January 23, 2011
This Sunday I visited Jubilee! Community, a church I’ve attended off and on for several years. This Sunday I witnessed something I have never seen happen before in any church ever. I was so proud of the loving, peaceful way the incident was handled by Rev. Laura Collins and the congregation. It happened at the end of the service so I’ve left it for the end of this post.
Jubilee! Community calls its Sunday services Celebrations, and they are not kidding. Sunday mornings at Jubilee! promise great music, a powerful message of connection creatively delivered with good humor, spontaneity and a rich reminder that the Spirit of Life is with us right now, alive in All Creation.
The first thing one notices upon entering the sanctuary is that the seats are arranged in concentric circles rather than rows. Since its inception in the basement of the First Methodist Church, the Jubilee! Community has worshipped in circle. Sacred objects including a chalice, candles and flowers sit on a beautiful round table in the center of the sanctuary. Above this altar hangs a large carved wooden globe of the Earth.
As it says on their website, this faith community accepts and appreciates “the wisdom of all religious traditions, spiritualities and indigenous cultures”. Nevertheless, Jubilee! identifies itself as a Christian Community rooted in the teachings of Matthew Fox and creation spirituality.
So while the service will include elements from almost any of the world’s spiritual traditions, at the core of the sermon (called the Meditation) lies Biblical scripture — a passage from the Old Testament and a passage from one of the four Gospels. This winter quarter the scriptures each week also include a passage from the Qu’ran. (In the community room before the Celebration I picked up a very handy 8 page handout called “Understanding Islam and the Muslims” provided by the Asheville Islamic Center.)
Howard Hanger is the Minister of Ritual and Celebration and the Founder of this vibrant faith community. He’s gifted worship leader as well as a fabulous jazz pianist and composer. Though he doesn’t play piano during Celebrations, services reflect his passion for great music. Howard, along with the immensely talented Daniel Barber and Lynn Rosser, coordinate the music for Jubilee! All three are Baby Boomers so you’ll often have rock-and-roll, soul or pop standards woven into the service in such a way that the songs become hymns . Don’t be surprised to sing a Grateful Dead chorus while Sharing the Peace or hear a Rolling Stones hit punctuating the message of the Meditation.
Howard was away on a much deserved vacation so Rev. Laura Collins and Jay Joslin led the Celebration this January morning. Jay welcomed the congregation and set the tone for the Celebration by Calling the Four Directions as drummers played an ancient rhythm.
That’s the next thing visitors will notice about Jubilee! Celebrations begin by calling the directions. Calling the directions is a practice used in many indigenous cultures to bring people into a state of sacredness and to call to mind a sense of connection between humans, Spirit and Earth. Jay lit some sage and cedar, also sacred to many indigenous people, in a clay bowl, and blew on the embers to release the fragrant smoke. Beginning in the East, everyone faced each of the four directions in turn as the spiritual qualities associated with each direction were invoked. When we returned to face the center, I felt centered myself, grounded and ready for worship.
Next the congregation is invited to Feed the Hungry by placing an offering in the hunger baskets on the altar. This is a separate collection from the offering that is collected toward the end of the service. To me this is a powerful gesture of faith by this community. The first offering that is collected is not money that will pay a single bill nor purchase a single supply. No, the first gifts collected by this congregation go directly out the door, put to work caring for the “least among us”. That is faith in action, if you ask me.
This morning we enjoyed the special blessing of hearing the Jubilee! Singers led by Lynn Rosser. The song they offered this morning was written by our own Linda McLean. Who knew this wonderful local film maker, creator of Little Pearls, could also write beautiful music?!
After the song, Jay led us into a time of silent prayer with the ringing of the Tibetan singing bowl. Several people bring their own singing bowls for this prayer time and the whole place is filled with the healing vibrations. We were invited to pray with one of the prayer partners if we wanted or at the Western Wall, a small alcove in the sanctuary where one can light candles, kneel to pray or post a prayer request.
Following the prayer Lynda LeTourneau and her son Dylan sang the sweetest duet, a song called Ocean of Love that they learned at the Meher Baba Spiritual Center. I just closed my eyes and let the words flow around and into my heart.
The core of the service began with Rev. Laura reading from the scripture, first from the book of Jonah (that’s right, the guy who got swallowed by the whale), next from the Quran, then from the Gospel of Mark.
