Saturday, August 20, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 8-25-16

Notes From My Knapsack 8-25-16

Jeff Gill


A Centennial for America's Best Idea



The National Park Service celebrates 100 years of existence today, Aug. 25. President Woodrow Wilson signed it into existence, and the NPS is the federal agency that serves as a steward of one of our country's greatest legacies, what Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan called "America's Best Idea."


In 1916, the NPS began 44 years after it started. That may seem off-kilter, but it's true. And that might not even be the half of it!


Yellowstone was established as the first "national park" in 1872. Congress passed an act which declared that the area would become a "public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The Army was given the responsibility for managing the land and guiding visitors, and the park ranger uniform so recognizable today is a direct descendant of those former cavalry trooper uniforms from Yellowstone days.


We were the first nation to do this, to set aside lands for public use and not allow it to be sold to private individuals, to preserve it as a trust for future generations. Australia was right behind us!


This past summer, my family visited the second national park, Michigan's Mackinac Island. If that raises your eyebrow, it's because it was turned back over to the State of Michigan in 1895, but in the interim, an army garrison did double duty as what we'd now call "park rangers" around the Fort.


Then Teddy Roosevelt signed The Antiquities Act of 1906, which is the understandable reason why people tend to think he founded the National Park Service. Starting with Devils Tower in Wyoming, Pres. Roosevelt signed a number of orders establishing "National Monuments," his successor Pres. Taft signed many into existence as well, including Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, which later became Zion National Park . . . the NPS site my wife worked at as a ranger for a summer.


So there was much history and even a fair amount of real estate already organized into parks and preserves and monuments by 1916. Congress saw the need to create an organization to manage it all, and today we mark the signing of the "Organic Act" that officially began the NPS as we know it today. There are celebrations at NPS sites around the country, but the heart of the commemoration will be, quite rightly, at the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance of Yellowstone (which you can watch on streaming video by way of  which bears the inscription "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people."


Locally, we have a connection to that NPS pre-history. Daniel Webster came to east central Ohio in the early 1830s to deliver a commencement address at Kenyon College, and there undergraduate Edwin Davis (of "Squier & Davis" later fame) brought the Newark Earthworks to the distinguished senator's attention. Webster was said to have declared that they should be made a national park.


And my own salute to this centennial is having spent a few days last month in Chillicothe, where the nearest NPS site to Licking County, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park has been working on their latest Long-Range Interpretive Plan. And their connections to the sites of the Newark Earthworks are absolutely part of that story, and our heritage we're preserving in partnership with "America's Best Idea"!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a long list of national parks he hasn't made it to yet, but has hopes… Tell him about your favorite national park at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Faith Works 8-20-16

Faith Works 8-20-16

Jeff Gill


Reports of their death greatly exaggerated (again)



Election seasons seem to bring out these sorts of demographic over-generalizations. We've got books and articles getting attention with titles like "The End of White Christian America" and "White Christian America is Dying," all of which get transmuted through the alchemy of the internet from statistical gold to name-calling straw.


One of the straw men that gets burned regularly online is that trends mean definite outcomes. Economists have a quick dismissal of this misunderstanding, saying "trees don't grow to the sky." Trends are true until they… aren't. Yes, the historical "blip" of white, or Anglo, or northern European dominance in Christian life and thought globally is fading, but they weren't always large and in charge, and in fact they haven't been for quite a while already!


Remember, the typical Christian in the world today, as determined by raw numbers is: 1) from the Global South (70% of all Christians live in Africa, Latin America, or Asia now, with 1 in 4 Christians in the world living Africa and heading for 40% in another generation; China coming up fast with as many Christians in church on a Sunday as there are in the US), 2) likely to be charismatic or at least open to a more public expression of feelings in their faith (the number of Christians who are Charismatic/Pentecostal is above 30% and rising, especially in the Global South), and 3) is likely to be living out their faith in a context of repression and persecution. Globally, religious persecution is a phenomenon aimed at Christians; from Iran to North Korea, Saudi Arabia to China, official harassment and imprisonment along with unofficial killings of Christian clergy, members, and missionaries hit an all-time high in 2015.


Yet Christian faith is growing in all those places.


Anyhow, that's the global view versus scare-mongering about "the church is dying in America." What is true is that in 1900, about 80% of all Christians in the world lived in Europe and the US. Now, 70% live elsewhere. That's a story with many sub-themes to tell, swirling around a strong current of relative growth and vitality for the story of God's good news made known in the person of Jesus.


My friend Charles, an editor in another life, wants me to get to the point having read that much, so here it is: Christianity isn't dying. And your congregation isn't dying, unless it is, in which case you can do something about it. And faith communities in America won't look the same in 2050 as they did in 1950. But if you look back at 1850, that's no surprise (or shouldn't be).


1850 - the fallout from the failed Millerite movements about the "end of time" and Christ's Second Coming emptied out many congregations, and the various splinter groups left after the "Great Disappointment" of 1844 were scattered and bereft. There is essentially no such thing as Pentecostalism; the memory of the Cane Ridge revival of 1801 still echoed in some quarters, but no such church movement existed. Across America, men and women entered two different doors on the front of the building (this was true of most denominations) and sat on separate sides of the sanctuary. Abolitionism was seen as extremism by many church leaders, generally banned as an official position leading to clergy, seminaries, and congregations being kicked out of their respective denominational bodies. Most churches had vigorously supported the War with Mexico of a few years previously, and promoted the formation of militia companies within their memberships, from the Upper Midwest to the Deep South. Church attendance in general was down from where it had been in the 1820s, and most judicatory structures were entirely voluntary in nature, the positions we associate today with regions or dioceses or synods and their executives being held by serving clergy who were elected at annual meetings to oversee various functions -- the hiring of evangelists or the funding of missionaries still a controversial thing in many quarters. The Latter-Day Saints had left Illinois for western Iowa and then across the Plains to the Utah territory just a few years earlier, dropping off the US map for a time, and they themselves were waiting in Salt Lake to hear back from missionaries in England and the Nordic countries. Catholicism was growing through immigration, mostly German in the Midwest and Irish in the Northeast, but persecution and legal restrictions on the ownership of property and opening of schools was still common and, again, legal.


Doesn't sound much like 1950, does it? Nor will 2050. But all shall be well.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's a short term pessimist and long term optimist. Tell him what you're worried about at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.