Friday, February 20, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 2-26-09
Jeff Gill

Food Matters, Now More Than Ever

This Saturday, Feb. 28, many of you in the 43023 zip code will find a brown paper grocery bag with a yellow flyer stapled to it, tucked in your front door or under the mat.

Your friends with Granville’s Cub Scout Pack 3, 150 young men from 1st to 5th grades, will be driven about by parents and den leaders to deliver, each den to a particular neighborhood, these bags and the instructions for our annual community food drive for the Licking County Food Pantry Network.

The idea is that you can, if you would, put canned and other non-perishable goods into this bag, put it back out before 9 am on Saturday, March 7, and we will go out again that morning and pick up any bags we see outside on doorsteps with that bright yellow flyer fluttering proudly.

In truth, we will deliver about 3,000 bags wherever we can, but the odds are we won’t get to everyone (sorry about that!). And there’s some chance, albeit small, that we might miss a bag or two on pick-up day, March 7, but we’ll try hard to cruise and re-check where we can.

What is very kind of Greg Ross down at Granville Market is that they will also have on sale that week bags of canned goods, and you can just pay a few bucks and then leave that bag (blue flyer!) down there. On March 7, the truck for the Licking County Food Pantry Network will be in the Granville Market parking lot, where our dens will shuttle back and forth to drop off what you put out. If you want to bring your bag on by, the truck will be there and staffed from about 9 am to 1 pm.

In previous years we’ve had the truck up by Opera House Park, which is great for visibility, but awkward for traffic flow. Scary near-misses had us thinking about a safer, easier plan, and again thanks to the Ross’ and Granville Market for helping make this work out.

Obviously, this is a critical time for food pantries all over, let alone here in Licking County. Suppliers have reduced donated goods and tightened warehouse overstocks, and purchases have gone up even in bulk.

Add in a huge impact to food pantries from the recent peanut product scare and recall, and you have a spring beginning with way too much vacant shelf space in area food pantries.

For those of us fortunate enough to not need the services of a food pantry, the subject of food is a vital one, and I hope we who have a bit to share can pile the bags high this year for those who don’t. My next column is going to come at food from a different angle, as I’ve been working through Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters” and thinking about gardening and local food supplies and the lessons of salmonella and energy costs and our only growth area in the US these days being our waistlines.

So watch this space, where I hope to share some good news with the outcomes and totals of our community food drive, and some good suggestions out of “Food Matters,” because it surely does.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; you can get more info on the Pack 3 Food Drive at their blog,
Faith Works 2-21-09
Jeff Gill

Taxing Times For Religious Groups

So, why don’t churches pay property taxes?

Not that long ago, you wouldn’t have heard that question asked, because it would hardly have made sense to anyone. In the last year, even last few weeks, I’ve run into the question in various forms not only on the internet, but face to face.

I’ve even been told “well, if churches paid their fair share, we wouldn’t have [insert favorite funding problem here].”


Skipping over my own cynicism on this subject (ok, let me just say this – lotteries were going to go for education? then education got cut, oh, about the same amount from other funding sources, so did the lottery really go to education support? Right.), let me try to answer the question straightforwardly.

Historically, churches, schools, and other non-profits have not paid property or sales taxes because they are voluntary associations made up of local citizens who come together for a common purpose. These members pay property taxes for their homes and real estate, and the sales tax on their own purchased goods, to cover the cost of schools, roads, police and fire service, et cetera.

To have voluntary bodies like churches pay property tax has been seen as a double tax on the very citizens who are already at work in their communities for the common good, running the food pantries and after school programs and tutoring and such, which is utterly counterproductive.

You see, taxes are paid by people. You and me, we work, we get paid, and a portion of that is taken by the federal, state, and local governmental bodies to pay for the common good, balanced – we hope – by our elected representatives’ oversight, which we as voters monitor and reward with re-election or punish with replacement. But taxes are paid by people.

So the idea that churches “aren’t paying their fair share” is a little suspect at it’s root, but if you see governments and large entities as “having money” that we as voters are shoving around on the civic table like croupiers do the chips at a Vegas roulette table, then this seems to make sense. Who has chips, and how can we move them about “more fairly.”

But people pay taxes. And churches are made up of people. Tax them, and you tax those people twice.

One response to that is the idea that churches have a vast pool of unearned wealth sitting in vaults that should be out on the roulette table of redistribution. The Catholic Church gets this one all the time. I’ve worked with Catholic Social Services and a couple of dioceses enough to say “Ha” to that one; aside from real estate, you’d be surprised to find out how little is actually liquid assets in their holdings.

Never mind that what endowments and funds church bodies have in reserve are usually legacies and bequests that went through probate, got taxed there, and are left by persons for particular purposes, often bound by legal agreements to start with. Anyhow.

Which brings us to the “Special Assessments” we’ve all gotten recently. I’m not a political columnist, but to write about faith communities and belief at work in people’s lives, a little political rain must fall. My own guiding political philosophy is the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” Most times, on the broader social level, stuff we do doesn’t do what we think it will – think welfare, welfare reform, de-institutionalization just for starters (look up “groundnut scheme” online for a global example that will peel your eyelids back).

The Muskingum Watershed Conservation District is staffed by good, decent, hardworking folk, and their public affairs person has been active and responsive with gracious good cheer since I started blogging on this issue a few weeks ago. This situation isn’t their fault, and we all agree that dams and levees and bridges should be maintained.

