Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Faith Works 7-26-08
Jeff Gill

Celebrations Are What Churches (Should) Do Best

Last Saturday, you may have toasted the 160th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a major step forward in the organization of women for voting and civil rights in the country.

The date was also the 55th birthday of Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, was born in Brooklyn. He lives on the other side of the country now, in Seattle, and still has 15,000 stores selling really strong coffee.

You didn’t celebrate either of those? No? Well, you may not have been at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, either. It was out of town about six hours, so you’re excused.

My sister and I had a fascinating time gleaning our folks’ wishes, their invite lists, and facts along with photos . . . not that we didn’t believe them (although we weren’t there at the time, either of us), but so one of my sister’s friends could help make a very attractive display board for guests to ooh and ahh over.

Our two brothers made it with some work finagling, the three of us with spouses had them and the grandkids available for family photo arranging, and there were four states worth of family and friends present.

Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio if you’re really that curious.

Ron & Rose were married in her childhood church by the pastor who had baptized her, Rev. Myrtle Parke Storm. Trust me when I say I’ve been and do go to quite a few Fiftieth Anniversary events, and you don’t often see a woman minister in the wedding photos. In fact, I’m certain that my own folks’ was the first.

They tell me it was a hot day after a rainy morning in 1958, which our day in 2008 echoed; they tell me there was no air conditioning in the church and even the basement for the reception was beastly hot, which we chose not to emulate.

On the tables for the guests were “Rose & Ron Bingo” sheets and also a Golden Anniversary word search (Mom loves word searches). My cousin Kris (Mom’s cousin, actually) won the Bingo with a lifeline from my Aunt Pat (Dad’s sister), a nice touch of both sides of the family working together. Kris was the flower girl 50 years back, and everyone assured her that she obviously is 2 in the pictures (koff).

The Bingo game had squares with questions you needed to answer – “Where did Ron graduate college?” (Iowa State) – and a Free Square in the middle courtesy of the Rock City garden gnome.

Y’know, “See Rock City!” Haven’t you seen those barns? Right, only painted on old saw blades. Anyhow, you can “See Seven States” from Rock City atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, where they visted on their honeymoon and where garden gnomes were introduced to the United States. For class, they saw Monticello on the way back home to Illinois, where their first date was a Bears game at Wrigley Field (you read that right), on their way to Iowa City and grad school for my dad, and a return to teaching for Mom.

Aside from sheer self-indulgence, I share all this because I think home-brew events at simple venues like church basements or “fellowship halls” are a major memory maker. Large catering halls have their place, and event planners can be useful, but when every wedding and birthday and anniversary epoch is celebrated according to a script written by non-family members, in a space that looks like downmarket Vegas, with food from the consumer-industrial complex, you lose something.

You lose those events around the event, while the sandwiches are made and the punch mixed and the ribbons taped up. You miss something when the standard sheaf of photos goes into a video montage with pre-recorded music that you heard at the last event you attended.

And you miss noticing that a relative you barely knew you had is more than happy to pitch in and move tables back to the storage room and pile chairs, and even scrub frosting out of the carpet under the kids’ table. When you do that along with them, you even have a fighting chance of remembering their name at the next family event.

Remembering is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Thanks Mom & Dad, for helping us make a marvelous set of memories for a whole bunch of people, some of whom we’re even related to.

Did we get any pictures of all that?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he compulsively checks for lens caps, which apparently digital cameras don’t have. Tell him about a memory making event at

Monday, July 21, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 7-24-08
Jeff Gill

Stretching Out For Community Fitness

Borrowing a page from the Lovely Wife’s field of “natural resource interpretation,” there is a concept in planning and designing visitor experience at a natural or cultural site called the “genius loci.”

When you are trying to present, or interpret, the sense of a location or resource, you need to identify the “genius loci” or “spirit of the place.” What is the particular sensibility that a spot is already trying to communicate?

For the Grand Canyon, the “genius loci” is obviously grandeur and awe and deep, deep time, written in stone. If you go to Ford’s Theater in Washington, there is certainly a date and a history to where Lincoln was shot in 1865, but the “genius loci” there is something to do with “all our revels now are ended” in Prospero’s words from “The Tempest,” that tragic sense of life where a war’s end and a night of comedy ended in death and loss for a whole nation.

So identifying a “genius loci” is not always to state what is most obvious. Looking at Granville, the commonplace notation is “New England village with Greek Revival architectural treasures.”

That does say something important about the community, tying in education and aspiration and culture. What I’m coming to suspect is the real genius in our “genius loci”, though, is the Granville gift for adaptive re-use. It may be a gift we can keep giving ourselves and others well into the foreseeable future.

“Adaptive re-use” or “Flexible use of public space” doesn’t have the same sex appeal of “quaintness on steroids,” but I think it does say something important about who we are, and what we want and need to preserve.

The Great Granville Picnic is one basic example of this. We take Broadway, shut it down as a traffic artery, and put a bunch of people on it to eat dinner this Aug. 16 (nota bene: deadline to reserve a space for your basket at village offices is Aug. 4).

Well, sure, some may say, but we do that downtown every year for the Kiwanis Fourth of July street fair, right? We close streets for the Tour de Granville and other occasional bicycle events, the Cub Scouts’ Cubmobile races in the spring, we’ve had (and may have again) Antique Fairs on side streets. The Bluesfest rocks and even rolls a bit right in the heart, or esophagus, of the village. Doesn’t everybody do that kind of thing?

In brief, no. and some folks get itchy even here in Brigadoon, murmuring that we should not block traffic and impede business with these dratted messes. Streets are for cars, moving or parking, darn it.

What makes our use of public space so vital in Granville is that we give ourselves the room and the angle to view what is truly public about such areas every time we put a ferris wheel in front of the library or a bandstand in front of First Baptist. Is the Farmer’s Market an interruption of what a street is for, or an extension of the real reason we call some areas “public”?

One of the most contentious areas of local politics in the near future is going to be “who defines public use & public purposes” for public land. We need to stay flexible in our thinking as much as we need to stretch out before exercising, because if we do neither . . . well, you’ve all seen Wall-E.

Monoculture in agriculture or in land use leads to rigid, narrow, life-choking responses to changing circumstances; breadth and mobility means as times change, we have options, which is the only way we will preserve the things we value today into the future. Freezing it all in amber is not an option.

(Remember – No Child Left Outside, Tues., Aug. 12!)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you’d adapt a public space creatively at