Friday, November 25, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 12-1-22

Notes from my Knapsack 12-1-22
Jeff Gill

History doesn't repeat, but rhyme?

There's a patch of Indiana I've had a chance to watch for the last forty years, as it transitioned from farmland to fully developed exurb.

My wife's family moved to a location on the fringe of Indianapolis as she finished high school; I met her at Purdue, and my first visit to her parents' home was right on forty years back. Her father told me, pointing out the patio doors, that across the way was a dirt airstrip and how they saw pheasants and wild turkeys their first few years at the house.

Driving in, I could trace the clumps of trees that marked homesteads now gone, and over the years we dated and then were first married I watched subdivisions pop up around that one. Our shopping for them slowly shifted from one direction to the west around and along the interstate heading northeast; the route I tended to drive back to Ohio once we moved here took us up through rural Indiana, but year by year it took longer to reach the rural portion of the trip, that used to start just north of their home.

Now, as we care for my father-in-law, still in that house, the "new" shopping stretch is getting worn and tired, and you can tell in the selection and stocking of goods is getting demoted in favor of more upscale outlets now another exit further down the highway. Strip malls have empty storefronts and long frequented stops have memories associated with now vacant stretches which I suspect will be torn down shortly.

There's a church whose groundbreaking, and later new sanctuary dedication I attended with my late father, a pioneering church plant for my denomination not quite forty years ago; it's just a mile east of my father-in-law's home, and I go there when I'm around over a Sunday. The minister is a seminary classmate, and we chuckle ruefully over how this "new start" now is mostly made up of members older than we are, as the suburb itself has aged.

As we've been debating and discussing the implications of what's going on in western Licking County, I think about Marion and Hamilton Counties in Indiana; what I've seen, and what can be learned from their development. Castleton Square Mall was and still is the largest mall in Indiana when it opened in 1972; Easton Town Center opened in 1999, as the Route 161 bypass was completed around New Albany, where the Wexner development opened the door for the 2004 to 2008 expressway which literally paved the way for Intel's arrival.

There's an inevitability to development when you look backwards at it. Dominos falling, framing going up, pavement replacing crops. Or as Terence Mann says in "Field of Dreams": "America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again." We have our moments when we want to reach back and undo the erasing, but we really never can. We mark the time, as Terence says about baseball, and claim parts of the past, of "all that once was good, and it could be again." But it gets harder.

What would we, could we preserve, if we can't stop those steamrollers and bulldozers? I'm going to keep thinking about that this winter.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's seen quite a few homes built in cornfields, fewer fields of dreams. Tell him what you'd like to see saved at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 11-17-22

Notes from my Knapsack 11-17-22
Jeff Gill

Even if you have to work at it

Understood. You may not feel thankful.

This has been a contentious, conflict-ridden, turmoil-sodden year. No doubt about that.

If you are in that interesting subset of people who read newspapers (print or online, bless you all) but aren't much interested in politics, you may feel differently. And that's a neat trick which many of us might want to learn from you!

I write and work on the assumption, perhaps wrongly, that those of you reading columns like this are more than passingly engaged with political discourse. And whatever your basic orientation, politically, it's been a wild ride the last few years, and it's not likely to slow down.

Full disclosure: I'm writing this just before Election Day. I know, in general we're supposed to keep the seams turned inside, make the rivets not show, but the reality is worth sharing here. I have no idea how the election results turned out from Nov. 8, and what I have to say is, I believe, valid however they go, unless a flotilla of flying saucers came down that Tuesday and declared the entire election null and void in favor of Emperor Zod taking over.

But Zod wouldn't be interested in letting unrestricted media be distributed, so it's a moot point in any case.

Friends, whether your candidate or issue prevailed, I think it's a small blessing of this time of year that shortly after we complete our electoral competitions (and let's be thankful we're not in Georgia with run-offs to keep the TV ads pouring forth), we are invited on a civic level and in most of our churches to contemplate thankfulness.

Yes, Canada already did that last month, but this is our Thanksgiving coming up, and historical debates about whom discovered who aside, there's a complex and rich and entirely proper history to pausing each harvest season to be thankful as a community.

If you think the harvest season has nothing to do with you, well, you're wrong. Pause in the Ross Market parking lot and listen to the musical rattle of corn and soybeans pouring down the chutes into the silos at Granville Milling. As the bumper sticker says, "If you can eat, thank a farmer." For agriculture, in Licking County and beyond, we are thankful.

To carry on the short elliptical phrases, there are bumper stickers which say "If you can read this, thank a teacher." Yes, for educators and their ongoing work in language and math and culture, we are thankful.

And from our food to our basic knowledge, on to our homes and vehicles and utilities: we are thankful for builders and contractors and people who are handy, for autoworkers and gas station clerks and tank truck drivers, mechanics and parts suppliers, for village service department crews keeping the pipes and plants working below ground while picking up leaves and debris above ground.

The point being if you look at your stuff, especially the stuff that is most crucial to your everyday activities, you should have no trouble thinking of people you are necessarily thankful for all the time, just not consciously.

For Thanksgiving, we spend some time being intentionally, mindfully thankful. And every year, I'm thankful for that.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he knows he's not as thankful as he should be. Tell him who and what you're thankful for at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Faith Works 11-11-22 & 11-18-22 & 11-25-22

Faith Works 11-11-22 & 11-18-22 & 11-25-22

Three columns, one story, and getting a bit ahead for Thanksgiving!


Faith Works 11-11-22
Jeff Gill

Angels of thankfulness in Licking County

My hope for you is that if you've seen the majestic West Courtroom of the Licking County Courthouse, it was on a tour, or a happy occasion to visit and reflect and learn

The reality is that probably the majority of people who've sat in the West Courtroom, up on the second floor of the 1876 county courthouse, have been there because of a trial. Maybe a jury member, perhaps a witness ready to give testimony, possibly even a defendant. I pray you found justice there, or at least peace.

Over the years I've been in that room in most of those roles (except defendant), watched inaugurations of public officials, shared occasions both joyous and painful as hearings ended and the gavel bangs down.

Judge Thomas Marcelain has presided in that room over many trials; i'd say too many to count, but if I hunted him up I suspect he'd have a precise answer for me. What he doesn't spend a great deal of time looking at (that I know of) is the pair of paintings right behind the judge's bench. He has an excellent view of the famous Tiffany stained glass windows around the upper edge of two walls, and some of the sculpture and bas-relief around the room, even the smoke darkened murals high on the south wall or on the ceiling around the coffered dome at the center.

Yet if you are in that courtroom for any reason, good times or bad, and spend time there, you really can't avoid noticing two angels and a few other figures on two paintings set neatly on either side of the judge's head, whether that was Samuel Hunter of sorrel horse fame, or Judge Marcelain these days. The jurist may change, but the two paintings flanking the judicial office holder have been there for over a century.

They don't date to 1876: the current courthouse, the fourth on the square since 1808 or so (log, brick, Greek Revival, and today's Second Empire rendition), had a bad fire not long after construction was completed, ruining most of the central tower and upper story. The splendors of the West Courtroom began to take shape after the 1880s, and as I will argue in subsequent installments, didn't finish until after 1901 for a reason staring you in the face from one panel of the artwork all around the room.

But it's those two paintings, each with an angel, that have gotten me thinking, and digging, and now writing. Often an escort with groups through the West Courtroom will refer to them as "The Angel of the Harvest" and "The Angel of Death." That's certainly one way of looking at them; those are surely bracing images for a defendant, or a prosector, to face as they work through our legal system towards justice.

I think there's a wider story, and perhaps even a more coherent one, than you get from a pair of angels, proclaiming respectively harvest-time and the sacrifice of death, in this case death in defense of freedom. The parallel of harvest and death have been enough for a few generations, but I think we can try to trace a higher, wider arc, and it starts with a name dimly painted into the corner: "L. Bang" was his name, and he's thankful for something, and wants us to know it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's been curious about our Licking County angels for some time. Tell him about angels you've seen out and about in the area at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 11-18-22
Jeff Gill

Angels from over the ocean and across our nation

What can I tell you about Ludwig Bang?

Or perhaps I should use his full name: Ludwig Friedrich Karl Bang, born in Germany, state of Mecklenburg, and the town of Doberan in 1857.

