Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-20

Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-20

Jeff Gill


Waiting to see what develops


Apparently the question "Is Granville welcoming to business?" is right up there with clickbait like "one weird trick" and "you won't believe what happened to" for getting people interested in what you're saying.


When I wrote my last column, I was actually entirely ignorant of what Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University had said at a public event; when I was asked about the coincidence, I replied "this is what happens when two people who've both been paying attention, and are both interested in this community, start thinking out loud about where we're going."  


I saw what Adam said up on the hill, and how the mayor and council responded from their viewpoint on Broadway, and honestly, I think both have useful things to say, and I look forward to hearing an extended conversation between those perspectives.


But time is, as they say, a'wastin'. I've milked more than my fair share of columns over twenty years from watching the formerly bucolic drive from Franklin County to Newark turn from a two-lane road to an overcrowded artery to a highway paralleling the old road to seeing the interchanges start to erupt with new construction and expanding businesses. My wife and I lived in Newark while she earned her Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, and we both got to know the Old Worthington Road all too well in the 1990s.


But she got her doctorate, and years too late we got a speedy drive that looped us around New Albany, cut down the trip to Port Columbus, now John Glenn International Airport, and pulled us so close to Easton people grocery shop there.


As for the concerns about "losing a way of life" . . . well, yes. I mean, I get it, but . . . if you know anything at all about our local history, you know that the story from 1805 or 1802 or 1773 or go back a few thousand years is that our lifestyles keep changing in Granville.


We got here too late for multiple markets on Broadway; I'm glad I knew Taylor Drug as it was in the middle of the block, and have fond memories of Hare Hollow and Victoria's Parlour and so many recollections of the Granville Times bookshop basement. I dream about some of those places. I really do.


And we got to know Denison before the Slayter Crater was dug, when parking was scattered and rare, when Sigma Chi lived in Sigma Chi and the pool was where the weight room is. I remember the locker rooms right out of "Hoosiers" and labs out of "Son of Flubber." Sure, it's all fun to recall.


Heraclitus told us 2,500 years ago that life is change, and the last couple of millennia have only worked to prove him right. Things are changing, and will continue to change. The question is, will we attempt to anticipate and direct those changes, or will we try to play the role of King Canute, and order the tide to roll backwards?


Ask Canute how that worked out for him.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has seen some change in his time and expects to participate in a bit more yet. Tell him how we can help guide Granville's changes at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The problem with Boy Scouts

Special to the Advocate 2-20-20

Jeff Gill


The problem with Boy Scouts



If you're looking for someone who's giving up on the Boy Scouts of America, I'm not the right person to talk to.


I have now been a member of this 110 year old organization for 50 years. I started as a Bear Cub in third grade and haven't looked back. Webelos, Arrow of Light, Eagle Scout, Woodbadge, Scout camp staff for many years and still part of Cub Day Camp volunteering (Up in the air, Junior Birdmen!).


And if you want to know about problems in the organization, I'm like any other adult leader, usually called a "Scouter," who has been in Scouting for more than fifteen minutes. Local unit leaders like to complain about the district, district folk beef about how the council makes decisions, and we all wonder how national manages to find the light switch in the morning. Sounds like most large organizations, doesn't it?


That's the blessing and the curse of Scouting: we're a large organization, hidden behind small groups of Scouts out hiking at camp or doing service projects on your street. Cub Scout dens or Scouts BSA patrols are the heart of the program, five or six young people at a time learning to work together, learning from each other as they work to complete a task or achieve an award (usually a patch, Scouting is big on patches). You can easily never notice the forest as you work among the little trees as they grow; the Scouters in the program can go years and not even be sure of their council name, let alone where the national offices are (Irving, Texas).


But to support and maintain the mission and values of this century and more old organization across two million and more Scouts, you need the forest. There has to be a national council, providing oversight and maintaining leadership standards for the adults who make sure kids are safe and activities are appropriate.


When I went from being a Scout to becoming a Scouter as an adult, I had that moment of shock that is nowadays referred to as "adulting." I learned that like the duck on the pond, the visible part may look calm, but beneath the surface, the feet are paddling fiercely. It turns out that even as Scouts BSA, the older group in Scouting, strongly affirms youth leadership in decision making, the grown-ups still have plenty to do. Not just driving us to camp. Paperwork, plans, rules, training.


Today, I would put the Youth Protection Training that Scouting mandates for ALL adult leaders at the top of youth serving organizations. It's so good we share it for free online. But I'm also old enough to know that in the 1970s and earlier we didn't have it. We assumed good will and best wishes, and allowed predators leeway without meaning to, struggled to deal with the aftermath of harm in an era when even law enforcement and prosecutors flinched from dealing with child abuse.


The bankruptcy filing the national organization is going through is a deferred payment for the failings of that era. Victims deserve compensation and support; I also want them to know that Scouting is different and better because of their honesty and courage.


