Monday, April 24, 2017
I am not able to attend the Granville Exempted Village School District Board of Education meeting tonight. My understanding is that you will discuss as part of their 6:30 pm agenda today the question of drug testing and students.
The developing controversy in our village echoes the larger debates playing out across the country. At its heart, the question being asked by you as board members, by concerned parents, and by active local residents is "how can I/we best protect our school-age children from the impact and influence of drugs?
But where we lack consensus starts with that last word. Are we talking about illegal substances, prescription drug misuse, legal substances that are not legal under certain circumstances for juveniles to use, or even legal but questionable substances with a more complicated status (performance enhancing supplements, etc.)? Some say "this is about pot and opiates, c'mon" but there's no discussion on this subject where other ingested materials don't quickly, and reasonably, become part of the debate.
Let me say what I think we can and should have consensus on: we live in an addictive culture. Look at our consumption of media as a starting point. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who can completely and honestly say they've never meant to watch less and ended up wondering where the hour, evening, or day went. Our sleep deprivation as a modern American culture (a driver I would argue for much of the rest of this subject) is clinically and clearly tied to the astronomical increases in time spent consuming media.
You may think "that's pretty far afield, Jeff," but that's where it starts. We can't control our media consumption, our social media use (hi, Facebook! Irony, anyone?), and the time or money or both we spend on movies and interactive games. We are an addictive culture.
Pain relief? We live in an era when fewer and fewer of us work on physical labor or do heavy lifting as a part of just maintaining our homes, but the US consumes 95% of all opiate medication made in the world. Stop and think about that for just a moment. And stepping gingerly past the opiate crisis for a moment, there's another $2 BILLION a year spent on over-the-counter pain relievers, just the ache-and-pain stuff.
Then add in steroids -- and I'm talking about adults, in our community, not kids in locker rooms, for which I have skimpy anecdotal evidence (but persistent tales, to be sure) -- millions of American adults spend billions to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, to look good, with worrisome implications for future medical costs. But can I just say I know steroid use for cosmetic purposes is not unknown in this area?
If a parent or adult sibling in a home is using substances to manage their lives, the children will see that, and come to their own conclusions. For concision's sake, I'm not even going to talk about cigarettes and tobacco in general -- which juveniles can't use, but the entire village essentially affirms every year after commencement, just for starters -- or alcohol, which is a legal, addictive substance which is easy to get and often used, consuming all of aisle 1 at Ross Market (if you don't count produce, which most of us walk briskly through, anyhow).
Can I say it now? We live in an addictive culture, and we all know it, and feel faintly uneasy about it. (Nota bene: Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is 30+ years old and never more relevant.)
So when adults want to protect kids from bad things, it's hard to criticize, let alone complain. But I persist in my sense that the drug-testing plans I've heard so far sound like they are jam-packed full of likely unintended consequences. Weed is rampant at GHS, I don't doubt. Relative to other central Ohio high schools? I'd be skeptical of anyone who says they have hard numbers, but while I'm sure it's "worse" in other districts, that's not really the point. Weed and hash oil and edibles are easy to get. I work for the juvenile court, and I have a child who graduated last year from GHS: 'nuff said. But what shall we do about it? That's a different question. I don't think proving the proposition "illegal substances are too common at and in our schools" immediately validates "therefore we must test kids to the fullest extent law and federal guidelines allow."
And yes, I think much of this has to happen in the home. The discussions, the guidelines, even the consequences. And if the home is really fine with steroids and cigars and weekend juvenile drinking (which is not illegal in general under a parent's supervision, I'm not endorsing, I'm clarifying) and lots of pills for a variety of purposes, then you're not going to see any proposal help the kids who need it, or change behavior for most of the kids heading for problems.
In other words, and I could have started with this and saved the whole lengthy (but in my mind inadequate and brief) essay -- I don't believe Granville has a juvenile substance abuse problem. We have a community substance abuse problem, and need to be talking openly and honestly about this, but we can't force much short of law enforcement matters onto adults . . . so we're going to jam tests and implications and complications into children's lives, because we can.
And I humbly suggest that, if we push through the plan (as I've seen it, for parking and non-academic extra-curriculars, etc.), we will be like the drunk searching for his lost car keys under the streetlight, because the light is better there. The darkness is in homes and among adults who don't want to talk about this at all, and are already figuring out how they can help their kids evade this. I hope the plan does not pass; I hope the conversation about our addictive culture and its impacts DOES continue, because it should.
