The Gay Christian Network Conference 2017 Recap: Reflections, Setlist, and Videos! #GCNconf

Hey Friends! 

I had an amazing time leading worship at the 2017 GCN Conference.  A few folks have asked about my experience as well as a copy of the set lists so here we go!  

I’m still in awe. I’m writing this weeks after the conference and the awe of being asked to serve as worship leader for this conference still amazes me.  For those who don’t know my story, I’m someone who was told by church leaders that God would never fully use me because I’m gay or that people would never see me as a man of God because of my sexuality.  Years later I’m seeing every one of those words fall to the ground as amazing opportunities to lead and be an advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in churches continue spring up on my path. 

I also had the honor of assembling a world-class team of LGBTQ people and allies. Many of us share the similar stories of being wounded by churches and church leaders and being part of an event like this – while sometimes difficult – is cathartic and redemptive in ways that we can’t fully describe.  When possible I’ll do follow-up posts with stories that I have permission to share.

For those who couldn’t be at the conference or who missed the live stream, videos are here! Our team led worship for the first three general sessions of the conference, which all can be viewed on GCN’s YouTube page (Session 1, Session 2Session 3, Session 4 – Liturgical Worship).  Additionally, please enjoy the keynote speakers who’s talks are also on these videos.

I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the songs we shared. You can follow that playlist here

I wanted to be very intentional about the song selections for the conference. With 1400 people in attendance all coming from different churches, denominations, theological leanings, and musical preferences, creating a worship experience for us to have TOGETHER required some intentionality.  Fortunately, this is something that I strive to do year-round, GCN being no different. Our selections tried to incorporate songs that would be familiar when possible or easy to pick-up and follow-along if it was your first time singing it.  The songs range from hymns to gospel to contemporary Christian music and included a bilingual worship song.  We also tried to be mindful of the messages and language of each song to be sure that the sets were as accessible to a wide an audience as possible.  I’m still learning and there are lots of places where I can do better at this, but I think it’s worth the extra effort. 

One of the songs that are not on Spotify is “Room For Us All” by The Many.  In 2016 I started singing with this group and I LOVE the music that we’re making together. You may download the song for free here along with other music from The Plural Guild.  Something I secretly hoped for while we were singing this song is that while we repeat the chorus of “We are on this earth to love” that people would hold hands or lock arms and sing this… and it happened! It’s the little things that make my heart glad. 🙂

Below is the written setlist and after that some cameraphone photos and screen shots of what people shared about the conference on Twitter. 

Thanks for following my grand adventure and stay tuned for more! 

Session 1 – Thursday:

  • Lord, You’re Worthy
  • Medley: Set A Fire, Always, Ever Be, Simple Gospel
  • My World Needs You
  • You Are Good (in Spanish and English)

Session 2 – Friday:

  • Reprise of “You Are Good”
  • For Those Tears I Died
  • Simple Gospel
  • In Christ Alone with On Christ The Solid Rock
  • Glorious

Session 3 – Saturday:

  • Here’s My Heart
  • Deep Cries Out
  • Old School Medley: We Bring The Sacrifice of Praise, In The Name of Jesus, Victory is Mine, 
  • “Here’s My Heart” (Reprise)
  • My World Needs You (Reprise) with Isaiah 58 Spoken Word
  •  Room For Us All
  • Hold Us Together 

Session 3 – Continued at Offering: 

  • Chase Away my Dark
  • It Is Well

What does it mean to #MakeLoveLouder at Chicago’s Pride Parade?

June 26, 2016 will mark my sixth year of being part of counter-protest efforts at the Chicago LGBTQ Pride parade. This effort started with the “I’m Sorry” campaign in 2010.  At that time, a group of people gathered together to apologize for the way the church has harmed LGBTQ communities.  We were a mostly Christian group of allies and LGBTQ+ people showing up at Pride to inspire a little more love and acknowledge the wrong that had been done by Christians. This tiny effort touched the hearts of many and went viral on the internet.  Eventually this idea caught on and was replicated at Pride parades across the country and even beyond the United States.

