I’ve just come off a great weekend that has provided me with even more experiences that make me profoundly glad that I have come out (to the extent I have) and embraced who I am. I also want to say yet again how grateful I am for the friends I have made these past three months, who have counseled me, supported me, introduced me to various aspects of the gay world and have just plain loved me. Although I haven’t been out long enough to truly appreciate what a tremendous blessing my circle of friends are to me and how lucky I am to have them, I do have a general sense of this; I know I am lucky. I am grateful.
On Friday night, I had the privilege of being invited into the home of a wonderful gay couple who were hosting an intimate gathering to pay musical tribute to a friend of theirs who had recently achieved a significant milestone in his professional life. The program consisted of a number of vocal and piano numbers, each of which had been carefully selected to salute the guest of honor. Though this guest of honor is not gay, almost everyone else who was there is, or else has a very close gay connection. Additionally, a number of the guests shared an association in the same Protestant church, though most of them, as well as everyone else at the gathering, is either LDS (of some stripe) or has come out of an LDS background. I am purposely highlighting these facts, i.e., that the gathering was essentially "gay" and non-Mormon, because this bears directly on what I experienced that evening.
After a lovely opening piano number, one of the guests beautifully and tenderly sang I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked, a number that is much more well-known in the Protestant world than the Mormon one. As I sat there listening, admiring this man’s talent and contemplating the moving lyrics of the song, I came to sense something tangible, palpable; it was something that I recognized: the presence of the Spirit.
This feeling intensified during the performance of the next number by Kevin Jacobson, a man who is not LDS but is, in fact, a musician who writes and performs contemporary Christian music. (You can listen to some of his music on his website located here.) As Kevin sang of finding joy in the love of the Savior in a tender, beautiful performance, I thought about what had transpired in my life in the past few weeks and months and felt a profound sense of gratitude for being where I was at that moment. I was sitting in a room that was full of love and light, and I was very conscious of the fact that I wouldn’t be there but for the fact that I had come out – as a direct result of President Packer’s infamous remarks at October General Conference. Later that evening, Kevin, at my request, sang a poignant song he had composed, but has not yet recorded, in response to Packer’s remarks. By the end of it, I was in tears. I surely hope Kevin records that song so that I can relive how I felt at that moment.
A lovely piano solo was next, and this was followed by a duet of The View from Here, the tenderly beautiful song written in 2009 by David Naylor. David grew up in the Mormon Church, served a mission in Germany and later was a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was also gay. In an interview with 2009 Affirmation Conference Chair David Nielson, published here, David talked about his life experiences that had led to the composition of the song:
“I based it on my own thoughts and experiences along my road to authenticity. Most of us know too well the conflicts we felt growing up LDS, always feeling at odds with the establishment, never quite fitting in. In order to truly appreciate the view from where we are, we need to be at peace with who we are and have the strength to live authentically, whatever that may mean ...
“In the mid-90s, before coming to terms with the gay thing, I did everything I could think of to prove I was worthy of God's love. I couldn't get past the idea that God had destroyed two entire cities filled with people JUST LIKE ME. I thought that God must somehow hate me too because of this gay thing inside me! So I went out of my way to be uber-faithful. I know it's silly, but I made all kinds of promises with God. I studied, I prayed, I fasted, I did my home teaching, I attended the temple, in fact my time singing with the Tabernacle Choir was the result of one of those promises. Finally, one night, in an effort to find some solace, I read that infamous chapter in Spencer W. Kimball's “Miracle of Forgiveness” and I was overcome with new wave of shame and revulsion. I did not want to go on. I would just be better off dead! So I knelt by my bed that night and begged God to take my life. I don't know how long I knelt there, but by the time I was finished praying, I was convinced that God would take me during the night. So, I cleaned the house, wrote good-bye letters, wore PJs (so no one would find me in my underwear) and even left the front door open so nobody would have to break down the door when they came in to find me dead.
“When I woke up the next morning, I was still here. What a huge disappointment that was! But a good thing came from all the drama. I learned that God is not going to change me so I'd better start coming to terms with being gay! So when I was trying to come up with lyrics for the song, all I had to do was re-live that crazy, drama-filled night and plenty of ideas zoomed into my head!”
Here are the lyrics to the song:
I remember nights alone,
My heart filled with longing
For a life I could call my own.
Never being true to the light within me
Light that finds a home within my soul.
In my heart, a prayer for life
That might be worth living.
Promises made I couldn’t keep.
Suddenly the dawn of a new day rising,
One that changes everything I see.
And the view from here is colored like a rainbow
Lending light to all who cross my way.
And the view I see fills my heart with love.
Beautiful and clear, the view from here.
Reaching now I take the hands of all who stand beside me;
Standing as one with family;
Thankful for the gift that God has placed within me,
True to the light that shines in me.
Concerning the line about the rainbow, David commented: “I was afraid it was too cliché and about changed it several times! There was a time when I was so focused on NOT being gay that everything around me —family, friends, events, accomplishments— went completely unnoticed! Everything was essentially black and white. When I finally made the decision to accept myself unconditionally, everything changed. The rainbow, as it turns out, is the perfect metaphor —cliché or not — so I kept the line.”
It is difficult for me to express how privileged I felt, as someone who is so recently out of the closet, to be at that gathering that night and to be so freely proffered these musical offerings, all of which - to one degree or another - represented stories full of pain and heartache as well as re-birth and joy. I was humbled, I was grateful, but most of all, I was touched throughout the evening with a sense of the Divine presence, of love, of purity, of light, of humanity.
These feelings culminated as I listened to the concluding number, The Impossible Dream, sung beautifully and feelingly by Mark, “accompanied” by David, the guest of honor. This piece, as it turns out, is a favorite of David’s, and after listening to it, he asked Mark if he wouldn’t mind singing it again. This time, however, David would “accompany” Mark by signing the words. The resulting performance, with Mark singing and David signing the words with a tremendous depth of feeling, is something I hope I will never forget.
For me, this evening was about far more than beautiful music. It was about fellowship, about friendship, about sharing and caring. But mainly – at least for me – it was about celebrating my gayness in a way that would never have happened in conventional Mormon circles. And it was about experiencing feelings I had typically associated only with "Mormon" gatherings in a very different environment. The evening was such a tremendous gift to me, one for which I am profoundly grateful.
After chatting, laughing and sharing stories for an hour or more after the conclusion of the program, a group of us went out to a gay bar, where we saw more friends, talked, danced and had a great time. In a way, this was the perfect ending to the evening I had just experienced: there was no dichotomy in my mind between the “spiritual” experience I had had earlier in the evening, and the more earthy experience that concluded my evening. These were different facets of the same whole, each valid, each worthy of celebration, and that to me is part of what makes being gay so wonderful.