Sunday dawned wet and cool, which was a contrast to the subject of the Gospel reading in Luke about the Resurrection. The passage begins, in chapter 20: 27-38, with a set up argument between the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection and were trying to make Jesus look ridiculous. Jesus cagily dismisses the premise of their argument, and the conclusion we’re left with is that which was common to much of Judaism, and which came into Christianity, the general resurrection of believers.
What is striking in the passage is that the legal arguments are around a very obscure subject known as levirate marriage, a patriarchal institution designed to protect women, by passing them for marriage onto a brother upon the death of the husband and the woman becoming a widow. As in earlier Lukan passages we knew the weak and exposed position of widows in Jewish society, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. In all early societies, women were chattel, owned by their husbands and with no rights. However, here something radical happens in how Jesus explains the resurrection relative to the situation of widows.
He says that in the age to come, the age of the resurrection, the entire institution of marriage will be unnecessary. That means women will not be passed along as property because they are not able to die. It is a message of hope in the future age, but also a message of condemnation of the current age and many of its practices. That includes the entire patriarchal structure that held down women and treated them as property.
As might be expected, Susan and Ellen were very positive about the sermon and the approach I’d taken to the passage in the Gospel. Spencer Sullivan also had a couple of comments about it being an interesting approach in how to interpret Jesus’ teachings. My goal was just to get people to think a little differently.
When Jackson came over in the afternoon for our “date” to listen to The Messiah, he asked about it and I said that what had struck me was the notion of liberation, that women would no longer be property, and that was a dramatic contrast to the current situation.
“What about us? What about gays?”
“Good question. The only two passages condemning homosexuality, as you know, have to do with ‘laying with a man as a woman’ meaning anal intercourse, and that is mainly driven by the patriarchal view of who was dominant and who was passive. My read is that in the age of the resurrection, all the patriarchal stuff is gone. That has to go first, in order for women not to be property. So, if the patriarchal stuff goes, along with it goes the view about dominance and submission. It’s kind of a level setting back to all people are equal and can interact with each other as they chose.”
“I like that. Makes much more sense. Does that make anal sex Okay?”
“Well, in theory, yes. The problem is that you’d either have to: 1) convince everyone that subscribes to the patriarchal view of what the truth is, or 2) pull off something like the resurrection to remove them from the picture so all that stuff disappears. The trouble is that the people in power don’t give it up very easily. Then you’re left with the question of whether or not there is physical sex in the age of resurrection!”
Youth Fellowship that evening went well, with Will introducing a new song that assured it would end on a high note, and which everyone loved and had a great time singing. That was a good thing because after the short teaching part about acceptance, one of the younger kids asked, “What are we supposed to do about bullying? Accept it?”
I’d been waiting for something like this, just not knowing what form the first appearance would take. Fortunately, it was bullying in general, and I made clear that it was inappropriate behavior, anywhere and especially at school. “The answer to the question of what you do is based on what happened. There can be mild verbal bullying or violent physical bullying, and everything in between. The more intense it is, the more likely it needs to be reported. Do you want to share any of the details with us?”
The kid shook his head. “It was just verbal, you know, like talk to make me feel bad. It’s good to know we can talk about stuff like that here.”
I paused, making sure I had all the kid’s attention. “I want you all to understand something, Okay? We can talk about almost anything here. Alright? I know stuff comes up at school or wherever that you don’t want to talk to your parents about. That’s cool. I know stuff comes up at home that you want to have someone to talk to about, and that’s cool too. And know this. If you don’t want to talk about it in Fellowship, with everyone here, you can talk to me one-on-one about anything. Okay? No judgment, just talking. For the record, Fellowship doesn’t just mean a bunch of people getting together for a good time. It also means a group with shared interests, who build trust and fellowship. So, we’re all in this together, to help one and other.”
Will then set about teaching everyone Little Red Wagon, which isn’t a bible-based song by a long shot, but it’s super easy and fun to sing. This song starts out in a whisper. By the time you are on the last verse, you are yelling at the top of your lungs. The younger kids loved it, and the older ones did too though they didn’t want to let on. The lyrics are: “You can’t ride in my little red wagon. A wheel is broke and the axel’s saggin’. Chug…chug…chug, chug, chug. Next verse same as the first. A little bit louder and a whole lot worse!” And on it went, verse after verse.
As Fellowship broke up, Will and Jackson were the last ones left. We still sat in the living room.
“Will, thanks for bringing that song along. It’s new to me, but everyone loved it and it sure helped get the mood back on track after the bullying question.”
“That’s for sure. I’ve been waiting for something to come up. It goes along with school, and the jocks feel the need to prove themselves.”
“Do you think what I said made sense, like did most of them understand it and believe it?”
He nodded yes and looked to Jackson. Jackson paused and then said, “Yeah, I do because you called it like it is. I’m biased, though, I mean I know what you’re trying to say and how much help you’re trying to be for these kids, even if they don’t.”
Will was watching Jackson like he wasn’t sure what he was really saying. Finally, he said, “I think the important part is that you said this was an open forum where people could talk about problems, bullying or whatever, even if it’s something they don’t feel they can talk about at home. And it can be one-on-one with you if it has to be. That’s cool. I guarantee they’ve never heard that offer before.”
“Really?” I was somewhat incredulous.
“Oh yeah. The last two ministers were older, and kids were an afterthought. You’re different and younger, so don’t be surprised if some of them take you up on your offer.”
Jackson jumped in and said he had to get going to do homework, but that Will wanted to borrow the Pavarotti album. I pulled it out of the shelf and handed it to him. “Let us know what you think, especially about Nessum Dorma, Okay?”
“So, Jackson told me Miss Albright is teasing you guys about singing a Beach Boys song or a classical piece. Any idea where that’s going?”
He grinned. “I think either way is cool She knows what she’s doing and is trying to build interest and enthusiasm. I’m working on another idea for her, namely a choral arrangement of The Beatles’ Across The Universe. It’s pretty straight forward and would let the audience sing along too.
“That sounds like a great idea,” I said, recalling the tune, “and audience involvement is always good.”
“Miss Albright told us you’ve had a suggestion or two as well. Like the Grateful Dead, for instance!”
Now it was my turn to grin. “Yeah, I love Robert Hunter lyrics and told her she should look at Attics of My Life for a current song that people can get into. What do you think?”
“I think you’re a Dead Head, that’s what I think!” He grinned back at me.
“Shall I take that as a compliment?”
He nodded, then looked at Jackson and said, “We’ve got to get going, right?”
They both headed for the door, Will in the lead, and I gave Jackson a pat on the butt as he went out the door.
On Tuesday I was in my office starting to do some work when the phone rang, and Roger Talbot was on the phone ostensibly following up after the Presbytery meeting. We chatted for a few minutes about the agenda, he apologized again for the apparent insensitivity of some of the older clergy with some aside like “They’re an older generation, don’t you know.”
“I do know, Roger, but that’s no excuse. They were crass and intolerant. Why is that accepted behavior?”
He stammered for a second or two, caught off guard, but then reverted to form. “You heard me tell them that language was not acceptable, and we needed to support the denomination position of accepting homosexuals.”
