The rain was back on Monday, Lilly had in-home therapy in the afternoon, and I planned an office day, as well as reflecting on the Campbell lecture. I had one more chapter to read before tomorrow. I saw Jackson after school, and he told me that when he got home, he was going to call Ellen and tell her about listening to the opera album. I smiled broadly. Tuesday afternoon both he and Gary came by.
We were all sitting in the kitchen, and I asked Gary how he was holding up under the new regimen. He rolled his eyes. “It’s a lot of work. I’m realizing that I never really learned how to study in high school, so it’s probably twice as hard as it should be. But I’m going to do it because I have to. I have something to prove to myself and to you.”
I smiled at him. “You’re proving yourself to me just by doing it. Don’t make a bigger challenge out of it than it needs to be. I’ve said all along you deserve it, that means you have to do the work that comes along with it, and you are. I’m betting by next quarter you’ll be over the hump on the studying part of it, and it will suddenly feel a lot easier. It’s probably even harder for you because you’re juggling a romance at the same time, right?”
I grinned at him. He smiled back and looked happy. “I’m not giving you a bad time, you know. I like Lois a lot, and I think the two of you are a great couple. You both really seem to care for each other.”
“She’s very cool. Probably better than I deserve, but I think I love her. Jackson was telling me a while back about finding your other half and stuff, and that’s the way I feel. When we’re together it’s like we’re on the same wavelength.”
“Very cool. I think Jackson likes her too, right?” I looked at him and he smiled. “She’s great. I didn’t know her well before the Harvest Fair, but man she just stepped right in and was so easy to work with and so easy to get along with, and so much help. And then she and Gary hit it off and we’ve all gotten closer. I can see her becoming my sister-in-law!”
He was making eyes at Gary as he said that, and Gary was blushing. “Well,” he went on, “where do you think it’s going? You’re not just going to stay dating forever, are you? Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about next year or the rest of your life. You’re happy too for the first time in a long time, just like me. Come on, fess up. You can tell me and the Rev.”
Gary was quiet, then stammered a bit, “I, I…I don’t know. I mean I’ve thought about it, but Lois and I haven’t talked about it. I mean it hasn’t even been six weeks you know! Come on you guys, lighten up!”
“Gary,” Jackson said, “I’m not talking about what you and Lois have discussed. I’m talking about what’s in your heart. I mean, like you know what’s in mine: it’s me and David together for the rest of our life. Is that the way you feel about Lois? We’re not going to say anything to anyone.”
He paused, then nodded. “Yeah, that’s the way I’m more and more feeling. I don’t know if I dare say anything, or when I can or whatever. I’ve never been serious with a girl before.”
Before Jackson jumped back in and put more pressure on him, I asked, “Can I make a comment?” He nodded.
“Okay, first, this is coming from a guy who’s never had a steady girlfriend, so it may not be worth much. What I’d encourage though is just this, let it develop naturally. You don’t have to feel anxious or pressured. I can already see you and Lois growing closer together. If that’s the way it keeps going, and it seems like it will to me, then you’ll know when it’s the right time to bring it up because she will too, and you’ll like be giving each other hints.”
“Don’t be anxious or feel pressured? Okay, I think I can do that. At least I’ll try.”
“Know something else? Lois knew you in high school, and you have to believe she’s as impressed as we are that you’re going to community college, are on a program track, and working hard. You can count on that. By the way, can I tell you something personal? I mean from my heart, but I don’t want to freak you out.”
He looked caught off guard but nodded. “I don’t want to make a big thing out of it, Gary, but I want to sincerely thank you for what you did on Jackson’s birthday, not just letting him, but encouraging him to stay overnight with me. I can’t tell you what that meant to us, but I also want you to know how much it makes me respect you. You’ve don’t just have a good heart, but a big heart. You’re compassionate and caring. Thank you.”
He was quiet again. “It just seemed the right thing to do, I mean it was his birthday, and he was going to be legal and you two are in love, so yeah.” None of us said anything for a while. Gary finally continued, “I told him I don’t care if you guys are gay, and I don’t in the way that it’s not a problem for me. Lois told me about her cousin in Portland and what he went through, and that was bad. I guess that means I’ve changed in the last few months, maybe grown up, but I watched you guys get together and this thing between you grow and blossom, like a flower, and that’s what I want with Lois. Does that make sense? Does it sound dumb?”
“Dumb? Are you shitting me? There’s nothing dumb about it. First, I’m honored that you saw what you did between Jackson and me and understood it that way and can talk about it that way. You and I have never talked about homosexuality, and I’m not going to pressure you, but I’m here if and when you want to talk, Okay?”
He nodded but was quiet.
“I’ve never loved anyone or been loved by anyone like this, so if that’s what you’re saying that you want to experience in your relationship with Lois, then that is a magnificent outcome to wish for. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate.”
“Me too. Lois is just the best.” I could see him getting emotional and a little embarrassed.
“It’s Okay, Gary. Being able to get emotional is part of it. Just ask Jackson.”
“Right, like I get emotional all the time! I think the important thing, Gary, is that what we’re talking about isn’t homo or hetero, it’s just love. Finding the person you love, having that person love you back, and being happy in it. I’m so stoked that it’s Lois and that it’s happening to you too.”
I finished the second Campbell lecture after supper and was ready for tomorrow’s study group. We met at Prof. Higgin’s home at 5:00 PM, and after some socializing, settled into the study group at 5:30, then about 6:30 his wife invited us all in for a light supper, after which we returned to the study group for another hour. It made for a wonderful evening and also meant I would be home in Newberg at a reasonable time.
