Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Faith Works 04-30-05

Why do we pray in Licking County?
Jeff Gill

Christians pray. The Lord’s Prayer, morning prayers, bedtime prayers; we pray in worship services and we pray in private. We speak to God, addressing ourselves to the Creator of the Universe, with a sense of trust in the belief that God listens, and a sense of wonder that God might answer.
Moslems pray, offering their submission, or “Islam” (the literal meaning of that awkward transliteration from the Arabic) to Allah, five times a day at minimum, whether alone or in association with other believers.
Jews pray, both in corporate worship that calls for a “minyan,” the ten men needed for official services, or alone before the Lord Who is One, Adonai.
Hindus pray, to a variety of divine figures who embody manifestations of the Divine Nature, but prayers both “set” and spontaneous are part of their tradition as well, no matter how different their worship spaces look to Western eyes.
Native Americans, or members of the First Nations as the Canadians say, pray; they speak most often of what they do devotionally as “listening,” with much less emphasis on asking or requesting than what they hear Anglo-Europeans do in prayer. Those who happily accept the label “Pagan” or Wiccam say much the same about their prayers.
Buddhists . . . well, they are more comfortable, for the most part, with the word “meditate,” but there are many traditional petitions and praises to the embodiments of Buddha-nature that sound like nothing other than prayer.
And the profane speak the name of God in a variety of forms, most of which are rude and disrespectful . . . but often with a frustrated or helpless tone that almost makes you think they could even be . . . naaaahhh. But Jesus really doesn’t have a middle name as far as anyone can tell from the Bible, in case you wondered.
So what are we all doing when we pray? Of course, there are those who would say that if you are not praying to the real, actual God, you are moving your lips and wasting oxygen; there are also those militantly atheistic enough to say we’re all doing that.
Others, a fair number around these parts I would guess, believe that prayers not intended and aimed and shaped by the right or true or orthodox position are getting much less communion and communication out of their prayers than they might. There is more of an economy of efficiency than an assertion of accuracy among Licking County believers of all faiths. Even very conservative Christians around here would agree that prayers of the monotheistic faiths, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem are spoken to the same one God, but with less efficacy depending on one’s spiritual disciplines and personal faithfulness. Most would even say God hears the misuse of divine labels by the profane; they just would not want to be in their shoes when the answer comes back.
Do those who pray think they talk to God? Almost without exception, yes. Do they think they change God? Generally, no. Serious pray-ers mostly see their prayers as having effects on those who offer the prayers, opening a channel for God’s grace and peace to work in them through a powerful non-verbal communication in response; they also understand their prayers as having an effect on others by being the vehicle for allowing that grace-filled power to flow more freely in a world often intent on blocking God’s intention. While free will, in this post-Calvinistic world, is widely understood by believers as the autonomy God respects in human persons, those who freely choose prayer can give an appropriate and effective nudge to events in the world by opening doors for God to work. And such openness allows our will to be aligned with the will of God, a source of power for those who believe.
Prayer is . . . how would you answer that?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Share your story of prayer at work with him at
Booster cover article 04-24-05
Jeff Gill

Moonrise Over Newark

Two noted scientists came to Newark over twenty years ago to disprove a theory. What they discovered instead was an achievement of Native Americans that still amazes them, and may yet awe modern inhabitants of the Licking and Raccoon River valleys.

Ray Hively, an astronomer, and Robert Horn, a philosopher, professors at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, came across Ohio to examine the world-famous Newark Earthworks, 2000 year old geometric forms on the landscape whose alignments and purposes are still dimly understood. They will return to the area to speak on Wednesday, May 4th, at 7:00 PM, in Founders Hall on the campus of the Ohio State University in Newark. They will share what they have learned, and what they are learning, about the remarkable relationship between what they call “these amazing earthworks” and the moon.

Hively and Horn originally wanted to use the Octagon to test a theory they had about the field of “archaeoastronomy,” the study of ancient structures and their alignments with astronomical events such as sunrises at the equinoxes (twice a year when the day and night are “equal”) and solstices (twice a year when the sun stops moving north or south and returns in the opposite direction). They thought that there might be as much wishful thinking as reality in finds of astronomical alignments at places like Stonehenge in England, Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico, or Serpent Mound in southern Ohio.

