Saturday, August 04, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 8-12-07
Jeff Gill

Making the List

Cruel though it may be, the Little Guy and I needed to make an outing for school supplies.

The official lists come out around August 15 for many classrooms, and most of the more specific supplies run out by August 1, so there’s a note of guesswork even with the general “recommended supplies” list in hand.

A more paranoid person than myself might suspect that there’s a malign conspiracy to get people to buy up large stocks of stuff they won’t actually need, but I’m not saying that. Quite.

Two packs of permanent markers are nowhere to be found, but the dozen multi-color pack that no school asks for are in bin-stuffed surfeit. Sure, name brand glue is available for a nickel and the store brand for two cents (don’t tell me that isn’t a classic “loss leader” strategy), but the flimsy folders with characters from movies that came out a year ago and more are surely making up the profit margin.

The Lovely Wife does some strategic shopping through the year, and Grandma, former teacher that she is, buys up clumps of supplies on sale and then much later finds the caches at odd intervals, bringing them to her grandkids along with assorted sacks o’ fun.

No matter what, we still end up with a few items that are a) unlocateable, or b) must be purchased at ridiculous, extortionate, swingeing prices. The protractor with the non-Euclidian extension, scissors with the latest anti-cutting protection device, or notebooks no taller than eight inches with exactly 92 pages, lined.

So we wander about some of Licking County’s famed mercantile establishments. My heart sinks when I see at one that shelving with interesting fall craft supplies are being stripped even of the mark-down tags that we’re there a couple weeks ago. Why are the fall crafts going away? To make room for Christmas stuff, of course.


Where Christmas d├ęcor reigns, school gear must take a back seat. Backpacks, in fact, take a back seat, shoved aside with their remaining selection of Hello Kitty, Josie and the Pussycats, awkwardly drawn muscle cars, and two Transformers book bags. Lunch boxes? Don’t ask.

If you haven’t bought back to school clothes yet, you should know that the racks are filling with parkas and snow boots. We all know September is often one of central Ohio’s hottest months, but don’t go looking for short sleeves or flip flops. I’d rather try to find a snow shovel right now than an outfit for the boy, unless he’s going for a start of the school year field trip to Greenland.

All is not lost. You can count on one thing this time of year – if you want a school folder, t-shirt, flip flops, seat cushion, pocket protector, or tissue holder with a large, scarlet and gray Block O on it, with buckeye leaf garnish, they’re easy to find.

Go Bucks! (Wonder if there’s an Ohio State logo Wii out there . . .)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s quite aware that school starts in ten days! Send him alerts on back-to-school supply sales through

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Faith Works 8-4-07
Jeff Gill

1 in 500 Americans – Really

Your kindly scribe was working on a look at the faith community response to Katrina, now two years ago, when a new emergency fell into our awareness up in Minnesota.

Outside of the American Red Cross chapter for the Twin Cities, whose offices were nearby and whose staff were first responders no matter their training, I’ve not found much (by Thursday night) on the churchly front, though I’m sure the Lutheran community was first with the most, either in terms of compassion or hot dish for grieving families.

So we’ll get back to that later, and meanwhile . . . Hurricane Katrina (and Rita, as Louisianans will remind anyone who is interested).

While there’s fair criticism to go towards the state officials, city leadership, FEMA and federal folk in general along with the Army Corps of Engineers, it should always be remembered that there were the estimated 30,000 people who were literally plucked from the jaws of death in the immediate wake of the storms, largely thanks to the US Coast Guard and many Armed Forces Reserve units. That, and 120 billion dollars (that’s a b, boys) spent by the US Gov’mint so far on relief, wreckage, and rebuilding of major infrastructre.

None of which tends to be the help and care and compassion everyday people need in the middle of a major disaster.
Anyone who knows anything about the United States of America since Alexis deTocqueville knew that church volunteers would be the backbone of the relief effort. Few of us could have anticipated the strength of that spine running down through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Estimates are all that exist for numbers around the volunteer tsunami into the Katrina/Rita area, but our cousins over at USA Today did some research, and came up with some amazing statistics. The total number of Americans who have spent a week or so down in the affected area doing recovery, repair, or reconstruction work AS VOLUNTEERS with faith-based groups approaches 600,000.

That’s a huge number, but put it this way: one in every 500 Americans has been to help with the aid effort. Not just wrote a check or worn a rubber bracelet, but went and mucked out refrigerators and crawl spaces, hammered studs, or balanced sheetrock on their heads.

180,000 Southern Baptists, 60,000 Methodists, 6,000 UCCers, 15,000 Nazarenes. Your friends, your neighbors, from all over the nation. Groups like Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army have tried to do their part to organize the whole deal, but they’re largely organizing who shows up, not motivating the volunteers and getting them staged and sent. That, they’re doing on their own.

