“Oh boy,” I thought, “here we go. The theological questions don’t get much heavier than this, and right after sex, no less.” So much for post-coital bliss. I guess with a teenager, though, no matter how much you love them, you have to be prepared for anything.
“You’ve got to know,” I started out, “that the fact you ask means you don’t know and it’s probably a pretty heavy subject, right?” I could feel his head nod as much as hear him whisper his affirmation. So, I pressed on. “Okay, it’s a theological concept, and it’s a big heavy one, and we can’t get into all of it tonight. But I will give you the summary, if that’s cool with you, and then at breakfast tomorrow I’ll fill out the details. Is that Okay? I’m not avoiding it, or blowing off your question because it’s real important, but it’s so important it needs a thoughtful answer. Are you good with that?”
I could feel another nod of the head and what probably sounded like a yes. Shit, we might both be asleep before I got a summary out of me. How did this happen? Jeez, they hardly talk about total depravity in seminary!
“Okay, Jackson, I’m going to start with context and that’s because I love you and I know you love me and I think you think, like I do, that what we have between us is good. So here goes. It starts with history and geography. Yes, there’s Christianity, but there’s also early and medieval and later Christianity and there’s eastern and western Christianity. You just listen and see if I can explain this for you, and we’ll discuss the details tomorrow. On the first part, the early Church had a way different view of things than the medieval or later church. For instance, in the early church there were married bishops and women deacons. Look at the Catholic Church today and neither are there anymore. More importantly to your question, is that the theology of the western church can be traced back to Augustine and then on from there, while the theology of the eastern church is founded on the three great theologians, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.”
The big difference is the word good. You see, Augustine was a playboy before he married and became a Christian and then a priest and finally a bishop, and he always had a hang up about the passions and about sex and that carried forward into what ultimately became the doctrine of sin and the fall. You know about the fall, like in the Garden of Eden and all that stuff. But the result was a doctrine in the western church that said humanity hadn’t just fallen from grace, but that they did bad things because they were essentially bad. That’s really what depraved is all about, that you are fundamentally bad, that you can do nothing good, and that you need to be saved from your badness. The trouble is that it’s not just a theoretical concept, instead most of it applies in the here and now, where we live, because it means you’re fundamentally bad. Bad to the core.”
“On the other hand, the doctrine in the eastern church took a different tack. It acknowledged the fall as a fall from grace meaning people did bad things, but they weren’t fundamentally bad. The concept of grace and the fall in the eastern church is based on the premise that comes from the creation narratives in Genesis, that at the end of creation God said, “It is good!” In other words, all creation and everything in it, including us, is fundamentally good. Yeah, we’re fallen and do bad or even horrible things, but at our core, we’re fundamentally good because we’re created by God and created in God’s image. And from that comes the concept of the church as a hospital that is there to heal the sick and wounded. It’s kind of like the Parable of the Good Samaritan – it’s about healing the fallen. Does that make sense to you?”
I wouldn’t have been surprised by now to find out that Jackson had fallen asleep, but he hadn’t. I felt him move in my arms and he said, “Yeah it makes sense, but what a difference. How can that even be?”
“Good question,” I said, “and we can talk about that more tomorrow, but for now let me just give you an example of what it means and how deeply it penetrates our lives. When I was in seminary, I had a married friend and we’d study together a lot, and he and his wife had me over for dinner frequently and he was really smart. Like straight A’s kind of smart. He knew his stuff hands down. All the Bible verses, all the doctrine, how to exegete a bible passage, he knew Greek and Hebrew, all the rest of it too. Always on the Dean’s list. You know, a brainiac. Anyway, we’d taken all the required theology courses together that covered this and all the other major points of theology and then my third year they got a puppy. A real cute one, too, and I was over for dinner when it was maybe six or eight months old. They thought the puppy was bright, and he was, and they worked hard on training him and he was a good little guy. They thought they had him house broken too, But that night, they’d taken him out to pee before I got there, and then his wife prepared dinner and we ate and talked and drank a bottle of wine between us, and then out of the blue this puppy walked into the dining room and looked around and then squatted down and peed right there, on the carpet!”
“Well, you can imagine the reaction. Everyone’s up in arms and jumps up from the table and my friend marches over to the puppy wagging his finger at the poor little guy, who by this time is scared and cowering. And my friend, he wasn’t shouting, but in a very stern voice he was saying “Bad puppy, bad puppy!” And then he picked him up and hauled him outside and for all I know he slapped him or gave him some kind of a reprimand…. long after the events which means it didn’t teach the puppy anything about peeing in the house. His wife got a bowl and brush and cloth and cleaned up the carpet, and he came back with the little delinquent and everything settled down. And then we talked about it.”
