I watched him slip his T-shit and boxers back on and head out of the room and heard him go down the stairs and out the back door. My breathing hadn’t stopped, and I wasn’t having a heart attack, so I guess that was a good sign. Still, Jackson’s words echoed in my head: “Gary asked me this evening why I was in your arms hugging you and you were kissing me on the back porch this afternoon after he left.”
How was I going to sleep after hearing that? This could be the crisis I’d been worrying about. Could we have been caught out over such a simple thing? We didn’t kiss on the back porch. We’d moved into the kitchen. Gary had already left. How could he have seen anything?
Then it dawned on me– Ohh! We’d hugged for a while and I had kissed the top of his head as I held him on the porch, and he’d said he wanted a real kiss, and I’d made him go inside the kitchen for that. Was that it? That little lapse was all that it took, and we’d been seen and now our relationship was public? What a nightmare. I spun all the possibilities: Gary telling his mother, Lilly going nuts and telling everyone in the church, the whole town finding out, the police coming to visit, Susan McGinnis, the CPS person accusing me of deceit, and on and on. I’m sure it was 3:00 am before I fell asleep, and even then, it was restless tossing and turning all night.
I woke at the usual time, though I don’t think I knew it was Wednesday, stumbled out of bed and through the bathroom routine and downstairs to start coffee and organize breakfast. This would be another cereal and toast morning—I didn’t have the psychic energy for anything else. As time went by, I was more and more terrified. I hadn’t been a delinquent as a kid, had only gotten into trouble a couple of times, so I didn’t know what it meant or felt like to be caught out, far less how to bluff my way through anything like this. All I could see was doom.
I sat down at the kitchen table, just fretting and letting my imagination run wild, and finally I heard the tires scrunch in the driveway, heard the footsteps on the porch and the door opened. I hoped and prayed it wasn’t Jackson carrying a death sentence. The door opened and I almost died. He came through the door carrying the paper and with a smile that turned into a grin. “Good morning, my Sexy Man!”
“Hi Jackson,” was all I could muster.
His grin disappeared. “What’s wrong? You don’t look well. Are you sick?”
I gave him a wan smile. “After what you said about Gary quizzing you about me hugging and kissing you, I spent all night worrying that we were done, that it would all blow up and our love would be over.” I think I was approaching tears. “Tell me we’re Okay, please.”
He came right over to me and leant over and hugged me, kissing my ear and cheek and finally my lips. “We’re fine, and I’m sorry if I scared you like that. I didn’t plan to, and I realize I didn’t tell you enough and that I’m to blame for scaring the shit out of you. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I just wasn’t thinking.”
I had to take a few deep breaths, like the prisoner just released from the gallows. “Okay, I do, but just tell me what really happened? You said Gary asked you why I was in your arms on the back porch after he left, and I know I was kissing you on the top of your head. Is that what he saw?”
“Yeah, it was. After he went home, he went upstairs, and our bedrooms look across here, so he saw us on the back porch. But he was just giving me grief, he wasn’t really accusing me of something. I mean I gave him a quick excuse and we have to get our story together. I think he’s figuring out that there’s something between us, but it’s weird—somehow, I think he understands it. It’s not like he’s figured anything out or knows about our love or anything like that.”
“God, I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear that. I could see myself in jail, in the cell next to Bud, by the end of the day!”
“No, no,” he cried, “I never meant anything like that, and I’m so sorry I was stupid and didn’t make it clear. I was just, I don’t know, feeling so wonderful after what we did, what you did, that I wasn’t thinking. I can’t believe I was so self-centered after we had such an amazing time together. Please forgive me.”
I was still feeling the relief pour off of me like water in a rainstorm. “Of course, but you frightened the shit out of me. A lot of it was my paranoia, not what you said or did, but I never want to feel that way again.”
He leaned in and hugged me hard and kissed me passionately. “I’ll never do something stupid like that again. It’s all my fault, and again I’m sorry.”
“I think this also means,” I went on, “if you think he’s starting to figure something out, that both of us need to know what we say to him if it ever comes to that. Do we tell him the truth? Can we trust him? I don’t know. I’m just asking.”
“You’re right, and that’s kind of heavy. But I guess we just can’t wing it, can we? Let me think on that." He leaned back and looked me in the eyes to confirm we were Okay. I smiled and he smiled back. “Can I pour us some coffee?” I nodded and he headed to the coffee maker.
When he came back and we’d taken a few sips, he said, “Okay, I’m sorry for freaking you out, and worse yet that I did it after the most beautiful love making ever. That makes it even worse, and I feel terrible about that. I went home just blown away and feeling you had to as well, and I’m so sorry I ruined the night for you.”
I paused, listened to what he’d just said, took another sip of coffee, and then said, “You didn’t ruin the night. You only ruined what was left of the night. The first part of the night was the most unbelievable ever. It was the back half that wasn’t so good.” I was smiling now.
“Phew,” he said, “I’m glad you can see the two parts and that you think the first part was unbelievable, because what you did to me was totally mind blowing. I’ve never even dreamed of something like that.”
I raised my eyebrows and left it at that.
He went on, “What I mean is that I’ve had all these fantasies about gay sex and getting it on with somebody, and since you moved here getting it on with you, but none of it was even close to what it was like. I guess I’m figuring out that the fantasy part is pretty empty, especially when compared to a real experience with someone you love like I love you. I don’t know if I’ve told you about my journal, but I wrote in it the other day that I thought I knew that getting it on was all about going all the way, but what we’ve done so far isn’t close to going all the way, but it is still so much better than anything I dreamed about that I don’t know what to think anymore. Other that I love you more than anything.” He was grinning now.
I smiled and said, “Okay, I accept that. But since you were responsible for me almost having a heart attack last night, you can get us some breakfast. I’m starved and there’s cereal and bread for toast over there.”
