Faith Works 4-25-15
An interfaith initiative far from over
Many of you are already aware of the cuts being made in public higher education, and at the Newark Campus of The Ohio State University.
OSU Newark has announced cuts of varsity sports and other public events, all part of balancing their budget in the face of financial pressures, a desire to control costs, and all being done in such a way to protect the core student educational experience.
Obviously, if you're involved with any activity or program that's being cut, you're going to say that your work was, in fact, part of the core student educational experience. And education is such a fluid, multivalent activity that you can make a credible case for quite a bit under that umbrella: but class offerings, direct academic assistance, and basic student services are all going to have to take precedence.
One program being defunded and shut down, at least "on campus," is the Newark Earthworks Center.
Full disclosure: from before ten years ago, I've been involved in the activities of what became the Newark Earthworks Center. It was the first independent academic "center" on a regional campus in the Big Ten, some have claimed the first such to host an international academic conference – on the Newark Earthworks, of course – and has been a venue for student involvement in current research, oral history & archiving, and tribal outreach…that last meaning students were working directly with officials who are under the law and diplomatic protocol "heads of state," American Indian nations having an independent status under our law. Chiefs, healers, storytellers, "pipe carriers," tribal historic preservation officers, poets and novelists and singers, with and without drums. I was bragging on these points to our visitors at a recent Octagon Open House, and assumed I'd be doing so again in May, and next October, as I've done for nearly a decade.
Fuller disclosure: I was employed there for a stretch as a part-time program assistant. So I've had that interest, but not at the outset, and not more recently. I'm not one of the ones losing a job or position.
But our community is losing a platform. A piece of structure that, quite frankly, all of us who were working on education, awareness, and understanding about our county's incredible 2,000 year old earthworks just fifteen years ago or so, are still going to be working in support of, and we're going to have to figure out how to reinvent this particular wheel. Just without the support of Ohio State right now.
This is to some degree personal, but I also felt like it was worth noting the changes here in my "Faith Works" column platform because the Newark Earthworks Center has repeatedly pushed into my life as a pastor, and vice versa.
Obviously, Native American religious perspectives and sensitivities have been part of our work. How and when do we decide which songs, whose chants, whether or not prayer, chanted or silent, is part of an event? That's one element. American Indian spirituality has many commonalities across the 550 nations across the 50 states, but it is NOT monolithic.
Traditional practices and views are also often lived side by side with "Western" religions: a second chief might be a Methodist minister, or a clan structure might have elements of nature and ritual function built into who does what, but also a history where one is generally Baptist, and the other Episcopalian.
Then there's the interfaith aspect – not just between indigenous world views and religious practices, but as our local earthworks attract and engage other religions in the world today coming to view, and wonder . . . and pray.
With the Newark Earthworks Center, I've been asked to accompany and guide the activities of guests who come bearing relics of the Buddha (yes, THE Buddha), and of other Buddhist saints, as they traveled the county offering their intentions for the ease of suffering at sacred spaces of all sorts. We've had indigenous people and practices from Mexico, from Japan, from Australia all come and we've supported them in their desire to honor and witness on our sites.
The first priority these next few months will be to sustain and maintain our educational and interpretation programs at the Newark Earthworks, in some partnership here in Licking County. But my own intention is to also maintain the remarkable ecumenical and interfaith elements of what it means to be stewards of these world-class pieces of earthen architecture, on behalf of Native Americans, and for everyone.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Newark; he's led tours across the Newark Earthworks for twenty-five years, and that's not going to change. Tell him about your encounters with the earthworks at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.