“You can guess, it started about house training and the size of puppy bladders and how hard it is to predict the problem, and then we got onto dog training and how long you leave the newspapers down for the puppy to pee, and all that stuff. And then we got talking about the puppy himself. And like I said, he wasn’t just cute, he was also adorable. He was just a typical puppy. And then out of the blue I asked him why he said, ‘bad puppy, bad puppy?’ and he looked at me blankly, like he didn’t know what I was asking. Truth be told, I didn’t either and it wasn’t like a set up question, it just came out. I obviously couldn’t answer the question, and it’s probably what I would have said too. And my friend said something like he did a bad thing so he’s a bad puppy and he needs to know that. And then we looked at each other. And his eyes opened wide like he’d realized something (remember I said he was really smart) and he said, ‘this isn’t ontological at all is it?’ So, there’s another theological term for you, Jackson, ontology has to do with the nature of being, what things really are.”
“What he suddenly realized was that by saying ‘bad puppy’ he was assuming that the nature of being for the puppy was ‘bad,’ in other words that the puppy was fundamentally bad and only did bad things. And we all know that’s not true. Puppies are puppies, that’s all. Then he said to me ‘That blows my mind, and I just fell into the trap. He’s not a bad puppy. He’s a good puppy doing bad things!’ Suddenly I understood not just ontology in a new way, but the difference in views about our fallen nature. About the difference between total depravity and simply falling from grace.”
“So, Lover Boy, you’ve just capped a beautiful climax with a theology lesson. Probably not what you were expecting, but you asked the question. We’ll leave it there and see if we want to talk more about it tomorrow.”
I felt him turn in my arms to face me and move up the bed just a little and put his lips on mine. It wasn’t a deep and passionate kiss, but it was sensuous and delicious. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Yeah, that was heavy, but it’s important. I just learned something important and it’s why you say things like ‘God don’t make no junk,’ right? Because junk is bad and we’re good. That’s one of the things that’s wrong. I’ve always been treated like I was bad. No matter what I did, always like I was worthless. Even when I didn’t do anything wrong, I was still bad. Geez, with that thinking it’s no wonder everyone’s so screwed up.”
He kissed me again and whispered, “Thanks. I love you,” and rolled back so he was facing away from me and cuddled back into my chest. I hugged him and pulled him in close wanting to whisper, “Sleep well my good Lover Boy!” Instead I said, “Can you sleep here and go home through your fort in time for your paper route in the morning, or do you need to go home now?”
He didn’t even pause, and immediately said, “I’m sleeping here, and I’ll get up and 5:30 and go home like I always do, pretend I’m waking up in my room and go do my paper route, then come here for breakfast with you.”
I said “Wonderful. Sleep well my good Lover Boy!”
It must have been 5:30 or so, because I didn’t look at the clock on the nightstand, but I felt some movement in the bed, must have turned over myself, because a while later I woke up facing the other way and alone. I felt the “alone” part for sure, but I didn’t feel lonely. I wasn’t lonely anymore. I had Jackson. Really, I couldn’t explain it yet. But I felt for the first time in my life kind of like he did that I was loved, that I had found someone that completed me, someone who I related to and connected with at such a deep level I was still stupefied by it. I knew I’d have to do some serious thinking if I had any chance of explaining it to Paul the next time we spoke, let alone fully understand it myself. That last thing was starting to gnaw at me now that I’d done my theological explanation to Jackson about depravity. It was the first inkling of the question ‘how could you explain it to him and not apply it to yourself?’ That would lead down the path of self-revelation that I never planned on happening.
I woke up at 7:00, peed and showered, dressed and then tidied up the bedroom and headed downstairs. I had the coffee brewed pretty quickly and the makings for breakfast out by about 8:00 when Jackson wheeled up the driveway and walked in with my paper. Our eyes met for a few seconds and both of us broke into love grins and he walked straight across the kitchen and planted a kiss on my lips. It was sensuous, not passionate. It said, ‘I love you and I’m glad to be with you again,’ and it just filled me up with joy.
Not wanting to be caught flat footed, I pointed at the coffee maker and said, “Help yourself, Lover Boy. Have you ever had a gas house special?” He looked at me in a way that clearly meant “No.”
“It’s an egg fried in a piece of toast, and it’s a northeast kind of thing. You want to try it?” I was wiggling my eyebrows now, knowing he had no clue what I was talking about, but also knowing he’d love it.
“Sure, why not,” was all he said.
I turned the heat on under the skillet, used an egg cup to cut a hole out of the center of four slices of bread and put some grease in the skillet. Jackson was pouring coffee and watching me at work. “I never cooked much at home, but we had a cook on the weekends when I was in high school, and I watched her cook lots of great breakfasts. Get ready for one!”
He grinned, and I dropped two pieces of bread into the skillet and then cracked an egg each in the hole in the center of each piece. You could see he was starting to understand what was going on, but he didn’t say anything, just sipping his coffee. Gas house specials always come with a question—what do you do with the little circles of bread you cut out? I picked one up and held it like a little frisbee between two fingers and flicked it his way. He saw it coming and understood what the game was and grabbed it out of the air before it hit his face.