He stood up, said “Yes, Sir,” and headed for the kitchen counter. He was back in a few minutes with two bowls of cereal with sliced bananas and then a minute later with a plate of toast and some jam.
“Thanks.” I reached out and touched his lips, and he kissed my fingertips in return. We ate mainly in silence, just looking at each other deeply and smiling.
Finally, after the food was gone and he’d poured two more cups of coffee he said, “Can I ask you something about last night?” I thought I knew where he was going. So, I nodded my head but before he could ask, I answered what I thought was the question.
“I don’t know how it happened or why I did it other than it seemed the perfectly right thing to do at the time. I know I’ve been hung up and slow and all that. And I have to tell you that I’ve been wrestling with what’s right and what’s not…. you know, how far we can go, like that. I have to tell you that I thought I’d decided that oral and going all the way was out of bounds. And I’m sorry that I didn’t fully discuss it with you, because you’re my lover, not just my Lover Boy. But that’s me, I’m still trying to figure all this stuff out. Anyway, I thought in my head I wasn’t going to do oral, but then there we were, and you had just given me the most intense orgasm of my life, and your eyes held me the whole time and told me that you loved me, and it was overwhelming. And, and…. I wanted to do the same for you. And I was kissing your stomach, and your cock was so beautiful and so attractive, and I realized all this boundary stuff was bull shit, so I did it because I wanted you to have as wonderful experience as I did. I hope you did.”
He was quiet and sipped his coffee for a minute. “I did. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life. I guess it was because I’ve never had oral from my lover before. Is that Okay to say? I mean I don’t want to call it a blowjob because it was so much more than that. Blowjob seems so, I don’t know, uncool.”
“You mean crass?” He nodded. “You’re right, and I appreciate you making the distinction. I’m sorry we haven’t discussed all of this before. I guess I couldn’t or didn’t know how. Maybe it’s why I share so much of how I feel about you through music, because I just don’t know how to do it in words. Does that make sense?”
He nodded, and said, “I relate. Remember, I was the invisible kid for so long, and invisible kids don’t say what they feel. So, I get it, no worries. What’s most important is that we’re on the same wavelength, and that we share a lot of the same ways of doing stuff. You know?”
I was nodding now, “Yes, we do, we share a lot of the same traits, and I think that’s part of what makes out relationship work so well, be so smooth. We’re a lot alike and complement each other. So back to the sex. I’ve been trying to sort out in my head how far I or we can go, and that’s because our relationship isn’t legal, you understand? That’s why I was going round and round about what’s real sex and what isn’t, what’s penetrative and what’s not, where’s oral in all of this. All of that crap. Well, I answered the oral question last night, and I’m glad I did!”
I emphasized the last sentence and wiggled my eyebrows. He was giggling now. He could barely get out “Me too, Rev.” It was kind of funny, but this was also important stuff.
“But, I want you to understand, if you can, that I’m dealing with this big conflict because I’m an adult and you’re not, because our relationship isn’t legal and on top of that because I’m a minister and I’m supposed to be perfectly moral and ethical, and all that other stuff we’ve talked about like celibacy and all the rest. I want to make love to you in every way possible, and I want you to as well. I want you to experience all the ways we can share our love, but until you’re eighteen we can’t go all the way. We just can’t. Can you understand that? Does it make any sense to you?”
He was a study in understanding. He smiled quietly and reached out his right hand and stroked my cheek and across my chin and up the other side, then he rested his fingertips on my lips, and I kissed them. “I know you’re going through hell trying to sort all this out, trying to do what’s right. I get that I don’t have the, what would you call them, restraints and constrictions, that you do. But I respect and love you all the more for that. You’re real, and you’re serious, and you’re committed, and you care. Those are things I’ve rarely experienced and been around with my family, so I’m good with whatever decision you’ve come to. Okay? I’m good with that because I love you and I know what you are worrying about is what’s best for us. You’re not just trying to please yourself or get your rocks off. You care about me. You care about us. You want the best for us. That’s good enough for me.”
I’d taken his hand in mine and kissed his fingertips. He was so mature for his age, and so sensitive. He was acting like an adult, and anyone listening to this conversation would have to agree.
Finally, I looked at the clock and asked him what the schedule was. He said they were mowing the parsonage this morning, then the other client in the afternoon. I suggested they mow here so they could finish before lunch, then the three of us could have lunch and talk and sort out any concerns Gary might have. He nodded and said, “That’s cool. I don’t think he’s wigged out, but good to be sure. He thinks we’re good friends, and I kind of let him think now that I know Bud’s not my father that I need a father figure. Is that Okay? Is that weird?”
I thought a minute, then said, “I don’t necessarily think it’s weird, but we’ll see when he’s here. I’m relieved you said at least part of it was him working you, kind of like joking around.”
He nodded again. I said, “Okay, I’ll clean up from breakfast, then shoot down to the store and get some groceries and stuff so I’ll have what we need for sandwiches. Then this afternoon I need to drop over and see your mother.”
We left if at that, and he gave me a parting kiss and headed off to organize his morning. I cleaned up, called Lilly to confirm visiting her in the afternoon, then made the run to the grocery store and was back by 11:30. The boys were mowing, so I put the groceries away and then took the opportunity to call Susan to let her know I would be stopping by to see Lilly in the afternoon. She said she’d called her last evening to see how the second therapy session went, and that it appeared to go well. She was positive about it, but said she was tired a lot and struggling to keep up with everything. I told her that Jackson had also commented about her not feeling well for much of the week.
“I don’t know, Pastor, since I’m not a clinician, but Ellen tells me that for many people that drink a lot for a long time, the alcohol covers a lot of the symptoms. It’s kind of like ‘hair of the dog,’ you’ve heard of that I’m sure?”
