Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Faith Works 8-2-14

Faith Works 8-2-14

Jeff Gill


Tradition is a poor excuse for stupid (or stupidity)



Much ink has been spilled, actual and virtual, over the public report about the Ohio State marching band's history, and the most recent director's role in trying to shape and change that history.


This space is generally reserved for a look at matters that most broadly consider how faith and morals relate to the lives of today's Licking Countians. We often have pastor's columns where any faith community leader is welcome to share their own very specific viewpoints, socially or doctrinally, and the Advocate runs features about particular programs or campaigns run by (usually) congregations or para-church bodies.


To say that Ohio State football is a religion is to make a joke that people almost laugh at. Matters of scarlet and grey, issues relating to cheerleaders and boosters and yes, the marching band, can carry a weight in the community and a central place in people's lives that looks all too much like a secular faith system, with worship on Saturdays in the Most Holy Place.


So talking about TBDBITL is to be on the fringes of faith & piety for Buckeye Nation. And that's part of where I want to go, but really I'm thinking about our common interests in essential beliefs and bedrock convictions far beyond football. This column is concerned with faith and morals, and how you go about raising up a generation from the innocence of youth to meaningful, constructive adulthood is always going to be at the heart of our civic culture.


In years past, over the last few decades, there's been an uneasy sea change around something often called "initiation." There's always been and always will be "paying your dues" and sometimes that means being the junior apprentice and having to go get well water for your elders; it can include some good natured and even rough ribbing from the more experienced who send the new guy to the quartermaster's shed to ask for "fifty yards of timberline and three skyhooks," and so on.


Some locations of transition from childhood to autonomy, especially those in that fuzzy zone between high school and full employment that can be college, or the military, or a journeyman program of one sort or another, can be initiations of a different sort. Who buys the round of beer for the team after work, now that you're 21; the first trips to the Gulf coast without parents; et cetera, et cetera.


And there was a stretch of time there, a duration not quite completed, where initiation included some, well, truly stupid stuff. It was always justified as "bonding," as "sealing the ties between us," as "letting you know that you're one of us now." Drinking, often to excess, has been a common feature; the infliction of pain or embarrassment usually played a part; the marking whether temporary or permanent on the body, in the spirit, of your place "within" the group.


I have nothing more than an opinion and a bit of a speculation based on very little data here, but I strongly suspect that we saw an upsurge in truly stupid, not to mention risky initiation behaviors during the 60s & 70s & 80s ("please sir, may I have another") because a generation came up in the shadow of another generation initiated into adulthood by gunfire, by seeing friends next to you die, by walking into death camps and seeing, hearing, smelling just how much of a gap exists between aspects of your humanity and others' inhumanity.


Lacking that, it became more "acceptable" to bring young adults together through trials and tests not so common in eras past, because "hey, at least it isn't going to war." Just don't kill them, and it's okay.


Today, there's a wider sense that bringing people together through nausea, disgust, intoxication, humiliation, and degradation is really not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, those who got through it insist "it's not so bad" and "it was done to me" and mainly "don't be such a killjoy."


Call me killjoy.


There are casualties of such initiations that do not die, but carry marks long through their lives. And actions are justified that have consequences beyond any one Midnight Ramp (optional my left foot). I think Ohio State erred in simply firing the director of the band, and hope he can return, but so he can continue to help that storied fellowship learn there are better ways to be bound together for life than learning to sing about violent sexual imposition in four part harmony.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about killjoys you have known at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Notes from my knapsack 7-31-14

Jeff Gill


Poor Richard in Granville



In 1758, Benjamin Franklin looked back at the run of his noted almanac, and said the following:


"In 1732 I first published my Almanac under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continued by me about twenty-five years, and commonly called Poor Richard's Almanac. I endeavoured to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reaped considerable profit from it…"


By profit, Franklin meant not only financial recompense, but also fame to go with his fortune. And in his retrospective "The Way to Wealth" from which the above quote is taken, he goes on to comment on listening to a public speaker whose talk gleaned most of its observations about life and living from the writing of Franklin's fictional alter ego:


"It would be thought a hard government, that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says."


Along College Street, between lower and upper campuses of Denison University, we've been looking at the four inscriptions paired onto two gates, part of a summer-long consideration of public quotes seen around Granville. We've already thought about the two closer to downtown near Burke & Cleveland Halls, and now we're on down to where Plum turns into Burg Street heading uphill.


If you're on foot uphill there, you pass between our last two 1904 gateway quotes, one of which being:


"Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of"


So we've gone from Longfellow and St. Augustine alongside of George Crabbe and his accounting of village life and self-sufficiency, both citations there for the inspiration and motivation of students plugging along from the Fine Arts Quad to the Academic Quad, to a pair of more punchy, even pithy quotes. Franklin, bless him, was always good for a pithy and pertinent quote; he was the model for our later Will Rogers and Mark Twains… Franklin would have LOVED Twitter if he were around today.


As we approach wrapping up this four part segment within our larger narrative about what Granville has found worth carving in stone, we get closer to asking some questions about the person and the process that selected these large, eye-level, dramatic quotations for our ongoing edification.


Pres. Emory Hunt was one of the last clergy to serve as chief officer of Denison (he also held the PhD degree, so he's more often called Dr. Hunt). In 1904, as the layout and landscaping of the campus began to be considered, and the physical and academic connections between the former women's colleges became a fully integrated institution, these gateways became less a dividing line than a sign and symbol of what drew them all together.


How were these four quotes selected, and what do they mean? That, and the author of our fourth gateway quote, will be part of the next installment.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about quotes that mean much to you at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.