Tuesday morning, when business resumed after the holiday, I called Spencer and asked when I could meet with him. He suggested lunch, so we met at a local restaurant. I explained to him what had happened since Lilly’s death, in case he didn’t know all the details. Specifically, that the boys had moved into the parsonage till we got through the funeral and the holidays, and that we were now at a decision point.
“Do you want to elaborate on that?”
“Sure. It started out as simple human compassion, taking care of them after their mother died and making sure they weren’t alone and living by themselves in that house. We’ve gotten along amazingly well and get along well enough that we now kid one another about being the Three Musketeers. We don’t want it to end. Meaning neither Jackson nor Gary, nor me for that matter, want it to end. But we know that while I may be a trustee of Lilly’s estate, I’m not related to them, they’re not immediate family. So, what we’re proposing is that I move into their home and continue using the parsonage as the church office.”
He didn’t act shocked but sat quietly as if he was processing what he’d heard and trying to assess motives and tradeoffs . “I hear what you just told me. But you’re really willing to do this, to become a proxy father? You do understand the responsibility, don’t you?”
“Spence, it’s not about responsibility. I feel I can be honest with you. It’s about love. We’ve gotten close. These boys are working out their problems. They’ve become brothers again. They’re both doing well in school. They’ve got their lives ahead of them. I want to do everything I can to make that happen. It’s not that different than what you did when you came up with the idea of financing the riding mower.”
He grinned wryly. “Somehow I knew you were going to remind me of that. I can’t argue with your motivation, but there is quite a difference between fronting some cash and becoming a proxy father! I can see how far both of them have come, and they’ve paid off over two thirds of the mowing equipment cost already! We know they’re responsible, and you said they’re doing well in school too?”
“Beyond well. They’re both serious. Jackson got straight A’s, and Gary got two A’s and a B+ at community college, and this is a kid who almost got nothing but C’s in high school. Plus, he has a great relationship going with Lois. It’s all good stuff. What they need more than anything else is a family dynamic in which they can continue to prosper. So, the specific question is if this is going to cause a problem with the Session or with the church?”
He thought, and then said, “Why would it? You’re a trustee of the estate, and I’ll speak to the Chair to make sure he’s clear on that, and it won’t hurt if word gets around about that, as well as the motivation to provide a family environment. I mean, the fact is that in the last six months they’ve lost both parents. That’s pretty serious. I think it’s commendable that you want and are willing to do this, and I’ll do what I can to encourage the Session to think the same way. And by the way, it goes without saying that I’m here to help if you need me to.”
I smiled and thanked him. He asked if everything else was Okay, and I filled him in on Jackson’s real father coming back into the picture, and the positive visit we had with him in Seattle. He was enthusiastic about that.
At that point he paused and looked at me. “How are you doing, David? This is a lot of stuff to go through in six months, and you’ve either been in the middle of it, or close to the action all the way through. Are you holding up?”
I really wanted to tell him what I was going through, the questions of faith, the ministerial challenges, the joys of being in love, but I couldn’t. Maybe one day, but right now it was premature.
“I’m doing fine, Spence, I haven’t been on the receiving end like Jackson and Gary have. Most of what I’ve been doing is what a pastor or counselor is expected to do.”
He told me he thought that by the end of the week he’d have all the paperwork in place to transfer title on the house and move the remaining assets into the trust, and would set up a meeting to sign it all at that point. We left it there. It was time for a family meeting and planning for a move!
We had the meeting that evening, and decided what we were going to do, knowing school started the next week. Tomorrow we’d start the clean out process at the Harris house. We agreed on a simple approach. Anything specifically Bud’s would go into boxes we’d deliver to his business for him when he got out of jail. We’d then remove all the other things that were associated with the Harris house the way it used to be that were negative for either Gary or Jackson. That turned out to be most of the personal stuff.
It meant we had to settle the “who sleeps where” question, and Gary was emphatic that Jackson and I were a couple and we’d take the master bedroom. We decided that to make a clean break with the past we could live with the furniture downstairs in the living areas, but we would replace the bedroom furniture upstairs. It wasn’t that large a house, and there weren’t that many furnishings, so we actually had most of it done on Tuesday, spent Wednesday buying new bedroom furniture for the master bedroom and for Gary’s room, which was to be delivered on Friday. Thursday, we cleared out the small stuff the boys didn’t want to keep and moved my stuff, mainly albums and sound system, and personal books plus clothing into our new home.
Friday night Jackson and I got to break in our new bed, and even though we’d had a long day, he was full of energy. Lois was over and we all had supper together and they left on a date to catch a movie. Jackson and I listened to music and read, lounging in each other’s arms in the living room
“It’s amazing how the vibe has changed in this place, even though the furniture down here is the same. All the stuff that said Bud is gone, and the music pumping through here is ours, and we’re stamping our love and affection on it. I think it’s cool. I love it. Do you?”
He’d reached around me and pulled me over for a hug and kiss, and I whispered, “I’m happy as a clam. You’re right the vibe has changed. It’s ours, and it’s wonderful. It feels to me like the first taste of creating a life together.”
I hugged him tight at that, pushing my tongue into his mouth and letting it start the dance with his. He responded immediately and we made out for a while. I could see the sparkle cooking in his eyes, and before long he said, “Let’s go upstairs. We’ve got a new bed to check out.” His eyebrows were wiggling, and his tongue was out and making lasciviousness motions.
