Oh Freedom Over Me

Freedom is the Theme
“Have you ever performed a same sex marriage?”
I was sitting at a table of my AME ministry colleagues, at a meeting of the Southern California Conference.  The subject of the meeting was whether or not I should be allowed to return to the AME denomination, after I had left because of the AME position on LGBTQ rights. I had left to go to the only denomination where total equality was affirmed at the polity level, the United Church of Christ, but it didn’t feel like home to me.  I agreed with the political stance of the UCC, but I missed the fellowship, the worship, and the connectional support of the African Methodist Episcopal Church where I had been ordained.
I delivered my proposal to the Conference and Bishop John Bryant called for this Inquisitional panel to examine me.  The people seated around the table were all beholden to the bishop to appoint them to their churches. One was running for bishop, and would of course need the support of the sitting bishops to make that run. And so I, like countless individuals over the course of history, was seated at a table of judges who were company men including one woman.
A couple of them were friends of mine. One friend sat at the end of the table rocking and sort of intoning or moaning a prayer. He is no longer in the AME Church I might add. But the rest of those assembled played their roles of inquisitors for purity with attitudes ranging from true discomfort and compassion to outright blood lust (from the one woman).
I won’t belabor the rest of the proceeding. I answered yes to their question.  Yes, I had indeed blessed several same sex unions, as their marriages were illegal in California. One sweet man said  “Hmmm, so we are on the horns of a dilemma.”  I almost laughed and then I saw the serious pressure they were all under to convict me and to get me out of there.  I heard myself saying aloud, “If I had known this meeting was to be a burning at the stake, I would have taken a pass.”
Wow. Where did THAT come from?? Me.  A witch.  A woman, a healer burned at the stake for staying true to her beliefs.  I didn’t even know that archetype was in my psyche!  As we all left the Hall of the Inquisition at some anonymous California hotel, I made it to my car, burst into tears for about one minute, and then went to Macy’s for a sale. I knew, in that moment, that I was free.
I had done what felt like the hardest thing for me to do at that time. I had spoken out for my brother Rev. Paul Mowry – the first duly ordained, openly gay, Presbyterian minister – and for what I knew was right. I had tried to be a voice of conscience for my AME brothers and sisters.  I had sat before a whole table of people whom I knew to be good people.  I watched them have to look at me and listen to me and ultimately deny me. I had spoken truth to power. And I had lived.
The AME Church is meeting this week in Nashville for their General Conference. First Lady Michele Obama is delivering the keynote address. The many dedicated LGBT members in hiding of that body, which historically stood for civil rights, will be in attendance, singing in the choirs and serving on committees.  And maybe the question of entertaining inclusion of all of God’s children will come up. And probably it won’t.
          I actually once fell in love with a woman. I discovered it was not my primary essence.  I am far too heterosexual despite all the complications of that life for an independent woman. I learned from that experience, however, that love is just love. If it is necessary to define oneself by a label, I am a heterosexual woman who once fell in love with a woman – to my own surprise. Loving outside my own norm made me more sensitive to what it must feel like to love someone and have to choose between them and God.
I have traveled many miles since that Inquisition session in Southern California. I have faced the fear of stepping out alone, with no formal fellowship to support me. I have endured sleepless nights of deep grappling with my own self doubt and with fears about what the next day would bring.  But I have never truly been alone. I have felt the reassuring Presence, even in the darkest hour.
And then last Sunday, I was honored to march in the NY Heritage of Pride celebration in New York City, along with members of the congregation I love and was honored to found as well. Sanctuary NYC- an inspiring Inter-spiritual/Inter-Faith community of artists and scholars and healers and brave people-  was really in the house.  And honestly, the day was exhilarating.
As I hold the AME Conference in prayer this week, I am reminded of an old song:
“Oh Freedom, oh Freedom. Oh Freedom over me. And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be free.”
Take a risk to be your true self today, to speak your truth, to allow the music of your soul to sing.
See you Sunday at 2 pm.
With love,
Rev. Jane

