It’s What You Answer To That Counts

Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,
  I did a play once that was closed by the producer while we were still selling out because that producer had never run a show longer than six months and didn’t have a plan for a hit show!  That is the truth, and it was such a great lesson in metaphysics for me.  I am reminded of the saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, any old path will do.” 
 I met with a very smart United Church of Christ minister in California several years before I finally moved on from the CA spiritual community I was leading. She spent a whole day evaluating the culture of that ministry, talking with members, looking at the physical plant, going over financial statements, talking to me, praying with me. Rev. June Boswell is her name, and I would like to give her a shout out across time and thank her for teaching me some things I actually didn’t love learning.  After the long day, she said to me, “Jane, I think YOU have what it takes to make something go. My question is whether you have a team. I have found that intensely entrepreneurial ministers like you are only able to be successful if they are supported by a strong and committed team.”   
Ouch. I had a great congregation, but none of them were interested in being entrepreneurial when it came to their spiritual community. They really wanted something in place that would support the organization so they could attend services, do an occasional project, and be inspired but not overly responsible for keeping things afloat.  This really is one good reason for denominations. Denominations hold together many like minded communities for a fee, and provide things like health insurance, minister’s pensions, written materials for different denomination-wide service projects and host national and local gatherings for people to share and deepen etc. 
A very crass way of describing it is to say that a denomination is like a franchise. You wear the red hat of Kentucky Fried Chicken or the Starbucks outfit, and you help the national organization to stay afloat by financial contributions, and for that you get some administrative stability, a sense of community identity among other support. There are also governmental structures, and doctrines, in all denominations that define how the communities do business. These are different in different denominations.
 One way I have tried to work with this reality is to have engaged with partners in order to build from scratch. The joy of working with both Rev. Karen Osit and Rev. Ingrid Scott has been equally balanced by the challenge of coming to a unified understanding of what we are called to do together!  Rev. Karen has created and maintains a very solid Accounting Department, Bookkeeping, Marketing and Administrative framework for Sanctuary NYC to grow to this stage. Rev. Karen has also brought you the amazingly inspiring documentary series we are in the middle of, and has connected us with ways to be of tangible service to communities in need, as well as offering myriad informal counseling and compassion to the community in general. (These human services are skills she utilizes daily in her work outside the community.)   She also has great ideas about arts programs, and really good taste in choosing what does and doesn’t fit. 
My gifts lie in other areas – preaching, teaching, counseling, arts leadership, music, visiting the sick and shut in, those in prison both physical and psychological, developing strategic partnerships with community groups and other spiritual organizations, program development. And we are both good at Team building.  So now we get to ask – what sport are we playing? (Joke)
This is a natural and positive growth stage in organizations like ours, and I am excited to see what comes next. Entrepreneurs can sometimes thrive within denominations. Many are doing so right now. Sanctuary NYC is not in that situation. We “sprung full born from Zeus’s head” over a year ago, and have had an amazingly creative sixteen months together. I am affiliated with a denomination, but Sanctuary NYC isn’t. I can’t really even imagine a denomination that would fit us, as we are really doing something  new.
And there are big challenges in that reality.  Both Rev. Karen and I love to build teams and see things flourish from seeds planted. One thing I have learned from gardening is that if you plant a tomato, you get a tomato. It all has to do with that seed. And then it has to do with how to support the fledgling plant.  Like that producer in CA, who closed Blue Window weeks before we won the LA Drama Critic’s Circle Award, an idea is only as good as it’s support structure.  
So we are looking at the seed again. And then we are also looking at what will support the plant.  This applies to you. Keep reading.  It is the same way with your life.  If you don’t have some larger plan for who and how you want to be to manifest your deeper gifts, life can turn into a labyrinth, and not an open highway.
Who are YOU?
What do YOU LOVE to do, be, share, that contributes to the greater good?
Can you say it, write it, sing it, BE it?
If not, who can help you get clear about that?
 This Sunday is our last Sunday of a depth journey into the Black church tradition for now. I feel honored to share from my personal perspective as an inside/outsider, or an outside/insider, some of the sustaining truths I have learned and experienced through my immersion in that beloved community. We are going to look at the genius of the organization itself this week. 
How were a people who were so demeaned and mistreated able to create a place and a form in which their honor is reinstated? How does someone called everything but a child of God, create a place and a structure in which dignity and process, respect and community values are taught, lived, and become the dominant self understanding?  Is there a way that we can learn something important from this?
The phrase that comes to mind as I close is this: “It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to that counts.”
Who do YOU say that you are?
Looking so forward to a very full day this coming Sunday as we journey through worship, music and song and then see an amazing documentary about the resilience of the human spirit.
See you at 2 pm at West Park  86th and Amsterdam in NYC
We love to see your face,
Rev. Jane