When we got into our new bedroom, he turned the bedside lamps on, so the lighting was low, and as we stood at the foot of the bed he whispered. “This is our room. This is our space. We don’t have to worry about what we do or about what anyone thinks. I want to feel one thing every time I walk in here: your love.”
He was stroking my jaw and neck as he said that, and I reciprocated. He reached for the buttons on my shirt and I kissed him as he undid them and slid the shirt down my arms and dropped it on the floor. I removed his as he stroked my chest and tickled my nipples, I tipped my head back and closed my eyes, wanting to feel nothing but the love he’d spoken of. I felt him undo my jeans and open my zip, and push them off my hips, and I still stood there, amazed at the sensations that took me to an almost inconceivable sensory place. We’d been making love to each other for six months, and it still felt that each time was a little more real, a little more amazing, a little further down the path of affirmation that I was a sensory and sexual creature and that it was good and to be enjoyed in this expression of love taking place between us. For someone who grew up with almost no expressions of love, there was still a struggle with the question of worth and even propriety. But Jackson, deft sensualist that he was, always made sure I knew, and always took me places of sensory wonder.
I’d felt him drop to his knees and take me in his mouth, his fingers still stroking my belly, slipping around my flanks and down and around the curves of my buttocks, to meet at the base of my cock with his fingers kneading in my pubes. It didn’t take long and I had to lean down and say, “We should slow down. If you keep going like this, I’m going to cum soon.”
He looked up at me and slipped off my cock. “Good. That’s what I want. I love being here, feeling your sexy body under my hands and you’re beautiful cock in my mouth. I want you to cum and cum hard. Then I want you to undress me and make love to me. We’re breaking this room and this bed in, and we’ve got all night, and it’s going to be memorable.” He was smiling, and his hazel eyes were sparkling, catching the light in the room, and I marveled as he took me back in his mouth. And it wasn’t long before I came, bucking wildly as he held my buttocks and pulled me firmly into him.
I had to sit down on the end of the bed when he was done, to catch my breath and make sure my knees didn’t buckle. He stepped up between my knees, clasping my head with his arms, pulling my face into his stomach where I reveled in the warmth radiating off him, feeling the tightness of the abdominal muscles under his soft skin. I had my arms clasped around his waist, and eventually started stroking his buttocks, and moving around front to undo his jeans and let them drop to the floor.
I made him step back, stood up to kiss him as sensuously as I could. I leaned back, holding him by the shoulders so I could look him up and down. “Sheer beauty, and so sexy!”
I know I was smiling, and I could see just a hint of embarrassment on his face. He was still getting used to it too.
“Do you know what I just discovered when I had my face on your belly,” I asked?
He shook his head just enough for me to see, as if not wanting to disrupt the moment.
“I just discovered that your treasure trail is getting thicker. Did you know? It’s always been one of the things about you that made me wild. Do you remember the cut offs and the T-shirt back in July? When you were moving stuff into the parsonage. When you lifted your arms, there was the beginnings of it.”
He eyes were still staring straight into mine, his smile radiant.
I dropped to my knees and said, “It’s right here,” and licked from his pubes up to his navel. He gasped and shuddered, and I did it again, and again, and I could feel his cock hardening against the side of my jaw. I slid my hands up his belly and around his hips to his buttocks and felt him shudder again as I took his cock in my mouth, sliding all the way down till I felt his pubes against my lips again.
“Oh my god, David, oh my god,” he hissed. I wanted this to be as sensory as I could make it, and I focused on stroking him with my fingertips everywhere and as far on his body as I could reach, all the while moving up and down on his cock. I heard him start to pant and then his breathing become ragged, and his hands moved from my shoulders to the sides of my head, and as he came, splashing into the back of my mouth, I could feel him pull me to him, and the musky smell of my Lover Boy filled my nostrils.
We collapsed onto the bed, kissing and stroking each other’s face, resting quietly, just looking at one another, words not needed. If I’d died right then, feeling his fingers on my cheek and staring into those sparkling hazel eyes, and I would have died happy.
Eventually I saw a smile start to form on his lips. “Pretty good start, don’t you think, my Sexy Man? This is going to be our love den.”
The smile had broadened into a grin and the dimples flared and he looked so open and happy and innocent. I leaned over and kissed him again, whispering, “I love the sound of that.”
We rested and probably fell asleep for a few minutes, because the next thing I remembered was his fingertips running along my jaw line, and I opened my eyes to see that radiant smile just inches from me. “What a wonderful view!”
He giggled and slipped his hand onto my neck and then down the center of my chest and across my belly and his fingertips danced in my pubes. “What a wonderful body, my Sexy Man, and I’m proud to say it’s mine. And mine’s yours. I love you so much I sometimes can’t even stand it, like I don’t know how to handle or control the feelings.”
“I get like that too. For me it’s about being able to contain it. Like it just keeps growing and getting larger and more intense and I wonder how I can handle something that intense. And then I do. Because it’s you. Because you’re my other half, and when you’re inside me the intensity softens, and doesn’t need to be contained because it’s shared, because it’s spread between us somehow and makes us one. You know what I mean?”
