Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reflections on Jericho, Silence, and Song

If you have had a chance to meet me, you may have already learned that it is really hard for me to keep my mouth shut. 

I'm an extrovert with ADD. 
I have a lot of excitement about the work the CCU community is doing in Lowell. 
And I have a lot of ideas (some of which are terrible. 

For all these reasons it's not always easy for me to keep quiet. 

But on Tuesday morning, I found myself urged toward silence, as I marched along with at least a hundred other faith leaders around the ICE Detention Center in Burlington, MA. Pastor Peter and I were there to bring witness and show solidarity with those detained who have been separated from their families, in something that we call a Jericho Walk. 

We were there taking part in an ancient ritual, with a modern twist. Based on the Bible story where Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho (Jericho, Jericho), we circle the Detention Center 7 times, praying that God's grace and justice will transform how we treat immigrants in the United States. 

The hardest part of this Jericho Walk for me is the keeping quiet. I often see people I know and love and want to catch up with. I want to stop and talk to the people who look at us funny and wonder what we are up to. I want to chant, sing, and shout. 

But the point is for us to be silent, and pray for change.    

In the silence, I start to pray. But then my mind wanders... the huge spreadsheet of stuff I haven’t accomplished yet for my wedding in less than three weeks. the fears that CCU teenagers won’t think I’m cool enough. the rage I feel when I hear about infants being separated from their mothers at the border.

One thing that really helped me stay focused on silent prayer at Tuesday’s Jericho Walk were the words to a song we sang together, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh”, which in Hebrew means, “I will build this world from love.” When I would start to get distracted, I would say these words over and over, as a mantra of sorts. It helped me quell my rage, silence my insecurities, and settle my anxiety.

I would catch my mind wandering, say these words in my head, and try again.

Olam Chesed Yibaneh
I will build this world from love
Olam Chesed Yibaneh
I will build this world from love
Olam Chesed Yibaneh
I will build this world from love

At Pasta & Praise this week we discussed Psalm 130, and reflected on being in the depths of despair, and finding our hope in the Lord. People around the table started sharing the things they did to be mindful, to wait and to trust God’s loving kindness. Things like being grateful, writing poetry, making art, and walking.

And I realized that for me, one thing that really helps me be mindful is music. If you, like me, need a little help focusing, consider leaning into a song, like Olam Chesed Yibaneh. Or your favorite hymn. Or a Whitney song that gives you life. Play it on repeat, and as it starts to become background, lift up those things that weigh heavy on your heart to God. And listen.

This Wednesday night at the start of Pasta & Praise, Janet led us in a song that could help. Here are the lyrics:

Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning.
Teach me to do Your will O God.
Cause me to know the way where I should place my feet
To walk in the pathway of Your love.

Join us on Sunday when Pastor Peter will help us think more about silence, its power and necessity for making us more mindful, and how, ironically, silence can help us find our voice.

Let's find comfort in the quiet.

Let's find strength in the silence.

From the depths of our despair let us wait on the Lord, and trust God’s loving kindness to help us build this world from love.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Things I have done that are Illegal

(for a woman, not so long ago, and not so far away)
These past few weeks on Sunday mornings, following the Poor People’s Campaign, we have learned of just a few of the many challenges in this world to bring justice, peace, and equality to all people. As I have heard stories from different guests and from our own Pastor and others in our congregation, I realize not only how much there is still an urgent need to stand up for what is right, but also that my own personal freedoms are the result of others before me who have made just such a stand. So here is a brief list, in no particular order, of my law-breaking activities as a woman: activities that are not illegal here and now in this country, but which were in recent history or still are in many other places:
  • Gotten an education 
  • Worn pants
  • Spoke in public
  • Chose my own marriage partner
  • Wrote and published in my own name a political poem 
  • Sung in public
  • Taught men
  • Decided between myself and my partner how many children to bear
  • Driven myself to work/a doctor's appointment/a friends house
  • Worshiped at the place of my own choosing 
  • Hiked, camped, kayaked alone
  • Made purchases with my own money
  • Voted
  • Voted
  • Voted
  • Spoke openly on the street with a person who appeared to be of a different religion
  • Spoke openly on the street with a person of the opposite gender
  • Wrote another poem
  • Declared myself a Christian
  • Received equal pay for my work
  • Crossed boundaries of economics, race, and ideology to meet people in different walks of life
  • Wore the clothes and styles I chose for myself
  • Home schooled my children
  • Led music of protest
  • Voted
  • Voted
  • Voted
  • Was granted and exercised legal power to care for my aging parents
  • Criticized a politician
  • Criticized my countries' president
  • Read banned books
  • Marched in a political rally against injustice
  • Traveled internationally
  • Received under the law fair distribution of funds and property after a divorce
  • Received life saving health care from a male doctor
  • Signed my own apartment rental agreement
  • Accessed safe contraception
  • Owned real estate
Read another banned book and went to the voting booth again and again and wrote more poems and played more music, all the while realizing that I have access to such basic human rights only because others have stood up to injustice, have fed the hungry and healed the sick, have even been imprisoned or killed, have spoken the words of rebellion against the suppression of rights and inequality, words which need to be spoken now as much as ever.

