Friday, March 16, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 3-18-07
Jeff Gill

Spring Cleaning Means Planning, Too

Our Community Blueprint just arrived. The United Way has been
working for much of the last year to take an innovative
approach to gathering data in Licking County, and the results
are worth the wait.

My only qualification is that this is less a blueprint than the
architect’s notes from a series of client meetings. No, I’m not
being obtuse (which I’ll admit I often am). This isn’t the
plan, or even the clear outlines of a plan. What we’ve got is
even more important to get first, before you start drawing
lines on a sheet of paper and then debating whether to move
that line a little over here, or a bit over there.

This "Community Blueprint" is meant to give us all the clearest
possible perspective on what Licking County needs to a) stay as
a good a place to live and raise a family as it is in so many
ways, and b) where we need to improve matters, especially for
children and the most vulnerable.

The comparative survey is most intriguing to me, but that may
be because I live and work in many of the other statistics so
much they don’t catch me the same way.

Questions were asked of "key informants," or community
leadership type folk, whether they’re elected, or occupying
jobs and positions that give them a lead role; these same
questions were asked then of a random telephone survey across
the county. Each group was asked about how common certain
issues were off of a list, and to rank how "serious" they were
relative to each other. That last was done in the phone survey
by asking if the issue was in your household (and they defined
household however they defined it, which makes sense to me).

Leaders around Licking County said "lack of affordable health
insurance, affordable dental care, affordable medical care,
alcohol and/or drug abuse among young people, and alcohol
and/or drug abuse among adults" were their top five issues they
saw, in that order. But asked to say how seriousness ranked
them, they said "alcohol and/or drug abuse among adults,
affordable health insurance, affordable medical care,
unemployment, and shortage of affordable housing" were the top
five of concern.

Now, read back through those two lists of five, and think about
how the priorities shifted. Health insurance stays high, but
the immediate impact of drug/alcohol abuse made it a higher
concern. Unemployment and affordable housing are a little less
visible to folks, even in leadership, but they bump dental care
and youth drug and alcohol use when asked to consider
seriousness. (I wonder if underemployment vs. unemployment is a
distinction that folks stop to make, but that’s a matter of

Now go to the households – randomly selected for phone surveys
across the county, remember. Their top five "issues" were "lack
of affordable health insurance, affordable dental insurance,
affordable dental care, affordable medical care, and lack of
jobs." Hmmmm.

And asked "in my household"? The list went this way: "mental
illness or emotional issues among adults, lack of affordable
dental insurance, affordable health insurance, affordable
dental care, and affordable medical care." Make the question
personal, and mental health issues and . . . dental issues:
those are the "top of mind" concerns.

You can see how this doesn’t exactly give us the blueprint for
breaking ground and building new capacity in our social safety
net right now, but it does start us down the path of planning
more sensibly. Is dental health a major community issue? If it
effects your ability to get jobs because you can’t sleep for
toothache, barely eat decent food and are all woozy from that
since you can’t chew, and may self-medicate, um,
"inappropriately" to deal with the pain . . . uh, yeah.

Mental health issues in Licking County, thanks to Moundbuilders
Guidance Center, the Community Mental Health and Recovery
Board, The Main Place, and Mental Health America of Licking
County, have some strong advocates and points of assistance.
Churches offer counseling, and schools work with many programs
and approaches to support healthy habits of mind beyond just

But when our local households put "mental illness or emotional
issues among adults" as the top item of concern "in my
household," that puts the matter in a slightly different

There will be more to consider out of this comprehensive study of our county, and we’ll be getting some plans drawn up soon. Thanks to Chairperson Cheryl Snyder, staffers Donna Carpenter, Sylvia Friel, and everyone at Licking County United Way for giving us such useful architect’s notes, and see their website for the whole deal:

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around
central Ohio; tell him about your blueprints for a better
future at
Faith Works 3-17-07
Jeff Gill

Triple Redundancy Is Just Good Design

When folks wave around shamrocks, or what passes for them, around the sacred festival of Saint Patrick’s Day (known around bars and police stations as “Amateur Night”), they usually get two things wrong.

