Friday, March 08, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 3-14-19

Notes from my Knapsack 3-14-19

Jeff Gill


Roads and ravines and streams



It's with a wincing and morbid fascination that I watch the continued mangling of the course of Salt Run from Spring Valley, underneath and along Ohio 16 to its historic destiny in Raccoon Creek.


This once salty watercourse gave the Licking River and our county its name, truly a central stream in our local story, but now appearing to most passers-by as a simple ditch. Middleton's development across Weaver Drive herdes and silts it even more into a narrow channel, directed past the west edge of their benevolent development and north to the equally tamed Raccoon Creek bottomlands.


Tamed, but not tame entirely; floods can still surprise us. The interplay of rains and soil and springs which shaped our landscape in large ways still can creep up on us in small.


The central intersection of the 1805 establishment of Granville was selected both for a now lost mound once the center point of Broadway's meeting with Main, but also because of springs nearby, a few of which still trigger sump pumps in church basements nearby. Perhaps the erection of that mound had something to do with the springs being so handy.


All along the southern face of what are now the Welsh Hills, their geology directs water to the surface in a variety of spots once found to be life-giving for the thirsty, and traditionally thought of as access points to the underworld. A practical and spiritual source all at the same time. Now many of those once vital outpourings are almost immediately redirected into storm sewers; if you have a sense of their former locations, you can find a grating and lean down and listen, and still hear them roar.


One is just in front of my house. I can hear the echo of rushing water in dry seasons and wet; the deer can't quite hear it, but somehow they remember, and follow a lost watercourse from the hills to the north down into bottomlands to my south, even though the lawns are leveled off today. There are easier places for them to stroll their four-legged way, but they don't depart from the path of their predecessors.


Behind my house is Newark-Granville Road. A long, straight stretch from the foot of Ashley Hill east of us, past the Cherry Valley Road intersection itself fraught with history, but undeviating pretty much all the way to Clear Run and Mount Parnassus on the other side. It may mark deeper history than first sessions of common pleas courts and pioneer encampments, a path turned road that might, before the so-called "Indian trail" as the early settlers called it, have been a buffalo trace. Buffalo or bison could have worn that way which in turn, deeper back into unrecorded but no less real history, might have been a mastodon track. Thousands of years earlier, their trunks asway, tusks sweeping the grasses on either side, those mighty megafauna would have trodden deep a route from river crossing to watering hole, walking one after another in single file.


Sometimes I look out of an evening and imagine a line of mastodons or mammoths walking towards the village. The road's alignment tells a story, just as much as the realigned streams and rivulets do today.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he imagines all sorts of strange things. Tell him where you see streets and trails taking us at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.    

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Faith Works 3-9-19

Faith Works 3-9-19

Jeff Gill


A godly stumblebum




Physical therapists have long enjoyed saying to patients that "Walking is controlled falling down." It's true.


In order to move forward, you basically have to throw yourself off-balance and catch yourself mid-fall with the opposite foot . . . again and again and again. A long stroll is a controlled fall, all across the landscape.


If you don't run the risk of ever being off-balance, you'll never make progress.


In somewhat the same way, I believe in Christianity because on the one hand (or foot) I believe it's true, and on the other hand, because it works.


Saying I think Christian faith is true might be a longer discussion for another day to some of you. I'll try to skip ahead just by explaining this belief in this way: my faith has reference to an objective reality that may be greater than my perceptions, but can in part be understood. Not perfectly, by me, but ultimately understandable, and valid in so far as I can understand it.


Or, I believe it is true.


And that I think it works? Well, I believe Christianity works in large part because I know I need grace. Forgiveness, if you will. Because I keep falling down.


There are some critics of my second argument who claim that guilt, personal and social varieties, comes from doctrines of sin that are creations of churches. Sin is a tool to keep people feeling guilty and anxious and putting money in the offering plate. An interesting argument.


Anthropologically, I think sin and guilt are a little bigger than the churchianity conspiracy proposed in that model. Psychologically, we're all still wrestling with Paul's statement "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:15-20, NIV)


However you interpret it, I think it's a human universal that we struggle with our tendency to want to do wrong things. Wrong for us, wrong for others, wrong even if no one else ever knows we did it.


And that knowledge haunts us. Why am I this way, can I ever change, and even if I do, what or who can help me stay on that path and think it worth the effort even to try, let alone to fail? Which we will.


Working with addicts, I hear people say proudly "I've been clean twenty days!" And I hear others say skeptically "do you know how many times they've been clean twenty days?" And I know people in our community who have been clean twenty days twenty times, but have now been clean twenty years. When and how do you help people get back up? My default is to say "every time," because my imperfect knowledge of eternity and infinity also means I never know which time falling down is going to be the time they get up and do not fall again. I just know it is possible, and that the weight of previous failures should not be carried when you're ready to rise up and move forward.


As for them, also for me. I am a godly stumblebum, myself. I've made many mistakes; quite a few even in the recent past. I still fall. But my belief in God's grace helps get me back up, and leads me to lean forward and risk falling again, so that I can move and help others move onwards with me.


If I get too in love with being godly, I'm likely to make a mockery of what God intends to do with me. Godly is good, but grace is better. A godly stumblebum, falling forward again and again, sometimes with the occasional faceplant on the pavement of life, but knowing that stopping and sitting and staying where I am is not what the God I love, the Lord I honor, wants for me. So this godly stumblebum gets up, and starts falling again.


If you see a group of people walking together, just consider this: they are all falling together, some more elegantly or easily than others, but they are also catching themselves, at different points and in a variety of ways, and swinging forward step by step, fall by fall.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's not sure he's ready for Lent, but too late for that! Tell him where you stumble and fall, and rise, at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.