I said yes, and she went on, “Well, drinking to get rid of a hangover means you’re covering up the pain. If you drink a lot for years, you’re covering up all kinds of pain, including body pain that would otherwise tell you you’re ill. I hope it’s not that, but the drinking has gone on for so long that’s what I’m worried about. Why don’t you suggest she go for a checkup and a physical?”
“Susan, that’s a great idea. I’ll try to get around to that this afternoon. Has she said anything about the alcoholics meeting?”
Susan said she had, that the first was last Thursday and it was going well too because she had decided to stop drinking, so this was simply support, not having to struggle to make the decision to stop. I told her that I’d let her know tonight or in the morning how it went and reminded her that we planned on meeting tomorrow to do more planning for the church camp. She was happy to learn I had the venues booked so we had the major scheduling elements under control.
I rang off and went into the kitchen to lay out the sandwich materials for lunch, and it wasn’t too long before I heard Jackson and Gary coming up the steps and across the porch. There was a knock and then they came in.
Jackson smiled, and said, “Howdy, Rev. How are things? Did you get your shopping done?”
By this time, they were both in the kitchen and I said, “I did, and hello Gary. Why don’t you guys get what you want to drink from the fridge, and the sandwich fixings are on the table.”
They both nodded and grabbed a drink and headed for the table. “Are you two ready for another week of mowing and making money,” I asked?
Gary was silent, busy building a sandwich, but Jackson grinned and said, “Sure are, Rev. One more customer this afternoon. Then I’m going to go talk to Will Summers and Tom Wilson about the counselor thing. Their parents don’t make them go to church all the time and they weren’t there on Sunday, so my plan of seeing them didn’t work.”
He turned to make a sandwich and then so did I, and we were quiet for a while just eating.
I asked how things were going at home, how the therapy sessions were going? Jackson nodded and said “Well, so far. Meaning Mom says they’re Okay and we haven’t had to be part of it yet. Right, Gary?”
Gary nodded, and took a while to respond. “Yeah, that’s right. I guess they’re still working through the stuff about Mom and Dad and it hasn’t gotten down to our level yet. That’ll probably happen. But, it’s quiet and peaceful at our house now. I’d kind of forgotten what that’s like. I mean we all live there and do our stuff, but there’s not a lot of tension and no anger, which is great. I hate to say it, but now that Dad’s out of the house it’s all changed.”
I looked at him and replied, “Gary, that takes strength to say because you’re talking about your own father. But it’s also candid and honest for you to be able to assess that the change ties directly to his removal. I know that has to be hard for you.”
He thought a minute, then said, “Not all that hard, after all, he was abusing me for the last few years, so even though he’s my Dad I don’t like him for that part and am happy it’s over and he’s out. I’m still getting used to the change, to the peace, for now.”
I saw an opportunity and asked, “Since you graduated from high school this year, what are your plans when summer is over? You’re in a position now to decide what you want to do instead of waiting for your Dad to tell you what you were going to do.”
He smiled painfully, “I know, and it’s totally new. Basically, I knew Bud was going to just hire me as a laborer at his machine shop. I’d get a paycheck, but he’d deduct for living in his house, and he’d get cheap labor. That’s what it was all about for him. What a shit, huh?”
“The reality you’re coming to grips with,” I replied, “is that abusers take advantage of other people, so it’s pretty consistent behavior. Anything new happening with the bicycle shop mechanic opportunity?
He seemed pleased that I remembered. “Not yet, but I keep checking with them. I think I’ll be on part time in a week or two and then we’ll see what happens. Right now, that would go through the summer, but I don’t know about the winter. Bicycling slows way down, lawn mowing is over, so I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t get depressed. Stay on their case, and if I can help with a reference of anything like that, let me know, Okay.” He nodded; a mouth full of sandwich.
I turned to Jackson, “At least you don’t have that worry, right? You’ll be back in school for your senior year. Do you know what classes yet?”
He swallowed and said, “I’m not certain, but pretty much the standards. English Lit, History for sure, some electives. I’m not certain after that. I’ve got a B average overall, so have been keeping pace with everyone else in my class. I don’t know what the elective classes will be.”
Gary smiled at that and said, “you’ll probably be able to do a couple of light weight electives, that means you’ll have lots of coast time. I was behind most of high school, so I had a couple of makeup classes and no electives, remember?” Jackson smiled at him and nodded his head.
“Have you thought about college, Gary,” I asked? He shook his head, “Nope, my grades are pretty poor, I wasn’t a good student, but I’ve thought about trade school. The community college in McMinnville has some good trade courses. I’ve got to get some money up for that though and I don’t know where that will come from.”
“It’s only July,” I said, “so let’s see what happens, shall we? Who knows what’ll happen between now and Fall? Jackson gets to do church camp counseling in a couple of weeks, and I’m betting he’ll be a changed man by the time that’s over.”
Gary look at me, and his eyes glinted. “He’s a changed man already, Pastor Dave.”
Whoa! What does he mean by that? Is it my paranoia or what?
“Go on, Gary, what do you mean?”
“Well, you know, I may be big and look like a lug but there is a brain in here!” He was smiling now. “You guys have become good friends and he’s worked for you and is going to be your counselor and he’s changed. I mean we used to be distant and almost like hate each other, and I know a lot of that was my fault, but it’s like he’s crawled out of his shell or something. It’s not just organizing the mowing business, but we talk and he’s fun to be around and, uhm, I don’t know, but he’s my little bro again. Does that make sense?”
“It does,” I said in response, “because the thing, that is, the person that was making your individual lives miserable has been removed, so you have the opportunity to discover and be yourselves again, to re-establish the kind of relationship you used to have. That’s great to hear, and it’s healthy. I hope you know the kind of change you’re talking about isn’t limited to him. It’s happening to you too. I’m pleased to hear you say that.”