“I do, I feel kind of the same way. When your cock is inside me, filling me up, making me whole, making us one, it’s like everything I feel that I can’t control merges together. I guess that’s like you said about making us one. Do you remember mind-meld from Star Trek, what Vulcans like Spock can do? For them it was a touch technique that allowed their mind to merge with the essence of another person’s mind. I feel kind of like that, but also that our bodies, our being, is merging together too.
“That’s a wonderful way to phrase it. And you know what? I want your cock inside me, and I want to feel you fill me up, and I want to feel that merging into you.”
I felt his hand leave my pubes and take hold of my cock. “Okay, but don’t you dare cum, because I want this inside me after you’re done. This is a two-way merging!”
And so, it was! And the first night in our love den was christened!
Saturday there was still lots to do, and there was no time to sleep in. We spent the day unpacking boxes, arranging and sorting stuff out. Deciding who got which side of our closet and which drawers in the dresser. We moved some posters from Jackson’s old room into ours, and I dug out a Grateful Dead poster I’d had for a long time but hadn’t hung. It was fun, and later on, after lunch, Jackson and I went to work on the books and the albums, as we’d done down the street six months before. Gary helped moving boxes in and out, and at one point late in the afternoon, we were all paused and looked at each other and started laughing.
“Do you know what we’ve done in the last five days,” I asked them?
“Yeah, a lot. I’m tired,” Gary said. Jackson smiled in agreement.
“We’ve just restructured out lives. Like JC said to us in Seattle, we’re building a family here. We’ve just decorated our new home. This is so cool. I want you two to know that you’re the most important people in my life, and this new arrangement probably won’t last forever, but we’re all going to be better for it.”
I didn’t think they understood the depths of significance in what I was saying like I did, but I was confident they’d be there soon. For me who had a diffident father and a distant mother and a know-it-all brother, and was old enough to understand the cost, the opportunity to create a family dynamic that was healthy and loving, and which would replace all of that was incredibly strong. I was confident that they would experience it and come to the same realization that I was experiencing.
I looked at both of them and asked, “One for all and all for one?”
They hooted “Oh yeah,” and we high-fived.
“We’ve had a long few days. How about we clean up and go out for dinner? Gary, do you want to call Lois and ask her to join us?”
He smiled, appreciating the suggestion, and I was feeling impish and said, “You’ve got a double bed in your room now. Maybe you should show it to her?”
He looked at me, initially with a glare, which quickly faded to a smile and then became a grin. “You mean give it a first run, like you and Jackson did last night? Want to tell me all about that?”
I fought hard to stifle a grin. “I’m not saying you have to do anything on the bed. I’m just saying invite her over to see the new home we’ve got, of which she’s a part, and that includes your room, and then we’ll go to dinner. She hasn’t been here since the new furniture was delivered.”
Jackson was struggling not to laugh out loud too. “Yeah, Bro. She needs to know we’ve built a new home, and that she’s part of it cause she’s your girlfriend, and she should have the opportunity to test your bed out and make sure it’s comfortable enough for you. You know to assure that you get a good night’s sleep and high-quality rest and stuff!”
He wisely stepped out of the way, as Gary leaned over to give him an elbow in the ribs. He was laughing, though.
“Hey, bro,” Jackson said, “you asked, and we told you that we make love. We know you two are intimate, but we’re never going to be so coarse as to ask you about the specifics of what you do together. Of course, now that you’ve got that new double bed, anything is possible, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be experimenting in there, and you should. You know, we set our own rules in this house, right?”
Jackson was wisely moving toward the door into the dining room as he said this, and Gary started after him. I could hear Jackson’s voice as he went up the stairs, “I think I’m going to take a shower now!”
Gary came back in, a smile on his face.” He can be such a twerp!”
“Yeah, but it’s all good natured, and you know he loves you. You know he’d go to the end of the world for you now, don’t you?”
He paused, but only for a moment. “Yeah, I do, and I would too. It’s just that sometimes he has to push my buttons. Like only he can. He knows I’m not as, how do you say it? I guess it’s as sexually assertive as he is, so he’s just got to rub my face in it.”
I laughed out loud. “Yeah, it could be that. Could be something else too.”
He looked at me questioningly.
“He could be he’s trying to help you get comfortable with the next steps in your love life in his goofy and kind of pushy way. He knows you need a nudge every now and then.”
“You’re probably right. I guess I better get used to that part of us living together. I’m not going to get away with hiding or dodging or ignoring stuff, right?”
“Certainly not with important stuff. And by the way, it plays two ways. I’m a better person today than I was six months ago because of him. I think we all are because of each other. We’ve just got to keep helping and supporting and loving each other. That’s all. Now, are you going to call Lois?”
“Yeah, I better go do that!” I heard him pick up the phone in the hall, and in a couple of minutes he called out, “She’ll be here in half an hour. Her Dad’s going to drop her off. I’m going to take a shower.”
Pat walked Lois to the door, wanting to say hi. I know he wanted to understand what was going on, so I invited him in for a beer. I got Lois a soda and we all sat in the living room.
“So, you’re living here now. I think that’s commendable but help me understand what’s happening.” I knew he wasn’t a fool and was asking a leading question.