His friends called him Luden, and Luden Bang was already as a schoolboy noted for his drawing skill. His father was a humble forester, and it's not clear to me yet what sponsors or supporters arranged it, but he ended up in Lübeck and Düsseldorf and finally in Munich for his art training.

What he painted gained Luden enough income and fame to be able to travel, and he visited and studied in Lucerne, Switzerland, on to Italy, and in Paris, France.

At the age of 35 he crossed the pond and ended up in Chicago, Illinois for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where he had paintings on display and may have helped with the decorations of the Germany pavilion for that early world's fair. He spent some time in Chicago, which had a large German community, and shows up later in the 1890s in Toledo, Ohio, also hosting a vibrant German cultural enclave. Bang painted murals in the lobby of the Hotel Kaiserhof, and as I loosely translate out of the pages of Mecklenburg's tourist magazine, "There he created a new sphere of activity and became known in the city and in the surrounding region for his dramatic and lyrical paintings, again murals… [his] topics ranged from Ascension Day to German fairy tales to historical topics."

Somewhere in here, he was invited to Newark, Ohio.

Let's be clear: I'm simply arguing that the Ludwig Bang I've hunted up online is the artist in our West Courtroom who signed his name "L. Bang." I have no other direct linkage, other than he's up the road in Toledo at the right time, and his specialty is what we see our L. Bang at work on. Good enough?

The historic Luden Bang returns to Mecklenburg somewhere in the next decade, and lives out his life in his hometown. The 2018 article I found online says "What he had ended up doing in the USA, he began with at home – with landscapes and historical themes depicted in pictures. But this time with regional motifs…" filled, apparently, with symbolism and allusions to other well-known artistic works.

You can today visit the Möckelhaus, the central building of Bad Doberan and see his works on display; sadly, he ended up living in the municipal poorhouse, sitting afternoons in the park his father once tended, dying during World War II at the age of 87. His memory is still honored there as a "history painter" or "historienmaler," which is his epitaph on a civic monument to Ludwig Bang.

If you accept my assumption that their Luden Bang is Licking County's "L. Bang," then what can the story of this German artist tell us about the central images of two angels in our courthouse? What are they up to in the heart of our modern quest for justice and community, sitting there behind our senior Common Pleas Court judge, inviting the defense and the prosection, plaintiffs and defendants, lawyers and laity, to meditate upon as justice is served?

The artist Bang clearly was noted for taking monks and emperors, religious festivals and nature's turnings, common folk and regal processions, and making out of familiar motifs a story to illuminate the present day. I think whether those who hired him knew it or not, that's what he was doing here in 1901. Sacrifice, yes, and hope, and thankfulness for victories past and triumphs yet to come.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's hoping you're getting curious yourself about what these angels are up to. Tell him about how visual images shape your faith at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 11-25-22
Jeff Gill

Angels of harvest, death, and victory

Ludwig Bang, as I've proposed over the last two weeks here, is a German born artist classically trained in Europe, hired to come complete the decoration of Licking County's 1876 courthouse in the now famous West Courtroom, intended as the completion of this centerpiece of Newark.

Since a fire shortly after completion ruined the upper portion, we know the detail work now visible in the West Courtroom is dated to after 1880, and there's reason to believe it was done piecemeal. The Tiffany windows up high went in to start, then the fine plasterwork creating frames and pilasters inside. There's additional stained glass that's not Tiffany, and portrait busts to accent the depictions of leading figures from American history in the windows. And then there are the paintings.

This has been debated elsewhere, but I would argue the choice to put William McKinley in one of the roundels along with the martyred Lincoln, and by-that-date deceased Grant, means these paintings (plus the Great Seal above a currently defunct water fountain) were done after his death in the fall of 1901. I think it's clear the portraits are also by the artist of the two angel paintings behind the judge's bench. The murals up high I would definitely credit to Bang, and once cleaned and conserved we're likely to find a signature we can't see under decades of cigar smoke today.

Then two angel paintings, at the heart of my speculation this Thanksgiving. They've been called "The Angel of the Harvest" and "The Angel of Death."

What I believe the "historienmaler" or history painter Ludwig Bang was after, though, was a bit more subtle. There is a harvest scene, and an angel hovering, in one. A woman is seated with a nursing child to one side; it's not hard to connect the newborn and the new harvest being gathered in by the figure with a scythe facing away from us.

Taken in isolation, the harvester looks quite like the then famous work by Winslow Homer, "The Veteran in a New Field" of 1865. As was well-known, it showed a man returned from the Civil War, some of his surplus military garb and canteen gently obscured in the foreground. Our harvest scene has a humble earthenware jug in the place where Homer nods to the veteran's status. The spouse and child and of course angel are additions, but the tribute and meaning in the center of the painting seems quite clear as referring back to the earlier work, in a time when the role of veterans in American politics was changing - McKinley was the last Civil War veteran, as it turns out, to serve as President. **

Hovering over the counterpart painting, where a similarly dressed figure is now carrying a musket and heading into battle, is the image often called "the angel of death." Its face is obscured, and the robes are shadowed versus the brightly lit harvest angel, though I think cleaning might show them not as dark as we see now.

What I do see is a shape that Bang would have seen, freshly placed in the main staircase of the Louvre when he first visited Paris: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Like the scythe-bearer in the harvest picture, it's not a precise copy, but Bang would not have been so obvious.

Yet I think it's fair to say that while death and battle may be in the shadows, the message of the second angel is beckoning the central figure not towards his doom, but to victory. In this life, as well as the next.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's enjoyed getting to know Luden Bang and hopes you've found his story interesting as well. Tell him what you see in these paintings at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Faith Works 11-4-22

[Note to editors down the line: his name is spelled THEODOR, and if you add the final E you will be incorrect! For Herzl or Gaster…]

Faith Works 11-4-22
Jeff Gill

Debts and appreciations and an anniversary

When it comes to the question of why we did something, even something in retrospect looking like a major decision made on the merits, it's hard to give too much emphasis to any one person or factor, let alone to ourselves.

How many of us have had occasion to look back at a choice we've made and ask ourselves "why did I do that?"

Grown-ups take responsibility for their decisions, I'd say, but that's not quite the same as how we then can learn from, and even teach others, about how we came to make them.

Forty years ago last week, I made the decision to go to seminary and become a parish minister. I was already a student assistant minister at a campus ministry, had been called to serve as a deacon in my home church, and preached a few times for the congregation and Fellowship of Christian Athletes services. Someone (another long story) had very specifically asked me years earlier about whether or not I'd considered a call to ministry, but I had at most thought about it as one option among others, and still not really the primary decision I was likely to make, or so my thinking had meandered over the previous two years.

What I was interested in at the time was anthropology and specifically folklore. Professors in my major had encouraged me to think about grad school. Ministry was still running a distant second.

Knowing my interest in comparative mythology and folklore, one of our campus ministers, Don Nead, a Presbyterian minister himself, talked to a scholar in residence over at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic campus ministry, Art Zannoni, who was part of bringing a noted scholar to the Purdue Hillel Foundation. (We were a pretty ecumenical outfit all around, as you can tell.) Don and Art arranged that I would get a chance to speak to this distinguished and somewhat intimidating speaker.

Theodor Gaster was best known in this country for a popular book on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but in England he was a scholar respected on many fronts. His father was Chief Rabbi of England, who named him for Herzl, and their household had people like Winston Churchill, Vladimir Lenin, and Sigmund Freud dropping by; it was said Arthur Balfour wrote the first draft of his declaration that gave shape to Theodor Herzl's dream for Zionism in their living room. He had degrees from the University of London and Columbia, and taught basically everywhere: but he considered himself a folklorist.

The meeting, I should note, wasn't my idea: it terrified me, and I was afraid I'd come off the proper idiot in two shakes of a Hebrew manuscript. But the arrangement had been made, the day came (November 2), I walked into the Hillel Foundation at the appointed hour, and suddenly I was seated facing him, both of us with cups of coffee. He asked my interests, I shared them stammeringly, and he replied kindly. He asked how I came to be familiar with Hillel, and I explained my role with the ecumenical campus ministry.

"Oh, so have you considered going into the ministry?" said Gaster. I said yes, but I was attracted to folklore studies.

"Any fool can become a scholar of folklore, my boy, but if you have any sort of call to pastoral ministry, that you should do. I implore you, give that serious thought. The world needs more of you, not more of me. You can always do folklore on the side." And we continued as if the matter was settled.

