Thursday, September 28, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 10-1-06
Jeff Gill

Here’s a Frightening Statistic

"Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics." True words about lying numbers, indeed.
An internet company says they’re "the fastest growing." Are they lying? Well, not quite: if you go from 5,000 users to 10,000 users, you’re growing at a 100% rate; if you go from 3,000,000 to 3,500,000, your growth rate is just over 15%, but I’m thinking you want to stick with number two, lacking other data.
The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are beginning their popcorn sales this weekend around central Ohio – their version of the Girl Scouts’ famous cookie sales. Parents ask: "Is it safe for my child to sell this door-to-door?"
A fair question, and hard to answer. The official stance of Scouting is that no one should sell alone, but with a buddy, and there should be an adult shadowing them from a nearby car or sidewalk.
In the late 1960’s and 70’s, I sold popcorn and football chocolate up hill and down dale, with the one family rule "you can’t sell on Sunday." No one went with me; if my folks’ protective side showed at all in the process, it was in "what time will you get home?" after which, my name, complete with full middle name, would be shouted from the back porch. Loudly.
I really wanted to be home when I said I would.
But was I in danger? The statistics are hard to interpret. Is there more child molestation reported and in the courts? Yes, but people are less willing today to settle for going down the street, beating up a stranger and telling them they had a week to leave the area, and going home to tell the child involved: "We will never speak of this again."
So you can say the statistics are up, but is the actual frequency on the rise? It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, out of years of pastoral counseling (not to mention Scouting), I think we had about as many people with pedophilia disorder fifty years ago (and more) than we do today, but there’s no way to prove any of us right or wrong on that supposition.
So are we over-reacting today? I really don’t think so. Where I grew up, we had the whole "never lock doors, keys in the ignition, kids play outside until the street lights go on" mindset, but looking back . . .
There were stories of kids who disappeared back then, and women who came home to find someone took their purse off the counter, and cars taken on "joyrides." We just got less comfortable with allowing that opportunity.
I remember vividly riding, next to my dad, standing with my feet planted on the bench seat of the Ford Galaxy, hands on the dashboard. If I did that with the Little Guy today (well, now he’s too big anyhow), I’d be pulled over and arrested for criminal stupidity.
So was my dad wrong? Not in 1966 he wasn’t. but we have car seats and shoulder restraints (my grandmother hated those when they came in, and she was the most cautious member of our entire family) and bike helmets now.
Nothing bad ever happened to me when I walked the streets selling Scout popcorn, but I can remember some really odd characters who left me feeling the creeps as I backed away from the porch. A bit more vulnerability on my part, a little more opportunity on their part, and who knows?
There are some problem today that we face more honestly, and that can’t ever be a bad thing. The buddy system was a good idea at swim time, and now we know it’s a good idea out on the sales trail, too.
What we don’t want to do is let a new sense of precaution and prevention give us a false sense of threat and danger all around. Avoid scary situations and give yourself a margin for safety (like a buddy), and you can still find the world is generally a welcoming, wonderful place.
And I close these thoughts with a salute to Susan Verkest, who died very unexpectedly last week. She was passionate about seeing the Newark area look honestly at the problems we do have, but taking meaningful action so children and families can enjoy a community that really is basically safe and fun.
Godspeed, Susan.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what your youth activity is selling through
Faith Works 9-30-06
Jeff Gill

From a Different Angle

"Days of Awe" is the traditional Jewish term for the ten days we are in right now.
Between last week’s Rosh Hashanah, the "head of the year" 5767, and tomorrow’s eve of Yom Kippur, the "day of atonement," these are special days.
The idea is that the gates of heaven are open wide, prayers are particularly welcome, especially those to make up for our faults of the year behind us as the books of heaven are closed. Then the great, solemn observance in synagogue of Yom Kippur seals the year now past, and sets us on the path of righteousness for the year ahead.
In this part of the country, you don’t have to be a mensch to know that something is special about these days, which are indeed touched with awe and wonder.
Everyone notices the color and swirl of falling leaves, but there’s a practical side to all our enlivened sightseeing. In the heart of summer, the sun is high and bright, overlighting the scenery; when winter comes, the sun squats down on the horizon, with grey and barren treetrunks squeezing long, angular, awkward shadows out of the sky.
Autumn is an angle of the sun somewhere in between, making the "golden hour" after sunrise and before dusk shine all the brighter. Add to that astronomical fact the meteorology of this time of year, when the balance between warm air masses and cold surges from the north clutter the sky with cloud formations like no other time of year, and our eyes and minds and hearts are engaged even when we’re not looking. "Days of Awe."
While Judaism offers this up as a special season of repentance, in Islam we’re well into the month of Ramadan, the sliver of new moon announcing 28 days of fasting by day and feasting in the evening, helping to focus the believer’s heart on submission to the will of God, in Arabic, Allah. With family and at Friday prayers, the Moslem believer is turned to God in a disciplined way for these four weeks.
Out in Oklahoma, an evangelical Christian pastor of a large, free-church style congregation has started a website. Called "," Life Church decided to give modern young seekers a chance to confess their sins in the format they know best – on-line, and in anonymity. The response has startled even the folks who started it, with tens of thousands from far beyond Edmond, OK (where Life Church is based) clicking in and logging on and typing up their regrets and new intentions.
Of course, a TV reporter had to gin up a controversy, announcing breathlessly that "the Catholic Church is opposed to this." Nope. It just isn’t how they do confession, and even the evangelical folks with Life Church insist they’ve never seen the website as an end in itself, but a step towards opening the door. Kind of like having "Days of Awe," to remind people that the gates of heaven are always open.
In Catholic Christianity, they hold that confessing your sins doesn’t get much done for you, with you, or in you until someone outside yourself assures you that "your sins are forgiven." Pointing you towards steps to not return down that road of regret is part of the package, too. Oppose? They just want to show you a better way.
This is a good time of year in many ways, for many people, to reassess most of their lives. Something’s in the air that, more than January 1, tends us all to a review of the last year, of our decisions, of our future and what it holds. Your faith tradition probably has some tools to help with that, and it never hurts to try them out on a little interior renovation project.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your tradition’s renewal practices at