What rights do you live with that others have spoken up to procure? That might be in jeopardy even at this very moment. What are the rights of others who are being dis-empowered by politics, economics, racism or sexism, that you and I need to speak up for, as much as we are able, today?

Minister of Music

Monday, April 30, 2018

Building Redesign Update

Are you thinking, “I haven’t heard anything about the building renovation lately.  Am I out of the loop?”

If so, don’t worry.  Lately the activity has been technical in nature.  No decisions have been considered or made.
Where is the process going?
About a year ago we agreed on assumptions regarding our visioning.
We embarked on a visioning process that included many groups and individuals in the church.
The Building Committee, along with our architect, pulled the ideas together for another round of discussion.
We decided on a vision and submitted it to the Coordinating Council and Congregation who approved
the vision and agreed upon a process.
The Coordinating Council agreed to a contract with the architect, as the congregation directed, and the contract is now under review with a lawyer.
So we are waiting.  We are waiting for the lawyer to respond and then the architect to respond with questions for us.  We will go back and forth with Jay until we have a specific plan for the Coordinating Council and the Congregation to consider.
You are not out of the loop.  There will be plenty to talk about soon.  Take a breather and prepare for more to come.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Moderator Looks at the Year - And It is Good

Revelation 21:5 (ESV)

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

As a new year dawns let us remember all the good that God has done for us and by us.  Remembering that God in his infinite wisdom has made us all in his image, we can all show by example how we reflect the light of Christ with Jesus at the forefront.

We courageously voted to be a sanctuary church to stand against injustice for demoralizing attempts to target immigrants for deportation risking their well-being.  We have completed renovations on an area to comfortably extend sanctuary to an individual in crisis.   Partnering with multi-faith churches and civic groups to aid us in this cause.

We initiated a Just-Peace Committee to discern whether CCU would consider being a Just Peace Church. The Sylvia Robinson Fund was enacted to give back 10% of our operating budget to mission and justice initiatives. The committee has agreed to pursue being a Just Peace Church and formulated a Just Peace Covenant to present to congregation for a vote.

Building committee has grappled with many areas of interest for renovations and has streamlined a renovation proposal to move us forward on restructuring our building to support our collective vision.

Hiring of Will Miller to fulfill new position as Director of Operations and Community Engagement has helped us to reorganize and update our processes in many areas.

Faith & Action Community Leader Position has been decided on to broaden our, faith formation of all God’s children of any age, ministry.  We bid farewell to Rev. Ruth Richards and cherish all that she gave to us in her time here as Minister of Christian Education and the Arts.

Minister of Music Janet Barry a full year of “New Things “and the introduction of Lowell Learns moving into our Music Church vision

We charge forward into this New Year welcoming the brilliance of God’s light to guide us forward courageous and awake to the truth.  We pray for a collective shift in conviction to the love of God for us and all that has been created.  Hold on to all that is good release what is burdensome and march towards justice.


Valerie Manning-Jones

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

It’s Back! And it’s Beautiful!

Maybe you’ve noticed – our fabulous EM Skinner organ is singing again! After some vital repair work was done last May, the organ stayed unused for many months as an electrical concern was being figured out. And although we are blessed with a quality piano, Voices, drums, guitar, a Hammond electric organ, and numerous guest musicians, it was still a sad thing for this unique and grand instrument to sit silent.

Here are a few facts about the organ that you may find interesting:

EM Skinner (Ernest Martin Skinner,) the designer and manufacturer of our organ, was one of the most successful and widely esteemed American pipe organ builders.

Our organ is an early and rare example of EM Skinner’s brilliance, and remains largely intact.

About 750 Skinner organs were built, but currently less than 100 survive in anything like their original condition.

Some famous Skinner organs exist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NY, and the Washington Cathedral.

Every organ has its own Opus number – ours is number 299, revealing that it was built in 1919.

Our organ has four Manuals! (keyboards), and full Pedals.

Our organ occupies many spaces in the church! It is the original Surround Sound!

The Console, with its keyboards, pedals and stop controls, is in the front to the left.

Above the console is the Left Chamber, housing pipes for one of the keyboards and the pedals.

Across from the console is the Right Chamber, housing pipes for two more of the keyboards.

In the back of the church is the Rear Gallery, which contains the Tower section of 292 working pipes.

In a closet in the hallway is the instrument’s electro-pneumatic switching

And in the basement is the newly rebuilt blower and power supply.