No surprise for a semi-holiday that the culture has grabbed ahold of, given a boozy twist, and wrenched as far off its foundations in faith as any other.

For the record, a shamrock is not a four leaf clover. There is clover on the Emerald Isle, and it generally has three leaves, with the stray four leafer being rare enough to carry a wee bit of superstitious cachet.

Which wasn’t what Patricius, the once kidnapped Roman Briton youth, was after, when he returned a priest to the land of his captivity.

So clover isn’t the preaching illustration the missionary bishop, out in the wild, untamed Irish isles at the oceanic end of the world, was looking for. It was the true shamrock, something more like “hepatica” here in the Western Hemisphere (here beyond the one-time ends of the earth). Shamrock is a very particular plant, with a symbolism that Patrick, sainted by public consensus as the ancient church once did such things, wanted to make particularly clear.

Shamrocks, like our North American hepatica, are common plants, close to the ground, growing best in the hardest circumstances, verging on evergreen in their through the year hardiness.

And they have leaves with three “lobes.” If you glance at a shamrock, you see three leaves off of a common stem. With clover, three or four leaf, if you pick it and hold it close, you’ll see three distinct, separate leaves, with their veins connecting to the stem like spokes to a hub.

Not so the shamrock. When you pick it, as Patrick did in his preaching out in the fields and among the common people of ancient Ireland, and hold it close for nearer scrutiny, you see the apparent three leaves are actually one, merging before vanishing into their stem.

The lobes are divided by deep indentations that don’t quite go all the way to the base. You have to look closely to see, but when you examine them closely it’s quite apparent: this is a single leaf, with three sections that appear to be distinct leaves only from a distance.

St. Patrick took up the shamrock, not the shillelagh, because he wanted to help the Celtic folk of the Blessed Isles understand what he was saying to them about Jesus, and the Trinity.

Among modern Christians, even those of a fairly conservative theological bent, there is a worrisome (to me, anyhow) dismissal of theology as an eggheaded, unimportant area for preachers and teachers of the faith to tend to. Preaching is for conversion and life transformation, which are both very important tasks for the church to be sure, but consideration of the nature of God and how and why God acts in the world is for the seminaries and scholars, say too many (in my opinion).

Thank God that Patrick didn’t see it that way.

In his missionary work, he was preaching to a largely unlettered populace, who had a healthy crop of everyday superstitions and folk magics (think leprechauns and that pot o’ gold) to harvest. Ol’ Paddy wanted to plant a belief in the unique role and person of Jesus of Nazareth, not as a particularly great bard or hilltop sage from a land far away.

If he had wanted to tell them about Jesus as a really, really wise man, the people of Ireland would have happily added him to the list of those whose wisdom was memorized and passed along by firelight, like Finn MacCool and Cuchulain the Fierce and Queen Maeve and Bridgit the Holy. No problem, always happy to have more wisdom, Pat; now have a little of this uiskebaugh, what we call the water of life.

Patrick wanted the Irish to know Jesus as he knew him, as the Son of God, as the very embodiment of God with us. But how do you have God walking among us, and God still eternally and unchangingly reigning over All Creation ™?

The historic short answer of the church has been: the Trinity. Three ways we know God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but God still One, coexisting together in unity.

To be fair, the theological discussions about how the Trinity actually works can get to be heavy going, and aren’t everyone’s cup of strong, black tea. But the Irish had a worrisome tendency to hear Christian preaching, and say “OK, three chief gods. Got it. We’ll give that serious consideration: we’ve got a bunch of three throne ruling divinities in the collective wisdom, so you may have a point. We’ll, um, get back to you about the whole “love one another” thing, though.”

St. Patrick’s inspired insight was to reach down and pluck a nearby shamrock, and use a closer look at it to help him show why the Christian God was not meant to be understood as three individuals, even though they had three persons of God to tell stories of.

What the Apostles’ and Nicean and Athanasian Creeds do with many complex words, Patrick did with an everyday plant, and an invitation to look closely at the mysteries woven right into the fabric of creation.

And in that spirit, a merry St. Patrick’s Day to you!

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