“And he’s growing too. He tried to put on his green T-shirt and those Levi cutoffs this morning, and they wouldn’t fit. Too small!” He grinned widely, then he went on “Well, it’s also kind of embarrassing because I used to act like he was my little brother and look out for him and stuff, but then we grew apart and I wasn’t taking looking out for him, I was taking my shit out on him. But now we’ve got a chance to fix that.” He leaned over and rubbed the top of Jackson’s head. Jackson shied away but grinned in response.
“Listen, Pastor Dave, I know you guys are close. I can see it in how you talk to each other, how you get along and seem to understand each other, Okay? I saw you hugging each other on the porch the other day and I gave Jackson shit about it, but you know why? Mainly because I’m jealous.” There were tears in his eyes now. He went on, “He deserves a good friend, and now finding out he doesn’t have a father, or at least no one knows who his father is, that hurts. So, I’m happy for him, and like I said, I’m kind of jealous too. You guys being close is Okay with me.”
I couldn’t be patronizing or trite because he’d been honest and had opened his soul like never before. “Thanks for sharing that, Gary. We all deserve good friends we can be close to, and you know what, that includes you too. We’ve been lucky: I needed a friend and so did Jackson and we met at the right time. That’ll happen for you too.”
It was obvious he was getting embarrassed, so I got up and started clearing the dishes and they followed, helping put away the lunch fixings and generally cleaning up.
Jackson walked up next to me at the sink and said, “Thanks for having us for lunch, Rev. Can I come by and collect the paper and mowing bill later?” I could see him wink.
“Sure, that’ll be fine. I’m going to visit your mother while you’re doing your other job this afternoon, so I’ll see you later.” He turned, Gary said goodbye and they were off. That visit turned out well and was illuminating too. For the boys things seemed to be on a positive course. I hoped they were for Lilly too.
After lunch I went into my office and shifted my mind back to the parish. I hadn’t yet started on the Sunday sermon, still had the Sunday bulletin to do, and had gotten nowhere in the last week on calling and meeting parishioners. Oh well, first things first. I promised myself this evening would be sermon time and went upstairs to take a quick nap before going to see Lilly.
It was about 2:00 PM when I walked over to Lilly’s. She answered the door and was friendly but seemed distant. She offered something to drink and I just asked for water, and we chatted briefly about the boys and the mowing business and how well that was going and how they were getting along. I shared a little of our lunch conversation about their re-establishing their relationship as friends and brothers.
That seemed to give her pause for a moment, then she started to tell me that most of the first therapy session had focused on her dependency on Bud and how she needed to mentally separate herself from him now that he was physically out of the house and out of their lives. She admitted it was more of a struggle than she thought it would be and hadn’t realized how much she’d become dependent on him and conformed to what he wanted in almost everything. But, she said, she could see both boys being liberated, and she knew they were moving faster than her and that’s what she needed to do as well. I asked her how she was feeling, and she paused again. “Well pastor, truth be known, I don’t feel well a lot of the time. I’m tired most of the time and just don’t feel well. I have trouble sleeping, but I’ve been trying to get a good night’s sleep and eat well, but I’m still kind of tired all the time.”
I took that as the opportunity to ask is she had a family doctor. She shook her head and said, “Not really, we go to a GP here in town when we need to, but not regularly.” I went on to point out that if she was feeling unwell and tired a couple of weeks after stopping drinking there might be a reason, and suggested she make an appointment with the doctor and have a physical. She admitted she hadn’t had one since she could remember. I encouraged her to do it soon, rather than put it off, and to be open and honest with the doctor about what had happened. He probably knows some of it already, because gossip travels fast, but this was her health we’re talking about now and being candid with her doctor was important. She nodded in agreement, and we chatted for a few more minutes, then I took my leave.
I’d been back in the office for an hour, looked over the Bible readings for Sunday and started to lay out the bulletin when I heard the bike in the driveway, and then the footsteps on the back porch. I got up and met Jackson in the living room, where we embraced and had a deep kiss. He was luscious; still a little sweaty, so he tasted a little salty, and his odor was a little musky, but all boy and a total turn on. I wouldn’t let him go, running my hands up under his T-shirt and stroking his back and then his chest. “Whoa, Rev. You’re hot to trot today, aren’t you?” He was grinning, obviously enjoying the attention and trying to give it back.
“Sure am, and I’ve missed my Lover Boy, and since his brother says it’s Okay if we’re close to each other, and after how I felt this morning, this is the best feeling ever. Well, one of the best feelings ever. It doesn’t replace that feeling last night, if you know what I mean.”
He was grinning too and pulled my head down for a deep kiss while I felt his hand slip down my stomach to my groin. The feeling was so hot, and I could feel myself getting hard.
“Jackson, if you keep that up, we’ll be in trouble.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, “but I can’t come to you tonight, so I’ve got to get what I can now.” He was really grinning with a little bedevilment in his expression.
I gave his groin a squeeze and could feel him getting hard too, and then stepped back. “Okay, we’ve got to control this. I thought you came to collect your money for the paper and the mowing?”
“Yeah, right! That was just an excuse for a hug and a grope!” He was so frank, and the green in his eyes was glimmering in the sun light.
This was going to be on me, I realized. So, I took another step back, followed by a deep breath and then walked into the kitchen dragging him by the hand and picked up my wallet. “Okay, how much do I owe you?”
“That’s easy. Five dollars for the paper and five dollars for the mowing. So, ten bucks.”
I slipped him a ten-dollar bill and a quick kiss. “So, was Gary telling the truth that you’ve outgrown that green T-shirt and those cut offs?”
He grinned again. “Yep, I tried but they’re too damned tight. Especially the shorts. I’m afraid I’d cut off my circulation and then we’d both be unhappy.”