I guess it was.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; any foolishness he's gotten himself into is his responsibility and not that of Gaster, Nead, or Zannoni. Tell him about unexpected influences you've had at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 11-3-22

Notes from my Knapsack 11-3-22
Jeff Gill

Developers gonna develop, it's what they do

With all due respect to Taylor Swift or 3LW, I wrote a column two decades ago in reference to an infamous local character, saying among other things "developers are gonna develop, it's what they do."

That's why we call them that: developers. They want to develop properties and real estate and ideas, and they take risks, and I have some respect for them.

Wary respect.

Because developers gonna develop. Which means while they might go on at length about public spirited ideals and hopes for the community and all sorts of good intentions, when they get indignant if someone even suggests they're going to make money — millions, that is — from their idea, I get wary. It's based on hard experience. They aren't there to help support the comprehensive plan or even necessarily to improve the lives of everyone (some, maybe, themselves, definitely), they are developers. It's in the name.

Granville has long attracted the attention of developers, large and small. Small or large, they have something in common. They want to develop a parcel and make a bundle, and will wrap that bundle in a great deal of communitarian language, but it's all well and good as long as you remember developers gonna develop.

For over fifteen years I've been an appointive officeholder in Our Fayre Village, the last decade as chair of one of your official panels, and I'm here to tell you that there are few pieces of open land in the village that we haven't entertained proposals for and requests for variances to allow developers to push the edges of what our zoning and use guidelines call for.

And here's the main thing: for many of those open areas we have voted in favor of providing variances more than once, and they are still open. Financing is the final vote, if you will. Village residents vote on council and levies, council crafts a comprehensive plan and ordinances and sets up community panels like the Board of Zoning and Building Appeals or the Planning Commission, those formally empaneled citizens vote again . . . but if the bank won't float the loan, if the investors don't pony up, that last vote is crucial.

Sometimes developers, little local ones or larger regional entities, say the village is hostile to development. Frankly? I chuckle every time I hear that. I watch staff work overtime to help make a better presentation out of a scribbled request, I've presided over many outlandish expectations being dropped on our doorstep, and in general we've bent over backwards to make a proposal happen. We believe in allowing property owners to achieve maximum enjoyment of their holdings within minimum impact on neighbors, as defined by village ordinance and Ohio judicial standards.

What's going to change, though, is that the money is heading our way (has headed, is coming in hot and fast). And not-so-great ideas may not have that last check and balance of investor oversight weighing them down from floating off into la-la land.

Which means we all will have to be judicious, thoughtful, and mindful of what kind of community we are trying to create here. Developers? God bless them all: they're here to develop. Trust them to do that, whatever else they say. Building community is going to be a shared task.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's been on a few municipal commissions over the years, and heard way too many developer presentation. Tell him what you're skeptical of at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Faith Works 10-28-22

Faith Works 10-28-22
Jeff Gill

Ministry in transition, online or up close

Many denominations have a "Week of the Ministry" in October, or some sort of ministerial appreciation month this time of year.

Preacher, padre, reverend, evangelist, elder . . . the terminology for the person can vary, but in our area there's a fair amount of consistency to a few aspects of what it means to talk about ministry.

If your local church is part of a larger church body, or denomination, there are probably pretty firm guidelines for what it takes to be ordained. From the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church to Protestant ministry, many functions of ministerial work are reserved for someone who has the formal recognition of a diocesan bishop or conference board of ordained ministry or regional commission on ministry.

Presiding at communion is often a function of ordained ministers only; my own tradition is somewhat unique in that almost anyone can preside at the table, but even for us you'll most often see an ordained clergy member at the table. There's usually a sacramental understanding that links ordination and presiding at the table, and frankly the less sacramental the theology of a tradition, the less restricted you'd see for the function of presiding.

Baptism similarly is often performed by the minister, regardless of the sacramental theology of the church involved, but more and more often you'll see lay members ("laity" simply is a general term for anyone not ordained) involved in baptism . . . and in fact most sacramental traditions have major exceptions allowed for any believer to do baptisms under certain circumstances.

Then you get into weddings and funerals, the first of which is also linked to a presider's status with the State of Ohio, and the latter being something anyone can do, but you'll find many friends of couples willing to do a wedding but not so many lining up to offer to conduct a funeral service, so again that becomes a de facto ministerial function.

But I've mentioned ordination a number of times as the effective "gateway" into a ministerial calling. In the last century, that's become an act, a sort of churchly blessing on the person called to ministry, which is offered after not only a course of study (some church bodies require a college degree, many a seminary degree beyond that), but a process of discernment in the local church, the wider church, and usually with a "laying on of hands" by leaders who stand in relation to the historic witness of the church from the apostles on down to today.

Ordination is considered a once given, always held sort of blessing; one can be ordained but not be granted standing, which is a sort of licensure or certification which many traditions review annually. You can lose standing for whatever reason, and get it back; ordination is fairly permanent, but if some cause leads the wider church to rescind that, it's what people call "defrocked" and rarely is restored.

I've been asked if I'm "still a minister" since I'm not currently serving in a pulpit, other than as a supply preacher. Well, my ordination is still valid, and my standing has been renewed up to the present time, I just am not serving a "call" as a parish minister. But yes, I think of myself as a minister.

What my ministry is largely involved in these days is supporting a nationwide online program to serve commissioned ministers, who may never be ordained but have a commission to serve a specific church or task. Ministry today is a flexible, online and off-line, in person and at a distance calling; I'm trying to flex with it!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's teaching ministers from California to New England these days. Tell him how you're learning new things about ministry at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Faith Works 10-21-22

Faith Works 10-21-22
Jeff Gill

Giving, getting, going

Yes, Virginia, the Christmas commercials have started running on television.

Retail outlets are hard at work, online and in real world terms, getting you to think about spending money for the holidays, and they'd rather you start spending now and thinking less. Just do it, you know.

It is a good time to think, though, and even to pray about how you spend your money, how you budget your income through expenditures, and certainly time to give prayerful consideration to how you are going to give in 2023.

Many faith communities are sharing with members and attenders their plans for the year ahead, and the needs they have financially. Some call it stewardship, or sacrificial giving, or one version or another of tithing. It all comes down to the basic reality that if a church owns a building and employs staff, there are some basic costs that have to be covered somehow.

In a state church arrangement (which is still true in much of Europe) the government collects certain kinds of taxes, and pays many of the bills for keeping the roof from leaking and paying the preacher, and offerings are more specifically for benevolences. We included that in our American experiment as something we didn't want from 1787 on, so churches are on their own.

Many congregations before the late 1800s used pew rents to cover the basic budget; the Free Methodist Church came into being both because of their stand against slavery and for freedom, but also because they were opposed to pew rents. By the end of the Civil War, the trend was towards offering plates; early in the 1900s, the idea of pledges came into popular practice, to allow church leaders to make better forecasts for what they could anticipate spending.

All of these models are based on the idea of church costs being met through intermittent donations of cash; after World War II, the acceptance of checks was controversial in many sanctuaries, but by my youth in the Sixties, the offering time was accented with the perforated tearing sound of checks being written all around us.

Now we have QR codes and various tools to allow people to give to the church through electronic means, and just as pew rents ending was a fuss and checks upset many church treasurers some decades back, we can spend time debating digital donations. What we can't do is force people to carry cash, which they often don't, or use checks, which many don't even have.

So we have a time of transition again with the changes from a barter economy to the cash economy and now the credit economy driving the need to adapt giving opportunities in church life.

What doesn't change is that our spiritual health is tied to our economic health, and not in terms of how much we have or make or even how much we give, but in how intentional and conscious our stewardship is. If we just let the expenditures pour out, if we aren't aware of what we've been blessed with and how we use it, we can end up in a dry season and a sorry state . . . spiritual or financial.

Whether you give with recurring donations set up through your financial institution, a set amount per month that puts a baseline on your donations on which you can always add more, or you put paper currency in a plate, your intentions around money weave in and around your deeper intentions. One can lift, or pull down, the other.

Which will you plan to do in the year ahead? Grow, or drift? Decline, or find new health? Be thankful, or wary?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he doesn't carry a checkbook around much, either. Tell him how giving has blessed you at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Faith Works 10-14-22

Faith Works 10-14-22
Jeff Gill

Talking to the dead, as one does

Speaking as a Christian believer, I would describe speaking to the dead as an entirely logical and reasonable behavior.

