Saturday, June 30, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 7-19-18

Notes From My Knapsack 7-19-18

Jeff Gill


Putting on the brakes, stepping on the gas



While plenty of folks have said to me that their fondest hopes for Granville are that we all just slow down, I have to admit that I'm not sure this would win an election.


To anyone thinking "oh, Jeff, you must be wrong, that's all I hear" I have to invoke the Kael Principle. Pauline Kael was a noted film critic of the last century who became a bit of a cultural commentator; in the Seventies she was much respected in New York literary circles and read all over the country. And it was Kael who famously said, of Richard Nixon's election, that she couldn't believe he had won because no one she knew voted for him.


(I also had the privilege of running into Tim Kaine in an elevator about two months after he lost the election with Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump; most of the admittedly jam-packed vehicle said "we voted for you," and he smiled sadly, replying "oddly enough, everyone tells me that.")


Looking at the streets and stores and schools I am just not that confident that there's a plurality in favor of everyone slowing down, say, 25%. As Lightning McQueen would say, it seems many are quietly saying to themselves "I. Am. Speed!"


So what if the "slow it down" caucus is a minority party in Our Fayre Village? Mind you, I'm working on the assumption that if you're reading a community newspaper like the Sentinel, you have at least some sympathy with that perspective. There are some of us, and I think the point of view for now is to expand the circle, not push for a majority right off.


Reading slows the spirit, I would argue. Off a page or pixels, but if you're reading, that's a different pace than videos or earbuds offer. Thank you for reading this, and see where you can find some other local connections with stories to share; thanks to Denison, we have journalists and novelists in our midst, who write for national outlets with next-door perspectives. Margot Singer's book is now in paperback, "Underground Fugue," and Jack Shuler's journalism is available online at "Between Coasts" and other venues.


Walking is good for the heart in any sense of the organ; Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay titled "Walking" that's easy enough to find online, and it should cause you to saunter out as soon as you finish. Dennis Cauchon has many community irons in the fire, but is always interested in walking, walkability, and how taking a walk can benefit more than just the walker.


And then there's writing. I've found a meditative practice in just making lists sometimes; even with my smart phone and tablet devices and keyboards in every room (or so it seems) I like to find the time to put pen to paper. I almost wonder if cursive writing might someday find a modest resurgence as a spiritual practice, just learning how to loop and link and lay out your thoughts by hand. Jimmy Buffett in "Twelve Volt Man" doesn't seem to think much of having been taught penmanship as a class in school, but what happens when it becomes a part of spirituality like Zen calligraphy?


How do you slow down and seek peace in an everyday fashion?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hasn't gotten a speeding ticket in years. Tell him about your deceleration skills at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



Faith Works 7-21-18

Faith Works 7-21-18

Jeff Gill


When the sun goes down



At the risk of making anyone unhappy with this revelation, the sunsets are starting to get earlier.


Ever since June 21, thirty seconds at a time and then creeping up to a minute or so earlier each day, the sun sets more than an hour earlier than it did a month ago. The days are almost a half hour shorter than they were this time last month.


But the evenings are still long, the days are warm, and the sunsets . . . hey, you don't have to have mountains to the west or an ocean at our feet to enjoy a good sunset.


Sunrises are back on the civilized side of 6 am, but I have found that sunrises are an acquired taste and not that many have acquired it. Sunsets, though, have a solid constituency.


In principle, that is. In practice, grabbing strangers by the elbow and pointing west and saying "hey, isn't that an amazing sunset?" would not get you much thanks, and possibly a police report.


I'm told there are places on the west coast of Florida where the community sponsors a nightly sunset party; I'd imagine Key West doesn't need to organize theirs. The Lovely Wife and I have been up along the Straits of Mackinac a number of times as people gather in the shadow of the Mighty Mac bridge, and as the sun touches down on the surface of Lake Michigan, a hush tends to gather across the crowd, holding as the ruddy orb descends and often turns to applause as the sun vanishes.


The Midwest can give the casual observer a good horizon for sunsets, even if there are not seagulls overhead. A hill or ridge to the west can offer an early sunset, technically speaking, and a longer dusk, but the experience from a well-selected seat of the light withdrawing up along a tree trunk, into the upper canopy, and then whispering up into the clouds is still the same. Time seems to pass visibly, and your soul is soothed by the semi-conscious act of slowing down your senses to where you can mark the movement of the line between light and not-light slipping upwards.


Once the sun is below the horizon, of the sphere or of your surroundings however situated, you see everything in a different light, and it takes a greater, more intentional effort to be mindful of the growing twilight, the gathering dimness, progressing into night. Clouds miles above your location still catch the rays of the distant sun, and if you look closely, you can readily see their silent explosion of expansion. Having started seeing that movement, you can find yourself suddenly realizing you've been contemplating the fluidity of the heavens for quite some time.


This is where sunsets and spirituality can come together. The cumulonimbus are not as common in winter, nor are you as willing to stop, let alone to sit still. Evening is still well into the end of your day, not halfway past the afternoon, and you are more ready for contemplation, meditation, prayer.