“Yeah, I’d be unhappy with that,” I said, “but I’m also unhappy they’re too small. You have no idea how sexy you looked in those shorts. That’s what knocked me over the moon, you know. When you were coming down the stairs, I could see your white briefs and it was so sexy I almost lost it.”
“Well, I thought maybe you were perving on me, but I never would have believed a pastor would do that,” he said coyly.
“That’s me, is all I can say. Now though, I don’t know—if you can’t fit in those shorts, that may change things between us? They were pretty outrageous when you were filling them, you know.”
“Oh no you don’t,” he said loudly. “You’re not trying to tell me it was about the cut offs and not about me and my loving disposition, are you?”
We were both enjoying this now. “Well, they didn’t cover up much. I’m surprised your parents let you wear them to meet the new pastor. They must have thought it was Okay because you were a small kid and there was nothing sexual about you, and not much so show, right?”
That one got him, and he jumped up at me and threw his arms around my neck.
“In your dreams,” he said, as he planted a passionate kiss on my lips, shoving his tongue as far in his mouth as he could. I loved it and wrapped my arms around his waist to hold him in place. It was delightful, but we both knew we had to keep this under control.
“I love you when you tease me,” he whispered, “I didn’t know you were so good at it.”
“I didn’t either. Three weeks ago, I would have told you I didn’t know the first thing about it, but then I met this sexy young man who turned into my Lover Boy, and now I’m a changed man!”
I set him back down on his feet and kissed his forehead. “I had a good visit with you Mom this afternoon and it sounds like the therapy session got off to a good start, but her health doesn’t seem good at all. I told her she should make a doctor’s appointment for a physical and do it sooner rather than later. Will you follow up with her on that and try to make it happen this week?”
He nodded. “Do you think it’s serious?”
I shrugged. “No idea, but we won’t know until she sees a doctor and gets a diagnosis. Today’s Wednesday. Perhaps if she calls before 5:00 PM she can get in tomorrow or Friday.”
I gave him a quick kiss and a pat on the butt as he headed for the door, and as he went out the door he said he’s talked to Will Summers about being a counselor and Will was going to talk to Tom Wilson and they’d let us know tomorrow. I went back to the office knowing there was time to outline the sermon before supper. Later that evening I completed the first draft of the sermon and the church bulletins for Sunday and felt like I was back on schedule. A final revision by Friday and ready to go.
I had been thinking about my last conversation with Paul, his comments about John Boswell’s research on homosexuality in the early church, and the absence of any significant presence of “homosexuality” in the Bible. That had pulled me back to the poor job I’d done on the seminary paper I told Jackson about, and I decided it was time for me to do some additional research. It only took twenty minutes or so to unearth the notebook from seminary with the paper, and to see the limited references and the negative professor’s comment! I decided doing this was a necessary task for the evening since I was hoping to have another call with Paul before the week ended.
I started by reading my paper trying to understand where my head was when I wrote it. Honestly, I couldn’t figure it out. Of course, now I was in a completely different place. Still, as I read the paper, the only feeling I got was pretty much the same as the professor’s comments: a weak attempt at drawing a conclusion without doing a serious job of understanding the underlying texts! That hurt! What also dawned, after thinking about what Paul had told me regarding Boswell’s early research, was that my paper was an attempt to draw a conclusion about a major doctrine based solely on looking at Biblical texts. That meant the exegesis and interpretation were without context, and that’s an equally weak position to be in. To be academically and historically accurate, I would have had to look at how the interpretations of the passages changed (if they did) over time from when written to present time and how they informed the development of church doctrine. I hadn’t done that. I’d simply shirked the academic responsibility and taken a short cut. I’d viewed the passages and interpreted them from my own point of view today. That is to say, as a man denying his homosexuality and purposefully avoiding any context so as to be able to impose on the passage the preferred interpretation.
I was not feeling good about myself by the time I got to this point, about an hour in. I decided the next important thing would be to go back through the pivotal passages (and now it was striking how few there were—back then it seemed to just matter that there were “some”!) and see how the interpretation I’d derived at the time compared to a present view. So, I spent the time exegeting the passages I’d based the paper on.
Genesis 1:27 - "God created people in His own image. In the image of God, he created them; He created male and female." Okay, homo sapiens comes in male and female. So what? That only would have anything to do with hetero or homo if you had an agenda. Didn’t Paul say somewhere else (Galatians maybe) that there was no difference between male and female?
Genesis 19 (cf. 18:20) - The story of Sodom and Lot's duty of hospitality to his guests. What I’d failed to point out is that Sodom is referenced in many other places in the Bible, but not talking about the sin as homosexuality. Rather, the sin here, as the Prophet Ezekiel said, was pride, gluttony, prosperity, domination, and not helping the poor and needy. The sin was sexual domination, plain and simple.
Deuteronomy 23:17-18 - "There shall be no female cult prostitute of the daughters of Israel nor a male cult prostitute of the sons of Israel." This is about cult prostitution and the only case that can be made here is that it came in two genders!
Leviticus 18:22 (20:13) - "You shall not lie with men as with woman: it is abomination." This one turned out not to be hard either, as just a little time in a Hebrew-English thesaurus made clear the Hebrew term To’ebah has to do with ritual uncleanliness, so it was no worse than eating pork or having sex with your wife during her period.
Romans 1:26-27 - Pagan "women exchange natural use for unnatural and also the [pagan] men, leaving the natural use of women, lust in their desire for each other, males working shame with males, and receiving within themselves the penalty of their error." This one was harder, but sure seemed to be more about pagan fertility cults, and religious same-sex orgies then about hetero vs. homo sexual practice and lifestyle.
I Corinthians 6:9 & Timothy 1:10 – These passages contain Paul's reference to malakoi and arsenokoitai. The difficulty with these terms was the same I’d had in seminary; they were unique terms apparently coined by Paul himself. Likely these were effeminate call boys and their customers.