“Whoa, what’s up with that,” he asked, grin still on his face. He was enjoying it. “Well,” I said, “you’ve got to figure out something to do with the bread rounds, and when I was a kid one of the things, we always did was flip them at people. And then eat them, if they hadn’t fallen on the floor.”
I turned back to the skillet and slipped a spatula under each piece of toast and carefully turned them over so as not to break the yolks.
“Ah, I get it now,” he said, “it’s fried eggs over easy, but the difference is that they’re fried in the bread instead of the bread being toast. That’s cool!”
“You got it, Lover Boy,” I replied, “and it tastes great especially when you cut into the egg part and the yolk mixes with the fried bread. You’ll see.”
A couple of minutes later I slipped his two pieces on a place and handed them to him, then started to prepare two more for me. “Go, start while it’s warm,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
By the time I joined him the first slice of bread on his plate was gone and he was smacking his lips. “Pretty great, Rev. I’ve got to give it to you. I never thought you could cook. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”
I grinned. “Don’t get on me about surprises. I think you were the one who surprised me first by grabbing my crotch the other day. Anyway, like I said, I learned the basics from our cook cause my parents were usually out socializing or out of town for the weekend and she didn’t just cook she thought it was important to learn how too.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes, chewing and sipping coffee. I got up and refreshed our coffee cups, and then when I sat down, I asked him how the paper route had gone this morning.
He simply said, “Cool. No sweat. Under control.”
“That’s good,” I replied, and then went on “how’s the depravity this morning?”
I could see him start. He hadn’t expected that. But he was quick to respond with a smile that turned into a grin. “I was thinking about it the whole way while I was delivering papers. That depravity thing is totally screwed up. Especially the part about being, what did you call it, way bad?”
“I think it was fundamentally bad or essentially bad,” I replied. “In other words, bad at your core, can’t do anything good. Is that what you mean?”
“Yep, just like that puppy!” Now he had a sly grin on his lips, and I knew he was working me, so I didn’t say anything. He went on, “The puppy example is a good one, especially for kids like me. I mean we’re more like the puppy than a full-grown adult dog. I mean kids don’t do shit like Hitler or the Boston Strangler or whatever? We may get in trouble and mess up and do wrong stuff but it’s not like we’re evil. At least not most of us. I’m still thinking about how this applies to Gary! But I don’t’ think even he is fundamentally bad.”
“I don’t either,” I said,” we both saw him yesterday and heard what he said and on top of that he was watching out for you and protecting you even if he was bullying you at the same time. Better to get beaten up a little than screwed by your father, don’t you think?”
I was being purposefully crass and confrontational because I knew pretty soon, they’d both have to face up to what Bud had been doing? Jackson looked up and rolled his eyes. “That’s for sure. Do you think he was actually screwing Gary?”
“If it was sexual abuse there’s pretty much only two options: he was having Gary suck him off or he was screwing Gary. I mean, what else is there?”
He was silent, obviously processing the implications of what we were discussing. A minute passed, then he asked, “Does that mean Bud is totally depraved?”
Where did he get it to ask these questions, I wondered to myself? “Well, you’ve got to answer based on how you come down theologically on the question. If you sign up for total depravity, then yes—and so are you. If you sign up for the fundamentally good but fallen, then no—and neither are you. You followed the difference between eastern and western theological views on that, right?"
He nodded. “Who knew there was another option,” was all he said.
I looked at him and smiled. “That my friend, is one of the big problems. We all have our own views or beliefs and impose them on everyone else. We’re right and they’re wrong. And usually we don’t do any of the work to find out if the beliefs we have are even true. But back to your question, depravity isn’t a stand-alone concept. It’s one of the core parts of the Calvinist tradition. You know who Calvin was?”
Jackson wrinkled his forehead, “I think so but couldn’t really tell you.”
“Calvin was one of the major theologians of the 16th Century, and greatly influenced the founder of the Presbyterian Church so a lot of Calvinism carries forward even here, though it’s gotten moderated over time in the Presbyterian Church. It seems they only go back to Calvin on the big troublesome issues, like they’re doing about homosexuality because it’s such a hot topic. Anyway, Calvinism in one form or another is ultimately derived from the theology of Augustine and Anselm, then it got given its own unique twists after the Reformation, and comes down to us today—good, bad and otherwise.”
I paused and asked, “Do you want to talk about this on such a beautiful morning?”
He smiled and simply said, “I asked the question last night and just now.”
“Okay, then carrying on,” I continued, “we don’t need to get into all the details of Calvinism. In terms of your questions I think you just need to know that depravity is part of what’s called TULIP. That has nothing to do with flowers but is the acronym for the five main theological points: Total Depravity, Unlimited Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Preservation of the Saints. That’s all a mouth full, but it all boils down to fundamentally bad, only a few get saved, you can’t do anything about it, and predestination.”
