Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Faith Works 9-2-17

Faith Works 9-2-17

Jeff Gill


Helping out and looking within



Many years ago, when I was serving as pastor in a place with many and serious economic ills, our community was offered aid.


When you don't have much, you don't turn down anything, right? An offer is an offer, so the word came that a semi-trailer would arrive on a certain day and we would have a crew ready to unload, at an address where some short-term storage could be done securely.


On the hour expected, the truck showed up. From the start, the whole operation felt very different than any of us had expected. The driver was hired, fair enough, but he made it clear he expected to be on the road again in no less than two hours, and he was going to get lunch and we were on our own. He unlocked the back doors and was quickly off down the street.


Standing at the back of the semi was a scratch crew, mostly made up of ministers, it being a weekday. And a few well-intended retirees. Inside, with almost four feet to clamber up to reach the trailer's floor, was . . . stuff.


We'd been asked if we needed . . . I'll just say "certain items." Those sounded helpful to our work in that town, and we said yes. The "helpful" person on the other end said "we'll throw in some other similar items which might be similarly useful."


"Throw" was the operative word. And it was quickly clear to us that someone with a business that shall not be named had set a crew to work throwing the contents of a warehouse of "stuff" into this truck. Imagine a semi-trailer filled to three or four feet in height with drifts of loose items.


And I'll be blunt. Most of it was trash. Returns, remainders, extras, probably a fair mix of flawed or rejected items. The "certain items" we'd said yes to? They were all the way in the back, and I kid you not there were three sad boxes of that stuff . . . and a truckload of all the rest.


Those "free gifts" ended up costing our community churches a few hundred in dumpster fees, while a company got a tax write-off under false pretenses. We could have raised heck somehow, I realize in retrospect, but we had neither the time nor the energy, so we sifted out what we could use for our kids programs and sent the rest to a landfill, where it was doubtless destined, but now at our charitable group's cost.


I tell this story now not to settle scores (or you'd be reading some names here!) but to explain why charitable groups and churches alike ask those who want to help with Hurricane Harvey or similar disasters to send MONEY. Contributions. Cash.


Yes, in-kind donations can be critical. And they will, in certain situations, have their place. Some groups are very skilled at obtaining and sifting and shifting those sorts of items, and if you hear about an effort, God bless them.


But there is no one who has done much work with non-profit and faith-based and disaster relief efforts who doesn't have a story about helping unload a truckload of winter parkas after a Florida hurricane, or having to trash a ton of canned goods with bulging lids. Both poorly considered good intentions, and flat-out venality . . . we can say "sin" here, can't we? . . . mean that getting big piles of help often means heaps and heaps of trouble, and time spent taking out someone else's trash when you're there to help people in need.


Your faith community doubtless has a relief arm. My own denomination's "Week of Compassion" does great work, "One Great Hour of Sharing" is used by a number of churches, while Church World Service is an ecumenical relief agency with a great track record. United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR is excellent; I and communities I've been a part of have seen how effective the Salvation Army, LDS Charities, and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) are for everyone involved. Parachurch groups like Samaritan's Purse and Habitat for Humanity are great partners as well, and of course the American Red Cross is always there first and usually last. They're all online, and all worthy recipients of your gifts.


John Wesley is known for his aphorism "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." Give where you will, and give what and as much as you can, and remember that your monetary contributions are almost always the fastest and most effective way to get help to those who need hope.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about where and how you like to help others at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 9-7-17

Notes From My Knapsack 9-7-17
Jeff Gill

Statuary and other public goods

Perhaps it's just as well that we don't have more public sculpture in Our Fair Village.

Around the nation, there are debates about Confederate generals on horseback and monuments to oppression in bronze and marble, the wording of plaques in public places no longer reading as quaint as much as they now sound downright cruel, or even simply wrong.

We've had a form of this sort of public discussion, albeit about private property on public display. At the head of Main Street for generations the entry sign in stone for Denison University said "A Christian College of Liberal Arts." Tons of granite, that by 2006 no longer spoke the truth.

In fact, when "the Centennial Stone" gateway went up in 1931, the word "Christian" was controversial in some quarters, because it signaled the end of a specifically "Baptist" identity for the college. And that move in 1931 to a broader understanding of their mission pointed to the change that came 75 years later, since the mission of Denison is today rooted in a more secular vision of education. You can debate whether that's an improvement, but was certainly true that the old memorial gave some visiting families pause as they came for their first look.

There are other inscriptions on different gateways between the village and the college, but little in the way of artistic depiction of historic figures. Some modern abstract sculpture, but you have to go to Newark to see bronze persons remembered, from a grandpa with a candy bar downtown to Mark Twain by the Midland; a reading child at the library arch to Shakespeare and Monet at the Ohio State Newark campus.

We do have two kids and a puppy in front of the Granville Public Library, and a more hidden woman pouring out her thoughts behind the Robbins Hunter Museum. On the side entrance to the Avery Downer House is a memorial Robbins Hunter, Jr. placed to celebrate Victoria Woodhull, his part in marking the nation's bicentennial and more recently refurbished. On the hour, a three-quarters sculpture of the first woman to run for President of the United States, carved in wood, painted and well shellacked, comes out on her balcony to gaze upon the people she was ready to represent.

And we do have a stump. Carved of stone, marking a more perishable original, it sits on the spot where the first tree was cut down with a steel axe as the 1805 pioneering party entered this valley from Granville, Massachusetts & Granby, Connecticut, the stump becoming a speaker's platform for the dedication sermon. Those New England pioneers we now know not to be even the first Europeans to reside in this township, let alone the first humans by some thousands of years, but their names, which undergird the village as we know it today, can still be read on that sculptured stump.

Should we have more busts, a hero on horseback, other sculptures in public places here in Granville? Somehow, that kind of monumentalism doesn't quite seem in place for this place. Our tastes are more to the simple lines of Greek Revival and pointed steeples, Federal brick and the occasional fanlight, green lawns and Doric pillars.

I am glad we have Victoria, though. On the hour, for a few moments. She seems just right for our town.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has done little sculpting, other than in mashed potatoes at dinnertime. Tell him about statuary that's caught your attention at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.