Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Faith Works 10-9-10 -- Newark Advocate

Jeff Gill


Environmental Hot Water Is Easy To Get Into




Last week was "Walk To School" Day in Granville, and I was invited to MC again.


This was the fifth (we think) time a lovely fall day was picked to organize a group walk from the main downtown intersection to the elementary school, and like most lovely autumn mornings, rain threatened, but held off just long enough to let us ring the old village bell, thank a few supporters, and stroll down the sidewalk a few hundred strong.


We're unusual in Granville in that the school and a large number of elementary age children are located where walking is even feasible. When the school is out on the edge of things, and often there aren't even sidewalks leading to it, walking or bicycling just isn't a option anymore.


And to be fair, the action is largely symbolic.  Some of us drove to downtown, walked to the school, and then walked back to our cars where we drove off to work. Many of the kids who walked will possibly never walk to the building again all year, but get dropped off or ride the bus the other 179 days.


Yet some will take away from this community mini-rally a realization that walking to school (or cycling) is more feasible some days, at least, than they realized, and the kids who participate at least get a sense of walking as an option – if not always to school, at least sometimes to some places.


Faith communities know that symbolic actions are deeply meaningful, and can impact behavior and choices far beyond the immediate contact of a gesture, ritual, or presentation. Baptism for cleansing, weddings for marriages, communion as a core element of Christianity – you can see them as "just a symbol," but as Paul Tillich said, "Never say 'just' a symbol." Symbols have power, as a conduit from the everyday to a wider context, even the eternal.


I was thinking about all this as I've been part of an adult study at a church near where the "Walk To School" journey began. Sunday evenings, a few of us have been meeting to talk about Christian faith and "Creation Care," and what environmental issues say to us as we talk about our core beliefs.


One thing that struck us is that, in this short series for adults and kids, we begin the evening with a meal. Being good 2010 Americans, we all eat it off of disposable plates, using disposable utensils, drink from disposable cups, and wipe off our fingers with disposable napkins . . . then we go off into our four adult classes to talk about "that which endures forever."


Cognitive dissonance, anyone?


Meanwhile, there are cabinets in the kitchen full of ceramic plates with a fine blue etching under the glaze, in a classic font saying "Centenary UM." As a traveling preacher who occasionally ends up looking for a cup or spoon, I know that such dinnerware is not hard to find in most churches around the Midwest, but I also know it gets rarely used.


Am I volunteering to wash dishes, I can hear some older (women) folk ask, who remember quite well having to stay long past the end of every food-based gathering, hand washing and drying the cutlery and putting it all up in the cupboards?


I can claim truthfully that I have, and I would, but it's not as simple as that.  Hygiene issues, impaired immune systems, all kinds of factors drive us towards disposability. Even bringing our own "pitch-in plates" from home, the kind that let you take a really big pile of potato casserole and broccoli salad, is a complication that people simply look at differently.


But what would it take to make a point of, once in a while, using that which is not disposable for a church dinner? You won't change the climate or save a koala bear with it, but how many ways might our thinking, even our hearts, be changed by getting those blue edged plates out, or carrying home our dirty dishes that can be reused?


Which would probably be in a plastic bag that you can't recycle after getting food goo all over it. So you'd have to hot rinse everything, which takes energy, too  . . .


Many angles to this question, but for believers, and particularly Christians, I wonder how often we think about the symbolic meaning of our common meals and our stewardship of the earth, right down to the stuff we're eating there and where it comes from.


Tell me about how your church talks about this, would you?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; contact him at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Notes From My Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel

Jeff Gill


Twelve Years Old In Granville – 1850




The fortress was impregnable, of that they were all certain.


Perched on a spur of Prospect Hill, glowering over towards Mount Parnassus, the walls had steadily risen, lunch hour by lunch hour, during this last week of nightly snow and bright sunny (if frigid) days.


The boys of the upper form in the village school house said to each other that they were no colder out on the hillside, looking over Granville, than they were inside the gloomy brick chambers of the aged structure that peered south down the Lancaster Road.


Even the face of the sun, they said, the one carved into the keystone over the central arch of the lower market level, looked pinched with cold. They were happy to hoot past his stony, warmthless gaze, running outside after flying down the stairs from the third floor (the youngest scholars being on the second), and clambering along the hillside, working up behind the row of homes they now looked down the chimneys of.


Their mothers had called out "Dinner is ready!" over and over, echoing across the snowdrifts and backyards, finally giving up and eating their own luncheons in peace and quiet. Their boys would rather play than eat, and it wasn't as if they had anywhere else to get a bite before supper and bed.