120 Bantry St.
Granville OH 43023
Monday, April 17, 2017
Faith Works 4-22-17
Healing and wholeness start somewhere
Easter weekend is perhaps the most joyful celebration in the Christian calendar. Christmas is full of happiness and good feelings, but somehow I see and hear and experience more pure unadulterated joy among the worshipers at an Easter service.
James Lileks made an interesting point in his namesake online blog that, in pop culture, Christmas seems to always be in danger, but Easter not so much. Just as emotions are always vulnerable to the events of the hour, Christmas feelings can be swept away by tragedy or crisis or even sheer frustration and disappointment. So we get the fictional narratives of someone (Jack Frost, Burgomeister Meisterburger, Scrooge, the Grinch) trying to take the holiday away.
Easter? It's not even clear anyone else wants it. You don't have animated or musical or variety show specials on TV, and who was the last pop star who put out an Easter album? Easter décor is spring-influenced, to be sure, but Spring as a season is an inexorable force, pushing weeds through last year's mulch and sprouting all over where we don't even want it.
So too is resurrection. Whether you call yourself a Christian or not, a seeker or a skeptic, a non-theist or Ron Reagan, Jr. militant atheist, there's something about the force of the story we worshipers just "lived" through that carries you along. Crisis and sorrow and set-backs don't hold the story back because they are part of the story itself, up to and including the crushing loss of death. How you feel about the proposition that death is not the final word probably says something about the faith commitments you carried into the weekend, but it's a story that has washed many a questioning heart right into currents that flow into an ocean of belief.
"Christ is risen!" "He is risen, indeed!" That call-and-response have been a part of Christian Easter observances in church and on the street for millennia, and they echo still in our ears the week after. Culturally, we move on past Easter even faster than stores take down the Christmas decorations late on Dec. 24th, but in worship churches still have a bit more to say about the journey we assert Christ Jesus made from life into death into life.
And that's a journey that, with no lack of faith in those promises for myself, I'm in no hurry to take. The idea of Heaven, of eternal life, of resurrection hope for us all, doesn't mean the reality of this world is made less meaningful in that light. What it does do, for me at any rate, is make that heavenly light shine out from within things in this world, in ways I don't always stop to see. The connections, the history, the heritage of objects and institutions and traditions and artifacts, which are alive today in ways I might miss if I'm not open to a sense of life that's not just of the moment, more than merely material.
So I welcome the idea that God isn't finished with me yet, that there is a purpose and meaning to my life that might be a bit bigger, a whole lot wider and deeper than my senses and recollections can hold onto. I appreciate that even my failures and shortcomings might be a part of learning and development that goes beyond my own three-score and ten, or maybe another ten or twenty if I am so blessed. I could live to be a hundred, yet not exhaust the complete understanding that might yet be mine.
Which is why I believe that the best path to inner peace and personal integration is through a wider world view that goes even beyond this world. One's faith and practice of spiritual discernment and direction takes us both beyond immediate concerns, but also helps us look back at those worries with healthier perspective.
Belief in a life-to-come isn't a distraction from this life when it gives you confidence to try and fail, to seek and not always understand perfectly. Hope in a God who loves you isn't so much the "opiate of the masses" as it is a way for any individual lost in the crowd to find a joy that endures, without buying a drug to provide it for a passing moment.
All of which is why I would love to see you all at the community meeting to be held next week at Newark High School on Wednesday, April 26, at 6:30 pm. Together, we can see past today's problems and identify some practical reasons for hope right now. Come join us!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your source of living joy at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
Notes From My Knapsack 4-20-17
Dreams, Hopes, and Nightmares
Next Wednesday, Apr. 26 at the Newark High School auditorium, we are blessed to have the journalist and author Sam Quinones visiting Licking County.
His best known book is one that features Ohio prominently, but doesn't quite mention Licking County. Entitled "Dreamland," his investigation begins and ends in Portsmouth, Ohio, and stops by a number of central Ohio communities, but neither Newark nor Granville make it into his narrative, now some years old.
Part of why a committee of a number of us in this county are working to bring Sam to our area is that we don't want the Land of Legend to make it into some future "Author's Updated Foreword," and that could yet happen.