I thought to myself, intolerance is not a generational thing, but I decided to let it go at that. It was a good decision because Talbot had an issue he was about to put forward. Specifically, he wanted to let me know that he’d become quite concerned with what he considered my lack of knowledge about Presbyterian polity and administrative rules and the like. So, Monday after he’d returned to Portland, he pulled my seminary transcript from the application, and was not only surprised, but angered, to see that I had not taken the class in Presbyterian polity my last year in Seminary. “That is a required class for students under care of a Presbytery. You were in Seminary under care of your Presbytery in Pennsylvania. How did this happen? How did you not take Polity? Were you not in touch with them?”
I smiled to myself, now understanding much of what was going on. “I didn’t go back to Philadelphia the summer before my senior year, I ran the Youth Ministry program at a summer camp in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Presbytery didn’t maintain much contact, and no one called or wrote me.”
“But you knew Polity was a required course for seminarians under care, didn’t you?”
“I knew it was a desirable course to take, but it wasn’t mandatory as far as the seminary was concerned. It was a denominational thing. They offered it one quarter a year, when a Presbyterian minister was available to teach it, and the quarter it was offered during my senior year it conflicted with an Advanced Homiletics class that I thought was more important.”
“So, you unilaterally decided not to take Polity, and didn’t communicate that to your Presbytery?
“You could put it that way if you want to. Another way of putting it is that the Presbytery failed to maintain regular communications with me about how I was doing or what was required and when it came time to choose, I made the decision I thought best for me and my goals in ministry.”
He stammered for a minute, clearly not used to having new ministers strike a tone like this. “Well, students, seminary students, do not operate under unilaterally independent and egalitarian principles. You were expected to comply with the denominational requirements.”
I paused for a few seconds. “Well, Roger, I didn’t, for the reasons I explained to you. That’s how it is. I don’t see how any of that has negatively affected my ministry here. Perhaps you should call the Chair of our Session and see if he shares your concerns.”
“I intend to do just that, David. I don’t know if this is the basis for disciplinary action, but this is highly irregular, and should have been caught before you were hired into that church.”
“Don’t you think you’re making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary?”
“As a matter of fact, no. In fact, I’m beginning to question your commitment to the Gospel. Unilateral decision making is highly problematic.”
We left it on that note, and I rolled my eyes. He didn’t even ask how the church was, how the family in crisis was, how the budget was. All he could talk about was how I didn’t take a required class on denominational policies!
Jackson came by the house after school, complaining about tons of homework this week that would keep him busy every night. It was hard to be sympathetic, since Gary was getting it laid on heavy too, but the good news was that they were taking it straight on and being diligent about doing it and not falling behind. I filled him in on the call with Talbot, and he simply said, “It’s not going to get any better. He sounds like a piece of work.”
I changed the subject. “How are you feeling about how you’re doing in your classes and what your grades will be? I’m really impressed at how hard you’re working at them all.”
He rolled his eyes about the workload, but said, “I’m feeling really good about the classes and the grades. I’ve been getting A’s on all the quizzes and tests for English Lit and World History, I’ve been doing good in Psych, but the biggest part of the grade is the final exam. I’ve been reading all the case studies and taking good notes in class. Spanish is getting more complicated with grammar, but I think I’m on top of that. Choir is going really well. You know from talking to Miss Albright. Phys Ed should be good too. I’m trying to pull off A’s in all for them because of what you said about this quarter having to be strong for college applications.”
We were on the couch and I pulled him in close for a hug and whispered in his ear, “My Lover Boy is also the Academic Boy! You’re turning out to be a man of many talents.”
He whispered back, “You’ve brought out some of the talents, my Sexy Man.” He pulled me over for a kiss, and our lips opened, and out tongues started their dance, and we stroked each other’s head and shoulders. He was breathing heavily and whispered, “I love being in your arms,” and I felt his hand slip down my chest and belly and come to rest on my cock. He started rubbing it softly and I was hard in no time.
He opened his eyes and leaned back a couple of inches. “I want you now, I need you. I’ve thought about being with you all day.” He was studiously stroking my cock, and I could tell he was hard too.
“Please?” It was followed by his eyelashes flickering over his gleaming eyes. He took my hand and said, “Come with me, upstairs.” I didn’t resist. After my session with Talbot I guess I wasn’t in the mood.
When we got to my bedroom, he stopped at the foot of the bed and turned me into his arms and another passionate kiss. “We don’t have time to fuck properly, but can we sixty-nine?”
He had lowered my zipper and his hand was already inside my boxers, on my cock. “I want this in my mouth, I want to taste you and make love to you.”
He’d convinced me! I smiled and reached down to undo his pants, and whispered, “I want the same thing. Let’s get out of these clothes.”
We dropped everything on the floor and dropped onto the bed, kissing and hugging and stroking, both of us hard and raring to go. He leaned back and ran his tongue around his lips, being as lascivious as he could. He didn’t say a word, just slowly turned on the bed and began licking and kissing my belly and as he did, I pulled his hips toward me and began licking the head of his cock. I felt him shudder, as I did when his mouth found my cock. We were both driven, and didn’t last long, both cuming loud and hard. As much as I loved the feeling of climaxing in his mouth, I equally loved the feeling of him turning back, coming up over my chest, his weight and warmth lying on me, running an arm behind my neck and kissing me deeply.
That night was our monthly Session meeting. I debated asking the Chair if he’d received a call but decided to wait and see if he brought it up. He did, after the meeting ended and as we were leaving. “I got a strange call this afternoon from that Ministry Advocate person, Roget Talbot. What is he so wrapped around the axle about?”
I smiled, knowingly. “Oh, he just found out that last year in seminary I didn’t take a class on Presbyterian policies and administration because I thought it more important to take an advanced preaching class. He was all over me this morning on the phone for having the temerity to make independent decisions that didn’t comply with denominational policy.”
“Yeah, he was quizzing me big time about how you were doing and if you knew your stuff. He mentioned that you didn’t take a required class.”
“Well, it wasn’t required by the seminary to graduate. That’s one of the details. It’s a Presbyterian requirement, but the seminary only taught it once a year, and it conflicted with what I thought was more important. What would you rather have, a good practical and relevant sermon, or a sermon full of all kinds of denominational rules and regulations?”
He laughed at that. “Well, that one’s a no brainer. Still, that Talbot guy sure was wound up about what strikes me as something not very important. I told him he was missing the boat and that you were doing a good job, everyone loved your preaching and you’d already done a lot of major things for the church like Church Camp and the Harvest Fair and getting Youth Fellowship going again.”
I grinned. “I’m hoping he’ll get over it in time. The good thing is that he’s in Portland and we’re out here and I only have to see him a couple of times a year!
On Thursday, Jackson came by for a few minutes after band practice, pumped that Will had sorted out and they’d practiced the arrangement he was talking about for Across The Universe. “Is that cool, or what? He’s like some kind of natural arranger. He says it just comes into his head and he’s able to write it down or score it or whatever. He’s using us to test it before he shows it to Miss Albright. He also told me to tell you that he’s dug out his copy of American Beauty and is working on Attics of My Life. What do you think about that?”
“I think that’s beyond cool. Is he going to major in music in college? It sure sounds like he’s got the talent.”
