Thursday, November 26, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 12-3-15

Notes From My Knapsack 12-3-15
Jeff Gill

Syrian refugees may need some assistance

Even if I've not quite followed all the details in the news, it seems that we may have some refugees from Syria heading our way in the foreseeable future.

I've had the privilege of working with a number of refugee families through the years, coming as they have under the sponsorship of congregations, sent through the auspices of the federal government and various national church bodies. They've been from either hemisphere, from Cambodia to Azerbaijan, and they've all been an honor to assist.

Motivation and discipline and hard work have been foremost among the gifts they bring to this country, even if their command of the language may start out on the rough side. And in fact, their written and basic understanding of English has been fairly smooth, but the edges and abrasions and points of friction come from our culture, which is a hard thing to teach about in a book. How we live is something we just do, more than talk about. It's not something we can even explain to ourselves most days.

To stand next to someone with more years of education than you have, and see their bewilderment standing in the breakfast cereal aisle . . . do you explain this strangeness, or just turn them gently towards the oatmeal shelf where the choice is between "old fashioned" or "one minute," and only deal with explaining that small distinction?

When military parades were commonplace in their former home, how do you interpret the celebratory fondness we have for marching bands, accompanied by young women tossing fake wooden rifles in the air? Is it a logical evolution and march of peaceful progress from what they've known, or is it best understood as something else entirely?

Most refugees come from places where random violence and the open display of weaponry is common; how do you help them understand what safety means in this country, where crime tends to be more personal or geographic, rather than factional or political? When the ownership of firearms exceeds anything they knew in a strife-torn homeland, but it's presented as a sporting or recreational proposition, the puzzled looks they'll give you are understandable from their own calamitous experience.

Generally, transportation is something they have a more formal and structured relationship with than the house by house or person by person approach we take to travel decisions. "Let's take two cars" being the usual farewell between two people even in the same family, going to the same destination. Seeing people walking or running isn't strange in their experience, but finding out that most of those on foot are just on a loop starting from and returning back to their homes: why? Explaining "exercise" can be challenging.

And then there's Christmas. It's the odd refugee indeed who's never heard of the observance, but an American Christmas – from Washington Irving to Charles Dickens (whose "A Christmas Carol" will be at Licking County Players the next two weekends), through Clement Clarke Moore and Robert L. May – it's a very particular thing yet it includes a wide variety of inputs, from the British and the Dutch to Montgomery Ward's and Macy's. How do you account for our Christmas in 500 words or less?

Perhaps the best way we can prepare to welcome refugees from another culture is to make sure to stop and try to understand our own first.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your experience with refugees and immigrants of all sorts at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Faith Works 11-28-15

Faith Works 11-28-15

Jeff Gill


Subjects of concern, matters of faith



This has been a year full of unwelcome subjects, to speak candidly as a pastor, a preacher, and a columnist.


There are matters we want to talk about, things we know we should be discussing, and then there are those shadows across our path that we're used to just ignoring.


Global affairs and local incidents have put the phrase "active shooter" on everyone's lips. If you have a child in school, you've realized that the fearful drills of "duck and cover" for nuclear attack have been replaced with dress rehearsals for an unthinkable individual entering the building. Kids don't come home saying "hey, there was a tornado drill" since those are so regular and routine they barely register; the new topic of conversation is about ALICE. (More about "her" in a moment.)


Churches as a place of public assembly have long had an ambivalent relationship with these matters. There may or may not be a severe weather plan, and there likely aren't designated persons to manage that situation, except for some congregations with a fully developed security team that handles the parking lots and entrance & exit issues.


The church building where I'm pastor still has a 1950's era "Fallout Shelter" sign near one door, with the capacity long peeled away, and the supplies once in a closet under the stairs thrown out. We were in some form part of the Civil Defense response plan back then.


Fire code and inspections have us put up exit plans and check our emergency lighting, and that along with fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are part of the standard set of concerns for property committees and trustees. But lately, as a church leader, you can feel the pressure increasing to be more ready.


Not more ready as in being part of a community reaction plan, with the Red Cross or the local emergency response team, but internally, to a sudden shocking event. The requests are rising up above mere suggestions, and the insistence can be felt not just from the fire inspectors and state offices, but from your insurance carrier, denominational bodies: and even the Department of Homeland Security is sending clergy and churches helpful hints about "critical incident response" planning.


"Run-Hide-Fight" is how we're hearing it back from our younger schoolchildren; in the higher grades, at colleges and civic offices, we're being trained in Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate - A.L.I.C.E.


Like most acronyms, it's easy to be dismissive of the whole thing. I'm going to remember all that? But with regular training, and some visual reinforcement, plus having clearly designated people with the task of handling those first couple of steps IMMEDIATELY – whether we're talking about a funnel cloud, a gas leak, or a guy with a gun seen in a stairwell – it's a very workable method to teach preparedness.


Honestly, I'm not ready to do a sermon on this. My natural inclination is to pray, and invite others to do the same, and ask for clarity of thought and action to help us behave rightly in a crisis. To, as the Scripture says, "seek the mind of Christ."


Then I remember that the Bible does not say much to me about how we safely use an elevator or a boiler system. We have responsible parties, regular checks and re-checks, and a plan of action that is needed when something like that goes wrong. And as the police and insurance and other official bodies remind us, if we are in the business of bringing large numbers of people together in a visible location on a regular basis, we'd be irresponsible NOT to have some sort of "critical incident response plan" and to regularly orient key leaders and do training each year around this. It's not borrowing trouble, it's just a reality of life along with having fire extinguishers on each floor, and not just ignoring them for seven or eight years until we need one, and it doesn't work.


So we're talking, at my church, about "Run-Hide-Fight," and about ALICE, and about who does what. Not who's going to be a hero, or how we're just going to pray enemies away from ever opening our door, but having the basics of assembly and evacuation ready to undergird our faith with action.


What is your faith community saying about this sort of planning? Should we? How shall we? I will be glad to share other ideas on this troubling topic.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your critical incident response plan at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.