If a more pragmatic, not to say materialist philosopher were to ask me if they answer back, that is where the conversation might get awkward.

Because they do. I understand that an atheist might challenge me aggressively about the idea of communicating with God, but there tends to be a more gentle approach from skeptics of all sort when it comes to people asserting they speak to the dead, recently or longer ago. We have all sorts of psychological inferences we can make in the modern age, suggesting it's more a conversation inside our head than with any objective external . . . and J.K. Rowling plays interestingly with this idea inside a sort of heavenly King's Cross between Dumbledore and Harry Potter, a conversation you either know or you don't, so I'll leave it there.

However, all sorts of people who are not Christian believe their loved ones communicate with them after death; Spiritualists come in a variety of flavors, theistic and otherwise — we once had a large settlement of such folk at Summerland Beach on the southwest corner of Buckeye Lake, and their summer lands were not vacations in July but the Spiritualist name for the Life Beyond, however understood.

Christians even have a variety of views on the afterlife and how it works, both for those entering into it and for how we, the living, might hear from it: including the firm belief that you do not, and shouldn't.

I'd put myself at least on the cautious side, warning people that trying to communicate with the dead does happen in the Bible, but it rarely is a good idea if it's the living making the effort to break that barrier down from our side. Obviously, if someone once dead returns through the veil, that's different (and that's usually Jesus).

My own talking to the dead is a more benign and less anxious activity, and is often a matter of walking through cemeteries, being open to what the stones and their stories are saying. You've read some of those dialogues right here, as I learned about the struggles families in Indianapolis had in the early 1940s as young men died in training, even before the war began, and after the conflict started, a shocking number died even before the enemy was anywhere near. It's a message I could have learned in books or heard from a narrative, but I found it on tombstones, in a section, told in pieces.

Oh, that's not talking to the dead, some might say. Well, I don't know about that. I think about dates and days and lives and families gathered at such a spot, and I start to see images and feel emotions. Is it all projection, imagination, psychology? How can you be sure?

Or it is the dead, speaking softly, and not just in cemeteries. This is a season when we have a chance to listen, in church and elsewhere, to stories that aren't in today's news, but still have resonance to speak to us. From where? We can discuss that, can't we?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's been in a number of cemeteries recently, and isn't that October for you? Tell him about your favorite graveyard at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 10-20-22

Notes from my Knapsack 10-20-22
Jeff Gill

Water is both a path and a barrier

Here I am thinking about county growth and development and watersheds, and right in mid-mulling we're hearing in the Granville area about bridges.

The big one across Rt. 16 just got renovated (essentially replaced in pieces), but you actually cross Raccoon Creek at the Cherry St. viaduct, the big curve from Rt. 16 up into the village, and on Main St. you cross it just after the fire station as you come into downtown.

You can go west and cross Raccoon Creek beyond where Raccoon Valley Road forks north, and take the parallel over towards Alexandria alongside Rt. 161 on Moots Run Rd.; it used to be Granville's third river crossing when you could shoot west and jump onto the highway before it got highwayified.

And then the fourth Granville crossing was actually just outside of even today's village limits, over where Arby's and Bob Evans and Speedway front on the highway east of the village, and Cherry Valley Hotel stands just beyond the border.

Beyond that, on past the new T-intersection for Thornwood Crossing, is/was the "Cherry Valley Bridge" as the ODOT signs now say, or historically the "Showman Arch Bridge." Our fourth river crossing, now closed to traffic, pushing drivers on east into Newark to make their way north over Raccoon creek at Church St. or as far as 21st St. let alone the official detour down W. Main in Newark to Rt. 79.

Why so far? Well, the T-intersection was never meant as more than a stop-gap. Plans have always been to build a Thornwood Connector from where River Road and Thornwood meet then swerve onto Reddington Rd., straightening it out to leap the creek and connect Thornwood Crossing to Thornwood Drive. We got the first part built, the interchange, and the rest is coming . . . just not soon enough, it appears!

The three arch stone bridge we took for granted for so long was built in 1832 to 1833, so almost 190 years of service: first as an aqueduct, then after the Granville Feeder was no longer in service for the Ohio & Erie Canal (pieces of which still loom over Raccoon Creek if you know where to look), it was filled in and became a bridge for carts and horses and wagons, and finally some 10,000 motor vehicles a day.

Why no other bridges to get from south of the creek in west Newark to the east side of Granville? Geography and geology. Park Trails sits atop a line of bluffs, sharp and steep, formerly known as Rattlesnake Heights, once dotted with Native American mounds. Opposite that obstacle, on the other side of the river just to the east, is Ashley Hill and what was once the famous Dugway, a cut bank and road around the base of the hill following the creek. Now the deep chasm of modern Rt. 16 slices right through the southern prominence, and most miss it. But for a long time, it was a major barrier to Newark-Granville traffic, unless you swung south onto the Old Columbus Road, today's W. Main and veering onto what's now Cherry Valley Road through Central City, and crossing at the Showman aqueduct bridge.

To replace it will take time, and the only time we have is ahead of us. So that's when it will be done, and we'll have to make the best of today while we have it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he likes wading creeks and climbing hills to get to see this stuff to tell you about. Tell him anything but how much you wish they'd built the new bridge last year at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Faith Works 10-7-22

Faith Works 10-7-22
Jeff Gill

A shifting season of leaves & light

November 6 is the day we fall back an hour, returning to standard from daylight savings.

We already know the sunset is falling back, coming earlier, even as the sunrise is later. Less light, more dark, cooler air and crisper leaves.

This is also a time for seeing more stars, paying more attention to the moon. You don't have to be a night owl to be out and see the Big Dipper wheeling in the north, and the rise of Orion in the east (one of his many names).

The Newark Earthworks, along with other Hopewell culture period ceremonial mounds and enclosures, are helping us watch the cycle of moonrise points along the eastern horizon. There's an open house coming at the Octagon Earthworks, the last of four for the year, on Sunday, October 16th, all day on the 135 acre property and with tours and programming at 33rd St. and Parkview just north of W. Main St., between Noon and 4:00 pm.

As a preview of the Octagon's open house, I'll be leading a walk for anyone who wants to see some hidden gems, not all preserved officially, of what was once a four and half square mile complex of interconnected geometric figures built two thousand years ago. My walking tour is starting and finishing at the Great Circle Earthworks, just off Rt. 79 between Newark and Heath, which is open daylight hours all year. I'm actually going to take those who come along on a three mile hike off of the park property, along sidewalks and down side streets plus a few alleys. There's more than you might think that's left, for all of modern development and demolition.

We meet at the museum on Saturday, Oct. 15th at 9:00 am and I plan to get you back to where we started by Noon. That's about one mile per hour, or strolling 3 MPH and pausing for some storytelling and answering questions here and there. Please come along if you are interested, just show up with a water bottle and good shoes.

I like to walk in any season, but especially autumn. The temps are congenial, the light has a certain angle to it, especially early in the morning or towards sunset, and the scents of fall are always around.

Scholars and students and storytellers (I've been all three at various times) think that people once walked great distances to experience moonrises, perhaps sunrises, at the Newark Earthworks. A circuit of the shapes, from creek to observatory to square to circle and back through square to ellipse, then to water again on another drainage, one path through that might have been "a" way if not "the" way, is seven miles, more likely ten if you circumambulate each figure.

Walking and prayer are very closely tied for me. The traditional view links worship, in a church, with prayer and vice versa, but many traditions include pilgrimages and circumambulations of their own: Stations of the Cross, labyrinths, walking the sawdust trail, coming forward to confess your sins, your faith. Walking, walking.

Many faiths come together at the earthworks. The story being told by and at the earthworks is still a narrative we're assembling, re-telling, renewing even, I hope. The moon is a focal point, but I believe even that heavenly body is simply an index, a guide directing eyes and hearts and spirits to something — someone — beyond even their rising light.

From whatever your perspective, come walk the earthworks with us.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's been learning about the mounds of this area for some time, with a long way to go. Tell him what you know, or would like to know, at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 10-6-22

Notes from my Knapsack 10-6-22
Jeff Gill

When the ground is broken

One of the first merit badges I earned in Scouting was the one for "Fish and Wildlife Management."

I can honestly say I was interested in it because my grandmother had turned me on to Aldo Leopold with a copy of "Sand County Almanac," but truth is it looked cool, and I wanted it on my merit badge sash with First Aid and Woodcarving.