“He’s talking about it. Oh, guess what, he’s flipped about David Bowie’s Heroes album, and is like totally committed to the band learning it. He couldn’t believe that you got me an album that isn’t released in the US. You know, he considers himself hip and up to speed on what’s new, so to have me beat him to something musical was like totally radical!”
“Far out! What else is on the band’s play list?
“Oh, a bunch of older stuff, like America and Steve Miller and the Association, and some newer songs by the Eagles. The really big hits though are hard for a small band to do, like Stairway to Heaven or Hotel California. Anyway, we’ll sort through it because we don’t have a lot of competition in this town!”
I asked him if his Mom had said anything about the in-home therapy session the previous Monday, and he just said that she’d said it went well. That sounded to me like an extension of her assessment from the week before. It probably takes time to get back up to speed, I told myself, after a break in the schedule like she had for chemotherapy.
It was one of those weeks that burned by, and suddenly it was Friday, and when Jackson stopped by after school, he said Gary and Lois were going out on Saturday, so he was “free” tonight. He emphasized that point with waggling eyebrows.
“I just happen to be free as well. Can you join me for dinner, or are you coming over afterwards?”
“I think I’d better come over afterwards. Gary says he’ll cover for me after we wash the dishes and stuff.”
I smiled and gave him a brief hug. “Later, Lover Boy.”
He came over about 8:30, and we almost immediately went upstairs, undressed and just climbed into bed naked, holding each other. We hadn’t discussed plans or intentions, but somehow both of us knew that we just needed to be together, sharing our warmth and love, and letting things follow as they may. They did follow, as we were learning the secrets of rhythm and angles when inside each other, and how to make the experience as pleasurable as possible for the other. Tonight though, as great as the sex was, there was a domestic feel to it from being together for a joyful quiet time that closed the week.
We were ten days from Thanksgiving, and Saturday it rained all day. Gary was working at the bike shop, so Jackson only popped over for a little while in the middle of the afternoon after doing homework. It was cool, as if we were just maintaining contact to get us by for the next day or two.
Saturday night I finished off my sermon preparation. We were near the end of the Lukan cycle, and the passage was chapter 21: 5-19, the passage where Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple. This is a message as the end of Jesus’ ministry draws near, and it foretells a catastrophe for the Jewish people, the dispersal of many from Israel, yet even in the face of that awful prediction, the message is still one of faith and endurance centered on the hope of the resurrection upon which God’s faithful people should place their hope.
Youth Fellowship that evening was following the normal pattern, and after the instructional part I asked, “Thinking back to last week and the question about bullying, are there any new things anyone wants to talk about?”
It was quiet, but Jackson raised his hand and said, “Pastor Dave, can I say something?”
I said certainly, and he went on, “Everyone here knows something about what happened to me and my brother. They may not know all the details, but they’ve all heard something.” Then he looked around at everyone in the room. “What I want you to know is that Bud Harris is in jail because he was physically abusing my brother Gary and me. This was a second offense, and he got reported and arrested and sentenced to jail.”
The room was quiet, everyone looking at him with riveted attention. “So, here’s the point. What he was doing to us was, like Pastor Dave said, immoral and unethical and illegal. But we didn’t do anything. We didn’t tell anyone; we didn’t report it. You know why?”
Here he looked about the group, as if he was individually asking each and every one of those kids the question. “It started out because we thought we were being obedient, but the truth is we were afraid. And as it went on and got worse, we weren’t just afraid, we were embarrassed. We were embarrassed for us and for our family. Soon we were far enough down the road it was like too late to go back, too late to change, too late to report it…or that’s what we thought.”
He was quiet for a while, and no one said a word. “What I want you all to know is that you’ve got to make a judgment call of when it’s over the line and do something. You can’t just go along and be afraid and embarrassed like we were. And it’s never too late. We made the mistake of not reaching out for help early, but we could have later, and we should have, but we didn’t. What Pastor Dave said about a conscience is right. We’ve all got one, and we have to use it. Gary and I knew that what was happening was wrong, but we didn’t do anything. What saved us was that someone else saw what was happening and intervened. They reported him.”
At that point he looked at the boy who’d asked the question and said, “Does that help with your question?”
The boy nodded, hesitated, and then finally asked, “I don’t understand why you didn’t do something?”
“Because we weren’t just embarrassed and afraid, we’d let it go on long enough that we were going along with it. We didn’t want to, we knew it was wrong, but we did. That meant we were sending the message that it was alright for him to keep doing it. See what I mean?”
He looked at me and I knew he didn’t want to go any further, and I knew he didn’t want to bring up his mother. “What Jackson is describing is what psychologists call enablement. People can do all kinds of things that the person doing the bad stuff sees as accepting it or going along with it. That’s enablement, because it enables the person to keep doing it. That’s why Jackson’s point about each person making the call about if it’s over the line and doing something is so important.”
I turned to him, “Jackson, thanks for sharing that very personal example. I know it’s private, but it’s very commendable that you were willing to share that in order to help us all understand the subject. And everyone, don’t forget what I said last time. If you have a situation you need to discuss privately, you can come and talk to me any time.”
I learned on Tuesday that Lilly’s in-home therapy session the previous day had not gone well. She’d been very tired and had trouble keeping up with the therapist. She told me this when she called saying she was feeling poorly and asked if I could take her to the hospital since she couldn’t get in to see her doctor. I said, of course, and we were there by late morning.
Ellen was on duty as ER Head Nurse, and immediately spent some time with Lilly, and then requested the on-call Oncologist to see her. Following his exam, we learned that he was able to palpate a mass in her liver: it was possible that the cancer had returned, and he said he’d want to see her again in two weeks to follow progress.
On the way home she told me she knew the cancer was back. “It’s the way I felt before. The chemo helped a lot for a while, but I feel like I did a couple of months ago. I don’t know how long I’ve got now, but I’ve had two good months with the boys, and that makes it worthwhile.”
I encouraged her to be hopeful, and then told her about the plan Jackson and I had hatched to cook Thanksgiving dinner at her house. She laughed, then paused and said she thought it was a great idea. “I don’t think I’ll have the strength to do it. Jackson tells me you know how to cook and are wicked with a kitchen knife, so I’m all for it. I’ll do what I can. I have to tell you how thankful I am for the things you’ve done for my boys. It’s like they’re completely new people.”
I smiled, and she was quiet for a while. Then she said, “Pastor Dave, I told you I don’t know how long I’m going to last, and you know I’ve got my affairs in order because you helped me do that. I want to say something to you now because I don’t know what’s going to happen next week or the week after. I don’t even know when we’ll have the time together in private again. Anyway, a mother knows her kids. Since I’ve quit drinking and Bud is out of our lives, my mind has cleared. I also see things I’m sure I didn’t see before. For instance, I see the relationship between you and Jackson.”
I flinched. “You don’t need to say anything. In fact, I’d prefer if you don’t say anything, just listen to me, please.”
I nodded my head, looking straight ahead up the highway.
“After what I’ve been part of and enabled for the last fifteen years, and knowing the impact it had on my boys, far be it from me to take on the role of judging what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve known all my life that some men have relationships with other men. I’m not going to judge that. But I want you to know what I see, and the result of this relationship between you two is almost like Jackson coming to life or growing into a different, a more mature and happier person. Six months ago, I would have taken a much more rigid position on this, but I’m different now, and I can see the difference it’s made in Jackson, so I want you to know that. I’m old school enough that I probably can’t endorse your relationship, but I want you to know that I can see it is good for both of you, and I will do nothing to stop it.”
