Thursday, March 27, 2014

Faith Works 3-29-14

Faith Works 3-29-14

Jeff Gill


On going to church, part one



To start with, I need to introduce you to a friend of mine.


He worked for the Detroit Free Press back in the early decades of the last century, and his name was Edgar A. Guest. He was a journalist and a poet.


Guest wrote a long essay in 1928 entitled "Why I Go To Church." It began uncontroversially, even if his sentiments would not be those of everyone, now or then.


"I go to church and contribute to the support of a church because I believe in churches. I would not care to live in a city or a state or a nation in which there were no churches and no churchgoers."


Guest makes it clear: "I am not a religious fanatic. I have yet to quarrel with a man regarding his choice of a religion, but I would rather have churchgoers for my neighbors than non-churchgoers. . . I am not a regular churchgoer in the sense that I attend every Sunday, rain or shine. I do not believe that God will love all those who go regularly to church, and make outcasts of all those who do not."


As a worshiper, not a pastor, he is utterly candid: "I have been bored in church. I have been annoyed; I have been made angry; I have encountered in church men for whom I had lost all respect; I have heard things uttered in church which have disgusted me; but I have never lost my faith in the purpose of the church, nor in its ministry as a body."


To those who say that they don't see why he or anyone would go back after such disappointments: "Most folks who have been angered by ministers have had to listen to something which they did not like to hear. The same people hear things they don't like in theatres, but they keep right on going to them… They have seen bad baseball and they still go to baseball games. They have drawn bad cards, but they still play bridge... Friends have cheated them, but they still look to friendship for the lasting joys of life..."


Close to the end of his thoughts he hits what, to me, is the compelling point that always weighs heavily in the back of my mind when I'm talking to someone arguing that they don't need the complication, the frustration, the disappointment of what church attendance can bring:


"To say that I don't need the church is mere bravado. I needed it when my father died; I needed it when we were married and when our babies were taken from us, and I shall need it again sooner or later, and need it badly. I am in good health now, and I could, I suppose, get along very nicely for a time without the aid of clergyman, or choir, or even prayer; but what sort of a man is he who scorns and neglects and despises his best friend until his hour of tribulation?"


That is not the only reason, but it is one of the more pragmatic reasons I can point to for why church attendance, and yes, church membership is still important, even (especially) in a day when joining is a click or a "like" and communities so often are more virtual than actual.


Someday, for all of us, there comes a time when you need someone to stand or sit or even kneel with you. In congregations, you will find that. And having found that, I think you can count on finding something or Someone even more necessary… but that's for next week.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him why you go to church (or don't) at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Notes from my knapsack 3-27-14

Notes from my knapsack 3-27-14

Jeff Gill


Reading lists, and knowing lists




Up at the high school, the OGTs, the Ohio graduation tests, have rumbled through the lives of sophomores.


Here at Sycamore Lodge, it would appear the Lad has little or nothing to fear about being barred from graduation in 2016 by Gov. Kasich or any other functionary. It sounds like he passed them all, with relatively little anxiety or concern.


For some, these tests can be terrifying gate-keepers to the future. Not just to those who struggle to pass the material, but for those who find standard testing itself to be a challenge. Some have knowledge, but are challenged to communicate that knowledge in a timed setting, or are brought to the edge of soul-clutching paralysis by fill-in-the-bubble or short essay exercises.


We don't have those concerns, and I'm entirely optimistic about the OGT part of my son's education.


But I'm haunted by an exchange between a father and son in the latter's sophomore year, one I read the first time while I was in about that grade, and a spectre that's back to trouble me some forty years later.


Robert Heinlein, writing in 1957, had his youthful narrator of "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" recount a conversation his dad had with him, which I repeat from the point where Kip realizes that his father is not as thrilled with his education as he'd assumed.


"What's a dangling participle?"

I didn't answer. He went on, "Why did Van Buren fail of re-election? How do you extract the cube root of eighty-seven?"

Van Buren had been a president; that was all I remembered. But I could answer the other one. "If you want a cube root, you look in a table in the back of the book."


Actually, I thought then and still believe that it's a good sign Kip knows Van Buren was a president. And today, can give you a much better way to understand how to extract cube roots (it has to do with factorization, which is all I remember these days).  (It's 4.431, btw.)


The point of Heinlein's little aside in an otherwise fun as well as fact-filled narrative (seriously, you should read the book; it's marketed as a juvenile, or what's called today YA literature, but ignore that and read it for enjoyment and education at any age) is that you should not, as a parent, abdicate your responsibility for not only whether or not your child is doing their homework, but you also have a positive obligation to keep up with what they are learning, and whether that's enough for you.


The bad news for the Lad, and for not a few young people in this neck of the woods, is that no matter how good the Granville Exempted Village Schools are, parents can and should want their kids to learn even more.


Once upon a time, we talked about reading lists, and I've committed that particular sin myself in print. Even if the idea of a "Western canon" is out of date (debatable, but plausible), there are still books one should have a working knowledge of.


But I find myself, as we approach college trips and thoughts about majors, and more to the point, life on one's own, thinking about a "knowing list." What do I want my son to know before he launches out into the world without Mom and Dad close at hand?


How to change a tire, natch; why people from India don't (for the most part) eat cows, yes; what's the deal with Van Buren…. Maybe. We'll see.


I'm starting to compile for these last few years before graduation a "knowing list." Would you mind if I run it past you all? Thanks in advance for your feedback.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think high school grads should know at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.