Day is done, gone the sun, says the song; from the lakes, from the hills, from the skies. All is well, safe at rest: God is nigh.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's borrowing that ending from Gen. Daniel Butterfield. Tell him about your summer reflections at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 7-14-18

Faith Works 7-14-18

Jeff Gill


"Why am I still here?"



If you are going to call yourself a minister, if you serve in any pastoral care role, you are going to find yourself doing theology, whether you call it that or not.


I said a couple of weeks ago I wanted to talk more this summer about "what is aging for?" What does God intend for us to do with these years when mobility is limited, our physical skills may be less, and even our mental acuity is sharper in some ways, but a blunt instrument in others?


And I think often about this because beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most common theological discussion I've had in the last ten years has been in response to bedfast elderly people asking me, in exactly these words, more or less: why am I still here?


Sometimes I hear this asked anxiously, more often it's said very matter-of-factly, sometimes even with a smile and a twinkle in the eye . . . but still quite seriously said. It's really more of a statement of frustration than a question, but I've found that taking the question it is seriously is the best way for us to deal with the impatience and irritation and even sorrow that's behind those words.


"Why am I still here?"


You can go in a more philosophical direction if you want: it's the ultimate existential question. And that's part of my answer to the centenarians and nonagerians who ask me that: we can, and should, all ask ourselves that question. We have lots of ways of evading the question when we're younger and more active and mobile, but age and immobility take those screens away. The question is much more immediate, and you're forced to reflect more directly, on trying to understand why you are here.


Sometimes, we go on to talking about why you've been here. Trust me, elderly people are MUCH less uncomfortable talking about the imminence of death than the young are. Maybe even too comfortable at times! But they know there are more days behind them than before, and it's a worthy exercise to reflect on what they did or didn't make sense of about their years as a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a friend. What their work did or did not add to their lives; how their favorite activities were part of that meaning making that they only saw as amusement then, but see a purpose now.


Church and faith and those who have, as we say, "gone on before" are part of those holy conversations. And then back to the present, and the current conundrum: "why am I still here?"


Which I believe is always a good question, and like most good questions, there's a value to simply taking it seriously and wrestling with it honestly. I can't guarantee anyone a clear short answer to it. That often helps, just to put it out there.


Yet as a Christian pastor, I have to put two more things on the conversational table. One is, if God wanted you to go on into glory, you would indeed have already "passed on." And you have not. Therefore, I would argue, you must still have some purpose, some part of the bigger plan . . . or you'd have been called home some time ago. So let's try to figure out what that might be.


Sometimes we come up with a grandchild or adult child who still needs to hear something, or someone they'd like to see one more time. Well, that's an answer. Occasionally, I'm having this conversation with a person who literally has no one. They've outlived family, friends, colleagues, everybody. There's no one yet to speak to or influence.


Those conversations often happen in care centers, what we used to call (and still call) nursing homes. Or assisted living, or different arrangements with various names, but the same general idea. So we talk about the staff.


Yes, care center staff, we talk about you. The ones who care, the ones who make eye contact, the ones who talk to us – and the ones who do not. And I wonder out loud if there's some one here, working here, who needs to speak to you, on whom you might yet have some kind of impact or influence. And I hear then about guardians and inspectors and even people who got lost looking for someone else who come into your room and talk. And one's purpose seems to gather force from those interactions.


Or not. It's not unusual to find no clear resolution to the question, but there's always a certain sort of relief, a lifting of the spirits, from being able to ask it out loud. And as I leave, for I'm still young enough that I get to do that, the question echoes around inside of my head: "what am I here for?" Which might be part of the purpose of the person who asked that question out loud to start.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's already older than he was when he wrote this. Tell him about what you about aging and the elderly in society at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Faith Works 7-7-18

Faith Works 7-7-18

Jeff Gill


A county of immigrants



So much has been said, and at a fevered pitch, about immigration and faith communities, that I worry about having anything useful or new to say.


Both as a pastor and as a citizen, I've been dismayed for years over many aspects of our national incoherence around immigration and a fair degree of social confusion about immigrants. As a historian, though, it's all too familiar.


My Native American friends get to smile, or snarl as the spirit moves them, about any European-origin Americans complaining about immigration and immigrants. "Tell us about it," they say. As we say often, but perhaps too quickly, we are all a nation of immigrants. It's just a question of when, and from where, and the cultural moment's choice of biases and discrimination that puts a frame on the snapshot. The first Gill in my father's line seems to have come from northern England with the British Army, deserting at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 and becoming a US citizen before the end of the year, switching sides to fight for this country, then on getting bounty lands in central Pennsylvania, marrying a recent immigrant from Scotland.


