Friday, July 22, 2011

Knapsack 7-28

Notes From My Knapsack 7-28-11

Jeff Gill


Some Things Change, Some Things Don't



This week our local Boy Scout Troop is off to summer camp. Huzzah for Troop 65 and Granville Kiwanis, their chartering organization!


There's a number of images that some of us might have about what BSA camping looks like, but if you've not been involved for years, or only have some loose, media-related scenes in mind, you may have the wrong picture.


My troop loaded up on an old school bus, a not uncommon way for Scouts to roll into camp in the 1970's. Troop buses, sadly, with their distinctive paint schemes and refurbished back ends with shelving and racks for gear, are a thing of the past: even the most well-funded troop can't afford the liability insurance, and they've almost all been retired across the country from sheer practicality.


Ask today's adult leaders if they miss the adventure of looking for a part on an antiquated school bus from a breakdown that always happens in a wonderfully awkward situation. Not so much.


What you may envision is a group of lads trekking into wilderness, chopping down trees and building their entire site out of lashings right down to the latrine – if they don't get picturesquely lost as do most pseudo-Scout groups in movies.


"Leave no trace" has been the watchword for some years in the BSA, actually, and long-term (five or six night) camping, while an annual part of every troop's outdoor program, is either at a Scout camp like Licking County's own Camp Falling Rock, a Scout reservation in a nearby state, or a high adventure program around the country like Philmont, which is a whole different proposition (and another column).


So not only are the young men of T-65 going to an established camp with a summer staff and designated troop camp sites, even latrines are changing. Groundwater regulation means that the old pit KYBO's are being phased out in many areas, while composting toilets are more and more common. (The legend is that many early Scout camps used coffee cans from the Kybo brand, hence the name sticking to the outdoor outhouses and "kybo tape" being…you guessed it. Now they say it's an acronym for "keep your bowels open," but you know "the rest of the story.")


Adult leadership for our 34 Scouts will be five Scouters; each troop brings their own unit leadership, while the total camp of some 300 has a site staff of 35-40 for dining hall, program areas, aquatics/lifeguards, etc.


Every adult present at a residential camp has to go through what's called "Youth Protection Training," an excellent program that can be done online and must be repeated every two years. There is additional training for various unit roles, let alone for summer camp staff.


Plus each youth & adult must have a physical form (three pages, lots of detail along with a copy of the insurance card), and then there's the "tour permit," a document that is filed with the council office as to the insurance and safety status of each driver. We're going into Pennsylvania this year, so a tour permit out of county is absolutely mandatory.


For all the modern trapping of paperwork and safety, the Scouts will still swim and canoe in a lake, sleep in tents (even if made of space-age fabric and not mildewy canvas), build fires (in approved locations), and burn food which will be eaten enthusiastically. Much has changed, and yet much is still what Baden-Powell and twenty-two British boys did on Brownsea Island in the summer of 1907.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 65. Tell him your camping tale at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faith Works 7-30

Faith Works 7-30-11

Jeff Gill


Now is the acceptable time




Less than 150 days away.


No one will thank me for pointing this out, I know.


Christmas is less than 150 days ahead, and every so often I like to mention that in July or so, because if you're going to get a grip on the ears of this rough beast and turn it, like the young boy riding the tiger, you need to start now.


If you are perfectly content with how you and your household celebrate Christmas, in d├ęcor or gifts or traditions, you may feel free to skip ahead to the ads or the Sports section, and congratulations. . . I think.


For many, there's a growing discontent through November and December, sometimes erupting earlier in September when the first decorations show up in stores. We don't quite like how we're celebrating the occasion, not just in "the culture" (whatever that is) or at church, but in our own lives: the area we should be able to best control, and yet end up feeling most out of control there, at home.


July & August, pastors and church leaders know, is when the mold is carved, when the ingredients are mixed, when all but the final coat of paint is applied. Cantata music is picked and ordered, pageant scripts are considered, costume parts and craft elements are hunted down like a nimrod looking for his wild boar in the woods for the wassail feast.


In a more inobtrusive way, we're doing that as we start to idly think, while browsing catalogs or strolling past storefronts, "Hey, I'll bet Millie would like that for Christmas." And so the rut begins to be worn.


Before the rut goes so deep the wagon can't turn, how do you get control of the applecart? Tomorrow I get the chance to preach on this, at least a bit, at Centenary UMC in Granville (8, 9:20, & 11, thanks for asking), and I have some suggestions that are relatively painless and potentially productive. You don't have to swear off all gifts, all decorations, every party, just to get your seasonal celebration back on track.


There's the ever-popular "remember that Jesus is the reason for the season," but there's two problems with that approach to redeeming Christmas cheer. One is, it doesn't work very well. Years of putting that slogan on bumper stickers and bookmarks make it clear that it works for those for whom it already works, and just puts a cherry top of guilt on the whole teetering pile of non-Jesus-y Christmas stuff. Or to put it another way, if it was going to work, we'd see it by now.