High-fives from parade goers at the Chicago Pride Parade
High-fives from parade goers at the Chicago Pride Parade

I’m excited to say that we’ll be back this year with the Make Love Louder at Pride campaign (#MakeLoveLouder).  The Center for Inclusivity is sponsoring the effort as we rally Christians, Muslims, Atheists, LGBTQ people and their allies, religiously affirming and those from a conservative tradition, under the banner of humanity and love.  We’ll be wearing red t-shirts and positioning ourselves between the parade marchers and the protesters near the end of the parade route.

#MakeLoveLouder red teeshirtIf this idea excites you and you want to join us, I’m writing to help prepare you mentally and emotionally.

If you’ve never been around the anti-LGBTQ protesters, it can be pretty intense. If you’re sensitive to the following descriptions, please take that into account and don’t ignore your gut.

(triggering and harsh language warning)

The protesters are a mix of people who are local as well as from infamous places like Westboro Baptist Church. They carry four-foot-tall banners and smaller posters and are on bullhorns the entire time. They call out individuals to question, blame, insult, and condemn. They say things like “I hope you get gonorrhea and die” or “You with the long hair, you’re going to rot in hell forever.”

They have signs that read “God hates fags.”

The protesters work to incite anger, and there’s no shortage of parade goers who will yell “f-you” and put up middle fingers at them in response.

Every year at least one person ends up getting arrested (and the protesters do press charges) for spitting or throwing something like a water bottle. This is a strategy that the protesters use as a revenue source by settling out of court with defendants.

It can be pretty crowded and hot (it’s a parade), and sometimes that can be a bit much for some people. Oh, and there are intoxicated people everywhere, so you know how that can go.

I purposely try to describe the worst here, because I don’t want to lead anyone into something potentially harmful without warning them.

Chicago Police in front of the anti-gay protesters at Chicago's Pride Parade 2015
Chicago Police in front of the anti-gay protesters at Chicago’s Pride Parade 2015

In contrast, I’ve never felt physically threatened. Uniformed Chicago police have the protesters barricaded in, and they escort them into the parade and back out at the end. Chicago Police surround the protesters by standing shoulder to shoulder outside of the barricade. The officers have always been pleasant toward us (parade goers and counter-protesters).

The best part for me is getting the crowd to cheer and drown out the hate speech.

I get lots of hugssometimes as people cryin appreciation for my being there.

My arms get tired from high fives. 🙂

My face hurts from smiling and yelling “I love you!” or “God loves you!”

I’ve even gotten a little dehydrated from cheering and sweating (bring water!).  🙂 

All that is to say that although the bad is BAD, the good is GREAT! People should talk and figure out what they are okay with and by no means should feel any pressure to come or to stay if they don’t feel good after experiencing what’s going on. By moving just a block away you can forget the protesters are even there and resume enjoying the parade.  If you decide that this isn’t for you, that’s totally finesurvival is a form of resistance, so you thriving elsewhere that day is important, too!

I will say that SO many people who have been part of this effort in the past didn’t realize how impactful the simple act of showing up could be.  So many of us have shed tears of joy or been personally rocked by what this embodiment of love is about.  

If you want more details, we’ll keep our Facebook event page up-to-date with information including location and details about t-shirts. Visit to learn more about this great organization.

Detail Map showing the location of the protesters during Chicago's Pride Parade

Why Does #Furgeson Matter?

If I matter to you then #Ferguson should matter to you. #BlackLivesMatter illustration by Darren Calhoun

 On November 26, 2014 a post that I was invited to write was featured on The Marin Foundation’s Patheos blog.  It was a great honor to be asked to share my thoughts and perspective on the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.  The full text of my post is here.  I hope you’ll read it with an open heart. Thanks!