Having said that, this assessment is a scam and an affront to Ohio citizens, and even those not of a believing or church-going bent should be outraged. School districts are being assessed, as are churches and service groups and other property owners who have never heard boo-to-a-goose from any taxing entity, for thousands of dollars in some cases, hundreds at least to most, that was unanticipated and unplanned for and comes at a time of unprecedented economic challenge for such bodies.

Schools pay? Guess what – you’re paying twice, then. For work that – pardon me! – I thought we’d been paying taxes for to the Great State of Ohio to have done these last thirty years, only to learn it’s been so neglected and unfunded that we have to collect millions, right now, from churches and schools and campgrounds, and it could go up EVERY YEAR (they say “we hope we won’t have to increase it, but it will be reviewed annually,” striking a chill in my tiny little heart).

The main response to my astonishment at that is “it’s legal under provisions of the Ohio Revised Code.” Yep, it is.

But something can be legal and still be wrong.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s a little upset on behalf of little country churches right now. Calm him down with a note to

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Housing Plan Isn't (and Isn't Gonna)

Key excerpt --

For homeowners there are two key paragraphs: first the lender is responsible for bringing the mortgage payment (sounds like P&I) down to 38% of the borrowers monthly gross income. Then the lender and the government will share the burden of bringing the payment down to 31% of the monthly income. Also the homeowner will receive a $1,000 principal reduction each year for five years if they make their payments on time.

This is not so good. The Obama administration doesn't understand that there were two types of speculators during the housing bubble: flippers (they are excluded), and buyers who used excessive leverage hoping for further price appreciation. Back in April 2005 I wrote: Housing: Speculation is the Key

[S]omething akin to speculation is more widespread – homeowners using substantial leverage with escalating financing such as ARMs or interest only loans.

This plan rewards those homebuyers who speculated with excessive leverage. I think this is a mistake.

Another problem with Part 2 is that this lowers the interest rate for borrowers far underwater, but other than the $1,000 per year principal reduction and normal amortization, there is no reduction in the principal. This probably leaves the homeowner far underwater (owing more than their home is worth). When these homeowners eventually try to sell, they will probably still face foreclosure - prolonging the housing slump. These are really not homeowners, they are debtowners / renters.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Giants In Our Land

Thanks to a person in Iowa who loves geneaology, i got this transcript of an obituary from Goshen, New York, reprinted in the Newark Gazette, one of many bygone competitors to the Advocate.

Jonathan Benjamin's son and daughters and sons-in-law were many of the very earliest European settlers in Licking County; his daughter Lilly married a John Jones related to my beloved Chaplain David Jones, who built the first cabin in Granville Township, had the first European descent child in this area, and on October 22, 1802, the first of that era to die a few weeks after her baby's birth.

Nonetheless, Jonathan and Margaret Benjamin came and homesteaded what is now the area around Union Station and Infirmary Mound Park, already married some 43 years, and celebrating their 76th wedding anniversary before her death. But Jonathan's story was not quite over, and it went back into a vast expanse of early American history, before he was buried next to Margaret near Granville's Main Street, just visible over the stone wall of the Old Colony Burying Ground.

I've told that version of their story before, but this is a glimpse of the regard in which he was held at his death at 103 -- i'll simply reprint this as transcribed from the original news story:

OBITUARY- Jonathan Benjamin

The Independent-Republican
Goshen, New York
Vol. 5, No. 17
November 26, 1841

[May have originated with the Newark (Licking Co., OH) Gazette.]


Revolutionary Soldier, -Died in Union Township,
Locking [actually Licking] Co., Ohio, August 26, 1841, Jonathan Benjamin,
in the 103rd year of his age. Father Benjamin was
born in Goshen, N.Y., October 14, 1738. At the age of
16 he enlisted in the army and served his time as a
soldier true to his country. Was married March 10,
1759 to Margaret Brown; moved to Pennsylvania in 1774
or 75. In May, 1777, the Indians broke in upon his
family and family connections, and killed and took
prisoner three entire families, his only son escaping
to the fort. Among the prisoners taken by the Indians,
was his brother-in-law, Ezekiel Brown, late of
Delaware co., Ohio. After being driven from place to
place by those savage tribes, and enduring extreme
suffering for some 5 months, he removed to Maryland in
the fall of 1779, thence to Pennsylvania in 1782,
thence to Maryland in 1897 [should be 1797], thence to
Western Virginia in 1799, thence to Licking, then to
Fairfield co., Ohio in 1804, where he resided until
his death. [Error- Fairfield Co. first, then moved to Licking Co.] In
1810 he joined the M.E. Church, and
remained an acceptable member ever since. In 1835 he
lost his amiable wife, with whom he had lived through
all the sufferings and privations of a piety [pious?] life, for
the almost unpresedented period of 70 years. He was
the father of ten children, and is known to have 77
grandchildren. He lived to see and embrace a child of
the fifth generation, and that a decendent of his
seventh daughter. For the last 30 years, Father
Benjamin has sustained a good religious character, and
in his last years took much pleasure in telling his
bright prospect of happiness beyond the grave. After
an illness of five days, he departed this life without
a struggle or a groan. - Newark Gazette