I figured I better stop and give Jackson time to catch up. He was sipping his coffee and the smile was being replaced by a slight frown. and then said, “Wow, that’s a heavy package of stuff. Can’t take too many breakfast talks like this!”
Then he paused and went on “But it helps. I guess when you roll out the TULIP stuff, you’re saying it’s a package deal, right? That you can’t have total depravity without the rest of that stuff, and then you’re kind of locked into a box of beliefs that just……, I don’t know…. lock you down. How can you even enjoy life if that’s what you believe?”
“Well, it’s hard, but part of it is understanding when the doctrines were put together, namely in the 16th century. And those were tough times, Christians killing Christians over the smallest theological differences. And these were hard guys. I mean they were hard, and they had a hard view of life and their doctrines were hard too. But in my mind the problem is that we’re now in the 20th century and most Christians are still signed up to doctrines from 500 years ago. You know, when most people thought the earth was flat, no one understood disease or much of anything else. We can talk about that some other time, but I’ve never understood how you can live in the 20th century with 16th century views. But, back to depravity. For them it’s where they ended up. Everyone is totally depraved and has to be saved, but only some get saved and the rest go to hell. So, every Christian has to decide if they believe that or not. If you do, then you’ve answered your two questions: you’re totally depraved and so is Bud. If you don’t then you believe that you’re just fallen and in need of grace. A practical consequence is what we talked about last night: whether or not you’re fundamentally bad.”
Jackson was listening hard now, I guess because we were talking about Bud. He didn’t answer quickly but then said, “So it’s another package deal?”
I grinned. “It sure is. Christianity is full of them. For that matter all religion is. You can’t decide that Bud is depraved and you’re not. You’re both in the same boat. And that gets us to the other thing you asked last night about a depraved sin, and there’s a very important part to this. Humans need justifications for their views and actions, and people that subscribe to religion look for religious justification for their views and actions. In Christianity that means theology or doctrine that justifies the position. So, you need to understand that way deep down it is the doctrine of total depravity that is what is used to justify hating gays and condemning homosexuality. We live in a time where gay rights are just starting to be recognized, but there is still lots of hate and opposition, and this is the foundation it is built on in America, because as the opponents would tell you, this is ‘a Christian nation,’ and that’s the underlying theology.”
“It’s important because I don’t want you to think it’s just some theory. It is very real, and it is at work around us every day. Protestants don’t have the concept of Cardinal Sins, but in the Catholic tradition, this would place homosexuality among the seven Cardinal sins, specifically part of lust. And most other Christian denominations are in the same boat. So, what the Presbyterians have done is define homosexuality as among the worst kind of sins, which makes gays the worst kind of sinners, even though they say they welcome homosexual persons into their churches.”
His face was blank. “Why are we Presbyterians? Really, why are we Christians?”
Now it was my turn to go blank and be silent. I recalled my dream and wondered if the Master Inquisitor was the one responsible for the choice of that particular phrase in the church platform! I managed to respond, “Well, that’s a good question, but a little too heavy for right now. Let’s save that one for later. The point here is that there’s a first decision to make, and that shapes the rest. If you think you’re not totally depraved, then that means you don’t think humanity is totally depraved, and by extension that includes Bud. Now where that really gets personally painful is with a decision like the Presbyterians made to label homosexuality as a depraved sin, meaning that homosexuals are depraved sinners. Totally bad, fundamentally bad. That’s a problem, especially when that’s the church you’re in.”
I was beginning to anticipate the next shoe that was about to drop and could almost feel the wince starting between my shoulder blades. Jackson looked at me with a wan smile and said it, ”How could you study this in seminary and join a church like that?”
I looked at him blankly. “I don’t know, I guess I hadn’t connected the dots. I grew up in it after all.”
“What do you mean ‘hadn’t connected the dots?’ It’s your life we’re talking about. You told me the other day you were gay just like I am. How could you not connect the dots?”
I could only muster what must have seemed like a pathetic answer. “When we were driving to Portland the other day and discovered each other was gay I told you I was just finding out about myself. This is all new to me too.”
He was staring straight at me now when he said, “I don’t buy it. How could you not know? You’re a smart guy and you went to seminary. I know you said you didn’t used to think about sex, and I don’t buy that, but I still don’t get how you could not know. I’ve known for years, like since I was ten or something.”
“You also told me I was really out of it, do you remember?” He nodded.