If I matter to you then #Ferguson should matter to you. #BlackLivesMatter illustration by Darren CalhounGrowing up black in America informs my experience with bridge building and compassion in some unique ways.  In attempting to connect with, understand others as well as being understood and contribute to positive change, I’m constantly faced with the reality that being a person of color in this country presents me with a different experience than if I were white.  When major news items come up in the media, I can look at my Facebook newsfeed and see a divide where my friends who are minorities may be consumed with a topic and my white friends may not have even heard about it – or I might be the only one on their newsfeed to mention it.

In Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer. News of the shooting seemed to immediately go viral on the social media sites I follow.  Just as quickly as the news spread, questions were raised as to what took place that resulted in this fate for Michael Brown. As the accounts of eye-witnesses began to be shared via video and telephone interviews, it became apparent that the all too familiar story :a  an unarmed black man had been killed by a white police officer. This, of course, was coupled with the presumption that the police would not handle the case properly and this suspicion was further supported with the camera phone images of Officer Wilson standing over Brown’s lifeless body that remained in the street for hours after his death.

I realize for many who may be reading this, the scenario of an unarmed youth being shot to death may not be something you hear about commonly, but as a black man in America I was raised with never ending reminders that police will treat people like me differently because of the color of my skin. This reality is so common in black communities that much of it is simply ‘understood’ and we discuss it to help the next generation be prepared for it.  However, I haven’t spent the majority of my life in exclusively black spaces.  In spaces that are mixed or mostly white, I’m often reminded that my white friends have a very different experience.

One evening while riding home in a car with friends from a Living In The Tension gathering, the topic of getting pulled over by police came up.  There were five of us in the vehicle : two white females, two white males, and myself.  For the first few minutes we talked about being ‘harassed’ by police – them pulling us over for seemingly nothing, or going only one mile over the speed limit. I resonated with this, but the response to the police was where I suddenly had my eyes opened to just how different our experiences were. They all seemed to have stories of taking the officer to task for the inconvenience of being stopped.  The conversation shifted into tales of how badge numbers had been demanded and how even in their teen years ‘standing up for themselves’ got them out of a ticket – or at the very least, better treatment from the officer.  They even shared stories of friends who had been defiant, used profanity with officers, or been flippant. I was shocked because I couldn’t recall a single incident with a police officer where I didn’t fear my personal safety and that I would somehow be carted off to jail.  I don’t think any of them had ever been described as a suspect in a robbery or stopped only to be asked where they were going with no other reason given for the stop.  I was taken aback because my experiences were informed by a very different reality. I was repeatedly taught that during a police stop I MUST move slowly, keep my hands on the steering wheel, announce every move I’m going to make, speak in a very slow and calm tone, use my most proper speech, try to appear as non-threatening as possible… and so on.  I realized that for my white friends they had never been presumed to be a threat to the lives of officers while for blacks it had been the presumption from the moment the police engaged us. 

These observations aren’t just anecdotal. There is data collected by police and regularly reported to the FBI that shows people of color being stopped far more than whites.  In Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was killed, 2013 data from the Missouri Attorney General shows that 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of car stops involved blacks but only 67 percent of the town’s population is black.  Of that number 34 percent of searches of white suspects found contraband, versus only 22 for black suspects.  It’s with realities like this, which are common across the US, that black people face the news of Michael Brown’s shooting and now the news that Officer Wilson wasn’t indicted on any charges of wrong-doing in this case.

As someone who is committed to reconciliation I ‘get it’ when people (of any race) don’t understand the unrest around the situation in Ferguson.  If nothing in your experience immediately connects to that kind of radicalized oppression, I see why you may think of the news as over-hyped and the reactions as inappropriate.  However, too often judgments are made about  the character of the people involved that isn’t informed by a sense of compassion or understanding for an experience that may be very different from your own.

But why does that matter?

So often when discussion of topics of race, gender, orientation, economic status, and the varying experiences of people across these classes comes up, I simply sit and listen.  I listen to see who is saying something damaging, who is searching for answers, and who is showing themselves as an ally to the more vulnerable party.  This isn’t so I can judge someone as right or wrong, it’s actually to see where I can be a support, and where I may be able to find support later.  What I really want to know is “do you care?”.  I believe there are powerful connections to be made when people care for and understand each other.

