House Undivided

“Gazing past the planets, looking for total view.”  With this lyric from the popular sixties album To Our Children’s Children’s Children, a Moody Blues tribute band opens a unique celebration of creation spirituality with the Jubilee Community on Wall Street in downtown Asheville. It was earlier this year, on a warm night in late May, that Jubilee hosted the debut performance of The Lost Chord. And the band would sing on. “Wonders of a lifetime, right there before your eyes.”

Mike Parvin attended the Friday night gathering and said “At the end of the concert I found myself standing, applauding and cheering this band.” I then realized that I was also standing, applauding and cheering the sounds and songs of the Moody Blues. This is what a tribute band is for – celebration! Were they good? Yes. Did they succeed? Yes…YES!”

The Lost Chord
The Lost Chord performs at Jubilee on Friday, May 26, 2017. Pictured left to right: Sherman Hoover – bass and vocals, Todd Byington – acoustic guitar and vocals, Kate Barber – flute and tambourine, Paul Quick – acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. Behind them are Garry Byrne – keyboards, James Wilson – drums and percussion. Nathan Ebanks provides immersive visual effects via digital projection. – Photo by Bob Kalk

The group performs in and around Asheville carrying a message that resonates with the Jubilants as well as anyone else looking for a brand of spirituality that is a bit more cosmic in scope. To contact the band visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thelostchordmoodybluestribute/

While a Sunday morning celebration within Jubilee’s diverse community draws liberally from the Judeo-Christian scriptures for inspiration, participants might also enjoy insights from the Beatles or Dylan. At times the congregation is held, enraptured, by the sound of a Buddhist bowl. At other times they will engage with a highly versatile house band that offers a little something of everything, from Bach to Zulu. For any newcomer, it quickly becomes apparent the Jubilants are a wildly independent lot. But, when it’s time for celebration they are all in, just as they were admonished to be as the Moody Blues and the Lost Chord sang “Baby there’s no price upon your head, sing it, shout it!”

“Eighty percent of what we do is music” according to Howard Hanger. It was this same Reverend Hanger who, in May of 1984, commenced a gathering of creative people to develop an artistic interpretation of eight “Seeds of Celebration.” The group shared stories, songs, dance, poetry, paintings, and other expressions in a highly interactive, participatory way. From these humble beginnings the Jubilee Community was born.

From the time of its inception, Jubilee has enjoyed the support of area Baptist, Buddhist, Jewish, Methodist, Episcopal, Unitarian-Universalist, and United Church of Christ congregations. It has borrowed from these traditions together with Sufi, Native American and others while fostering a “Creation Spirituality” that honors all of creation as a “Holy Gift.” Among the many affirming messages displayed within Jubilee’s Earth friendly building is the statement that “Diversity of faith enriches our community.”

During the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas wrote “We can and do relate to the universe as a whole since we are a microcosm of that macrocosm and this relationship “intoxicates” us.” Jubilant’s clearly believe that Aquinas was on to something. While this way of thinking is, perhaps, as old as humanity, it may have been best articulated in text that a scribe in ancient Egypt produced as a legacy for his son. The Instruction of Amenemope dates back to the the Ramesside Period, during which the tribes of Israel first became a unified nation. For anyone who tends to view our universe of universes in a creation spirituality context, there is one line from this text that sort of jumps out at you:

“For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.”

Pastor Hanger describes a personal awakening of sorts in this way: “I studied under Margaret Mead. She was an anthropologist.” He goes on to say: “One of the things that turned my head around when I was twenty years old was when she said “Go to any archeological site, anyplace in the world, and one of the first things you will find are sacred artifacts. We’ve always sought to connect with that which we do not understand.”” At that point Hanger recalls that he thought to himself “Yes, yes! That’s it, that’s it, that’s it! Were yearning for that.”

“So that’s really what we try to do at Jubilee We don’t try to give anybody any answers. But, we try to open them up to ask better questions about their life, about life on this planet.” Hanger goes on to say “Music is . . . We all know it’s a social lubricant. But I say it’s a spiritual lubricant too. It gets you out of your set kind of ways of thinking and being. It opens the door to other possibilities.”

“The whole western church is built on music.” Hanger said. “The only reason we have Bach is because he was hired by a church and he had to write all these things. And so, music is crucial, absolutely crucial in Jubilee. Many people are attracted to Jubilee because of the the music. It offers such variety.”

At one point in our interview, Pastor Hanger described the way he came into possession of a Buddhist bowl saying “A guy at Jubilee had a store, called Far Away Place. He told me “I want to give you a Buddhist bowl, but you’ve got to come in and let it pick you.” So I go to his store and he says “Now shut your eyes and I’m going to start playing them and you’ll know when it’s your bowl. You’ll just know that.” So I’m thinking, ok, I can play this game. I close my eyes and he plays fifteen or twenty of them and I’m like, this is not working. I’m getting kind of embarrassed, you know, for him. And he tells me “Just keep on, your bowl may not even be here.”