I didn’t know what to say, and Lilly apparently wasn’t looking for a response, as she sat quietly in the passenger seat as we drove home. Finally, I said, “Lilly, this is difficult for me. If you’d asked me six months ago if this relationship was possible, I’d have said No. But it happened, and I’ve never felt happier or more fulfilled in my life. I’m sure it’s outside your comprehension, it was outside mine for a while too. But I will tell you this. I love Jackson like I’ve never loved anyone in my life. He makes me whole. I will never hurt him. I will always take care of him. Can you accept that?”
She was quiet for quite a while, processing and composing her thoughts. “I’m not sure I fully understand what you said, but I can accept it. I have no experience with anything homosexual, other than the bias we all grew up with. But I’ve always known Jackson was different in one way or another, and if he feels for you anywhere near the way you just told me that you feel for him, then who am I to stand in the way.”
She paused again. When she continued, she said, “Besides which, Jackson is now eighteen, and both he and Gary are now emancipated, so they can do what they want to do irrespective of what I feel. I just wanted you to know how I feel. A mother always wants her kids to be happy and find the right person. It seems like Gary has with Lois, and it feels like Jackson has with you. Now, I’m not trying to put you on the spot or make you feel uncomfortable. I thought it was important for me to say this to you, so I have. We don’t even need to bring this conversation up again unless you choose to.”
I reached over the console and took her hand. “Thank you, Lilly. Thank you very much.”
The weekend before Thanksgiving was non-stop homework for both Jackson and Gary, with tests ahead in the last three days of school before the holiday. The Gospel reading was the last in the Gospel of Luke in the liturgical cycle, chapter 23: 35-43. Lilly didn’t feel up to attending church, and Gary stayed home with her. Jackson was there, thankfully.
The Gospel lesson could have been easy to preach, given the interaction between Jesus and the two thieves crucified on either side of him. The passage opens with Luke describing the mocking that Jesus received, being taunted to save his own life if he was the Son of God. The setup is the placard over his head, “King of the Jews,” and as a Roman province, anyone claiming to be king of anything was automatically a revolutionary. But the surprise is that while one of the thieves is true to form and joins the taunters, the second has an epiphany and acknowledges he and the other thief were rightly condemned for their criminal acts, but somehow understands that Jesus was unjustly condemned.
Thus, the second thief’s plea for mercy, which Jesus hears and acknowledges. What struck me was not the well-known setting of Jesus being crucified, but rather the compassion of the situation. Here was Jesus, after three years of ministry, being crucified, in a time of ultimate despair, yet his response is one from compassion. Even in this situation of his darkest hour he is able to reach out in compassion and forgiveness to another. That was the question I put before the congregation: are we able to do anything close to that in times of stress or trouble? Are we compassionate and forgiving, or are we typically human, judgmental and angry?
Jackson and I spent time with Susan and Ellen during coffee hour, mainly discussing Lilly’s condition and the likely progress of her disease. Ellen tried to be frank but also reassuring, saying that return of the cancer this soon was very worrying, but that it didn’t necessarily mean we should plan on the worst outcome. No one felt particularly reassured by that.
The conversation turned to music, and Jackson regaled Ellen with reactions to Pavarotti, and to his performance of Nessum Dorma. She was elated, and it was written all over her face. He told her that he’d already been talking to Susan about The Messiah recording, and really appreciated that too, and that Will was listening to both albums as well as the David Bowie album that I’d given him for his birthday.
He’d been fairly animated while talking about the music and the recordings, using his arms to make a point or two, and when he was finished, Susan very quietly reached over and put her hand on his wrist and said, “Jackson, I’ve noticed this beautiful bracelet a couple of times. Was that a birthday present?”
Jackson momentarily went silent, almost paling, and looked at me. I smiled and nodded my head. These were ‘our people,’ we could trust them. He took a breath and his color returned.
“I’m sorry if I caught you off guard,” Susan said quietly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.”
‘No, no. You should have, and I’m glad you did. I was just surprised. Pastor David gave me the David Bowie album when we did my birthday at home with Mom and Gary. He gave me this privately, you know, so nobody else knows where it came from. But I’m happy to tell you, because you both understand.”
He smiled at them, and they smiled back radiantly.
“Do you know what it is?”
“I can just tell it’s Native American,” Ellen said.
“What I know is what David told me. It is Native American, in fact by a Tlingit designer, and what’s at each end is a Raven and an Eagle. See.” He held up his wrist to show them. There were a few people still there, but he made sure no one else saw what he was doing.
“Guess what? Guess what is so cool about it?” He was beaming now as he asked them, his eyes sparkling. They shook their heads.
“When the Raven and the Eagle are combined like this, they’re called the Lovebirds”
Susan and Ellen oohed and aahed! It was lovely. They both smiled deeply, and their eyes were warm and happy.
Susan took Jackson’s wrist again and said, “We’re both so happy for you two. It’s a match made in heaven!” She looked at Ellen, who said, “Yes, indeed.”
Jackson blushed at the public sentiment. I started at the irony of what she’d said.
She looked at me, saying, “Pastor Dave, you’re uncharacteristically quiet.”
“Well, Susan, it’s a serious subject. I, we, really appreciate what you said about the bracelet and our relationship. Having your support is really important. Still, being gay in this denomination is not well accepted, and especially for a minister. So, there’s a lot of questions ahead, but for now we have to get through this school year, so Jackson graduates and gets accepted into college.”
Ellen leaned forward and put her hand on mine. “We’re with you on that and will do whatever we can to help. We’re all on the same team, as you know.”
I paused and reflected for a few seconds, considering what these two lovely women had just said to us on top of what they’d done over the last few months. Finally, I looked at them both and said, “I don’t think I’ve told you both how much I love you, have I?”
They both grinned with shock, like schoolgirls. “You don’t need to do that. We know. It’s just how we feel about both of you.”
“It’s important to say, though,” I said softly.
Changing the subject, Susan asked, “Have you decided what you’re doing for Thanksgiving?”
I grinned now. “Yes, and you may not believe this. Lilly doesn’t have the strength to do it, so Jackson and I are cooking Thanksgiving dinner at their house. How about that?”
“That’s amazing. I’ve been hearing rumors that you know how to cook. That will make for a memorable holiday, no doubt! If you both get the time to come visit us over the weekend, just give us a call. We’d love to have you come by.”
We all just smiled at each other and then it was time to close up coffee hour.
That evening we had the usual Youth Fellowship meeting, and once again Will ended it with some upbeat songs. After everyone but Jackson had left, the boy who had asked about bullying and acceptance two weeks before asked if he could talk to me afterwards. Jackson heard him ask was smart enough to say, “Good night Pastor Dave, if you need anything just give me a call,” and head home. When we sat down in the living room, I asked what was on his mind, and he said, “It’s the bullying. It’s still going on and I don’t know what to do.”
“Josh, can you tell me about it?”
“Well, it’s still name calling, but last week it was about being small, they were calling me a runt and this week they’re calling me a fairy and pushing me around.”