“Pat, I’ll tell you what I told Spencer. Yes, I’m a trustee of the estate that Lilly set up for the boys, but beyond that they are doing a phenomenal job of getting their lives together. They need a healthy family dynamic for that to really happen in. One of the main goals of CPS after Bud was arrested was to keep the family together. I told Lilly I’d do what I could, but I’ll also tell you that I’m a beneficiary here too. I’ve never been close to my parents and we had a strange family situation, quite different from what I’ve observed in your home, so I’m not ashamed to say it’s an opportunity for me too. Those two boys upstairs cleaning up are the most important people in my life. And I have to tell you that Lois is a very close second,”
Lois grinned, then blushed, not quite sure what to make of my comment.
Pat didn’t rush to respond. Then he said, “Spence talked to me. I’m pretty sure he talked to everyone on Session and maybe a few others too. I know he was Lilly’s attorney, so understand that part. I think the important thing is that like you, he has the boy’s best interest at heart. I’m with you there. Now, I’ve got something for you. That International pickup truck I told you about that we took in trade, is in great condition. It was traded in by a customer that owns a construction company. It was his personal truck, not one that hauled equipment to a job site or anything like that. Good mechanical condition, no dents, and a great interior. He passed it on to his project supervisor, and we just replaced all their pickups with new trucks. So, as it turns, out, I can run it though our body shop and get a new paint job and include an equipment trailer against trading in the Electra.”
I smiled broadly, struggling not to glance at Lois and look conspiratorial. “That sounds like a good deal to me.” Then I glanced at Lois. “What do you think? You’re kind of the objective outside observer here.”
She smiled, “I think it’s great. You were right. They’re going to need a truck and a trailer if they’re going to expand their business. This is a good used truck, like Dad said, and what he didn’t tell you is that I made him agree to get it in the shop for a complete mechanical check. We can’t have Gary developing mechanical problems on his drive to college and back.”
She made eyes at her Dad, who just smiled knowingly, and I sat back in total satisfaction.
Pat was looking at his daughter with a mix of love and appreciation, then looked over at me. “She drives a hard bargain when it’s something she cares about! We can have all the work done in a couple of weeks, then we can do the paperwork. Does that sound good to you.”
“It does to me, but I’m not the one you need to convince. That would be Gary and Jackson, and they should be down from taking their showers in a few minutes. I need to take one too. I’ll go roust them out, and you can put the offer to them while I clean up. How’s that sound?”
He nodded, and I headed upstairs. The boys were almost ready, and I hustled them downstairs to talk to Lois and her father. When I got down from showering and changing, Pat had left, Fleetwood Mac was playing, Gary and Lois were snuggled in the corner of the couch, and Jackson was sitting in a chair reading. He looked up with that lovely radiant smile.
“Nice work, Rev.”
“What? Don’t try to pin this on me. I just made an observation about you guys being better off with a pickup truck. Pat agreed. Then Lois went to work on him and drove a really hard bargain!”
Lois laughed, “Right, like I’m the main culprit in this story. All I did was make sure the truck came off Dad’s lot in the great shape. You set this up. Don’t try to pin it on me.”
I was laughing now. There was no point in trying to deflect or defend. “I’ve got a question, about the Three Musketeers. What do you call them when there’s four? Is there something similar where there was four instead of three? I ask because that’s the way this scene is looking right now.”
“Well, we’re definitely a foursome now. What do we call that?”
I looked at Lois and Gary. They both shrugged.
I grinned at them. “I’ve got an idea, but it’s one that Jackson told me last year he didn’t like. I mean, he didn’t like the novel that it came from.”
I looked at him and wiggled my eyebrows. “Remember?”
“No,” he grinned back, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“You said you didn’t like The Lord of the Rings, remember?”
“What?” Lois was aghast.
“It’s a little too much like kids fantasy for me.”
“Yeah, but what’s that got to do with the Three Musketeers?”
“Come on, Jackson,” I said. “The core of the story is the Fellowship of the Ring, and the center of that fellowship are the four hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. Remember that Josh reminded us about it and the importance of fellowship when we talked about being bullied in Youth Fellowship. I mean, with all due respect to Lois, the Hobbits are all guys, but they’re a fellowship who are on a quest, and they take care of each other and they achieve their quest. That’s what I’m talking about, so I’m suggesting the Fellowship of the Four.”
They were silent, for a minute, then Lois was clapping. “Oh, I love it. I loved the books, and I never thought of it this way, that the Fellowship can be for something other than the Ring. We have our own quest, don’t we? I mean separately like me and Gary and you and Jackson, but we also have our quest together. And there’s four of us. And I think that’s such a great model. And to think of it as a fellowship is so uplifting, don’t you think?”
She looked directly at the boys for acknowledgment. They were listening intently and beginning to smile in approval.
“Well, you know, fellowship means friendly association, especially with people who share one and other’s interests, and that certainly describes us. And I’d add that it includes working to help each other to develop and prosper, and to be happy and better people. We’re certainly doing that too!”
There being four of us, Gary drove the Buick, and we laughed and giggled all the way to the restaurant about the Fellowship of the Four and what that meant. Jackson just couldn’t resist and before dinner was over, he made sure Lois knew that Gary had a new double bed and inquired if she’d checked it out to make sure it was Okay. I thought the line of inquiry was right on the edge, but they’d known each other for years, and goofed and giggled together about all kinds of stuff, and this was one of them.
