Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 9-21-17

Notes From My Knapsack 9-21-17

Jeff Gill


Door to door to door



Years ago, I sold Boy Scout popcorn door to door, and got a great story out of the experience: I grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, and I got to sell a five pound bag of Orville Redenbacher popcorn to Orville Redenbacher.


In general, I didn't look forward to the popcorn sale day, when we spread out across the town in various station wagons (it's the early Seventies, okay?), except for the then-rare experience of getting to have lunch at McDonald's, but I did well enough. My younger brother only told me years later that when he had to go out on "Popcorn Day" he'd mime pushing the doorbell, stand there a while, then trudge on; the mom driving his group around would comment on how he had such bad luck with people not being home. He hated the whole process.


Fast forward, and my son went around with what became a nationwide popcorn deal for Scouts; he had sold wrapping paper for elementary school in Hebron, mostly to family, and then in band there were candles and candy and a few other vats of cheese that turned out to be more tiny pots of . . . something.


Door to door sales are hard. I had a paper route, back when kids delivered papers (again, Seventies), and there would be drives to sell subscriptions. Those prizes were some great stuff, I thought then, and I pushed myself. I got a radio, a trip to a college football game, a few other items, never the telescope or tent or trip to New York.


Today, I live near one of our village's entrances off of the expressway. I'm also an officer in our neighborhood association, and when I took that role one of the previous holders told me "one of your jobs is to call the police non-emergency number when solicitors come around." My reaction at first was "really?" But that changed.


First, as soon as the weather warmed up, I was amazed at how many van loads of folks would get dumped down the block and set loose with clipboards and order forms. Some were very persistent, and I would see how an elderly lady next door would get nearly-literally arm-twisted. I'd ask "are you registered?" or any other question, and see a shocking eruption of hostility. It became easier to make the call to 1234.


Especially after the second or third time the officer would come back, after showing up and tracking down the waif with a pen on a string, and finding out they were runaways. A couple of times a summer, the police would follow the thread back to the van, the "boss," and the hotel room six of them were sharing. Many – not all, but many – of the "subscription sales" and other door-to-door solicitors were not what they claimed, and on more than one occasion one of them would pull the police checking on the location aside and say "help me."


I don't know what the right law about solicitation in Granville should be. But the idea that there be some regulation, some way to sort out the situation, other than everyone having to put a "No Solicitation" sign on their door, that makes a world of sense to me.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your door-to-door experiences at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 9-16-17

Faith Works 9-16-17

Jeff Gill


What do you believe, and how would I know?



There's a very old preaching illustration that can be summed up with the question: If being a Christian were a crime, is there enough evidence to convict you?


There's an echo here that wasn't as audible years ago, when we were more ready to confuse Christendom with country, and the mainline Protestant churches tended to assume that the culture of America was entirely supportive of "our" religion.


We could spend some serious time on a discussion of how the mainline never was that main, on Main St. or from sea-to-sea (for one thing, the "mainline" model never took Catholicism into account, let alone non-Christian faith communities, which have been with us since before the Declaration of Independence), but there was a normative model not long ago. It was an image of popular piety that we carried into civil religion across the nation, and many, even non-believers, had in their popular imagination of "being Christian."


That standard model, that kind of imagining envisioned that a good citizen going about their business like everyone else was also, pretty automatically, a good Christian. Looking back, we missed a great deal when we started to assume that religious formation was or ever could be a responsibility we could pass along to popular culture. Pop culture is, well, pop culture.


And even in the heart of that "middle America" imagination, there was an uneasy awareness that for many regular churchgoers, there wasn't much evidence for how faith in a loving God directly involved in our lives was an active and vital part of who we were. How did that amazing realization, if we'd come to it and affirmed it, make our lives different from someone else who hadn't taken that step in faith, but drove the same car, took the same vacations, read the same books, and enjoyed the same recreations? "Is there enough evidence to convict you?"


The good news is, from where this preacher stands, the huge shift in the last generation to Christian missions in this country. Yes, people have and probably should comment critically on "missions tourism," where folks go somewhere warm and exotic to do two days of service to those in need and get five days of cheap vacation in a tropical paradise. But let me say with as much weight as I can bring to bear: I've not seen that around here. Not at all.


To Haiti, to Zimbabwe; to South Carolina and not the fancy parts; to Mississippi and the Gulf Coast without a pause at a casino, even for the buffet; and now to Houston and Florida. Almost exactly one year ago, terrible flooding hit north-central West Virginia, and our congregation is preparing to go next month to a place that's hard to find on a map, let alone in a vacation guide. The hands-on work is most missional, most vital when the big ticket relief efforts are over, the telethons are done and the large corporate entities have moved on. It's the mucking out and tearing off of drywall, the peeling of paint and re-shingling of a patch job that's already years old.


Already, it's being said that faith-based organizations have brought in, both to the Houston area and to south Florida, almost double what FEMA has put on the ground and in people's hands. That's not being said to hack on FEMA, just to point out how large and broad those church organized responses are.


And most critically, and as the mission team folk from my own congregation have taught me, it's after FEMA is a faded memory that people still sitting in the midst of a fair amount of still visible destruction start to wonder "does anyone really care?" When the first adrenaline rush passes, and the surge of National Guard help and boxes off the big trucks are being delivered somewhere else, the local people who absorbed the brunt of the blow are only then taking stock of what they've lost, and what looking forward means now.


This is where a few van loads of people with a mix of carpentry and electrical and plumbing and just leather-gloved "rip it out" skills, showing up to just say "how can we help?" can move hearts and lift spirits, let alone take a ruined house and make it a habitable home again.


In this country, and overseas, mission service in the name of your faith can create some compelling evidence that your beliefs mean something.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you've seen faith made visible at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.