"If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else? Can I get an amen in here?"
These words have provided the benediction for every episode of the hit series "RuPaul's Drag Race," which is entering it's fifth season today (Jan. 28) on LOGO.
RuPaul, who is one of the world's most famous drag queens, has been a pop culture phenomenon since her 1993 breakout single "Supermodel (Of The World)."
I used to see her around town in New York, most memorably at Wigstock, the drag festival that took place in downtown Manhattan. I remember her captivating a rowdy crowd of 5,000 saying: "Let me hear you all say Love!" "LOVE!" yelled back the audience.
And it felt like church to me.
I recently had the chance to talk to the Lady herself and ask her about the spiritual element within her life and her work.
It turns out that spirituality, in her words, "is the only game in town."
PBR: Tell me about the spiritual upbringing you had. Do you still pray or attend church anywhere?
RP: My Mother grew up Catholic and, when she was a teenager, she wanted to become a nun. Obviously she didn't, but she loved the Catholic religion and loved the Bible and could recite it verse by verse.
But what made her really special was she didn't push any of that with us kids. She said: "Look, there is something there; if you want it you can have it." But she never pushed it.
Later she really loathed organized religion and stopped going to church. But she still read her Bible and prayed. She taught me how to pray and I still pray to this day. I'm not religious, but I do have spiritual practices like yoga and meditation and I do pray.
What do you think of spirituality or God?
I think we are spirit. The spirit doesn't end where our bodies begin. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Spirituality has always been part of my life, always. It's something I'm always conscious of -- I breath it, it's like air.
When people say I don't see God or I see no presence of God. I'm sorry, but that word has been so bastardized, it has so much baggage attached to it. But when I use God I mean "that which cannot be described."
In the last episode of "Drag Race All Stars" you sat with the final four and went really deep with each of them. JujuBee (one of the contestants) later said that you have a God-given ability for reaching people. Do you view yourself as a spiritual mentor to these up and coming queens?
Do I give spiritual advice? All the time. Everything I ever say is spiritual advice.
It's not like I'm a guru or anything, but it is the only game in town. It's the only conversation I can ever really have. As drag queens, we have taken the position of being shamans and witch doctors and people who remind the culture not to take itself so seriously. What it says on your driver's license isn't really who you are -- you are something much greater than that.
A lot of the queens coming on the show are just beginning to realize that. They know it on an unconscious level, that they wanted to transcend the labels and boxes that society would have them be in, so they turn to drag because it is a natural thing. It is what we are all doing -- God masquerading in drag.
There is an honored tradition of two-gendered shamans in many cultures.
I love the end of the show when you say: "If you can't love yourself how you gonna love someone else, can I get an amen?" There is a joy and power in that moment. Do you do that because you want people to be uplifted?
Yes. We are playing a game. We have television cameras; it is a production. That is the moment when I bring it right back to what this is really all about -- having fun, loving yourself, and understanding that you are not separate from the girl standing next to you, or the person out there in the audience -- that there is only one of us here.
That mantra has been with me since day one.
I remember in the Village in the '90s hearing you say, "Let me hear you all say love, let me hear you say revolution." And every one was with you. It felt like good church -- when everybody is feeling love for one another and transcending the difference we might normally see.
Absolutely. It momentarily wakes you up from the collective dream that we are in. When we say "Everybody say love," in that moment, everybody jumps out of their dream.
How do you counteract the viciousness and pettiness between the queens that comes out in the show?
Well, it is a television show, we are there to entertain, that part makes for good TV.
So when I talk to these girls, I tell them they are not really competing against the others, they are competing to tear down some of those walls and transcend their own limitations.
Just like someone else I know. And that someone else represents the potential that lives in all of us. Several figures represent that -- Jesus, Krishna and Buddha all represent the potential we all have to transcend our limitations.
What happens when we die, when we all pass on?
I'm sure something happens. Our brain wants to put it in a linear fashion -- first a then b then c -- the brain is limited in that way needing it to be 1, 2, 3, then 4 -- but it is more abstract than that. I don't think that time is real. I don't think that space is really real. Even this conversation isn't real.
I'm feeling you. There is a mystical encounter with the transcendent that is in all religions. I'm hearing a lot of that in what you are saying.
That mystical encounter is always happening. It is happening in this very moment. You chose heaven or hell in this moment. Because you are conscious and have free will you can choose whatever you want at any given time. So it is not about what happens then, because 'then' never comes. The future doesn't exist. There is only "right now."
Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje is Provost of Starr King School for the Ministry, Professor of Cultural Studies and Islamic Studies, and Sufi. Taught the first divinity school class in the US on African-American faith communities and HIV prevention.
Irshad Manji is a Muslim and founder and director of the <a href="https://www.irshadmanji.com/Moral-Courage-Project" target="_hplink">Moral Courage Project</a> at New York University's School of Public Service.
Bishop of the <a href="http://www.nhepiscopal.org/" target="_hplink">Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire</a>.
Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng founded a gay-friendly church outside Kuala Lumpur and is thought to be the country's only openly gay pastor. Although he now lives in the U.S., he frequently returns to Malaysia to call for gay rights, despite the country outlawing homosexuality.
Imam Daayiee Abdullah is the imam and religious director of <a href="http://daayieesplaceofinnerpeace.com/MASJID_ANNURAL_ISSLAAH.html" target="_hplink">Masjid An-Nur Al-Isslaah</a>, and the co-director of <a href="http://www.mpvusa.org/" target="_hplink">Muslims for Progressive Values</a>
Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool serves as the Assistant Bishop of <a href="http://www.ladiocese.org/" target="_hplink">The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles</a>.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as the spiritual leader of <a href="http://www.cbst.org/" target="_hplink">Congregation Beit Simshat Torah</a>, the largest LGBT synagogue in the world.