Gary dropped us back at the house, and he headed off with Lois. I’d gotten my sermon shaped up early in the week, so Jackson and I were quite happy to just spend some time chilling in the living room with music playing until I saw the expression on his face, and could tell he was getting horny.
“Do I detect a readiness for some action? I would have thought after last night’s marathon session that you’d be up for a rest tonight.”
“No way! I’m all the more ready tonight after the stupendous job you did last night of making me feel like the best loved guy on the planet. Come on, let’s go. I’ve got plans for you.
I felt refreshed somehow when I woke Sunday morning. Jackson was lying next to me, curled up on his side, his hair cutely mussed up, his breathing giving away that he was still deeply asleep, his occasional little snores almost musical. I wanted to reach out and stroke his face, to feel his skin and his soft stubble. I felt such physical attraction after last night where we’d cum together again in a deep and unifying way, and it wasn’t lost on me that somehow being in this new environment had moved our relationship from something that had to be hidden to one that, at least within the confines of our home, could be open and transparent. I was beginning to believe that this was a taste of what it could become and what it could be long term.
Eventually his eye lids flickered, and his breathing changed, and I could tell he was surfacing back into consciousness. He lapsed back into sleep, the cutest expression of placidness moving across his face, and then he began to wake. I’d never watched the process fully unfold, and it surprised me to see the stages, and how a person moves from total relaxation in sleep to dawning awareness to wakefulness with the accompanying muscle tone. His eyes opened fully, and he said, “I knew you were there. You’ve been watching me for a while, haven’t you?”
“I have indeed. Anyone with the opportunity to watch someone as beautiful as you wake up, to move from that state of total peace and relaxation back into consciousness and awareness, to watch the changes in expression and not revel in the sheer beauty of it is a fool.”
With that I reached out and stroked his cheek, letting my fingertips follow his jaw line and rest on his chin. “You’re more beautiful today than the day I first met you. And you stole my heart that day, do you remember?”
“I don’t actually remember that. I didn’t figure that out till the next day. But I do remember thinking how sexy and attractive you were and trying to figure out why our new minister spent so much time checking me out.” He smiled wryly.
“That’s easy. Your new minster may have been emotionally clueless at the time, but at least he knew a good thing, in fact a beautiful thing, when he saw it.” I reached around his shoulders and clasped him, whispering, “Come here, Lover Boy, I need a real hug from you before I get up.”
He slid over and we embraced like it was the end of the world, aligning our bodies so we touched from chest down our legs, our faces nuzzled in each other’s necks and our feet intertwined. It was almost as if we’d been challenged to get as close together as we possibly could.
“I think your idea of a love den is working. I certainly feel it. And I like it. I’m not sure I want to get up and get going.”
“Yeah, well, good luck with that. You’ve got church, and I can see the clock and it’s already 7:00 AM, so you better get moving.”
He rubbed his face against my neck, “I love you so much, I know every day will be a great day when I wake up this way.”
I kissed him back and hugged him. “Me too, Lover Boy. Now I better get this body in motion.”
The day’s Gospel lesson was Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the Three Kings or Magi who visited the newborn Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. They came to Jerusalem, the seat of Herod the King, led by a star and seeking direction to the place this new king is to be born. Herod, suspicious and paranoid as ever, tries to enlist the Magi in a plot to discover the whereabouts of this threat. Matthew tells us that after placing their treasure before the newborn king, they leave by another way to return to their own lands. Those who know Matthew’s Gospel know what comes soon after, namely the story of the murder of the innocent children by Herod. Whether that is a true event or folk lore, it illustrates the hostility that can accompany reverence. Herod did murder three of his own sons, and it may be that Matthew is inserting folk lore into his gospel to create a counterpoint that following something so precious and inspirational as the birth of the child and the worship of this new king, comes this hostility, this horror visited on innocent children. It should keep us fully aware that as good as life may seem, we live in a cruel world where evil and horror still occurs. We only have to look as far as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia for confirmation.
As I sat down, reflecting on those words and contrasting them to my thoughts and feelings earlier in the morning as I watched my boyfriend awaken next to me, I couldn’t help but remind myself that as good as it felt this morning, we still live in a world where even if there is the appearance of acceptance, it can quickly be followed by rejection and even hostility.
Gary was coming to church occasionally, usually hand in hand with Lois, but begged off today so they’d have a day together before the school grind stared. I caught up with Ellen and Susan and we filled them in on the home move that had occurred over the past week and promised to have them over before long for a meal.
While I cleaned up after lunch, Jackson called his Dad and filled him in on the week’s events. He came back smiling. “How did that go?”
“Well. He’s pretty cool I think he really understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and what the opportunity is. He’s worried about how we pay for it though.”
“I’m glad he’s concerned. That’s a responsible parent. Don’t forget, in the settlement Bud continues to pay child support to you and Gary till you’re both twenty-one, and I’m living here so I’ll pay my share out of my salary. I haven’t told you before, but I’ve got some money in the bank if we need it. It came from my family. There’s no mortgage on this house, so it’s really down to monthly expenses. If we don’t eat out at fancy restaurants every night, we’ll be fine.”
“I asked him to come down and visit us. Is that Okay?”
“You bet. It’s your house. You can invite anyone you want. Your old bedroom is a guest room. What did he say?”
“He said he wants to. Maybe in a couple of weeks. He’ll let me know when he gets his schedule sorted out.”
