Friday, August 06, 2010

Knapsack 8-12

Notes From My Knapsack 8-12-10

Jeff Gill


When a Clique Is Just a Clique



High above, the tent caterpillars and webworms are hard at work, with the bagworms sprouting their little fake pine cones on the spruces a little closer to the earth.


In the ditches and medians, ironweed has unfurled its full six foot and more frame, already sprouting blazing, vibrant purple flowerheads at the top, well before the usual Feast of the Assumption outbreak alongside yet unseen goldenrod.


Goldfinches, though, are out among the cardinals and blue jays, and the August wilt of foliage means they're all a little easier to spot on a walk or hike than they were a month ago.


High summer is giving us a big clammy hug, whether to settle in or to leave we're not quite sure. Last weekend was the Hall of Fame Game up in Canton, and football practice is rolling through the last of two-a-days and other brutal rituals of summer's end.


We've got the Great Granville Picnic coming up this weekend, a relatively new tradition that feels already as if it goes back to 1805. Since the village is eating outdoors in the same general location as those first settlers, that's not too much of a stretch, but it's only since the 2005 bicentennial that we've been doing this every other year.


It's a wonderful scene out of a movie's happy ending, the sun setting beyond Sugar Loaf at the end of Broadway, and the tables marching back past Denison's Fine Arts Quad towards the Main St. intersection at the Four Corners.


Folks have already reserved their tables, and gathered friends around them, and while there's much milling about and mixing on the sidewalks, swapping of bread and salad dressings, for the most part, people will sit with and talk to those they already know.


It's part of the genius of Granville that we can use our public spaces so regularly for truly public purposes, going back to the Latin "populus," the people gathered. Farmers' Markets, Bluesfests, street fairs at the Fourth, and the Candlelight Tour are just part of where the population comes and mixes, somewhat, on a common platform.


There's always a strain of worry, particularly in the beginning of a new school year, about cliquishness, the tendency for folks to clump and stick together, and not just because of the humidity.


What's often said is that Granville is particularly cliquish, standoffish, not-terribly-welcoming. After having lived here since 2004 and around the county since 1989, I'd opine that such descriptions are both true and not-true.


It's true in that relative to other nearby communities, it's definitely a challenge to walk into many gatherings around Granville and find a relaxed and friendly outstretched hand. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it's a bit slower, and not unusual to have not happen around town.


But I think it fair to say it's not quite true in this: Granville has more residents (my impression, hard to prove, but I'd assert) not from here, not from Ohio, than almost anywhere else in the county. And there's a certain amount of ongoing turnover, to boot, not just with the college, though that's part of it.


What you get in our idyllic burg is a tendency for all of us who don't have parents and cousins and families nearby to look for a "new family" of sorts. The groups that get negatively called cliques are often simply self-created kinship groups, sisters or brothers or family by other means, replacing that which we've, so many of us, left behind in another city or state or even country.


It does create certain challenges for community building, but I think we're better off for calling it an expression of a positive need, not a negative thing altogether.


Consider that and tell me what you think, as you walk this Saturday among the many ad hoc families around their temporary tables on Broadway.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your kinship groups at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Faith Works 8-7

Faith Works 8-7-10

Jeff Gill


What We Do With Our Selves On Vacation



After some time away, whether in hotel rooms or on a cot under canvas, there's a question of adjustment.


You've got objects and items that have to work their way from your bags to the bureau, rearrangement to put things back in their familiar order.


At the same time, you have a chance to create, or rather continue some new patterns from the chance to experiment when you were out of your groove, away from your rut.


Morning rituals, whether of physical or spiritual health, may have started afresh (church camp is very good for that kind of opportunity), and tedious habits that may not even be all that bad, just old, can get swept aside as you continue what the vacation time began.


What is extremely instructive is the experience of feeling how powerful the pull can be to return to the familiar, the comfortable, the usual. You recall distinctly in the car on the way home thinking, or even saying out loud "I'm going to eat more fiber in my breakfast," and not one day later you're reflexively reaching for the microwave sausages. No fiber.


Tomorrow, though, will be different.


And a week later, your routines are again identical to what they were before the time away.


Count me among the myriad pundits who say, often from a stance of "do as I say, not as I do," that we Americans are far too inattentive to our essential need for time away. This isn't about some progressive social policy: from a migratory hunter-gatherer past to dozens of lengthy festivals in the medieval era puncturing the dawn to dusk slog, it's never been normal or natural for us to do the same thing, five or six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Cutting that down to fifty weeks almost but doesn't quite cut it.


Even farmers shift from planting activity to harvest activity.


I've written here before about the practical and interior benefits to worshiping "on the road," in an unfamiliar setting, and this summer I've had the chance to help lead worship on the shores of mountain lakes, in rec rooms of community centers, and attend services with long-missed friends and alongside newly made ones. It is good for my heart and I am certain for my soul, as well.


What is also an excellent opportunity during vacation or travel time is to consider our heart and soul in these unfamiliar settings. You get a chance to find out what you really, really can't live without; it starts with a certain pillow or brand of cough drop, but it can turn into an encounter with your own family in a strange place that makes you realize why your home is where those people are, and not where your stuff is.


For so many, it becomes a chance to watch our hearts grow. Coming back from Scout camp with my son and some other passengers, we made the usual stop at West Virginia's Tamarack Plaza (they've got both Starbucks and ice cream, plus pizza – everyone wins).


It's a busy place even at midnight in the dead of winter, but I was struck this recent Saturday afternoon. The large parking lot was filled with . . . church vans. Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, lots of varieties of Baptist, some Apostolic and Pentecostal. Truly, it seemed as if around a quarter of the many, many vehicles stopping there in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains were church vehicles, and that was nearly doubled as to persons inside, wearing their t-shirts with various congregational or programmatic logos. Half of those were clean and pristine, and half were grimy, sweat-stained, and usually also signed in permanent marker.


These were mission trip folk, going to or coming from, showing plates from North Carolina and Indiana and Kentucky and New York and Ohio (that's merely a partial list). People of faith who took some of their leisure time and devoted a solid week of living and working  in a place where their hands and indeed hearts were needed.


Sleeping on a church basement floor, sweating through a day of carpentry or carpeting, painting and playing in the cool of the evening – this is what a still growing large percentage of your friends and neighbors are doing with their time off, tending their heart's growth by ministering to the actual everyday needs of those who just ask for a helping hand.


In whatever way, I hope some Sabbath time blessed you this summer. And football practice aside, it's not over yet!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your time away at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.