My life has been enriched by people who have gone beyond our differences to see me and affirm how they connect with my story.  The opposite has also been true – I’ve been wounded by people who – because they couldn’t understand me or because they didn’t care – have said and done some of the most hurtful and isolating things in my life.

We all have the potential to uplift or to tear one another down with our words and actions.  When we show love by caring about the plight of the other, I believe we can begin to restore the humanity in all of us that is created in the image and likeness of God.  When we show compassion and concern for things like the system of racism that creates situations like the one in Ferguson, or for the struggle of LGBTQ people to find love, safety, and acceptance in the world and in church, we can send powerful messages to people around us that say ‘I care.’

This is not to say that we always have to agree on these issues but rather to love the other person despite our differences or disagreements.  So in your conversations, your comments on blogs and social media – in what you say from pulpits and soap boxes, in the way you respond to what you see presented on TV or as you walk down your street, please let love lead and communicate in word and action that people matter.

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Read this if you took a shower this morning!

This morning I had the wonderful experience of waking up to find there was NO running water in my building.  Apparently sometime during the cold Chicago night a pipe burst.  Emergency work is being done to repair the damage, and things should be back to normal by days end.  The bad news is I didn’t get to take a shower this morning.  The good news is that this is the first time in 32 years I’ve experienced this cruel reality.

I began to think about some things I’d heard in church about how so many people today DON’T have access to clean water.  So I did a quick Google search and landed on  Apparently, 1 billion people woke up today (and every day) without access to clean water. Woah.  I could easily take the #FirstWorldPains approach and complain about how inconvenienced I was this morning.  OR, I could do something about the larger problem of access to water in the world.  So, I started a fundraising campaign!  My modest goal is to raise enough money to give 12 people clean water FOR LIFE.  How much would that cost? Thousands? No. Only $300!  Many of us have spent more than that on electronics! That breaks down to $25 being all it takes to change a persons life.

I hope if you’re reading this and you appreciate being able to walk to a tap and turn on water to cook, drink, bathe, clean, play, or whatever… then you’ll visit my campaign page and contribute what you can.

Donate $25 to give someone Water for LIFE!

Why we said “I’m Sorry” at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade

Photo Credit: Michelle at

Hey Friends and Family,

I just wanted to share a blog post that beautifully sums up the “I’m Sorry” campaign I participated in at the Gay Pride parade in Chicago this past Sunday with The Marin Foundation.  The echoing reactions have been powerful and people across the country have been inspired to take action toward reconciliation with the Gay community.

From Nathan’s Blog Post:

“What I saw and experienced at Pride 2010 was the beginning of reconciliation. It was in the shocked faces of gay men and women who did not ever think Christians would apologize to them.”

Photo Credit: Michelle at Continue reading “Why we said “I’m Sorry” at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade”

At the Cross between Grace and Truth

at the cross between grace and truthI’m seeking relationship and honesty in my life as a Christ-follower. For so long I’ve been caught the trenches over which is more important: Truth vs. Grace. Some parts of my spiritual background included rigorous love of the truth – often at the cost of hurting the individual. In other seasons it’s been limitless grace, but weak on the challenge to live out God’s standards. Both had powerful qualities that were God inspired, but they both lacked the true intent of God’s design.

Right now I’m centering on this:

John 1:
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The perfect balance of Grace and Truth is in Christ… he knows us as we are (broken) but doesn’t leave us that way. Jesus fulfills God’s righteous requirement and gives us the tangible example of how we can become the righteousness of God as well.

I really want to be who God created me to be. For so long I’ve suffered under the impressions of who other people think I am. I’ve been misjudged, underestimated, overlooked, scrutinized, mistreated. But God is restoring me to my “created in His image and likeness” identity. He’s taken away the guilt and called me back to himself. BUT IT’S NOT EASY!! I’m used to sharing only part of me… the good parts. I’ve spent so many years keeping the ugly neatly tucked out of sight. How do I “…put off falsehood and speak truthfully to my neighbor…” (Eph. 4:25) about the stuff that in most Churches you’d be better off hiding?