“Well, I think I just loaded up all this information but didn’t connect it all together because I didn’t have to. Something happened the other day that started connecting the dots, and that something was you. I suddenly was in the beginnings of a relationship with a person that was so deep, so loving, so connected to me that I couldn’t ignore the realities anymore. The first reality was that I liked you touching me and then that I love you and that must mean I’m gay. That was a mind blower, but now I’m having to start connecting the other dots too. It’s not any easier for me than it is for you. Please don’t think I have all the answers, because I don’t. I may have a lot more book learning than you do, but in terms of personal development I can see I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
I left it there and we fell silent. He just kept looking at me, thinking, and then his eyes sparkled, and the beginnings of a smile showed on his lips and that turned into a grin and he said, “I was right when I said you’re really out of it! But I think that’s part of why I love you. You’re not hiding it, you’re not covering up, you’re more honest and open about yourself with me than anyone has ever been. And I can be that honest and open about me with you. That’s way cool!”
“Equally cool,” I said, “is that we feel the same way about each other and can help each other. I’ve got to figure out why I am this way, and I need you to help me, and I’m counting on that. Your question about why still being a Presbyterian hit me hard, especially now. But can you see the first part of answering your question is that because I didn’t admit to myself that I was gay, because I chose to ignore the question, or maybe deny it, then it wasn’t a reality for me? It wasn’t something I had to deal with. It wasn’t an ontological reality, to use a term we talked about last night. It was something I could ignore.”
“I mean the poorest piece of work I did in seminary, now that I think back, was a paper on the ordination of women and homosexuals. You know it’s been a hot topic of debate for the last few years. And instead of getting real about either subject, because I’m one of the two subjects I was writing about, I copped out and tried to just do a lightweight treatment based on some lame moral and ethical test.”
“What?” I could see the furrows in his brow, but his smile was still there, like he wasn’t being antagonistic but just didn’t understand.
“I set up this false test about whether ordaining one or the other was a moral and ethical question or not. That let me easily say ordaining women wasn’t a moral and ethical problem (being a woman isn’t a sin) while ordaining homosexuals was a moral and ethical problem because homosexuality is condemned in the Bible as a sin. It was a cop out. That way I didn’t have to get into heavy questions like depravity, or even what the passages in the Bible really mean or where they came from. I didn’t even really have to get into how homosexuality is a sin and what that means for people that are gay. Instead I copped out with this cute test and avoided the subject.”
The big grin was back on his face. “I bet you didn’t get and A+ on that paper.”
I grinned back, but it was a weak one. “Nope, I got a C, and I deserved it. I avoided the areas that needed to be developed because I didn’t want to deal with the realities, and then took a cop out approach instead. If I’d had the guts to deal with it, I might have had to ask myself if I was gay, and what was so wrong with being gay and why I shouldn’t be able to be ordained just because I was gay. What’s so wrong with me that I would be barred from ordination? And that would lead to all the other related question about why being gay is viewed so negatively and what it meant for me. I just wasn’t there yet.”
I paused and we were silent for a few moments, then I said, “Okay, I think that’s enough on depravity for one morning. We’ve got dishes to wash. What are you doing today?”
He was getting up with his dishes in hand, and simply said “Nothing planned so far.”
“Well, why don’t you coordinate with Gary and mow the lawn here and at home? I’ll call Mr. Sullivan and see what his lawn schedule is. Did I tell you I got you your first outside lawn mowing job?”
I could see him hesitate, like he was thinking “this could be a lot of work.” I didn’t let him get ahead of me on this.
“You and Gary and I talked about lawn mowing as a way to earn money, right? So, it’s called work and it comes with a check. That’s life, that money isn’t free. Anyway, you had to mow the parsonage lawn for free cause Bud made you do it before I got here, but now I’ll pay you. You’ll have to do your lawn for free because you live there. Mr. Sullivan said he’ll pay you to do his lawn. That means you’ve got two paying lawns to start out. How cool is that?”
Now he smiled. “You’re right, it is cool and will really help. I guess I didn’t think it would happen this fast. I’ll go check with Gary and we’ll figure it out. We’ve got a mower at home we can use there, but the one here is newer and better and I’d rather use it for Mr. Sullivan. Is that Okay?”
“Yep. He knows you’re using the parsonage mower to start and said that was fine until you’d earned enough money to buy your own. I also want to talk to you about youth counseling. The Session approved doing a week-long church camp and you said you’d be a counselor. We need to find two more. Do you have any ideas? Kids probably your age, or maybe fourteen, but responsible enough we can count on them to watch out for the younger kids. And no bullies. Oh, and they won’t be like working for you, but in my mind, you’re going to be the lead counselor, so they have to be able to work with you. What do you think?”
“Jeez, I didn’t realize I was getting signed up for all of this. Are you sure you want me? I’ve never done anything like this, I don’t have many friends and pretty much everyone thinks I’m a dork.
“You’re not a dork. You’re bright and responsible, even if a little strong willed, and you’ll do a great job because you care. So, think about it. We don’t need to sign them up today, but we need to have two other counselors lined up by Monday so we can start planning the camp.”