Today, though, would be different. The week was ending, and while all the town could see their commanding location, that included the sworn foes of the public school lads: their counterparts enrolled at the Academy. Each considered the other faction beneath their notice, and either could not stop noticing the others' antics.


All week, the young men of the Academy on Elm Street looked up at Prospect Hill during their all too short (as they saw it) dinner break, and they had been planning.


No sooner had the dinner hour been declared than the Academy boys trotted quietly, but in a body, along Elm over to Pearl, then up the road until they were even with the heights the public school lads had fortified.


They worked their way along the slope on the east, just as the builders had side-stepped from the west to begin their redoubt. A fusillade of snowballs announced the public opening of hostilities, with the winner being the final resident of the fortress.


Flocks of flying snowballs all at once pelted the interior of the icy enclosure, and sharpshooters kept up a more targeted spatter of individual shots.


A rush of bodies from below, and the Academy crew suddenly filled the embrasures and opening, vaulting into the sacred precincts themselves. Those who built this stronghold were soon cruelly forced to retreat, under fire, uphill.


This state of affairs did not last long. The public boys plotted behind a handy hickory close to the brow of Prospect Hill, and shortly they charged down in two files, attacking with pockets filled by pre-made snow (or ice) balls.


Their pincer assault was not only successful, but continued on down the hill. Volley by volley the public school lads pressed their social so-called betters back, step by step, until they made their final stand on the public square itself.


One o'clock, then two o'clock passed, with even the teachers as well as the parents watching with smiles that almost seemed to indicate approval.


By three o'clock, the lack of lunch, the presence of ice fragments within the snowy spheres, and general weariness began to slow down everyone. Suddenly, as if by a prearranged plan, a number of parents and pastors emerged from behind the broader tree trunks nearby, and declared "a truce." The occasional bloody cheek or brow bore witness to the prudence of this enforced diplomacy.


Four hours of snowball warfare may have seemed too short to some, but it was as long as such an epic could unfurl, for a crowd of twelve year olds who really needed to get home and help get ready for supper.


(This is the fifth of a series of stories, each called "Twelve Years Old in Granville." Some will be based in fact, as with this tale of the greatest snowball fight the village had ever seen, from Bushnell's "History"; others will require a bit more creative guesswork and imagining. I hope you find them all informative and intriguing.)


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

Knapsack 11-4

Notes From My Knapsack 11-4-10

Jeff Gill


Twelve Years Old In Granville – 1839



When the three of them had decided to head home after a long morning of fishing in Raccoon Creek, two went up to the town spring on the back side of Sugar Loaf, and one took off across the lower slope to cut up through the Burying Ground.


There was a creek that looped behind the tombstones, and he hoped to mess around a bit there rather than end up stuck inside churning butter until his arms ached. His older sister was spinning yarn off their neighbor's sheep, and Uncle Frank was sure to have brought by a crock or two of rich fresh cream and a jug of milk as he passed through town from grandfather's farm on Loudon Street down towards the woolen mill at the end of Clouse's lane. Any pair of hands that passed the kitchen door were likely to end up wrapped around a churn handle, and he didn't want those to be his.


So he swung around the wall and up angling through the cemetery, until he saw someone sitting at the base of a young, but fast growing oak tree just at the crest of the slope.


"Good day, sir," the boy said, touching the brim of his straw hat.


"Good day to you, young sir," answered the man, who was anything but young himself.


"Are you well, sir?" asked the youth.


"It is kind of you to ask. My soul is well, my heart is heavy, and the years weigh me down, but it is all to the good."


At twelve, he didn't quite know how to answer that, but a thought did occur to him.


"Are you Mister Benjamin? They say you are a hundred years old."


"That I am, all of that and a year more. How old are you?"


"I am just twelve years old, myself."


"Do you know, when I was not much older than you, I was fighting alongside the British in the French and Indian War?"


"That I had heard, sir, and that you were in the Continental Army during the Revolution?"


"As a sergeant, indeed I was. And then a pioneer, and now an old man sitting under a tree."


His new friend considered this, and felt secure enough in the confidence shown him to say "Most people say you keep to yourself out at your place on Ramp Creek and talk to no one."


The weathered face creased with a small but distinct smile, and he replied "But I am speaking to you, am I not?"


"Yes, sir."


"I speak when something needs to be said. There is much said in this world that could easily be done without. And I come here to talk to my wife, Margaret," he said gesturing to a stone rising out of the grass just beyond the old man's feet, "and my daughters," pointing both up and down the hill in turn.