When I was done, I had to admit to being chagrined. Specifically chagrined that the shoddy academic work I’d done said more amount me than anything else. Somehow in my denial of what I was I’d managed to miss a rather key point that while there were only seven passages upon which the entire doctrine of homosexuality as a depraved sin was built, in the entire Bible the term “homosexual” doesn’t appear, and that means we’ve inserted a modern term into these ancient uses which didn’t have that thing in mind, and then created a whole doctrine around it. I was now, in fact, less chagrined at the low grade and comments my professor had made, than the fact that he pointed out essentially none of this.
My low grade and his comments were about my weak argument that the ordination of women wasn’t a moral matter and that the ordination of homosexuals was. I hadn’t adequately made my case, but he probably was unhappy that I wasn’t more rabidly against homosexuality! I also now realized that I’d failed to include the argument from the other side, consideration of homosexuality in the world at large at that time, and that of David and Jonathan—which was in the Bible! More thinking to do on that one!
Now that I had reread the paper and done the exegesis again from a completely different perspective, I had another dawning and not very comfortable realization. It started by remembering what our Ethics professor had said was a very simple way to answer the question “What is ethics?”
It is, simply put, doing the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons.
I also found myself asking what I had been doing with this paper? Was it any of those? I then recalled a model either from that ethics class, or perhaps a philosophy class that certainly applied to me here. It was the contrast between innocent ignorance and intentional ignorance. Usually the difference is in the preconceived notions and motives. Those who are innocently ignorant just don’t know better, and don’t have a motive. Those who are intentionally ignorant do know better and have a motive and that is a self-serving or self-preserving agenda.
Where I stood on that balance, at the time I wrote this paper, was now clear to me. I was in denial and had chosen to be intentionally ignorant to the point of making an argument that now seemed so facile as to almost be joke.
Instead of really understanding and wrestling with the information, I’d given it a light once over so I wouldn’t have to have my assumptions and beliefs challenged, or by extension my personhood and by further extension my education and career choice! So, because of the church’s position on homosexuality and my choice of pursuing the ministry and because I was gay and in denial, I’d chosen the path of intentional, of willed ignorance. Why? Not consciously known to me at the time, the reason was eminently clear now: the threat to the ministry path to which I believed I’d been called and had been preparing for years. Rather than face the truth about myself, I had caved to preserving the call.
So much for me living up to what had I previously shared with Jackson about “to thine own self be true!” As I sat and reflected on these realizations, I had all the more motivation to speak to Paul in the next day or two, and to try and learn more about the change in the Church’s position over time as well as what he’d said about Jewish teaching in the Mishnah. This had turned out to be a painful but illuminating evening! It didn’t make for a restful night’s sleep.
The next morning, I called Paul and he asked me to call him back in the afternoon as he had clients back to back all morning. I told him I would and before turning to office work called Spencer Sullivan to learn if there had been any new development’s on Bud’s legal front. He told me no but asked if I wanted to attend the hearing with him the next day. I paused, initially rejecting the idea, but then realized Bud was a church member too, and being better informed about him might be best for all. I agreed and Spence said he’s pick me up at the parsonage in the morning.
I spent the rest of the morning on church camp planning, and after lunch called Paul back. We chatted for a few minutes, then he asked what was on my mind. I wasn’t sure where to start but said I’d been wrestling with two sides of coming to grips with being gay: that here I was attracted to a teenager and how I had not just gone through life and seminary in denial but had bought the Church’s theological model hook, line and sinker.
“Paul, how could I not have known? I mean it’s not just that I’m suddenly gay and suddenly have this attraction to Jackson, but it’s like I woke up for the first time or something. How did that happen? Is something wrong with me? I feel like I’ve been asleep at the wheel all my life.”
Paul paused, but gave the impression he had been expecting my question. “My observation from knowing you for a year at Seminary, even though we weren’t close friends, and then our recent conversations, is that along the way in your younger life some sexual event happened to you that you felt the need to compensate for. I know you told me you lived overseas and moved often and didn’t have a close relationship with your father, but did something happen to you that could have been a trigger?”
I thought for a few seconds and could see in my mind the event I’d never spoken about. I guess it was time. “Paul, yes, I think there was something like that. When we lived in Egypt, we had servants, a driver, a cook, a wash lady and a houseboy. Well, the houseboy was older, in his twenties, I guess, and we got along really well. I mean I liked him a lot because I was lonely and didn’t have many friends and we were in a foreign city and I didn’t speak the language and after school it was often just me and him home alone. Dad was away at work or out of the country, Mom was usually at the club or playing bridge, and my brother was being the sports guy. Any way with the houseboy, something happened a couple of times that got really personal my freshman year. I don’t remember if we were playing or I’d asked him to help me with something, or what, but he began stroking me and then feeling me up and I was getting hard. And I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. Then my mother came home and that ended it. But it happened again, and the next time I was really spooked but I was also excited and aroused and I didn’t say no and he kept rubbing me and I climaxed in my pants. I was surprised and he laughed. I don’t think he was trying to hurt me; I think it caught him by surprise too, but I was shocked. Then he put my hand on his groin, through his clothes, and started guiding my hand to rub him. I didn’t stop him and he climaxed too and he laughed again, and I was mortified and embarrassed and ran out of the room and then later that evening when I saw him I couldn’t believe he had humiliated me like that and I told him I never wanted to talk to him again.”
I was silent after that, and Paul gave me space. Finally, he said, “David, it’s interesting that you found it humiliating. For many boys something like that would have been positive or maybe just a new discovery, but it seems like because he was an adult and because he was your servant and because it wasn’t by choice but almost because you were coerced into participating, that it seared in your memory. Were you active in church at the time?”
“Well, I was part of youth fellowship, I mean that was a weekly meeting and I was active I guess.”