Rev. Troy Perry founded the LGBT denomination of <a href="http://mccchurch.org/" target="_hplink">Metropolitan Community Churches </a>(MCC) in 1968.
<a href="http://www.larryyang.org/home.html" target="_hplink">Larry Yang</a> is on the Spirit Rock Teachers' Council and a core teacher at the new East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, Calif.
Pastor Manny Santiago is the pastor of <a href="http://www.ubcseattle.org/" target="_hplink">University Baptist Church</a> in Seattle, Wa.
Rev. Scott Anderson is the first openly gay PCUSA minister ordained after the church voted to allow individual presbyteries to set their own ordination guidelines around sexual orientation
The Rev. Pat Bumgardner is currently the Senior Pastor of <a href="http://mccny.org/wordpress/" target="_hplink">Metropolitan Community Church</a> of New York.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, is Director of Orthodox Programs for <a href="http://www.nehirim.org/" target="_hplink">Nehirim</a>, the organization for GLBT Jewish culture and spirituality.
Bishop Flunder founded the United Church of Christ Church, <a href="http://www.sfrefuge.org/index.cfm" target="_hplink">City of Refuge</a> and presiding Bishop of <a href="http://www.radicallyinclusive.com/" target="_hplink">The Fellowship</a>.
Archbishop Carl Bean founded the <a href="http://www.unityfellowshipchurch.org/mainsite/" target="_hplink">Unity Fellowship Church Movement,</a> a primarily African American and LGBT denomination.
Rev. Malcolm Boyd is an Episcopalian Priest and author of "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Running-Me-Jesus/dp/1561012750" target="_hplink">Are You Running With Me Jesus?</a>"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Coloradem"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://i.huffpost.com/profiles/466930-tiny.png?20091015162513" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Coloradem">Coloradem</a>:<br />Justin Lee is the founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network.
William R. Johnson - First Openly Gay person ordained in a mainline denomination (United Church of Christ) and founder of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns and Maranatha: Riversiders for LGBT Concerns at the Riverside Church, NYC.
Rev. Robin Reiter is the Founder and director of Sacred Abundance Ministries
Founder of the Spiritual Center - NYC, Author, speaker, life coach.
Jimmy Creech was defrocked by the United Methodist Church and lost his ordination for performing same-sex commitment ceremonies. He is the author of Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor's Calling to Defy The Church's Persecution of Lesbians and Gays.
Executive Director of Fig Leaf
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson is Senior Pastor at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX
Bayard Rsutin was the Quaker activist who not only mentored Dr. King in the principles of non-violent, non cooperation, but also helped found the Southern Church Leadership Conference. Rustin was the chief organizer of the '63 March on Washington, as well as of the first Freedom Rides in 1947. Because Rustin was openly gay, he had to remain behind the scenes in the Civil Rights movement, as his sexuality was the target of attacks by anti Civil Rights antagonists.
Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians that was founded in 1996. The magazine was the first of its kind on the internet has continued to be a resource for the LGBT community since then at whosoever.org. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008.
Rabbi Denise Eger serves at Congregation Kol Ami and long time LGBT activist
Rev. Peter J. Gomes (who passed away earlier this year) was longtime pastor of The Memorial Church at Harvard. He came out in 1991, saying "I am a Christian who happens as well to be gay. Those realities, which are irreconcilable to some, are reconciled in me by a loving God."
Pastor Dennis A. Meredith is the Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
Pastor Franklin is the Pastor of Agape Spirit Life Ministries in Detroit. She is a leader in social justice and a pioneer in spiritual equality for the LGBT Community.
Rev. Hayes is the Senior Pastor of Church Of The Holy Spirit Fellowship located in Winston Salem, Nc
Rev. Jim Mitulski, pastor of MCC New York City, came to MCC San Francisco. Under Jim's leadership for 15 years, the church entered a period of sustained growth during the devastating years of the AIDS epidemic and shifted from being a place to meet on Sundays into an integrated part of the San Francisco queer community.
Dr. Herukhuti, Founder of Black Funk: The Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality; author of Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality; and practitioner of traditional African and African Diasporic spirituality.
Archbishop Michael Seneco, the presiding bishop of the North American Old Catholic Church- a progressive Catholic denomination with ministries in 23 states.
Rev. Dr. Katrina D. Foster is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor. In 2007 she came out of the floor of her denomination's national assembly, after which the bishops put forth a resolution allowing them to abstain from discipling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pastors with families and not face disciplinary action themselves for not bringing charges against these pastors.
Rabbi Andrea Myers is the author of the book, "The Choosing-A Rabbi's Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days", an activist and mother.
Jay Michaelson is a writer, scholar, and actvist whose work focuses on the intersections of religion, spirituality, sexuality, and law. His newest book, "God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality" shows that the Bible supports equal rights.
The Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas is currently the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles.
Rev. Canon Susan Russell is the Associate Pastor at All Saints Pasadena, CA, past president of Integrity, HRC Religion and Faith Council.
Rev. Bradley Schmeling is Pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church, ELCA, Atlanta GA. Led the way for full inclusion of LGBT clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Rev. Dr. Nancy L. Wilson is Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches
Rev. Michael Hydes is the Pastor of New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, MD
Pastor Of Good Samaritan Church In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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