Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 8-29-19

Notes from my Knapsack 8-29-19

Jeff Gill


Alarming times, quiet days



The dog days of summer have lived up to their billing as hot and steamy. They hearken back to a clever guess by ancient astronomers that the Dog Star, Sirius, was adding emphasis to the sun's rays at this time of year.


In fact, during the daytime the constellations of Orion the hunter and his faithful canine companion, Canis Major or "the big dog" are overhead, invisible with the greater light of the nearby star we call Sol. Just as sometimes you can catch a glimpse of the moon during the daylight hours if you know where to look, you can even sight a star or two well before sunset or after sunrise, but not at noontime.


Yet they are there, and the astronomers who figured this out thought that the brighter Sirius might just be adding some scorching heat to the solar output. It made a certain sort of sense, and is a good reminder of the old "correlation is not causation" adage. Just because something happens when something else shows up doesn't mean the one thing causes another. What seems obvious isn't always.


As school begins, it's good to remember that schools are in general safer than they've been in decades; incidents in and around school buildings have been steadily going down in number – violent events, weapons or not – since the 1990s. There have been tragic major events that catch our attention and wring our hearts, but the overall situation is that your child or your friend or neighbor's child is probably safer at school than almost anywhere else.


It's like plane crashes and auto travel: an airplane goes down and people worry for years, but the overall numbers are clear that you're safer flying a plane to New Orleans than driving there. My problem is that you have to drive, then fly, then drive again, and repeat the process going home, so there's still plenty of risk traveliong even if the takeoffs didn't make me nervous.


And we're going through what I think of as the worst of heavy weather; August and September seem to be the most popular time for storms to rumble through and now for our phones to chime. The outdoor emergency alert sirens almost seem to be an antique method of notification, as the TV channels drop everything for hours with a line of thunderstorms, and if you are on the Granville, Denison, and county alert systems, your phone just about hops across the room with all the alerts, plus a few from weather apps I forgot I'd downloaded.


In the news, with the battle for the top few spots in the primaries heating up, it feels like there are alarms being rung for any number of social concerns. The economy, the climate, the atmosphere of racial animus the White House seems to be willing to roil just in order to keep on top of the news cycle. I wonder if the candidates are not running the same risk of the phone alerts: to try ringing our chimes with every ripple in the social fabric, and keeping them in a clamor, might just cause more people to tune out than to focus in.


I don't know about you, but I can't worry about everything. I've tried it. What we all need is a little triage, and some prioritization, to help us pace ourselves through the dog days of summer, the elections, and into a cooler and more thoughtful autumn.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's ready to just sit and watch some clouds for a while. Tell him how you'd prioritize our common worries at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 8-24-19

Faith Works 8-24-19

Jeff Gill


Privacy and prayer



I'm originally from the Chicago area, and still love reading about its history and early days.


Reading a book about "the middle ground" era when Native American and French and British traders and then the early American nation were in contention over the land between the Great Lakes and the Ohio, I ran across a reference to a location I had just visited this past spring, on the north side of the Chicago River, across from the Michigan Avenue bridge which stands where Fort Dearborn did in the early 1800s.


Of early settler John Kinzie, his home – built by earlier trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable – after expansions was called "the Kinzie Mansion," now where the Trump building stands (which before that, if you're an old Chicago hand, was the Sun-Times Building); the Kinzie mansion is documented as having been a majestic 22 feet by 40 feet, with upstairs rooms.


I had to grab a tape measure and double check: my home here in Licking County is about 26 by 36 and a second floor. In 1804 terms, I live in a mansion. In historic terms, I've been told that almost any frame home in that era with window glass was called a mansion; Kinzie's glass was for inside doors, but that was good enough.


What really caught my attention, though, was that according to account books and journals there were normally eighteen people living in that house. I grew up in a house not much larger and there were six of us, and it felt crowded enough. Eighteen. How much privacy could anyone have had in that mansion?


Privacy is a relatively modern thing, at least as we understand it and expect it. There was in earlier eras an assumption of the confidentiality of a confession to a properly certified religious leader, a priest, and a confessional box was designed to give at least a modicum of enclosure and secure communications, with a separate space and curtains and such. The wonderful Aubrey and Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian, set on Royal Navy ships of the early 1800s, often have the lead characters struggle to find a spot on deck, or even rowing some distance away in a small boat, in order to have a confidential exchange of views. The author regularly reminds the reader that there were really no secrets on shipboard, and what was whispered in the captain's cabin was known in the maintop before the next ringing of ship's bells.


There's privacy, and there's secrecy. Jesus says in Luke's Gospel "For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light." We might try to keep secrets that we shouldn't, and it's worth remembering that in general no secret endures. But Jesus also says about prayer "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." It can be a fine line.


In the time of the New Testament, not many people this side of Herod would have "your room," in terms of a personal, private prayer room. You'd be going into what we'd call the hall closet, or the utility shed, or the laundry room, a space used for many things, and appropriating it for a period of time.


But I think that's the tension involved in developing a truly vital and sustainable prayer life: the ability to share with God your deepest, innermost thoughts no matter what they are, and the knowledge that in the ultimate analysis, nothing we think will remain hidden. Not as in on the front page of the Advocate, but in the presence of the Judge of All Things.


There's much in our lives we aren't ready to share with anyone, so we seek out ways to keep our thoughts private and our concerns or worries or fears to ourselves. And there are those we are comfortable with who will hear things from us we'd rather not see on even page D-1 of this paper, but we'll say "if you tell anyone else I said that I'll deny it."


With God, there is no privacy. Which may have something to do with why so many seek to deny God, the existence of such an all-knowing One. Especially if the alternative is to just live out loud, and trust God to forgive us even if no one else does. To be who we are. In faith, we start to be that person in prayer.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up. Tell him what privacy means to you at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.