“Okay, so there’s two new elements here. First. If you’re getting pushed around, then it’s starting to get physical. If they’re calling you a fairy, they’re intimating that you’re gay. You don’t need to tell me if you are, and I’m not going to ask. That’s something private. You can tell me if you ever want to, but it has nothing to do with what’s happening. Were there any witnesses to the pushing?”
He shook his head. “And, I’m guessing nobody else heard them calling you a fairy either, right?” He shook his head again.
“The problem is that even when schools have policies, it often takes a major violation of those policies to get the administration or teacher’s attention. I’ve lived in Oregon less than six months, but my understanding is that there is still no state law protecting gays, and that means there’s likely no school rules either. So, probably the only option to act on is the bullying. Can I ask you something?”
He nodded. “Do you have any close friends you can count on when something like this happens, Josh?” He shook his head.
“You know Jackson was the lead counselor for our summer church camp and is still helping a lot as counselor with Youth Fellowship, don’t you?” He nodded his head. “You heard what he shared with you last week about his situation and about not reporting. Can I ask him to talk to you? You know, just the two of you talking about it? You’re both in the same school, even if he’s a senior and you’re a freshman. The reason I ask is that I’m here, I’m not at school. It seems to me that you need a friend and moral support at school, and I’m sure he’d be willing to help.”
He was hesitant. “I don’t know Pastor Dave, I, I… I don’t want word to get around that I’m ratting out anyone.”
“You’re not. You haven’t told me anyone’s name, just what’s starting to happen. I’m suggesting we try to build a team of kids from Youth Fellowship who know what’s happening and can help each other out. If you don’t know what’s happening to each other, you can’t help each other.”
He nodded in agreement, “Okay, I’m up for it. I don’t want this to keep getting worse.”
We left it there and I called Jackson after Josh had gone home and filled him in. He said he’d try to connect with him at lunch in the next few days and get him to talk and fill him in on the details.
Lilly’s therapy session on Monday ended up becoming a discussion to reschedule. No session was scheduled the following week due to the holiday, and then tabling others until there was an update on her cancer recurrence. Tuesday, I drove to the FoodTown to do the shopping for Thanksgiving. I’d spoken to Lilly to check on any special requests, and her usual approach sounded pretty standard, so I knew there was a couple of ways to add a new dimension.
Band practice was Wednesday night because of Thanksgiving, and Jackson came by on the way home. I asked how the week had gone and he said he was pretty sure he’d done really well on his tests in all classes. When I asked about band practice, he described the songs they were working on, but seems disconcerted. “What’s up Lover Boy?”
He looked at me. “After Tom and Steve left, and Will and I were talking about stuff like the arrangements he’s working on, and Heroes, and opera and stuff, out of the blue he said, ‘So, are you going to tell me about that bracelet or not?’ I didn’t know what to say.”
I didn’t know what to say either. I had hoped it was water under the bridge with Will. Apparently not. “What did you say.”
“Well, I tried to avoid it, but he called me on it. He said he thought we were friends, and friends trusted each other, and stuff like that.”
I was quiet, beginning to see in my mind’s eye all the dominoes starting to fall.
“He wasn’t being aggressive or nasty, just sincerely asking. I didn’t know what to say, how much to say, or what. Then he said, ‘Jackson, I’m on your side, Okay. We’re friends. We’ve known each other for years. I’ve got eyes, I can see. I’ve got ears, I can hear. It was Pastor Dave, wasn’t it?’ I could feel the pressure build, and when he said it was you, I thought I was going to die.”
“But you didn’t and you’re here, and you didn’t arrive in tears or with a nervous breakdown, so what happened.”
“Well, he told me to chill out, he reminded me that he’s a musician and an artist and he knows people who are gay, and he doesn’t have a problem with it. I was so embarrassed at being caught out and he told me to just give it up. He said he cared about me and that if you and I were together and happy then it was cool by him.”
“He actually said that?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said. Then he told me not to panic, that it’s not like everyone has figured this out. He’s close to me. He knew about your taking me to see Star Wars, but the only other people that do are Susan and Ellen. He sees us together, like at the Harvest Fair, and at Youth Fellowship, at band practice and other places, he hears me talking about you. That’s all stuff, he said, that other people don’t see all of. They only see a piece or two, so they can’t put the whole picture together. Do you think that’s true?”
He was looking at me now like I had the answer to the biggest mystery question of the year! “I really don’t know. The way he said it makes sense. After Susan and Ellen, and then Gary and Lois and your Mom, he’s the closest person to you, and that makes him closer to me than most anyone else. I guess it makes sense.”
We were quiet for a minute or two. “I guess we’ve got to take him at his word. Did you talk to him about keeping it quiet?”
“Yeah, I did, like I’ve got to finish high school and it’s really important for you that this not blow up. He said he understood, not to worry, no one would find out from him. He thinks it’s kind of cool that we’ve got a gay minister. How about that?”
I finally smiled at that last comment. “I guess I’d think it cool too, if it wasn’t me that was the gay minister! Anyway, you can’t lie to your good friends, you have to trust them. Like Alexander the Great and his dog—this is when we find out who can keep the trust. Now I have something I have to tell you about.”
I told him about the conversation with his Mom on the way back from the hospital. “I haven’t said anything before now because I didn’t know if she would talk to you about it too. That hasn’t happened yet, clearly, but since we’re talking about who knows and who doesn’t and all of that, I think you need to know about that conversation too.”
He’d been sitting listening to me, a look of disbelief on his face. Finally, he said, “Are you shitting me? She said that to you? She told you that? That she doesn’t condemn our relationship and won’t stand in the way? Are you serious?”
“I’m deadly serious. That’s why I’m telling you. I also think she’s in touch with how she’s feeling. I need to say something to you that’ll be hard. I think what she told me was part of expressing her feelings to a person who is close to her son. I also think that she’s starting to wrap up her affairs, like she knows what’s coming, and she wants to get the important things done. Do you understand me?”
“You mean like she knows she’s going to die?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That’s part of what I think is going on. She’s getting weaker, and I think she knows what’s happening—that the cancer is back. I also think she will want to have that conversation with you. That’s part of why I’m telling you this. First, it’s because we don’t have secrets between us, right? Second, it’s because what I sense is what’s called closure. She’s trying to wrap up or close up any open issues or misunderstandings or whatever in the time she’s got left. Do you understand that?”
“Well, yeah. But that all means she thinks she’s going to die, right?”
“Yes, but Jackson, we all die. It’s only a question of when. You want to know what one of the most surprising things about my four months here is? I haven’t had to conduct a funeral yet. People die all the time.”
“But this is my Mom!” He was really emotional now.
I pulled him into me in a tight embrace. “Yes, it is, and that’s why I’m telling you this. So, you’re prepared. If she’s has this conversation with you and she’s trying to attain closure, one part will be to tell you she loves you and she’s Okay with your relationship, the other part will be seeking your acceptance and forgiveness. That’s what I want you to think about. If this happens and you get wigged out and way emotional, she won’t get the opportunity for the kind of closure I think she’s trying to find. She wants to die on good terms with you two.”
He was sobbing now, and I could feel the tears running off his cheeks onto my chest. “It’s Okay, Jackson, it’ll be hard, but it’s Okay. It happens to us all, to everyone. But all too many people die without resolving conflicts like this. If I’m right that this is what she’s doing, then you should consider yourself fortunate.”
