Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Notes from my Knapsack 4-12-18

Notes from my Knapsack 4-12-18

Jeff Gill


Life finds a way


Ian Malcolm is noted scientist, at least in fictional terms. He's had a number of star turns but is best known for his comic relief and insightful observations in the original "Jurassic Park" movie when, after the re-creators of the dinosaurs into the present day explain how they've made sure that there's no way their risky revivals could break loose, he says:


"Life cannot be contained. Life breaks free. Life...uh, finds a way."


Spring is the time when the simplest property owner, the least horticultural caretaker or lawn tender, we maintenance-impaired mis-managers all realize the truth of Dr. Malcolm's now all-purpose aphorism: "Life finds a way." (Memes available on request.)


Through mulch and sidewalk cracks, up between patio pavers and among the more desireable plants, life keeps finding a way. The spring may bring the spray bottles and lawn care tank trucks, the long-shanked weed pullers and rolling spreaders of granules bearing a chemical punch, but still, life finds a way.


The dandelions, brought ashore at Jamestown before 1610 whether in an apothecary's trunk or ship's ballast cast ashore onto a virgin continent from Europe, are now already peering with a yellow squint out of our too long deferred flower beds. Various plants, native and non-native, are poking up from the half decayed leaf mould and bits of scattered buds now cast down as the serious work of leafing out has begun.


We look at our greening lawns, in various states of disrepair after the winter, and make our plans for verdant, lush, comforting landscapes, on our quarter-acre or quarter section, but closer up you can tell that life is finding all sorts of ways to complicate our plans for a relaxing summer. Shoots and suckers and tendrils and stems pop up, and a new variety for every season of warmth ahead.


Mustards and clovers, chickweeds and dead nettles, they're already at work from just above the surface of the soil; crabgrass is working invisibly, and while it won't really attract your attention until later this summer, if you don't get ahead of it now it's almost not worth the fight later. And on the sun-shaded north-facing walls and structures, microscopic life forms are getting ready to erupt into enough life to attract dust and dirt and spread their grey and grimy stains across the siding of your house or fence rails around the lot.


You may think you used a paint last year or a solution in the power-washing last fall which means you don't have to worry about these things, but . . . life finds a way. You have to keep an eye on which lines you don't want crossed, where the borders are supposed to be between this plot and that landscaping feature, because life is finding a way right now to break it down and erase it, given enough time.


Yes, those limbs you meant to trim back when it was freezing, but you were waiting for the right not-too-cold, still freezing but not miserable day? Too late. Or you can cut now, watch the wounds weep, and wonder if you just killed that still desired tree or bush (you probably won't, with care and restraint). All those tasks of winter you were going to get to? Now it's time to plunge in and try to stay ahead of the tide, the green wave of growth.


Nature may not always throw dinosaurs at you, but nibbling in small but steady ways on your property, life will indeed find a way.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he and his wife and the bank own a house and a patch of weed-besieged lawn. Tell him how you co-exist with ravenous nature at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 4-7-18

Faith Works 4-7-18

Jeff Gill


A solemn anniversary with long shadows



50 years ago, I was six years old. I'm not quite old enough to recall where I was or what was going on when President Kennedy was shot, though I have a dim recollection of JFK's funeral procession rolling past on a black and white TV, the horse with backwards boots in the stirrups riding alone after the caisson carrying the casket.

What I do recall is the spring of 1968, and how that second half of my second grade year was shadowed by violence: first, the killing of Rev. Dr. King on April 4th, then the death of Bobby Kennedy on June 6th. I remember my parents were very upset about King's assassination, and seeing news coverage of riots not far from where I lived in northwest Indiana; I recall more specifically having just started summer break and waking up to say to my mother "it's a beautiful morning!" on June 5th and her responding "no, it's not, they've shot Bobby Kennedy" (he died the next day after being attacked just after midnight in California). Clearly, these deaths meant something to me even in a modest town in the Midwest.

There was an unease at school and at home, a sense of things coming unstuck, of bombings and shootings and killings against a backdrop of Vietnam, and with the earlier echo of Nov. 22, 1963 still ringing in everyone's ears.

And in truth, the anxieties I saw on the faces of the adults around me only grew as bombings in post offices and government buildings increased in frequency (the next year and a half saw over four thousand incendiary and explosive devices set off in the United States, with a crescendo reached in May of 1970 at Kent State). The violent official response to protests in Chicago the summer of 1968, around the political convention there, were bookended by riots in cities seemingly all around me as a child the year before and the year after.

So I have to admit, as a white male raised in an overwhelmingly white town in a very white state, I grew up unconsciously associating civil rights and racial justice with violence and fear. I did not start to see or understand the history behind Dr. King's work until I was much older, and honestly I don't think I got a broader sense of what the civil rights movement was about until, in 1991, I got ahold of a copy of "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63" by Taylor Branch.

The double blessing was, in a series of coincidences that those of us who believe call "the work of the Holy Spirit," I got to spend the better part of an hour talking to Rev. Gardner C. Taylor just after finishing the book. He was a friend and close ally of Martin Luther King's, and his reactions to the book (mostly favorable) and his questions about how I understood what it was about (which was minimal) opened up my heart and my awareness about the struggle for civil rights in America. It was sealed by an unexpected realization that we'd both been through church fires as ministers, and swapping stories about how to preach and pastor a church without a home.

The longer title of "Parting the Waters" is because the subtitle is the actual name of the three part social history Taylor Branch was writing, "America in the King Years," continuing with "Pillar of Fire" covering 1963 – 1965 & "At Canaan's Edge" from 1965 to King's assassination in 1968 and its immediate aftermath.

Three volumes is a great deal of reading, but I would strongly encourage any readers here to at least consider taking on "Parting the Waters." To learn of the depth and breadth and complexity of the civil rights movement both saddened my understandings, but also lifted my heart. The young King in his first congregation faced the same sorts of challenges a new pastor has to overcome, even before he walks out the doors of his church and confronts the racism of his new hometown. And the many allies and co-workers, most of whom I'd never heard of, without whom we might never have heard of Dr. King . . . it's truly an epic tale of America.

King was killed 50 years ago last Wednesday. It marked a number of roads not taken, and his death along with those of Kennedys before and after him did cause a certain hardening of hearts, which we are still trying to soften. The story melted mine, and I pray you might feel it warming yours.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your spring reading at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.