Saturday, April 05, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 4-13-08
Jeff Gill

Jack Black’s Favorite Field Trip

If your kids have made you watch “Nacho Libre,” you may recall that (spoiler alert) after Brother Ignacio wins big in wrestling at the movie’s end, he takes the kids of the orphanage, as promised, on a field trip in the bus he bought for them.

The orphanage is in Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico, and the field trip is to a majestic place where the children get a chance to experience awe and wonder right in their own backyard, over a thousand feet above the valley floor at Monte Albán. Built about two thousand years ago, they kids may not be directly related to the Zapotecan architects of antiquity, but some of them doubtless are, and the site is their common inheritance.

Kind of like the Newark Earthworks in Licking County, right?

Which has something to do with the fact that a troupe of ten Aztec Dancers from Querétaro, a city in Mexico with a history going back to 1531, are coming to help Licking County observe Newark Earthworks Day on Saturday, May 3, with a ceremonial dance at 6:00 pm at the Great Circle off of Rt. 79 in Heath.

1531 is also when this troupe records their founding, when Spanish conquistadores and Native peoples almost fought a battle, but stopped on seeing a vision of Saint James, or in Spanish “Santiago” in the clouds. The people of Querétaro have not stopped celebrating that peaceful coming together since almost five hundred years ago, dancing in the hundreds of thousands for special holidays, led by troupes such as the group coming to help us dedicate a new museum at the former Moundbuilders State Memorial May 3.

During the day up at OSU-Newark, in the J. Gilbert Reese Center there will be speakers and programs to talk about World Heritage Sites like Stonehenge in England, over 4,000 years old but aligned to the same sun and moon in our common sky. We will hear about Teotihuacán, a complex of vast pyramids 25 miles north of Mexico City (as large as those in Egypt), about the same age as the Newark Earthworks and where the Aztec Dancers of Querétaro offer up their chants and songs and armadillo guitars and dances in the central plaza.

And we’ll hear a bit about how these structures and their sky and the cultures who lived between them have qualities if not relatives in common with our 2,000 year earthworks.

You can see the details of what to hear when at (check the “agenda” link), and even if you don’t check out any of the programs through the day, make sure to come out 21st St. just out of Newark proper or south on Rt. 79, and stand at the entrance of the Great Circle, once the county fairgrounds, and see the dancers escort us into the enclosure from the renewed and refurbished museum, also the new home of the Licking County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (

If you have kids in the house who are fans of Jack Black, just tell ‘em it’s like the end of “Nacho Libre” and bring them out for 6:00 pm. We asked the Captain of the Aztec Dancers, Margarita Xochiyaocihuatl Zárate García, if we should have a rain plan – these folks wear beautiful handmade headdresses and apparel with pheasant and peacock feathers.

The answer was no, since they dance at the pyramids of Teotihuacán rain or shine, just out of sheer gratitude. So come help us be grateful for having a majestic place where our kids can experience awe and wonder right in their own backyard, and maybe learn a few new steps.

You can leave the stretchy pants at home.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he came to a greater appreciation of Jack Black fairly recently. Share your awesome and majestic community events with him at

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ted Turner Hearts Christians, or at least Methodists and Lutherans:

If you live long enough, you'll see everything. Next, Jesse Ventura joins Church World Service to put on a CROP Walk . . .

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Faith Works 4-5-08
Jeff Gill

Connections Bring Life, and Seasoning

In this space a few weeks back, I pointed out that our Licking County bicentennial is echoed by a double bicentennial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the influence of and statues of Father Lamy tying us both together.

Hispanic culture still has little enough foothold in this area, though the central Ohio region is starting to learn what the rest of the county has long known, that Hispanic culture has been part of American culture from the very beginning – just not at Plymouth Rock or Jamestown.

When a capital was established at Santa Fe in 1608, they were establishing a northern outpost of a larger and older civilization that already had a century of development behind it, bringing Spanish European and Aztecan American traditions and practices and foods together (mmmmm, tamales!).

We will see another wonderful connection between the Newark area and a distant, ancient land on Saturday, May 3. Go back to 1531, three-quarters of a century before even Santa Fe got a two century jump on Licking County, and visit a place in Mexico called Querétaro.

A modern city that today is as large as the Columbus area, Querétaro was an area the Spanish conquistadores planned to conquer, but a vision of Saint James in the clouds, or “Santiago,” meant that Querétaro was not a place of warfare, but of coming together.

Sande Garner, a doctoral student at Ohio State University and a graduate research assistant with the Newark Earthworks Center of OSU-Newark, went down to Querétaro to learn of the traditions that mingled Aztec dance with Catholic devotion to Santiago. She saw 100,000 dancers snake through the streets and alleys and plazas of Querétaro, and caught a vision: what if some of these dancers, with traditions going back hundreds of years and more, could come from their World Heritage Site, Querétaro old town surroundings, and dance here in ours?

You have to be careful about those kinds of hopes and dreams, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen at 6:00 pm on May 3rd. to help dedicate the new museum that is combined with the new Licking County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at the Great Circle.