The members of the group were interesting. The faculty members were in Psychology and Sociology, the senior students were impressively well read and well spoken, and the clergy turned out to be an Episcopalian priest and a United Church of Christ minister. Prof. Higgins did a nice job of introducing me, just enough info that everyone felt comfortable, but not enough to divulge anything controversial. He said, “I met David after he attended one of my talks on Mythology and Star Wars, and then we talked, and I invited him to a Comparative Religion lecture last month where we were discussing Identity and Mythology and Tribalism. So, he may be a Presbyterian and a recent seminary graduate, but he has an open and inquisitive mind and is serious about the same subject area we are. David, welcome!”
We chatted briefly about educational backgrounds and common areas of interest around mythology, and then Prof. Higgins got us started for the evening. “I know David has purchased the Campbell book and read the first two lectures, so he’s caught up from a reading point of view. I suggest we start, for his benefit, with each of us kind of summarizing what was most striking to us in the first lecture.”
“Since I’m suggesting it, I’m willing to go first. To me, it was his hope and concern for humankind, which he expressed following the discussion of the tension between science and old mythologies. Specifically, the hope that instead of living according to literal interpretation of mythologies based on ancient understanding, humanity recognizes that is on the brink of an awakening to the poetic and eternal truth contained in the mythologies of humanity taken as a whole, and that we can move on to re-make these ancient myths for our age.”
The students both made pointed observations about some of the specifics in the lecture, about mythologies being culture-specific and geography-specific and how this related to comparative religion studies. The Sociology professor made a comment about the same thing Higgins did, but his Psychology counterpart pointed out that Campbell was quite specific in how he said it: he described “Complimentary mythologies as needing to come together, casting a very large commonality over them all, and then contrasted that with the alternative of “conflicting, divisive literal histories of tiny, ancient groups.”
The UCC minister said, “Of the three clergy here, I’m sure I have the reputation of being the most liberal, but for me the thing I’ve wrestled with the most is the necessary consequence of all of the discussion points in the lecture, which led to him saying…” and here he cracked open his copy and read, ‘that there is no one Chosen People of God in this multiracial world, no Found Truth to which we all must bow, no One and Only True Church.’”
The Episcopalian priest was looking at him nodding his head. “Exactly the same for me too. It was kind of a shaking to the roots.”
Prof. Higgins looked my way. “Do you want to comment after reading the lecture?”
I nodded, “My area of concern is the same, not just that it deconstructs all the absolutes, but also takes away the whole notion of objective and factual basis within the belief systems. But for me, by extension, the biggest and scariest challenge, is where does one stop. To create a new mythology pretty much requires deconstructing the existing one. Where do you stop? Do you deconstruct it down to nothing and then hope you can build something back up from there? Or is there some minimal level of belief that you have to keep, or that is Okay to keep, that is used as the foundation?”
Prof. Higgins was smiling. “We’re all wrestling with the same existential question from that lecture, and I think that’s wonderful. The dilemma for us, and by that, I mean all humankind, and notice I said dilemma, not problem, is that we have no record of it having ever been done before. We are at the end of a 5,000-year mythological period that began in the Bronze Age. We don’t have records of how the myths changed before, and we surely have no road map on how to do it going forward. But now to the next lecture. David, we agreed at the outset that we’d rotate who leads each session. I got us started last month.” This time it was the Psych faculty member’s turn, and he basically outlined the contrast Campbell made between how mythologies are understood in the East and the West. Specifically, that in Eastern or Oriental thought, the mythologies are understood to be informant of the inner workings of the individual. In stark contrast to that is the Occidental understanding in the West and the Levant, or the Middle East, where mythologies are regarded as record of literal, external history.
The discussion started with the Sociology faculty member commenting on how these differences are both reflective and informative of the sociological differences between the East and West. Namely, that in the East, the highest priority is the society, and the individual's submission to his role within that society; in the West, priority is given to the individual, his uniqueness and his freedom from obligation to any ideology or social status but what he may choose.
The two students both commented about the early points regarding the things that separate humans from other apes, on the one hand the wonderful human brain in which there developed individual consciousness. They also commented on the uniquely human attribute of recognizing mortality and that he made the case that the requirement to transcend mortality “is the first great impulse to mythology.”
The clergy had been quiet, and I felt obligated to jump in. “I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there’s quite a contrast in tone between the first and second lecture, with the first being quite inclusive and high level and in the second a lot more specificity surfacing, including the statement, “The entire history on which our leading Occidental religions have been founded is an anthology of fictions.”
“For those of us weaned on the Christian worldview, whether liberal or conservative, those are challenging words, but what I found most engaging was what Campbell discussed after the section on recognition of mortality and the development of mythology to transcend it. It’s where he discusses the social group, which I read as ‘the tribe,’ and he said that along with individual realization ‘runs another realization, namely, that the social group into which the individual has been borne, which nourished and protects him and which, for the greater part of his life, he must himself help to nourish and protect, was flourishing long before his own birth and will remain when he is gone.’ It struck me to be a mythological description of the tribe and the role of tribalism which Prof. Higgins discussed last week about the development of individual identity.”
I looked at Higgins and he was smiling. “Go on,” he said. “Well, if my assumption is correct that we can correlate Campbell’s ‘social group’ with ‘tribe’ then it ties together at the level of the individual how much of personal identity is bestowed from the tribe while at the same time how much allegiance and deep existential connection necessarily exists between the individual and his or her tribe.”
“You summed it up quite well, David,” he said. “Personally, I think Campbell would say social group is higher level than the tribe, but in many parts of the world and at different times they have been the same thing. If we set aside the sociological distinctions, I think the net effect is the same. Campbell strongly makes the point you just described, that individual consciousness doesn’t stand alone, it is necessarily connected to the community into which the person has been born.” He opened the book and said, “He describes it as ‘this being an order of life super-ordinated to his own, a super-organism into which he must allow himself to be absorbed, and through participation in which he will come to know the life that transcends death. In every one of the mythological systems…these two fundamental realizations have been combined.”
