Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Faith Works 6-28-08
Jeff Gill

Calm the Waters, or Inherit the Wind

Troubling your own house, Proverbs 11:29 reminds us, is like sowing the whirlwind – you reap the storms you set in motion yourself.

The Licking County Players are bringing “Inherit the Wind” to their stage in July, this 1955 stage play and 1960 movie taking their title from the aforementioned text.

I should warn Brad Lepper that he now shares with me the odd distinction of playing a clergyman onstage, and I’ll be curious about how many cast members ask him theological questions through the rehearsal period.

If you have never seen this classic American play, click over to www.lickingcountyplayers.org and get tickets for their production space over on West Main St. in Newark.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee wrote the play to speak to McCarthyism, which for all its faults provoked a great deal of arts and literature, more than got blacklisted it would appear. I will admit to a certain ambivalence about the body of the play itself, which has many fine set pieces and great monologues and debates.

The fact that it echoes but in no way accurately represents the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee is not a problem. Plenty of great art uses reality as a starting point, but meanders into more productive rivulets and streams and rolls into a mighty river through fiction.

What I trace down to today from that wellspring is the beginning in popular culture of the image of the angry evangelist, the wild-eyed, hot-headed, truth-trimming, ultimately hypocritical preacher fellow who is now so much a stereotype that no comment, seemingly, is necessary.

Popular culture is key here because “Elmer Gantry” was written by Sinclair Lewis in the late 1920’s, but was controversial and not greeted with much approval outside of the literati; a play based on the novel didn’t last a month. The movie, which is how most people know the ol’ rapscallion, played by Burt Lancaster, came out just after “Inherit the Wind” was filmed and only with the major success of the play clearing out the space for it to thrive.

Are there Elmer Gantry and Jeremiah Brown sorts out there, filled with rage and hypocrisy? Yep. I’ve met ‘em, and suspect I can see it in the eyes of more than a few you can catch on TV between requests for money. Steve Martin did a stellar update of the genre which I love, the movie “Leap of Faith.” Go rent it and see what you think.

What I resist is the pull of the notion that Rev. Brown represents much of anything widespread or essential to Christian communities around the US, whether in 1925 or today. In fact, Clarence Darrow could not say enough about the good cheer and courtesy extended him throughout his stay in Dayton, TN by the locals; his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, who actually did die in Dayton five days after the trial ended, was a political progressive whose faith led him to rail against greed and robber barons of the “Gilded Age” and Roaring 20’s.

He was also one of far too few who spoke against the growing popularity in the 1920’s of eugenics, the “sterilization of the unfit” and the need to “weed and cull” mental defectives and physically deformed from the “healthy population.” No less a figure in evolutionary studies than Stephen Jay Gould has said that Bryan’s passion was to preach against “Social Darwinsim” more than evolutionary theory itself.

So go see “Inherit the Wind” and reflect on all it has to say about human nature, and eternal ends, but keep in mind the people and personages of the town are not what was, nor are they what is.

Five years after Bryan died, friends and supporters endowed a college in Dayton which is, of course, named “Bryan College.” Their motto is “Christ Above All.” And on Bryan’s tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery (he served as Secretary of State as well as in Congress for Nebraska) are the words “He Kept the Faith.”

The monument I most like for Bryan is another thing not in the play. When the judge found Scopes guilty of teaching evolution and imposed the minimum fine of $100, Bryan insisted on paying it for him.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s got some untold stories about Charles Darwin he wants to tell soon, too. Tell him a story at knapsack77@gmail.com.
Notes From My Knapsack – Granville Sentinel, July 2008
Jeff Gill

“Had We But World Enough, and Time”

Andrew Marvell was speaking “To His Coy Mistress,” not to the 2008 election season, but there is a fair sense of urgency in the presentations on both sides of the ballot.

(Pace to all Nader, Paul, and Barr supporters.)

Marvell goes on to hearken to “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” and to consider the reams of print material available online, in magazines, and from street corner fliers stuffed into your unwilling hands even a speed reader might sense “Deserts of vast eternity” before them.

May I recommend books? Seriously, if you want to get up to speed with the full range of opinion on both sides, you might find that the old fashioned print volume does you more good than a stack of magazines. You check the table of contents and index for guideposts and benchmarks where your particular interests are addressed, and flipping back and forth is still an area where the technology of printed and bound pages has no peer. (These are all available in the libraries of Granville, Newark, or Denison, too.)

This is all presuming that there are some who haven’t entirely made up their minds, McCainiacs with qualms and Obamacans with hesitations, plus us mushy middle slow thinkers.