Youth Fellowship started that evening, and we were meeting in the parsonage and had a pretty good turnout. When I asked how everyone’s holidays had gone most everyone smiled and nodded or said great. When I asked if everyone was psyched about school starting again, or if anyone had any concerns, most everyone moaned, and I saw Josh frown. “Are you worried about something?”
“Yeah, back in school means back around the bullies, but I’m hoping that our fellowship holds together, and it’ll be alright.”
Jackson shoved his shoulder and said, “We’ll be there, don’t worry man. We’re all in this together. We take care of each other.” I saw him smile at Josh and then look at Will and smile at him too. We wrapped up with Will leading a couple of Christmas carols, kind of wrapping up the whole Christmas holiday season.
Monday was an organizational whirlwind with Gary off to community college early, then Jackson off to the school bus. Breakfast was in sequence, but on reflection it was way better than breakfast alone most mornings of the week. It was a gray and wet day, with a low cloud deck and intermittent rain. After getting the boys off I showered and then walked down the street to my office. It was a new feeling, but a pleasant one. Youth Fellowship had gone well last night, and with the new year the Women’s Group would start meeting again, and other church activities coming up on the calendar.
I spent the morning working on the church budget, then walked home for lunch, and when I came back, I read the next chapter in Campbell’s book in advance of Wednesday’s study group in Portland. I was home when Jackson got back from school, and he reminded me that the band had two, maybe three practices this week because they had a gig on Friday night. He said it was a Junior Class dance, and not a big deal, but still, it was a gig, and his first gig with the band. He alternated between smiling widely and acting a little worried.
“What does your music coach say?”
“She says I’ll do fine and I should relax?”
“And, she always says that.”
“Do you think she’s lying to you?”
“No, of course not. Susan would never do that.”
“So, what’s the problem? Are you the front guy singing lead on every song?”
“No. I’m doing my part singing accompaniment and some harmony and also some lead singing. Oh. I get it, I see what you’re saying. Just show up and do my part. I don’t have to worry about being the star.”
I giggled and hauled him in for a hug. “Yeah, Lover Boy. You don’t have to be Atlas with the world on your shoulders. You’re one of the band, and you’ve got your part, and everyone does their part and it’ll be great.”
He hugged me back. “Okay, I’ll chill. I guess I was just getting ahead of myself. I’ll try to think of it more like choir, where I’m just one voice.”
“That’s a good model. A part of the whole. So how were classes? What’s the homework load?”
“It’s light tonight, just some reading. This was get-started day, and it’ll get real tomorrow. English Lit will be some Shakespeare and then poetry. I don’t know about the poetry part. I like history, it’s cool learning all this stuff about what happened. Oh, the Psych teacher asked me if you’d teach part of a class with her about Identity and Belief?”
“Really? I kind of figured she’d never want to talk to me after I called her about that Identity Chart.”
“That’s why she wants you to, she knows you understand it and can maybe help her make students understand that it’s something they’ve got to know about themselves. You know, like you did with me with those Identity Charts we did for each other.”
“Okay, I hear what you’re saying, but does she understand that talking about identity and belief could end up telling people stuff they don’t expect or maybe don’t want to hear about the two and how they’re related?”
“I think so. She’s sharp and she’s not afraid. That’s why she brought in that Identity Chart exercise to start with. Anyway, she asked me to ask you, and I have. So why don’t you call her or stop by school and talk to her?” I nodded.
Tuesday was a quieter day. Gary had the same Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule as he had in the Fall, and had a lot of reading to do, but said he’d probably be spending some Tuesdays or Thursdays at school too as they worked on greenhouse propagation. They were both off to school Wednesday morning and knew they’d be on their own for dinner with food I’d prepared in the fridge to warm up when they were ready.
The drive to Portland and Prof. Higgins house was pleasant, with little traffic. His wife was a gracious host, as ever, and after a pleasant conversation about the holidays we settled down to discuss Chapter 4 of Campbell’s book on the contrast of Eastern and Western religions. Campbell had started the lecture not on the subject or religion, but rather on the subject of the concept of the individual, and how in the religions of India and moving east to China and Japan, there was historically no concept of the individual. Rather, the focus of concern was not on the person but on the social order. Higgins outlined this, emphasizing the point that in those religions and cultures the individual is a defined actor with a standard part in a social system, and that there was no concept of coming to knowledge of oneself. That is a radical conception to those in the west with a worldview built on Freud and Jung’s concept of individuation, or recognizing and developing the individual, who is distinct from everyone else in their thinking and doing.
There wasn’t a lot of discussion around that, and Higgins went on to discuss the development of religious systems in light of those realities, as Campbell understood them. Specifically, for us in the west, meaning the religions that originated in the near East and moved to Europe, the development of an understanding of not just the individual within a social system, but of a divinity that was separate and removed from earth to a supernatural sphere. This opened the opportunity for humans to exercise their freedom of will and enter into relationships with the deity.
The telling part was when we got to discussing what Campbell called “mythic dissociation,” namely that mankind became the servants and the gods were the absolute masters, and this began in Mesopotamia and formed the basis of all subsequent religions in the near east, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Man was no longer in any sense an incarnation of divine life, but of another nature entirely, an earthly, mortal nature. And the earth itself was now clay. Matter and spirit had begun to separate.”