There followed quite a bit of discussion of the nuances, the extent of the connection and impact on different individuals in different tribes at different times and places, but the net effect was still the same. Individuality includes recognition of individual death, and what endures is the social order or tribe, and the connection to the tribe begins at birth with how it shapes and informs us, and ends because ultimately our legacy is in the tribe to which we belong…and transcending death is directly tied to the tribe! That makes for a very powerful force.
I let Higgins interact with the others who hadn’t heard his most recent lecture and noticed the two clergy members being pretty quiet. They were sitting side by side, and finally I turned to them and said, “I know the points Campbell is making have to be making you defensive and feeling very challenged. I want you to understand that this isn’t some sacred/secular dichotomy. You know, the comparative religion guys and the psychologists and sociologists on one side, and the clergy on the other. This is reality, and what I’ve been learning the hard way over the last couple of months is that it only becomes real in a person’s life if or when there is a challenge to what they accept as normative. That’s what I’m going through right now, I’ll just tell you, and that means I have to reach out to understand what’s happening to me, and more importantly to have something to hold on to. To have some kind of mooring. That’s why being asked to Prof. Higgins lecture and to join this study group is so important to me.”
They both thanked me for sharing that, but I could tell that their defenses were up, and while trying to be cordial, it would be interesting to see where things went in the coming months as the study group continued.
Prof. Higgins said, “Well, friends, by way of wrapping up, the third lecture in the series is on the same subject matter as the second, but I think that Campbell is posing a very important existential question for humankind that we can’t shy away from. Now that we have reached this point in the history of humanity with globalization in its many and diverse forms, have we reached a cusp, for good or bad, where we simply settle for the old mythologies or take up the challenge of making new ones for the centuries and millennia ahead of us. We can discuss that next time. Food for thought, though!”
Jackson came by the house on Thursday night after band practice. I wasn’t sure what to expect after his comments following the first practice he’d gone to when he figured out Will was setting him up to start singing. He was positive, though! Will apologized again for not being straight up with him, but said he was worried that since Jackson had been out of the music class and choir scene for a year that he’d just say no.
“Well, was he reading the tea leaves correctly?”
“Yeah, he was. If he’d asked the Invisible Kid that, the answer would have been a hard no.”
“I’m honored, if you really want to know. You and Susan have convinced me I’ve got some talent and I shouldn’t be embarrassed about it, and I’ve got to get over all that shit. The insecurities and all. Like Gary does about his schoolwork and relationship with Lois and stuff.”
He paused and was reflective for a little bit. “It takes a long time or a lot of work to get past this kind of shit, doesn’t it?”
“Well, Yeah,” I said. “Just look at me. We’ve all got baggage we’ve got to get rid of and stuff we’ve got to get over. Maybe that’s the most important thing that happened last summer. We both realized that.”
I immediately took two steps back and got out of the way.
He looked up and his eyes were glinting. “What did you say? That figuring out we’ve got to get rid of some shitty family baggage, was the most important thing that happened last summer? Is that what you said? What is wrong with you?”
He was marching toward me in mock anger, arms waving! I’d backed up the wrong way and was now up against a wall with no way to go. He had me trapped and leaned forward with a hand on the wall on either side of my shoulders and said, “Now, my Sexy Man, you didn’t really mean what you just said did you? You wouldn’t want me to have to resort to certain methods of truth seeking, such as were developed by Dr. Frankenstein, to set you straight would you?”
“Oh no, Master Jackson, I would hate to have to experience that. Please be kind to me. Please help me!”
“Well, my Sexy Man, it’s really quite easy. You just have to say the right things. Do you understand?”
I nodded my head, trying not to break into a huge grin.
“So, my Sexy Man, you must repeat after me. Do you understand? Repeat after me.”
I nodded again.
“The most important thing that happened to me this past summer was falling in love with Jackson.”
I repeated it.
“Very good start, my Sexy Man. Now repeat after me again. “The best thing that has happened in my life is falling in love with Jackson.”
I repeated that too.
“Excellent, my Sexy Man. You see, you can do this. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, you aren’t practicing independent thinking. You are following the suggested norms. Now repeat after me. Jackson is the greatest.
I paused. We were staring at each other.
“Repeat after me!”
“Jackson would be pretty great if it weren’t for his hang-ups,” I said very slowly and deliberately.
He paused, eyes glinting again, then cracked up.
“I’m amazed you played along as long as you did.”
“That’s easy. It’s because I love you, and you are the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
We kissed and hugged after that, and I asked if he had time to listen to The Messiah album. He shook his head. “Too late, and I’ve still got some reading to do tonight. Can we make that a date for when you get back from that Presbytery thing?
“Absolutely. I’ll be back Saturday afternoon, so either Saturday evening or Sunday sometime is fine with me.” Then Jackson had to head home. School night!
I drove to Portland on the Friday, as the Presbytery meeting started at 10:00 am and went all day with a lunch break, and then went half-day on Saturday. It was being held at a hotel with conference space, so an overnight stay would be pretty convenient for me with only a short drive to downtown. I arrived early enough to register and meet a number of fellow ministers before the opening session. Among them was Roger Talbot, the Minister Advocate who reminded me of our breakfast meeting the next morning before the Presbytery meeting resumed.
After lunch I registered and put my bag in my room, then joined the meeting, anticipating the agenda item at 3:00 PM which was on the denomination’s position on homosexuality. I had told myself that in as much as this was my first Presbytery and I was likely the newest minister in attendance, that I would keep quiet and make this an observation session. There was an hour blocked on the agenda for the subject, and the first half hour was a presentation by someone from the national denomination on the formal position, the underlying doctrine, and then the second half hour was designated as open forum.
