Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 9-12-19

Notes from my Knapsack 9-12-19

Jeff Gill


Hi, I'm a failure!



Recently an event was held in our area, aimed at reaching out to students and families on the subject of achievement and stress.


Which is why I'd like to talk about failure.


I am honored to know John Ball, the convener, and some of his cohorts; those Granville High School grads who are now seniors in college this year are of particular interest to me. Those young adults have grown up and achieved for years in my sphere of observation, and when proud Blue Aces and some friends from up on Denison's hill get together to say "high school and college have been really, really stressful," I know exactly what they're talking about.


Pressures to succeed and excel and not just aspire but to attain – oh, they're real. Not just an internal sense of drive, but many external reminders that this is what's expected of them. Which is hard, especially when there's something else out there that can happen. Like failure.


But we don't talk about failure. "Failure is not an option" isn't just a mantra for the space program. Failure is for the memory hole, it's not spoken of, either as a possibility in the future, or as an actual occurrence in the past. Except, stuff happens.


So here goes: I have failed. Oh, no, not small stuff, either. Some big ones. I know, yet I get to write a column for the Granville Sentinel? All the better that I share some of them with you.


I was thinking law school was where I should go, and I got it into my head that pursing that path by way of the United States Marine Corps made sense for me, and so I enlisted, and began a journey towards that goal. In candidate school (officer basic), I slipped on the obstacle course, turned my knee around backwards, and was given a lovely cot in a grim silent building for a few weeks to think about my future plans.


When a jovial sergeant (they do exist!) said to me as I was ready to be "separated" that maybe my destiny was elsewhere, I agreed, and we signed the papers. I got an honorable discharge from the USMC, and I was and am proud that I volunteered to serve, but I've never felt comfortable being called a veteran, because I really wasn't. I served, and I failed, and home I went. It was a learning experience in many useful ways.


Years later I was talking to a friend about his time in the Navy, much more substantive than my own service, and on hearing my story, he smiled sheepishly and told me he went up for SEAL training not once, but twice, and washed out both times. "I don't think I've ever told anyone about this." We agreed, however, that given the failure rate, if you know one SEAL, odds are you know three or four people who tried, and failed to make it into the program. But you don't know, because we don't talk about it.


I went into a technical field, and my first truly grown-up job I was poorly trained for a week, and the first night on my own, I erased an entire county's voting records (this is forty years ago elsewhere, relax). I was fired the next day, fairly or not. I did learn, however, never to settle for less than the training I know I'll need, even if I'm assured "it doesn't matter."


I've learned much from failure. You almost certainly know people who didn't get into the programs they hoped for, got jilted by suitors or dumped by friends, or just plain couldn't do what they wanted to be able to do, whether a backflip on a balance beam or a chord change on the guitar. We ALL have failed, some more spectacularly than others.


Maybe what would help the pressure felt by our youth around trying to succeed is hearing more from us older adults about our failures. Some of them are actually pretty funny stories, too.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got failures he hasn't even gotten around to remembering yet. Tell him one of yours at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 9-7-19

Faith Works 9-7-19

Jeff Gill


Ways to worship, not worshiping ways



If you follow a liturgical calendar in the Christian church, we have Holy Cross Day and Ember Days ahead; if you are part of a more informal tradition, it's the time even contemporary worship leaders start thinking about Christmas season ahead.


I grew up in a middle-of-the-road congregation where the preaching minister and the choir robed, but the word liturgy was mostly unknown. The bulletin may not have come down from heaven, but it was prepared by the pastor and the church secretary and the organist, and that was close enough.


Like many Protestants, I assumed the order and music of our worship service was pretty much what everyone did. As I got older and visited Catholic and Orthodox churches, I realized how differently some worshiped, but I would notice those points of contact, if not exact parallels – the Lord's Prayer with its minor variations, the Gloria sung to different tunes, but those words echoing out of scripture, the place of an altar or table at the center of the area where people moved around during the service.


We sang at camp songs that were different from what we had in church, and some parsons would let the kids sing them, once, gently, before returning the service to hymnbooks and four part harmonies out of the choir loft. In youth group we might think out loud about how much fun it would be, why it might even be good to sing more of those camp songs in Sunday services someday . . . but how would you get a guitar into church without people freaking out?


During college, my now-wife and I plus some friends from our campus ministry went out to an outdoor music venue and heard Randy Stonehill play Christian rock music, which seemed so, well, rebellious. Others there had heard Larry Norman and Keith Green perform, and we listened to albums by Amy Grant and Michael Card, but for personal enjoyment, maybe even spiritual growth, but in church?


We offered up a service called the "Saturday Something" which was a chance to have communion, at 10:47 pm (so we'd be done by the time Saturday Night Live started), and those of us from a tradition that allowed non-clergy to preside at communion came together to not just lead at the table, but to experiment with different tables, in different parts of the church building, in the basement, up in the balcony, once up in the bell tower (that was crowded, but fascinating). It was a college Christian service, but for formal worship on Sunday we put on ties and dresses, a few bold souls wearing t-shirts or slacks.


Jump forward nearly four decades, and there may be more in worship on any given weekend with contemporary music than are singing from hymnals. Informal spaces, or at least what my grandmother (or mother!) would call an informal space, are where many services are held. Screens are common, four-part harmony in the pews uncommon, and pews themselves less so.


The idea of a set, formal, pre-planned liturgy laid out to order our shared worship experience is still a big part of what it means to be a church in many quarters. For some, the central experience of communion can't happen without that protective embrace; others highlight the sermon more than communion, but also circumscribe tightly who can preach that word on a Sunday.


But for more and more, these artificial constraints (as they can get called here and there) are strange and unfamiliar and even off-putting. Songs from the last few years are played, the words on overhead screens drawing in more singers whether they know the music or not; standing or sitting, dressed down or casualed up, worshipers gain a personal sense of excitement and involvement through the singing around them, the prayers offered between and after the songs, and then the quick transition into preaching that can last thirty minutes or longer. This is, to many, familiar, and what's new and different is having a prayer book or printed missal for worship.


This minister doesn't think it's at all useful to call one mode or the other right, or even better. There's plenty of evidence that contemporary worship is more effective for inviting, reaching, and changing hearts among the unchurched; lots of practitioners of traditional worship with a liturgical bent would present their case for how their model is more effective in building up discipleship.


One model for worship is more popular today; the other has centuries of experience behind it. I think neither will completely displace the other, but it will be interesting to watch how these trends play out over the next few decades.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's led worship in both styles. Tell him (nicely) what you value about your experience of worship at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.