Thursday, March 22, 2007

Faith Works 3-24-07
Jeff Gill

We Devastate So We Can Build

If you haven’t recently driven from Newark to Columbus along Rt. 161, I need to warn you about something.

No, not the traffic, which is about as bad as ever, and steadily getting worse at certain times in different directions.

The landscape is devastated, and I really mean that. Even knowing what was coming, with the widening of the highway and the slow spread of orange spray paint on trees and little neon flags low to the ground, then the soil erosion fences near watercourses, you couldn’t be ready for this.

Of course, this being America, there are companies that specialize in narrow sub-fields, so a no doubt fine group of people called “Complete Clearing, Inc.” have taken the forefront. (“Woodchippers, Inc.” is no doubt at work, but they don’t have signage.)

With amazing speed and fearful efficiency, this particular part of the overall roadbuilding contract has stripped the hillsides and margins, buzzed the shrubbery and trees down more efficiently than a boot camp barber, and revealed, almost like a flasher, the naked outlines of the terrain.

Some salvage, and mainly demolition crews, have started in behind the tree chewers and earth movers to tear apart the houses and sheds and barns that flank both the current route and projected track of the four-lane 161.

These half-ruined (probably fully wrecked and obliterated by the time you read this) homes are the most viscerally shocking part of the trip. This may be a personal quirk, but this drive is one I’ve been making with semi-regularity for nearly twenty years. I’ve known a couple people who live along the route, but mostly I have a shadow narrative in my head of what it might be like to live here, and here, and next here, as I drive along.

Do you do this? Reflect on what houses look fun to live in, which farms or stables are part of a life you’ll never live, but fit into a “but maybe” scenario you toss around for a few moments each time you pass? And there have been houses that have always struck me as sad, sad looking before with occupants and tragic now with roof torn off and gaping windows staring crazily past you.

In fairness, some of those houses have been vacant almost as long as I’ve driven past them. But the shift from slow decay to sudden destruction – even that is a bit of a gut punch.

This is how we progress, so called. If cars are not to back up and slow and stop and idle and double pump carbon into the atmosphere, if we’re to get to the restaurant on time to meet George and Martha, if the trucks carrying the latest flat screen plasmoid hyperdrive quasi-3D TVs are to get into Licking County promptly, this is what we must do.

And there are spots, as you pass by and look rudely into the revealed landscape, where you can see that the familiar road itself supplanted another, older, slower, gentler road.

Near Moots Run, just before the Alexandria/Rt. 37 turnoff (where the Col. Scott house stands solitary, the lone reprieve along death row), you can see on the south where bridge abutments, long abandoned, now unbridged, softened by time, perch on either side of the creek. The narrow cut up the bank to the east shows where the roadbed once ran.

Many of the denuded banks of tree stump stubble are themselves the thirty-plus years gone overgrowth, run wild after the current road was thrust through, and I’m sure it looked ghastly then. The slopes drizzled soil, took root in grass, and the untended steeper banks went from shoots to stalks to the clumps of gangly trees that now are mulch.

We devastate, so we can build. Our waste and inefficiency may be more apparent than actual, but you can’t look at such a scene and not think: “is there a better way? What would that way look like?”

In this season, Christians think it looks something like resurrection. There are stones to roll away, oils and spices and unguents to set aside, grave wrappings to clear away, but life everlasting when the site prep is done. The Newark Area Ministerial Association has been kind enough to invite me to preach the Community Sunrise Service at 6:30 am in the Midland Theater Easter morning, and I’m looking for signs of new life and resurrection power.

Maybe they can be found even along the construction corridor of 161. I’ve got to drive it again today, so I’ll let you know.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 3-25-07
Jeff Gill

Making Predictions, Taking Chances

Of course, the wisdom of Yogi Berra says it all: "Predictions are difficult, especially about the future."

Ask Bill Gates, who said in the early days of Microsoft: “No one will need more than 637Kb of memory for a personal computer.”

He ended up doing OK, considering he was competing against the brilliant forecasters of IBM, who had told management in the 1960’s “The total requirements for computing in the United States can be satisfied by fewer than 100 IBM mainframe computers.”

Many of you recall growing up under the assumption that the US would always be in a state of near-war with the Soviet Union, which would dominate Olympic gymnastics, if not the world, pretty much always.

Through college, we all worried about the inevitable bloody end the everyone could see coming quite clearly for South Africa, what with Mandela still a prisoner and the white minority never letting go of control other than through a violent revolution by the majority.

And you may need to be a bit older to know who the Rev. Ian Paisley is, but for me it was a double shock to learn a) he’s still alive (soon to be 81, in fact), and b) about to meet with the Archbishop of Armagh, the Roman Catholic primate of Ireland. Apparently the peace negotiations have progressed to the point where “Rev. No” (among other things, he denounced Pope John Paul II to his face as the Antichrist) is saying yes to joining a government along with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the militant Catholic minority.

Nope, I didn’t see that one coming.

What’s going to happen in Iraq? I have not the faintest idea.

Donald Trump – sorry, The Donald – has no such hesitation. He said over last weekend that anyone can see how the whole place will turn into a bloodbath the moment we leave no matter what we do, so we should just leave now, the sooner to let them carnage it out.
Aside from the fact that Mr. Trump is making all the usual noises of a possible Democratic candidate for President (he almost did it once before, recall), I’m thinking he’s right in the one thing that he doesn’t realize is true.

Whatever the next major change is, in the land around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, steps to greater peace and everyday prosperity won’t come at the commands of armed men.

The sooner there are more leaders counting on their own quiet, future retirement than current riches and power; when business people are trying to plan for expansion rather than destruction as a tool for competition; once there are internet connections in villages and home improvement stores in towns and yes, Starbucks in the cities . . .

For all the wars and rumors of wars in the last century of this world, the sucker bet is still pessimism. A hundred years ago, the norm for a human being on planet Earth was actual or effective slavery (see “serfdom”), death by disease in the first three years, or around age 40 if you survived childhood, and fair measure of pain and discomfort through wars, harsh working conditions, and social viciousness (Google “lynching” and then come on back).

Today, we’ve seen some amazing things in the last twenty years that are still bearing fruit, such as in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t that long ago that the Palestinian problem and Northern Ireland were always mentioned in one breath as the intractable, unsolvable problems of now and forever.

Hamas and Syria and Hezbollah all keep me nervous about the likely near term outcomes for the Middle East, and the history of the Fertile Crescent justifies more wariness than the current administration seems to have used in planning their Iraq venture. But the desire of people, given half a chance, to nudge their leaders to less killing, more freedom, and general stability, is stronger than pessimism.

Here’s a crazy, wild-eyed prediction made in 1816: "Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a colossus we shall be." That’s just the thought of a gentleman farmer who was not himself so clear-eyed about slavery, but had a sense of what freedom might accomplish for his fellow Americans. Thomas Jefferson made a more outrageous forecast than Bill Gates and IBM put together, and all of them were looking at what was known, what had always been true, and what most people thought would be likely in the future.

It was the fellow from Monticello who added a small, measured dose of confidence, in people given a taste of freedom, who saw what might be done with that liberty, even beyond what he could see himself.

If I have to bet between The Donald and The Thomas, I don’t have to think long. As for the NCAA tournament, I’m for Butler…so don’t follow my brackets!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your tale of the unexpected at