We were quiet for a few minutes. I continued to hold him tight, he had his arms around my waist, and I could tell he’d stopped sobbing. “How’m I going to go home now and not just be an emotional mess?”
“It won’t be easy, but you’ll do it. You’re a mature young man. You’re more than capable of handling this. You just have to decide that you accept the inevitable and that you want to handle what happens, if it happens, in the best way possible. That’s all.”
I felt his head nod on my chest. “I’m with you every step of the way. By the way, we’re going to do some exotic stuff for Thanksgiving!”
“Yeah?” He didn’t sound enthused.
“Yeah! We’re going to have cranberry sauce with horseradish. That’ll spice things up. We’re going to have green beans with soy sauce and a touch of hot sauce. And of course, we’ll have gravy to go with the spuds and the turkey. What do you think?”
“I think you’re trying to keep me sane.”
“You’re right. I wouldn’t want my Lover Boy to lose it! Can’t have you going insane! You’re too important to me for that to happen.”
I pushed him off my chest and held him by both shoulders, looking him straight in the eyes. “You can do this! The next few weeks aren’t going to be easy. Just remember it’s us. You’re not doing this alone.”
“I know, David. Thanks for reminding me. And thanks for telling me. I bet I would have had a panic attack if Mom had just dropped this on me out of the blue. Do we need to tell Gary?”
“Yes, we do. I don’t think it matters if it’s you or me. Whoever had the first opportunity. I think we can assume that Gary would be as surprised or caught off guard as you when it happens. You’d tend to get emotional. He’d tends to close down and withdraw. So, for him too, having an understanding of what’s going on and what might happen is important.”
I’d found a small enough turkey that it would only take three hours in the oven. Jackson had come over to the parsonage to help me carry the makings for dinner over to their house, and it was about noon when we started. On the walk over Jackson told me he’d talked to Gary earlier about Lilly. He said it had gone alright, like Gary just absorbed it as another piece of info and didn’t say much besides ‘thanks for telling me.’ I told him we had a lunch date on Saturday, because Fred, the gay seminary student I’d met at the Star Wars lecture was home for Thanksgiving and had called me earlier. He was going to drive down from Portland.
When done right, one of the best things about Thanksgiving, or any other holiday feast for that matter, is the amount of time it takes, and all the work and fun and interchanges that can take place. We had the dressing made and the bird stuffed and in the oven by 12:30. We were aiming to eat about 4:00 PM. Now we had three hours to spend together, doing various prep work on the individual dishes, and enjoying ourselves.
Lilly had made a pumpkin pie, which was nice of her to do. Jackson was making a salad. I had Gary teed up to peel potatoes so we could roast them along with the turkey, and I’d do the green beans right at the end. Lois was planning on coming over about 4:30 to join us for dessert. After the turkey went into the oven, we all wandered into the living room, and Jackson said, “what are we going to do while the turkey cooks?” He got blank looks from everyone.
“I know! We play Scrabble! I’ve still got my game in my bedroom closet.” He was off up the stairs. I had to give it to him. Talk about thinking on your feet! The Scrabble game turned out to be great because it was something to focus on during which we had easy and pleasant conversation.
About 2:00 PM I told Gary it was time to go do the potatoes. We headed for the kitchen and left Jackson and Lilly in the living room. Gary peeled and cut the potatoes into quarters while I boiled and salted some water. While we worked, we talked and I asked him how classes were going, and though a lot of work he was still upbeat. When I asked about his meetings with Prof McFall, he said they were still happening on Fridays, and they were really helping him get in synch and stay with the program. I smiled at him, and he smiled back proudly.
We blanched the potatoes, ran cold water over them, then tossed them with some oil and salt and pepper, and laid them on a flat pan to roast in the oven with the turkey.
Then I trimmed and cut the green beans and set them to stand in a bowl of cold water. We’d be back in half an hour to check on the potatoes and get going on the beans. When we walked into the living room it was apparent that Lilly and Jackson had been deep in conversation, so we quietly took a seat and let the conversation broaden to include us. Jackson looked at me seriously and nodded his head. I smiled back at him, sending him all the love I could.
Lilly looked tired, and the conversation dwindled. A nap would do her good, so I waved the boys into the kitchen. “It’s Thanksgiving, and you guys may be technically underage, but I’m going to have a glass of wine. Are you interested? Gary smiled and said “Yes.” Jackson wasn’t sure. “Try some of mine first and see what you think.” He nodded.
I’d purposely avoided a dry white wine, and Jackson said he liked it, but he’d prefer a soda! Gary enjoyed his, and Jackson told us that Lilly had had the conversation with him. I asked how it went.
“She mainly said she wanted to apologize for not being a good mother, for letting things get out of hand, but she wanted me to know she loved me.” He was tearing up as his told us. It took a minute to get his emotions under control, then he went on, looking at me, “she also said she didn’t understand relationships between men but she could see how happy we are together and that she wanted me to know she was fine with it.”
I smiled and said nothing, just reached out and stroked his cheek. Gary said, “That’s far out.” He’d been briefed, so now understood how events were unfolding, and didn’t want to ask questions about what had been said. His turn would be coming up.
The turkey was roasting right on schedule, and I drained the green beans and set them aside, then toasted some sliced almonds in a frying pan and set them aside. The turkey came out and was set on a board and covered with foil, and the pan drippings were on their way to become gravy as a pot of water came to a boil. Gary blanched the beans and drained them as I finished the gravy. Then the beans went into the frying pan with the toasted almonds, a bit of oil and a shake of hot sauce and a shot of soy sauce. A couple of minutes at simmer with an occasional stir and they’d be ready.
Jackson was almost finished with the salad, and Gary and I went to work on carving the turkey and piling the carved meat on a platter. I told Jackson to set his salad on the table and see about getting Lilly to the table, and Gary and I carried the rest of the serving dishes to the table.
Lilly looked happy and expectant as we all sat down, and it was a festive occasion. I’d poured her a glass of water, Jackson had his soda, and Gary and I had some wine. I stood and made a toast. “Here’s to this family, and a Happy Thanksgiving!” We all clinked glasses and settled in to serve and eat.
A few minutes later, Lilly volunteered, “Wow, Pastor Dave, this cranberry sauce has a zing to it!”
I grinned. Mission accomplished. Lilly ate more than I expected her to, and the boys ate as boys will. Lois was right on time, and gave Gary and hug and a kiss on the cheek when she walked in. We all decided we needed to wait a bit on dessert, so she helped us clear the table. Gary suggested she try the cranberry sauce, and you could see her expression light up. “Wow, that’s great. Who’s idea was that?”
“I think it came from the New York Times Cooking Section, but our cook back in Philly introduced it to our family, and it just kind of stuck. Pretty great, eh?”
The next day I called home to check in with my parents and wish them a happy Thanksgiving and update them on things in Oregon. Fred drove down from Portland on Saturday, and we had a pleasant couple of hours over lunch catching up and discussing mythology and seminary life. Jackson found him quite interesting and they talked about what it was like to be gay and in seminary, if he was out (he wasn’t) and what the tensions were. I could tell that he wanted to ask him, with his understanding of mythology and all the implications that go with it, why he was in seminary at all, but he was too gracious to dump that on a nice guy he’d just met. We told him what we were dealing with regarding Jackson’s Mom and he was completely understanding. We promised to make a better effort to stay in touch and saw him off back to Portland.
