Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Faith Works 6-16-07
Jeff Gill

Where Do You Go To Worship On Vacation?

Some folks have a strange idea that worship is one of the things you vacation away from.

Like the lawn, the timeclock, and grocery shopping, there are those who want to get away from the whole church experience.

If that describes you, there’s something about what attending a worship service means to you that needs revisiting.

Let’s be generous, though, and assume that you’ve reflected on why you are part of a worshiping community, are situated as well as you can find in your area for a church, and may not find everything fulfilling your spiritual needs. Maybe that issue is exactly what God’s trying to tell you: you need to worry less about your needs, and work on why we’re made to give thanks and catch a vision in community, and not just in solitude.

One way to get some perspective on whether you have some personal issues to sort out, or need to find a church somewhere else, is to visit churches while on vacation. In fact, even if you think your faith community is the best experience you’ll have this side of the Heavenly Choir, you should visit different churches on vacation.

At the worst, you’ll come home convinced that no one, anywhere, knows how to worship like you do at home. The best and most likely outcome is that you’ll learn a thing or two that your congregational leadership and/or pastor will appreciate hearing about.

Certainly the main point should be that a regular pattern of praise and prayer isn’t what you want to break up. Keeping those disciplines together, while you shake up the usual breakfast on the fly, check e-mail, and run errands flow of the day, can be illuminating in many ways. When you walk into a worship space among the new experiences of amusement parks or beaches or historic sites, there’s a whole new understanding that your heart will open along with that strange church door.

Don’t know where to go? Some folks don’t travel without reservations made in advance, and I respect that, but a church that you just step into can be the most revelatory experience. You saw it as you drove out to the beach, and thought “let’s just try it out.” If that feels a little too outta-hand for you, ask your pastor. Almost any clergyperson will happily help you find churches of your denomination near your destination.

You can also go online to your denominational website (most of them have pretty intuitive addresses, like disciples.org, ucc.org, or unitedmethodist.org; for Catholics, masstimes.org is pretty neat). If you know the zip code for your hotel or campground, you can find congregations within a certain number of miles, and even links to their websites.

But let me beg of you one more time: don’t try too hard to find a service that’s exactly what you’re used to. If there’s a worship style or approach that you don’t quite appreciate, vacation time is a good time to go sample and see for yourself. Stretch, grow, learn. If you just confirm your feelings from before, at least you can say you’ve been there, done that. Hey, you’re a stranger. You can always get up and leave!

You wouldn’t want to eat at the same fast food chain every meal on vacation that you frequent back home, would you? Oh, OK. Never mind. The rest of you, check out a new worship experience on vacation, and then come home and tell me about it. I’ll skip names and places as requested.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s worshiped a number of strange and wonderful places. Tell him your worship tale at knapsack77@gmail.com.
Faith Works 6-9-07
Jeff Gill

The Best Things In Life Are . . .

One of the treasured memories of my marriage to the Lovely Wife is the trip we took for our tenth wedding anniversary when we went back to Zion National Park in southern Utah, and from there to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We were not staying in the lodge within the park, but our camping set-up allowed us to go to the area laundry facility and showers. We used them the day after our hike down into the depths of the Canyon along Bright Angel Creek, where the temps got up into the high 80’s. Up on the North Rim, well above 7,000 feet, the snow fell gently that night among the pines. In fact, the campgrounds had opened later than their usual May 15 target, because the road in from Jacob’s Lake was buried in snowdrifts.

OK, enough nostalgia. Anyhow, I went into the campground showers, and saw something I’d never encountered before. The Marine Corps had introduced me to the experience of showering while a kindly, solicitous three-striped gentleman screamed at the top of his lungs “faster, faster, FASTER!” What I’d not seen was a coin operated shower head, where five quarters had to go in before water came out. It was, perhaps, more motivational than the sergeant had been.

Much later, while doing our wash, a park ranger came in to do their laundry, and as we talked I mentioned the coin-op shower, and the ranger smiled. He observed that we had hiked past the source of our fresh water, halfway down to the Colorado River, a place called Roaring Springs.

It was plentiful, and pretty expensive to pump up from there to the North Rim. Our quarters did not even put a dent in the cost of providing that fresh water. What the National Park Service was acutely aware of, even more broadly, was the relative scarcity of water throughout the region. We were high on the Colorado Plateau, most of which is desert.

They had tried to put signs up in the shower room, done talks at the firebowl, and tried a number of educational strategies to keep folks from taking a long shower, wasting water in the heart of a desert. None of them reduced water use. Then they found the coin-op shower fixtures.

With the advent of quarters for showers, the water use dropped by more than half. Keep in mind, this is $1.25 (in 1995, I don’t know what it is now) in a place where a slice of pizza was $3 and you spent hundreds, thousands even, to get to that spot. Five quarters. You put a precise price that feels like a price on it, and people value it. They’d thought about four quarters, but that didn’t seem quite enough (too much like a washing machine), so they tried five, and it worked.