Three geese flying in front of low green hills, a forested lake in the foreground. It was everything I went to camp for in one patch, and at Camp To-pe-nee-bee in the summer of 1973 I earned it.

What I remember most from the work was about erosion. Anyone earning Fish & Wildlife Management had to put in some hours on a conservation project, and mine was installing rip-rap on the path down to the lake.

Before that summer, I'm sure I'd seen erosion. After that summer, I've never been able to stop noticing it. Six hours with axe, bowsaw, and a pick-mattock will help anyone to focus their mind, even someone almost twelve and thinking more about scenery than ecology.

Years later, I got to be the director on the summer camp staff for what we called then the Nature Area, later named Ecology-Conservation. We taught Mammals merit badge and Environmental Science and Weather and Astronomy and yes, Fish and Wildlife Management. Older and perhaps a touch wiser, I was now looking for possible conservation project locations around camp, and kept a list on a note card in my pocket.

What I was learning was how heavy use of a landscape, even a fairly undeveloped area like a Scout camp, creates erosion. If you've got wooded terrain, cut down a few trees and walk a few dozen boots across a slope, and there's a certain resilience to the soil under a patch of woods that gets broken down. It's as if the soil has a sort of skin, those layers of leaves and debris in various stages of decay, and grasses or mosses or whatever is growing in that particular amount of sunlight and soil chemistry, and they weave together to create a topmost portion which protects what's below.

Peel some of that leaf mold or turf mat away, and you have a more vulnerable soil beneath that can wash along and gully down and become a valley where once was a plain. Even slopes with the natural layers on top can hold together, but once just a few Scouts tramp directly down the slope it's amazing how quickly you can see after the next rain the marks of erosion. Angling trails across a downhill stretch is important, and putting in rip-rap or other erosion control barriers is often necessary.

Breaking the ground, cutting open the surface of the soil, is a ritual occurrence for new construction, but it's also a visceral reality in any landscape, one worthy of acknowledgement. Because the landscape will now start to change, regardless of what you build next.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's thinking about watersheds and soil and erosion and conservation these days. Tell him about what groundbreaking means to you at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 9-30-22

Faith Works 9-30-22
Jeff Gill

Planning ahead one last time

It's no secret that the state funeral of her late majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was planned literally decades before it was needed. "Operation London Bridge" and all that, plus "Operation Unicorn" if she died in Scotland. Every eventuality was taken into account.

When my father died a couple of years ago, and my sister and I went down to Texas to help our mother sort matters out, one thing very quickly occurred to us. My dad, who was a very thoughtful man in many ways, had never considered he might die in Texas. It wasn't their home, you see. It was just where they spent the winter in a retirement community by the Rio Grande.

For over a decade, they spent half the year in Texas. But my dad's plans all implied directly or indirectly that when he met his Maker, it would be from an embarkation point out of Indiana. It never occurred to him he'd die away from home.

Trust me, I'm not saying Queen Elizabeth was smarter than my dad, though they would have had plenty to talk about (Churchill, mostly). After all, she had lots of staff.

Yet just because we don't have a Steward to the Household and Black Rod and Chief of Heraldry and Lord High Chamberlain, et cetera, that doesn't mean we can't sit down with a pad of paper or a computer with a printer and knock out some final arrangement planning. It doesn't have to be a royal affair, but it does help to have a plan on paper, or in a 2022 sense, posted or uploaded or saved somewhere where people who care about you can find it, if say you die in Texas or something like that.

And at this point, I want to speak both to those planning for themselves, and those who are going to be responsible for executing those plans: often known as an executor, formally or informally.

Speaking as a longtime parish minister, one of the most painful parts after the initial grief for the family of someone who died is dealing with what is and is not prepared for. So many times I hear over and over "they took care of everything in advance," and then we learn this only meant there's a cemetery lot purchased.

With all due respect, if you've bought a burial plot, you've checked off one item on a very long list, and a fairly modest portion of the total cost. The funeral costs start with the handling of the body (we'll discuss cremation another day) and carry on into a number of areas where savings are possible, but there's still a number of expenditures involved, let alone details.

And it's also heartbreaking when family thinks "well, she had a small insurance policy to cover her final expenses" and in the process we learn the payments stopped on that policy, small though they were, when Great-Aunt Hattie Mae went into the memory unit three years ago. There are also times when everyone's sure there's some kind of provision for funeral costs but no one can find the paperwork.

Just to clear up a few other recurring confusions: Social Security has a death benefit, but last I checked it was in the low three figures. The deceased is a veteran? That will get you the flag and an honor guard of some sort, but it doesn't automatically cover everything. Or most of it.

Let's talk about the more uplifting parts of laying someone to rest, whether yourself or someone you love. I can't say this often enough, and I've said it many times, from pulpits and in print: there are few things that bring smiles to sad faces and cheer to a grieving family like opening an envelope and reading the outline written out by the deceased for their own funeral.

Lists of songs, music you like or even what you absolutely don't want at your funeral; preferred Bible verses are great, names of people you want to have speak at the service even better. If you want Corgis to be waiting on their leashes at the cemetery entrance when the hearse pulls up, you're going to need to say so in advance, and in writing. After all, you're not the Queen.

But as a pastor, I can safely say there are few situations where I've felt more secure and confident about how a service should go than when I'm working from a plan made out by the person whose homegoing we're about to honor.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's got a plan in an envelope in a filing cabinet. Tell him how you've made final plans at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 9-22-22

Notes from my Knapsack 9-22-22
Jeff Gill

Presidential groundbreaking presence

Hello, President Biden, nice to have you in Licking County!

I'm not quite sure on this, but I know we had Abraham Lincoln give a speech on February 14th in 1860 on his way to inauguration, from a train car just south of downtown Newark.

Other than that, which other presidents have we had in the area? In terms of "while serving" he's on a short list. Presidents Obama and Trump certainly flew over — can't miss the distinctive look of Air Force One, let alone the fighter escort — but didn't visit on the ground.

Andrew Johnson came shortly after Lincoln's assassination, and others have told that story at length, but it was another whistle stop more than formal event with "boots on the ground."

Rutherford Hayes from nearby Delaware, Ohio came here for Grand Army of the Republic events as a veteran himself, and at a couple of those James Garfield was present, though well before his presidency.

And I keep running into stories that Andrew Jackson passed through on the old National Road, but I'm not so sure of that one, though it's fairly well received that Jacksontown got its name from supporters of Old Hickory, if not from his actual presence here. Henry Clay did visit Hebron, and that's also a longer story with a powerful punch, but he is simply "the man who was almost President."

Presidents or potentates aside, the big question is "why a groundbreaking?" Especially when the ground is broken, dug, plowed, moved, and transported back and forth between piles and pits already.

Okay, so it's a symbolic act, like saying grace after a meal. You can be thankful after you've already eaten everything, right?

There's a "saying grace" aspect to public and political events like this. We took the first shovelful months ago, but today we celebrate that we started and we're well on the way to finishing. Speeches are actually more common than shovels, even when a dozen or more are wielded by a line of people noticeably not possessing manual labor skills: you see them all trying to coordinate that first scoop . . . on three, two, one, shovel! (Cue cheers.)

Why the attempt to synchronize shovels in the first place? It's actually a fascinating piece of tradition and a kind of religious ritual. The ancient idea is that the wholeness of the soil, which when untouched for long periods does indeed need cutting, not just shoveling, is something to respect. To break the ground is to open up what is below, and who knows what might get out?

In Japan, I am told, groundbreaking ceremonies are still quite overtly religious, in terms of calming spirits that might be disturbed and asking for blessings from powers that may be awakened, to protect the builders and occupants of what is to be put on the site. A few prayers for the construction crews and coming employees might just still be in order.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he has prayed over a few construction sites, in fact. Tell him about the blessings you believe our community needs at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 9-16 & 9-23

Two columns in one email . . . 

Faith Works 9-16-22
Jeff Gill

State funerals and sacred occasions

Princess Diana's death in 1997 did not lead to a state funeral, although many remember it that way.

The nuances of a royal ceremonial funeral versus a state funeral are probably beyond most of us, but it's worth noting that the United Kingdom actually hasn't had a true "state funeral" since 1965, when Winston Churchill died. The Queen Mother and Prince Philip also had royal ceremonies but not a state funeral per se.

