This morning I had the privilege of sharing a tiny bit of my testimony at Urban Village Church. Check it out!
Here’s what I originally wrote:
I’m Darren, born and raised here in Chicago on the South side and I currently live in East Garfield Park on the West side. I was raised as an only child but have a TON of cousins that were like siblings… Siblings that could go away after they broke my toys.
Growing up, one of my cousins – Mike – was ALWAYS getting in trouble. It wasn’t that Mike was necessarily up to no good. In fact, Mike was usually somewhere being quiet while his younger brothers and the rest of the cousins were wreaking havoc. But Mike’s father (big Mike) had this idea that because Mike was the oldest of his kids, he was always to be “responsible” for everything that went on. Therefore, anytime anything happened, Mike was the one getting yelled at first. It became a running gag for us. To this day we look at Mike ask why he let the most unrelated thing happens.
That’s a humorous way of thinking about how sometimes things that happen to us, aren’t always our fault or even about us. In my own life, I’ve seen this in in a few ways. While my parents weren’t like Mike’s Dad, I did learn early on that stuff happens — these things, for better or worse, impact me and others.
About 16 years ago, In the church I attended during and after college, I had some of the best and worst experiences of my life. In college I co-founded a campus ministry and would be ordained only 8 months after it’s launch. This ministry had a profound impact on the university campus but it would be years before we began to realize how toxic that church was. One day when I have more time I can tell you about how during this season I struggled to sort out my sexual orientation and my faith; How I was taught to be ashamed of my own testimony. How at one point I was living in the basement of a church at the direction of it’s leadership and cut off from my school, my business, friends, and even family for the sake of “getting delivered” from homosexuality. All of that is the back story to what God would one day do to transform my experiences into something that would help countless others.
You see, that experience set me up for a few things. Here’s three of them:
1) I learned that my experiences matter. The things that happened to me aren’t isolated or even rare. Lots of people have been wounded in church and something needs to change.
2) I developed an amazing amount of compassion and patience for people who use religion or their power to control and manipulate others. I think fear and ignorance drive people to do terrible things to others. However, Love Wins over fear.
3) I realized that I could affect change. Equipped with nothing more than my story and my faith, I help leaders, parents, and friends of LGBTQ+ people understand the negative ways they may have impacted people like me. Now, because of my willingness to be vulnerable with my experiences, churches and institutions are changing their policies, families are reconciling with estranged loved ones, and communities are becoming safer places for everyone.
I think there’s something powerful about the way that our stories can work together for the greater good. The trauma that at one point made me despair life is now the fuel for my ongoing work for justice, inclusion, and reconciliation. It’s not easy and most of the time there are road blocks. I have countless frustrating and triggering conversations – sometimes with people who totally ignore or disregard me. There even are times where it feels like things simply won’t get better. But that’s when I have to pause and take a long view of what’s happened up until now. I’m reminded of how back then, my RIGHT NOW seemed impossible!
I don’t believe that God necessarily sets us up for bad experiences, but I’m confident that God eventually makes something beautiful out of them. I’m hopeful that when I go through hard times that something in that experience will be useful for someone else along the way. I believe that like the song we sang earlier, when I give myself away, that God would use my giving for something awesome.
I 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.
Check out the above link to AfroSpear – a blog where I found powerful yet simple video that inspired this post.
I’m becoming more and more interested in the dynamics of story. Not just in literary form but also in music, drama, video, and cultural traditions. Our worldviews are built on the stories we’ve heard and accepted. History exists as a collection of stories. We long to live the kind of life that makes a great story someday after we’re gone.
What also must be considered is the fact that stories are often told from a single perspective. We often gain new understanding when we hear a story from another perspective – even if the story has been told to us for ages.