For Licking County, some 145,000 residents, that would mean to do our part would take 290 weeks of workers. With my own back of the envelope notes from churches and college Campus Crusade groups and Presbyterians going wild, I figure we can say we’ve done our part and a bit more, with at least 300 Licking Countians having crowbar calluses on their thumbs and sore backs from sleeping on church floors.

College groups are way out in front on this, as befits those with a bit more flex in their schedules, but week for week, our local students have been doing the rest of us proud. Add all the work together, and you have 50,000+ residences that have been worked on or improved these last two years.

The reality check is that two years ago, at the end of August, 70,000 homes were destroyed in Mississippi and 200,000 in the New Orleans area. Over two-thirds of the residents have returned, but even of those, 60,000 are still in FEMA trailers.

So the work goes on. Church groups in Newark, in Johnstown, in Granville, in Heath, "do not grow weary with well-doing,” but persevere for the faith once delivered by the saints, helping the last, the least, and the lost. “Send laborers for the harvest,” asked Jesus, to do the work of apostles, evangelists, caregivers, and carpenters.

Every giftedness can find a fulfillment in the mission fields of the Lord, and the tragedy of Katrina is matched by the majesty of hearts responding without hope of earthly gain.

And Minneapolis’ bridge reminds us that a disaster response, under one color cross or another, may be needed when we least expect it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and a regular blood donor; tell your story of faith motivating mission to him at

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 8-5-07
Jeff Gill

Fairly Good Times, Deep Fried

These are the times that try men’s . . . digestion.

Pork chops on a stick, twinkies on a stick, batter-fried oreos on a stick, batter-fried pickles on a stick. Someone no doubt sells fresh vegetables somewhere at the Hartford Fair or Ohio State Fair, but not before they’ve been dredged in flour and dunked in hot peanut oil.

Zucchini and tomatoes are often a bit worse for wear by the time they’ve been awarded ribbons in the gardener’s “best of” competition, but not enough to make you walk on the other side of the lane past the steak sandwich booth.

Food is necessarily at the heart of fairgoing and fair judging, since the roots of our American fair tradition are deep into the soil of our farms. As the bumper sticker says, “If you ate today, thank a farmer.” Somebody grew, raised, or cultivated everything you threw on the grill last week, unwrapped from the freezer last night, or will purchase from a vendor at a fair.

We’ve put miles and plastic and logos between our imaginations and the reality of planting, tending, harvesting, picking, sorting, packing, shipping, processing, and preparation. Think about the gap from Chicken Little to Chicken Mmmmiii . . . never mind.

At the fair, you can bridge that gap. C’mon, the jump’s not so far, and it doesn’t have to be scary. Milk a cow, or watch one be milked, peel the shucks off an ear of corn, fresh roasted and picked in this area just that morning, watch the cattle parade through the barns and imagine your favorite steak coming from . . . ok, so you don’t want to do that part. But as the fellow said, “Parts is parts,” and that’s where them’s comes from.

Our Hartford Independent Fair runs through this week, and if you don’t get out to Croton (yes, I know where the dickens Croton is; guys, get a new town slogan, please) you miss a chance to see where your future lies.

No, not so much in food – though I’ll bet you’d like some good, healthy, edible food in your future – but in youth. The Junior Fair Board is a great crew that works like the dickens for weeks before and surely the week of the Hartford Fair, and they with hundreds of 4-H presenters, with livestock, club presentations, and The Band are the best side of our future. You can read some bad news about a handful of area youth, and that needs tending, but the good news, this week, is out in the far northwest corner of our county.

The Ohio State Fair has already launched, and runs beyond this Saturday’s end of the local fair. You can hear about the acts from “American Idol” and Weird Al elsewhere, but the evening at the fair isn’t a time I think about for going inside an arena, but for walking around the midway as the lights, many already on, seem to grow brighter and more compelling with the gathering dusk.

You get these long, slow, low sunsets in August, with the haze making a red rubber ball in the west easily visible (I know, you shouldn’t) for a long stretch before it disappears into tomorrow, with the scraps of today picking up enough purple glow from below the horizon to make a dreaming backdrop to the strings and wheels and arcs of lightbulbs across the fairgrounds.

You will no doubt see some of those aforementioned 4-H youth from Licking County competing with their projects and animals over in Columbus, since they regularly do well enough to pick up a ribbon or trophy or two against the other 87 counties of Ohio. And the drama of the final auction is triumph and a touch of tragedy that reality TV can’t touch.
Go. You know you need an elephant ear to make your summer complete.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; his sister won a State Fair grand prize (actually, a couple), but he’s been to more different State Fairs than she has (4). No ribbons. You can brag on your favorite fair participant to him at