"I didn't mean to interrupt you, sir," nodded the young man. "Not at all," was the ancient's reply; "you may sit down and join me." As he did so, Benjamin added, "You're sitting on my grave."


Since his own elderly relatives often spoke this way, he merely nodded, and went on to ask if Mr. Benjamin had ever seen George Washington. They sat and talked until long after the last of the butter had been drawn from the churn.


(This is the third of a series of stories, each called "Twelve Years Old in Granville." Some will be based in fact, as with Jonathan Benjamin, who died at 103 on Aug. 26, 1841, and others will require a bit more creative guesswork and imagining. I hope you find them all informative and intriguing.)


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

Notes From My Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel

Jeff Gill


Twelve Years Old In Granville – 1841




Jane knew that her mother didn't want her near any crowds, not after the last year.


Even adults here in Granville had been pulling pranks and doing tricks on each other, since the huge rallies for Tippecanoe and Old Kinderhook, Harrison and Van Buren, had so riled up all the Whigs and Democrats.


Horses lost their tails, and well-aged eggs flew when crowds pushed close, protecting the names of people who would never want to be seen clearly doing such mischief. It had gotten so bad, when the Whigs announced their nomination of the Hero of Tippecanoe for the presidency, that young women had to fear for getting jostled and bumped on the street, even if only by accident.


But last fall Jane had climbed out onto the roof of the buttery that extended from the house below her bedroom window, and swung down the branches of the maple tree out back, so she could walk up Bowery and down to a vantage point where she could see the Grand Illumination: all of Broadway and most of the streets adjoining were lit with candles in every window. Trundling along, pulled by cheering young men of the Literary and Theological Institution, were carts with broad sheets of parchment nailed to staves along the outer edges, and a row of oil lamps inside projecting profiles and puppets in sharp black outline onto the warm brown panels.


Every window was lit, except in a few houses known to support the Sage of Kinderhook, president for the last four years. Some of those houses lost panes to thrown hickory nuts, to the general disapproval of all but the most political in the village.


Now Mr. Harrison had been elected, had died after a month, and Mr. Tyler was sworn in, of whom it was now realized: he came from Virginia. The slavery question flared all the brighter, as both sides suspected the other of ill-dealing, and no one asked the slaves what they thought.


The Atwell house had never seen a slave, but people from the South would occasionally pass through with their African servants, exciting no little discussion. What had Jane sneaking out the back fence and down Pearl to Elm Street and over was a loud discussion in the Academy building, one you could hear blocks away.


Crossing the Lancaster Road, she saw the crowd of men in profile, like the illumination, inside against the windows, and a larger crowd outside, the boys clambering up on the sides of a sea of wagons nearby, trying to see in.


Then suddenly, there was a stir throughout the crowd, a silence within that spread without, and then dimly, from inside, a loud voice calling "There'll be no shackles here! Make way for Liberty."


In silhouette she saw a man being lifted up and passed over the heads of the crowd inside, a few hands reaching for him and being beaten back. Then the actual person, a black man, came feet first out the top of the door, and was gently set on the ground.


Mr. Hillyer she knew, and he pushed through the crowd at the door leading two horses; he leapt on one after helping the African fellow onto the other, and together they galloped up to the Broadway crossing, disappearing to the west beyond Sugar Loaf.


She was glad she had snuck out again, but marveled at what she had seen; heading home, it occurred to her that she couldn't, this time, ask her mother to explain it all.



(This is the fourth of a series of stories, each called "Twelve Years Old in Granville." Some will be based in fact, as with the slave John, who escaped after a habeas corpus hearing in the Old Academy Building in 1841; others will require a bit more creative guesswork and imagining. I hope you find them all informative and intriguing.)


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

Knapsack 10-21

Notes From My Knapsack 10-21-10

Jeff Gill


Twelve Years Old In Granville – 1833



She felt, rather than heard the rumble of feet through the frame of the house itself. Her sister slept, just six years old, in the bed across the loft from her, and their three month old brother was gurgling downstairs in the corner of their parents' room, closer to the hearth and the last glowing embers of the evening fire.


Living in a fairly new frame house, you could tell without even opening your eyes if someone had on their boots, or was padding about in their wool stockings. The vibrations traveled across the floor planking, into the wall joists and up to the loft, along the puncheon floor, up the lathe-turned legs and through the cords that wound under the ticksack mattress.


It was full dark outside this November night, but there was a glow, coming and going oddly through the heavy, rippled glass of the one window at the gable end. Late as it was, to feel booted feet walking about downstairs was unusual, so she slipped on her shift and moved over to the head of the steep ladder down.