He just rolled his eyes. “Go get organized on the lawns with Gary. Make sure you’ve got enough gas. Do you have any kind of a string trimmer at home that you could use too?”
He nodded his head.
“Okay, that’s great. You guys are set to get started. I’ll finish cleaning up breakfast, then I’ve got to spend some time on my sermon for Sunday. Do you know why?”
“Yeah,” he quickly replied, “because you’re way behind because you’ve been doing other stuff this week like listening to music and talking about sci-fi books and stuff.”
“Nope, you’re not even close. I’ve got to get the sermon shaped up today because I won’t be around for most of tomorrow.”
“What?” I could see his eyes widen.
“Oh yeah, I’m going to be gone for quite a bit of the day on a great bike ride with a friend.”
“Oh.” I could see he was starting to look crestfallen.
“You know who that friend is,” I went on? I couldn’t keep him hanging. “That friend is you. This has been a heavy week and we’re going to get some exercise and some fun tomorrow. I’ll set it up with your mother today and then we can work out the time and details, Okay?”
Now he was smiling again. He nodded, and as he headed for the door, he gave me a brief kiss and a swift pat on the butt.
After cleaning up the kitchen and washing the dishes I called Spencer and he said he’d normally mow his lawn on Saturday but was open to changing to Friday if it helped get the boys going. He also pointed out that he only lived three blocks away from the parsonage, so they’d be able to roll the mower over without too much trouble. I asked him what the going rate was and he said in Portland it was about five bucks if it was a good job, and closer to four in Newberg. I told him they had a string trimmer and would trim the edges and clean up too, and he said he’d be willing to pay $5. So, we now had a rate as well as the two starting lawns.
When I asked, he said there was no new information on Bud, he was still in jail and early in the week we’d know more. I thanked him for the info and told him I’d see him on Sunday at church. Then we said goodbye.
I was settling down to do some sermon work when the phone rang, and it was Mary McGinnis. “Pastor David, I have some good news. We got very lucky, and the County has an available in-home interventional therapist who can start working with the family on Monday.”
My immediate reaction was positive, “Wow, that’s great news. How did you accomplish that, Mary?”
“Like I said we were lucky. This case is complicated and it’s clear the therapy is needed, and it’ll have a higher chance of working if it’s in-home and interventional rather than depending on Lilly to attend therapy somewhere else. Especially when she’s also got to go out of the home for alcoholism therapy. I’ll call Susan next and let them know, then I’ll call Lilly and inform her and establish a time to introduce them on Monday.”
“I’m impressed with what you’ve been able to accomplish,” I said, “and in such a short time too. I’ll let the boys know that it will start on Monday and they need to make themselves available. Does that make sense?” She agreed and rang off.
I was back at work on the sermon a little while later when I heard a mower down the street start and glanced out the window to see Jackson and Gary in their front yard starting to mow. They were still sorting out the routine, with some going back and forth and arm waving about who was mowing and who was operating the string trimmer, but I figured their own yard was a good place to run that experiment and by the time they got to the parsonage, probably after lunch, they ought to be operating more in synch.
The sermon was coming together. A little more exegesis on the text of the Gospel passage in Luke, some outline notes, some ancillary reading in commentaries and it felt like it was starting to come together. I might have it in near final form by end of day if I was lucky, which was important if I was going to be bike riding with Jackson tomorrow.
I decided to call Susan before lunch for a quick check in about in the therapy to start Monday, and she was very positive too. She said she planned to have a conversation with Lilly on Saturday or Sunday to help set the stage. Then she asked how my planning was going for the Sunday worship service. We discussed the hymns, I told her the Gospel reading was the Martha and Mary passage in Luke, and that what was coming together for me was the theme of acceptance: accepting people outside your own circles, accepting all types of people. She was quite positive about that. I didn’t even wonder why, just told her I appreciated her support.
She then asked how things were going with the boys. I said it seemed good and updated her on getting the mowing business off the ground and that Jackson and Gary were now working together, to which all she could say was that it had to be a positive development. I told her I was more and more impressed with how well read and mature Jackson was, and she chuckled and said she’d always liked him and knew there was more there than meets the eye. When I told her that Jackson and I were going on a bike ride tomorrow she was thrilled and asked if I’d decided yet where we going to ride. I told her I didn’t know yet and she jumped right in with a suggestion. Ride out here to our place, stop for lunch, and then it’s only a ten- or fifteen-minute ride to a county park with a bike trail. That sounded wonderful to me, so I told her that’s what we’d do.
We rang off and I figured I’d have lunch before taking on the stencils and mimeograph to print the service order for Sunday, and by then I’d likely have a mower running right next to my house!
