Monday, April 17, 2017

Faith Works 4-22-17

Faith Works 4-22-17

Jeff Gill

 

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 d├ęcor 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 knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 4-20-17

Notes From My Knapsack 4-20-17

Jeff Gill

 

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 knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.