All of which is to say to well-meaning youth workers and church staff: you need to charge something. Trip to the zoo, to the amusement park, to a Christian rock concert, whatever.

Even if you have generous support from your congregation (and good for them), charge something. It won’t cover the full price, and let kids and parents know that. But charge something. Even if you have poor kids – I mean, economically disadvantaged youth – charge something. Five bucks. Whatever. Maybe five quarters.

If you charge nothing, the value feels like nothing; if you charge nothing, then you will unintentionally or intentionally be taken for granted. Your last minute cancellations will be high, and your frustration level higher.

Are there occasional situations when even five bucks is too much? If you know your group, you know who that is, and you know how to quietly let them know it ain’t a problem. But charge something, so there is perceived value.

I’ve learned this lesson a number of ways, but none so sensibly than at a twilit campground on the edge of a desert and the Grand Canyon.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s collected fees, sometimes unsuccessfully, for a number of youth outings and trips. Tell him your work trip story at knapsack77@gmail.com.
Notes From My Knapsack 6-17-07
Jeff Gill

An Unearthly Sound, Deep From the Soil

One of the pleasures of writing for the Booster is our range of distribution, covering (officially) Licking County, but with readers showing up in my email from Fairfield, Perry, Muskingum, and Franklin Counties.

That means we cover a fair piece of terrain, from plains and former prairie to the Appalachian foothills. Some of this area is farmed extensively, and others covered with houses; the ground may be designated as “glaciated,” but beyond Dawes Arboretum toward Flint Ridge, the geologists see that Ice Age glaciers stopped short of weighing down that corner of Licking County.

There is an insect often, and erroneously, called the 17-year locust. Bug people (aka entomologists) know that this periodically appearing insect is a cicada, and the 17 year type is a magicicada.

Three springs back, our local “brood” erupted from the ground, 2004 marking the return of the hatchlings who burrowed deep below the tree branches where their eggs were laid, back in 1987. That grouping of cicadas is known as Brood X, which is a cool name for a bug with giant red eyes and a strange screaming sound filling the evening air.

X is actually a Roman numeral, with less cinematic names for other broods like V or XVII. We don’t have to listen to the thunderous shriek of our local magicicada brood again until 2021 (and 2038, but you knew that).

I’m reading about the reactions up in my youthful hometown area around Chicago, where Brood XIII (Brood Thirteen sounds like a sci-fi thriller, too) erupting this summer is big, even if not as large and widespread as our Brood X gang. When you have major market TV recording the megadecibel buzzing, you get the media attention bonus.

But for our area, Brood XIV is just across the southern edge of our area, coming out next year. Then there’s the thirteen-year cicadas, Broods XVIII through XXX. Brood XIX is no small herd o’ bugs, with all the volume of their 17 year cousins, and they’re perking along, one to eight feet underground, to pop up in 2011.

The various broods, and their pattern of emergence, has some very interesting relationships with the line of glaciation, showing their ancient status in the land. The first re-settling big ol’ bugs must have come right behind the Big Thaw, and the consistency of the early soil led them to hug the transition zone from glaciated to unglaciated pretty closely, until a few millennia of vegetation loosened enough soil to allow trees, which then allowed for cicadas.

Whether Brood X, Brood V, or Brood IX of the 17-year, or Brood XIX of the 13-year cicadas, to sound off, these bugs need trees and relatively undisturbed soil. How undisturbed? Well, at least no more than nine inches down, and for seventeen or thirteen years.

In new subdivisions, folk noticed that while some of their neighbors complained of the noise keeping them up nights, they weren’t hearing the cicadas at all. No doubt. If all your trees are new, then they couldn’t have been part of the original drama. Then, where the fertilized female lays her eggs in slits she cuts in tender branches of healthy trees, the eggs can hatch and the emerging nymphs drop to the ground. Those nymphs burrow deep, and latch onto the root system, where they feed in symbiosis with the tree itself.

If your neighborhood wasn’t around in 1987, 1998, or 2003, you won’t hear any cicadas seventeen or thirteen years later. Cicadas give us a very specific window into how much we tamper with the ecosystem when we build and landscape.

Good news, though: there are “common” varieties of cicada in our neck of the woods that have a two to five year cycle of egg, nymph, burrow, emergence and molting out of their outer shell. They quickly recolonize our new neighborhoods, and clear the way for their larger and louder cousins. It’s their sound that we hear later in almost every summer.

If you’re traveling around the Midwest in the next few weeks, you may hear cicadas as you head west. To hear them closer to home, you either need to wait for the end of the summer, or just listen while sitting below a grand old tree for the subtle sipping many feet below you.

No, you won’t hear it, but it might be good exercise for your ears to try.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Share you bug likes and dislikes at knapsack77@gmail.com.