I had a sandwich and some chips for lunch, then went upstairs for a nap. I hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep last night after we followed love making with that heavy talk about depravity. I lay down and closed my eyes and found myself picturing our love making the night before. Jackson cuddled in my arms, so peaceful and full of love. I was woken by the sound of the garage door opening and figured Jackson and Gary were getting out the parsonage mower, so I headed down to see how they were doing.
“Hi guys,” I called from the back porch, “how’s it going so far? Did you make it through the first lawn Okay?”
Jackson looked at me wryly and grinned. “Yeah, once we sorted out who was going to do what. We finally decided it was best and fairer to alternate. I’d mow the front and Gary would trim, and then he’d mow the back and I’d trim. It turns out mowing is easier than trimming. Those trimmers are heavy and hard on the arms and shoulders.” He was wearing those baggy blue gym shorts, no tight cut off Levi shorts today. Probably just as well if he didn’t want to have crotch burn when he was done!
“So, you got through your lawn without any accidents or major damage?” I was smiling as I asked.
Gary answered this time. “It went Okay. You know, I usually did it all, but it was good to have some help this time.”
“So, Gary, do you think this’ll work? I mean you guys working together. You won’t rip each other’s throats out?”
Now he gave a wry grin. “Probably it’ll work. He just needs to get the fact that I know more about it than he does, and we’ll be fine. But it’s good to see he knows how to work and isn’t whining about it all the time.”
Jackson wasn’t accepting that. “Whoa big boy. Just cause you’ve been doing it doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to mow and trim. I’m pretty good at this too. You don’t have a monopoly on lawn mowing.”
I was relieved. It looked like it might work to have them working together, and if so that new dynamic would go a long way to offset the previous bullying.
“Did you guys get lunch? Need something to drink?”
They said they ate at home before they came over, and a drink when they were done would be cool. I told them I’d be inside working if they needed anything, and after making sure they had enough gas I went inside and left them to it. I heard the mower fire up and then the trimmer.
An hour later I’d outlined my sermon and grabbed a couple of cans of soda and walked outside. They were almost done with the lawn and looked like they could use the drinks. When they stopped working, we talked for a couple of minutes and I told them to leave the empties by the back door, and to come see me when they got back from Mr. Sullivan’s as I needed to talk to them for a few minutes.
A little later I was beginning the process of turning the outline into the finished sermon when I heard the mower stop running and then being pushed down the driveway and on up the street. Another thirty minutes and the sermon draft was finished, and I called Lilly to confirm she’d heard from Mary McGinnis about the in-home therapy starting on Monday. She sounded a little hesitant, but when we began talking about the benefits of not having to travel to a therapist’s office and the ease that the boys could be involved, she opened up. She went so far as to share that Mary had pointed out that in-home therapy was much more successful in keeping the family together and that was the agreed-on goal. She was also starting an alcoholics program next week, so things were falling into place.
She acted like she didn’t know what to say next, then started hesitantly, “Uhm, I want to, I mean, I appreciate you getting the boys started with lawn mowing. Bud was such a controller he never wanted to let them loose even to work and earn money.”
I didn’t say much in response beyond it wasn’t hard to do, the boys needed work during the summer, and getting out and working was good for them and had them out from underfoot for her. When I asked her about Jackson going on a bike ride with me the next day, starting with lunch at Miss Albridge’s, she didn’t hesitate. I pointed out he’d worked hard today and had helped me a lot moving and unpacking during the past week and I figured he need some R & R. She agreed and went so far as to say she was happy I liked her son and he was developing a friendship with me. I left it at that…. careful, careful!
We rang off after that and I headed out to the garage. I hadn’t ridden my bicycle for a while, what with graduating, getting ordained and moving, so I wanted to get that under control this afternoon.
This was a few years before the mountain bike was invented and my bike was a full size Schwinn Scrambler, meaning it had a full sized frame that worked for an adult, had chromed tubing and a regular seat (no banana seat!) with 26 inch wheels that worked pretty well as a multi-purpose bicycle. It got me around town and worked on trails too. This size BMX bike had evolved so dads could ride with their kids who usually rode BMX bikes with much smaller frames and wheels. I dug around in one of the two miscellaneous boxes I’d stuck in the garage, and sure enough there was my tire pump. Both tires were low, but it didn’t take long to get them pumped up, drip some oil onto the chain and then take it out for a test ride on the road. It felt good and I was ready for the next day’s ride.
It was almost 4:30 when I heard the mower being pushed back up the driveway and then being stowed away in the garage. I grabbed a couple more drinks and went out to sit on the back steps waiting for them to finish up. They wandered up to the house a few minutes later. I offered each a drink and they took them and sat down facing me on the lawn, while I sat on the steps. Gary took a few gulps and laid back with his eyes closed. He seemed more tired than Jackson, which made sense—he was overweight, and Jackson rode a paper route on his bike every morning.
