Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Knapsack 10-17

Faith Works 10-17-09

Jeff Gill


Dropping By the Mounds On an Autumn Weekend



If you aren't in the Reese Center at some point today to learn about the Newark Earthworks and Native American culture woven deeply into our cultural landscape, you're missing out. You've got until 4 pm; I'm the MC, so I should be able to promise we'll stay pretty much on schedule . . .


Or come out after church tomorrow and get a tour at the Octagon section of the earthworks. It's an "open house" day at 33rd and Parkview, so no golf to worry about, just come and stroll and soak in the beauty of the turning leaves and the wonder of 2000 year old astronomy.


"I lift up mine eyes unto . . ." the moon? The sun? The stars? Of course the original Psalm 121 continues "the hills, from whence cometh my help," which is to say, it's a question.


Does my help come from the hills? Nope. "My help cometh from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth."


So it's kind of funny, and as a Biblical scholar, a little frustrating, that almost everyone reads this passage as an evocation of the beauty of the scenery. It seems pretty clear that the Hebrew is trying to point us beyond the hills, beyond even the heavens and the earth, to a Creator.


This past week, with the "Walk With the Ancients" experience of pilgrimage, I've heard many prayers, some said, often sung, and not occasionally in non-English languages, calling on the Creator in thanks, in praise, and with humbly worded requests.


Native American spirituality is not a subject on which I can or should call myself an expert, but I've spent a fair amount of time around it. One thing that we "dominant culture" folk need to keep hearing is that, in the words of a recent book title, written by a relative of one of our leaders, "Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong."


Some Indians are, to use their own words, not interested in spirituality at all. "Sorry," one such fellow said in my hearing. He sounded more amused than sorry, and I could see his point. His job wasn't to be what the passerby wanted him to be, with or without feathers.


I've met Indian chiefs and tribal storytellers who are Methodist ministers; sat with drummers who sing the sacred songs who are Baptists with a passion for evangelism; stood and watched a moonrise over the alignments of the Octagon with people who sincerely say that the moon is a spirit who watches over us.


Theologically, I love these interactions because they push me to consider what my beliefs tell me about the world I'm given to care for, and in what way I can live out and embody and speak of my beliefs with respect for the integrity of the individual before me.


And it's reminded me that evangelism or mission cannot be, should never have been, won't be in the future to an "ethnic group." There's a racism, a sin of a slippery sort when you try to address a group as a homogenous whole. You don't minister to Indians any more than you can minister to "veterans" or "gays" or "singles." Any assumption you make about the needs of a person based on what group they affiliate with is likely to be wrong, and wrong in a way that can sneak up on you in the worst fashion possible. When you assume you know the opennesses and vulnerabilities of an individual because of a label, you may just have the contents all wrong.


Working with the last five years of Newark Earthworks Day programs has taught me all over again that listening is at least half of any meaningful conversation. We talk about what we believe, walking the mounds, strolling through display tables, and between the speakers in the Reese Center at OSU-N -- more than I overhear or have happen to myself on many Sundays inside church buildings.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at, or follow Knapsack

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Jeff, you hit the nail on the head. You have to listen and treat each person as an individual. I've read your blog in the past and rediscovered it througth a retweet you did of something the AdvocateNewsBot posted on Twitter. Have you considered joining Networked Blogs on Facebook?