“Okay,” he replied, “so that means you were already involved in ministry, in the broadest sense of the term. So, you’ve experienced this conflict between what you’re doing in your life, the ministry, and what just happened to you sexually which wasn’t your idea and yet which aroused you sexually. Did you tell anyone? Did you discuss it with your parents or tell your pastor?”
“No, I was mortified. I wasn’t close to my parents; I couldn’t talk to them and my Dad was out of the country half the time. I didn’t know what they’d do to me if they knew, but I knew it would be the end for the houseboy. So, I didn’t say anything, I just made him stay away from me.”
“Okay, so this sexual event happens to you, but you choose not to tell anyone and you know that the church teaching is anti-homosexual so you internalize it, you’re active in youth fellowship so you’ve got an moral conflict because it was sexual and felt good. And you’ve shut down or severely limited one of the few friendships in your life at the time. Am I right so far?”
I said quietly, “Yes. Go on.”
“Now remember,” he says, “you internalized it instead of talking about it, so you didn’t resolve the conflict. Did you stay active in youth fellowship through high school?”
“Yes, in fact I was President my senior year after we’d returned to the States and organized the weekly meetings and our annual festival and worked with the pastor regularly….” And it started to dawn on me what I was saying and what might have happened.
“So, as time goes by,” Paul continues, “you get more involved in church work, but you’ve got this experience you’re mortified about that you internalized, that you hid inside yourself. It almost doesn’t matter that it was homosexual, just that it was sexual, and you internalized it. Then as you get older, you’re more involved in a type of work that not only frowns on expressing sexuality, but actually condemns it outside of heterosexual marriage. Now remember that most boys fool around with other boys when they’re young, but your one experience was negative and searing. Then all this continues through college because I know you were active in youth work there. So, what I think happened is what’s termed sublimation in psychoanalysis. That’s when an instinctual impulse gets diverted or modified into a culturally or institutionally or socially more acceptable activity. We often see it as the libido getting sublimated into productive work activities. Does that sound like the case?”
Maybe what he was saying was right. I know I wasn’t chasing girls in high school or college; sex wasn’t on my mind all the time. Maybe it was because I’d redirected or channeled the energy into other work. I ran youth fellowship, was very active in college too. Graduated with honors. Maybe that was why when I look back it seems like I was just emotionally numb for so many years. Hesitatingly I said, “You may be right.”
“The sad thing,” he continued, “is that had you not been a member of a religion with strong anti-sexual moral teachings, it probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But you were, and when we’re kids most of us aren’t mature enough to handle philosophical questions like this and we sure don’t want to agree that we’re morally reprehensible, and most of us also don’t want to break with our family or community or church, so it’s not uncommon that it gets internalized, and then manifest itself in other ways.”
I was still struggling with how this connected to the here and now. “But what does that have to do with me and this teen age boy?”
“Nothing, per se,” he said, “except that you finally met the person who did it for you and that person happened to be a teen age boy. It could just as easily have been a man our age, but it wasn’t. And at least this time you accepted the truth and didn’t deny it, didn’t repress it, didn’t sublimate it, but are doing the healthy thing. You’re working through all the implications of it, assessing how you got here and why, as well as where you go from here and how. Those are all healthy signs. And look, David, and I have to be careful how I say this, don’t get hung up about him being a teen age boy. I mean you have to be cognizant that under eighteen is illegal in most States, but in many other countries the age of consent is lower, sometimes much lower. So, think of the age piece as somewhat arbitrary. Arbitrary but illegal where you live, Okay. But what’s more important than the arbitrary age is that you are resolving this internalized dilemma you’ve been living with much of your life. That’s healthy, and if you are lucky it will also turn out to be emotionally fulfilling. You’re also lucky that the teen age boy in the picture, from what you tell me, is emotionally mature for his age so it’s unlikely you’re manipulating or taking advantage of him.”
I didn’t say anything. Paul waited a minute then said, “David, are you still there? I know this is heavy stuff.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I’m just thinking. It’s a lot to take in. And it’s not just what you said that’s so obvious now leading up to where I am at this minute, there’s still other stuff I’ve got to get at, right? This all didn’t happen in a vacuum.”
“You are right on there, but I would encourage you not to press it too hard. You’ve covered a lot of psychological ground in three weeks. That includes a few major breakthroughs, and that’s a lot. Don’t rush it. Your heart and mind are working on this, so you’re no longer shut down or what did you call it? Oh, asleep at the wheel. The other things will surface when it’s time—when you’ve internally worked through more stuff they’ll surface. Then you’ll be better able to deal with them anyway.”
All I could say was, “Okay, that makes sense. I guess I’ve got enough to deal with already without loading on more. Can I ask you about the theological question I mentioned?”
He said yes and I told him what I’d told Jackson about my sub-par paper and how I’d gone back last night and re-read it, then re-exegeted the passages and done some more reading, and was chagrined by my intentional ignorance as evidenced by what I’d written, but that clearly I’d bought into the Church’s theological model and just gone along with it.
He was thoughtful, then said, “Remember that we both went to an evangelical seminary; however, I was in the school of psychology and you were in theology. I had more leeway in psych than you did, but I always had the impression that you were pretty much gung ho. I don’t mean mentally sold out, like you’d become a fundamentalist and quit thinking, but that your worldview, your framework was shaped by this model, this thing that you thought you needed in order to be complete or to be happy. That’s what you’re referring to now as intentionally ignorant. In other words, you were in denial about some core underlying problems and while the call to the ministry was entirely valid, it also was shaped significantly by these unfulfilled needs you had. So, while you were bright and intelligent, when the subject got into areas that came into conflict with those unfulfilled needs, you did what many people do, you adjusted to resolve the conflict.”
He paused to let me digest what he’d said. “So, you mean,” I asked, “that I mentally checked out (or maybe that’s checked in!) in certain areas to avoid conflict?”
