Thursday, October 09, 2014

Faith Works 10-11-14

Faith Works 10-11-14

Jeff Gill


Sacred Shapes, Sizes, and Spaces



When I was growing up in Chicagoland, down in the northwest Indiana end of the metro area, there were two public spaces that dominated my imagination.


One was in our town, part of the Valparaiso University campus: the Chapel of the Resurrection.


Built just before I was born, in 1959, the VU Chapel was our community cathedral of a sort, where our high school baccalaureate service was held, where various public events took place, where prospective brides imagined walking down a seemingly endless center aisle to the vibrant chancel surround of modernistic stained glass windows.


In fact, the nave is 200 feet long and the chancel is almost 100 feet high, so it really is a vast interior space, some say the largest or second largest college chapel in the world.


Either way, it was the largest space I could imagine hearing a concert in, or for attending a funeral. Big, beautiful, it was a sacred space with layers of meaning that went beyond the simple reasons of a set of donors and the need for a place to hold commencement exercises.


But I also knew an even larger building as a kid, sprawling over some 14 acres. Yes, I mean ACRES of space.


It had been the Palace of Fine Arts for a World's Fair in 1893, and as the only surviving building into another World's Fair in 1933 for Chicago, it was transformed into the Museum of Science and Industry. Modeled on a science and technology museum in Munich seen by the chief executive of Sears, Roebuck from Chicago, Julius Rosenwald, it became the largest public science museum anywhere, with thousands of exhibits in nearly a hundred separate display areas.


The outside was an attraction in its own right, with caryatids holding up porches and carvings along the tops of walls and framing panels all adapted from the Parthenon in Athens, even as the central rotunda from the outside evoked the Pantheon in Rome. My great-aunts would walk me around, pointing out the centaurs and nymphs and ancient heroes, telling me stories I now only remember in fragments, coming around to where (then) the German submarine U-505, spoils of war, sat outside overlooking Lake Michigan (it now has an underground enclosed hall of its own).


In years to come, I would visit not only for the Museum of Science and Industry itself, but to attend children's book fairs, Christmas Around the World programs, and finally to take my own child to see the Foucault Pendulum and the Coal Mine for himself.


Both were major public structures with primary functions that co-existed with multiple uses through the year, or years. They are "tent poles" of memory as I look back, and places I can still visit to re-remember those events and stories.


Sunday afternoon, as I get to do each October for the last decade, the Octagon Earthworks are open for public tours. At the corner of Newark's 33rd St. and Parkview Ave. off of 30th St., Octagon State Memorial is also, on a long-term lease, Moundbuilders Country Club, but from dawn to dusk on Oct. 12, the 55 acres or so of the octagonal enclosure, or the twenty acres of the attached Observatory Circle, and even the fourteen foot tall Observatory Mound itself on the southwest corner, can be walked without worry over golf balls.


Purchased by vote of the public through a property tax levy in the early 1890's, there's been golf played on the site since 1901 and the country club has had a lease since 1910, but the leases all allow for public access. Tomorrow is one of those opportunities to see what your great-grandparents had the foresight to preserve, and what the long-ago occupants of the landscape built some two thousand years ago.


We'll offer tours from noon to 4:00 pm and a bit after, and tell the stories we know and about the science we can infer. What were these vast structures, at the Octagon and across town at the Great Circle (the museum there will be open Sunday afternoon as well; the grounds always open there from dawn to dusk), built for in millennia past?


Like the Valparaiso University Chapel, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, they were places that served many purposes: but I suspect a key function was for them to be a place where the generations came again and again to renew their collective memories, and to make new ones.


You can be the next.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to meeting some of you Sunday afternoon! Contact him at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Knapsack/Sentinel 10-9-14

Notes From My Knapsack 10-9-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in Stone, but Cast Aside



This almost brings to an end my short series on various statements or sayings carved in stone around the village of Granville: one more to go!


There are mortuary inscriptions on tombstones in the Old Colony Burying Ground and on over at Maple Grove Cemetery, which are a discussion in their own right (hmmmm). I've been looking at what I call public statements, stone carved phrases put where the general population can see them, largely on school buildings, along village streets from the Denison campus, and even within the campus but placed up where a casual passer-by, student or local citizen might have their attention drawn.


Newer buildings don't have the same sort of expectation hanging onto them, so the intermediate and middle and high schools don't have much in stone carving. The elementary school on Granger St. has a phrase that links the old hub of public education in this community to the more current thoughts about what safeguards our nation.


Along College St., Denison University has a set of four gateway inscriptions, plus the observation I discussed our last time together in this space about what's carved above the main, central doors of Swasey Chapel itself.


Just inside the doors of Swasey is a replica of an inscription that once was in as central a location as Granville offers, just above the "Four Corners" at Broadway and Main, where Main terminates at College and "the Drag" begins, heading up the hill more formally labeled Presidents Drive.


It had been the Centennial Memorial, constituting a gateway to the Denison campus from 1931, and it proclaimed the institution to be "A Christian College of Liberal Arts."


I wrote about that phrase for "Denison Magazine" back when the Board of Trustees decided to replace the Centennial stone. A look back through the files put some context I wasn't expecting on that word "Christian" and why it was carved in stone at the college entrance.


Simply put, Denison was in the process of cutting its ties with the Baptist church; just before 1931 there were still promotional materials that said Denison was "a Baptist school built on Baptist ideals for Baptist students." A near disastrous co-operation for fundraising with the denominational body for what is now known as the American Baptist Church, and an awareness that a Baptist identity was starting to limit their appeal to prospective students, all contributed to the Board determining that the school's appeal should be framed more generally, hence "A Christian College," intending to communicate a greater openness to difference.


Fast forward 75 years, and Denison had visitors disappointed in two directions: parents thinking that the school was what in 2000 now meant "a Christian college," and other families and students turning around before driving on up, thinking "whoops, this is a Christian college."


So the Centennial stone came down, a replica of it (too large and too hard to gently dismantle, the original was not moveable) went into Swasey's narthex, and the 175th anniversary of the college's founding was marked by a new stone in 2006.


I understand why they removed the word "Christian" in the context I've described. What I do regret, though, is the loss of the verse formerly along the bottom, not cited, simply stated. It was John 8:32: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."


That space now has the words "Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the College." The words from John's gospel are gone . . . or are they?


We will conclude "Carved in Stone" next time!