Gary stayed home with Lilly on Sunday morning, and that’s when Lilly had her talk with him. I felt like I barely did a passable job on the sermon. It was the First Sunday of Advent leading up to Nativity, and the Gospel reading was Chapter 24: 37-44 in Matthew. the passage described what happened during the time of Noah and carried the overarching statement that “The coming of the Son of Man will repeat what happened during Noah’s time. In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, right up to the day Noah entered the ark. They were unconcerned until the flood came and destroyed them.” As a preamble to the birth of Jesus, it is a message to be vigilant and prepared.
Susan and Ellen asked us again if we could come by for a visit, and we agreed to drive out mid-afternoon for tea. Jackson felt he had to be home in the evening after Youth Fellowship and tea seemed a pleasant alternative. On the way out he told me with the crazy school schedule this week, he hadn’t been able to connect with Josh, but would next week for sure.
When we got there Susan and Ellen had done it up proper, with small sandwiches, pastries and a selection of cookies. They escorted us into the living room and sat us down, and Ellen asked Jackson if he enjoyed tea.
“Well,” he said, sounding a little embarrassed, “I’m not sure I’ve ever had it. I mainly drink soft drinks.”
Ellen smiled, “Then you should like it. It has caffeine, though less than a coke. You can drink it black or with cream or with sugar, so you can make it as sweet as you want. It’s a very pleasant drink, especially on a damp day like today. And it goes well with this assortment of things to eat.”
We talked about how Thanksgiving had gone, and Jackson filled them in on the menu, the cranberry sauce with horseradish, carving the turkey and Lilly’s pumpkin pie. They were quite pleased we’d been able to pull it all off. “David even taught me how to chop an onion! He’s pretty good with a kitchen knife.” He grinned.
Susan looked at me, smiling, “You turn out to be a man of many talents,” she said coyly.
“Well, I’m competent at any number of things, but not expert at anything really,” I replied.
“You’re too modest, Pastor Dave. Now Jackson, fill me in on what Will is doing? I’m quite pleased he’s trying to do this arranging of popular songs. How’s the progress?”
Jackson updated her, and she was quite impressed that Will was using his band mates to test the arrangement of different songsbefore he showed them to her. “He’s serious, isn’t he?”
Jackson nodded, “Yeah, he is, and I was impressed with what he’s done. It sounded good to me.”
We talked music and school for a little longer, and then we took out leave so we could be home in time for Youth Fellowship. I was impressed with the fact that they didn’t quiz either of us about the particulars of our relationship, showing class and confidence, and just accepting it as is, not pressing for details. They were indeed a lovely pair of human beings.
With the holiday weekend, attendance at Youth Fellowship was light, and even Josh wasn’t there. We still had a good session, and at the end I turned to Will, “What about we wrap up with a couple of songs?” Will took over and we ended on an upbeat note. When all the kids had left, Will stayed behind with Jackson and me, and we were still in the living room. I asked them if they wanted a soda, both nodded, and I went to the kitchen to grab three. When I came back, they were deep in conversation.
Will was saying, “What you said last week was so powerful, man. I don’t know how you did it. Most people would rather die than admit in public that that kind of thing happened to them. I know it helped answer the question, and that everyone else got the message too about being real and reporting shit when it goes down. Way to go!”
“Well, saying it was embarrassing, you know, because I’ve never told other people before. But I know it’s public info, so why not. Especially if it helps some other kids avoid the same problem, or even different problems.
I handed them the sodas and added, “Helping kids know when to report, when to say something is really important. Most people, let alone kids, struggle to get out from under the shadow of the system they’ve grown up with. That can mean they’re trapped and helping them get free is a big deal. What you shared, Jackson, was really important like Will is saying.”
Jackson was quiet, and Will was looking from him to me. “This may be none of my business, but how did it happen? I mean, what you told me before,” and he was looking at Jackson now, “was that he’d knocked you down the stairs or something, and that’s how he got caught. Is that right?”
Jackson glanced at me, and I just smiled. Will was still curious and already knew a lot and had figured out even more, and we were in the middle of a test of trust. There was no going back now.
“Will, it had been going on for over a year, beatings and whipping, and I got caught trying to sneak out late one night, and it all blew up on the stairs with Mom and Bud and I was wrong because I was trying to sneak out and I cussed out my Mom, but Bud smacked me and knocked me down the stairs. I ended up with a black eye and a contusion and a big bruise, and Miss Albridge saw it and she said she was going to report it, and Ellen Hayes added to it because Mom and Dad didn’t take me to the hospital, so it was physical abuse and medical neglect. Plus, for Bud it was a second offense, so that’s why he got a five-year jail sentence.”
“All because you were sneaking out? That’s unbelievable.”
I didn’t think Will had connected all the dots yet, but I could see it happening.
Jackson went on, “Yeah, that was my screw up, and I made it worse by getting mad and cussing Mom out, but what Bud did was just one more example of what he’d been doing to us.”
Will’s curiosity got the best of him. “Where were you going in the middle of the night? Why were they up? My parents go to sleep and that’s it till the next morning. Uhm, how did Miss Albridge see you? I mean it was summer, school was out.”
Jackson was clearly uncomfortable now but manned up. “Mom was drunk and going to the bathroom or something, I don’t know. I was going out to my fort. We ran into each other at the top of the stairs. Then the shouting woke Bud up. Then it got worse.”
“All over going out to your fort? What was the big deal about that?”
“No big deal about that. But I lost my temper and started swearing, then it went sideways.”
“Honest to God! All over going out to your fort.” Then I saw him look at me…and connect the dots. “Oh, shit. Were you going out to your fort so you could….uhm…oh! I’m sorry, I’m so stupid sometimes. I should have just shut up a while ago and not said anything.”
It was time. “Will,” I said, “Jackson told me you’ve figured us out, and you’re a good friend of his. I think it’s time we talk.”
He looked like a deer in the headlights. “What do you mean? I’m not trying to hassle you or anything.”
“Will, I know that. You’re curious and that’s fine. But why don’t we just talk this out. Jackson told me you’d told him you thought I gave him the bracelet. That’s true, I did. He also said you told him you thought it was cool to have a gay minister. Is that true?”
Now he really looked shocked. The kind of shocked that happens with you get called on something you said out loud.
“Well, yeah, but, I mean, uhm…, I’m not trying to cause trouble, I just let my curiosity take over. I, I’m…well, I’m sorry for making a mess out of this. Jackson’s my friend and I care about him. I really like you too. I’m sorry if I screwed this up.”
“Will, sometimes the brightest people can do the dumbest things. Just ask Jackson. Cussing out your mother in the middle of the night turns out not to be a smart thing to do. Right Jackson?”
I was smiling at them now. “Yeah, Rev, that’s right.”
I could tell he wasn’t shying away from this encounter, probably emboldened by what he had shared earlier with Youth Fellowship.
“Will, I told David about you quizzing me the other night about this after band practice,” he held up his wrist to show the bracelet, “and that you’ve pretty much figured out our relationship. Like he said, it seems like it’s time to talk about the rest of it.”
