Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 8-2-18

Notes From My Knapsack 8-2-18

Jeff Gill


The season of life



It's everywhere. Life.


It is the season of life.


You pluck weeds in the cracks on your driveway and between the fading hosta, and a few days later they're back as large as when you last pulled them.


Along the sidewalk, you see a brownish patch that you realize is in motion, and from closer, it's an ant colony in some sort of civic turmoil, with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands on the move.


The lawn is still needing regular mowing, not as much as this soggy spring but still quite often; no matter what your chemical predilections, the edges and odd patches are still showing up filled with anomalous plants which erupt in different shades of green and at odd angles, even after the mower chops them down.


Bushes are sending out wild shoots, and even the boxwood threatens to take up a new shape, irregular and expanding. And the foliage of the trees is dense and thick and shimmering in the evening light, with little illumination piercing the canopy where the branches arc overhead.


Driving down the roads, there are corners and houses and whole hillsides invisible behind jagged billowing banks of leaves, borne by branches from above bending down and exploding up out of shrubbery and ground cover.


There's the orderly life of farm fields, monocultural rows of green growing corn higher than any elephant's eye stretching to the horizon and bouncing back towards your car. High crops or the lower beans and even gardens are wide and full and full of life. The tomatoes are starting to add their red accents, but the leaves are perhaps never more wide and thick and green and heavy with a scent that stays on your hands when you handle the plants.


But no more than the basil, which is starting to be ready to be plucked and washed and converted into its true destiny, which is pesto. I almost hate to wash my hands after picking basil, which if I play my cards right, I can do three or four times off of each plant.


Because there is an arc to this season of life. We approach the season of harvest. Life and growth and verdance is at its peak; this is part of the reason why the Ohio State Fair is on now and the Hartford Fair for our area next week. Fields have had hay mown off of them once already, but we are at a point of repose now, which will quickly turn into the time of reaping the rewards of cultivating life these last few months.


Soon enough the combines and harvesters will be in the fields, the leaves will start turning and contracting, and the hues of green will begin to fade. But for now, it is the season of life. Look for it, revel in it, take life from it one leaf at a time.


Maybe in pesto form.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's not much of a gardener, but he loves his herbs. Deer, not so much. Tell him what's growing in your lawn at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 7-28-18

Faith Works 7-28-18

Jeff Gill


Culture, cultures, and worship



Having commended to you all the practice of attending worship on the road – not to check off a box for your holiness credentials, but because it can be good for your soul! – I had to practice what I had preached, and just got back from a string of short trips where I got visit nine churches and worship in five.


We went both west and east, heard majority languages not our own, and experienced worship and devotional practices different than what we're used to. There's no big change I intend spurred by what I've seen, but a different perspective on what I already do, and how I can develop my spiritual life more fully.


But I've also been doing this travel and reflection as I help my own religious tradition go through some much needed reassessment. It's true in Ohio as it is in much of the country: as large worship venues, most of them non-denominational, grow and prosper, smaller churches are struggling across the continent. Traditional worship styles are not vanishing, but they are experiencing a period of severe contraction that shows no sign of slowing. For some congregations, it does mean closure or consolidation. For church bodies made up of shrinking congregations in general and a few large thriving ones, it means program and mission efforts are seeing reduced participation and support.


And it all provokes some hard questions about faith and life and community. Again, Licking County like the rest of the nation has some new and large and contemporary worship style congregations that are full of families and children. God bless them in that ministry! And they do much more than that in mission, while they also have the clear and unambiguous focus on younger people. For traditional and "legacy" churches which already have a large percentage of older members, longer lifespans and increases in assistive technology means that the number of seniors in many other churches is an overwhelming percentage of the Sunday experience. But in between, the total number of residents who attend anywhere at all, ever, is shrinking. While a few churches blossom, and many older churches shrink, the net percentage of Licking Countians who have a church home is much smaller than it was in 1989 when I first came here. The number of "nones" is larger in every statistical measure that's been done in Ohio or nationally. What's to be done about this disengagement from what was once one of the most significant sources of connection in a community?


I was reading recently something by Tom Ferguson, Episcopal clergymember who used to work and live down the road at a Columbus seminary, and still blogs as the "Crusty Old Dean" even though he's back in parish ministry in Massachusetts. He said: "The median age of someone in the United States is about 37; in the Episcopal Church, it's about 57.  The USA is 62% Caucasian; the Episcopal Church is about 87%.  This overall lack of failure to be younger and more diverse is one of the main drivers of the Episcopal Church's decline; in 1960, the Episcopal Church was 90% white in a country that was about 85% white.  Nearly 60 years later, the country diversified and the church didn't."


Well, I'm about to turn 57. My own denomination is probably near-identical to these demographics by what measures I can find, so I will be turning the median age. Not to sell myself short, but that's like me saying I'm "middle aged." C'mon. I am unlikely to live to be 114. Yet I know it's true that I am still often the youngest minister in the room at clergy gatherings of my tradition.


Even more significantly, I caught that shift Tom describes for his church and I'd also say for my own: in 1960, the nation was 85% white, so a church being 90% likewise, not so out of step. But if today the nation is 62% but we're 85%, we are clearly behind in growing and sharing the Gospel and communicating our church's meaning and purpose. Yes, the total numbers tell that story, too, but these percentages should be a wake up call for any of us. As birthrates and fertility and yes, immigration changes the look and feel and cultural preferences of the nation, it becomes ever more important for churches to look at themselves, and ask what's a culturally conditioned choice, what's really a religious essential.


I think this is a conversation many of us will be having in the coming years.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's interested in your views on these topics. Tell him what you're thinking at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.