Thursday, July 16, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 7-23-15

Notes From My Knapsack 7-23-15

Jeff Gill


Which House Do You Live In?



"Oh, so you live in the Btfsplk house?"


Never mind that the Btfsplk family hasn't resided in Granville for decades. That's just how it is.


You may have just built your own house, and been the only occupant. The funny thing is, that probably won't become the "Yourfamily house" until after you move out, or, um . . . anyhow, it won't become that until then.


This is how communities tend to be; we identify locations as much by who or what was once there ("you turn at the place where that red barn used to be") than by what's present now, which oddly is less visible to us than our memories are.


Those memories can be transmitted, even to those of us who came here too late to have many of them. Osmosis or collective unconscious or "it's in the water," however it happens you start to take in where Blackstone's Market was, how Robbie played his pipe organ at 3:00 in the morning, why Oese was proud of her house and Minnie had a thing about kids making noise on the sidewalk.


We all have some sense that there was once a sage atop Mount Parnassus, and that "the Drag" isn't about drag racing, quite. We never knew the livery stables on College or the Chevy dealership on Elm or the bowling alley up above Prospect, but in bits and pieces the knowledge comes to us. Bryants and Sinnets and Spelmans haunt our history, and our buildings, and sometimes our imaginations.


Even the landscape we occupy was once someone else's, and their mounds and worked flint flakes and a few names remind us of their tenancy: Pataskala, Shawnee, Hocking, Mingo.


The demographics of the community are changing, making parts of the future hard to see, harder to predict. That's how the Native peoples felt when the French-Canadian trappers and traders started showing up in this watershed, then the Scots-Irish immigrants and the early pioneers from a place called America, that turned out to be here, too. A New England batch of folks showed up to the mild discomfiture of those from Wales, then the streets of Granville saw Irish-Irish, Italians, Jews and Greeks no longer just a phrase from the Bible but people who lived in the village. Abolition sentiment had to deal with the realities of integration after the Civil War, a seemingly natural shift that historians like James Loewen argue didn't go well at all.


And now we have Donald Trump sounding the alarm over yet another demographic wave surging up towards places like Granville, that has always been the way it is now. Except of course it has not. We are the current occupants of our homes, of these streets, of this place, but we will not be here forever, nor will the next generation necessarily be our own descendants. Ask the Indians, the Welsh, even those first families of 1805.


Those of us with a religious bent would say it's all a reminder this world is not our home, just a place we're passing through on pilgrimage; a more secular and materialist perspective might seek the lyricism of the idea that we're made of star-stuff, carbon born in the heart of stars, and fated to return to the combustion of a Sun gone nova in the fullness of billions of years hence.


For now, our job is to welcome our new neighbors, tell them who lived there before as best we know, and work on the story one chapter, one page at a time. The ending will take care of itself.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him who used to live where you do now at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Faith Works 7-18-15

Faith Works 7-18-15

Jeff Gill


A Family Reunion Writ Large



Today my religious tradition, the denomination known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), begins a five day event in Columbus we call a General Assembly.


It's "General" and not national, because we are a church that has members in both the United States and Canada; it's an "Assembly" because it's not a legislative conference or session as some communions have.


We hold them every two years, but we've held them annually in the past, and there've been gaps in the sequence when major events (Depressions, wars) interrupted, and we're having a debate right now about whether we should shift to every three or four. So the frequency isn't sacred.


What's important about the General Assembly, in my tradition, is that it's more a family reunion than a business session. Anyone can come, and registration fees aside, there are business sessions and the occasional vote where we have to check and see who is a voting representative for a congregation and who isn't, but not often. Every congregation gets at least a couple of votes, some as many as a half dozen, and all clergy in good standing (including retired) get to vote. So even the voting part is, well, kind of sloppy. We don't vote on doctrine or beliefs, anyhow, more on polity (which is structure, more or less) and procedure.


We had a slow motion split, in what's known to scholars and some theologians as the "Restoration Movement,"  between 1927 and 1968, creating an even more independent wing of that movement which holds the North American Christian Convention (NACC). They vote on even less than we do, but you'll note they avoid the term "national" as well, and I've been to their gatherings, and it's more of a family reunion than a business session, too.


They have also seen, while being more traditional and conservative than my wing of the movement, a decline in attendance. The NACC used to have 30,000 each summer, and now they struggle to get 6,000; the Disciples of Christ gathering every two years as a General Assembly is just nudging past 4,000 in registrations for this week, but we had over 11,000 when I first attended them almost thirty years ago.


Mass gatherings in convention centers are becoming less, well, exciting. Not so long ago, it was an honor to be asked to go attend one of these; now, it's more "who would go for us?" and generally you're asked to float most of the cost yourself, which with hotel and parking and meals, let alone assembly registration, can quickly pass a thousand dollars and more. That's a large amount of money for the dubious privilege of having a vote in a business session that doesn't actually vote on much.


But then there's the reality of face-to-face meetings with peers, with seniors who have been leaders of days past, and young people who will lead us in the future. There's singing with four and five thousand and more in unison, or even in harmony, and communion as a congregation writ larger than most of us will experience anywhere, ever.


What's to become of General Assemblies? I'm not sure. I'd hate to see them vanish altogether. They will probably keep costing more (sigh) and they'll probably happen less often (double sigh), but they will also keep happening in some form (long sigh).


We're hoping, at Newark's Central Christian Church, to host a hatful of guests tomorrow who trek over from Columbus, having traveled from around the United States and Canada to be here in central Ohio. There will be services each evening with communion in the convention center, after some strong preaching and deep searching of Scripture and Tradition, right through Wednesday evening.


What will this event look like in two and four more years? We don't know, like so many other transitions taking place right around us in America these days. But I hope to be there to see it, and see the others of my tradition who rejoice in the Lord as Disciples of Christ.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's having some fun helping put on this year's General Assembly in Columbus. Tell him what you think about church meetings at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.