Today, I think Will Rogers' opinion from the 1920's is still true. When there were controversies around the program back then, he went to a Boy scout jamboree, and after looking around and listening, Rogers said "The only problem with Boy Scouts is, there aren't enough of them." 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Faith Works 2-22-20

Faith Works 2-22-20

Jeff Gill


Practical reasons for going to church



Obviously as a parish minister, I have a bias in favor of attending weekly worship.


There are many arguments made for regular church attendance, and I know non-attenders can find many of the usual ones somewhat self-serving, especially when working clergy are making them.


I can't change who I am, but I'd like to offer up some slightly different reasons that are why I go to church regularly, even when I'm on vacation or on the road. It may not be my tradition or even faith, but a religious service each week is important, for what I think of as practical if personal reasons.


Well, practical to me, anyhow.


Why do I attend worship?


Reason one: to stop time. Science fiction author Ray Cummings first said a hundred years ago that "Time is what keeps everything from happening at once," and many physicists have borrowed that line. But in ordinary existence, especially our modern 24/7 lives where everything is always open and anything can be ordered at 2 am and text messages or email show up all hours . . . we need something to give order and structure to our week.


Sabbath-keeping and Sunday observance is another subject for another day, but in pure practical application, I need Sunday worship to help me know, in my bones, that one week ended, and a new one begins. I could be all theological and half-religious and talk about being renewed and strengthened for a new week, but I just need sometimes to be able to say "stop the world, I want to get off." Church is where I get off the merry-go-round for a moment, before I have to clamber aboard again and head into Monday.


Reason two: to defeat time. Just as a Sunday service puts a punctuation mark on the week, the nature of the words and music and architecture puts me in touch with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (let alone Jesus), with Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich, with Thomas Cranmer and T.S. Eliot. In worship, I hear my grandmother singing in certain hymns; in the sanctuary, I see Van and Joe and Jane in their usual pews, if not quite visible to the ordinary eye.  I anticipate the End of Days with equanimity, and recall the purposes of Creation with satisfaction. During the average worship hour, I'm all over the last four thousand years and anticipating eternity. Time is different, even if they do have a clock where I can see it as I preach.


Reason three: to find peace. No, not always where you think. Different orders of worship put silence or prayer in various locations of the service, but the peace I find in a worship gathering is in the gently swinging hinges of the elements of the liturgy. During communion, it's more in the waiting than in the partaking; out of the music, it's the rests, the pauses as much as the notes themselves that make my heart sing. There's peace in certain faces out in the assembly; there are angels in the architecture, but not always in art as much as the obscurer parts of the structure. But I do find peace in worship, even when I'm the worship leader and preacher. I hope everyone else gets more than I do out of it, but I get plenty.


Reason four: to remember who I am. Rick Warren had a lovely summary of the Bible at the opening of his "The Purpose Driven Life." Pastor Warren says "It's not about you." Yep! Rick's on to something there. Out in the world, in line at the BMV, writing newspaper columns, you can start to crawl inside your own head to where you start to think "it's all about me." Church is a great place to find antidotes to that.


Sometimes, I get called away. A crisis at the hospital, once I just got sick, and I wasn't at church, where I'm the senior minister. And ya know what? Church still happened. Yay God! The basics were handled, and they didn't need me at all. For any of us, worship is a communal experience, which both lifts each of us up, but also reminds us that we ourselves are not the whole deal. Even a soloist needs a choir behind them and an accompanist with them. And yes, worship reminds me Whose I am, which is the core reality of who I am.


Which brings us to Reason five: to meet God. Because God does show up in worship. Yes, yes, you can meet God anywhere. But at church I know I will.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he goes to church. Tell him about your experiences with the practical benefits of attending worship of any sort in any place at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Notes from my Knapsack 2-20-20

Notes from my Knapsack 2-20-20

Jeff Gill


Is Granville hard to do business in?


It's a long running debate that I'm not going to resolve here, even if they give me the whole darn paper to fill with arguments and counter-arguments.


Is Granville welcoming to business?


The standard rap on Our Fayre Village is that we are not. And as part of our civic structure in a volunteer role, I get to see some of the sausage being made, and even turn the crank from time to time. So while I can't resolve either the full question, or even definitively answer it, I do have some opinions of my own to add.


One way of defending Granville, both the village government and our entwined township trustee structure wrapped around us, is that what we are not is totally sold out to getting business at any cost. I think that's a perfectly fair thing to say, and it's also the most defensible of positions.


Most of us have been through fast growing areas, in Ohio and beyond, where there's clearly a huge amount of economic vitality and a minimal amount of zoning, planning, or even just good taste. A municipality can say to developers "come in and do whatever you want!" and frankly, it will probably work (up to a point).


You'll get long stretches of grey featureless and under-windowed concrete behemoths, used for factory or warehouse functions, and re-purposeable to pretty much nothing once the original use is done and gone. You'll get a gravel pit next to a subdivision of zero-lot-line cookie cutter homes on cautiously swooping non-linear streets for maximal utilization. And next to that, a [insert your worst nightmare here].