The other problem with "Jesus – the reason for the season" is that, as Christians (I'm talking to us'ns, now), we know that Jesus is the reason for every season, and should be celebrated as having entered our world and our lowly estate on every day. Lots of Christmas season sermons remind us of exactly that; Jesus was born that we might live, and that's gift, pure and simple.


So why celebrate Christmas at all? Is making it "a day" let alone "a season" actually a problem in and of itself? It can be, but not necessarily. Our Puritan forebearers suspected it was going to end up like this, and if you read the early Licking County histories (before the return of Civil War veterans with those wacky trees they wanted to put in the parlor, like the fellows in Siegel's regiment had in their camp) – there were basically no Dec. 25 celebrations to speak of here in the early 1800's, other than among German Catholics, and even that was low key.


Most of what we call Christmas celebration is less Christian than it is a cultural acknowledgement that winter is hard, and long dark nights are depressing, and we need some feasting and lights and gift-giving just to get through it. When you start to separate out the purely cultural from the faithful, it gets a bit easier to figure out what you must do from what you want to do . . . and then sort out what you have to do, or if you do a'tall.


Sort it out from your angle, but start sorting now: what kind of Christmas do you want those around you to remember in years to come? Making memories is a perfectly reasonable frame to put around your own picture of that baby in his manger.


Just don't let the frame overwhelm the portrait you're putting on display for others to see. If they only see the frame, it's the wrong choice!


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

Faith Works 7-23

Faith Works 7-23-11

Jeff Gill


What is familiar may not be reassuring




On vacation last week, my family went to church. No shock there, I trust.


This is something I regularly commend to anyone who will listen: I've heard marvelous feedback from young people and seniors alike over the years, in parish ministry and through this column, in how one's own experience of worship is seen afresh by way of going to a service where you're a stranger.


What's different, even in small ways, can help us get to grips with what's important. We've got that well-known travel writer Soren Kierkegaard to remind us that worship is fundamentally conducted for an audience of one, that is, God (not a program put on for the benefit of the congregation).


When we go to a different service, we don't have any reason to expect things to be the way we're used to, or oriented around our tastes, and when those experiences are subverted, we can get a bit more real about how we tend to want worship to focus on us, not God.


On the other hand, we need a service that helps us focus on God, so our choices and responses are part of the picture.


Our experience last week, though, surprised me in a way that doubles back on these questions. We were in a tourist-oriented, resort-ish community, with a very young demographic on the streets and behind the counters, but probably an older skew if you came back in February. Either way, the surprise in the service was . . . how unsurprising it was.


From the moment we stepped off the sidewalk through the red doors, there was nothing unfamiliar at all. Granted, we were in a neighboring Midwestern state, even if it was a long drive away and there were large boats down the block with masts higher than the steeple. It was a mainline Protestant denomination with which we're familiar, and there was much that would have led you to assume most of what made up the service.


But it was just striking how we could have been sitting in a pew, singing these songs, looking at the make-up of the parishoners around us, anywhere right here in Licking County. Drop this church in Kirkersville, St. Louisville, or out towards Croton, and they would have fit right in, let alone if you'd walked out the doors not to fudge shops and beachwear stores, but to Perry or Knox Counties.


There's something very comforting and (duh) familiar about singing "How Great Thou Art" or "In the Garden" when far from home, and the prayer time joys and concerns, with a few names changed, are almost certainly the ones you would have heard along Rt. 13 or down Church St. in Newark.


Yet the question I think we could ask is: why? Why would an order of worship, and even more so the style of worship, be so identical, across eight hours of driving or four decades of churchgoing? And how is that working for us?


To which many sigh wearily, and reply "so the answer to share the gospel is to do everything differently? And if so, how often do we have to change? And to what, exactly?"


Actually, not at all. What I think the problem is has to do with not so much our worship patterns, but our understanding of what church is for, let alone worship. If a church is doing mission that is deeply engaged with their local context, and that missional life is woven through the entire life of the church, then it won't be a question of conformity to culture, but a healthy interchange from the everyday work of the church back into the worship life itself.


I think of a Franciscan parish among the Navajo/Dineh people, where the art and images of the culture were shaded into the familiar stations of the cross and window art. There's a community center down in Buckeye Lake where lighthouses and lake scenes that tie directly into Bible stories fill the worship space. A church plant we occasionally visit when in a suburban area where we have family has literally built its sanctuary into an office park, the horizontal lines of the space echoing the area in a way that reaches out and embraces the world where they are called to serve.


What have you seen while worshiping on the road, whether familiar or unexpected, or even unexpectedly familiar? And what does it say to you about worship?


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