Friday, September 18, 2009

Knapsack 9-24

Notes From My Knapsack 9-24-09

Jeff Gill


The National Parks: America's Best Idea




Sunday, September 27, I suspect many of you already plan to be watching PBS in the evening, to catch the first of six episodes of "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."


Ken Burns has shown us familiar sights in new lights before, of baseball and jazz and the Civil War; most recently, "The War" asked us to consider the homefront of World War II.


You know the presentation – archival photos, artfully selected and drifting past out of a close-up angle, the almost recognizable voices reading from diaries and letters and original documents, blending into current color footage of the scene today.


It's almost a marvel that Burns' "Florentine Films" hasn't taken this challenge on before, but the scope of some 400 sites and almost 150 years, starting before we even had a National Park Service, may mean that he needed the work he'd done before to really do justice to this theme, and the subtitle which can strike you on first reading as almost banal.


Yet there is a striking truth to the fact that until 1916, there was no such thing as a "national park system," not here, not anywhere.


Which is where Licking County almost edges into the story that you'll be watching the next few weeks.


It turns out that in the early 1800s, national figures like Daniel Webster and Caleb Atwater said of the Newark Earthworks, just as Thomas Jefferson said of Natural Bridge in Virginia and Charles Dickens did of the prairies, that they should be made a special preserve of some sort.


In 1853 New York City set aside Central Park, but they weren't sure what to do with it. "Parks" were interchangeable with cemeteries and town commons, and their use or uses, let alone management, was still an open question.


During the Civil War, Lincoln happily handed the dimly appreciated acreage of Yosemite over to the state of California to manage, being busy with other matters; in 1872, Yellowstone was seen as unique enough to be worth preserving, but supervision was given over to the Department of War, hence the garb of park rangers to this day, with campaign hat and green & grey uniform. Michigan set aside Mackinac Island as the first official "state park" in 1875, and California designated Yosemite a state park in 1890 at the urging of John Muir.


And it was in 1890 that local residents decided that the Newark Earthworks, or at least the part that wasn't the county fairgrounds – as the Great Circle had been since 1854 – would be put on the ballot for a levy vote, to decide whether or not to purchase the Octagon & Observatory Circle for preservation. It passed overwhelmingly, and the county purchased the land.


Since the idea of a state park service was still alien to Ohio – private groups had bought Serpent Mound and Fort Ancient – various ideas were tried to manage the acreage, including militia oversight like the Army at Yellowstone, until the idea of a country club and a "low impact" activity like golf came up in 1910.


So as you listen to Ken Burns' story about how this country worked its way into figuring out one of the best ideas we've exported around the world, the concept of a "national park system," keep in mind that we have our own place in that still unfolding story. Those tales and more will be shared in the week around Newark Earthworks Day, coming Oct. 17 – check out for more info!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's looking forward to leading the last section of the walk from Geller Park to the Octagon around 5 pm on Fri., Oct. 16! E-mail, or follow Knapsack

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Faith Works 9-19

Faith Works 9-19-09

Jeff Gill


Flames, Regret, No Lines, No Waiting



Seriously, you have no idea how much I'm holding back on this Disney thing. The ideas and inspiration that come to mind by looking at the little things around a Disney park – I had no idea. I should have, but it really was just a tidal wave of "wow" around every corner.


Can churches "do Disney?" Well, no, and I'm not trying to say they should. But learning from them can be an interesting challenge, just as faith communities learn from new musical styles (like Charles Wesley did) or new ways to gather the public together (as both Dwight Moody & Billy Graham did) or even new technologies (which more than 2 out of 3 congregations are with webpages and digital projectors).


Careful attention to detail is a hallmark of the "Disney approach" that I think churches can, should, and must pay attention to – signage and small corners like restrooms and nurseries are where people make up their minds, long before they hear the sermon, whether they're even going to come back a second time. Training, so that each person who engages a visitor is communicating something of the story and sense of place you are trying to create, from the parking area to the ushers – shucks, Disney should have learned that from churches, not the other way around. For Christians, we are the story we're embodying about Jesus, right? "Put on Christ" and live in that image . . . sound familiar?


But most of all, keep it simple, and be who you are, without hesitation or apology. Sure, if you clearly and unambiguously share what you believe your core message is, someone will doubtless complain. The growth of rudeness is only matched by the growth of willingness to take offense, whether intended or not, even an avid interest in finding offense where none is meant.


I mentioned last week that I was amazed at just how international the experience of Disney was. Foreign visitors were unmistakably the majority, simply on the basis of languages spoken around us in line, on the buses, at the hotel. But one day we were getting off the train at Main Street, USA, and the whole area was moving into an ordered arrangement – the staff got into lines, the band played, and a flag lowering was held at 5:00 pm, complete with "Star Spangled Banner," a flag folding ceremony, and then the singing by all and sundry of "God Bless America."


All activity stopped, and the program around the flagpole drew the respectful silence, and apparent approval of all in earshot. Folks, if this actively upset many citizens of other countries, I have no doubt Disney would stop doing it; I also have no doubt that someone(s) have complained from time to time. But they carry on, and it was a lovely and appropriate sight to see. If I'm ever lucky enough to be in Disneyland Paris, I'll expect the same with the French tricolor and the "La Marseillaise."


And then there's Hell. No, I don't mean the Florida heat in August. But I am forced to consider this – outside of the stray Jack Chick tract, I have seen in my entire life three depictions of eternal damnation to color my mental outlook. They all three include painful flames, punishment as the deserved result of intentional choices for the wrong, and deep regret with no end in sight, all presented not to titillate, but to prod the living to see their earthly choices in the light of eternity.


Those three are: "The Black Hole" (1979), "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983), & "The Haunted Mansion" (2003). All three are Disney productions. Yes, I've read Dante's "Inferno" (1300), but that's not a visual representation.


In fact, if you go to any of the park shows, whether by daylight at noon in front of the castle itself, or the various fireworks displays that light up the last of evening, you will see and hear a message that boils down to this: there is good, there is evil. Evil sometimes is victorious, and good often struggles to prevail, but good will win, and evil will not be rewarded. That's the plot of just about every narrative they have to offer.


Choose the good, and bring others with you. Apparently, that message has some resonance, and a cross-cultural impact. How clearly is your core message communicated regularly in your church, and what is shown to be at stake?


It's no Mickey Mouse question.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he promises not to talk about Disney again for at least a few weeks. Tell him what's inspired you recently at, or follow "Knapsack"