Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Knapsack 6-17

Notes from My Knapsack 6-17-10

Jeff Gill


That's Your Mess, Your Backyard



There's an auld Irish legend having to do with Heaven, or at least a step before you get there.


Not to promote inappropriate drinking or anything, but the belief is that there's a barrel with your name on it up outside of the Pearly Gates. Every drop of Irish whiskey you spill in your lifetime is not wasted in an ultimate sense – it reappears in that heavenly barrel.


The folk tradition goes on to say that, when you die, as you approach St. Peter you are picked up bodily by an angel and popped, head first, into said barrel . . . and if you drown, then to Hades with you.


Silly story, isn't it? But it makes you think.


Over the last few weeks, I've heard many folks say both online and in person that the oil company execs who cut corners or rushed production in such a way as to create the circumstances of the ongoing disaster in the gulf should be stuffed into the drill pipe themselves.


That would be wrong, of course, since the great pressures involved at 5,000 feet of depth would just squeeze their carcasses right on through. Wouldn't work at all.


More to the point, that one well-head, among the other 75 or so already dotted around the Gulf of Mexico, is part of our life, our cars, our shipped products sold at "low, low prices," our pension plans and investments.


Think of that barrel of Irish whiskey in the story. Then think about every time you've poured oil from an engine down a storm drain, dripped the gas nozzle between the pump and your filler cap, run a boat motor without replacing the top of the engine fast enough as it sprays fuel, taken a second trip to the grocery store when you got home and found you'd forgotten something.


That extra forty pounds of stuff you took your time removing from the trunk? Trips you could have doubled up but wanted to play the radio really loud so you drove yourself? The job that gave you a pay bump but meant an extra twenty minutes each way to drive every day?


There it is. You don't have to have an angel stuff you upside down into the oil well to see it, you can just watch the live feed online from the ROVs working to reduce the flow from thousands of barrels a day to maybe just hundreds (oh, goody). But it's drowning you all the same.


This is what Michael Pollan came to explain up at Denison a couple of months ago: it's not just in our cars and our plastics, but the stain of oil goes right down into the ground, since tractors and irrigation pumps and our flash-frozen, pre-processed, shipped-from-continents-away "cheap food" is all based on "cheap energy."


That's oil, in other words. It's already in everything we touch, and now we want to figure out how to shut it off and clean its effects up. That is, indeed, the challenge, no matter how soon we finally control that one well deep below the surface of the Gulf waters.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you've figured out how to reduce your dependence on oil, foreign or domestic, tell him about it at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Faith Works 6-12

Faith Works 6-12-10

Jeff Gill


They Called Him Coach, And More



"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." -- Coach John Wooden


As is so often the case, I had other plans for this week, and then I heard about the death of John Wooden at the age of 99. He was born and raised in my home state of Indiana, and was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the church in which I was born and baptized and ordained, so I've been hearing about "Coach" all my life.


He played high school basketball in a state that almost made that sport the established religion, especially in the earlier half of the last century. His high school team helped open Hinkle Fieldhouse, yes, where they filmed "Hoosiers," and they won once in the three trips he made there.


Then he went on to play at Purdue University, helping to win what is still their only national championship in basketball as a player, while also winning a Big Ten scholar athlete award as an English major. Wooden liked to say his pleasure in that award was that the whole team won the national championship, but he earned the scholarship part of that award all by himself.


That may qualify as one of the few self-centered comments Coach Wooden ever made, because his character and career are best known for the self-effacing, diligent, virtuous job he did for decades as a coach, starting with high school teams out of college, a sojourn in the US Navy during World War II, and then a college career at what is now Indiana State (later the alma mater of Larry Bird) and then to UCLA.


Where he just won ten national championships, seven of them in a row, including a nearly 90 game unbeaten streak.


Yes, he was a successful athletic coach, but what has so many both saying much about John Wooden and has left many close to him still speechless (like Bill Walton) in grief and loss is that his legacy was in building character in others. Rick Reilly of ESPN said "He is as square as a pan of fudge and honest as a toothache, but I love him." That really can't be improved upon.


Players over and over have said that this man spoke of integrity and commitment and faithfulness in ways that have shaped their entire lives, long after the sneakers came off. He talked about the things that coaches, Little League baseball and club soccer and varsity football alike, all speak of, but somehow coming from Wooden there was an extra weight of absolute sincerity. He lived what he said, loving his wife of 53 years, sweeping up at gym closing alongside of team managers, waiting until the last autograph was signed, right through his ninth decade.


What I loved about some of the tributes in print and online after Coach Wooden died was that even with so much having been said over the last century, there were stories still to be told that I'd never heard. One was that as a new high school basketball coach, playing in a regional game, they went down to their locker room at halftime, behind in the score, and the door was still locked.


Wooden kicked it down. Then he chewed out his team, returned to the court and got one of his two lifetime technical calls that game (which they won). What I love about that story is that it shows that the preternaturally calm, collected, focused John Wooden wasn't born that way, it wasn't just some innate gift. He had to teach himself some self-control. And he did.


I also had never heard about 1948. Coming back from the war, coaching at Indiana State, his team was invited at the end of the 1946-7 season to play in an early version of the NCAA championship – if they didn't bring the one African American member of their team with them.


Wooden said, "Then the answer is no." And they didn't play.


The team had another good year beginning in 1947, and as the season wrapped up in early 1948, the invitation came again, with the proviso "well, the Negro player can be in your lineup, but he can't stay at the same hotel and don't appear in public with him." Wooden's opinion was that this was even worse, and he said "No" again.


Then the NAACP contacted him, after talking to Clarence Walker, a young second-string player from East Chicago, Indiana. They told Coach that having a black player in the national playoffs was worth it, and asked him to reconsider.


So Wooden went, taking his team to the finals, playing Clarence Walker in the game . . . and going over to his hotel each morning to eat breakfast with him, where he stayed apart from his team. The color barrier was broken for college basketball playoffs, thanks in part to John Wooden.


Christianity could do with a whole lot more Christians like John Wooden.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has three varsity letters in basketball from high school, but they were all as manager. Tell him about your coach at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.