Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 2-28-19

Notes from my Knapsack 2-28-19

Jeff Gill


In the company of strangers



I work in Newark, and not far from the church I serve used to be a neighborhood bar.


Can a parson be sad to see a tavern close? Sure. For one thing, I'd always meant to go inside, and just hadn't gotten around to it. (Hey, ministers have to eat lunch, too.)


And when it closed, I realized that it was very nearly the last of a formerly common reality, the corner tap room.


I read on the internet, and it therefore must be true, that in the late 1940s around 90% of all beer and liquor was consumed in public places, but that by 1990 that figure was 30%.


It wouldn't surprise me if it was even lower today.


Robert Putnam in "Bowling Alone" pointed out in this and many other areas that we were becoming less connected as a people; he's continued for nearly thirty years to write about our eroding "social capital." The title of his most famous work was about the fact that the actual amount of bowling measured in games rolled hadn't actually dropped that much over fifty years, but the number of people participating in organized leagues had declined sharply.


He carries that point out into a variety of service clubs and organizations: it's not about liberal or conservative, progressive or traditionally minded groups, but people doing things together that's declining. And I'd include both churches and corner pubs. People pray at home at 2 am and say they are "spiritual but not religious," and they drink at home, too.


Add in trends away from marriage and childbearing, and you see a precipitous rush to solitude, or is it simply loneliness? Isolation and atomization pulling us apart, consumerism reinforcing the impulse to order online, take delivery on our front porch while we're away, and to keep our enjoyments private and alone.


So I am cheered when I am downtown in Granville, and yes, by the pubs and bars as much as by the busy churches and civic groups. We are a social community, and while I've written recently about my concern over how well we include and involve newcomers to Our Fayre Village, the hard fact of the matter is that we're more sociable and interactive than many communities, I'd suspect most. By a wide margin.


Just strolling – alone sometimes! – down the sidewalks of Broadway or Prospect and seeing the lights and tables and couples and groups at tables and in conversation, the tinkle of glasses sometimes heard as doors open and close, the sense and spirit of community at work across the rooms, it is all something for us to take pleasure in.


It is also represents a dual challenge for us, both to increase the circle of inclusion, and to maintain this community spirit in the face of some pretty serious trends against our way of being Granville. There are interests and investments pushing back against this sort of mutual interest, urging us to return to our corners and cubbyholes and solitary retreats. Lonely people are good consumers, and there are lots of people who want to sell you something there without distraction.


Meeting people in Granville is always interesting, and something I wish I did more of even when pressed for time. And I look forward to the warmer months ahead, the sidewalk tables set again, and the windows open of many establishments to where you can more easily get an inkling of the community at work within.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hasn't been in as many bars as he probably should have been. Tell him where you meet strangers who become friends at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 2-23-19

Faith Works 2-23-19

Jeff Gill


To give God the glory



What does it mean to "give God the glory"?


It's a phrase we say to each other in church life quite often. The clearest roots for it I find in Revelation 14:7 – And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."


But you can pick up the thread in Genesis 41, when Joseph, interpreting dreams, reminds Pharaoh "it is not me, but God at work in me." His gifts that so impressed the Egyptian court Joseph is quick to say are God's grace, a gift at work through him, not something for him to take credit for. Or, "give God the glory!"


I'm into this subject because of where I was taking us last week, asking about why people are homeless. I've seen and heard some answers, and they have taken me in directions both involving public policy, and personal beliefs.


One thing I hope everyone in our community has realized out of these last few weeks of dealing more directly, seeing more honestly the challenges some among us are facing, is that at the heart of homelessness and not a few other so-called social problems we have is the pain of mental illness.


Again, I am a parson and preacher, not a clinician. I do not have formal training in this field, but I've worked alongside of behavioral and mental health care and treatment my entire professional life. If I've learned anything from that journey, it is that mental health is health, pure and simple. And yes, addiction is a health care problem in most ways, too.


If you want to say "but someone chose to drink or drug and then maybe their personal biochemistry or genetics made them more vulnerable to addiction, but it's still their fault for going down that road," well, all kinds of workers can be vulnerable to back pain and related problems. They could change jobs, right? They didn't have to go into that particular line of work? So back pain is their fault!


You'd say that was crazy talk, and you'd be right. Look, we all have various vulnerabilities to different decisions we can make, some of them pro-social and some, frankly a bad idea no matter what the circumstances, but when one bad move can throw out your back or put you into a spiral of substance use, you need health care, not blame. You need treatment, not a lecture.


Most of the people who are unsheltered homeless appear to me to be dealing with untreated mental health issues. That's a personal opinion, but one shared by quite a few people working in the field. Those operating shelters, emergency shelters like the Salvation Army's or St. Vincent de Paul's or New Beginnings, or transitional housing to get people from emergency shelter to stability, like the Licking County Coalition for Housing, have to have rules and guidelines to protect their entire population being served. There are people with a run of bad luck, often with children (see last week's column for more on this), and people who have more complex needs, and when the capacity is reached, it's going to be both the simpler and younger circumstances that will have first claim on space.


And yes, some people get kicked out of shelters, and others choose to not go in where they suspect that's what will happen to them in time, anyhow.


The shelter capacity and rules/barriers discussions are complex and ongoing. They won't go away. Meanwhile, I think there's a parallel conversation we all need to be part of, and that's how we provide behavioral and mental health care for everyone who needs it. A broken brain, a sprained heart, a pattern of thought that's more illness than intention: those need treatment just as spouting arteries or the sudden onset of unconsciousness does.


To my initial theological point: we all know any of us could be hurt and need an emergency room. That's not in dispute. But if we look at the impoverished and dispossessed and think "that can never be me" then we're assuming our efforts, our energies, our healthy intentions are all due to our own merit. And I would say, respectfully, "no." Give God the glory. Serving those who are without is way of acknowledging that what we have is as much gift, is grace, more than the result of our earning, to our credit. Yes, good work and careful choices should be blessed, but they aren't always. When we do well, we do well to remember the source of all that is well, every good gift.


Give God the glory, and give thanks for the opportunity to help, to share, to serve.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he feels blessed to be able to serve others. Tell him how you give God the glory at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.