Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Faith Works 9-24-05
Jeff Gill

Time and Timelessness in Worship

England’s vast and towering cathedrals have just under a thousand years of history and tradition built into them. This can be a challenge as well as a delight, for both today’s worshipers and historians, let alone tour guides.
In the 1100’s and 1200’s when most were dedicated and begun, the Anglican world was part of Roman Christendom, what we now call the Catholic Church. In the 1500’s the Church of England chose a different course than the Lutheran Reformation sweeping Europe, but still decisively split with the Bishop of Rome (aka "the Pope," or "il Papa" as father of the church on earth as vicar of Christ in heaven).
Today the Anglican Communion, represented in America by the Episcopal Church, is the tradition holding services in these cathedrals. Occasionally, sometimes with humor and infrequently with a touch of bitterness, an English Catholic will speak of "wanting our churches back," but with 500 years on either side of the usage, which is the right way to worship in a British cathedral?
We have an interesting and even more complicated challenge here in Licking County. While Canterbury and Westminster have not yet reached their 1000 mark, the ceremonial sites of the Newark Earthworks, the Great Circle by Heath and Octagon State Memorial off 33rd St., are acknowledged by scientists to be at or beyond 2000 years of age.
What is the proper way to acknowledge the worship dimension of sites built before written language in this area? We know the descendants of the builders, modern American Indians (some like that label, others Native American, most prefer a tribal name like Shawnee or Miami) still live in the Ohio Valley.
But like the Church of England over just a quarter of the two millennia represented by the Newark Earthworks, the modern version of ceremony and ritual may not accurately image what was accepted practice in the beginning.
For the organizers of the events taking place this fall around the Newark Earthworks, and the moonrise cycle of 18.6 years pointed out by the main axis of the octagon, the answer has been humility.
Humility is really the only reasonable approach to a structure of such age and significance, and humility is certainly called for in welcoming faithful people of so many traditions to a common event.
We know so little for certain about the valley between Raccoon Creek and the Licking River 2000 years ago, but we know that the movement of the moon and sun and stars were of crucial importance for life itself, in farming and harvest and surviving the winter. Rituals that kept the people together, and brought hope for the future, even simply the hope of another spring, had to be at their heart.
Beyond that is speculation, and the hints from living traditions around us still.
October 22 will give the public a chance to share, with humility, in a quiet simple observance of the moon rising at a predictable but irregular spot on the horizon, defined by earthen walls built by hand. Moonrises before and after that date will give Native Americans and scholars a chance to expand their circle of understanding of this monumental site, and of each other.
And if you are humbly interested in learning more, check out www.octagonmoonrise.org!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; you can offer to volunteer to help with the Oct. 22 events during the day or at the Octagon that night by e-mailing him at disciple@voyager.net.
Notes From My Knapsack 9-24-05
Jeff Gill

Politicians May Not Like Labels, But…

Civics in high school has a reputation for being a less than interesting class, but I’ve been lucky to have some great teachers. Mr. Ciciora was one of them, with a vivid taste for examples that, whether they were his own or borrowed, were told with such flair that they stuck with this student, at least, for 25 years and more.
He was explaining one day the political spectrum to us, from reactionary to conservative to liberal to radical, and told us this story I pass along to you.
Four people were walking through the desert, survivors of a plane crash, one each of the four ideologies I just mentioned. They are hot, tired, thirsty, and uncertain of where they are. Upon cresting a dune, they see before them a spring in an oasis, with a dam creating a small pond.
The radical runs down the slope, and dives straight into the water, paddling about with delight. The liberal is a bit more cautious, walking to the water’s edge, removing shoes and rolling up pants to wade about in the shallows, looking for hazards.
The conservative sits on the bank, and after a bit takes off shoes and socks to place one foot at a time in the water, commenting that no one knows what the water quality or inhabitants of the pond really are, and that caution is in order.
And the reactionary? The reactionary is over by the dam, trying to figure out how to tear it down and restore things to how they were.
Does that make political groups more understandable? I’ve long found myself thinking about the oasis and four walkers in trying to make sense of what political leaders are getting at on particular issues.
One stance more popular than sensible these days is the disavowal of all party labels, claiming that one is an "independent," which covers a multitude of sins.
With all due respect to true independents, Greens, Socialists, and the like, there is a current debate that shows how useful the two major party "labels" can be in understanding political assumptions.
The county commissioners are split right now over the sales tax issue. Some have expressed surprise that the two Republicans, Tim Bubb and Doug Smith, would support the direct application of the increase versus the Democrat plea from Marcia Phelps to let the voters decide directly.
Tax policy aside, this all makes sense to me. Republican is a term derived from the Latin, "res publica," or "things pertaining to the public good." A republican form of government is one where the voters select representatives to handle the "public matters" for them, as trustees, and if they do not like the handling (tax increases or what have you) they vote them out, but don’t vote on specific public things themselves.
Democrats derive from the Greek "demos," or "the people." A democrat wants the people to vote on just about everything they reasonably can – while good people can disagree as fellow democrats on what is reasonable (should we vote on whether or not there’s fire protection, for instance).
As Americans, we live in a democratic republic, combining the best (we trust) of Greece and Rome. For the Republicans to take responsibility for handling a complex question of the public good, and run the risk of losing the next election, they are acting in line with their core principles; for the Democrats to want a plebiscite (Greek, "plebs," or everyday folks like youse and meese) makes equal sense.
Now, I’d like the Dems to explain just what they’d cut if they don’t get to increase revenue for the county, but that’s moving from etymology to hardball, and I’ll leave that to the front pages!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your civics class experience at disciple@voyager.net.