Oneness In Motion

Dear Sanctuary NYC,
We’re havin’ a heat wave!!!  I trust that you are all finding ways to stay cool.
The good news is that it was cool and comfortable at West Park last night for the third installment of Nancy Napier’s “Optimal Future Self” class, and will be for our Sunday service as well.
I cannot adequately express the depth, profundity and subtlety of this class Nancy is offering. We have had a wonderful three weeks and will finish up next Wednesday. I want to say Thank You to Nancy and to all of the participants. You have honored us by sharing your inner journey.
This Sunday we are going to be attending as a group, the NYC Pride March, immediately after our Sunday service from 2-3:30.
We have a plan for traveling together, for meeting up with the Sanctuary NYC group already in place, cell phones and texting and walkie talkie’s activated.
SO here are the particulars:
We are suggesting that everyone wear something in the blue/green/chartreuse family to identify us as a group. The fabulous brochures we will be sharing along the way are in these colors and our business cards and logo are too. 
Make sure you are hydrated before we take off. Drink at least three glasses of water in the am, and remember that we want to stay upright as we travel the road to freedom.
The weather is supposed to have broken by then so we should be comfortable.
Jeffrey and Michelle and Kristina will be serving as deputies for the group.
Jeffrey is the “go to ” guy.
So now a couple of words about why attend Pride as a spiritual community.
There are so many people who are outside of the scope of the freedom we experience in NYC regarding the right to be fully who we are.
There are also many who are carrying around some internal message from their childhoods that God does not accept them because they are LGBT,or Q
And a lot of them received that message in a spiritual community.
There is still oppression and worse going on worldwide regarding the right to be openly LGBT or Q 
And so I have always felt that it is critical for spiritual communities to get themselves out there to say “You are GREAT and GOD is sending that message”…and to do it with joy and style and celebration!
I was fortunate to win a GLAD Award some years ago for a role I played in Craig Lucas’s American Playhouse film, Blue Window. At that ceremony, Stephen Botchko, the creator of Hill Street Blues and other television series, also received an award for the one gay character on that show.  I will never forget his remarks upon accepting his award. He said,” There should be no reason for anyone to have to receive an award for honestly and honorably portraying a gay character on network television. Since this is still the exception rather than the rule however, I accept this award with gratitude and will display it prominently and proudly.”
So in a sense, we are displaying our Oneness prominently and proudly by having a field trip as a community to Pride 2012.
We look forward to seeing you there, and to having a great time together.
This Sunday I will be talking about “The Yoga of…Gratitude”
Yoga means practice, means Path, means spiritual discipline.
Asanas are physical exercises which can be part of the Hatha Yoga path, but you can be a Yogi and never move a muscle:)
It is the discipline of the path we are looking at in this series.
Expressing gratitude is a powerful practice.
The poet e.e. cummings has said it eloquently “i thank you god for most this amazing day”
Have you told the people in your life that you appreciate them lately?
Have you told the “problems” in your life that you appreciate them lately?
Sending love and gratitude to all of you.
See you on Sunday!
Rev. Jane

Soup From A Stone

Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,
Our theme this month is focusing on the idea of Path, Journey, wholeness.
A broad definition of Yoga, is “a physical, mental and spiritual discipline traditionally undertaken to focus the devotee on an inner path.

The Sanskrit word yoga has the literal meaning of “yoke”, from a root yuj meaning ‘to join’, ‘to unite’, or ‘to attach’. 

So we are looking at how we can use core concepts to deepen our practice, and to “yoke” us to our Source energy.
This week I will be focusing on “The yoga of Yes”.

One of my favorite metaphysical stories about manifestation is disguised as a children’s tale.
Soup from a Stone tells the powerful story of both belief, and the power of yes.
A man enters a village with nothing but a cooking pot and a stone.
He engages various people along the way, first starting with a woman, whom he persuades to share a carrot for his amazing stone soup. 
He tells each person along the way that he can show them how to make “Soup from a Stone’.
So after the carrot, he adds some potatoes, then some onions etc.
You get the point.

HIS contribution to the delicious soup was his belief and his imagination and his cooking pot and stone.
He also gave the gift of opening a door into prosperity to each person who contributed to the wonderful meal.
Standing alone, no one’s contribution would have made a real stew.
But each person’s gift, along with the power of belief, gave them an opportune ity to share a wonderful meal together…and make some new friends too.
They all said “YES”.

This Sunday please plan to stay after service to join us for a reception honoring the recent graduates of One Spirit Seminary who are a part of our Sanctuary NYC community. You will be getting to know them better this year, as each one of the active group is working with us on some specific area of the ministry.
Then after the reception, join us in the sanctuary again for a screening of “Dirt- The Movie”
This film is a part of our observance of The Season for The Earth, and you will be amazed to learn, as I was, about the critical importance of soil for life to exist on earth, and how you can make sure we continue to have some!
The film will be followed by a discussion.
Suggested donation- $15.00

If you have not been a part of the Optimal Future Self class, I encourage you to come to experience the next two weeks of this four week course taught by Rev. Nancy Napier. All I can tell you is…you will be really glad you attended. Wow.

