Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Faith Works 4-01-06
Jeff Gill

No Foolin’, Really, Honest!

April Fool’s Day is not the right timing for me to say more following last week on the subject of drinking, society, and the church. Suffice it to say I’m channeling the spirit of Carrie Nation these days – no fooling a’tall – and a cooling off period is in order.
Stay tuned, as they say on our television colleagues’ newcasts. More is certainly coming on this channel.
For now, a look to the south. Most of us thought there had to be fools at work in the state and federal relief effort following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Hearings, investigation, spin and counterspin are all now efficiently in progress, while progress on some feeble stabs at "planning the rebuilding design proposal outline" are barely in the "draft management plan" phase.
What hasn’t stopped progressing is the work of church and faith-based groups, who were on the scene even before the wind blew out and the rain stopped, and they’ll be working faithfully long after FEMA is just a dim, bitter memory.
The Spring Break season has seen over 100 Licking County folk head down to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to work. Some from local churches, others out of our area with national parachurch organizations, and including students resident here going with college groups from all over the country.
They were all converging on the stinkiest, most devastated, and often eerily silent landscape they will ever see.
Doug Lehner from Centenary United Methodist Church in Granville described it this way in worship: he asked all the men to stand, and then invited them to switch sides of the center aisle and sit down. As the pictures from their work group’s experiences scrolled by on the projection screen, the sanctuary was filled with shuffling noises until everyone was awkwardly re-seated.
"Now you have just a small sense of what life is like for the people of that area; they aren’t where they’re used to being, surrounded by people they don’t know, seeing every aspect of their lives from a new angle," Doug went on to say.
Along with many who were down there mucking out houses, some were doing a renovation of a devastated church building that was going to be re-purposed as a dorm for future workers. They were, like many, driving 30 minutes each way into St. Bernard Parish to work. As they spoke to the members at Covenant UMC, they told of the crew from Clemson University who began this effort. That group was sparked by a student from . . . yep, no foolin’, Licking County, out of Johnstown UMC.
These kind of connections and serendipities are taking place all through the region. And the heart of the work is being done by Mennonites and Antiochian Orthodox, evangelical Christians and socialist faithful, Salvation Army insignia now as familiar along the Gulf Coast as military ranks. Ecumenical, interfaith, and cosmopolitan, the volunteers who are choosing Destruction-World over some other –World for their spring vacation are making an impact that amazes even the most cynical on the scene. They could be in Cancun, but instead they are living out the "Can Do" of religion at its best.
For patient, persistent, comprehensive relief efforts, no one will replace the role of faith-based groups in the clean-up and reconstruction. There is a kind of mindset, separated from elections and budgets, that is better suited to doing the un-plannable, un-handbookable work of reweaving a community network into a newly intact fabric. No agency will ever do that, or at least do it well (my guess is the former).
We needed government, official, armed forces skills to do things like rescue 30,000 off of rooftops with helicopters, and they did that well, brilliantly even! And we need a major civil effort to support the civil engineering of levees and pump stations.
If they can do that part, we’ll take care of the rest.
No foolin’.
(Oh, and set your clock forward tonight, OK? No, um, joking. Or if you show up early, they may send you to choir practice or Sunday school or some other unimaginable fate. You’ve been warned!)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell your group’s work trip story through disciple@voyager.net.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 4-02-06
Jeff Gill

Ho! For the Open Road. . .

Looking up a reference for something I was writing elsewhere, I started nosing around in C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, "Surprised by Joy."
This is a book I’ve read a number of times, but after finding the quote I needed, what kept me thinking this springtime was the description of hiking through the countryside.
Every Spring, with a number of friends who enjoyed the conviviality and adventure (but that rarely included J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," as he only liked talking to people if he could look directly at them, which is dangerous on the trail to say the very least)
Hiking is an activity well suited to this season, whether in England or Licking County, with the chill of winter far from gone, but the long views through the barren trees still available. You can keep warm with a steady pace, and the prospect of growth and blossom is starting to show for the discerning eye.
What isn’t comparable is the where and how of Jack Lewis’ gang of rambling scholars went for their spring jaunt. They didn’t follow official hiking trails (sorry, Bob Pond!), and the railroads were still in service and busy. They literally hiked cross-country, following rural roads and occasionally crossing fields and pastures.
The planning of the route was half the fun, it seems, not only to figure out where to go but perhaps more importantly where to stop, finding villages with likely pubs where the ale, porter, and hard cider would surely quench a hearty thirst.
This is where the image breaks down to the modern American midwestern eye. Can you imagine walking from Hebron to Marne to Utica on the shoulder of township roads, stopping for a late breakfast, early lunch, tea (well, an afternoon snack), and early dinner before reaching . . . maybe a B&B up by Bladensburg could fill in for an inn, but still.
Obviously, the advent of more and faster private motor vehicles make for most of the shift. In the 1920’s and 30’s and 40’s the British countryside was still largely dominated by horsepower and the stray Model A, with an infrequent Jaguar of the well-to-do audible miles and minutes before it came roaring at, say, 50 miles an hour, tops.
Changes in agriculture, too, make for more fences and less use of lanes in the spaces on maps between the paved roads. But it is interesting to think about how differently rural life looks through the year to someone who has sauntered through the middle of farm production; sympathy and understanding are surely helped by contact and exposure, from agriculture to the academy, between farmers and fellow citizens.
To which the wise reader will retort with the two all-purpose argument enders of "theft and liability." No doubt. So we rule out the shoulder of the racetracks known as secondary roads, and farm fields in general.
What you could do is chart a path through quiet communities going from one public house to another, however you crossed the countryside, but you wouldn’t get a beer, local or imported. Today’s pub is usually named for the innkeeper of old or a family member, or a sign of the royal family, right? Like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Burger King.
There are a few establishments around Licking County where the Oxford Sauntering Society might feel at home if they came back and found a path to connect them on foot. They may not serve fermented beverages of any sort, grain or grape-based, but each of these seems like the kind of spot where a weary traveller might unwind and converse peacefully with a crew of merry fellow venturers.
Kirkersville has the Village Tavern on the National Road (proud home of the Galusha Anderson Society), Hebron with the Hometown Deli and Lancer’s Inn, and on down the road to Jacksontown’s Jacktown Pub . . . hey, a pub!
If you didn’t mind the traffic, if you could navigate your wandering way to downtown Newark and the Natoma or out west a bit to Yesterday’s Pub (there’s another).
I’ve long appreciated the biscuits and gravy up north at Utica’s Pioneer Restaurant, and the east end of the county offers the MidTown Diner in Frazeysburg, while way out west is Johnstown’s Main Street CafĂ©.
Many have celebrated the return of Pataskala’s Nutcracker Restaurant, and any ramble of mine is a success when it concludes at Granville’s epicenter, Aladdin’s, with the magic Yum-yum. But I’ll give the downstairs Tavern at the Buxton Inn points for atmosphere, and the Granville Inn for sheer taste.
So the idea of a hiking week is possible, as are the kind of stopping places to sit and relax and converse and cogitate with fine food (beverages may vary). What we can’t do is put them together, at least without risking life and limb, stepping across deer carcasses and deceased possum entrails, careful not to walk on the broken glass, either.
Ideas, anyone?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; sing him a hiking song to the tune of disciple@voyager.net.