Altogether, the organ has thousands of pipes, several wind chests, and the ability to create music from a booming crescendo to a well supported singing accompaniment to a gentle whisper.

It is my great pleasure to have this instrument to play, and we are richly blessed to be the custodians of it, caring for it as we are best able, and weekly receiving the blessing of music from its complex orchestra! 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What’s in a Song?

At the Jazz, Justice and Gospel concert last Saturday, we were privileged to hear many fabulous musicians, among them Marco Torres who performed a heartfelt original composition. “Behind every song is a story,” he told us, and allowed us into his story, beautifully told in pitch and rhythm, tempo and tune.

Songs come to us from so many different stories – different lives, places in history, journeys with God or journeys feeling alone and abandoned. Stories of struggle, work, love, Resurrection. Stories from different cultures that we often know only distantly.

One of my favorite contemporary composers is Pablo Sosa. A classically trained musician, minister, and native of Argentina, his congregation was plunged into poverty and several people were “disappeared” during a period of violence.  In an atmosphere of political intimidation and terror, the response by many was to remain silent, yet Sosa responded by writing music in traditional styles and dances that allowed people to bravely and boldly sing out their stories of fear and faith. His well know “Gloria, Gloria, Gloria” (New Century Hymnal #758) is based on a popular dance  in Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, and women whose husbands had disappeared would gather in a public plaza and dance this joyful dance alone, imagining their missing partners.

Another song I recently learned is “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” I heard it on the radio news, being sung at a protest at the Massachusetts State House. I looked it up on YouTube and saw videos of this chant being sung in the Civil Rights marches, even as beatings, dogs, and fire hoses personified the hatred against which the marchers sung. This song was taken from an old Spiritual, and words were added that gave people the voice they needed to name their oppressors. “Ain’t gonna let Jim Crow…Ain’t gonna let no jail house…Ain’t gonna let Bull Connor turn me around.” When we sang it together last Sunday, here in Lowell MA, I thought of the words of Bernice Johnson Regan, founder of the Freedom Singers, performing at the White House. She stopped mid-song and turned to her audience of politely listening dignitaries, declaring, “You have to actually sing this song… cause you can never tell when you might need it”

And then there is the Biblical story of Paul and Silas. After receiving derision and an unjust beating they were thrown in jail, where they “prayed and sang praises to God.” In this action packed narrative, an earthquake then breaks open the jail doors, and their terrified jailer receives grace, knowledge, and the bravery to show compassion.

Some earthquakes are larger than life, and some are small movements of the heart. Some songs are sung boldly and some alone in the dark. Some allow us to weep with joy or sorrow, some are dirges and some are dances, some are prayers and some are praise. But all have rich stories to share. When we sing together, we hear the stories of others, listen and learn and then share them and make and remake them as our own. “After a song…the differences between us were not so great. Somehow, making a song required an expression of that which was common to us all.” Bernice Johnson Reagan.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Church, Worship, Sacred Space

Last Wednesday we had our second Pop-Up Church, a concert by Bobby Jo Valentine in an empty store front in downtown Lowell. To prepare, we cleaned and swept the space, hung lights, brought in chairs and tables. We brought snacks and pizza and juice and made sure to hang our rainbow banner so that everyone would know they were welcome. We put signs in the windows and passed out postcards and wrote Pop-Up Church on the wall. And then we waited to see what would happen.

What do you think of when you hear the word “church?” How about “worship?” How about “sacred space.” I felt that sacred space began to form as soon as people began wandering in. A parent with her children. Grandparents. People we see every Sunday. Guests we know from Under the Oak. People from the bar next door who had helped us set up, people just wandering by wondering what was happening. The music spoke to us all, Ebony’s gift of song became our prayer, Bobby Jo’s words of pain and restoration became our sermon. And there we were, a new, small gathering of God’s children, worshiping together in this amazing space created for just this single night.

As I thought about the event the next morning, I thought about how many times Jesus found himself in large crowds. People followed him, applauding his words and his healing and his leadership. He had the numbers. He had the “Likes.” And what did he do? Often, in the stories we know and love, he either gave them the slip or he singled out an individual to pay attention to. “Who touched me,” he asks, in the midst of an immense jostling crowd. And we learn that a desperately ill woman, impoverished and probably scorned by her society, has reached out to touch nothing more than a piece of his clothing. And she is made well. Jesus speaks to her in the crowd and commends her faith and wishes upon her joy and peace! (Luke 8:43-48)

So I wonder about all our gatherings – Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, Church, Sacred Space. I think the question stays the same. “Who touched me.” And I think many of us were granted a touch of Jesus’ healing joy and peace as we worshiped together in an empty storefront on a mid-week evening in downtown Lowell.


Reflections on Jericho, Silence, and Song

If you have had a chance to meet me, you may have already learned that it is really hard for me to keep my mouth shut.  I'm an...