What makes the key difference is, obviously, the involvement of the state itself, and in the case of the UK an act of Parliament. Queen Elizabeth II as ruler of the United Kingdom will certainly have a state funeral.

In the United States, we have a slightly looser set of guidelines for such things, but not that much looser. A state funeral is generally only for Presidents; the set of rituals around a state funeral largely were born around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and his extended memorials from lying in state under the Capitol rotunda to his burial in Springfield, Illinois.

General Douglas MacArthur was granted a state funeral in 1964, and other than former presidents, the last such was for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020. State funerals were also held for the Unknown Soldiers now at rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

My earliest memories of national news are not of the death of John F. Kennedy, but I recall bits and pieces of his 1963 funeral: the riderless horse with reversed boots in the stirrups, John-John about my age stepping forward to salute his father's casket.

What I first recall actually as a funeral was the one I saw in black and white from across the globe as the Vatican laid to rest Pope John XXIII a few months later. The open casket, the incense, the music was all quite striking to a young child.

At the end of January, 1967, many of the same elements of memorial and honors were seen in the funerals for the astronauts of Apollo I, with two at Arlington and one at the West Point Cemetery. The riderless horse, the honor guards, the salutes all seen on TV were my first experience of what I had yet to experience in person.

When military honors are given to a veteran, we participate in small ways in the larger traditions of state funerals. The flag draping the casket, a three volley salute with "Taps" played, the honor guard and presentation of the flag to the next-of-kin: all of these rituals connect any cemetery in the world to Arlington and the nation's Capitol, including the traditional phrase as the flag is presented:

"On behalf of the President of the United States, the (name of service branch), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."

In any funeral today, family members will seek to make connections between their grief and the mourning rituals they've seen and shared before. The challenge for many of us in conducting memorials is that it is more and more common for people to have relatively little experience with previous funerals, and their expectations are more oriented towards public events — like the services for Princess Diana — than a traditional family funeral. Smaller families and people spreading out adds up to not a few people reaching their 30s or 40s never having attended a funeral, and suddenly they have to plan one.

Some religious traditions have a liturgy, a very specific process through which the readings and speakers and acts of the attendees is already laid out. Many liturgical traditions will minimize personal stories about the deceased, guiding those sorts of speeches to a wake the evening before, or a community meal afterwards.

But the majority of people working out a plan for a funeral are not calling on such traditions, even as they have few of their own. As a preacher from a less liturgical tradition, I have plenty of latitude to work with, but the breadth can be overwhelming for a family as they grieve.

When it can get complicated is where people ask "can we do this thing I saw on TV?" Pop music used to be almost unheard of in funerals even outside of churches, but since Elton John sang for Princess Diana's, it has become quite common.

Have you planned your funeral service? It probably won't be much like Queen Elizabeth's…

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; yes, he's got his funeral outline planned, how about you? Tell him what you want or don't want at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 9-23-22
Jeff Gill

Thirty years of change & continuity

Last week while so many were thinking about state funerals and distant royalty, I had to address the obvious theme for faith communities around memorial services here and the effects of what's going on "over there."

My thoughts, though, were actually intending to stay closer to home, and meditating on the last thirty years: specifically since September 18, 1992.

The day before that I sat down with two other intrepid incorporators, and let me pause to note Karen Bunning & I would honor the memory of Marie Kerns who was regal in her own right, but no longer with us.

We three signed incorporation papers which Deb Tegtmeyer then hand carried to Columbus, where then Secretary of State Bob Taft made official on the 18th of September the still developing structure of the Licking County Coalition for Housing, now more often called simply "LCCH."

By Thanksgiving week we had three families in transitional housing and a budget made up of baling wire and bubble gum; thirty years later we're a little more stable but tied closely to HUD grants and state support for programs which all allow us to improve and enhance the stability of housing for people at risk for homelessness.

We weren't, and still aren't an emergency shelter organization; there are others doing that work, and we all have needs still, but the impetus of getting a transitional housing program going in 1990 & 1991 was that we just didn't have any place to house folks coming out of emergency shelter type housing. Data then and now shows that people are much less likely to return to emergency shelter if there's a solid transitional housing program for them to work through on their way back to independence and stability for their own living arrangements.

After a number of ideas and proposals that are amusing to recall today, a group of community leaders and agency staff members working with housing came up with a plan for transitional housing, a coalition of partners and participants who could come up with a number of locations, cover the staffing and the upkeep, and give people a chance to live securely after having been homeless. We found a landlord who would let our motley crew lease four units to sublet, so to speak, and thirty years later we own hatful and still lease others, assisting forty some families and over twice that many individuals to have a stable residence while they work out their transition to independence . . . hence, transitional housing.

Over the last few years, unsheltered homelessness has gotten more public attention, and even a little controversy around how we can best respond as a community to the needs of people who are unhoused. I've talked to some of the folks who are concerned about how our network of response works, and hope to have more to say on that subject soon, but those have been positive and fruitful conversations. Everyone agrees that homelessness is a problem, but when it comes to what people who are homeless should do, or how a city or county might respond, I've learned over the last thirty years there is lots of room for disagreement. 

What I've also learned, in our area and in travels and communication with other locations that struggle with some of the same issues, is that there are well-tested means by which we can increase the rate of people NOT returning to emergency shelter. That's the primary goal. You might be surprised to learn I'm not a fan of the phrase "end homelessness" because the reality is that as generations come and go, and people mature and face challenges, at any given time any community is going to have people at risk of becoming homeless. Our goal has to be ensuring that people only go through that only once if at all possible, that almost anyone can end up in a jam and find themselves in a tough spot, but they don't have to keep ending up in the same place. 

LCCH has been most successful, I believe, in helping those who come to us for assistance get to where they can not only help themselves, but they also find themselves wanting to help others. The most interesting part of being connected to an organization that's now been helping people for three decades is how often I have someone pull me aside to say quietly "LCCH helped me when I was without a home, and that made all the difference." And they're often volunteers today in helping others.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's not sure he really intended to admit he's been around for over thirty years, but there you are. Tell him what you think would make a difference in our communities at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Faith Works 6-9-22

Faith Works 6-9-22
Jeff Gill

A journey through dates and stones and memory

September 8 this past week, the eightieth anniversary of the tragic B-25 crash in downtown Newark, is both a reminder of a tragedy, and a connection to the past.

Those eight deaths, six Army Air Corps crew members and two local civilians caught on the ground, were truly how World War II came directly to the streets of Licking County. We had locals already in the military who were caught up in Pearl Harbor and Midway, but for the most part since Dec. 7, 1941 the war mobilization had been people leaving here and going "over there." It would be a few months yet before Americans would invade North Africa, let alone Europe, and Licking County residents would be there . . . but not yet.

The war came home, as green air crews and untested equipment went up, and one came down right here. The same model of bomber would crash in similarly heavy cloud cover into the Empire State Building a couple years later, but by then even the home front had become accustomed to training accidents and friendly fire once we were well into 1945.

In 1942 it was still hard to grasp, and the pain was still largely in the future, until that cloudy Sept. 8th. People died, right here, some with parachutes not quite opening, others killed by an airplane even while walking down a sidewalk.

And as I've already written, decades later, the shock of recognition for a new resident in reading the name "Newlin" on the crew list.

Russell Newlin and I share an ancestor so far back we barely get to call ourselves relatives, but I've been touched enough by the coincidence to visit his grave in Indianapolis. His father and grandfather died after his passing, and mother was still alive somewhere in the city when I first moved there. You can tell by the dates and the stones that they bought a plot of four graves to bury their son, and then used them as needed in the decades that followed.

In going to Crown Hill Cemetery, a familiar place in fact across the street from the seminary I attended, and visiting Section 96, I started to notice something when I went in search of Russell Newlin. Dotted about among this "newer" section of a cemetery with a long history, where President Benjamin Harrison, James Whitcomb Riley, and many other historic Indiana figures are buried, there were others. Other young deaths of 1942. The stones were a bit older than most, lichens and mosses helping them stand out when you realized what you were looking for.

And they tended to be the first of a family, with the painful reality of parents passing on years later, with fresher stones. Every few paces, an older 1942 or 1943 or 1944 headstone, then a cluster usually to the west, of related names who were clearly mothers and fathers of the first stone even when they didn't say so (and they often did). Sometimes four, occasionally eight or even twelve, and if you're of such a mind, you could puzzle out who the other relatives were or might have been, and a few mysteries left unsolved.