The Octagon of the Newark Earthworks, just one part of a once four square mile complex of connected earthern architecture, seemed to offer a good test. With eight sides, seven openings and the eighth opening along a short “neck” of parallel walls to one of the two vast circles in the area, there had to be enough possibilities to show how almost any arrangement would result in some astronomical point on the horizon being highlighted.

[box item: Website]

The results of their initial survey was a bit startling. For all the chances, there were no sunrise related major events of the solar year pointed to at all. That already seemed to show that their theory was incorrect, but to be thorough, Hively and Horn checked the rise points of the moon.

That was a bit of a leap, because few ancient astronomers anywhere in the world had built any structures aligned with moonrises. The sun follows a very regular, annual pattern with essentially no changes from year to year (and a good thing, too, or winter and summer might swap from era to era). Moonrises are a different thing entirely.

In fact, the European scientist Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus in the 1600’s, remarked that the only mathematical problem “that ever gave me a headache” was calculating the movements of the moon, rising in a varying pattern of northern and southern rises across an 18.6 year cycle. This complexity meant that few pre-modern societies anywhere in the world had marked and measured this moonrise pattern.

When Hively and Horn applied moonrise data to their survey of the Octagon, the results were immediate and striking. The central axis of the connected Circle and Octagon structure pointed directly to the maximum northern moonrise of the 18.6 year cycle, and other walls and gateways of the architecture encoded most of the other key lunar alignments.

After publishing their find to great excitement in the archaeological community, they realized to their chagrin that the most recent maximum north moonrise had passed by. For the last nearly twenty years, they have continued to study and analyse the data “encoded in the design of this internationally recognized wonder of the ancient world” in the words of the Newark Earthworks Initiative, sponsors of Hively and Horn’s return to the Newark area in preparation for the upcoming maximum northern moonrise.

Their talk, entitled “Lunar Observation and Hopewell Architecture at Newark,” refers to the term used to refer to Native Americans in the Ohio area around 2000 years ago. One exciting aspect of the upcoming moonrise cycle, with visibilities beginning next fall, is that since the culture known as Hopewell faded from view around 500 AD, this may be the first occasion people have watched the moonrise over the Newark Earthworks aware of the alignment it’s built around -- for over a millennium and a half, 1,500 years. When cathedrals were built in Europe and cliff dwellings in the American southwest, these structures were already a thousand years old. When Vikings first set foot on North America, they had been abandoned for 500 years; when Columbus fatefully arrived, they had waited silently for a thousand.

Hively and Horn believe that they have discovered even more traces of the original intention of the ancient architects, geometers, and astronomers. The Newark Earthworks Initiative of the OSU-Newark campus and a group of local historians, archaeologists, and interested parties have created a website for those interested in the earthworks and the upcoming moonrise:

The Ohio Historical Society, owners of the site known as Octagon State Memorial, have negotiated dates of open public access with the leaseholders of the grounds, Moundbuilders Country Club, on June 6, August 8, and October 23, with access for the general public starting on the 22nd at sunset (which is around 6:30 pm), one of the early visibilities for the maximum northern moonrise.

After the city of Newark and Licking County had voted to preserve the remaining earthworks in the 1890’s, preservation options were limited: once the state militia had finished using the area for summer maneuvers as originally planned, the area was used for a golf course as early as 1901. The current lease with the country club begins in 1910, and part of the preservation history of the site is the use for golf. While not an ideal plan in modern terms, the original intent of both community and club members was to find a way of managing a large, open site before the idea of national or state parks had even come about.

In fact, the club itself is part of Ohio history, being not only one of the ten oldest golf courses in the state, but the “back nine” or original nine holes of golf laid out by Thomas Bendelow in 1911 are likely the oldest continuously played links in the state.

The Newark Earthworks have a fascinating history, prehistory, and ongoing story of discovery. You are invited to come join the still unfolding story on Wed., May 4 at 7:00 pm on the OSU-N campus in Founders Hall auditorium.

