I’m now embarked upon yet another new act in life, one that feels like the coming together of all that has come before. Theologian Frederick Buechner talks about vocation this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
So, here’s my deep gladness. I’m back home, making music full-time. I've finally got the time and energy to devote more of each to the writing of worship music that celebrates. My latest, "God's Limitless Imagination," written for an historic gathering of the movers and shakers of the LGBTQ Welcoming Faith Movement, will be available here very soon. I’m joyously serving as Director of Music at St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a congregation I have long known of and admired for their walking the talk of social justice. And I'm back in show biz. The past year I’ve gone from musical to musical, sometimes music directing, sometimes playing, sometimes singing and acting.
And I hear the world’s deep hunger. There is precious little Christian music that expresses a Progressive theology of God’s extravagant love and radical welcome.
Scared queer kids like I was are still killing themselves because of what their churches teach.
I could have so easily been one of them. Thank God that I was not.
So, for me, I’m now standing firmly at the intersection of faith, queer, and song. But, in the end, it’s not about me, it’s…
for all the children.
The filming of that video, on a frigid winter day, in a church warmed by the passion of Catholics and friends raising their voices in song, remains one of my life’s most fulfilling moments. That video that came from that day has gone on to be viewed over 40,000 times.
After returning to Minneapolis, an offer to do church music came my way. I had always been involved in making music at church, but I had never considered it a vocation. Happily, I found it more fulfilling than I ever imagined. I spent sixteen years as Minister of Music for what is now Living Table United Church of Christ. Originally called Spirit of the Lakes, it made history in 1992 when it became the first predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) congregation to be welcomed into a Mainline Protestant denomination.
My career took a surprising turn when, stepping away from full-time music, I spent over ten years working as Faith Organizer for the Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National LGBTQ Task Force, helping to create truly welcoming churches and working to counter the spiritual, psychological, and physical harm done to LGBTQ people in the name of religion.
It was through this work that I came to see the great unmet hunger in welcoming congregations, across the ecumenical spectrum, for songs that proclaim the limitless love and radical welcome of God.
So, I began to write.
The first song I wrote, “For All the Children,” has gone on to be sung in welcoming congregations across the country, and was published in the Community of Christ Sings hymnal. And in 2012, Catholics for Marriage Equality used it to create a music video for Minnesota’s successful marriage equality campaign.
Musical arrangements that I did for a Christmas album with the Phantom cast landed me on the short list for a Grammy nomination. Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Brian Boitano asked me to arrange what was to become his then signature piece, “Shenandoah/They Call the Wind Maria.”
I grew up a very scared gay kid. I was scared of feelings that I didn’t want nor understand, scared that if anyone found out about them I would lose their love, and scared of what this all meant to my eternal soul. Being the son of a Lutheran pastor only made it worse. So much of my energy was devoted to hiding that fear and denying those feelings. Music quickly became a way for me to keep the focus on what I did and away from who I was. I prayed desperately for God to take these feelings away and to heal me of what I thought was sin. But as those prayers continued to go unanswered, my despair grew.
That was, until my 23rd birthday. I got out of bed that morning, looked in a mirror and said, “Hey, it’s your birthday!” And from out of nowhere, all the feelings that I had been holding and denying for years came flooding to the surface as I burst into tears and sank to the floor. I had a spontaneous moment of surrender as my prayer was suddenly transformed. “God,” I prayed, “I have spent my life praying desperately for what I assumed you wanted for me. But I don’t pretend to know anything anymore. I surrender. I don’t care what you do, but do something, anything, because I can’t continue to live like this.”
Thus, began a deeply prayer-filled and Spirit-led period of my life, resulting in learning that I could both fully embrace who I was as a gay man and remain a beloved child of God. I came to see my feelings of attraction, not as a source of shame, but as a beautiful gift from God, part of how God created me.
I have devoted much of my life since to working for a world in which queer kids growing up in the Church don’t have to experience the kind of pain, isolation, and despair that filled my own adolescent years.
I came out in 1984, shortly after earning my undergraduate degree in theatre and music from Minnesota State University Moorhead. I then spent two years as assistant conductor of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, where I saw again and again the power of music to change hearts and minds, including those in my own family. For my parents, the Chorus helped shatter their preconceptions about what it meant to be gay.
I then spent two years on a full scholarship pursuing my graduate studies in choral conducting at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.
My conducting career has taken me to places I’d only dreamt of – first as principle conductor of that very same chorus that helped me in my coming out – to musical theatre productions like the 3½ years spent with the Broadway tour of The Phantom of the Opera.
At the age of two, according to family lore, I climbed up to the piano and plunked out melodies I’d heard on TV. (I was too young to have any memory of this, so I cannot testify as to the veracity of these claims!) And, by the time I was five, seeing Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music sealed my fate. My life was going to be about music.