The tragedy remained. Not just of Russell Newlin's loss here in a plane crash trying to get to a further destination, falling short in Newark, Ohio, but of a scattering of twenty-something year old men, buried without spouses or children, now guarded by parents who had outlived them and a few more sentry grandparents and cousins and such.

It's a quiet corner now of the vast cemetery; most of the lots sold, few unused and those left probably doomed to be unoccupied as the family moved on, or forgot, or never knew. Visitors and flowers are rare, though you can see a few sections away where current committals are ongoing.

Here is just the memory of sorrow, of families coming to deal with both the emotional and practical side of losing an adult child in what, by the dates, had to often be in training and preparation and the run-up to the war itself, but they no less the casualties of that war.

Of course, I also think standing there of the ministers, the officiants, of how they would have tried to comfort those parents and siblings, in a season just before the time when almost everyone knew what this would feel like, forerunners of the grief and determination yet to come.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's done quite a few funerals himself. Tell him how you find comfort in sorrow at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 9-8-22

Notes from my Knapsack 9-8-22
Jeff Gill

Looking up and down the watershed

When I mentioned the Intel site as being bisected by a diagonal line, northwest to southeast, and the upper righthand portion draining into the Raccoon Creek watershed, a logical question came up: what about the lower left half?

This is the beginning of thinking with the landscape, and speaking in watersheds. In fact, while the northeast half ends up flowing past Granville into Newark, the southwest half of Intel's parcel drains over into Duncan Run, past Center Village and on into Big Walnut Creek's watershed at Hoover Reservoir, then downstream meeting Blacklick & Alum Creeks before it bends west under I-270, and on into the Scioto River just past Lockbourne.

So that level well-drained piece of real estate is part of those "heights" you hear about, faintly still, in our local geography: Licking Heights, Summit Station, Summit Road. In the old horseback and canoe oriented days, it is part of the "height of land" between drainages. In fact, the South Fork of the Licking River starts its trickling course just a stone's throw to the southeast of the area under development, with a presidential blessing coming this week. Just east of Mink Street, north of Rt. 161, a watercourse meanders first west, then very slowly turns south, making a wide arc around Jersey before picking up strength and speed towards Pataskala, then flirting with US 40 heading east until diving under at National Trail Raceway to join the canal era constructed Buckeye Lake . . . which took advantage of the watershed to create a reservoir for the Ohio & Erie Canal to drain both the artificial waterway and the now full fledged river due north past Hebron and Heath into Newark.

In other words, we are all downstream from what happens between Beech Road and Mink Street, one way or another. We could shrug at floods which didn't touch us, tut-tut at algae blooms in Millersport from excess nitrogen and phosphorus off of agricultural fields, and mutter imprecations when a water line repair means a boil water alert, but in general we don't think much about what's upstream from us, nor do we worry about those who are downstream from where we are, and what we're doing.

We are also downstream of impacts which are getting much discussion: new jobs and the need for skilled employees, the desire for housing and schools by couples and families and anyone moving here to work there, tax credits and incentives creating development which municipalities and local governance units hope increase revenues. Those downstream flows, trickle out, trickle down, trickle through, are all getting much play.

And I'm hearing a great deal about how Intel has been elsewhere, and is likely here, to be a good partner in not only economic but ecological matters. Frankly, I believe most of it, and I'm not worried about Intel. It's the "and everyone who follows them" that I wonder about, here downstream.

The beaver (no surprise there's a Beaver Road just east of Mink Street in those highlands, is there?) builds a dam, changing the flow downstream and backing up a pond above their lodge. They tend their shore, and keep up the beaver dam nicely. Meanwhile, other creatures move in to make use of the transformed landscape. There's where I'm watching closely.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he thinks highly of most busy beavers, and is respectful of skunks. Tell him about new wildlife you've seen lately at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Faith Works 9-2-22

Faith Works 9-2-22
Jeff Gill

Eighty years and a journey through time

On September 8, 1942 the pain and tragedy of a World War came to the skies and streets of Newark, Ohio. A B-25 on a training mission preparing for overseas combat flew out of Wright Field near Dayton, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and in heavy clouds with presumably faulty navigation systems came down to tree top level in the heart of Licking County.

The rest of the tale, the eight deaths, two local citizens killed on the ground and six crew members, is fairly well known in the area. When I first came here in 1989, it was one of the first pieces of local lore I learned, and over the years Kevin Bennett and Doug Stout have told the story very thoroughly to local audiences. Their research and diligence to honor the dead I cannot improve upon.

Where I found myself caught up in the narrative, though, aside from almost daily driving through the intersection where that crash occurred on Hudson Avenue, was the name of the third crew member. The pilot and co-pilot each had just enough time to exit the plane but not enough for their parachutes to deploy; the navigator went down with the B-25C Mitchell, dying on impact along with two service members hitching a ride to New York and the two women of Newark caught up in the destruction on the ground.

That Army Air Force navigator was Second Lieutenant Russell E. Newlin, of Indianapolis, Indiana. He was described as 30 years old in some early accounts, but in fact died at the age of 22, a very new and junior volunteer in the still fairly new service.

And he was a Newlin. This immediately caught my eye, because my mother's mother was a Newlin, and frankly it hadn't seemed to be a common name to me. Grandmother Walton's Newlin family was from east central Illinois, not far at all from central Indiana, and I thought all the way back in 1989 "we might just be related."

1989 was 47 years after the crash, and now 33 years ago from today, as we prepare to mark the 80th commemoration of the tragedy. 33 years ago, we didn't have the internet or Findagrave or many of the tools which both speed up research today, but also throw a great deal of dust into the gears of imperfect or disproven or outright incorrect information. You can, with computers, go wrong more quickly and with greater confidence. I don't want to go back to microfilm reels and dusty volumes in warehouses; I love the quick availability of scanned in images of books once hard to reach even when you went to the storage location, and how archives continue to be placed online available to all. Yet I'm aware of Sturgeon's Law as it applies to genealogical research as well as science fiction or television or any other field of human endeavor.

So over the years I've followed some dead ends in tracing the history of Russell Newlin, newly commissioned airman and youthful casualty of the earliest days for America of World War II. His context, and that of the servicemen and civilians who died with him, was one of a vast and hurried mobilization. Pearl Harbor was just nine months earlier; in the Pacific the Battle of Midway had happened only three months previously, while the European Theatre would not open for the United States until Operation Torch in North Africa two months later. Local citizens had been at Pearl Harbor and were being steadily drawn into the global conflict, but awareness and understanding of the scope and breadth of that world war was still limited to vague maps on the front pages of the Advocate and newsreels shown at the Midland and Auditorium Theaters just blocks away from the crash site.

I still know much less about Russell Newlin than I wish, but I can confirm we are related — just much further back than I thought we might have been. But his death, decades before I learned of it, has led me to learn more about the history of Quakers and Newlins in America, from central England to a grist mill in southeastern Pennsylvania, to a settlement in North Carolina where Newlins still populate both cemeteries and the landscape, and then the point where our lineages separate, even as multiple Newlins left slave owning country for free soil in Indiana and Illinois. Russell and I are cousins, many times removed.

The connection, though, remains.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's related to lots of Gills but none from around here, sorry! Tell him about any Waltons or Newlins you may have heard of at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Faith Works 8-26-22

Faith Works 8-26-22
Jeff Gill

Theology, worldview, and head canon

There's a concept in fandom around various cinematic and literary franchises called "head canon."

Canon, of course, is borrowed from Biblical studies: as opposed to the two-n cannon, which fires off cannonballs, the scriptural canon is the roster of books or texts approved by the church over time.

In fact, I believe canon formation is one of the most spiritually interesting areas of church history, with odd asides such as Martin Luther despising Esther & James, but he consented to keep them in Protestant Bibles when erstwhile allies said fine, but let's also take out Song of Songs and Revelation. The Holy Spirit at word, or religious log rolling? You be the judge, but I think in canon formation you see how spiritual discernment works to get us the Bible we have, and the apocrypha and pseudopigrapha we don't reverence in the same way.

Canon is used today in a variety of forms. Sherlock Holmes is "canon" in the 56 short stories and four novels by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, but there are many additional works, some published and others more fan fiction, that make use of the Great Detective. They aren't canon, in other words.