I was chagrined that most of background presentation was a rehashing of the few Biblical verses that strongly hewed to the traditional interpretation and was in fact a study in poor exegesis by reading into the interpretation present day social views. If I hadn’t gone back and done my own exegesis on the same passages recently, I might have gone along with it, but as it was, I was underwhelmed by the presentation. The presenter then went on to explain how the denomination came to its position, and did as light a treatment of “depraved sin” as one could possibly do, before moving right to the common view that it was unnatural, against God’s will for mankind, and morally reprehensible, etc., etc. Yet we were supposed to “welcome” homosexuals! There was a cursory discussion of the opposition to the final position, but my takeaway was that the denomination willingly and knowingly subscribed to the typical Protestant position—which, no matter how you parsed it or tried to soft sell it, came down to depraved sin.
The open forum session was mainly individual restatements of the same position as minister after minister took the microphone to state their views. By my calculation, less than twenty percent of the clergy voiced a compassionate or oppositional view or questioned the denomination’s position. Some had the temerity to hold up Anita Bryant and her political movement as examples! I found myself alternating between anger and nausea.
When the final session was over, I ran into Roger Talbot, as I headed out the door, and he invited me to join him and a few other ministers for a glass of wine in the hotel bar before the evening’s dinner began. This was the first time I met the other five ministers who were a range of ages and from across the state. The conversation started with the usual chat about me being the new minister, and I introduced myself, talked about my education and interests, and the pleasure of being in Newberg as a first church. I immediately got a somewhat challenging line of questions from two older ministers about why after a college degree from Yale I had chosen to attend an independent evangelical seminary rather than a Presbyterian seminary. By then I wanted to say, “because I damn well chose to,” but let it go and just said I was impressed with the scholarship and particularly some of the New Testament professors. That was a hard one to argue against, but there was still a comment or two about being a non-conformist!
The conversation then turned to the denominational position on homosexuality and the presentation and open forum from the afternoon. A couple of the younger ministers were noticeably silent, while the older ones waxed eloquent on “liberal social trends corrupting the church and the faithful” and the like. That got the younger ones involved, defending the position that new was not necessarily wrong, and that the Gospel call was to reach out to all God’s children and not be exclusionary. One went so far to cite the Beatitudes as a model for behavior! That prompted a reply from the oldest minister in the group that it was the slippery slope problem, stop condemning the sin of homosexuality and the next thing would be a cry to ordain them. That kind of took the air out of the room, and then the old minister doubled down, saying, “We’re already doing too much political correctness and making socially acceptable concessions.” He looked around at the group trying to get buy in, and then said, “We ought to just call them what they are: cocksuckers!” He grinned broadly, the older ministers acted a little put off at his coarseness but smiled, while the younger ones seemed scandalized but noticeably said nothing either. Talbot intervened and said to the group, “That’s a bit much and not the way to handle the subject. Homosexuals, whether you like it or not, are people and need to be treated as such. The most important thing is that we understand the national denomination’s position and uphold it.”
I felt sick to my stomach and a couple of minutes later excused myself to unpack. I couldn’t believe the level of vindictiveness and intolerance in the ranks of the ministry. Then I remembered what Fred, the seminary student I met at the Star Wars lecture had said about the response of Portland ministers to the mayor declaring Gay Pride day—a letter to the editor of the city newspaper calling for homosexuals to repent! I wasn’t at all excited about the dinner ahead but was fortunate to bump into one of the young ministers in the group from the bar, and we sat together. Eventually he asked what I thought about the discussion at the bar. I said I couldn’t believe the bigotry and vindictiveness coming out of the mouth of what was obviously a senior minister. He agreed and just shook his head saying, “Old school!” I said that in my short time in the Newberg church the subject hadn’t come up at Session, and I asked what his church and member views were. His church was in a Portland suburb, and had a lot of professionals that were educated and tended to be progressives, and they were much more tolerant and accepting than the churches made up mainly of older members.
“Personally, I think we need to be tolerant and accepting, and just like the attempts to prevent the ordination of women, which will change in the long run, there will be change on this subject too, because there will have to be.” I told him that was a ray of hope, but I couldn’t speculate what would happen if it came up in the Newberg church, since it was a rural town with plenty of older members. About then the after-dinner speaker came on and the conversation ended. I’d had enough by the end of the dinner and begged off and went to my room.
It was Friday night, so I decided to call the Harris home and Lilly answered the phone. Her chemo treatments had recently ended, and when I asked her how she was feeling and how her day went, she tried to sound cheery but said she was still tired most of the time. I encouraged her to be patient and hopeful and let the therapy have time to work. When I asked about the boys she lit up, talking about how serious they were about school, the time they spent on homework, and the fact that Gary was regularly dating Lois. All of these were firsts and Lilly was pleased and still a little amazed. “My how things have changed, Pastor, and all for the good.”
“Well, as we’ve discussed before, they’re in a new space with Bud out of the picture and you providing an entirely new dynamic at home. It’s great to see the impact.” I don’t know if she would have offered to have me speak to Jackson, but he’d figured out who she was talking to and at some point, told her he wanted to talk to me. I heard it and after another minute or two of chat about the Presbytery meeting and being in Portland, she said, “Here, let me put Jackson on. He’s insistent about talking to you. Thanks for the call, here’s Jackson.”
I heard him come on, starting formally so Lilly would hear, “Hi Pastor Dave. How’s the Presbytery meeting? Are you having a good time in Portland?”
“I’ll have to tell you the real story when I get home. You won’t believe it. I told you about the main agenda item, and the bias and bigotry are pretty sickening. There was a major defense of the denominational position, and some other crass stuff. I’m not going to dump it on you while we’re on the phone, but I’ll fill you in when I get back. The hotel is Okay, the wine in the bar is good, and the food is fine if you like rubber chicken.”