I was mainly listening to the discussion and absorbing the implications of what was being said, but the students and ministers were actively taking issue with the thesis. However, it is hard to dispute a factual developmental model.
The sociology professor spent some time discussing Campbell’s point that in this religious development the divinity may have had free will as well, and was also whimsical, but the core concept was that of the obedience of man to the will of God. The principal concept being that the god has rendered a revelation, which is registered in a book that men are to read and to revere, never to presume to criticize, but to accept and to obey. Which, of course, begged the question of what happened to free will on the part of man?
I finally said something here that had been troubling me since I read the chapter. “Campbell says that the dominant idea for these religions is that ‘there is but one people on earth that has received the Word, one holy people of one tradition, and that its members, then, are the members of one historic body—not a natural, cosmic body as that of the earlier mythologies, but a supernaturally sanctified, altogether exceptional social body with its own often harshly unnatural laws.’ That blows my mind because we not only have the development of this revelation and obedience model within our religious tradition, but now the introduction of exclusion of all the rest. Only we are right and saved and all the rest are wrong and damned.”
The group debated that back and forth for a while, to no resolution. Finally, Higgins wrapped up with one of the concluding observations in the chapter: “Hence the typical aim of an Oriental religion is that one should experience and realize in life one’s identity with that Being; whereas in the West, following our Bible, the ideal is, rather, to become engaged in a relationship with that absolutely other Person who is one’s Maker, apart and out there, in no sense one’s innermost self.”
He paused and let that sink in and then said, “So, that contrast is quite dramatic, and we’ve seen, according to Campbell, how those two traditions developed in completely different ways. And while we in the west benefit from the concept of the individual and individual uniqueness and all that follows from it, we are also plagued by the obedience to the separate divine revelation and the exclusivity that goes along with it.”
He smiled at us. “There is no simple solution to the quandary. The reality is what it is. What we have to do is understand it and how it came to be and proceed from there.”
He was being very careful not to denigrate any belief systems, but rather to try and put before us a new way at looking at how that which we believed came into being. When the study group was over and breaking up, I asked if I could talk for a couple of minutes after everyone left, and he nodded. We went back into his study and I told him a little more about Jackson and that we would soon be visiting college campuses in advance of his submitting applications, and I asked if we could arrange to meet whenever we came to Lewis and Clark for that visit.
He smiled at me. “Of course, I’d be happy and pleased, and in fact honored to do that. However, you didn’t think you’d get off with sharing just that much information, did you?”
I looked at him and smiled. “No, I did not. What do you want to know? Everything?”
“Everything probably isn’t required, but more than you’ve told me so far certainly is.” He paused. “So, I discern that the young man we’re talking about, who is a member of your church, is more than just that. Would that be a fair assumption?”
I knew Higgins was on my side and there was no point in trying to be coy. I told him about Jackson, about the family, about Gary, about Jackson being my boyfriend, about how the three of us were now living together. As I heard myself describe it, I couldn’t help but think he’d be scandalized. Instead he had picked out specific points of my ten-minute story and now asked me about them.
“Make sure I understand this correctly. This is the relationship in, or perhaps from, which you realized you are gay? This has been going on for six months? The family trauma, as dramatic as it was, is resolved. You’ve gotten the older brother into community college. Jackson is doing well in school because he wants to go to college. You have moved into the boy’s home to maintain a family dynamic. I just want to make sure I’m not misunderstanding the important points.”
“It sounds like a soap opera, I know, but those are the high points. We’ve been calling ourselves the Three Musketeers. You know, ‘one for all and all for one,’ but Gary has a great girlfriend who is a friend of Jackson’s and they’re both seniors and we’re all close, and we recently renamed ourselves the Fellowship of the Four after the Fellowship of the Ring. I hope it doesn’t sound pathetic to you.”
He looked at me hard for quite a few seconds. “David, there’s nothing pathetic about it. We’re talking about the lives of people here. Including your own life, in case you occasionally lose sight of that fact. Very few young people that go through what you described Jackson and Gary having gone through get the opportunity to rebuild their lives, let alone to do so in a healthy and familial environment. Telling someone like me about it means you have to share a lot of details, many of which may not fit the conventional mores, or be at all like what you grew up with, but that doesn’t mean for a second that they are pathetic. Do you hear what I’m saying to you? There’s nothing pathetic about any of this. If anything, it is highly commendable, and I can pretty well assure you that there will be two young men who will look back on this in twenty or thirty years and thank you profusely for creating the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
I started to say something in response but was stammering.
“You don’t need to say anything. Just hear what I said to you. I look forward to meeting Jackson, and I encourage you to arrange this soon. It may be January and seem early, but colleges like this one get the majority of applications early. The sooner the better. It’s also worth noting that while we’re no longer a religious school, the origins were Presbyterian, and there is a certain ‘orientation’ to accepting students that come from Presbyterian families and with recommendations from Presbyterian churches. So, how soon can we arrange this? With school during the week and your Sunday church commitments, it would appear that it will have to be a Saturday.”
I was stunned and took a while to respond. “Let me say that I heard every word you said and appreciate both the counsel and the direction. A lot of this is new to me, so I’m not going to try and second guess some of what you said. As to the timing for a visit, it won’t be this Saturday. Jackson is part of a band and they have their first performance of the year this Friday night, so that will be a late night, and you can imagine what Saturday will be like. How about the following Saturday?”