Opposite the Arvin-Meritor plant (former Rockwell) just north of Hopewell Drive, or off of 21st St. coming down out of Newark into Heath, you can come out and appreciate the ceremonial dance of a team of Aztec dancers who trace their lineage directly back to that vision of Saint James in 1531, “Palabra del niño Dios Teopiltzintecuhtli” (Word of the Holy Child Teopiltzintecuhtli).

Rain or shine the dancers, as they do throughout the year in Querétaro, will offer up their prayers, their songs, their playing on armadillo guitars, and their dance as a gift to God.

The captain of this dance troupe, Captain Margarita Xochiyaocihuatl Zárate García, is one of the first women dancers to achieve the rank of captain, and regularly dances at Teotihuacán, one of the World Heritage Sites that will be featured at the Newark Earthworks Day on the OSU-N campus earlier in the day. Teotihuacán’s Pyramids of the Sun and of the Moon (both as large as the better known Egyptian pyramids), Stonehenge in England, and the Newark Earthworks will be compared and contrasted through the day – for more info, click on

The next day, May 4, will even include an open house for tours out at Octagon State Memorial on N. 33rd St., north of West Main in Newark. But the highlight for many of us will be 6:00 pm out at the Great Circle, a once connected part of the Newark Earthworks complex of 2,000 years ago -- when on Saturday night, May 3, the Aztec Dancers will process out into the ancient enclosure. With their headdresses of pheasant and peacock feathers, and with drum and song, they will help make a connection between our culture and theirs, times long past and living time today, between Querétaro and Teotihuacán and Stonehenge and Licking County, Ohio.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he sees connections where others just see extension cords. Make a link with him at

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 4-6-08
Jeff Gill

Elevate Your Game With John Wooden

John Wooden is at every NCAA basketball national championship, whether he makes it to the hall where it’s played or not.

No one has won more of them as a coach; shoot, no school has won more in their entire history than Wooden did at UCLA, ten of ‘em. (Adolph Rupp won four, and Kentucky has seven.)

He became the “Wizard of Westwood,” but he’s a Hoosier boy through and through, at 97 still giving the occasional interview, though his health – understandably – hasn’t left him free to make every home game the way he once did, let alone travel to the Final Four.

If you watch the coverage, you’ll hear his name. I can pretty much guarantee it.

Growing up in Indiana, and around basketball (I know, that was redundant), you heard about and even saw Wooden – so to speak. When my high school basketball team (full disclosure: I was the manager) played in the state semi-final game at Purdue, our pre-game meal was in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn with a ten foot tall black and white image of a young John Wooden on the wall.

He’s got gyms and post offices named for him from Martinsville, Indiana to the San Fernando Valley, and books of his counsel for coaching and for life are many.

But he says it all boils down to a seven point creed that was printed on a card his father, Joshua Wooden, gave him when he was a boy. Those simple statements Coach Wooden says gave him all he’s needed to build a successful and honorable life – see what you think.

Be true to yourself.
Make each day your masterpiece.
Help others.
Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
Make friendship a fine art.
Build a shelter against a rainy day.
Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

These seven lines are on cards John Wooden still hands out, now with pictures of both Joshua and his son John, and what Coach Wooden calls “Two sets of threes” from other counsel that his dad gave him.

The first set is:

Never lie.
Never cheat.
Never steal.

And then:

Don’t whine.
Don’t complain.
Don’t make excuses.

You know, as a life philosophy, you don’t need much more than that. Plus, a really good recruiting strategy that includes having a beach nearby. But if it were just about the beach, Kansas wouldn’t be in the Final Four, so give Coach Wooden the credit.

Kansas, of course, is where the inventor of the game of basketball, James Naismith, closed out his coaching career, which began at the literal beginning in a Springfield, MA YMCA with some peach baskets. He is, ironically, the only losing basketball coach Kansas has ever had – someone should have given him a Wooden card.

Personally, I hope someone gives the entire Cubs lineup a set of these cards this year, the 100th anniversary of the franchise’s last World Series win. They’re gonna need some character building sentiments to buck them up through another year of happy futility.

My take on the Cubs’ plight is simply that you don’t get to play in the most beautiful ballpark in the major leagues (sorry, Boston, what’s with that big ugly green thing in left field?) and also play in the World Series. And any true Cubs fan will tell you – if the choice is between a World Series win while playing at suburban Megacorp Stadium, or losing the pennant again at Wrigley Field, we’ll take the Friendly Confines.

Friday, April 11, from 8 pm until who knows when at Brews Too (their basement bar located waaay upstairs), “Heavens to Betsy” and other musical friends of the Licking County Coalition for Housing are having a benefit concert. Titled “Home Again,” the musicians involved are giving the ten bucks a head to help alleviate homelessness in Licking County. What else you spend is up to you, but you can get a fun evening while helping keep others from a desperate one.

If enough people show up, they might even play “Freebird.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; his Wrigley Field memories are rich and full, while he knows little about World Series victors of the last century. Tell him about the Yankees at