Saturday, April 29, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 5-4-17

Notes From My Knapsack 5-4-17

Jeff Gill


Second nature, maybe even first



We are an addicted, not to say addictive society.


Addictive behavior is general considered to be a problem, even a bad thing, but in fact it can also be rewarded, encouraged, even promoted.


Our culture is in many ways bound up with the addictive side of human nature, which is a natural tendency run amok, just as growth is good, but uncontrolled growth is the logic of the cancer cell.


When we experience some substance or experience as good, we want more of it; when we want something to the exclusion of any other good, to the point where it's bad for us to want the one thing, it's bad. That's addiction. That's how you sell stuff to consumers, how you market products to customers. It's also how you survive in nature, looking for good food, safe places to sleep, and the right way to live for yourself and your family.


But as one addict to many, many others: do you see it? Can you feel it the way I'm trying to describe, that we're all tending to addictive behaviors? If you've ever opened a box of Girl Scout cookies, and shortly after unexpectedly found your fingers touching cardboard bottom, you might have some addictive tendencies.


Have you meant to eat a little ice cream, then scraped the carton? Thought "I won't have more chips" and soon finished the bag?


And our most common social addiction: much of the sleep shortage we're known to have in this country, a physical ailment that may well have its own influence on other more recognizable addictions, is due to the shocking hours we all put in watching screens. Big ones on the wall and little ones in our hands, bingeing on series TV and snacking our way through myriad short videos. Hours and hours that largely come out of our growing sleep deficit. We say we won't watch one more show, and then shake out of a doze an evening lost, far into the night.


"I can stop any time." Sound familiar? Yeah, addict-speak.


We're in the middle of "Turn Off Your Screens" week, which the Granville Recreation District and the Granville Public Library and some 15 community organizations promote each year for our own good. Yes, you may be reading this column on newsprint, or it may well be on a screen, but the message is the same.


You see, there are few substances out there that are bad in and of themselves. It's the how and the when and the how often (and why) that make a habit into a compulsion, a problematic addiction. Even morphine has its place, rightly used.


So no one is saying smash your smartphone or shoot your TV like Elvis (and he bought a new one the next day anyhow). But can you turn them off? We're not calling for a ban, but for that blessed boon of self-control. Of course, self-control is not just about will power. Any of us needs nudges, tools to help us leverage better choices. Look around this week, and you'll find a whole bunch of outdoor activities and indoor programs to distract us and turn us aside from the screens of our lives, to a different sort of living.


I like that this comes each year at spring. The leaves are opening out, flowers blossoming, warblers in the trees, summer constellations starting to show. It's a good time to see and live differently, to partake of "the better angels of our nature."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's prolific on social media, but on speaking terms with "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." Tell him your tale at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Faith Works 4-29-17

Faith Works 4-29-17

Jeff Gill


I read the news today, oh boy…



Along with preaching and social media and, well, this column, I've got a church sign that I can use to express myself.


The purpose, of course, for that sign is to a) help our congregation communicate the Gospel to the world, b) share information about upcoming events or special announcements, from births to deaths or the dates of our clothing bag sale, and c) to let public programs use our sign for awareness and promotion if they don't conflict with our church need to keep a) and b)  before c).


As I've said in this space before, a church sign is a challenge that makes Twitter look loquacious. No 140 characters, it's more of an informational haiku of three lines but less than 90 characters, which limits your expression and forces some creative rephrasing. "God is love" is eleven characters, but anything more complex gets tricky, fast.


Sometimes, we do a favor for outside groups who ask nicely and when there's not a church need, and put up a few words and dates about noodle dinners or plant sales or outside service opportunities.


What makes that choice a rare one is that once you do it, there's an expectation that you'll always do it. Answering "well, we have a church event this year that's the same week" gets a testy response; telling someone "yes, I changed it, because what you sent me won't fit" turns into an odd discussion of "what do you mean you only have 90 characters?" And yes, even my own church folk sometimes ask why I can't cram more on the big board.


All of which I recount to explain that I understand all too well why the "powers that be" or "the suits" (not that many people in the news biz these days wear suits, or even ties) or whomever has decided to bring the feature "Church Notes" to an end.


Yes, I've gotten your emails. I try to answer, even if briefly, every email I get, but this was a busy time (Easter, etc.) and lots and lots of unhappy people. "Church Notes" as page 2 or 3 of the "Your Faith" D section of the Saturday Advocate has been around for decades. MANY decades. As in, back when the "news hole" was big, and ads sold easily, and we had printing presses in the basement.


The presses are gone, there's a smaller paper, and frankly, fewer people backstage. Trust me on this. I'm just an outside contributor, but I've been contributing a long, long time, going back to when the newsroom was a long narrow flight of steps from Main St. that just got torn down a few weeks ago. There's just not many people all doing many more things working to put this paper out.


And I'll say what they'd rather not: church folk sometimes thought they had a right to that space, and were rather unhappy at having their paragraph edited. Like community groups unhappy with me about not getting the signboard this year, it really is frustrating to be accused of an event's lack of success "because you didn't give us the free space."


This is, I have to say, and I'm not paid to say it, an opportunity. As a pastor and church communicator, I have to speak the truth, and say it clearly: putting something in "Church Notes" was a way of pretending to publicize an event. It really was mainly something our own people looked at to make sure our own church was "there." It was not, has not been an effective way to reach unchurched, non-churched, de-churched people. And that's the goal, right?


If the end of "Church Notes" means that congregations will have to be more intentional, more anticipatory, more targeted in our communications, with social media and mailings and ads and church signs and, yes, purchasing ads in the Advocate from time to time, then it will be a positive step in our outreach and engagement. Let's be candid here: as newspapers get tighter, why would they give away the space and the editing time to material that they've got other churches paying for?


There's a part of me that will miss that weekly discipline of the Wednesday 3:00 pm deadline, but just as most bulk mail newsletter operations are now history, let us bid a fond farewell to "Church Notes" . . . and look honestly around us at how we as faith communities can reach and communicate with our ministry context.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you like to tell your faith story at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Granville schools drug testing 2017

Dear Granville Board of Education members:

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.

Jeff Gill
120 Bantry St.
Granville OH 43023