In our early history in Licking County, we have the Welsh settlers whose hills still sit at the heart of the county. A strange language, alien customs, they were immigrants twice over. Jones and Philipps and Rees sound native now, but then…


After statehood but before the Civil War, Irish and German immigrants knew hostility and exclusion we associate today only with "people of color," but whiteness was still a loosely defined category in the 1840s and 1850s. A French migrant, Father Jean-Baptiste Lamy, came to establish the first Catholic parishes in the area before going on to New Mexico and an archbishop's hat. Father Lamy's people were German and Irish, often anxious about the reception they got on market day or from their neighbors, glad to have a community at St. Francis de Sales within which to feel some peace and acceptance.


Reinhardt Scheidler & Patrick McNamar left the Newark Machine Works and became the driving forces of the rapid growth of Newark's steam tractor engine industry; Scheidler, whose later independent business is the heart of "The Works" museum today, was born in Prussia, while McNamar was born in Ireland.


Wehrles and Moraths and Heiseys were German born families that became pillars of the community after the crucible of the Civil War. That was the melting pot of their day, and for Austrian and Italian immigrants who came to work in the glass factories and foundries that blossomed in and around Newark afterwards, it was service in the military during the Spanish-American War and World War I that marked their greater acceptance into the community fabric. If you read microfilmed copies of the Advocate in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you'll find racist bile spilled more about central and eastern Europeans than you will about African Americans, though there is sadly more than enough of the latter, as well.


In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan took over our community, and it will take more than a column to address that still unscrubbed stain on our history, but to read in the archived copies of "The Fiery Cross" (easily findable online) is to be confronted with a shocking degree of inflamed nativism which presumes that any Catholic, and certainly most Italians and Irish persons, cannot truly be considered American. Sadly, the Protestant churches of the day were not only silent in the face of this scandal, they were often complicit. The Klan's vile rhetoric collapsed in the face of its own corruption (secrecy of membership also leads to misuse of funds), and the weight of the Great Depression forced many to acknowledge a level of common cause which healed some, if not most wounds.


And then again a world war brought all races and ethnicities together, the response to Pearl Harbor and the draft both throwing into close proximity the children of other shores as men and women in service, who often brought home a new tolerance and acceptance which we greatly benefited from.


The aftermath of World War II also brought us refugees, "displaced persons" from Europe like Jan Michalek, twice imprisoned first by the Nazis and later by Communists, who brought to Licking County his Czechoslovak experience with fish hatcheries to rejuvenate what became the Trout Club, an enduring monument to his work and skills.


The fundamental Christian question is one asked of Jesus, "who is my neighbor?" In my faith tradition, we are called to wrestle long and hard with what his answer means, but it was a story, and it was about a man who was himself an alien in the land where the challenge was presented. The Samaritan was an immigrant before he was good, and his actions were Jesus' answer to the question as presented.


How do we answer that question in our Ohio home?



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's only been here since 1989, so is he really from here? Tell him about how our fences and gates and doorways make for good neighbors at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 7-5-18

Notes From My Knapsack 7-5-18

Jeff Gill


What kind of community we want to become



Carl Jung talked about the "collective unconscious" and Margaret Mead wrote about cultural patterns creating a community "state of mind." I'd just say we can become what we intentionally want to be. What kind of Granville do we want?


That may not seem very controversial to say, but there are so many assumptions we unconsciously work under that push back against that idea. Economic trends are seen as destiny, changes in social norms are a massive phenomenon in sum that no one place, let alone person, can resist them.


And I disagree. I may lack data for my argument, there may be little evidence that this stance is correct, but I plan to keep operating out of a belief that we can be the kind of place we want to live in, if we think about what that is, talk to each other about what it looks like, and take some simple steps to be more that sort of place.


Let me start with a simple step, if I can't make a global case for swimming against the tide. I think it self-evident that if you don't think about community, if you take it for granted, it will drift with the tide if not lapse into entropy and decay. If you drive a car without caring for it, you will run out of gas; if you keep up with the gas only, you'll run out of oil or coolant or rubber on your tires. You have to be intentional about maintenance on your car. Ditto a home, likewise a relationship. So why not a community as a whole?


Writing recently about community, I've gotten a number of emails and a few print letters from people expressing their concerns over what Granville is right now. Size is one common thread, that we've gotten too big to be the kind of place we (or they) want us to be, or at least that we've grown too fast. Another recurring theme is speed, which sometimes mentions growth as a spur. People in a hurry, on Broadway, in the checkout line, at events, or in general.


From hurry and speed grows another weed much mentioned: impatience and discourtesy. Now, I've only lived here about fifteen years, so I can't speak to the cordiality of eras gone by with certainty. I do know that you tend to be more friendly to those you know, and if you're a stranger you can be ill at ease in ways that comes across in strange ways. More turnover let alone new faces each year can surely create some social tensions. None of that explains what I think I have seen, of cars dashing hazardously through crosswalks and utterly impersonal gestures of rudeness. The social fabric has changed, how much I'm not sure, but the reality is there.


Which bids me ask: can we reweave it? Could we be gentler with each other, take our turn or even let someone else in front of us? Be less abrupt and insistent in person or behind the wheel, passing through town or in our face-to-face interactions?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hopes you'll indulge him further on this topic this summer! Give him your views at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.