Also, remember next Sunday, June 24th, immediately after service, we will be joining our Sanctuary NYC contingent to march in the Pride parade.
We showed our banner to you all last Sunday…Thank you David Brown for design and Joyce for printing. It is amazing!!!
Once again, we will be walking, not driving, so bring your high heels with you in a bag for after the march:)

In July, my optimal future self and I will be beginning a weekly study of”Autobiography of a Yogi” on Wednesday evenings. 
I will still hold love offering pastoral counseling hours on Wednesday, but will have to rearrange the hours somehow to accommodate the class.
Stay tuned for details.

Remember, your journey in life is interior, And when we really get that, and say YES to the opening into our true nature, hold onto your hats.
The journey begins…
Saying Yes…
With gratitude for each of you,
Rev. Jane

“Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothin’ Left To Lose”

Sunday evening I had the privilege of sharing a moment in the amazing cabaret performance “Rev. Yolanda’s Gospel Hour” at the Duplex on Christopher Street in NYC. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes is a performance artist and social critic and deeply gifted singer songwriter…a man in a dress, joyously singing the Good News.The core of Roger’s message is about love. ..and about his faith and his journey to express the full range of his gender expression. It is an inspiring show, and he is an inspiring person.

The story I told in my section was about the different layers of meaning in the slave songs, which used the metaphor of the biblical Exodus story and various cues to send instructions about the Underground Railroad. Wade in the Water is one such song. While referring on the surface to the biblical book of John telling of the angel “troubling the waters” to turn them into a healing stream, the undercurrent, or meta message-  was a warning to step into the water when running from the slave masters, so that the bloodhounds would lose the scent. They were sung in plain day, but a revolutionary message was being sung.

In 1965, Jose Sarria, a gay man who lived in San Francisco, CA sang at The Black Cat, a rather famous gay bar. He incorporated similar hints and instructions through his lyrics…warning people in a cabaret about news of raids on gathering places of gay people. He was using the creativity of the oppressed, who are not smashed into silence by their condition, but are able to find a song to sing which frees their soul, and ministers to others at the same time. Mother Jose, later founded the Imperial Court, which is one of the largest philanthropic ongoing organizations in the U.S.

This double meaning is the root of the power of much of gospel music. It isn’t about just feel in’ good. It is about resisting the silencing of those who would muzzle and accessing the power of the Spirit right out loud, which is the very Ruach, the breath of life.

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, in his recent book, “God, Gays and Guns; Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy”, makes the analogy which so many in the African American church have vociferously denied- between the oppression of citizens of color in the U.S., and the continued oppression of LGBTQ persons. With his roots in the historic black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, Rev. Sekou is in a unique position to bring this critique forward. He spoke recently at West Park Presbyterian Church in NYC, with Dr. Cornell West, and these two intellectual giants unpacked this idea that LGBTQ persons have become the new n-word…the latest sub group of U.S. society to be ok to torment and oppress. And these two African American intellectuals were able to discuss what I as a white woman can only say with measured breath…that it is appalling that the connection between the oppression of people of color and LGBTQ persons is hotly denied by many in the black church. And that not only denial but active harm is being done “in the name of Jesus”, to so many young people in that community who dare not allow the full flowering of their individuality to come forth. The risk of ostracism, condemnation and worse is simply too great.

And so as I stood on the stage of the duplex, and looked into the beautiful faces of the gathered group of Sanctuary NYC members and many new friends, I felt a sense of great hope. I was honored to be performing, if even for a second, with Rev. Yolanda and her amazing band. And I felt God all over that place. Fifty years ago the gathering would have been illegal. As with slave gatherings for worship in the brush arbor, the gathering was so recently punishable by arrest or worse, that the feeling of doing something secret is still present. Meeting, like in the praise houses in the middle of a field of cotton, to re-fuel for the week spent in a world in which “freedom-to-be” isn’t yet a full reality, the place was packed and the joy was tangible.

Right down the street from the place where the Stonewall riot burst forth in 1969, a diverse group of straight, LGBTQ, African American, Latino, European …whatever… All God’s Children-were loudly singing along to “I Come to the Garden Alone”, And ‘Just A Closer walk With Thee” and “How Great Thou Art” Harmonies rang out. Faces gleamed with the joy of praising a connection to a God who loves…And I could see these same folk as children…some of them the most devout and serious lovers of God, in their churches at a Sunday evening hymn sing in Kentucky or Missouri…We all knew all the words. And Rev. Yolanda brought us together, in high heels and a fabulous wig and a heart filled with love- to  get our shout on. We had church.

I Say “Yes” To You!

“I Say Yes To You!”

Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,

I have been thinking a lot about relationships these days. When I was growing up we didn’t have words like codependence. That idea came out of the recovery movement which really flourished in the 1980’s. When I was little, we just felt “smothered”  or “abandoned” or “mad” or “happy”. Then we began to realize, as the concepts of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung began to filter into the general populace, that we are maybe more complex than we had previously thought. We began to look for “inferiority and superiority” complexes, and to describe our relationships with words like “boundaries” and “enmeshment”. God was in heaven, and was kind of like Santa Claus “makin’ a list, checkin’  it twice, gonna find out who’s naught or nice”, the devil was in hell, or a Halloween costume, girls wore dresses and boys wore pants and there were only “my mother’s hairdresser, Mr. Hans, who is very dramatic”, or “that lady who lives with her lady friend”. It is almost impossible to imagine how much we have all ‘come out’ in half a century!!

The New Thought Movement of the early 20th Century was also a part of this evolutionary dawning of new consciousness. The transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, combined their insights with students of wisdom teachings and practical healing techniques like “Mesmerism” (which we now call hypnosis), along with Hindu concepts and depth psychology and the bible, and we began to see a different kind of possibility for ourselves. We began to have a language to describe God as Universal Principle, and we learned that by working with our thoughts and our subconscious mind, we could influence our world and our sense of well being. We realized that heaven and hell are states we pretty much choose by how we habitually think and feel. We began to work with Spiritual Mind Treatments instead of prayers, and to learn the art of affirmative prayer.

The motor of the LGBTQ liberation movement emerged at Stonewall, and women began to make sculpture out of pantyhose instead of wearing them. James Brown rocked the world and a generation by exclaiming “I’m Black and I’m proud!!” and the children of the quietly conformist 50’s and early 60’s welcomed the newer generations of “tranny queens, and dykes on bikes” and “Cultural creatives”  to the full mix of our formerly black and white TV world. How beautiful this creativity and diversity is!!

But in the midst of all of this wonderful opening of every flower in the bouquet of humankind, I wonder if we have become so “identity” oriented, that we have lost the art of relationship a little. While I LOVE knowing that God is within, and is a Principle, a Law if you will, like gravity, I also love the idea of “talking ” to god or God, somewhere in heaven that isn’t only inside of me and having a feeling that whatever that God is, it loves me. I KNOW that it IS love. But sometimes I just want to know that it loves ME too!!  Don’t you?

I think that maybe we can bring some of our new sophistication and understanding of human psychology and of relationships to our conversation about God. Codependence is basically defined as being more focused on controlling others than on doing our own inner work. It is said that “when a codependent  person dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes” (joke). But the opposite extreme of that is total self pre-occupation, “It’s all about me”, and that isn’t a relationship..that is narcissism. Whoops, there’s another one of those post Freudian words!

The word INTER dependent says it better I think. It means that we are an integral part of the conversation, that both God and we need the dialogue, and that when we open ourselves to relationship, we are BOTH changed. And, as with my grandmother’s unwavering love of me and mine for her, I KNOW that this is how the thing really works. We do live in a friendly Universe, we ARE CO-Creators, through relationship, with G-d, rather than Codependent controllers of G-d.  And God/Source loves us and knows our innermost longings. Those longings were CREATED by this Divine Intelligence..and it is in the return to relationship with that creative spark which breatheImages us into being that we become the full expression of our true selves. And this is then, I think, how we can love one another better too.

There is one more “C” word, Commitment- which I think completes the equation. We need one another. Relationships with minimal commitment are shallow, transitory, and do not challenge or support us at the deepest level. It is critical to know to what, to whom, and how we are committed in order to truly mature. The thing I think many of us grapple with is that when we choose FOR something, we necessarily choose to eliminate something else. Commitment is a first step to discovering the inner door to the secret chamber of the Most High…but once you decide! the Universe rushes in to support your “Yes”.

I can tell you today that I KNOW that there is a magnificent Principle at work which wants only my good. And I can also tell you that I have a relationship with that power…one which I hope for each of you. The way to get there is like any relationship…meditation, prayer, twirling, singing, mindfulness…chopping wood, carrying water…practice, practice, practice. (Excuse me sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice”)

Hope to see you soon at Sanctuary NYC on Sundays at 2 pm!!!!!!! or this Sunday evening at the Duplex for the Rev. Yolanda Gospel Hour, or walking with us in Pride on June 24th, or at the Course in Miracles class on Wednesday, or at Nancy Napier’s new class on ‘Your Optimal Future Self’ or at my new class on “The Yogi’s Way- Autobiography of a Yogi, and Your Awakening”.

Stay tuned! Stay connected! Or as my friend Cari says “Love somebody like you’ve never been hurt!

Love to you…for real…

Rev. Jane