Saturday, January 09, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 1-14-16

Notes From My Knapsack 1-14-16

Jeff Gill


Writing To Find Out What I Think




 A new year, new topics, new themes, new possibilities.


For the privilege I have of writing this column, and the responsibility it is to come up with something worth saying twenty or so times a year, I come back to a quote I've had rattling around in my mental cellars for years, that is variously credited to Joan Didion, Stephen King, Mark Twain (of course), and a few others.


"I write in order to find out what I think."


It's true, really. You start – I start, anyhow – with an idea or two, and you begin with even a bit of a structure in mind of opening and argument or assertion and clever wrap-up. But more often than not, the logic of the sentences and the influence of the expressions start to shift my sense and my story in a direction I didn't entirely intend to go.


And at the conclusion, I read it through for typos and style and such, but I also am looking to see: what did I just say? And sometimes I'm surprised. Rarely do I go "that's not what I meant to write at all," even when it's not. I'm more like "oh, so it reasons out that way… okay."


So who knows what this year holds? Last year I had a thought about Granville history and 1815, and somehow it turned into a mystery of sorts with an actual couple, William and Sarah Gavit, and a fictional character, surgeon's mate and cutler Hezekiah Mirk. I pushed that story about as far as the irregular newspaper column format will let you go these days, and I have a few more stories in mind for my veteran of Lundy's Lane and acquaintance of Rev. David Jones, but they may have to find a home elsewhere.


Politics are all around us (love not so much), and I'm going to continue to say relatively little about that subject. A) because so many others are already going there, and I don't like crowds, and B) what is there to add, really?


My own interests tend to the local, and the community-oriented. Granville is a community in flux, and as far as I can tell, we have been since about 1800. Benoni Benjamin and his three brothers-in-law, John Jones, Phineas and Frederick Ford, and a hired man named Danner met Isaac Stadden on their way up Ramp Creek to this valley in the fall of that year. They liked what they saw and brought back their families the next spring.


The Welsh trickled in from 1802 behind the Rees and Philipps families, then the more familiar arrival in Nov. of 1805 from Granville, Massachusetts. The Licking Land Company left a mark on the land (with the help of men like William Gavit), but soon the canals spurred industrial plans along Clouse Lane and Clear Run, the National Road's proximity opened up paths to California gold and western opportunity, then the Civil War and the arrival of railroads turned this now rural village inside-out and outside-in.


We became a college town by degrees, then the interurban and automobile turned us into a developing bedroom community. Now the internet makes us a global hub with a bucolic atmosphere.


So as our community changes, resists change, and changes all the same, I think there's a place for trying to write out what's going on around us, and seeing together on the page what we think.


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

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Faith Works 1-9-16

Faith Works 1-9-16

Jeff Gill


Less to come in the new year



At the congregation I'm part of, over the New Year's "bridge" of Sundays from the one after Christmas Day to the first one of 2016, we shared some thoughts together on "How do we want to grow in 2016?"


As the preacher and pastor there, I took the themes noted and input offered up the first Sunday to build a sermon last week on some of the particularities of our community's "growth" plans. Now I'd like to open that discussion up more widely, to people of faith and the many other seekers I know who read this column locally, and start a conversation about spiritual and personal growth in the year ahead, and I'd like to center that discussion on something I've already started to notice in my own church.


We need less.




I have a suspicion that it's the pressures of our culture that pushes people to think the right, the correct answer to a question like "how do you want to grow" is in "more."


More Bible reading, more prayer, more service.


How can a minister argue with that? Well, keep reading, I'll give it a shot.


Now, are there folks whom I think need a bit more time with scripture in their lives, who should be praying more than at red lights, entire families who should get off the sofa and out into the world putting their hands and hearts to the work of God? Sure.


In general, though, there's a social drive to hunt for "more," an urge that arises out of what the author and teacher BrenĂ© Brown calls "scarcity." She says in her book "Daring Greatly" that "We get scarcity because we live it…Scarcity is the "never enough" problem…Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don't have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants."


One could ask "and where does this come from?" with the obvious answer being advertising and consumer culture, and I'll leave that as sufficient for the time and a subject for later discussion. But I think the reality of "scarcity culture" is obvious, and insidious inside of our church buildings. One form of it that I'm acutely aware of is how no event, activity, or worship service is complete until at least three people say something about how either the same program had much bigger attendance in [name a date decades ago] or asking why this turnout isn't as big as [name another congregation in the vicinity]. Really? Isn't there something to celebrate and cherish in this particular gathering of God's people in this place at this time? No, we compare, and fret, and feed anxieties about the future.


But on a personal level, it comes out more quietly but I feel, pastorally, is always there. People ask "am I praying enough? Reading enough? Doing enough?"


The Church of Christ psychology professor, thinker, and maverick elder Richard Beck, from whose excellent blog "Experimental Theology" I got the Brown quote above, answered a critic in his comment by saying "One thing I'd push back on here, as a psychologist, is the notion that "people make time for what they care about." That's way too simplistic a model for human motivation, cognition and emotion. The fact is we care about many, many things, things that often come into conflict. Also, we care about things with different parts of the brain--cognitively and affectively--which also creates conflicts (e.g., why it's hard to keep New Years Resolutions)."


And as a Christian parson, I'd add the gospel observation that this all starts with understanding that you literally can't do "enough." You can't serve or pray or read your way into the heart of God's love, into the kingdom of heaven. You can't earn it, so stop trying. Jesus opened that door because God's grace, God's free gift, is to make that possible through faith alone. Quit working for something that's already been given, just accept it.


Which is why I'd like to talk a bit more about less. About growing in 2016 through doing, having, worrying, trying, and yes, even working . . . less.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has less in mind than you might think. Tell him where growth and "less" might take you this year at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.