Friday, May 16, 2014

Knapsack 5-22-14

Notes from my knapsack 5-22-14

Jeff Gill


The graduation season



We just had commencement addresses this past week at Denison here in the village, and up the road at Kenyon; the news out of Columbus let us know what was said at Ohio State's spring graduation ceremonies in the Horseshoe.


Next, high school grads here in Brigadoon and in communities and school districts all around will be marching across stages after having heard some salutary words from esteemed fellow students and school board members and the occasional local dignitary.


That's a large amount of advice to wedge into one season, floating out above the heads of the gathered graduates and families, drifting in snatches and soundbites into the media ether, and as a regular columnist who is often asked to share opinions and perspectives, this time of year leaves a scrivener like myself two options: I can avoid the topic altogether, or chime in as if someone's asked me to pile on.


Yep, pile on it is!


Graduates of all sorts, I do believe I have some useful advice to share. It's not meant to contradict any graduation counsel you're hearing from other better qualified speakers, and I trust will complement their guidance. They will tell you, variously, to follow your dreams, do what you love, give your best, and marvel at "Oh, the places you'll go," and that's all worth taking into consideration.


I'd just like to add: pick your extra-curriculars as carefully as you do your classes.


This isn't about your social life, per se; I'm not talking about deciding which party to attend on weekends (or, perish forbid, weeknights). I'm asking you to think about your chess clubs, your intramural teams, your bands and bell choirs and campus ministries, your honoraries and yes, in part, your Greek organizations too.


Obviously, this is more aimed at high school grads heading to college than post-secondary commencements, but not entirely. If you spent college spending your non-classroom time just on a random cycle of parties and shopping and TV viewing, it's not too late to adopt a menu of extra-curricular activities, although in whatever community you're moving to after the diploma, it's called "life" now.


Taking a language is important, and becoming math literate as well as being exposed to the Western Canon along with the Voices of the Oppressed is all part of a solid core, whether you're a humanities major or a science and engineering scholar. You need to get bang for your educational buck, and there are lists for your major along with academic counselors to speak to about all this. Academics are Job One in college, no doubt.


But your extracurricular involvements are where you are likely to meet people you'll stay in touch with your whole life, not the row of people you sit next to in Accounting 200; the skills and activities in those clubs and scheduled events you freely choose to get into are ones you are much more likely to be using in your forties and fifties than tensor analysis or the anatomy of melancholy.


That doesn't mean all of formal education has to seem relevant, and always serve you in a practical manner. It's a network of knowledge all its own, right down to quadratic equations and the social structures of revolutionary movements. But to play a musical instrument, to speak in public with comfort and even style, to walk in the woods and know something about the plants you pass by . . . you'll keep doing that.


And those student societies whose busy work can, with a small amount of ironic detachment, seem so meaningless and frivolous itself . . . you learn there more than in classroom projects the give and take and internal negotiations that you'll use in understanding everything from the PTO to your homeowner's association someday.


Choose your extra-curriculars with care and attention. You are almost certainly starting involvements that will stay with you all the days of your life.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still glad he decided to get involved in a campus ministry at college 33 years ago. Ask him why at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Faith Works 5-17-14

Faith Works 5-17-14

Jeff Gill


Where the world's attention is turned



In Nigeria, some 276 girls have been kidnapped.


You've probably heard about this by now, and perhaps good news about their location and circumstances have reached us here in Ohio by the time this is in print. Or it may be that more dire information will make it out of the backcountry where they are being held by Islamist militants of the "Boko Haram" brand (they don't seem to be an organization as much as an ideology).


More likely, we'll still know nothing.


In an era when we can get breaking news from cellphone video on the "cat attacks dog" front, there are still vast areas of the globe, and of human life, where we don't know much. We're accustomed to knowing everything and anything when and how we want it, assuming we know how to spell some search terms for it.


At the same time, we worry out loud about privacy . . . and then wonder who's listening. Data mining and encryption security and federal collection of connectivity information are both part of the world of transparency and the deep shadows of the security state.


Which is where, ironically, drones come into the picture.


Many have protested, including in not a few religious bodies' general meetings last summer and no doubt more of them this summer, about the use of drones in our wars and assassinations around the world. Collateral damage and authority to use force mingle with the simple, unforeseen strike in the public debate, even as pilots in Nevada take out suspected terrorists with a satellite connection and a single keystroke.


How can such a system be governed appropriately? The military assures us there are protocols and procedures that ensure that the fatal keystroke is executed only when the level of certainty and the justification for such an act are carefully coordinated. Rogue drone pilots are simply not possible, nor are free-fire zones from the sky. Perhaps.


But then we encounter an area of darkness, one of these zones of ignorance and impotence for a nation, for an audience. Where are the girls, why can't we find them, what can we do to rescue them?


And what we seem to want in such a time are drones, and special forces, and all the powers and principal actors that in quieter hours we want to see under careful control and carefully delimited authority. We don't want drones everywhere, except when we do; we don't want governments to see everywhere or be able to project lethal force anytime, except when we've decided that in this particular case, we should.


The problematic nature of that formulation is obvious, but it's not new. We want a military that is strong, but under civilian control; police who are there when we need them, and we don't need them noticing when we are in a hurry in a "Strict Enforcement" zone. It's a tension we're all used to.


The bigger contradiction here is that we're currently deeply, and sincerely concerned, willing to see some edges blurred and boundaries crossed, because we're aware of 276 or so girls who have clearly been the victims of cruelty and injustice.


Then we hear about a slightly older woman sentenced to hang for being a Christian in nearby Sudan. Shall we send a drone to blow up the gallows before they can execute sentence? She has three days to recant, we're told.


And what about that other group of 200 plus girls subjected to violent oppression in . . . well, that's the thing. What about the situation we haven't heard about? That isn't in a media spotlight? It could be in Zimbabwe, or Indonesia. Sex trafficking and forcible marriage: who do we need to bomb, again? Which international signal eavesdropping should we exert to listen in on movements of women in northern Myanmar or southern Thailand, and do we need special forces to break up those rings?


Or should we send a SEAL team to Toledo, Ohio? Okay, that's ridiculous I know. We have laws about the use of armed troops within the United States. But how many girls misused and abused have to be gathered together before we're ready to break laws to make justice?


I don't know what we need to do in Nigeria. Not. A. Clue. But we should ask ourselves where the impulses of faith and the challenges of ethical standards can and should shape our global understandings, and the power we want to put behind them.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; send him your solution for world peace at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.