, more. Sand, more. Brick dust, more. Fer Pete’s sake, a bag of nails: much more.
And so you think, "well duh, Gill! It’s dirt! You can find it anywhere, sack it everywhere, sell it anyplace. Cheaper than dirt, y’know."
Well, if only you could find it anywhere. There are many places on the face of the earth where topsoil would be a welcome gift at a wedding or birthday, let alone for spring planting.
That isn’t true in Ohio – yet – but it could be someday. Most of the state, and certainly Licking County, has had about 10,000 years since the glaciers went back to the Yukon garage and left sterile clay and silt behind.
It takes that many millennia of mosses, grasses, plants, shrubs, softwood tree leaves and hardwood debris, along with billions of worms steadily working the soil to make that (to a farmer or gardener) beautiful black, rich, organic stuff that ain’t dirt, but soil.
Soil is what you need to grow crops, whether an Edwardian herb garden or a row of corn. As they told us repeatedly at Purdue University on the edge of the Great American Prairie, dirt is what’s under your fingernails and needs a scrubbin’. Soil is a gift from God.
Is top soil plentiful around here? In most ways, yes. We’re mostly too level for erosion to have done major damage, and our local farmers got the conservation, contour-plowing, no-till gospel early on.
Houses not only lock up a fair amount of topsoil in certain areas, when subdivisions go in where farming once used the acreage, it helps to make it disappear entirely.
In many yards, considering that the topsoil is scraped clear by builders before the footers are set (organic soil is much less stable for your foundations than clay silts), the amount that was put back after the house was done depends on the efficiency and generosity of your contractor.
Some of that scraped off topsoil is recycled into new lawns, but much goes into random fill. Agriculture minimizes erosion, but can’t prevent it entirely; there’s a reason they call the midcontinent’s main drainage "The Big Muddy," and New Orleans keeps sinking and ending up farther from the Gulf of Mexico. Top soils in suspension head south, and grow the delta.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, we’ve figured out how to replace manual milking, momma hen, and shoveling poop onto the fields. But we have no artificial topsoil technology in the pipeline. The spreaders help mechanically to replace the bovine endproduct as a fertilizer back into the fields, but we’re not quite keeping up.
Do we have another 10,000 years to wait around to replenish this precious resource? I’d hate to eat canned food that long. Technology may actually come up with a process to generate new topsoil, but they ain’t close. I’m thinkin’ let’s treat topsoil like the vital, non-renewable resource it is.
It tells me something that big bags of this precious, all-too-potentially-rare stuff are the cheapest things going. It tells me that the ideas of cost and value don’t track very closely. How could the social costs of losing topsoil in the future, the crying need for this rich, black, usefulness in so many places around the world right now, be factored into the price?
Too many potential answers to that question go back to government regulation, and my confidence that any money they collect would be used for the initial purposes (see entry under "proceeds, state lottery") is pretty low.
One starting place is for all of us, at least, to know the difference between dirt and soil, and to value the latter, at least in our own imaginations. Think about it when you marvel at how cheap it is, today anyhow, to buy a sack of what we call dirt, but farmers around the world call "black gold."

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; sling some mud at him through