Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Faith Works 10-22-05
Jeff Gill

Understanding May Come After Respect

Rick Steeves was talking in my car the other day. Granted, he was on a public radio pledge drive, talking about the books that were incentives for the fund pitch, telling you how to travel around Europe cheaply and well.
Travel is one of those lifestyles to which I’d like to be accustomed, but some of what good travel writing – even in a guidebook! – can teach you is how to live closer to home. Finding the romance of the everyday, as well as a good deal for dinner, is useful just down the road and not just in a small Romanian village.
What caught my attention in Rick’s talk was a set of suggestions about respect when observing events that are strange to you: parades and processions, ceremonies and celebrations, whether on Sicily on down the Danube River.
Americans, Mr. Steeves gently suggested, are a bit "respect challenged" (my phrase, not his) in that we often can see the world as a very large version of the Main Street Parade in Disneyworld or the March of the Nations at EPCOT. Assuming that any spectacle is there first and foremost to take pictures of (yes, the Japanese have some issues here as travelers also), and even for us to plant our children in the midst of, we can be ruder than stink without quite meaning to.
Tonight’s Moonrise observance (weather willing, or perhaps Sunday night if clouds press in before 10 pm), starting from the parking lots of OSU-N and shuttling out to the Octagon Earthworks, is one such challenge right here in Licking County. For all the flyers and brochures and trained volunteers and staff all about, we worry that some will, almost out of reflex, start snapping flash pictures as the Native American spiritual leaders begin the procession into the viewing area.
For Native Americans, the simple hand drum and cluster of singers is what a crucifix or monstrance are to many others. Even those whose belief or theology isn’t oriented the same way have some sense that you don’t jump out into the aisle and blind the acolytes and priest holding sacred objects, but let’s not even talk about weddings . . .
Why is the singing around the steady beat of a drum sacred? Candidly, I can’t really explain it very well, even if I had a whole page and your full attention to do it. It isn’t my belief, either.
But we don’t need full understanding to understand that respect for small simple things is right and proper, whether in the old city of Kyoto, Japan or just off 33rd Street in Newark. And I firmly believe that our respect in such situations can carry back into our own worship with a deeper appreciation of what and why we hold certain moments or objects in reverence, whether it’s Grandma’s Bible on the hall table or the table in the front of our sanctuary.
See you when you get off the shuttle bus from OSU-N!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s been working hard for months on arrangements for the events described at Or suggest column ideas for after this long-awaited weekend to
Notes From My Knapsack 10-23-05
Jeff Gill

Whistling Past the Graveyard

This is a good time of year to visit a cemetery.
No, really. Not just for the Hallowe’en ambiance, but because this is the right time, according to many cultures around the world, to pay our respects and teach that same respect to the young for those who "rest in peace."
Of course, one of the tragedies of our modern era is how little peace so many cemeteries get, even those in churchyards or honored with historic monuments. Some tombstones are toppled by age and frost and the steady western winds of this landscape. Many more are tipped by the indifferent and malicious, some youthful and others less so, but united in a strange urge to strike out at those least able to defend themselves.
Folks often say that a society can best be measured by how well it cares for the weakest and most vulnerable. Certainly children and the elderly should top that list, but what about the dead? A community that tends their memorial plots well, in summer and in winter, year after year, is likely a healthy and decent place. Towns with neglected and vandalized graveyards are often one foot in the hole themselves.
And I believe that teaching the young (and old) about the significance and meaningfulness of the records carved in stone about our ancestors and forebearers, and affirming the importance even of markers no longer legible, can have a community building effect that reaches far past the work of Memorial Day and All Saints or All Souls Days, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 on many Christian calendars.
In Mexico, as is becoming better known, this season of remembrance wraps up with the "Day of the Dead," an outright celebration where tombstones are cleaned, including those adjoining your own family plot if there’s no one left about to tend them. Meals are shared, sometimes even in the graveyard itself, and children are told stories of family and friends who lay at rest there.
Cedar Hill Cemetery is getting visibly better attention these days than I recall from not too long ago (thanks, Kaye!), and Newark’s civic leadership behind Israel Dille, my best friend from the 19th century, built the place as a restful scene for the living to visit as well as for the dead to rest.
Granville has worked very hard on the Old Colony Burying Ground since well before the current bicentennial of the village, and the play "Stones Falling Westward" told a small part of that honorable story of care and responsibility.
Hebron has made their very visible town cemetery much more attractive over the last decade, and Licking Township deserves credit for their attention to and attractive signage for the graveyards under their care.
How has your area taken care of the most vulnerable residents? Who might take a role in tending and tidying and recording the stories in stone of your locale?
The ancient earthworks of Newark represent the mix of success and work yet to be done in Licking County; the "necropolis" or central burying area has long since been destroyed by canal and railroad and commercial development, while we still have some of the majestic monuments that looked across that place toward the rising sun. Still, the question of how to properly handle human remains from that period of local prehistory remains. Whether you join the observance and salute to those long-ago but still visible residents this Saturday night (see for last-minute details), there is surely someplace near you where in this "All Hallows" season you can go one better than a simple candy tribute on "Hallow’s Eve" and respect the honored dead.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; don’t e-mail this week – just check out!