As the host on Windy City Radio, each Sunday night at 10 p.m. on WCKG 105.9FM, I always hope I will be surprised by guests. Will they tell me a story I have not heard? I have read their information, heard their CD, seen their play, know their platform, but will someone after seven years of interviewing thousands of guests really rattle my cage with a story so fresh and unique? The answer is Yes! And it happens often. Peoples' lives and struggles and stories are so fascinating to me, and it keeps me asking questions.
Late this winter such a surprising man came into the studio for his interview. His name was Steven Fales. He was an actor in town for a one-man show called Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which shared his struggle coming out, growing up Mormon, riding the drug wave, prostitution, and his road to his own new kind of salvation. He sat down and shared his story. It touched me. I asked him if he would write for this column. If you get a chance, see his show. It is heading to Off-Broadway soon.
I was recently performing my one-man show Confessions of a Mormon Boy in Chicago. After the show a gay Catholic asked me, 'How can I get over my anger toward the Catholic Church?' As an angry ex-communicated gay Mormon myself, I've been trying to figure that one out for several years now.
I don't have all the answers, but sometimes audience members look to me for advice. So as I grasped for an impromptu intuitive thought to save the day, I blurted out, 'Go to the music. The music of your church will help you feel less bitter.' He paused in disbelief.
Then with a look of gratitude said, 'I do miss the music. I'll try it!'
As I reflect on that brief exchange, I can see that whether it's helped him or not, my advice has been helping me. After all the spiritual abuse, when I think of Mormonism, I think of the music. I'm sure every religious tradition thinks their music is the best, but the music of Mormondom truly is.
Ronald Reagan ( yikes! ) called the Grammy Award-winning Mormon Tabernacle Choir 'America's Choir.' Mormons simply call it 'Mo-Tab'. They've sold millions and millions and millions of albums. Each Sunday they perform on Temple Square in Salt Lake City starring in 'Music and the Spoken Word'—the longest continuous network radio broadcast in the world. It's now in its 76th year.
I recently took my two young children to see it to teach them more about their Mormon Pioneer heritage. Though I can hardly stomach a standard, mundane Mormon church meeting, I thought maybe I could endure 30 minutes of Mo-Tab—for the sake of the kids' liberal arts education.
I defiantly walked into the Tabernacle just before the free concert-broadcast started at 9:30 a.m. We sat in the front. So many things were racing through my mind, especially the expansive things I'd learned about God since being excommunicated. And yet, there I was—still just a good, little blindly believing Mormon boy.
What was I doing? Didn't I know how toxic Mormonism can be? How could I possibly expose my children to this seductive organization and its institutional bigotry? How many anti-gay marriage campaigns had this church financed? How many gay Mormon kids had committed suicide? How many closeted gay men and women were up there in the alto and tenor sections?
Then the music started.
I have been to classical choral concerts at Carnegie Hall. I have seen grand opera at the Met. I have seen it all on Broadway. Nothing could have prepared me for the wave of heavenly sound that lovingly, thoroughly washed over me. I burst into tears instantaneously. For the next 30 minutes I bawled. My kids thought I had completely lost it. Had I?
Was it nostalgia? Was it remorse? Was it my cult-susceptible sensitivities being evoked and awakened once again? Was I not unlike Frankenstein stumbling toward the sentimental violin music he'd been conditioned to respond to? Was I like a dog returning to lap up his own vomit?
Or was it the spirit of God unexpectedly, yet splendidly softening my heart and speaking to me through the music of the good ole' Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
I tried my best to be angry, but what I heard that Sunday morning with my children ( who are the hope and future of the Mormon church ) was 'Steven, fear not! I can even work through Mormonism if I have to. And I will. One day they'll get it. Now sit back and enjoy the show!'
The excellence of the Mo-Tab choir represents the very best of my people. I'm proud of my choir. And yet, I love the irony that the Mormon hymn book has borrowed almost all of its hymns from other denominations. I especially like the old Protestant lyric on my favorite Mo-Tab CD, which I find myself humming to in the car or on the subway:
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee.
Surely His goodness and mercy shall ever attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
Who with His love doth befriend thee.
I'm still a little bitter. But as I return to the music ... the music is helping me process my anger. No one can take my Mormon melodies away from me. Not even the Mormon church. May we all 'ponder anew' what a good hymn now and then can do!
Fales is a member of Affirmation ( Gay and Lesbian Mormons ) and can be reached at his web site: www.mormonboy.com .