The scourge of heroin addiction and opiate marketing out of Mexico has brushed past most of us here in Granville and around the county. Not as savagely as that epidemic has struck Portsmouth and Chillicothe and Marion, just work our way due north up Rt. 23, but here a bit to the east of that "mud vein" of prescription abuse cases and cheap black tar heroin for sale, we are starting to see the impact of the marketing and sales expertise that become an unexpected but necessary part of the story Mr. Quinones has to tell.
"Dreamland" in the title of Quinones' book was a pool, a community center. Like many community pools, it ultimately closed in the '80s due to lack of funding, but the site was a memory of where the city came together, for relaxation and exercise and a certain measure of joy. That location, as the economics of the Ohio Valley began to push back against funding or hope or any joy at all, turned from a safe family zone to a place where families were destroyed, as the products sold there from out of Mexico insinuated themselves into the relationships and responsibilities of family members around their county.
In Licking County, a task force of community leaders have met to say "not here." We don't need heroin or prescription opiates to become yet another factor in the breakdown of functional families. We're already up to around 450 children taken from their homes by the county, not because there's any upside at all to the county doing so, but because there are that many parents so lost in drug abuse they can't even maintain basic responsibilities to their own kids.
School officials in districts all across central Ohio, and here in Licking County, are seeing a sharp uptick in the number of grandparents showing up for parent's night programs, as they begin raising grandkids for their adult children who simply can't cope with their addicitions…they may not be legally in their custody (a complication in its own right), but we're hearing about 20-30 per building these days in that situation.
And yes, the opiate epidemic has come to Granville. You can get cheap heroin here just like you can in Columbus, some say more easily. Here in "Brigadoon," we can hide our pain and sorrows a little more efficiently, but the damage is here, and spreading.
So I invite you to come to Newark High School next week, 6:30 pm in the auditorium, and hear from Sam and some of our county leadership, and join in the conversation. It's going to take all of us to find solutions.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you've seen opiates doing damage in our area at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
Tuesday, April 04, 2017
Again noting: this is a "get ahead" column for the Easter weekend; you should have just gotten the 4-8-17 column for this Saturday.
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Faith Works 4-15-17
A beggar boy and his goods
Their Iesou died a few hundred years ago, but they kept coming. His mother had died when he was a boy, and the beggar child just thought of himself as "Boy" (if anyone noticed him at all, that's what they called him, too), but they all knew HIS name.
Since the emperor's mother had come to Jerusalem a few years ago, the Roman wealthy showed up regularly, in groups from ships down at Caesar's harbor making the long walk up into the hills from the Middle Sea to this, the Holy City.
All the boy knew that was holy to him tended to be gold, but he wouldn't hesitate to take silver, or copper if such was all that was at hand. A gold coin could feed him for a week; depending on whose face was on it, a month, and he was good at judging from faces of shopkeepers which caesar's face he had.
In the heaps of rubble near where a church was slowly going up, massive limestone block by massive hoisted stone, the boy was still small enough to squirm down into the ruins of the temple that had been here before, and into stones that felt, in the darkness, older even than those foundations.
Questing fingers could find the particular cold of iron, and the long iron Roman nails were what he sought: for today's Roman visitors would pay, and pay well, for these corroded pieces of metal. The tale was told that their Iesou had been nailed, hand and foot, to timbers which Empress Helena had already taken away, around the well of which the church was being built. But they did not find all the nails.
The key, of course, was to be not quite clever, and not to show your hand too quickly. He had learned long ago, in his own terms as a child himself, that if you just walked up to a gold-trimmed gown wearing Roman tourist and pulled out a long, thin iron nail and said "here's one of the nails they used to crucify Iesou" they'd give you the back of their hand, hard, and no coins at all.
But if you approached them nervously, hesitantly, and whispered that you thought, you might, a friend could have . . . and if you could get them to leave their friends behind and follow you down streets and turns and alleys and lanes, the farther they went with you, the more they believed that what you had was what they sought, and the more they would pay.
You'd sold dozens of these Roman nails to willing purchasers, always (well, since the unsuccessful beginnings) saying you didn't know for sure, but it had been found very near the Calvary rock, deep in the ruins of the earlier church, and who knows . . .