Start with their own books: Obama has famously penned his own two, well worth the time to read right through, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” McCain works with Mark Salter of his staff to write “Worth the Fighting For” and “Faith of My Fathers.”

On the current war, whatever you call it, to get a good diversity of views: “Fiasco” by Tom Ricks of the Washington Post, along with “The End of History” by Francis Fukuyama from the distant past of 1992 to see part of the basis for said leap into the heart of darkness (yeah, and read that, too, in a collected Joseph Conrad). Douglas Feith’s “War and Decision” gives the view from inside of the choices that led into Iraq.

“The Assassin’s Gate” by George Packer is the wide view of the Middle East today, and a contrasting but well-reasoned complement is Bernard Lewis’ “The Crisis of Islam.”

Climate change and biotech are intertwined but crucial areas where science and politics intersect with public awareness, and we need to be thinking more clearly than we are about those areas: “Panic in Level 4” is new and excellent, by Richard Preston, author of “The Hot Zone,” and “Cell of Cells” is accessible to the general reader as well thanks to the careful work of Cynthia Fox.

Try the older “Earth In the Balance” from 1992, which reads better than “An Inconvenient Truth” does as a book, both of course by Al Gore; compare to Bjorn Lomborg’s “Cool It.”

And wrap it all up by getting out some Wendell Berry, specifically “The Art of the Commonplace” and “Citizenship Papers.” You might want to read the poetry of “A Timbered Choir” or “The Country of Marriage” just to wash away the taste of politics.

(Psst: Tues., Aug. 12, No Child Left Inside Day!)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a good read or tale or idea at knapsack77@gmail.com.
For anyone wondering why THIS is a good development, or even what all the fuss is about, i want to point out THIS photo, and note that from the right angle with a fuller understanding, we have that kind of awe and beauty and mystery available right here in Licking County.

If the National Park Service can help us get to that level of access and understanding, enabling people to see the slopes and arcs of the earthworks the way most people reflexively see the meaningfulness of fluted columns and Ionic capitals, then welcome aboard NPS!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 6-26-08
Jeff Gill

No Child Left Inside – Sounds Good To Me!

Get ‘em up, get ‘em out, get ‘em bit.

Here’s my thought: can we just declare Tuesday, August 12, “No Child Left Inside Day” for Licking County?

Oh, you ask, is there a special program or event or planned activity on that date?


That would be the point. No agenda or checklist, just kids and everything that isn’t under a roof and within HVAC serviced walls.

To be fair, I’m swiping this idea from the good folks with Project Learning Tree and their website www.learnoutside.org, supported by the Environmental Education Council of Ohio at www.eeco-online.org.

Their concern is to keep environmental education at the forefront of thinking about formal, classroom education and curricula, and I support them in their admirable endeavours. We’ve all been motivated and inspired by Richard Louv’s necessary book “Last Child In the Woods,” but that’s exactly why I’d like to suggest a Licking County “No Child Left Inside” on a Tuesday, before school starts in those classrooms, with no formal program at all.

Louv’s useful and worrisome account shows how we’ve somehow let ourselves become convinced that children are at more danger from random violence, vicious animals, and Lyme disease out roaming the woodlots and fields, than they might be endangered by the effects of sloth and obesity and sedentary electronic numbness – and I don’t just mean in their hind ends.

Just as we’ve learned the hazards of making playgrounds so safe kids no longer want to play on them, leading to lack of exercise or activity which is truly dangerous in a subtle but very real way, we need to get real about Nature.

Nature is all around us and inside our bloodstream and yes, even under our fingernails even with antibacterial soap. We need to get comfortable with soil and moss and bark and rocks again, let alone worms and mantises (yes, that creature in “Kung Fu Panda” actually exists!) and know how to behave around opossums and raccoons and even deer.

Yeah, deer. I’m fine with hunting them, but for the foreseeable future we will share our neighborhoods and our hosta with them. Do our kids know how to move around and respond to an apparently tame deer (hint: they aren’t, and their hooves can disembowel you if you aren’t careful).

Animals of all sorts deserve care and respect, which I think can include a compound bow on occasion (if you don’t believe me, watch the first five minutes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Means in “The Last of the Mohicans,” a sequence that will earn the respect of a committed vegan). Kids deserve the chance to encounter Nature writ small in order to develop a proper respect of her larger manifestations, whether cervids or cyclones.

So I want to suggest this simple idea – make Tuesday, August 12 a day when we all commit to making sure that every kid spends some time outdoors, gets their knees dirty, and brings a rock home in their pockets. I’ll have some further suggestions in future weeks, but what about it? “No Child Left Inside Day” for Licking County.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your “Wild Kingdom” moment at knapsack77@gmail.com.