“What? What’s rubber chicken?”
I laughed. “It’s that overcooked stuff that’s been sitting in a warming pan for a couple of hours before they serve it, the stuff you get at conferences. They have to serve it with a lot of gravy so you can swallow it!”
“Yep, not as good as steaks on the grill at home, that’s for sure! Is your Mom still there, can she hear you?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“Okay, then tell me something about school or your homework. Have you finished Frankenstein? When is the test?”
“Yeah, we finished it this week and the test is on Monday! We’ve been reading three chapters a week, I liked it more and more. I thought Shelley did a good job with the ending too. You know, the chase in the Arctic is a bit of a stretch for us today but the monster developing a conscience and running away makes a point.”
“And that is?”
“Kind of like watch out what you wish for combined with be careful what you do. I mean Frankenstein was positively motivated when he started his experiments and didn’t anticipate where it would end up. He was probably the most surprised when the monster started talking to him and saying pretty heavy stuff. Like that great line in the last half where he says, “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.” That’s pretty heavy and pretty astute, don’t you think?”
“Yes, to both. What do you think the test will focus on? Did you figure out the Prometheus part, you know, the subtitle?”
“Now that I’m getting to know the teacher, I’m expecting she’ll have a lot on novel forms or style, wanting us to be able to talk about Gothic elements and Romantic elements, and also why it’s considered the first real sci-fi novel. Do you know why?”
“Not a clue because you haven’t told me.”
“Because instead of all fantasy stuff, it’s the first novel that had modern experiments and lab work to create something. You know combining real science with fiction to get a sci-fi novel. And the Prometheus thing is the Greek mythological figure who brought fire to humankind, and was punished by the Gods, the point being about overreaching and unintended consequences. Oh, and the fallen angel bit is a reference to Lucifer in Paradise Lost.”
“Wow, sounds like you’re not just ready for the test, but ready to ace it!”
“Well, I was into the book. And as the saying goes, ‘my daddy didn’t make no dumb kids!’ Even if I don’t know who my daddy is!” I could hear him chuckle at his own joke.
“Well, Lover Boy, I better let you go before your Mom comes back and takes the phone from you. I missed seeing you this afternoon and will really miss seeing you tonight. Are you going to dream about me?”
“I don’t know about dream, but I plan on doing something tonight that requires a little conjuring and you’re the main character.”
“Oh, now you’ve got me interested. I’ll keep that thought in mind. I love you. Goodnight.”
“Night, Pastor Dave.” That was a safe way to end the call!
The call with Jackson completely changed my frame mind after the Presbytery meeting, and I did a little conjuring of him before I went to sleep too, reveling in the fact that we might be doing it at the same time!
Saturday morning’s breakfast meeting with Roger Talbot, started out as the standard occasional meeting with the Ministry Advocate, but took a turn I didn’t understand toward the end. He was asking me all these questions about where I stood on this or that policy or denominational position and when I was just about to ask him what was with the 100 Questions it dawned on me that the comment one of the older ministers had made yesterday in the bar about me not attending a Presbyterian seminary must be behind it. It was as if he’d missed it or ignored it previously, and now he felt he needed to make up for lost time or do some make up work on it. I tried to be diplomatic and just answer his questions and left it at that. It didn’t feel good though, almost as if somehow overnight we’d ended up on different teams.
The rest of the morning was bureaucratic clergy stuff and I learned one or two things but not much. I skipped the closing lunch, and on the drive home I had time to reflect on what had happened, and the bigotry and bias in both the presentation and the added vehemence from the older ministers kept playing over and over in my head. I hadn’t expected there to be acceptance of homosexuality given the denomination’s position. But given the open position of the Church of Christ that Paul had told me about, and their condemnation of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay political movement, I actually did expect a greater level of openness and tolerance. That was painful and started to resonate in my mind and reinforce what I’d said to Paul about struggling with the conflict and not being sure how much longer I could take it.
I continued like that for a while, back and forth between the personal emotion and the vitriol I’d experienced, trying to understand where it came from, and suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The dream I’d had the first night Jackson and I had been together, the night he came to me at the end of our first day when we outed each other, and we had just slept together in each other’s arms.
Like most dreams, I hadn’t thought much of it the next day, and hadn’t thought of it at all since, but now it came back to me like watching a movie. I was being interrogated by an Inquisitor. Each institution or organization had its own Master Inquisitor, and the central character in the dream was the Master Inquisitor of the Presbyterian Church, and I was accused of failing the Three Temptations by changing my position of going along with the institutional way, of claiming to seek truth, and of no longer accepting my place under institutional authority.
He raged at me.
“Fool, you stand accused not of those decisions! You stand accused of beginning the process to recant those decision. You did so by violating the institutional norms of abstinence and laying with a depraved person. By acknowledging that you yourself are not only depraved, but have the right to choose about it, to even question the concept of depravity. Who are you to do such things?"
I vividly remembered the dream now. To my fear in the dream was now added confusion. In the dream I was on my knees weeping inconsolably, fearful and terrified, but overwhelmingly confused too. I did not understand the accusation. I had no knowledge of any of these previous decisions in my life. I certainly had no knowledge or understanding of the decisions I was being told I was already making, let alone of those ahead of me that the Inquisitor was now telling me I was already making.
Somehow, at the end of that first day with Jackson, that culminated with our sleeping together, I had subconsciously understood what had taken place and what the implications were. Even though I couldn’t have consciously explained it even under torture, in my unconscious brain (or would that be soul?) I had, and it manifested itself in that dream.
And now what I had dreamt about was coming to pass!
