Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Faith Works 10-1-16

Faith Works 10-1-16

Jeff Gill


A decent end to a difficult conversation



Talking about decency means, of course, asking about what's indecent, and why.


For some of the "Nones" or what are also called "Spiritual But Not Religious" folk (SBNRs), our emphasis in the established church on so-called decency, of language and image and propriety in general, is off-putting. "Why are you so prissy?" That's one of the nicer ways people ask me why my Facebook feed is cluttered with (language alert) parentheticals at the top of posts.


Since I'm a congregational minister, a Scout leader, and part of other youth serving organizations, I have everyone from teens to moms to senior citizens on my feed, and many of them are hesitant about social media in large part because of decency. If there's a curse word in the post, I'll think twice or thrice before reposting, and if the obscenity is in the header, I just won't use it generally. Yes, that includes the d-word and the s-word, let alone the f's and m's and so on.


And for those who think this kind of circumspection is a boutique interest, a concern only shared by a dwindling few, I'd point out that a big factor behind the whole contemporary Christian music scene, the radio stations playing them, and the recent surge in Christian-themed movies, is less about a national revival of decency per se, than it is a parental and family based reaction against the prevalence of nudity and nearly-so, profanity and swearing, sounds and pictures that communicate sexuality and anger and hostility as forms of casual entertainment.


Lots of people are not so squeamish as they are sick of it: enough. I can watch "The Godfather" or even "Pulp Fiction" on occasion, say many, but I'm tired of a steady diet of the harsh, the edgy, the graphic. And that puts lots of people in a mood, even when their theology isn't what's driving them, to enjoy seeing a movie where they don't have to see body parts they don't want to have shoved into their faces, or hear words they'd rather not hear, let alone their children.


Count me as part of that number. I know pretty much all the swear words you're likely to think of, have had them said to me, and know quite a few in a couple of other languages if you're interested. I know what consenting adults do in their free time, and am not overly concerned with what folks are turned on by, nor do I want to control or restrict it. I'm just starting to feel like we're all getting a steady diet of entertainment-grade Red Bull and musical Cheetos.


So to turn away, or looking for a haven of healthier options (so I claim, anyhow) doesn't mean censorship. But then I turn back to the church, and our life as a congregation. Are we too prudish? Is the effort to clean up our act in worship and in our life together unrealistic?


What I'm trying to say is that I understand all too well what some SBNRs are saying when they see church life as a bubble of pretend, and they want to know if we can accept people on their own terms. They wonder if we are turning away from the world so completely that we don't understand it. And they ask: with my tattoos, my piercings, my lapses into profanity in everyday conversation, will I still be accepted by you folks inside the church bubble?


I think it's an ongoing dialogue we have to maintain. I also don't think I have to get a tattoo to be welcoming to those who do; I hope I don't have to curse in sermons to reach out with my message to those who believe their lives are a pile of mess.  And part of the tension and confusion in this murky political season is that now even into electoral campaigns we're all being asked to accept coarseness and crudity as the new national normal.


Discernment, though, is clearly the calling of the faithful. We are requested by God to look with the eyes of the heart, and see beyond the surface, and I would add to hear and read beyond the cultural conventions we've become accustomed to, and listen to what angry and hurting people are saying. Even in 2016, there's still some challenges out there in congregational life, where we need to remember that we're not a museum of preserved saints, but a hospital for wounded sinners.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been cussed at even in church, and it doesn't leave a mark. Tell him, cleanly we hope, what you think about standards of decency at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 9-29-16

Notes From My Knapsack 9-29-16

Jeff Gill



An Interesting Few Weeks Ahead!



Yes, there's an election season all around us, and oh my, is Ohio a battleground of appearances and advertising and excitement (including our neighbors in Newark with an on-again/off-again Michael Moore program about the campaign). Historical precedents are being cited, smashed, and put back together again in new ways.


We've gone in fifty-seven years from the first televised debate and the question of whether or not Nixon should have used make-up (short answer: yes, but he still would have lost) to this month as podium height and spray tanning are part of the civic if not civil discourse.


So let's add sex to the volatile mix. Sure, why not? We're looking at the first woman to earn the right to be on the final ballot across the nation for President of these United States, and in Licking County we remember that daughter of Homer, Ohio who first addressed a congressional committee, who first made a plausible run for the presidency (even if she couldn't legally vote for herself, or anyone else), and who is uniquely memorialized in Granville.


There near one of only two memorials erected to honor Victoria Woodhull's memory, inside the Robbins Hunter Museum on Thursday, October 6 at 7:00 pm, I will speak on "The Dilemma of Sex: The Free Love Debate Within Victoria Woodhull's Writings." My talk is free to members of the museum, and only $5 for the general public. As candidates get accused of all sorts of things today, so did Victoria Woodhull in 1872. I may not clear up the current election for anyone, but there may be some elements of the contest today that are echoed in that earlier era's debates.


I don't think history repeats itself, but as many a sage has observed, it does tend to rhyme.


And stepping back into even earlier history, the amazing 2,000 year old Newark Earthworks continue to make progress towards their rightful place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sadly, this year the fall open house at the Octagon Earthworks, a 135 acre portion of the once four-and-a-half square mile complex of geometric earthworks in full, will be on a Monday, not on a Sunday afternoon when so many more could visit. On Monday, Oct. 9, from sunrise to sunset, at the corner of 33rd St. and Parkview Road just off of West Main St. in Newark, you may freely roam the octagonal and connected circular enclosures, and we will have guides available for tours at points through the middle of the day.


Monday, Oct. 9 is also a day dwindling in observance, Columbus Day. It didn't become a federal holiday until the 1930s, and was a state observance in a number of places from early in the 1900s, but began to draw attention around the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Columbus "discovering" the Americas, in 1892 and along with the Chicago "World's Columbian Exposition."


Today, Columbus Day often gets shuffled aside unless you're trying to get your mail or do official business. I think it may be time to repurpose the observance, and call it "Encounter Day." What we realize is important about that event in 1492 was the beginning of an ongoing encounter between the Old World and the New, with tragedy and terror one result, and biological exchange and cultural impacts another. We are still learning (in books like Charles Mann's "1491") about what that encounter has done and is still doing to the world and its peoples: maybe making the second Monday of October a day to reflect constructively on cultural and ecological encounters and how they can be used for mutual benefit.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about stories you'd like to hear more about at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.