And who did know? He had been so deep in the rubble pile, down to country rock itself, and found oddly curved and twisted nails that seemed exactly as if they'd been pounded deep into timber and pried out with great effort later. Those, he thought with a chuckle, were the ones people paid the least for, and might be most likely to be what was said of them. It was the long, straight, dark ones that got the gold.
Why did they want these nails? He assumed they wanted to own a piece of the story, the legends, the amazing reports they said again and again to each other about this man: that he was who he said he was, that God Most High spoke through him, and that his death on a cross was, for him, not an ending, but a new beginning.
If he could sell a few more nails, he would relax a bit. Perhaps when Helena's new church was built around the tomb they said he rose from, he would get a new robe, wash his face, and attend one of their services, and learn more about this Iesou. For now, there was work to do, and visitors to greet. Could it be? Who knows.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your story at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
Faith Works 4-8-17
Processions around and in and through
This weekend, Hebron Christian Church celebrates their 150th anniversary with special events through the weekend and a guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Tamara Rodenberg, president of Bethany College, to anchor their Sunday worship.
I was privileged to serve as their pastor for five years myself, and know their history, starting as it does with a returned Civil War veteran named Thomas Madden who wanted something more out of life at age 24 than just a good career.
Deacon Street in Hebron, that runs past the elementary school, is named for him or rather the role he held in the Christian Church; he was never college or seminary trained, but his preaching built up that congregation along with the occasional visiting "trained" evangelist; the church he helped establish there sent a Timothy (a youth raised out of a congregation who goes into ministry) of about 24 to Newark, where George Crites became the first parson for the church that I now serve, founded in 1884. Crites went on into state society work, and Thomas Madden stepped in to help sustain what became Central Christian in Newark through the first decade of the 1900s, skating some eight to ten miles in his seventies during the winter along the frozen Ohio & Erie Canal. He'd preach for us in Newark, then strapped on his skates to be home with Virginia by dinner.
I think about his journeys both winter and summer when I drive Rt. 79 between Heath and Hebron, and the faith that kept him going, which keeps us going today.
Sunday afternoon, and Monday, we have another cycle of "open house" days at Octagon Earthworks, part of the 2,000 year old Newark Earthworks complex, a site of pilgrimage back and forth from Chillicothe, we believe from the evidence, 60 miles one way. The double-walled processional ways can be traced in fields and forests behind the shopping zone in Heath, and on old maps and memories over fields down past Hebron and the National Road.
As we prepare to give tours for the more infrequently opened portion, at the end of N. 33rd St. and Parkview Rd., during the afternoon hours tomorrow and Monday as well, I think about the years we've been doing tours officially now, since 2000. In those seventeen years, we've gained new "friends of the mounds" and had others move on, move away, some pass away – and those memories are even greener in the spring, with the budding trees and flowering shrubs and occasional patch of spring beauties in the grass reminding us of walks long ago, in our memory and in the land's memory as well.
But it is Palm Sunday, after all. The start of a week of Christian observances all well known, if not always generally understood. The beginning is a commemoration of the triumphant entry of Jesus of Nazareth into the royal city of Israel, Jerusalem.
Were they celebrating who Jesus was, or hoping for something more? Do we celebrate with an understanding of the bittersweet nature of the regal symbols presented to the man entering the gates of the walled city, or are we just caught up in a traditional celebration ourselves?
And it's not only Christians who have wondered, on reading or hearing the Gospel accounts, if some of the same cheering voices shouting "Hosanna!" would be jeering out a "Crucify him!" later that same week. They may have been largely different crowds with separate agendas, but I wonder.
A procession, from the Mount of Olives down through the Kidron Valley and up to the Lions' Gate. Well, that's what it's called today, though it's new. It's only 500 years old, which in Jerusalem is new. But somewhere in that vicinity, a triumphant entry on donkeyback, palms waving all around, and a man dimly seen at the head of the parade of people.
Come Friday, a different procession out the opposite side of the city, to a skull-like knoll of rock peering above a garden patch studded with rock-hewn tombs. No triumph there, only defeat, and desolation, and death.
Yet in time, we would come to see the one obvious celebration as somewhat mistaken, and the sorrowful scene to be at the heart of humanity's greatest triumph. It seems that some processions, some parades, you can't just watch to understand, but you have to find your place and participate yourself to really see where it's all going.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about processions you've been a part of at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.