About Darren Calhoun

IMG_2275.JPGI am Darren Calhoun – beloved by God and a follower of Jesus.  For the past 15 years, I’ve earned a living as an entrepreneur and professional photographer.  My church community is Willow Chicago, the downtown campus of Willow Creek Community Church.  There, I’ve served as a volunteer for eight years in various parts of our arts ministries including leading worship.  At Willow Chicago, our worship team has two paid staff positions and I am part of a team of six volunteer leaders who complement the staff roles.  I love being able to serve our church community in this way.  I also volunteer with other organizations that are working on causes that are close to my heart like anti-violence initiatives in Chicago and racial reconciliation efforts.

I am gay.  As a Christian, I’ve been on a long journey to reconcile the reality of my orientation with the various views that the church world has on the topic of people who are attracted to the same sex. Before coming to Willow, I was part of a church whose leadership promised that I could be ‘healed’ of my same-sex attractions. I spent years seeking God and obeying the leadership of that church – eventually sacrificing relationships with family and friends, quitting college, moving to another state, and living under 24-hour supervision inside the church.  All of this was done in the name of being ‘healed’ and in hopes that I could be accepted by God.  During that time I became more broken and unhealthy than I’d ever been and at times despaired living. I eventually was reminded in scripture that God’s love didn’t look like what I was being subjected to by that church.

I am loved. At Willow I found a community of people who were willing to love me authentically.  I was warmly welcomed by a gathering of believers who reflected a biblical demonstration of God’s unconditional love.  I am surrounded by a community of Christians who are fully committed to loving God and loving one another. In this context I was able to begin a journey of celibacy and prayerfully discerning what that means for my life. This has been a profoundly personal spiritual pursuit to reconcile my deep love for God, his word, and the cards I’ve been dealt.  The decision to be celibate isn’t a quick or easy one and I’m engaged conversations with my church community to see what it looks like to truly support someone who has made this counter-cultural choice.  I think it’s important that we figure out how the church best facilitates lifelong relationship, intimacy, and support for people like me. That’s my journey thus far, but it doesn’t represent the journey of every other believer with the same orientation as mine.

Because of my many experiences and inspired by the stories of other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Same Sex Attracted people, I participate in intentional conversations about how the church can be better for everyone – especially those at the margins or who have been pushed out.  I think this is an important, nuanced, and delicate issue that needs a variety of voices speaking into it.  My perspectives are my own and are not on behalf of my church community. That said, I understand and respect the theology of my church, and the intentional journey our leaders are on to live that theology while being a place of profound love, grace and engagement for the LGBTQ+ community.

I hope to be part of equipping churches so that they are safer and more inclusive places for everyone who matters to God. This is why I’ve chosen to be part of efforts made by organizations like The Marin Foundation, which seeks to facilitate dialog between various people and groups on topics relating to the church and LGBTQ+ communities – groups who might not otherwise listen to one another.  This same value informed my choice to be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta Regional Training Conference.  I was invited to the conference to co-facilitate a full-day Academy for Racial Justice workshop. I also had the pleasure of sharing in a panel discussion titled “LGBT 101: starting the conversation” about how to thoughtfully engage in dialog with LGBT people. Lastly, I was part of a panel discussion that took a candid look at how race and LGBT identities intersect. Because I think it’s important to be inclusive of various perspectives and was happy to share my thoughts as a Christian who is black, gay, and celibate. I was happy that I met other Christians at the conference who are on similar journeys as me as well as Church leaders and parents who thought they might be singled out for having a traditional view of scripture on these topics.  We were all welcomed to the table.

So in getting to know me and what I’m about, keep this in mind: everyone has a story.  Through my photography, my social justice and activism, and through my engagement with various faith communities, I try to make stories known and foster compassion. If the church is to be all that Christ calls it to be, then we must love God and love people. It’s difficult to truly love someone you don’t know, but when we get to know their story we set the stage to know and love them like Jesus.

My Dead Black Body

When someone puts a bullet into my body or chokes the life out of me for whatever reason, there will still be a great many people who “love” me but sit silently while I’m portrayed as someone who doesn’t deserve due process or an independent investigation. They will deny accusations that there are failures and bias in our systems, investigations, and follow-up because my death was somehow what I deserved.  My killer will be regarded as a hero or “just doing his job” and probably win an award. The media will find a picture of me in a hoodie or at least looking menacing and tell people about every bad thing I ever did.  There will be experts to talk about how my weight or poverty killed me more than someone’s action to end my life.  My family will be told that my death is a homicide and that no one will be responsible – so deal with it. My family and supporters dirt and failings will also be used to justify my death. Christians will call my story too political and see that as just cause to “stay out of it” unless it can be used as a platform for “traditional values”.  Those who do stand up for me will be portrayed as “the problem with this country” and shamed for “creating division”.  Then a politician or a news commentator will make my death about “taxes, black on black crime, and the war on Christianity”. 

Then the news cycle will continue. Another dead black body will take my place and the cycle will repeat. Hopefully, my name will get added to the list of people who were also killed with the same outcomes.  Maybe it will matter 50 years from now or maybe it’ll be forgotten and a nameless picture of my dead body will be used to illustrate someone’s slideshow on black history.  

This has been the narrative for dead black bodies and unless someone commits to changing that, it will continue. I refuse to be silent. I don’t know how it’s working out for you but my life, death, and legacy depend on it.


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.

Making things better by sharing my story.

Hey friends and family!

