Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Faith Works 8-22-15

Faith Works 8-22-15

Jeff Gill


Sex, violence, and good news

Perhaps this venue isn't the best place to say this, but there's very little good news in the news these days.

Now, in what era couldn't you say that? There will always be "wars and rumors of wars" in this world, and the problem newspapers and now websites have is that, while we say we want good news, in fact if you put a wreck with blood on the pavement and a hand out the window on the front page, that's going to sell (or click) a three times the rate, or more, than a cover photo of a sweet little girl with a basket of puppies. It's been tested over and over, and the fact is we say we want one thing, but we buy another.

And the news business responds, as all businesses must.

In our more liberated age, you have the added complication of sex. Yes, sex. By the way, if you put the word sex three times in a piece, it gets much more search engine attention. Advocate editors, you're welcome.

But it's true: if you can find a plausible way to put the word sex in a headline it's going to get more attention from readers, more clicks and follows and reposts, so you see a great deal more of it. Even when it's "Experts debate the sex of the next royal baby" or "Insects who change sex between seasons" the attention follows.

Violence, sex, and death . . . the obituaries still get lots of traffic, too. Even if that's just some of us checking each morning to see if our name is listed there, so we know whether to put our shoes on or not.

Is that all we care about? Is bad news, and salacious information, and titillation of the senses the only good we pursue?

Actually, I think there's a silver lining to be found, one that preachers and teachers of good news and the Good News might want to attend to. I thought about this because of some work my wife and I have done over the years with museums and exhibits and cultural & natural resource interpretation.

We all know, in visitor centers and site planning, that the average visitor, whether they went out of their way to see this special spot or just happened to pass by and wanted a way to kill an hour, is primarily interested in two things as they come in the door. One is: where's the bathroom? It's a basic human need, part of Maslow's famous hierarchy at the peak, and some things come first. So you locate and place signage and train staff to meet that need, whether you're a historical park or an archaeological museum or a nature center.

Second is: where's the gift shop? Professionals often sigh and moan over this reality, but the smart scholars and scientists know it's an opportunity. Not just an opportunity to pay the staff and keep the lights on through profits, but you can teach with a gift shop, just as you do with the rest of your displays. And these displays they can choose, by their own actions, to take home: why not use that impulse?

So you stock your shelves with materials that reinforce your message, and encourage the purchase of books and toys and games that keep your theme memorable all the way back to their home. It's an opportunity, not a problem.

Bad news may be on the front page of the paper, but there's news we're interested in, too, that's talking about hopes and dreams and aspirations. It's called the advertising. Do you, as a person of faith, read the ads for what they tell you about the good news your community is hungry for?

Those ads may occasionally make you roll your eyes ("do people really want to buy that?") but it's a very reliable indicator: if an ad isn't reaching people, it's going to disappear. Because someone is paying for it to be there. Read the ads, preachers and teachers and mentors and spiritual directors. There you find the currents that often folks can't quite articulate, but in which they are very conversant.

Oh, and those restrooms in museums and visitor centers? Smart sites teach in there, too; signage and wall space and even the fixtures themselves can reaffirm themes and messages. In our church bathrooms, is there a missed opportunity to share Good News, even in just a few words on the wall?

Because people are seeking good news, all the time. Everywhere.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him where you found good news at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 8-20-15

Notes From My Knapsack 8-20-15

Jeff Gill


A saunter around summer's end



Birds have been in my field of vision this summer.


Carolina chickadees were all over my neighborhood following the spring; they've moved on, but I still see the occasional small black-capped visitor in the back yard.


House sparrows are pecking their way through the neighbor's mulch most mornings out the kitchen window. A non-native, the field guides tell me, but they've always been around from my point of view, which makes them native in my mental landscape.


I saw an Eastern towhee on my street, up in a curbside maple, hearing it before spotting the distinctive near-orange sides. "Drink your tea, drink your tea" is one of the few birdsongs I can remember from year to year without looking them up; with apps online and on phones, it is much easier to figure them out if you want. Red-winged blackbirds are always easy to recall, and when the meadow I drive through leaving home is let go, they're common not far from the house, so I can hear them from my porch.


The towering tree behind my home attracts fewer birds than I might have first thought; sycamores aren't a food source, so they don't have a great deal of attraction other than as a passing perch for starlings and robins and the like. But I did once hear, then saw a peregrine falcon up high, scanning the yards and roadside for something to swoop on for lunch.


A few weeks ago I saw a majestic white-headed bald eagle down in Ross County, paddling down Paint Creek in a kayak. He regally disregarded me in passing, giving just a fine profile shot to those with me who had good cameras. Rightly or wrongly I'd decided this trip I'd take no camera at all, but just look, and hopefully see. If you can see that bald eagle, yellow hooked beak curving down to greyish brown feathers across a broad breast, staring out – eagle eyed! – over the flowing water, then you don't need a picture taken, do you?


And on my way back from leading Sunday worship up at the Hartford Fair, I saw a bald eagle in flight, just past Chatham, soaring down along Dry Creek. We have at least two nesting pairs here in Licking County, something many of us thought we'd never see in our lifetimes, but now becoming nearly a common sight.


On the brick street next to the church I pastor in Newark we've seen an outburst of goldfinches recently, picking at some plant erupting from the spaces between the ruddy pavement, a beautiful contrast to the bright yellow and deep black of the birds.


But my favorite sightings are still great blue herons. When you watch one picking their way through the shallows in Raccoon Creek or over by one of the branches of the Licking River, you see immediately the connection to their dinosaur ancestors. The manic glint of the round eye, above a wicked long sharp beak, flare of feathers at the back of the head, stick-like legs swiveling and stepping into and across obstacles, all seeming awkwardness until the swift stab into the water and a wriggling meal skewered and swallowed. A T-Rex of the waterside world, indeed.


In flight, though, something the theropods of antiquity didn't master, a heron is a thing of beauty, to me at any rate. Their steady wing beat sets them apart even at a distance from buzzards, let alone eagles, who glide and soar; great blues flap strongly from one watershed to the next, their "beast feet" (the meaning of "theropod") dangling behind.


They (and the more humble and widely spread house sparrows) represent what's left of that dinosaur family in our world, diplomatic representatives of a more dangerous era. Oh, and since I like to say that pretty much every subject has a Licking County connection if you look hard enough: O.C. Marsh, the paleontologist who created the name "theropods" for the best-known type of dinosaur, grew up in Zanesville, and perhaps the earliest published piece of professional archaeology relating to Licking County was by him describing an excavation he conducted south of Newark in 1865, of a mound still visible near Rt. 13 and Dorsey Mill Road.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your bird sightings at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.