Thursday, March 24, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 3-31-16

Notes From My Knapsack 3-31-16

Jeff Gill


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, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Faith Works 3-26-16

Faith Works 3-26-16

Jeff Gill


Three questions about God



If you have beliefs about God, and try to explain them to someone else, you're talking about apologetics.


These last few columns were spurred by reading a book by the distinguished preacher and pastor Tim Keller, "The Reason for God." Tim does not just have a reason, he has many reasons, and some cogent reasoning for why belief in God, and a particular way of understanding who God is, can be called reasonable. Pastor Keller is doing apologetics, in the classical sense of the term.


But it also made me realize that in most situations where I'm asked to give an account for the faith that is in me, when I need to explain how my beliefs in and about God are what moves me, I don't have either the time for a book-length discussion, or the ability to hand over a volume and say "read that, then we'll talk."


So I started to ask myself "how do you do apologetics, on horseback, parson?" And I realized I tend to boil it down to three questions.


First, to someone puzzled as to why anyone would build their life around "an old man in a long white beard making you play harps forever when you die" (not what I believe in, exactly, but nevermind), I start with the question "do you believe there is a god of some sort?" I use lower-case there intentionally, because I'm not wanting (yet) to debate what kind of Divine Person we're talking about, but just to start with a basic issue: do you believe that beyond the here and now, from creation to a time beyond the time we know ourselves, there is an entity who is far beyond our everyday existence? Or "God." If someone's quite certain there's no such animal, and that life is all we know because it's all that's ever knowable, we're off onto a different conversation altogether (and another column series, perhaps).


But that's actually quite rare. Most people, in most of the world, believe in something, even a some One who is godlike, if not God per se. Okay then.


Second, I ask if you think this one we will call God is still actively involved in the world. There are not a few who believe some sort of Creator made and moved everything to the point of existence as we know it, but once the merry-go-round was turning, that Being jumped off. Deism, some call it, a Divine Watchmaker who set the cosmos spinning after winding it up, and has laid it aside until some future time . . . but this cosmic watchmaker isn't constantly fiddling with the works.


Again, when asked directly, most people leave room in their beliefs, whether unspoken and unreflected-upon, or even in careful consideration, for some form of God or the angels of God to be directly interacting with creation. God is not done, God is still creating and creative, God's not finished with me, or you, yet.


Which comes around to my third and mostly final question. If you believe there is a God, and that God is still interactive with creation, do you believe that God is caring and even loving in that relationship, or do you think God is capricious, cruel even, playing like a child with toy soldiers and plastic action figures on a landscape of scripted presumption? Do you believe that God is just messing with us most days, or that God loves us?


Tomorrow is Easter. It is, beyond question, the holiest day of the year for Christians. Yes, Christmas is a big deal, and the Incarnation – God coming into the world as Jesus – is significant, but we don't schedule our worship each week onto the day of the week Christ was born. That's why the Sabbath was shifted to "the first day of the week" by the early church from the last day: because it was on a Sunday morning that the women came to the tomb and found it empty, when Mary Magdalene learned that Jesus was alive.


Saturday is a day of anticipation, of expectation, of holy waiting. In some church traditions, tonight is a vigil when new members join the faith; in others, we get up early to re-enact what was going on in that return to the garden, the tomb, to tend a beloved but dead body.


What we really celebrate, on Easter and each Sunday, is that God is, God is at work, and God loves us. Jesus rose so that we might know that those three statements, those answers to three questions, are true, true, true.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he believes in God. Okay, not surprising. Tell him about what you do and don't believe at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.