I was home in the early afternoon, had some lunch and was upstairs unpacking when I heard the kitchen door close, followed shortly thereafter by footsteps on the stairs. Thank god, after this morning’s emotional roller coaster, being in Jackson’s arms was just what I needed. He strode into the bedroom beaming, the dimples in full flare, his eyes twinkling.
“Hello, my Sexy Man. I thought I saw the El Camino pull into the driveway, and I just couldn’t wait”
My arms were open to him, and he fell into them. “I couldn’t either and I’m so glad you just came over.
“Well, after what you told me last night about the bigotry, somehow I figured it didn’t get any better today?”
“No, that Ministry Advocate guy is now all over me on the Presbyterian polity stuff, like he’s got to do some kind of CYA, you now ‘Cover Your Ass.’ Talk about a whole lot of energy over nothing. But the worst was seeing how many ministers sound just like Anita Bryant. One even said we ought to call homosexuals what they are, ‘cocksuckers.’ Can you believe it?”
“That’s pretty gross. Especially coming out of the mouth of a dude with a collar! How does it all make you feel?” He was asking cautiously, like he was probing but not wanting to inflict any pain.
“Not good. The bigotry and intolerance in the clergy ranks is bad enough. Terrible, in fact. But the attitude Talbot has just adds insult to injury. He took a kind of neutral and institutional view yesterday, like technically bigotry isn’t tolerated, we’ve got to support the denomination position of welcoming gays, etc., etc. I’m betting though, that if he found out I’m gay his own biases would suddenly surface. Like he’d use the polity class thing to crucify me.”
“That bad? You think it’s really that bad?”
“Yeah, I don’t trust the guy and I think his tolerance is only skin deep. He’s more a bureaucratic toady than anything else.”
Jackson was holding me tightly, kissing my neck and letting me vent. Finally, when he sensed I’d unloaded the negative emotion he leaned back so he could look me square in the face and said, “I think I have some medicine for your problem.”
He’d caught me off guard and I didn’t follow, and probably looked confused when I said, “What?”
He kissed the fingertips on one hand, then pressed them on my lips and said, “Shh. Just come with me.”
I found myself being hauled down the stairs and being seated on the couch in the living room. He then walked over and turned on the stereo, and before he cued up the track he had in mind he said, “I was bored this morning, and you were gone, and I can do my homework tomorrow, so I came over here to explore your record collection. Do you know how many albums you have? You probably haven’t listened to most of them in years. Anyhow, I found an album I’d heard about but hadn’t listened to. And one song on it blew my mind. You’ve got to do the word gymnastics and replace ‘woman’ with ‘lover’ and ‘she’ with ‘he.’ Okay?”
I nodded and he cued it up, not saying anything more. I knew it the minute I heard the opening guitar chords, and then on came the voice of Steve Stills from the Manassas album.
Most of my life I have spent alone
Most of this past year I been searchin' for my home
I met a girl she won't leave my mind alone
If she's listening I hope she understands my song
If you get lonely
All you gotta
Do is call me
I'll come on the run
Wherever you are
No matter how far
Bless my soul I think I'm fallin' again
I hear my woman she is callin' me again
If she needs me I gotta’ go she's my best friend
Y'see I promised her and I remember what I said
If you get lonely
All you gotta
Do is call me
I'll come on the run
Wherever you are
No matter how far
Most of this life is such a hard road to go down, go down
Count your blessings on the good friends you got hangin' around
It takes two to be friends it takes two to be lovers
Know you got it made when you got one that’s the same as the other
Then you say:
If you get lonely
All you gotta
Do is call me
I come on the run
Wherever you are
No matter how far
I was pretty emotional by the end. The last verse nailed exactly how I was feeling, and Jackson was reminding me, just when I needed it, of the ultimate truth in our life now: it takes two to be friends, it takes two to be lovers; you know you’ve got it made when you got one that’s the same as the other!
“Wow! That was just what the doctor ordered. How did you stumble onto that album and then discover How Far? I would have guessed that after the hearing the first track or two you would have stopped. This was Stills’ kind of bluegrass period, he even had Byron Berline playing fiddle and Chris Hillman playing mandolin! Not your favorite kind of music.”
“I know, not my usual style. But the album cover had this cool photo of the band at a railroad station, and the station sign says Manassas, and I remembered that from Civil War history. So that got my curiosity going, then there was something about it, catchy tunes, even though a few of the songs sounded way too cute to be real. But then How Far played and it was like Pow! It was so right on! Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, I can believe it. I’d forgotten how right on. Thanks for finding it, and for listening to it, and for playing it for me. You’re right, it describes our relationship and much of the last six months. It was just what I needed to hear to get over my anger and out of my funk.”
We sat and hugged for quite a while and let the album play, then Jackson said he needed to get home to knock off some homework and help with dinner. He made sure I understood that he’d be back after dinner, which brought a wide smile to my face.
“Do you have to go home for dinner, or can you stay here,” I asked.
“Let me call Mom. Gary is working at the bike shop today, and I don’t know if he and Lois have a date tonight or not.” I heard him on the phone in the office, and he came back and said, “It’ll be fine. No date. Lois works at a drive in, and she’s working, so they’re going out tomorrow night. Gary said he’d be home for dinner. I’ll call him at the bike shop and make sure we’re double covered.” He was back on the phone for a couple of minutes and was back smiling. “We traded: he’ll cover tonight, and I will tomorrow.”
He plunked down next to me on the sofa and pulled my arms around him. “So, my Sexy Man, what are we having for dinner, before we make wild and crazy love?”
I giggled. “I think you’ve been watching too many movies! Wild and crazy! Is that what you think it is?”
“Well, it is a fun figure of speech, don’t you think? We don’t always have to be anatomically correct or linguistically gross, do we?”