It's that last point, the one in brackets I'm letting you fill in yourself, that's where we turn to where the questions come in. Your worst nightmare is probably some other village resident's fondest hope. I've long heard of how Granville fears fast food chain intrusions and big box retail. So I know there are many who dread the idea of a drive-up window and arches of gold, but I know a fair number of younger people who have said in my earshot "I wish this town had a [insert your worst nightmare but their favorite burger joint here]."


That's one of the things we can't solve in a short essay, whether or not fast food is Satan's minion or an angelic arrival in our quondam paradise. But short of industrial-level retail with giant neon signs and a row of idling SUVs waiting for their order in a bag, are we doing as well as we can to facilitate, well, non-massive retail? Non-fast but good and sometimes even quickish food? Or is our desire to keep out one type of economic Canada geese (the ones that leave droppings everywhere) actually blocking the entry of another goose or two that might lay golden eggs? Does blocking chains in Granville mean we end up putting chains on any business storefront launch?

I do think sometimes prospective business interests protest too much. If you get used to places where they give away the farm and drop all the fences to let you roam where you will, even a little herding can feel like getting locked into the chute. Not saying "we'll do whatever you want" is not the same as saying "we're not going to let you do anything."


Having said that, I hope we can continue looking at our comprehensive plan, our codified ordinances, our internal processes in general, to make sure that we're making welcome and fully facilitating more economic actors on the stage that is our city. We're a small city and technically not even that, but a small city is what we're becoming in Granville.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has served on the village Board of Zoning and Building Appeals for many years. Tell him how we can help build and be appealing in Granville at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Faith Works 2-15-20

Faith Works 2-15-20

Jeff Gill


Public work in spiritual practice



When you have a standard, repeated, recurring pattern of words and speech in a public event, you have a liturgy of sorts.


Liturgy is one of those churchy terms that churches sometimes try to avoid using, but it really has a place beyond worship settings.


"I'll go tally the votes" and "Jeff, the tribe has spoken" are part of a liturgy on "Survivor." Many reality TV shows have an interesting liturgical element to their stock phrases, including the now infamous "You're fired" from "The Apprentice," but also the steps in the boardroom leading up to that line.


And in church, even for non-attenders, some of our lines have seeped back out into the culture. If you say "The Lord be with you" there are quite a few strangers who will respond "And also with you," even though in certain settings that response has been gently altered to "And with your spirit." Liturgy is both timeless, and ever changing as language and elements of public worship change.


The word comes from Greek, basically, "leitourgia" which means "public service" or "public working." Some have tried to bend the etymology into "the work of the people," and while I think that's a bit of a stretch, there's certainly the clear implication of a public act, not a private piece of work, where the audience or congregation or participants have their place in the public working of worship as well.


Liturgy holds a very odd relationship to the "worship wars" we've been discussing here. In one sense, liturgical worship is seen as basically identical to traditional worship, and is held in contrast to so-called contemporary worship, which is generally not so liturgical.


Or is it?


I've been to enough contemporary Christian services to know that even in its radical informality, there tends to be a certain pattern to the countdown timer on the screens, the opening songs, usually three of them, the prayer to transition to announcements and/or offering, the dismissal of the kids to children's church and the preacher's own templates for getting into the text for the day, making their points, and coming to a close often with the prefatory words "as the praise team makes their way back up onto the stage" for a final song.


When Jeff Probst says "Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode" he's not invoking God or holy insights, but he is giving structure to the public expression of what he's working on, so as listener/participants we know where we are, and our own reactions can be both shaped by the program and freed to reflect on our own thoughts about winning, losing, and surviving.


In the same way, liturgy for a faith community gathering can have elements that are ancient and sacred, or as tedious and typical as "if you'll look at the announcements on the back of the bulletin…" Both sorts of formalized, ritualized speaking help us know where we are, shape the gathered worshipers in some ways but also free up our preoccupations to do our own reflection on what's happening in this "public service."


I have been powerfully shaped in the growth and depth of my personal faith in Jesus Christ by the forms and norms of liturgical worship. I think there's a unique formative power to using words that, in T.S. Eliot's words from "Little Gidding" from "Four Quartets," are what have been said before in certain places elsewhere and here before, "Where prayer has been valid." That very liturgically grounded poem goes on to say "And prayer is more/Than an order of words, the conscious occupation/Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying."

Part of what I was trying to address last week was my dismay at the fact that those who love liturgy too often, I believe, run down the spontaneous and impromptu spirituality of contemporary styles of worship assembly – and those who find their spiritual strength built up by contemporary informality of worship too often mock and condemn liturgical worship as "empty of intention" and lacking in true personal meaning.


I would lift up that both approaches have a place and a value. I know that to some there is an absolute spiritual necessity to worshiping according to one particular set of words and forms. I've never been convinced of the rightness of any single liturgy in my own spiritual walk, but I am certain as a minister that you should be mindful of the liturgies you are using, whether you've been aware of the patterns you've fallen into or not! Because in public worship, there's always a liturgy at work somewhere.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's probably not done on this subject, but you knew that. Tell him what you've wondered about worship at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.