Hanger continues: “So he gets one, gets one, gets one and then, all of a sudden I said “That’s it!” Well, I don’t know. It sounded like all the other bowls, but there was something about it, the overtones that just, whew! And so, maybe the tone of that just spoke to me, cut through the crowd. That’s the bowl we use on Sunday. I don’t know if it speaks to the other people there, but it gets me there.” He said.

Jubilee
Pastor Howard Hanger rings a singing (Buddhist) bowl during a Sunday morning celebration on November 26 at Jubilee on Wall Street in Downtown Asheville. – Photo by Bob Kalk

Pastor Hanger is in awe of the musical talent at Jubilee “We have wonderful drummers.” He said. “And there’s something about that drum. I’m a big student of ritual and, as far as we know, our first human ritual was done with drum and dance. That was our first connection to the Spirit world.” Jubilee’s schedule of celebrations is available on their website at www.JubileeCommunity.org and they will host an International Conference on Creation Spirituality in April.

Elsewhere and else-when, on a porch in Pensacola, North Carolina, David Green would play guitar and, along with neighbors and friends, sing “ol’ timey” Gospel hymns. Over the next ten years, the neighborhood gathering grew larger and the sing-a-long became a full-fledged community event in greater Burnsville. When David became the pastor of Grace Methodist in the shadow of Newfound Mountain, he brought his guitar, considerable talent, and a variety of lessons learned to a nearby community center in that rural valley.

Three Men and a Tub
Ol’ Timey Gospel Hymn Sing at Newfound Community Center featuring Three Men and a Tub. Pictured left to right are Sam Smathers, Pastor David Green, and Charles Ballew. – Photo by Bob Kalk

Pastor Green told us that one of those lessons learned underscores the value of holding these hymn sings in a neutral place. “The community center allows us to attract people who may not be inclined to cross denominational lines or others who may be reluctant to even enter a church.” He said.

According to those who regularly participate in the Friday evening events that also feature a potluck dinner, the number of area churches represented has now topped out at seventeen while it usually hovers at twelve to fifteen.

Charles Ballew and Sam Smathers joined David in leading the songs a little over a year ago according to the pastor. Charles plays a standup washtub bass of his own making. To change pitch he pulls a crank originally used to draw the shades in a chicken coop. His other hand is free to pluck the single string, that looks a lot like a clothesline, as the old metal washtub resonates, shapes, and amplifies the sound.

Sam plays the lead guitar parts while David plays mostly rhythm as he sings. Pastor Green says that Sam has a real talent for covering most of the pastor’s mistakes while weaving them into something beautiful. “You couldn’t ask for a better complement.” David says.

Judy McGargle regularly attends these first Friday of every month sessions. She says she enjoys the banter and the opportunity to sing the hymns she knew as a child and highlighted the interactive nature of the sessions saying “ I love how everyone participates.” Patty Reichstad agreed with that sentiment saying “These are the songs that we grew up with.” She continued “ I grew up in the Catholic Church where we would only sing the first and third verse. Here we sing all of them.” Speaking of those who join from all the different area churches she said “I was impressed by how good they sound together, it’s as if they practiced together.”

Francie Green, David’s wife, added this observation: “ Even though they come from fifteen different churches, they already know most of the songs. The song leader loves old hymns and just has this library in his head of beautiful old hymns, so . . .” When asked about how this event became so successful, she said that “David knew some people from church and the welcome table lunches in Leicester. We had a banner and we put up some flyers. People just started coming.”

Francie continued “We have a great variety of people that come and just worship the Lord. Where else can you go, on a Friday night, and sing praises to God. It just warms your heart. Doug May joined the conversation saying “The people in this little valley are just as friendly and welcoming as can be.” Doug has been participating in these events since they first started. The event is held at 7:00 PM on the first Friday of every month at The Newfound Community Center.

In a world of competing ideas we are each searching for answers. And, there is no shortage of people with good ideas they hope will go viral, folks who sincerely believe their idea is the one whose time has come. Even so, in and around Asheville there are many highly diversified groups like these, composed of people thoroughly jazzed by diversity and what now appears to be a new unification of contrasts, people who seem to value spiritual unity over any form of theological uniformity.

They have brought a powerful contagion into our midst. It is through this enthusiasm (en-theos), that they are truly united as they strive to be ever more responsive to the Divine leading that brings us together. Some will hum along as they find resonance in the cosmos and each other. Some will sway as they share the sound of singing bowls or a washtub bass. Still others will raise their voices heavenward in a full throated expression of gratitude. When all is said and done, it is the common quest of searchers that make us a house undivided for, and far beyond, itself. “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

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