Now I paused. “For someone who maintained that they hated school and didn’t do very well, you seem to have an extensive vocabulary. Did you learn this recently, or have you been hiding that side of yourself from me?”
Now he giggled. “I’ve discovered that I knew more than I thought. I guess it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. And now that I’ve had six weeks of English Lit class, and plenty of intellectual conversations with my boyfriend, I’m hearing stuff come out of my mouth that I’d forgotten was in my head! Pretty weird, huh?”
I just shook my head. “You asked about dinner. There’s a couple of chicken breasts, we could prepare those one of the ways our cook used to with a sauce, and then serve it with rice and a salad. Are you up for making the salad?
He nodded. I asked, “Are you up for switching over to The Messiah album!”
He nodded again, “Looks like you’re out of your funk! Was it the lyrics of the song or the threat of wild and crazy sex?”
I rolled my eyes and headed for the stereo after putting the record on the turntable and handed him the album cover. With the qualifier that I was no expert by any stretch, I said that my guess was that to appreciate why Susan liked this recording so much would require listening to it a lot and comparing it to some of the massed choir versions. Then the lighter and more delicate, smaller chorale approach that characterized Handel’s original composition would stand out. Not to be overlooked was a comment in the liner notes that Handel wrote it as an oratorio, for modest vocal and instrumental forces, and that it was after Handel’s premier performance in 1743 that other arrangements were made with full symphony and much larger choirs.
We settled down to listen to Part One, with its early scene of Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation, and tenor solo titled “Comfort Ye My People.” I said, “I think this solo is the kind of thing Susan really wanted you to hear, besides the non massed-voice choir, is this a delicate tenor solo.
Langridge’s stellar voice was not lost on Jackson, who commented that the word delicate was just right to describe how he sang the solo. We listened to the rest of Part 1, and were struck with the first Scene of Part Two, The Passion section with its “Behold The Lamb Of God” chorus, which was astounding not for its overwhelming power, but for its strong subtlety in how both the text and the emotion was presented.
It went on from there, Part Two ending with the Halleluiah Chorus and then on to the final part. I was impressed with the strength wrapped in subtlety of the performance, and it certainly was a contrast to the all too common massed choir and big sound performances that had seemed to become the standard.
When the record ended, we chatted for a while about it, and I asked him his impressions. “I like the delicacy, but like you said, it will take some comparative listening to really contrast it with the massed choir sound. If Susan likes it best, there’s a reason and that’s good enough for me. The other thing is that we’re a small mixed voice choir at school, and we probably couldn’t pull off the massed choir sound thing. If Susan has us singing one of these choir choruses, I’m betting we can make that happen.”
I nodded, appreciating the insight. “Here’s a thought. It’s not raining now and it’s still light. I don’t think either of us has gotten any exercise today, so why don’t we take a walk? Then when we come back, we can start on dinner?”
“Is your sermon done, are you ready for tomorrow?”
I nodded, “Yep, got it all done before I went to Presbytery.”
We walked down our street to Main Street, then a long way down one side and back up the other looking in store windows. Then we did a serious last twenty minutes around our neighborhood and were back home about 5:30 PM.
Jackson grabbed a soda and handed me a beer, and we settled down in the kitchen. “The chicken breasts take about forty five minutes: first we sauté an onion, then add the chicken and sauté it, then we remove the chicken and keep it warm, add white wine, sliced carrots and garlic, and then reduce the liquid till it’s almost gone. Then the magic happens: we add some sour cream and salt and pepper and return the chicken breasts to warm through and Voila! The rice will cook alongside it, and if your start the salad in thirty minutes, we’ll be on top of it.”
He grinned. “You got it Chef.”
“Do you know how to slice an onion, Mr. Smarty Pants?”
The grin became a smile. “It’s not a challenge is it?”
“No, but slicing an onion is among the most basic kitchen food prep tasks, and it also shows mastery of effectively and safely using a chef’s knife. Our cook was big on safety, and this is one of the first things she insisted I knew how to do. Want to see?”
He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Okay, first take off the top and bottom, the root part, and remove the skin. Then set the onion down on the flattened root end and cut it in half from the top down. Then, turn each half so the cut side is down, and make a series of cuts from root end to top end all the way from one side to the other.”
I had a sharp chef’s knife, so sliced right through this onion. “Here’s the trick. It starts with cutting it in half correctly, and then the end to end cuts, because then give you a stack of long thin slices of onion, all stacked together. Now, you rotate each half ninety degrees and cut those stacked slices into fine dice. Like this.”
He was watching as the chef’s knife slid up and down the knuckles of my left hand, which was holding the onion half, while it rocked back and forth on the cutting board. “Aren’t you afraid of cutting off a finger or something?”
“Nope, if the knife blade stays in contact with the board and the side of the blade slides up and down your knuckle, you’re safe. And, in no time flat you have a pile of diced onions!”
“Looking good, Chef!”
“Okay, into the pan to sauté, and then in a few minutes in goes the chicken.” Ten minutes later I’d removed the breasts, added the carrots and wine and turned the heat down to simmer in the pan. I sat down next to him with my beer and took his hand.
“Knowing how to do the basics in the kitchen is pretty handy,” I said, stroking the palm of his hand.
“Will you teach me? I didn’t know anything till I learned how to make a salad last summer.”
“Can do. It’s fun too, working together and having the outcome be a good meal everyone can enjoy. Do you think we should do it at Thanksgiving?”
“You and I cook Thanksgiving dinner at your house. I’m pretty certain your Mom won’t be up for doing the whole thing, and we can do it. Maybe we’ll even get Gary to help. What do you say?”
“Sounds like an adventure, but I’m game. I guess it’ll be fun, like you say.”
The rest of the meal came together as planned, and we enjoyed dining together. “Geez, Rev, this is great. The sauce is sweet and tart and creamy all at once. How did that happen?”