Sharing the Peace followed the reading. This is a large and loving community so Sharing the Peace takes a minute. And why should we rush greeting each other and wishing each other Peace? What is more worthy of our time, I ask you?
The Meditation, as the sermon is called here, centered on the idea of repentance as the beginning point of change and transformation. Now, one would need to approach the idea of repentance with a good dose of humor at Jubilee! For one thing, creation spirituality honors all Creation as original blessing. That is, the universe is something we experience as basically good including us, the humans. This is not the church you want to attend if you’re deeply committed to the doctrine of original sin (which one person in attendance seemed to be but I’ll get to him later).
Change is mostly what we’re up to here on Earth, either consciously or unconsciously. This Meditation offered wisdom for changing consciously. The word “repent” is used in the modern translations of both Jonah and Mark but in the original scripture three different words actually appear.
The first two words that were each translated as “repent” appear in the story of Jonah’s journey to Nineveh:
“Nacham”, meaning “to sigh,” describes that moment of sorrow when one has missed the mark. I heard it as something we feel, a bodily response to a thought of regret.
“Schuwb”, meaning to “change directions,” describes the moment when we turn toward a different goal and purpose.
The third word that has been translated as “repent” appears in Mark’s Gospel at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry:
“Metanoia”, meaning “to change one’s mind,” describes the moment when we set a new intention. “Repent and believe the Good News! The Kingdom of God is at hand,” this scripture reads. There is no longer any need to think the Kingdom of God is far away in some other life. Jesus came to re-mind us that it is here, right now, in our willingness to see each other as Brothers and Sisters and intentionally act as if we Love one another.
The scripture from the Quran echoes this principle of Intention. “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Sura Ar Ra’d 13:11) Then, just as God changed God’s mind in Ninevah, deciding not to destroy the city when the people realized they’d missed the mark and turned in a new direction, we can expect Divine help when we set our intention to see that help all around us. Usually this requires great faith.
The Meditation at Jubilee! always weaves contemporary culture into the message, showing the relevance of this ancient wisdom to our lives today. Santana’s “Evil Ways”, led by the World Beat Band, had us smiling gently at our own moments of “Nacham”.
Laura reminded us of Jon Stewart’s response on the Daily Show to the recent mass shooting in Arizona. Stewart urged us not to blame but to grieve, experience our deep feelings of loss, and to be comforted by the truth of how much “anonymous goodness” there really is in the world.
Crazy shit happens but it is rarer than corporate media would make it seem. Mass media will not show these countless stories of anonymous goodness, depending as it does on our belief in our separation, aloneness and unhappiness to sell us products we don’t need and answers that won’t work. When we change the direction (Schuwb) of our focus and set the intention to believe in one another, the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed at our very fingertips.
A soulful rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror by the World Beat Band closed the Meditation with all the voices of the congregation raised up in song. Here is a video of Michael’s 1988 Grammy Awards performance of this song. I dare you not to get chill bumps at 2:51.
As the carved wooden offering bowls were passed, Rev. Laura, offered the microphone for announcements. That’s when it happened.
Laura gave the microphone to a young man who affirmed that yes, his announcement was about a Jubilee! activity. He then proceeded to proselytize his own interpretation of these scriptures – a fundamentalist interpretation rooted firmly in the doctrine of original sin.
At first I felt embarrassed, then angry, then resentful. What made him feel entitled to impose his beliefs here? There are plenty of other churches in town that share his beliefs. I could feel the energy of similar emotions throughout the congregation.
I watched Laura wait patiently for an opening to take back the microphone. Daniel began to play the closing music which helped to ease the tension. I took a breath and remembered that I can choose a loving response even to this person, who, after all , is also my Brother and a reflection of me.
After Laura retrieved the microphone she gracefully proceeded to close the service with the final songs of dedication and benediction. When the service was over it appeared that no one approached the young man in anger though a few people were speaking with him quietly. I was even able to regain a sense of humor about the whole thing, even my own opportunity to “repent”, change my direction and change my mind.
Celebrations are held at Jubilee! every Sunday morning at 9:45 and 11:15 . On the first Sundays of the month there is an 8:30am service with Communion.