Jackson leaned back on his elbows, smiled, and then let his knees fall away from each other. It was one of those moves that either happen because you’ve been working and you’re tired or because it was a conscious decision to expose yourself. There were his white briefs and the bulge that was his package-I could see right up his leg. Smart boy, I was thinking—that was a much more sensible choice than boxers for outdoor work. Was this view accidental or by design? Then I saw his smile and it dawned on me, he was flashing me! I grinned back and we just stared at each other for fifteen or twenty seconds while I wiggled my eyebrows and he did the same back.
Gary groaned and sat up, Jackson closed his knees and dropped his legs flat on the lawn, and I said “You guys got off to a great start today. Three lawns, no fights, no accidents, no unnecessary damage to private property. This could be a successful venture.”
They both smiled and Jackson asked what I wanted to talk to them about. “It’s some more good news,” I said.
“Mary McGinnis from CPS called me this afternoon to let me know that the County has an in-home interventional therapist that will start working with Lilly and you guys on Monday. That means the family therapy will happen in your home and not off site. You may think that’s weird or intrusive, but it means that the twice a week therapy doesn’t involve traveling somewhere for your Mom and you two when you’re included.”
They were quiet. I went on, “I don’t know how much of the time will be the therapist with your mom and how much will involve both of you. I think most will be with your Mom, given what happened, but I’m encouraging you guys to be supportive and to get involved, as in don’t resist being asked to participate, if you want this to succeed. Your Mom’s got to do this and get enrolled in an alcoholics program, so that’s a lot of work, and not having to travel to therapy is a big deal. Plus, Mary’s goal is keeping the family together, remember?”
The both nodded.
“That’s what’s behind this. The point of in-home therapy is that it works better to keep the family together because in involves the family and happens in the family home. Okay?”
They both nodded again. Gary looked like he was working to understand what I’d been explaining. Jackson jumped right on it. “If it helps Mom sort out her problems and get better, and we’re all part of that, then I’m on board.” He turned to Gary, “It’s way better than getting put into foster care.”
That was Jackson, a romantic at heart, but also a realist. Gary nodded but didn’t say anything.
I turned to Gary and caught his eyes, “What are you planning tomorrow?” I was hoping he had something planned already. He did! “I’m going over in the morning to help my friend finish working on his bike, then we’re going riding on the BMX track.”
“That’s cool,” I said, “probably cooler than the bike ride Jackson and I are going to take, but it means we’ll all be getting out in the sun and getting some exercise. Listen, Gary, I pumped up the tires and oiled the chain on my bike today, but it hasn’t had a tune up for a long while. Can I pay you to do that? You sound like a pretty good bike mechanic.”
Jackson piped in, “He’s not that good, he’s just an amateur. But he keeps my bike running well enough. I don’t think he’s good enough to pay though!”
I laughed and said “I’ll be the judge of that. Gary, are you up for the work?” He smiled and said he’d do it in the next few days.
“Okay, you guys, probably time to head home. You’re going to be needing a shower before dinner, and I’m guessing your Mom is already at work on that. Gary, let us know how the BMX track is. Maybe we could all go ride there some time.” They nodded, stood up and handed me the empty cans, and headed for the driveway. I could see them reach the sidewalk and turn towards their home as I went in the back porch. Then a minute later I saw Jackson run back up the driveway. He ran up the steps to the back door where I met him.
“So, Rev, what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
“What are you doing back here?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I forgot the string trimmer. You know, I couldn’t leave it here. I told Gary I’d come and get it, so he didn’t have to. So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
I grinned at him. “I think it’ll be fun. Well leave here around 10:00 and ride out to Susan and Ellen’s. They invited us to visit and have lunch. Then she said near their house is a County park with a trail. Do you know where that is?” He shook his head.
“Well, they’ll show us where it is and then we can come back here. Your bike is a pretty all-purpose BMX bike so you should be good. It’ll be fun. What do you think?”
He grinned. “Sounds groovy to me! And the best part is spending the day with my sexy man!”
I smiled and said, “I’m liking that idea too.” He leaned in tipped up his head and kissed me. Another short but sensuous kiss. I loved it. That’s when he said “I’ll be over later tonight. Can’t wait!”
“Is it safe? Two nights in a row may be pushing things, don’t you think?”
He smiled again, “We’re good. It worked last night, and I’ve got the system down. With Bud gone and Mom not getting drunk every night she sleeps soundly and it’s easy to get out to my fort. Remember we agreed that I can go to my fort when I need to, when it gets claustrophobic.”
I looked him straight in the eyes. “Okay, Lover Boy, if you say so, but we can’t be taking crazy risks. We’ve also got to think about and work out a, I don’t know, like a schedule. We can’t do this every night. It’s just too risky.”
He smiled knowingly. “I know, and trust me, this is too important for me to do something stupid. We’ll work it out. We’ll be fine. Trust me? Please.”
I just smiled, gave him a quick kiss and said I did. “See you later tonight Lover Boy!