I’m taking it day by day. I’m challenging myself to do life differently. To have real relationships where I’m totally honest about myself… and where it’s SAFE to do so… but also where I’m challenged to pursue what God has perused me for. This takes TIME… and I’m not going rush the process. I hope you’ll be one of those who come with me and we can do real life together!

Love Always!

A Talk With A Stranger: Kezban

Thursdays are usually pretty good days for me.  On this Thursday in particular I was waiting for the Madison bus that would take me home.  As I waited out of the corner of my eye my attention was caught by a woman crossing the street with a guitar around her neck and the case on her back.  I wondered if she was coming from some music set but didn’t think much more about it.  I’d turned around to look and see if my bus was coming when the lady with the guitar tapped me on the shoulder to give me a complement on my locs.  It was then that I could see that she too had long locs peeking out from under a scarf tied around her head.

She introduced herself and I gave her my name, but me being bad with names didn’t quite catch it the first time.  We began to talk and I asked her about her music.  She then offered to play a song for me, but I let her know I didn’t have any cash that I could give.  She was happy to share her song with me.

My bus came, but I decided to wait for the next one.  I enjoyed her song, and she has a beautiful raspy voice and the most amazing green eyes (at least they looked green in the streen light).  We talked a bit more, and she offered a me a piece of the cake she’d been given at starbucks.  I took a piece and gave her a hug. She said I give good hugs. 🙂

Not long after that my bus came.  I asked her name once again and she came on the bus to ask for directions to the 150 bus.  The driver didn’t know but it gave her time to write down her name, number and a reminder to search for her on YouTube.

Her name is Kezban and I hope to see her again while she’s in Chicago.  Just that short exchange was the perfect ending to a good day.  Before I met Kezban I was pretty absorbed in the news that my check would be short $100.  But for those few moments it made it not matter so much.  It’s still a good day that God made… I can still rejoice and be glad.  I’m glad I was open to talking to a stranger tonight.

Check out a video someone made of her and posted to YouTube

Sharing My Story

Darren\'s first time singing with Willow ChicagoSunday was the close of the 3-week series on “Desire: the double edged swords of money, power, and sex”  at Willow Creek.  Before every service we have a time of prayer in the back.  I wasn’t there Saturday night, so Sunday morning was my first time hearing the message – and I was nothing but tears through every song.  So before the last service, I asked to share a my testimony with the group during prayer time.  I didn’t get out all the details that I wanted to, but I’m inspired to share some of it here.

For me, this service basically marks a year of me singing with Willow Chicago.  My first time singing was with the Chicago choir at Barrington for the Wednesday night New Community service in the summer of 2007.  That day we sang “I Just Can’t Give Up Now” and it was the beginning of me becoming part of the Willow Family.

In our prayer time today, I shared that when I came to Willow I wasn’t looking for a church home.  I was hurt and broken from the rejection / abandonment I received at my previous church due to my struggles with sexual sin.  I’d gone to them for help when things became out of control… and though I did all that they asked I do to “get free” – I wasn’t getting healed fast enough, or the way they expected.  It eventually caused them to exclude me from ministry.  This happened rather abruptly and little discussion and no follow-up.  The way things happened left me feeling hurt and bitter and out of fellowship for a year before I started seeking another place to be connected to the Body of believers.  I didn’t want to not be in church, I was just too hurt to go back to what was then my church.  This is when I decided to check out the church I’d seen billboards for on the L Train Platforms: Willow Creek Chicago.

From day one it seems I was connecting with a new and wonderful church, but the question still remained: would I be rejected again if they knew my battle? (and my failures?) I didn’t want to be a part of another church where it would have been better to hide and stay in the dark than to expose the truth and live in the Light.  So I told Pastor Steve and the ministry leaders about my issues.

