Friday, July 09, 2010

Knapsack 7-15

Notes From My Knapsack 7-15-10

Jeff Gill


The Hills, the Skies, the Stars



In 1840, according to Bushnell's 1889 "History of Granville," the electioneering of that year brought a special fervor to the Fourth of July celebrations, and no little Yankee ingenuity: "A liberty pole, jointed like a ship mast, and again with bands of iron, and again and again, and topping out with a fishing rod and a long streamer, towered 270 feet on the village square."


Now, just for context, it's about 150 feet of elevation from Broadway and Main to the top of College Hill, and another 150 to the tip of Swasey Chapel. So imagine a crew of young men, with logs and poles and staves, hammering out their cooper's rejects and scrap iron strips, binding a cluster of beams around a longer timber, and another, and another . . . all for fun, all for frolic, and done without a bit of power equipment. Their end "product" is hoisted to the vertical with ropes and likely a block and tackle and (I hope) a secure anchorage, finally towering from the middle of the village as high as the pinnacle of the tallest building we have today, "topping out with a fishing rod and a long streamer."


Some modest research shows that neighboring communities would compete in standing up the tallest "liberty pole" for their Fourth of July celebrations, and the record is silent on the obvious occasional outcome of a snapped timber, a misanchored line, and 200 feet or more of mast and beam and pole coming down to crush chimneys, topple fences, and break an arm or leg for the unwary.


Or they may have just been pretty good at what they were doing!


I can almost see that sight rising up in the middle of town, as I drive through in the wake of the street fair. In the same way, I was envisioning Alligator Mound east of the village, a thousand years old, while we waited for the fireworks on July 1st and Scorpius rose in the south. The legends of the Underwater Panther, the Piasaw with horns and biting teeth and a long curling tail that does not let go, seen painted on a Mississippi cliff by Father Marquette, told to pioneers by the Native peoples of the Ohio Valley, very likely tie back to our own one of only two effigy mounds found in this state.


The constellation of a horned or clawed figure appearing in the summer sky, with a bright red heart glowing out of the darkness as the sun sets, has long been associated with this mythic figure, a lower world counterpoint to the more heavenly thunderbird flying above.


Dr. Brad Lepper, curator of archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society, local resident and skilled historian in his own right, will be down at that other effigy a couple hours south of us by car, Serpent Mound. On Saturday, July 31, at 1 pm, he will give a talk about "The Alligator and the Serpent" before leading a tour of the site. If you want to know more about Granville's "Alligator," you couldn't do much better than to make the trip down to visit the Serpent that day.


For only a carload parking fee of $7 (and they'd like RSVPs, which you can do at, you'll learn about our local history in a way that will help you see the past, written on our landscape, visible clearly in your mind's eye.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a favorite legend you've heard at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Faith Works 7-10

Faith Works 7-10-10

Jeff Gill


What To Do, What To Do (Nothing)




Cell phones.


They are everywhere, and everywhere people are trying to "deal with" the ubiquity of these modern day . . . necessities? Well, whatever.


The fact is that as men once would not leave the house without a hat, nor women without gloves, now people won't make a move without groping to check their cell phone's presence, and probably checking to see if any texts or calls have come through in the last four minutes.


A major difference being: your hat or your gloves didn't make noise (unless you were a magician with a poorly fed rabbit in there). Cell phones are likely to ring . . . or play a tune . . . or shout out a catch phrase like "That's what she said!" or "Twenty-three skid-doo, kiddo!"


OK, not the last one. That I know of.


It is kind of interesting to watch faces as the "Sex and the City" theme music suddenly starts to play in the middle of a worship service. Personally, I'd say that kind of error in technology management carries its own punishment, that is sufficient unto the day thereof.


Many churches, though, are trying to find creative ways to prevent mid-event disruptions. Places with large projection screens include in their opening roll of announcements a "Please turn off your cell phones" and those who use print bulletins have a number of locations and ways they note "Respect your neighbors and silence all electronic devices."


I've been to a few weddings and funerals in the last couple years where clergy try to find wording to slide into the opening statements along the lines of "c'mon, people, shut 'em off." Some folks can say that more adroitly than others.


For myself, I have come to a conclusion, whether as a worshiper or worship leader. They're here, and they're going to be turned off or silenced by those who do, and those who don't aren't likely to make an effort because you said so. A quick reminder doesn't hurt, and it helps those who really intend to shut down their tech during services, but there is no magic combination of phrases that will shame, abash, or convert the unrepentant text checker in their persistence.


We have to just get used to it.


Some of my indifference comes from having served churches where a number of emergency responders sit in the pews, and they do, in fact, need to be ready to answer whenever, wherever. OK. And the rest of my "whatever" comes from having listened to clergy come perilously close to sound foolish themselves trying to force the issue, and then have to figure out what to do when twenty minutes later someone does the "OMG" dance in mid-sanctuary, digging and writhing to reach a phone that is loudly declaiming "Pants on the ground, lookin' like a fool."




What do you do at that point? There are a number of well-used rejoinders you can hurl from the pulpit, like "If that's not Jesus, don't answer it," or "Just hand it up to me, I'll talk to them." But I have to admit that in general, like crying children, passing train whistles, and the occasional howling of dogs on the front steps, you either studiously ignore the interruption, or work it as an observational point into your announcements, prayers, or sermon. "And Lord, we hope that every call we make unto you might be answered without hearing the silence of a dropped connection."


Cell phones are here to stay, and they won't go away anytime soon. They're getting smaller, tucked into ears and side pockets, and connecting us in ways that are both helpful and less so.  I think they create a marvelous opportunity to talk about what it really means to make a connection, or why we need to make some times and spaces where we turn them all off and stick with what's immediately present, but I'm just not going to worry any more about how to get people to turn them off when I want them to.


Because as sure as I'm typing this on a computer, the moment I decide to get all indignant and self-righteous about them, I'll be the one who feels his back pocket being strangely moved, and will realize that it's me that's playing the Liberty Bell March.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; you can "call him up" through or follow Knapsack @Twitter.