The corner of N. Robertson Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. is legendary, arguably the nucleus of West Hollywood. It is where the Los Angeles Pride Parade finishes each year, with ecstatic marchers ready to continue demonstrating their pride at The Abbey and its next-door neighbor, Here Lounge. On any given Saturday night, Here Lounge is nothing short of an explosive extravaganza. Huge signs emblazoned with the words "Hooker Casino" accompany larger-than-life nude dancers who smile slyly as they cover their privates with necessarily-larger-than-normal poker chips. Sex sells, especially when promoting a gay bar, and the popularity of this joint on Saturday night proves it.
But the next morning, at 11:30 a.m., a different kind of celebration occurs, one that is truly uplifting and empowering and is helping heal the gay community, most remarkably from the inside out.
"I'm the co-founder and director of a nonprofit, transdenominational spiritual community, and we have our service in a gay bar," explained this pretty amazing guy on our first date.
"'Transdenominational' meaning 'transgender'?" I asked.
"'Transdenominational' meaning 'transcends denomination,'" my date said. "The congregation comes from backgrounds of all different faiths." I didn't know what I thought about that. At least I knew what "transgender" meant, but I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. "Maybe you'll come check it out," he added.
Intrigued, I did. I learned that sage kills the stench of the previous night's spilled booze and vomit. Now, on Sunday mornings, sleepy-eyed dog walkers and curious AA members strolling down the street can catch sight of me and my now-fiancé hanging the banner outside Here Lounge announcing that morning's service.
Project Service LA: Spiritual Community Redefined is the passion project of renaissance man Jesse Brune, my fiancé. The website says he's a healthy lifestyle expert and a spiritual teacher living and loving in Los Angeles. That's true. He's also one of the resident chefs on OWN's Home Made Simple, but gay people may remember him for his stint as a personal trainer on fitness guru Jackie Warner's Bravo show Work Out. He was the hot one who gained weight and then lost it, all under the scrutiny of a massive reality-show-watching audience. I cite that part of his history because it's crucial in understanding where he's from as well as the Project Service LA mission statement, which says, among other things, that the organization is committed to demonstrating the healing power of love, compassion, and nonjudgment every day in every way. This guy comes from a history of understanding the harms of judgment and what it's all about.
The gay population's thirst for an affirming spiritual community is hardly a new discovery. A good majority of the seats at Monday evening's Marianne Williamson lectures at the Saban theater in Los Angeles are same-sex couples holding lattes. My experience at those lectures and at Project Service is that we have become more empowered as individuals as we move further and further away from the idea that we need to be healed. Indeed, Prop 8 has been lifted in California, and same-sex marriage is inching closer to becoming a 50-state reality every day. Anti-gay bullying is a talked-about and visible issue, and victims have advocates and avenues for seeking help. Pope Francis' milestone use of the word "gay" shows that even the Roman Catholic Church is capable of taking a baby step forward.
I, for one, am a gay man recognizing the need to be spiritually grounded as I break free from a victim mentality that I've held for my entire life, convincing myself that I was different because I was a part of some 10 percent. Project Service LA is supporting me in that process. They're transforming a gay bar into a community of like-minded souls united in actively liberating humanity by healing homophobia, transphobia, judgment, fear and shame within themselves. The best spiritual teachers today are preaching that love is all there is. Rev. Jennifer Hadley, Project Service LA co-founder, teaches forgiveness as the primary focus. She and Jesse have launched a movement that focuses on love and acceptance and totally steers clear of any blame. You can feel the joy radiating from the Sunday service they've created. It's in the music. It's in the sermon. Most especially, it's in the way they treat you.
I didn't know any of this a year and a half ago. I just thought I was going on a first date. I didn't expect to be part of a transdenominational, Course in Miracles-influenced community that has kickass musical numbers each week and guided meditation sessions led by a gentle soul named Amina who has to be channeling Maya Angelou. Something I've gotten there is a belief that all of us are one. You can feel the energy of people who know that their happiness doesn't come from outside themselves. They are the change they want to see in the world while at the same time knowing that they are perfect, whole and complete.
I'm grateful for Jesse and everything we're learning together. We say we're blessing the world with our relationship, even though I, for one, am still discovering what that means. I believe that's what same-sex couples who are on the threshold of preparing to marry are doing today. I hold onto the reassurance that we are forging new territory and continuing to evolve together, all of us as one, moving forward, looking up, leaving old wounds behind.