“Easy. The sweet comes from the onions and the carrots, the tart comes from the white wine and the sour cream, and the creamy comes from the mix of the sour cream with the reduced wine. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? So simple yet so tasty.”
After dinner we decided to listen to The Messiah one more time. By the end, Jackson was getting antsy, his mind clearly moving on to other things. The last strains of the last track hadn’t faded away before he said, “Come on Rev. Lights out. Let’s go upstairs. It’s that time!”
I didn’t resist! We knowingly shed out shoes and socks, and met at the foot of the bed, sensuously kissing and stroking. Jackson looked straight at me and said, “Tonight I want us both to fuck each other. I won’t touch my cock while you’re in me, and then when you’ve recovered, I want to do you slowly!”
I smiled. “My horny Lover Boy has it all planned out, and I love the sound of it.” We took turns in the bathroom getting cleaned for each other, and came together naked, stroking and kissing and letting the passion develop, our tongues starting their dance. I lay Jackson down on the bed, raised above him on my elbows, holding his head in my hands and forcefully kissing him. Eventually I moved down to stroke his belly and moved my fingertips into his pubes. We’d learned a lot already about what each of us liked and where we were particularly sensitive, and now we were expanding that knowledge about being inside each other.
I lightly stroked his very hard cock, mindful of what he’d said about not cumming, and then slid down so I could kiss his cockhead ever so lightly and then raise his legs. He moved them apart and lifted them towards his shoulders to give me access, and I slowly moved my tongue over his rosebud and began to work it. He was groaning and writhing very quickly, and in short order I’d slipped my fingers inside to prepare him.
As I moved the head of my cock into him, I could feel him relax and open, and groan long and languidly as I slid into him. We’d learned from our last session that long slow strokes were wonderful at the outset, but picking up the pace not only happened naturally, it also provided more stimulation to both of us. As I pushed all the way in and felt my pubes against his soft buttocks, my belly against his warm flesh, I felt a wave of love and intensity that was new to me. It came from that sensation of flesh on flesh, feeling the warmth of your lover’s body against yours. This time those feelings were compounding the sensations from being deep inside of him. I was back, back once again in this place where not only were the feelings intensely sexual, but where we were being more and more closely joined.
“Faster, David, please. Faster and harder.”
I responded as requested, leaning my weight on my hands on either side of his shoulders. He was grasping his ankles and keeping his hand off his cock, just like he said he would. I could see the intensity of the feelings in his facial expressions and his open panting mouth.
I leaned down and kissed him, pushing my tongue in as far as I could, forcing his tongue to dance with mine. His eyes opened at the assault, and while fervid, they were shining!
His head began lolling from side to side, and he let go of his ankles and grasped the sheet with both hands as his legs came to rest around my waist. I could feel my climax starting to form and began to realize that in spite of what he said he wanted to happen, he might not be in control. As I got closer, I shifted to shorter and faster strokes, mainly directed at his prostate, and finally I hissed, “Jackson, I’m going to cum.” His eyes opened, and they looked almost unfocused as I started pumping inside him, increasing the lubrication and heightening the sensitivity.
“I love you inside of me. It makes me complete. I, I…oh my god, David, I’m going to cum!” He cried out loudly, gripping the sheets with white knuckles until he finally released them and threw his arms around my shoulders, pulling me as deep within him as he could with his arms and legs. “Oh my god, David. I never knew.”
I collapsed on top of him, and when he relaxed his arms and legs, slid off to the side, resting my face on his shoulder, holding him close with an arm across his chest. We were silent, completely reveling in what had just happened between us.
Finally, I felt his hand touch my face and stroke my cheek. He said, “I never knew, David. I never knew it was possible to cum like that, with just you inside of me, and me not touching my cock. It was unbelievable, just such a sensation starting deep inside where your cock was sliding, and then boiling over, and the next thing I knew I was shooting all over. I’m sorry we’re a mess.”
“Lover Boy, you never have to apologize for a great climax. There’s no getting around the fact that sex comes with clean up. Who cares? If you felt good, even better, if you felt fabulous, then that’s all that matters.”
“And how did you feel,” he whispered? “I felt like I was blowing my mind out of my cock. The feeling in that dark velvet tunnel is so beyond description, it’s so stimulating that I feel like I can barely contain myself. I’m worried that I’m so focused on how I’m feeling that I’m not paying attention to you.”
“Trust me, you were paying attention to me. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.”
He smiled, “cumming like that with nothing touching my cock felt like the end of the world. “
“I’m sorry your plans got derailed. You weren’t going to cum, and then you were going to fuck me, right? I guess you just discovered that you are a far more active and sensual being than you thought.”
He grinned at the notion, and I led him into the bathroom so that we could each lovingly clean the other. When we were back on the bed sometime later, I found myself on my back with his head on my shoulder. He was stroking my belly and pubes as we talked and I stroked his pecs, tweaked his nipples and down to his belly. It didn’t take long for him to get hard again.
“Lover Boy,” I whispered in his ear, “there’s nothing I’d rather have right now than you inside me.”
He slid down between my legs and took my cock in his mouth, then kissed his way down to my anus, where he began to stimulate me with his tongue, then open me with his fingers, and finally slipped inside me in a feeling that was completely overwhelming. At first, I thought I didn’t need to cum again, then as I watched him build to his own climax, I decided it would be the right thing to do, so I stroked my cock as Jackson fucked me. As his strokes got shorter and faster, and the intensity built for both of us, he came, and shortly after I came again as well.
When he pulled out, he climbed up, laying completely atop me. I loved the feeling of his weight on me, chest to chest, belly to belly, the warmth of his skin radiating into me, his love seeming to suffuse me completely. This was bliss.