Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 7-4-19

Notes from my Knapsack 7-4-19

Jeff Gill


Seeking refuge in America



It's a commonplace to say that we all came here from somewhere else.


Native Americans chuckle at our usual oversight, but archaeologists note that if you go back far enough, we all are migrants to Ohio.


Just on the eastern border of the village, thirty years ago, I helped with a dig where we found a flint tool going back to the days just after the glaciers retreated up past Johnstown and Croton, when cedar and sedge were the bulk of the greenstuff, and protein was hazardous to obtain from giant creatures padding across the sub-Arctic landscape.


And this December is the thirtieth anniversary of the re-discovery of the Burning Tree Mastodon, down past Heath off Ridgely Tract Road but not far from the not-yet Welsh Hills. Our excavations then and in the summer of 1990 revealed bones with flint tool cut marks, some 12,000 years in the muck of a former bog. The first marks of humanity passing through Licking County are those cut marks on rib and pelvic bones, from preliminary butchering and likely caching into a glacial pond as winter approached.


The cache was not accessed again, suggesting that the original hunters did not stay in the area, but were migrants, passing through. Did they get luckier later, or not survive to return? We will surely never know. Migrants often die without anyone even noticing.


More recently, the Welsh came to these hills; as is evident, they came here from Wales. A reputable place, perhaps, but still they crossed water and mountains to get here.


South of Wales, but closer to there than here, I was thinking of Italy and Italians the other day. I happened to catch a bit of "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" on TV, and there's much to connect to anyone who's moved to Granville in recent decades. The steadily increasing price of the house as the plans are worked out, the challenges faced in both site circumstances and sub-contractors, and of course the racism.


Oh, sorry. I mean the stereotypical presentation of ethnic types as . . . nah, let's just call it racism, shall we? But the big bogeyman, or men in this telling is the ignorance and incomprehension of the . . . Italian workmen.


Yes, Louise Beavers is the African American servant who bails Blandings out of a fix, and she's portrayed as somewhat hapless herself as was the racist stereotype of the time (1948), but I was struck by the almost equally unpleasant portrayal of the Italians. World War II movies hadn't quite finished flushing that bias out of the system.


Frankly, the scenes with the Italians made me think of half a dozen conversations I've had in Our Fayre Village with people about Hispanic landscapers and roofers. A group regarded nervously, speaking their own language, not noticing us nor we noticing them, but necessary to make the project come in on budget.


We need them, we virtually expect them, but we're not sure how to deal with them. There's a human sense of wanting to relate personally to them, but a barrier, a wall of sorts, that may someday come down but for now is a tangible distance between us.


What's going on along the Rio Grande is driven both by instability and unrest behind refugees, and the hunger for cheap or cheaper labor in front of them. Those scenes to our south are no more distant from us then 12,000 years ago is apart from us as we stand here today.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he knows we're all connected to each other and struggles with how to live like that's true. Tell him about your local connections at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 6-29-19

Faith Works 6-29-19

Jeff Gill


Faith out of doors



Last week I talked here about Sunday school, Vacation Bible School (or VBS), and Christian education in general; its history from England to America and its development from a substitute for what we now call public education to a faith formation adjunct to church life.


When in the early 1900s Ohio and most other states made education legally required for all youth up to age 18, the original intent behind Sunday school and VBS had to change. The growth of formal public education also started to change expectations parents had around the school experience, both secular and religious.


Churches built special rooms or wings or buildings for education, and these were generally well filled through the Baby Boom era. What hit many churches like a one-two punch was a decline in overall numbers just demographically, in the "baby bust" that followed the spike of births in the "baby boom" post-war; then the culture shifts around Sunday closing laws ending and entertainment and activity options for youth increasing dramatically.


One program that leapt into this gap was church camp. Youth conferences on college campuses or at camp locations began to be popular between the 1890s and 1920s; by World War II one of the most common requests for exemptions in wartime rationing of gasoline was for travel permits to go to church camps.


The building boom that echoed the Baby Boom after 1945 took place out in the countryside as well as for new church buildings. Camps added swimming pools, full service dining halls, and bathrooms to replace pit latrines.


And an observation got made all across the denominational spectrum: if you get a child to Sunday school every week, that's 52 hours of Christian education – if you get a child to camp at 3 pm on Sunday and pick them up at 10 am on Saturday, then end up with 70 or more hours of exposure to preaching, teaching, and religious oriented conversation and fellowship.


That was important, because as camps took off, Sunday school began to struggle. Older youth became less in evidence on Sunday mornings, and more travel plus changes resulting from the increase in divorce meant visitation schedules often complicated regular participation. Camp was an ideal supplement as the standard method of Christian formation grew weaker.


But as any of you reading this have already realized, summer time has gotten shorter, and the options are greater. I'll pull out the dreaded phrase "when I was young," but it was true that, as a kid, my parents had the choice of Scout camp, church camp, or "get out of the house, you're driving me crazy."


Today, many parents – and in two households – wrestle with concerns about "how are we to best allocate the precious resource of summer schedules for the kids' educational enhancement and athletic opportunities?" Training camps start with August 1, school leaks into the first week of June, and in between there are many and diverse enrichment programs, day camps and residential programs – in air conditioned dorms on quiet campuses empty during the summer – all competing to convince parents that their program will get the kids into a better college, or at least prepare them for success in higher education.


How, exactly, does church camp compete with that? We can say – and we do – that we aren't preparing kids for college, we're preparing them for life (and eternal life, at that), but it's a tough sell. It's a highly competitive marketplace, and many church camps have a hatful of deferred maintenance on top of their no-longer-as-appealing rustic atmosphere.


Which is why church camps are struggling, too. There are big events that attract Christian youth, music events with preaching in between the bands and camping nearby, or mission camps which involve more travel and much more hands-on application of faith to life. Many of these new options are excellent in their own right, and the parachurch organizations which often sponsor them can sidestep some of the denominational politics that plague other programs.


What's a parent to do then? Will you come back next week, and let me offer a few thoughts, if not for this summer, on summer experiences and education in faith in general? Thank you!



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's learned much at camp and not just about faith. Tell him what you've learned or taught at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.