Harry Potter is a cottage industry of sorts, with seven novels in print, eight movies made from them, and the author J.K. Rowling has written a number of short works and a play. They're all canon, but there are debates about how canonical variations in the films weigh versus the books themselves, let alone odd asides Rowling has made over the years since the last one.

And this is where "head canon" comes in. For some people, an image they have in their head is the "real picture." The color of one character's hair, or eyes, for instance. And there are pieces of backstory which are not canon, as in they aren't in the core texts, but which people can seize onto and insist are true, at least in their own minds.

Biblically, this comes up with a kind of head canon like the certainty most of us have about there being three magi, or wise men. If you go to canon, the words of scripture, it's just plural. No number, other than their having three gifts, which gave rise to the idea the multiple magi were three wise men.

I have a big hunk of head canon in my mind that I've come to impose on the Star Wars universe. I could bore you for possibly hours on it, but in sum, it's the idea that somewhere before the events in the 1977 film (Episode IV if you must), a plague ran through humanity in the galaxy we're learning about, killing most humans, hence there actually aren't that many "people" in the fictional universe we're encountering.

Cloning was one response, which we get to later on, and also droids: but (and this probably came to mind because I'd read "Dune" before seeing the first "Star Wars") there was a general distaste for robotic life due to past misuses of their autonomy. Remember in the cantina scene when the bartender oddly erupts "we don't serve your kind"? So droids were regarded nervously at best, and still prone to independent action.

Clones, though, were equally problematic, and especially when forced to maturity were functional but somewhat shaky and erratic: remember how bad the stormtroopers were at hitting a target right in front of them?

All of these ideas fill in plot holes, but are directly contradicted by other statements in official Star Wars canon. Whatever! I have my own head canon which helps me make sense of the story (don't ask me about Snoke).

And that's fine in fiction, but for faith formation, it can be a problem. I was once an associate minister with responsibility for Christian education, and learned one of the regular teachers was a fervent believer in astrology. As in, she spent major dollars in having astrologers do horoscopes for herself and her family, to help in making plans and decisions in her life.

Let's just say that was a pastoral challenge. Her theology about the person of Christ and the work of God was really quite orthodox, she had just figured out how the Lord used the influences of the planets and zodiac to prepare for us the road we would travel. We carried on quite an ongoing conversation about where and how this could relate to our shared Christian beliefs.

Our conversation here about theology and head canon will continue, too!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he has his own sense of where the guardrails are. Tell him where you'd set the center line at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Notes from my Knapsack 8-11-22

Notes from my Knapsack 8-11-22
Jeff Gill

Watersheds as revelations on our landscape

Up in the northwest corner of our county, I found the headwaters of Raccoon Creek, a curl of ditch heading first west towards the border with Franklin County just a quick walk ahead, then bending to the south and back around until it was ready to make a wide loop around Johnstown, and on to Granville and Newark.

A generous estimate of a thirty mile length from just north of Westley Chapel Road, to the confluence with the South Fork of the Licking River within sight of the county Courthouse, Raccoon Creek is the force that has shaped most of the human history of our immediate area, and no small amount of the natural history as well.

It riffles across the Raccoon Shale at the lowest point it follows in Granville Township, within reach of the bike path. This geologic stratum is a member of the Cuyahoga Formation, and so is somewhere between 344 and 355 million years old, with the Dugway & Buena Vista Members just downstream, all part of the Mississippian subperiod of the Carboniferous era, and yes that means there's coal to our east, but you knew that.

At least it means we can ground our area at around 350 million years ago, and build from there: Black Hand Sandstone (good for building courthouses and such), flint beds to the southeast and some later sandstones to our north, as Africa ran into North America to our east and squeezed up the Alleghenies before tectonically drifting away, leaving our part of the continent to sigh deeply and settle down just in time for a long glacial nap.

After the glaciers retreated, you start to see some valleys carved out of the post-glacial landscape. It's not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon, but every time I drive back into Licking County along Rt. 161, just past Rt. 310, I find the view quite stirring. From the left as you head east, curving around in front of you, is the valley of Raccoon Creek, from its upland source now into a wide valley a few hundred feet deep. From the 310 overpass you slowly dive into that valley, past Rt. 37 and finally down next to Raccoon Creek itself, and shadowing that watercourse all the way into Newark proper.

But the watershed it drains runs well to the north, the uplands where Lobdell Run comes down out of the hills, and not quite so far south, where Moots Run winds north into the larger creek.

Living in Granville, most of us live in the Raccoon Creek watershed. We may not draw our water straight from the banks, nor do our washing there, but the hydrology on the surface is very important for the wells from which we do drink, and then we of course discharge our effluent (what a great euphemism!) into Raccoon Creek and on downstream. But who is upstream?

If you take that parcel so much discussed, the Intel property and the $100 billion-with-a-b investment into fabrication plants, and you draw a diagonal across it from northwest to southeast, the northern half of that land drains into Kyber Run, thence into Raccoon Creek, and on to our doorstep. Intel is upstream, and we are already connected.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's interested in watersheds even if they don't put them on most maps. Tell him about what downstream effects you're aware of at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Faith Works 8-19-22

Faith Works 8-19-22
Jeff Gill

It's not essential that you agree with me

Discussion of theological essentials always provokes a wide range of responses, and is a useful reminder of why Christian unity is difficult to achieve in visible, immediate forms.

My own religious tradition speaks of a "Restoration plea" asking that churches unite on the basis of "Scripture only," but that's where we find some immediate dissension. I spoke of my own reading of the Bible and Christian tradition as leading me to disagree with calling the exclusion of women from the pulpit a "scriptural essential."

That got me a few correspondents sending me textual citations. That's right where I think we have a problem: single verses or even half verses aren't how we're going to reach true discernment on God's will spoken in the word of God in the Bible. I believe we need a wider perspective.

The Ten Commandments include "Thou shalt not murder." We're still sorting out the Hebrew to English context for "do not kill" versus "do not murder" and then parsing down into second degree and manslaughter and pretty soon we're doing legal homework, not theology.

I believe in a Biblical worldview. Where I end up crosswise with others who say the same thing is that I'm not always certain I know what a Biblical worldview is, and am willing to be pastorally cautious about applying my understanding to particular situations.

My essentials for a Biblical worldview start here, in four points: there is a God; the one whom I call God is good entirely; God is engaged with creation (or contrariwise, God is not indifferent); and finally that our best way to see or hear or understand such an infinite and eternal God who is good is by looking to Jesus of Nazareth.

How do we work from basic concepts like that to daily application and personal beliefs? There's the challenge between church and culture. Not to mention within church cultures.

For instance: I am very conflicted over applause in worship. Look, I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies when everyone in church youth groups talked about how when we were older, we'd encourage applause in church. And the idea that God is best honored by an icy, unemotive, stock-still congregation just can't be supported by belief in a loving God who is deeply interested in the decisions we make and the lives we live.

Yet the move to worship as concert venue performance has . . . issues. Okay? Can I leave it there? I'm not saying all applause is bad, or that never applauding is good. I just am still wrestling with how we can allow some moments in worship to just . . . be.

The last verse of the last Psalm says "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" If lute and harp and tambourine and dancing can all be used to praise God, why not applause? It's a matter of where, and when, and in response to what.

You can carry this same question of discernment into matters of love and justice, food and sex, money and sharing. When, and why? To the person begging at the highway exit? At the buffet thinking about seconds? In your estate planning? And yes, I would argue that sexual intimacy is best intended within the marriage tie, but it's hard to find a Bible verse that simply spells that out directly. I think it's an argument that calls on the best of a Biblical worldview, but as sexuality is connected to questions of stewardship and mutuality and covenant, more than a "here's the verse that tells you what to do."

And then there's how we apply our faith, personal or communal, to matters of public policy. I believe very strongly indeed in the power, the value, the need for each of us to perform acts of service. But I really have a problem with mandatory community service. I truly believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe forced prayer is like forced confession, or worse yet forced belief. You can't order someone to have faith, and prayer has to be voluntary to be, well, prayer.

What I believe we can do in community, and I pray we are doing in this space each week, is to provoke one another to reflect on where a loving God is at work in all that we say, and all that we do, and especially when we struggle to bring the saying and doing together.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he's actually certain of a few more things than he was in the Seventies. Tell him what you're certain of at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.