Thursday, March 12, 2020

Faith Works 3-21-20

Faith Works 3-21-20

Jeff Gill


A column I'd rather not write



My father died.


Many of you reading this have been through that, and God bless you. I have not, though I've been with more families than I can count as they dealt with this personal and existential shock.


In fact, I was with a family at a funeral home going through calling hours for their father when I got the call from my mother that . . .  right, what I just said.


It does not feel real, and I suspect it won't for some time. He was 85, and it couldn't be called a complete shock, but it was. No doubt for him, too. He sat down to drink his coffee and didn't get back up.


I'm writing this just after I learned the news, and well before you'll read it, because I may be off my feed for a few weeks. But if you find my stories of interest and my faith as expressed, even obliquely, to have any solidity and substance, Ronald B. Gill gets the credit.


He worried that his sons might inherit his flaws, so he was always very forthright with us about mistakes he'd made (less than you might think) and honest about their impact on his life, which always frustrated him a bit that we pretty much all three boys (I'll leave my sister out of this) managed to echo his foibles in one way or another. "Why did I tell you all about my foolishness if you're just going to go ahead and make the same mistakes?"


But we had to make them for ourselves, like most people do; I'd like to think we made quicker recoveries having heard Dad's experiences preceding our own. His fondest hope, like most American fathers of his era, was that we'd all four kids do better than he had done. That was a high bar to set, though.


Many people have made the modest mistake of thinking my dad was a minister, because of some of the ways I cite his influence. But he was never in that role: he was a Christian, first a Congregationalist, later (due to marrying my mom) a Disciples of Christ adherent, a deacon and elder and chairman of the elders and building committee chair and board chair and constitution revision chair and most of those multiple times. When my childhood church building was condemned, and my ordination held under a tent next to the unusable building, he led and guided and motivated the effort to build a new building in an even better location, and then chaired the second group (after swearing he'd never do that again) to build the current sanctuary.


Ron Gill was a local historian and genealogist and Civil War re-enactor and storyteller, in print and in person. Oh, I hear many of you saying, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.


No, it does not. I've tried to make him proud. Last summer, our church body had their biannual General Assembly in his native Iowa, and in Des Moines he heard his son teach our Christian tradition's history for two long afternoon workshops. After it was all over, on our way to dinner, I asked him what he thought.  "Not bad," Dad said. "I learned some stuff I'd never heard." That's what he always was looking for.


Recently, I finished a doorstop of a book I was looking forward to passing along to him. He loved those finds, the thicker the better. He was reading one of them as he drank his coffee and sat in his recliner, no doubt thinking about his next project, when Jesus said "Ron, I need you to help set up some chairs."


So he went. See you later, Dad. Love you.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's proud to be Ron Gill's oldest son. Tell him about your family at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Notes from my Knapsack 3-19-20

Notes from my Knapsack 3-19-20

Jeff Gill


A bubble over Brigadoon


If there is really a bubble over the top of Our Fayre Village, and Granville surrounded by high walls to keep out development and tacky businesses from intruding into our community, we should be fine with the whole COVID-19 virus deal.


After all, if intentional distancing is now something that the CDC and WHO are recommending, then we're on the right track here, aren't we?


To be serious for a moment, I feel badly for the students from China at Denison, and international students in general. To return home, and be uncertain about when you can come back, or to stay here and hope something can be worked out… no one saw all this coming, and we might not see the like of it for another decade or two, but right now the situation for family and friends is uncertain back home, and the course of the viral outbreak still unclear here in the United States, let alone around the world.


So even within our friendly confines, between Raccoon Creek and the Homestead, from Cherry Valley Road over to Loudon Street, we will still have to observe all the same precautions of hand-washing and elbow coughing and self-quarantining. The odds of a coronavirus making its way into to Welsh Hills are pretty good, considering our highly mobile population and much vaunted proximity to the John Glenn International Airport. The intersection of Broadway and Main is not far from Trafalgar Square and the Champs-Élysées and Tiananmen Square.


And this, too, is part of being a participant in a global culture. As the saying goes, we are all downstream. The idea that an infection or an idea is the property of any one corner of the globe is gone, and even the concept of a non-native species is problematic, when our "native" dandelions and plantain came from abroad, if longer ago, and now garlic mustard and purple loosestrife are so deeply woven into our landscape as to be inextricable. (Go look up Louis Bromfield and multiflora rose, or Johnny Appleseed and dog fennel for an education in global realities and the last couple of centuries.)