“Yes. You’re bright and well-spoken and can handle conflict generally and make good arguments, but when it comes to homosexuality it seems like you simply accepted the Church’s position without any significant consideration. And believe me, that’s what the majority do. And you know what, they don’t have to be gay or in denial to do so. It’s easier to go along to get along, so that’s what they do. And the church fosters that approach by pushing conformity to right doctrine and all that stuff.”
“You need to understand something else,” he continued. “You grew up surrounded with and buying into the church’s dominant view of homosexuality, that it is deviant and sinful. That hasn’t always been the case. Remember, Judaism and early Christianity existed in cultures where the homo-hetero distinction didn’t exist. Look David, you attended Yale, and last time we spoke I mentioned John Boswell who joined the history department there recently. His first work was a masterful treatment of the Mudejar Muslims in Spain, but he has been doing research on the view and treatment of homosexuality in early Christianity.”
“He has a very open approach, and a novel one too: he lectures publicly on the subjects he is working on as he does his research. I head one of his lectures earlier this year, explaining views on homosexuality in Christianity in the first millennium, and the telling point is that there was a dramatic transformation of church and public views of homosexuality in the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries. He illustrated the point with many examples, the most dramatic being a quote from Peter Abelard, the French philosopher and theologian who died in 1149, about the relationship between David and Jonathan. Abelard wrote six poetic laments, and as Boswell pointed out, one is about David and Jonathan. I bought a book with them afterward and have it here.
More than a brother to me, Jonathan,
One in soul with me…
How could I have taken such evil advice
And not stood by your side in battle?
How gladly would I die
And be buried with you!
Since love may do nothing greater than this,
And since to live after you
Is to die forever:
Half a soul
Is not enough for life.
“This is a monk and priest and theologian writing, and one who was hetero and got in trouble for having an affair! So, the point, David, is that the view and practice of the Christian church has changed over time. Just like marriage was originally not a sacrament, and early priests were married, and priestly celibacy was a late doctrine, so there was substantial tolerance of homosexuality for the first millennium. Even in the first centuries, the early Church Fathers were inconsistent on it and those being critical seemed more to project their personal bias. And so, it turns out we have one example that is still in the Bible, though it is now interpreted in completely different ways.”
I was at a loss for words for, but did manage to reply, “Well, I’ll accept what you’re saying because you’re certainly describing me. I’ve got a lot of re-education to do. Where do I start? I mean I’m in this rural town now with a small college, no university library, what do you suggest?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, and first, it sounds like you’re not familiar with Plato’s short book The Symposium, am I right?” I said ‘no,’ and he said I should read it. He went on, “Second, I’m going to send you some material and suggest some other resources you can get connected to. One is joining Evangelicals Connected that started a couple of years ago and is an organization working to help Christians integrate their faith and sexual orientation. I’ll send you that info and some other reading material in the mail. How’s that for a start? Now, tell me about things with Jackson and your relationship and the family situation.”
“Well,” I started, “the family situation is easy. The mother has started in-home therapy and AA, and the father’s abuse hearing is tomorrow, and I’ll be attending with an attorney in the church. Jackson’s and his older brother have started a lawn mowing business that will earn them some money and is bringing them together. Our relationship is deepening, and I’ve never felt closer or more naturally in tune with someone in my life.”
“That all sounds quite positive,” he replied. Then he went on, “now your last statement about feeling naturally in tune, I assume that somehow also includes physical and emotional attraction?”
I knew I couldn’t dodge this bullet, and I didn’t want to. Paul was my friend and was, for all practical purposes, my therapist. “Yes, it does. I can’t believe the attraction. He’s the most beautiful person, and he’s mature for his age and he’s got an interesting sense of humor, and he’s just fun to be with. We spend time together and can talk and it’s just, I don’t know, comfortable. I’m what do they say, head over heels in love with him. I’m sorry, I just am. I know it must sound deviant.”
“It’s not deviant. Remove the few months till he’s eighteen from the picture, then the legal question is gone ask yourself if it’s deviant then? It’s a wonderful thing to find the person who fulfills you, who makes you happier than anyone else ever has. Remember what David said about “being one in soul.” And if you are physically and emotionally attracted to that person as well, then all the better. I’m not your sex therapist, so you have to make your own call there, but it’s clear to me you’re deeply and I assume passionately in love, and I’m glad for you. I’m also happy because at the same time you’re working through all these psychological issues as well.”
“Thanks, Paul, it’s so affirming to hear you say that.”
“Then let me tell you that I didn’t meet my partner till I was out of seminary and already in a clinical practice here in Boston, even though it’s a practice associated with a church. He’s older than your Jackson and we didn’t have to worry about the legal age thing, but I’ve been through some of what you’re going through, and I hope everything you are feeling comes to pass and that he turns out to be the person for you for life.”
That affirmation pretty well finished up our call, and we rang off shortly thereafter. I was both thrilled and stunned. I knew I had work to do on myself, but I’d started. More importantly, I was being told to let go of the little pot of guilt in the back of my head that kept accusing me. I decided I wasn’t just going to let go, I was going to smash it and be done with it. I also knew I had to go listen to a piece of Renaissance music and seriously consider the lyrics.
It didn’t take long to find the album, a recording of Josquin de Prez’ polyphonic composition Planxit Autem David. It is a glorious Renaissance compositions, with a gorgeous interplay of the voices, soaring to heights of joy and descending to depths of despair because it is a lament, the lament of David upon the death of his closest friend and soul mate, and some would call lover, Jonathan. II Samuel describes the relationship as “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”
The opening line of the lament sets the stage:
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son.
But the telltale phrase is the last:
I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, beautiful beyond measure, and loveable above the love of women. As a mother loves her only son, so I have loved you. How are the mighty fallen and weapons of war perished.