Thursday, February 08, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 2-14-18

Notes From My Knapsack 2-14-18

Jeff Gill


Love and other vital signs



My apologies at the outset; for friends and casual acquaintances, it's been clear on my social media and in other outlets like this column that I'm not quite as cheerful and optimistic these days as I'd like to be.


Thank you to expressions of concern from any and all, but in fact I am blessed indeed with a wife who loves me, a son who's finding his way with class and distinction, and work that fulfills me. In my life, all is well.


And with Julian of Norwich, I haven't lost my sense, as a Christian and a pastor, that all shall be well. (If you've not read any Julian, give her a look online – much to enjoy even four centuries on.) All shall be well, indeed, but we're not promised an easy path to get there.


Which is why in my vocation and avocations, in and around Licking County and Our Fayre Village, I do worry about just how hard a path we have before us. Incomes are increasing, employment is high, and Elon Musk just sent a Tesla to Ceres. There is much to call encouraging all around us.


But even as we are given a time of prosperity and ease like no culture has ever known, it feels to me that the levels of discontent, anxiety, and outright fear are off the charts. I've spent quality time in archives and records and journals from our pioneer era, when ox drawn carts brought families with a good axe, a ploughshare, and a bag of seed into this valley. They died young of odd ailments almost unknown today; they wore themselves down with labor few of us can even imagine doing for twenty minutes in the gym. Yet they had hope, and hopes, and good cheer in great measure when time and circumstance allowed.


The pre-Civil War times when timber frame houses were turning into brick and stone, with Grecian models of architecture pointing to aspirations for education and art, were still filled with sudden death and grinding work. Don't even ask about bathing or other creature comforts: yet the letters and diaries of that period are filled with grace and satisfaction, and aspirations which did not weigh them down in the present moment.


I could go on – until I get to today. Where anger and frustration and outright rage seem so common, in politics but also in family life; with suicide a storm cloud with flashes striking ever closer and more frequently around us; as images and visual culture soaked with violence and brutality both of a criminal and intimate variety.


Maybe I'm missing how the unpleasantness, the alienation, was always there, but unrecorded. It's quite possible. Kant's "crooked timber of humanity" from which "no straight thing was ever made" has been a reality for generations, I know.


Maslow's famous "hierarchy of needs" tells us that we need shelter and food and clothing first and foremost, but the next level of his pyramid is "safety" and the one after that is "love." As a community, in Granville and the state as a whole, I find myself worrying much these days that we're not even getting to love, because people just do not feel safe. Air bags and webcams on front doors aren't the cure. It's a level of safety of the heart, the soul, that we need to tend.


What would it mean to be a community where people felt truly safe? And what is undermining that sense which keeps us from getting to love? I think that's a needed thought in this Valentine's Day season.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been talking about our "hope deficit" for some time. Tell him where you see resources of hope and safety at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Faith Works 2-10-18

Faith Works 2-10-18

Jeff Gill


Wavelengths and bandwidth and transmissions of all sorts



With our wintry snow days recently, it has been a struggle to keep up with school closings.


Along with ministry and preaching, I work across the county in a role that has me in and out of a variety of our many Licking County school districts on weekdays.


I've noticed, especially in recent years, that the various school districts each have their own "culture of communication" that's often unique to their area.


Some districts have preferred modes of communication that are not the same as how other districts like to do things. There are those that have found the auto-call, robo-phone systems to be their best delivery system for a morning message. They push for parents to sign up with it, and in some of those cases, do not have on their website or any social media platform much of a way to check . . . and in one case I can think of, their closing info is always late to the Newark Advocate system, and no I don't know why.


But other districts are first to reach out through media like the Columbus TV stations, the Advocate's closing page, and our local radio stations. Call it old school, but it still reaches quite a few quickly, though these days you have to be very patient to wait out the crawl at the bottom of the screen.


And a few, Newark City Schools foremost among them, use social media as a major element of their outreach. Their Twitter is first and fast, with district and school Facebook pages not far behind. Not that they don't get word up on the Advocate and TV and such, but their use of social media tells me they know a plurality of their parents and guardians are connected that way.


In church life, pastors often talk about a similar sort of problem, or let's say challenge, in microcosm. We have leaders in churches who like to be called. Period. Phone is best, and they're most likely if not talking to us in person to leave us a voicemail.


But others like email. Some use email, but rely on spouses or children to let them know they got one. A few want written notes, in their mailbox slot at the church or left in an envelope on the welcome center for the next time they come through the church building.


And quite a few, not just the younger folks, are using Facebook Messenger, whether on their browser from a laptop or on their phones. Many of those also text, and a chunk jump back and forth asking questions or passing along information for the newsletter or bulletin between standard phone text messages and Messenger.


Which brings up the situation of many clerics I know, and of which I'll share a circumstance from Wednesday morning's snow event: I sent a couple key people a quick general text, posted on Twitter, my Facebook, and the church Facebook . . . then typed up a more detailed summary of what was (not) going to happen today, clicked "send" for a mass email I'd just edited off that: then 30 seconds after I posted to the church Facebook the text of the email, got a phone texts from two people at the same time asking me about details of closings & postponements. That's not a complaint, it's an observation about the nature of church communications in 2018.


When I was first ordained, church communications was a monthly print newsletter you produced on mimeograph and sent for a couple of pennies a copy (print and postage costs altogether), the weekly bulletin calendar, and phone calls on land lines. Maybe a bulletin board you had to manage at the main entrance. That was it. Then phone message machines with little tape cassettes came along, and then . . . BOOM.


So be kind to your church staff. And your school administrators! We're now managing multiple lines of communication beyond the imagination even of most current seminary instructors, and the delivery systems and personal preferences, of both young AND old, keeps changing almost monthly. And then there's sermons . . .


Oh, and this week, for liturgically minded Christians, Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day are simultaneous. No, I will not be inscribing heart-shaped ash smudges on your foreheads. I'm sure there's a meditation on this confluence that someone else will have to write, but I'd love to see it!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you prefer to hear church news at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.