Will looked really sheepish now. “Really, you guys, you don’t have to. I’m sorry for pushing and asking all those dumb questions. It’s really none of my business.”
He looked at Jackson, “But when we became friends again after church camp, I felt really bad about what happened, and blamed myself for letting it happen. I mean, I didn’t have to just go along with whatever you were going through. But I did, I stepped back or checked out, and never asked myself what could be happening to you that made the change happen. That’s my fault, and I feel bad about it. That’s why I want to know what happened. Not because I’m nosy or a gossip, but because I feel bad that I let it happen. Can you understand that?”
“I can,” Jackson said, “and you don’t have to feel guilty about any of it. What happened was on my side, and no matter what you’d tried to do it wouldn’t have made any difference with Bud.”
He paused, collecting his thoughts, and we sat in silence for a little while.
Then he continued. “You figured it out. I got caught because I was going to my fort as a way out of the house, but I was really coming over here to be with David. I was lonely and alone, and I’d fallen for him big time. I knew I was gay, and we were just starting to sort that out, and I desperately wanted to be with him. And then it all blew up.”
Will looked a little confused. The two friends had gone as far as they could go in the conversation. It was my turn.
“Will, Jackson’s not saying some things because he doesn’t want to put me on the spot. What we’re telling you now is the ultimate test of trust. You’re his friend, and becoming mine, and you now have our lives in your hands. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
He nodded, his expression indicating he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue. However, he’d started the line of questioning and here we were.
“Jackson had the advantage of knowing he was gay before we met. You probably didn’t know that because Bud had shut down his relationships with all his friends. I didn’t know I was gay until I met Jackson. It took finding this person that I dearly love, who makes me complete, to realize it and come to grips with it. The first week was a roller coaster for both of us. You can imagine. New minister in town falls for teenage boy and has to accept he’s gay. Teenage boy falls for new minister, has to try and get out of being grounded but gets caught. It was pretty crazy for a while, but fortunately what happened was that Miss Albridge came by here to work on the Sunday service two days after it happened, and she saw the injuries and reported Bud.”
I paused, and I could see the expression change on Will’s face to one of empathy for his friend. He reached out his hand to Jackson, “I’m sorry, man. I was a pretty shitty friend. I shouldn’t have just checked out. I should have been there for you. I hope you can forgive me.”
I saw Jackson squeeze his hand back. “It’s cool, Will. I don’t think you could have changed much. But when I got out from under it all, you know what? You were there, and we picked up right where we left off. That means more to me than anything. I’ve got my best friend back, and on top of that, I also have the love of my life. Can you understand that?”
“I’m trying,” Will said, now looking at me. “I’ve met a few gay guys before, you know, on choir tours or at band camps and stuff, so that’s not a problem. It’s just the surprise of finding out Jackson’s gay, but it was like he was gone for more than a year. And then finding out you two are together. I’ll sort it out, no worry, but please don’t hate me for barging into your relationship.”
“You guys are friends,” I said to him. “It’s natural you want to know not just what happened, but what’s going on in his life. You’re also perceptive, and you’ve pretty much figured it out on your own, so there’s no point in doing anything but all of us being up front about it.”
“Thanks, Pastor Dave. I’m glad you’re not pissed at me. I like you a lot, and I was really worried I crossed a line with you and Jackson. I told him the other night that I’m cool with it, and no one will find out from me. I did say I thought it was cool to have a gay minster. But, I’m not stupid and I know where we live and how conservative it is and how backward some people are, so trust me, I’m not letting any info out, Okay? More than anything I just wanted to understand, and like I said, I still feel bad for letting Jackson down.”
He looked at Jackson and said, “I know you don’t think I let you down, but that’s how I feel, and you can’t change that, Okay. Friends not only trust each other and are honest with each other, they support each other, and I didn’t do that. I’m sorry. I know you don’t like the idea, and that’s the last time you’ll hear it from me, but I want you both to know.”
Jackson got up and walked the two steps to Will, “Thanks, man. Can I give you a hug?” Will stood up and they hugged each other, and I could see it was sincere both ways. I smiled watching it.
When they sat back down, I looked at him and said, “So now let’s talk about your best friend having a boyfriend who happens to be the minister of your church.”
His eyebrows rose on that one. “That’s heavy when you put it like that.”
“Well, that’s what it is, and that’s what we need to deal with. I said earlier you have our life in your hands. It’s true. Jackson has to finish high school and get accepted into college and being outed in this town would make that very difficult. The Presbyterian Church considers homosexuality a depraved sin, so just knowing that should be enough to figure out what would happen if they found out I’m gay. Just so you know, I could deal with it personally, but that’s not the point. I’m in a relationship with your friend, and what happens to me happens to him, and vice versa. That’s what I mean about us all being in this together now.”
Will was quiet. We didn’t say anything. Waiting for him. Finally, he looked at me and then at Jackson and smiled and said, “This doesn’t change anything for me. I told Jackson the other night that I’m on his side. Tonight, I’m going to say I’m on your side, meaning the two of you. I’m glad you’ve found each other. We’re all friends and in this together now, I accept that. It doesn’t matter to me that you’re gay, and I’ll not only not let a word out, I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Jackson was smiling widely, and I felt the relief and smiled too, probably for the first time in ten minutes. “Thanks, Will. Having you on our side is a big deal to us, right Jackson.”
“It sure is. Will, I want to come over there and give you another hug, but I don’t want to weird you out because I’m gay. I also want to hug David because he’s my boyfriend, but I don’t want to embarrass you since you’re not gay. This is complicated!”
Will was laughing now, “You guys are too much. How about you act around me like you would with anyone else. It’s not that big a deal. I don’t care if you’re affectionate. But I’m betting you don’t do that in public, do you?”
“No way! I mean, I’m legal now because I’m eighteen, but I’ve got to finish high school and not get outed, so we’ve all got to be cool. I’m sorry you’re getting all of this laid on you, but…” and here he paused, smiling while looking at Will, “…but, you asked the questions, didn’t you? Now you know!”
I stood up and Will did too. “Will, can I give you a hug? You’ve become my friend too, and I thank you for your honesty and integrity, especially for how you feel about this guy, who’s your friend and my boyfriend.” He grinned and I gave him one of those discreet man hugs! We parted smiling. Jackson said, “my turn now,” and pulled him into a real hug.
There was a pleasant and friendly silence, and Will looked from Jackson to me, and then said, “Will one of you now tell me about the bracelet? What’s the deal, what does it mean? It’s beautiful and all but come on. Fill me in. I’m dying from the curiosity.”
We walked him through the story of me finding the Mayer Brothers Jewelry store in Seattle, that the Raven and Eagle together are called the Lovebirds in Tlingit lore, and he thought that was outrageous. Jackson wasn’t going to let him off easy. “So, Will, are you a love bird with anyone?”
Will blushed. “I’m dating a couple of girls, but not going steady with anyone. You know how it is. I guess they’d say I’m playing the field or something like that.”
Jackson grinned wickedly. “Well, let us know. If you ever become love birds with one of them, maybe we can go on a double date!”
We all cracked up at that.
Will looked at the clock and said, “Wow, it’s late. I’ve got to get home. At least I’ll get a pass from my parents because I was staying after Youth Fellowship with the Pastor, and that has to be legit and edifying, right?”