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.
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.