Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Knapsack 9-9

Notes from My Knapsack 9-9-10

Jeff Gill


Notes From an Unrepentant Optimist



Glasses that are half full and half empty, spectacles with roseate hues, buttered toast falling to the carpeting – plenty of metaphors out there for the spectrum of optimism to pessimism.


What do you call it if you believe, and generally feel that everything will turn out all right, but only after a fair amount of misery? If you assess the nature of most people as lazy, but well intended, while suffering from a surplus of rationalization, still always trying to do the right thing: does that make one a misanthrope? A Timon of Athens?


If you watch too much cable news, or its vast extrusions across the internet, you generally hear about fear, terror, crisis, collapse, epidemic, outbreak, disaster, anger, bitterness, resentment, anxiety, and oh yeah, fear.


All of which gets you to read down past the jump, click to page two, or stay for the second half hour.


That being their main point and purpose.


In general, the picture they paint of reality is done in primary colors, mostly blood red and coward yellow and depressive blue. As any of you know who have to work much with computer printers, it's amazing what you can do with those three tints, but it takes some subtle mixing and attention to detail. Lose either of those qualities, and you get ghostly shadowing or muddy outlines that aren't even recognizable.


We're up against the tenth anniversary of a horrible act, a crime against this nation and against the very idea of peace and justice. It still beggars my not inconsiderable imagination that anyone, no matter what their motivation, could shoulder their way past families with small children to butcher flight attendants and pilots to fly planes into office towers.


There is, afoot in the world, the ability to choose an evil beyond imagining, and I do imagine that this is part of what our presidents have to try to vividly imagine every morning, so that Bush now looks ten years younger and Obama ten years older, only two years after their change of responsibilities.


So sure, we have to be able to think the unthinkable from time to time, and it's deeply unsettling to learn that some who wanted to walk in the footsteps of the 9-11 assassins met to plan in an Upper Arlington coffee shop that I've been in myself. It makes you think.


What it shouldn't make you think is that this is the norm for humanity, that most people are readily able to turn that corner into darkness. We have it in us, and some do, but for the most part, most bad decisions are no more than the result of looking for a corner to cut, wanting to knock off early, to get a task done faster so as to move on to . . . well, to do what we want to do.


There's an old saying "Never attribute to malice or hostility what can more easily be explained by ignorance and laziness." Most so-called conspiracies and crimes, whether of omission or commission, are more a convergence of corner-cutting characters than they are shrouded figures plotting our harm, or their gain, in private.


I promise to say a bit more about the Newark Holy Stones next column, but that needed to be said first, for the season we're in, and actually, to help set up what really is at work with those puzzling artifacts found 150 years ago.


Meanwhile, be of good cheer: most of the opposition we face in this world means well, but is looking for the easy way out. I remember that every time I look at my greatest enemy, which is most mornings while brushing my teeth.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what makes you hopeful or fearful at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter. 

Faith Works 9-4

Faith Works 9-4-10

Jeff Gill


Willisburg, Kentucky




It had been just a few days past a hundred years since the coffin preceded me into Willisburg, Kentucky.


Actually, Carl Etherington's body had probably gone by train to Springfield from Lexington, and then been driven, almost certainly by an undertaker's horsedrawn hearse, up to Willisburg.


Today, in 2010, I was driving my car along a road whose curves betrayed its wagon-worn roots, dropping down from the divided highway of the Bluegrass Parkway, ten miles and more into the Kentucky hills.


In 1910, the week after July 8, the small town of Willisburg saw a child of their community now returned, never grown to full manhood but having seen more than most men did in twice his years, ending with the horrifying sight of a mob calling for his life, which they claimed and took.


We know very little for sure about Carl, but his gravestone clearly shows his age as seventeen. His parents surely got that part correct, and there was no question about the date of death.


Many articles were written in the weeks and months after the Newark riots and infamous lynching, and what seems certain is that Carl Etherington lied about his age. It may not have been the first time, since there are mentions of a career at sea, or perhaps with the Marines. He was apparently a tall, strongly built young man, and no one realized at the time, with him or against him, that he was so terribly young – they thought 22, or possibly 20, which was surely young enough.


He was hired at a time when jobs were scarce, and to work as what we would call today "private security" or more caustically a "rent a cop." He was part of an effort to "clean up" Newark when the county had voted dry a very damp town. Officials outside of the city's own power structure, including the mayor of Granville, had pressed to have the new liquor laws enforced, by force, and young Mr. Etherington was caught up, in Cleveland or Columbus or Worthington (again, accounts vary), and sent by interurban to another day's wages in downtown Newark, a city he would not leave alive.


Those events have long been part of the lore of downtown, perhaps even part of its burden, and the 100th anniversary has moved a number of us to seek commemoration if not resolution. That story is not done, and some Christian leaders have invited us to join them tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, at the Courthouse Square gazebo for a 4 pm remembrance.


On the evening when, just south of the courthouse, Etherington was lynched in 1910, a few of us gathered, walked the path he was dragged from the old jail's north door to the deadly corner, and briefly set a wreath on the spot where he died. We prayed, quietly and solemnly, for peace.


Then I told those there July 8 that I was going south in a few days, and would take the wreath away, to place it on Carl Etherington's grave. We agreed that this would be right, and so I did.


A week later, I parked at the Willisburg Christian Church, which hosted a century before what is probably still the largest gathering the county had ever seen, some 3 to 4,000 who turned out for Carl's funeral. His marker was easy to spot, near the road, and with a bronze plaque inset with a letter engraved from the Ohio Methodists meeting at Lakeside that summer. Their offering for the family also paid for this gravestone.


I set the wreath, offered my own prayers, and went back across the street. Near a basketball hoop in the parking lot were half a dozen youth of Willisburg today. I explained my visit, and asked if they knew the story of the stone with the plaque. Most didn't, one thought she'd heard the story before, her friend nodding.


"But I thought he was . . . how old was he?" Seventeen, I replied. They all looked at each other, and their realization was apparent. "Why did you come down here?" she asked. I answered that a few of us thought it was never too late to admit that a wrong had been done, even if we couldn't right it.


I was asked much the same thing by e-mail the following week, by a name that startled me when it popped up in my in-box. The last name was "Etherington." I explained as I did in Willisburg, where this man's father had been a cousin of Carl's family in his youth. They now live far away, but had been back to take pictures and wonder at long ago stories. We had seen each other's photos searching online, and I'd left a message. Even so, to see that name in my e-mail . . . I answered right away.


His reply to my description of the ceremony, and the wreath, and my visit was "Let me say, on behalf of the family, that we are very grateful for your remembrance and your efforts."


Somehow, I believe that statement has an echo that spans centuries.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your family stories that bridge centuries at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.