This entry is more of a personal one but also about the work I’m doing to build bridges with the Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) community and churches.  In the last few months I’ve had opportunities to share with the media the need for improving the relationship between these two communities.  For the past few years I’ve been volunteering with The Marin Foundation – a nonprofit that’s sole purpose is building bridges between these two communities.  In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts and story in a feature with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), through an interview on the Love is an Orientation DVD and most recently in an interview for the show Different Drummers.  Take a look at the video to get quick (10min) idea of what this is all about.

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 Water.org.  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!

About Me… my bio for tonight’s event

I’m one of the guest panelists for some authentic conversation about being single. There will be refreshments and a Q&A session. I hope to see a few familiar faces that night. Everyone is welcome and there’s no admission charge. I hope to see you there!

Details Here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=188124591216399

Darren Calhoun is a creative professional and Christ-follower who approaches life with the perspective that life is about stories and relationships.

Darren’s story centers on being born and raised in Chicago. He’s a native south-sider who currently lives on the west side of Chicago in East Garfield Park. Darren has been engaged with various groups and activities in his 31 years of life. From leading youth retreats in Elementary and High School to founding a campus ministry and being ordained as a Lay Minister in college, and now participating with community organizing and social-justice initiatives, Darren has been engaged with serving others for more than 17 years.

Currently Darren is a member of Willow Creek Community Church and serves on the leadership team for the Arts Ministries at the Willow Chicago’s Downtown campus. Professionally, Darren helps nonprofits, businesses, artists, and individuals to effectively capture and communicate their stories using the media of photography, graphic design, and internet technology. Through his company, Quick Click Media, Darren helps to capture the very essence of what people do and why it matters in the world.

Darren’s personal story is also marked with the facing and overcoming the challenges of healing from relational and emotional brokenness, and even church abuse. Taking advantage of books, professional therapy, groups, and long talks with trusted friends, Darren has overcome great challenges. He’s positioned himself as a trusted resource for others who have or are struggling with addictive behaviors, unhealthy relationships, and self-esteem issues.

As Darren’s remarkable story continues to unfold his greatest joy is in seeking to glorify God by being a man of integrity in all he encounters both personally and professionally.

Time To Get Personal: “Leave” by Michael W. Smith

LEAVE by MichaelWSmith

I first heard this song a few weeks ago when Michael W. Smith came to Willow Creek to do a Concert / Service for Labor Day weekend.  Before sharing the song, Smith shared with us some insight as to what prompted him to write the piece.  I remember being quite moved and encouraged because I feel that too often church has become a place where perfect problem-less people come together and praise God.  It felt good to know that Smith realized he may receive some flack about the song, but that he felt that Willow Creek was a place where the song would be well received.

In recent weeks the news has seemed to overflow with stories of young people committing suicide, church leaders standing accused of moral and ethical misconduct, and other stories of gross injustice.  I’ve been disheartened to hear people in the media being referenced as Christians but unable to offer more than short-sighted, shallow, and super-spiritualized responses to these situations.  I’m not advocating that Christians should have all the answers… I am saying that we as a body need to come a LONG way when it comes to authenticity about the human experience.  There are staggering numbers of people hurting inside and outside of the church and it is my hope that we grow a sincere compassion -to suffer with– those who are hurting and to offer the hope that is our Gospel.

The topic of this song is a heavy one – abuse.  Check it out and share any thoughts in the comment section. (Lyrics below) Continue reading “Time To Get Personal: “Leave” by Michael W. Smith”

Mark Weber says church music is racially segregated and I agree.

Check out this article here to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Brandon Heath wrote a song called “Give Me Your Eyes,” and white people loved it. Since the Christian church in America is very, very segregated– there’s the white church and the black church, and rarely do they blend together– there is now a black version of “Give Me Your Eyes” by the group Joshua’s Troop; I saw the video on BET. — Mark Weber

Full Blog Article: Brandon Heath for whites; Joshua’s Troop for blacks « Mark Weber Music Blog.

There is a trend happening and I think it is happening quietly because many people don’t spend time listening to anything from artists who don’t look like them.

I’ve observed songs that have been popular for years in (white) Christian Music  suddenly becoming “new hits” in (black) Gospel Music arenas.  “Breathe”, “Let It Rain”, and “God Is Here” just to name a few.  While it’s nothing new for a Christian song to be covered (almost endlessly – “How Great Is Our God”) there is such a cultural disconnect that people don’t know a song exists until it’s been re-recorded by their favorite artist.

In the same way, at my church — which is diverse but mostly white) we’ve done Contemporary Gospel songs that have been hits for YEARS (by artists like Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, and Kirk Franklin) and it never fails that people come asking about that “new song” and give a blank stare when you mention the artist.

I’m African-American and was previously in an all black church.  More than 10 years ago I branched out into what my friends then called “white people music”– referring to Contemporary Christian Music and Worship songs– after growing discontent with the Gospel Music I’d been listening to at the time.

What has been interesting to see is the gradual change in the black Gospel Music scene as “Praise and Worship” has become more popular.  It seems to have been pushed into the mainstream by groups like Shekinah Glory (“Praise Is What I Do”) and others.  What I note most often is that only the choruses of some of these songs make it in to the re-recordings like “We Fall Down (But We Get Up)” and yes the favorite… “How Great Is Our God” with 3 lead vocalists and no verses!

So what are your thoughts and what trends have you seen?

Update: 9/24/2010 – title edited to add “racially”  distinguish what kind of segregation the article talks about.