A Way Out of No Way

Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,
 In the State of the Union address this week, President Obama said, “The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. We can’t do it.” 
Amen to that!! Finally as a second term president, he can say what he really believes for a few minutes. I was so happy to hear this because I am really aware of how consistently adrenalized people are over nothing, and how lonely so many folks really are in the midst of all this created fear. You have to travel light when you are constantly in a “fight or flight” pattern. This climate of “manufactured crises” has put us all into a state of adrenal overdrive.
 We are easily controllable if we are only reacting to one crisis after another. The critical thinking skills required to work through complex ideas, social and political challenges, as well as wisdom teachings of all kinds cannot happen in a climate where we are always set for catastrophe.  Time takes time. Traditions develop over centuries, and rest on the teachings of the ancestors, on knowing how to be “right sized” and exhibiting humility even in situations where we think we know more than other people. The difference between knowledge and wisdom speaks to this. 
We live in a world utterly glutted with information.  There have been studies measuring the vast increase in pure information we take in every day in contrast to that which ancient Egyptians or Medieval or Renaissance artists received. We may know everything that is going on in a hundred different cities but how many of us are building pyramids or painting the Sistine Chapel?  The kind of living that both goes deep and waits for answers from the deep, creates a context into which the paradoxes of wisdom can be welcomed. 
When asked about one horrible dilemma or another, wise elders may say, “Just keep on livin’ “. This is the kind of response that infuriates fast food, junk food, fast forward, inch deep, quick answer, sound bite culture people. But there are some experiences in life we can only understand by living through them.  That is the wisdom that may be present in elders. I say “may be” because certainly you can grow old without growing wise.  The idea is to let life in a little with all of its joy and pain and in between.
 We are taking a depth journey through the wisdom of the Black Church tradition this month at Sanctuary NYC. Last week, we talked about wisdom hidden in plain sight, about the consecration of holy space in the middle of extreme hardship and opposition, about the hush harbor and the usher/sentry/protector of the “sacred place of the most high.”
 This week we will look at making a “way outa no way”, and will again experience a deep river journey together.
Come join us.
See you at the river.
Rev. Jane

The Secret Place of the Most High

Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,
 Last week, I wrote this newsletter piece from the hallway at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon. My beautiful 91 year old mother was in the process of getting ready for her liberation journey, and I was blessed to spend the last days of that journey with her, with family members and dear friends. And then early Thursday a.m., the next phase was complete, the next bardo had been entered, my mom was free from the body that had been locking her gigantic spirit in. 
The immediate words that came to me in those early morning hours were from Psalm 91:1, and it felt as though my Grandfather Clarence Burr Stormont was intoning them into my inner ear: “He who abides in the secret place of the most high will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty”.  I felt the comfort instantly, as I also felt the tangible presence of the ancestors in the room.
 Six years earlier, when I was waiting in an outer room while my mother was in surgery, I had another visit from the ancestors. That time it was her mother Edna Jane Stormont, and she was singing, in her very sweet soprano, the kind of melody she would sing to us as a comfort and a presence. It wasn’t exactly a lullaby. It was a musical, vibratory intoning of Presence, and of her presence with that Presence. That singing went on throughout my mother’s operation, and then stopped. All was well.
This month as we continue to allow ourselves to move into the depth tradition of the Black Church, one of the concepts that we will understand is that of the Ancestors, and their living presence in our affairs, on our plane, and in their own realm. The ancestors are a living force in African spirituality. It is the summoning of the strength of the ancestors that the Ibo in South Carolina perfected that brought forth supernatural power in the midst, even as their outer world was one of physical hardship. It was the ancestral forces that called to the spirits of people so removed from the context of their outer comfort, and filled them with the power to overcome.
The concept of combining deep contact with the ancestors with more socially sanctioned forms of worship created something known as the Invisible Church, in southern pre emancipation U.S. These churches were racially mixed, but taught a different message than the owner’s Christian church. This was a kind of intermediary form between the formal and required worship service on the plantation, and the illegal and deeply powerful ‘hush harbor’ gatherings. But in all of these forms, the creativity of fully celebrating Spirit, with liberation and freedom messages “hidden in plain sight” is one of the great and enduring gifts of the Black church in America.
We shall honor the ancestral presence this month, even as we rejoice in knowing that “The secret place of the most high” knows no boundaries of body and time.  We commune with a “host of silent witnesses” and for this we may be deeply grateful.
 I am personally happy to know that my mother’s spirit has been added to this host and deeply grateful to all of you who have sent beautiful condolences during this time out of time.
See you at 2 at Sanctuary NYC.
We love to see your face,
Rev. Jane

Life is What Happens…


Dear Sanctuarynyc Friends,
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” I put him into the category of great prophetic writers and visionaries. Don’t you?  In just the weeks since the Age of Aquarius has dawned, time has sped up, many wonderful souls are making their transitions, a second term has begun for President Barak Obama, and unless you planned to have your plans not go as planned, you are no doubt experiencing your own set of challenges.
     This month we are going to be celebrating the liberation movement of the Black church, along with A Season for Nonviolence, through music, message, dance and poetry. Our theme will be “We’ve Come This Far By Faith”.  The Black church is, by the way, cross denominational and includes Christianity, Islam, Yoruba, Kemetic wisdom and more. The reason we celebrate this depth path is because in America, the tradition of overcoming and knowing that God will and does “make a way out of no way” has uniquely come through the African-American experience.  It isn’t a political correctness, equal opportunity kind of situation where we have to do Latin American history month and Asian American history month. That’s great for schools and diversity conversations, but we take the month of February to delve into the wisdom of this very rich, uniquely American spiritual tradition. Jeremy Mage and the Sounds of Sanctuary will be going deep into a different 
musical form each week, ranging from a capella gospel, to jazz to rhythm and blues and more. And in the midst of all of the major shifting we are all experiencing, I know we will all “grow stronger in the broken places” through our journey. 
We love to see your face…for real. 
Peace/ out
Rev. Jane