Caption -- This computer generated image represents the view of one of the moonrises over the main axis of the Octagon of the Newark Earthworks. One of the "Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World" according to England's Cambridge University, the largest geometric earthworks in the world contain secrets of astronomy still being revealed. (Courtesy CERHAS - Univ. of Cincinnati)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Faith Works 4-23-05
Jeff Gill

An Anniversary Season With Much to Remember

In a series of 60th anniversaries around these April weeks marking the end of World War II, last week included the commemoration of Bergen-Belsen’s liberation, and this next week marks when American troop reached Dachau. Both were concentration camps.
Something still striking to me is the difference between those weeks. German SS troops were lined up as if in review, waiting for the GI’s at Belsen, where Anne Frank had died just days before. The cosmos of evil they had created for not only the Jewish and other groups to be “concentrated” there for a “final solution” was a world they had made for themselves, as well. It had become so normal for them that they didn’t see how the liberators would view them, and so they waited and stood proudly to hand over their responsibilities.
What they were responsible for was starvation, disease, and executions on a whim. No one took that responsibility from them, but they were held to account, immediately arrested and held, at least to start, in the bunkhouses where they had jammed the thousands they herded day by day to death.
At Dachau, days later, the reality of what they had created penetrated even Nazi rationalizations. The camp guards fled long before the Army rolled in the gates.
But I think about those men standing at attention, waiting on parade at Bergen-Belsen. If it was out of a sense of true acceptance of responsibility, it might be a sign of hopefulness about human nature. The truth is that we are not so much the rational animals we like to think ourselves as, but we are at root rationalizing creatures, skilled at trying to defend the indefensible.
People of faith still look back on the events around and within the Axis powers, countries where many of our own American ancestors came from, and struggle with how to come to terms with what was seen as justifiable from pulpits let alone people’s living rooms. Some European priests and nuns, and a few bishops did the work of truth and courage, saving Jews from deportation and death. Not a few turned a blind eye.
The German church embraced National Socialism, Hitler’s party and platform, without hardly blinking an eye. Two weeks ago saw 60 years since Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed just as Allied troops neared his prison, part of Nazism’s last convulsion of vengeance and cruelty. Bonhoeffer was one of tragically too few pastors of the state church who said “No” to “Hitler is Lord,” and paid the price willingly with his life.
Elie Wiesel, caught up as a youth in the death camps, asked the question in his book “Night,” in the starkest of terms when watching a young friend dangle from a prolonged execution: “Where is God?” He felt as if the first whisper of an answer came to him as “He is right there, in front of us.” Wiesel and humanity still struggle with a fuller answer to this question of existence, more of the meaning of our own than of God’s.
Any of us who attend many funerals, let alone we who conduct them, knows that the generation which witnessed these events, and have some of the closest insights into what it means to carry the burden of faith through the valley of shadow, are passing through that vale in large numbers. Not so very long from now, there will be no living witnesses to those soul shaking and heart stirring events. The responsibility must be handed on, to children and grandchildren and churches and communities – not just museums! – to remember what they did. To remember Bonhoeffer and Roncalli, Wiesel and the GI’s who freed the camps, is the responsibility of us all.

Jeff Gill is a writer and supply preacher who writes this in memory of the many liberators of Europe and Asia that he has helped honor in death at their funerals, and hopes to commemorate in life. If you have stories from 60 years ago or about events in six weeks, send them to

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Oh, and for those who inexplicably look here regularly for other reasons, the link that's provoked some extra views is:

and again thanks to Jay Rosen for his interest and thoughtful prelude to my offhanded observation. (Just read the link, OK?)
Greetings! If you have wandered this way thanks to Jay Rosen's kind quotes in PressThink, i am a sad disappointment indeed. This is less a true blog than a place to put copies of my print material (which saves me a step when asked for copies, a peculiar but regular part of writing in a Midwestern community: "can i get a copy of that thing you wrote on the stuff when you did?"), so there is little of current interest unless you live in Licking County, Ohio.

If you're interested in Licking County, Ohio, on the other hand, there's all kinds of fun stuff here.

Anyhow, say hello at and tell me i'm full of beans, or extend the analogies even more dangerously. Most "professions" are extremely comparable in their engagement with the world o' today, and jointly suffer from an overly developed sense of their own uniqueness, tho' i fear ministry has a particularly virulent form of the disease.