Notes From My Knapsack 3-31-16
Seeking a Human Scale
Spring is a time of possibilities that seem nearly unlimited: this is the year I will go to . . . we will travel . . . my garage will get cleaned . . . losing those pounds . . . finishing that deck.
It's only when you get into some of those projects, like painting or gardening or other home improvement areas, that you realize you needed to order those seeds earlier, you should have started sooner to prep the ground and clear the area, or that you just don't have any idea what it is you're getting into.
For many families, it's time for the final decision on college, and the realization that, in the end, you pick one. One. You're going to . . . a place. The options can't really be kept open past May 1.
We have limits, we do. And even in cinematic universes, we get the drama of characters like Iron Man and Captain America, Batman and yes, even Superman realizing that they have limits. What can be done, how you can do it, the amount you can accomplish.
Talking to a colleague in ministry during Holy Week, the lead-in to Easter, we found ourselves discussing what made for a "human scale" in life. As things get bigger, do they get more or less humane?
Corner groceries that were rare when I was a kid are no more; here in Granville I still hear about Blackstone's and other storefront grocery options. Today, even Ross Market is referred to as a "small grocery."
Sometimes I find myself needing to go to a big box retail to look for a product, and face that long row of stacked shelving, and feel my breath getting short, my heart rate elevating. Where is what I'm looking for? How many types of this stuff are there, anyhow, and what was it I was looking for, anyhow? Choice is liberating in some ways, but oppressing in others.
In a different role I play, I'm in pretty much every high school and middle school across Licking County (and not a few elementaries). I hear administrators and teachers talk about the challenges they face, and what parents are pushing for.
The general expectation is that a high school today needs to be one of about a thousand students, and anything short of that will be deficient, in tools and technologies, classes and culture to allow young people to gain and grow as they should to prepare for college. A thousand students, about 250 per class year.
My mother graduated with a class of about two dozen, my dad not much larger. They went on to college, they seem to have been and still are alert and aware and connected to a larger world. Of course, in the 1950s computers were a government project and foreign languages were often Latin and maybe French, or Spanish. Yes, I know, times change. But does human scale change?
Then I think about my wife's graduating class from her high school, which was larger than all of my son's high school and most of the middle school thrown in. She's a pretty humane individual. And we both went to a massive land-grant university, lived in immense dormitories, came out with our love of the everyday and our appreciation of individuals intact.
What is a human scale? How large an assembly, an institution is too much, or is small not as aspirational as I like to think? Or is the nature of human scale a both-and proposition, where we need to keep the parts as well as the whole in our field of view?
We need close, personal community to know us, and help us be known; large gatherings can take us out of our comfortable assumptions, and empower our individual abilities when taken together. Human scale may be, may have to be, both vast, and solitary; like most scales, it seeks a balance.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you find human scale at work at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.