On the other hand, how can local areas maintain their own unique qualities while interacting with a much, much wider context? We don't want to encourage zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, nor have leaping Asian carp in Lake Erie. By the same token we're concerned about changes in the streetscape or local economy that transforms the entire experience beyond recognition.


It's a series of trade-offs and resistances and acceptance that can manage to make everyone uncomfortable. Lots of hand-washing and sanitizer and avoiding handshaking is not what most of us are used to, but it might need to become more common. The current virus will crest and fade in time and with summer's sunlight, but the seasonal influenza will always be with us, perhaps with our being a bit more vigilant the next time. And we're not likely to see grocery stores downtown again in our time, but the nature and mix of shops and retail will continue to change and surprise us.


Our resistance to change has been a community strength in some ways. That's worth maintaining, up to a point. But the idea we can avoid every bug in the system, any passing viral trend, is not only impossible, it would be unhealthy in the long run. We can build up some immunities to worse things by letting a few new ideas infect us from time to time.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's probably less into change than he should be, but doesn't care. Tell him what you'd like to change in Granville at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 3-14-20

Faith Works 3-14-20

Jeff Gill


From docents to curators


If you are getting a purely voluntary education from a person who isn't giving you a grade or a certificate of completion, you may be listening to a docent.


Last week I was talking about non-formal education, or "interpretation" such as what a park ranger or historic guide might provide for a natural or cultural resource. Docent is the standard term these days for a volunteer, but trained guide. A teacher is normally doing more formal education, with curriculum standards and outcome measurements.


As a preacher, I'm a bit more like a docent than a teacher, even more of a wilderness ranger than a professor. No one is legally required to attend services or sermons, and I don't give the worshipers grades (though some give me grades on the message afterwards!), so faith gatherings are more of a non-formal educational experience than a class in holiness.


And frankly, influenced by my wife's experience with the National Park Service, I see some very close comparisons in parish ministry and park rangering. It's a common frustration of natural resource interpreters that the overwhelming majority of visitors to a state or national park will never get more than a few hundred yards from the visitor center. Guests of great parks rarely venture into the backcountry, but even to get people to walk out of sight of the parking lots is the great challenge of interpretation.


If you're following my metaphor at all here, I'd say that if I'm a park ranger, and the church is the visitor center, the vast natural resource I'm here to interpret is God. The experience of the Divine. Spiritual realities, directly experienced. That's the acreage beyond the parking lot, the tangible sense of contact with the actual Place Around Us: going out for yourself to know God, and be known.


Instead, most people stick to the visitor center, where the restrooms are clearly marked, the gift shop is reassuring, and the little path around the manicured garden behind with some nice views suitable for easy picture taking is enough of a hike . . . then back in the car, honey, we've gotta go!

I'm that ranger at the information desk who hopes in our static displays inside and campfire talks on the forest edge that we are telling enough of a story about the marvels and wonders and glories beyond the familiar to tempt more than a few to venture out on their own.


The Bible itself, God's Word in the scriptural record, is much the same: people trot from John 3:16 to Romans 8, take a quick peek over the edge of Revelation 21 into Genesis 1, then head back to the gift shop past Luke 2, and leave so much unexplored. The well-trodden paths are within the resource we rangers are here to interpret, it's true, but if you are hurrying past them on your way to lunch, you're like visitors to the Grand Canyon who stand at the scenic overlook facing each other comparing hotel room prices as the sun sets and the shadows race across the spires. The familiar needs you to approach it occasionally from a different direction, but if you're always on your way to the visitor center and back to the car, you'll only see even the core truths from a single angle of perspective.


What I love, as a minister, is when someone comes up to me excited and wanting some, well, interpretation to illuminate their path, because they just discovered Micah. Or they read Jonah beyond the whole whale thing (itself often glossed into a Pinocchio-like episode), and marvel at the ending God speaks to that prophet's tale. Or a whole group of people come to you and say "we want you to help us understand what's going on in Acts."


Like a docent or a ranger, a curator is a title with a formal meaning that's gaining some new applications. A curator is responsible, whether in a museum or some other cultural institution, for curating, or selecting wisely an assortment of themes and artifacts to invite us into understanding a story. Conversations can be curated, and even our media consumption might benefit from a curator's eye and ear, helping us select what we consume with discernment.


If you can see the usefulness of what I'm thinking about ministry being kind of a park ranger, I'd love to explore the idea of pastoral work as comparable to being a sort of curator. Next week?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has visited quite a few national parks, but not enough. Tell him about when you got away from the parking lot at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.