There was a creak of the door hinges, and a chill draft blowing up from below, then a distant sound of muttering voices, punctuated by the baby's muted cries. She turned, and slid down the ladder, catching the last wide rung with her bare feet and stepping down gently to the floor.


Her mother was not in bed, either, but standing near the front window, which had a set of city glass panes which were thinner and more transparent.


"What's going on, Mother?" the girl asked.


Mother jumped, then strode over to where her daughter stood and wrapped an arm around her tightly.


"The world is ending, dear; we must be brave."


Even for a twelve year old, accustomed to the oddity of adult conversation, this was strange, but not as terrifying as it might seem. She had been worrying that the strange lights outside were a neighboring house with a chimney fire, as so often happened, endangering their own snug home. Somehow, the world ending didn't sound quite as bad.


"How do you mean?" Before the older woman could form an answer, the door swung open again, and Father stood there, shaking his head.


"That fool Humphrey boy is just laying out there in the Broadway watching the show; he's going to get himself run over by a farmer coming home late." As he spoke, the church bell downtown began to ring steadily.


"Is it the . . ." the girl began to ask.


"No, darling," he answered, his glance taking in both wife and daughter with the endearment. "The Good Lord Almighty seems to be having us on a bit, for his own purposes."


The three of them walked out on the front step, and before looking up, saw that lamps were flickering into life through windows all along Elm Street, and people, mostly barefoot, stood outside as they did.


Above, the skies were filled with streaks of fire, bursts of golden-orange light shooting from a common point overhead, burning to the horizon in all directions. They were mostly all the same, and each one different.


Except to go in and pull on stockings, and check the baby, they sat there all night, until dawn overwhelmed the still flaring falling stars. "We may never know what that was, but it was surely glorious," said Father as the sun rose, and Mother went back inside to make them all a hot breakfast.


(This is the second of a series of stories, each called "Twelve Years Old in Granville." Some will be based in fact, as in the "Night the Stars Fell" on Nov. 12, 1833, and others will require a bit more creative guesswork and imagining. I hope you find them all informative and intriguing.)


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

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Notes From My Knapsack 10-7-10

Jeff Gill


Twelve Years Old In Granville – 1809



His father's funeral was a solemn affair, with mother and two sisters weeping nearby. The Rose brothers offered to dig the grave for the Averys, which was a blessing, but the nine year old son insisted on helping.


He was a strong boy, big for his age, and he'd have to be mature beyond his years to figure out how to support the four of them now.


That all began in 1806, and now at twelve he and his father's axe had been contracted to clear a parcel of land out on the edge of the village, one tree at a time.


Mother feared that he had gotten the job out of pity, and Alfred wryly asked what difference that made if he could do the work and got the pay from it?


The landowner had stopped him on Broadway and asked if he would do it, "could he" not really being the question after two winters' worth of firewood chopping since father's death. The pay would see them through another winter, and a bit more besides which could go towards buying some goods from the East, to sell here in the wilds of the Northwest as it still was, statehood or no.


They'd met out east of town to organize this area as a county last year, holding the first court sessions under a tree. It still stood, but many trees had fallen to build Licking County in the last year, and Alfred was ready to do his part.


He'd been ready to do his part to help father, as well as mother and his sisters, when he was just eight and they'd all left Granville, Massachusetts to come here alongside Raccoon Creek. They were more from the Connecticut side of the border, with many well-to-do family members still in that state, but father felt that his chances for success were greater out on the frontier, than in the more crowded bucket full of frogs back in New England. Father felt that out here, a man might stand out, without being overshadowed by any other man standing nearby.


Father had fought bravely in the Revolution under General Wayne, helping carry the day during the night attack on Stony Point, the battle that saved West Point (no thanks to Benedict Arnold). He had survived much, but his sudden death not a year after they came to Ohio left all his dreams of security and wealth in the hands of his son, along with an axe.


Walking out beyond the edge of the village, Alfred came to where two rough-cut stakes were placed along the road, a ragged bit of calico fluttering on the ends. Between these stakes, and a hundred and fifty paces straight back from the road, he was to cut down, segment, split, and quarter every tree, piling the cords where the owner's wagon could trundle by and pick them up on the way back into town from Newark.


Could he do it? Alfred Avery thought so. He spat on his hands, took up a firm grip on his axe (his father's axe), and walked up to the first tree. Then he swung.


(This is the first of a series of stories, each called "Twelve Years Old in Granville." Some will be based in fact, as in the earliest days of Alfred Avery, builder of the Avery-Downer House in 1842, and others will require a bit more creative guesswork and imagining. I hope you find them all informative and intriguing.)


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