I was received with care and with love.  Steve saw that I needed to be involved in Worship because of how life-giving it was for me.  The ministry team rallied around me in support and love – even thanking me for my transparency and openness!  To this day their love amazes me and encourages my faith in the difficult process of healing and change.

I still struggle (daily), but I’m no longer struggling with the need to prove my spirituality or spiritual growth to anyone.  I don’t feel the pressure to keep up some facade just because I’m ‘a minister’.  I feel like I can truly connect with the people I worship with and love and be loved.  I feel the amazing effects of God’s grace.  I’m learning how to form healthy relationships that in a Godly way fill the voids in my heart.  I’m getting the wise council that I yearned for, but could not find.  I’m even experiencing small victories and seeing patterns and habits change.

I’m in a difficult season right now as well.  I’m JUST learning about my needs for validation and approval.  Learning about unsafe places where I’ve sought safety and security in the past, and beginning to take steps to build more healthy and safe relationships and repair old ones.  I’m seeing my thought patterns that for ages have kept me bound by fear and limited my potential socially, financially, emotionally, and relationally.  It’s so difficult for me sometimes when I look at ALL that needs to be fixed right now. But I try to stay focused on one thing at a time, keep encouraged, and bit-by-bit open up more to those God has placed around me so I don’t have to face this thing called life alone.

Maybe someone reading this is down or needs encouragement.  To you I say: keep smiling, not because it just looks good but because eventually it’ll all be good and you have a great and eternal hope in God.  (Ok… that was really for me but I just thought I’d share! 😉 )

When the Encourager is tired of Encouraging Himself

Darren, tired in the office. What do you do when the encourager is tired of encouraging himself?

When your bootstraps have broken and your strength is gone… when you just can’t ‘get it together’ when you know it’s all your fault… the truth is the truth and it all points to you messing up.  When too much is on you to give up now, but moving a nother step in any direction is just as unbearable as standing still… when you’ve encouraged others and uplifted others, but can’t seem to uplift yourself right now.

What do you do when your sane enough not to do something crazy, but your life is crazy enough to make you want to do something insane?

I’m just tired and frustrated… I don’t want anybody to come and lay hands, I don’t want somebody to sit me down in their bible study… I don’t want someone to speak big words they got out of a dictionary to say the same things over and over again.  I’m tired of being treated like a ‘project’ to fix up, like a ‘broken and lost soul’, or like super man… I just want to find out how to live a simple life and be happy. I don’t want to chace after money to survive, I don’t want to bend and contort to the latest paradigms and concepts of how to look spiritual and sound authoritative.  I’m tired right now… I hurt inside… my weeks run together, my days blur by, and I can never see where a change will come for the better.

I don’t know how to do life… I don’t know how to make it work.  I’m tired of comming up short.  I’m tired of my words being used against me… and my silence being reason for reproof. I’m sick of being full of hope yet overcome by pressure and fear.

I want to be in God’s perfect will, but I know my will hasn’t been transformed yet.  I want to take it a day at a time and deal with it as it comes, but my past looks a whole lot like my present just with different people.

I don’t have the enery to be the support to those around me… yet I feel someone right now saying “he’s talking about “I” too much” and so I ask how do you do and give to everyone yet still be too concerned about yourself?  How do you maintain your body and health while still being availible and accountable for the demands of your job?

I love to worship…  but somehow life gets in the way… worship is timelss and boundeless… I feel so free, alive, real in worship.  I want that to overflow into the rest of my life.  We’re called to live a lifestyle of worship… but this present lifestyle looks like God isn’t gettting the glory.

I want to figure it out… but I always end up relying on someone’s way… and eventually that gets in the way.  All the “men of God” all the time management books, all the deliverance books and videos, all the sermons and prayer lines, all the stuff and things… I just want God… to be in his presence… the changes he makes in my life work and are real, but they never meet other folk’s expectations… or they don’t ‘manifest’ fast enough for them.

I’m just ‘venting’ I guess…

Friday October 20, 2006 – 12:45pm (CDT)