He glanced at the calendar on his desk and nodded. “Yes, that will be fine. Why don’t you aim to be here about 10:00 AM or so, then we’ll go over to the campus and do the tour and talk with Jackson, and then we’ll all come back here for lunch. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like a wonderful plan. I don’t know what Jackson will say, but I’m guessing he’ll be bowled over.”
Prof. Higgins just smiled, then said. “And at a more personal level, how are you doing?”
I was startled, really stuck. What to say? Which way to go? How honest to be?
“David, we’re friends now. You’ve told me some serious things already. What we’re studying isn’t easy, especially for a minister. You can be as honest with me as you want to be. Or not. That’s your choice. In my experience most ministers have people coming to them for counseling, but don’t have many people they can turn to themselves.”
That did it. I could feel the emotion welling up, and while I managed to control it, I knew he knew.
“I’m in love and I can’t reconcile that to the fundamental theological position of the church that it is a depraved sin and I’m a depraved sinner. On top of that are all the challenges that come along from trying to be serious about understanding mythology and religious development. And all of that is compounded with the Atonement of the Father part of Campbell’s cycle and my highly dysfunctional family.”
“Have you figured you yet what that means for you?”
I was startled again. This was one of the questions I’d been trying to avoid. “Not really. I can’t see myself continuing in the formal ministry for long. It’s getting harder and harder just to preach sermons with enthusiasm, let alone deal with the theological implications of being gay given the majority Christian church views. The opportunity to build this new family with Jackson and his brother only illustrates how dysfunctional my own family is, but I have to tell you, if I’m going to be honest with myself and you, that it is both thrilling and wondrous to be part of building a new family dynamic on a foundation of love and transparency and interpersonal support.”
“I can understand the pressures you’re feeling. You know that you’re the kind of person who internalizes all of these types of things and maintains, or strives to maintain, the cool calm and collected exterior, don’t you?”
I was startled yet again. How was it this guy could read me like a book? “That’s one of the aphorisms my father used to use, along with ‘adventure is the product of mismanagement.’ I guess you’re accurate that I tend to internalize things.”
“You do know that at some point it has to stop, and it all has to come out, one way or the other, do you not?”
I just nodded.
“I’m not trying to put you on the spot or make you feel bad. I’m saying these things because we’ve become friends and I care about you, and I sense you’re carrying a heavy load, and those carrying heavy loads do stumble sooner or later, and many go down. David, I’m here to help however I can.”
I looked at him with what was likely a bleak smile and thanked him.
“We’ll start a week from Saturday,” he said cheerily. “You come here, and we’ll look forward to meeting your Jackson and see the campus, and then go from there. Agreed?”
The drive home was contemplative, and my mind churned with everything Prof. Higgins had said on top of the mythology material we’d been discussing. Jackson was still up reading for class when I got home. He closed his books and we sat on the couch in the living room. I told him how the study group went, and the challenging propositions we’d discussed about the origins of religion and spent a little time on religion and individual identity. He commented that it would be a good thing to include that I spoke to his Psych class about identity and belief. Then I told him about visiting Lewis and Clark and my conversation with Prof. Higgins.
“Wow! He was that direct with you? I’m amazed. That’s as direct as you were with me or Gary. I mean that’s pretty heavy. Were you offended?”
“No, not offended at all. I understood where he was coming from. He cares and it was almost like he was treating me like a student and friend. A lot of what he said was challenging and I’ve got to work through it.”
“Yeah, like the part about carrying a heavy load and maybe stumbling or falling. What’s that about?”
“If I heard him right it’s that I don’t emote. I stuff my feelings, keep them inside, internalize them so I can maintain a calm exterior to the world. It’s something you learn to do in a distant family dynamic like mine was, where there’s no drama, where pretty much anything emotional isn’t accepted. It also tends to be the behavior of ministers in conservative denominations.”
“Was it that bad?”
I reflected on that question. “You grew up with a lot of drama and emotion. A lot of it was negative, but at least you learned how to deal with it, and even how to be emotional when you had to. It wasn’t that way for our family. I can remember my father crying twice: once at his mother’s funeral, and the other time when President Kennedy was assassinated. So, I think Prof. Higgins was warning me about being like a pot boiling with the lid on. That said, though, he was pleased I have a boyfriend and that we’re living together. In fact, that we’re all living together. He was very positive about that. That’s why he wants to meet you and give you the campus tour in person next Saturday.”
“It seems awful early to start the school tour thing, don’t you think?”
“It does feel early, most kids do it at spring break, but he said they get most of their applications early, so we have to start early, so that’s where we’re going. How was school? How was band practice this evening?”
“School was fine, we’re still ramping up for the term. On the way out of school, though, the guy that gave me a hard time about being a fairy for wearing a bracelet tried again, but this time both Will and I gave it back to him. “
I was surprised. “How did that go?”
“Well, it felt good because I wasn’t alone and Will told him he was the guy with the problem since he was both a bully and clearly had no taste, and he couldn’t be calling me a fairy because we were both wearing them. That stumped the bully for a minute, then he laughed it off and said we must both be fairies, and maybe he’d have to organize a little session with some of his football team friends.”
“Will told him to fuck off and not try anything unless he wanted to get reported. Then when we got to band practice Will told Tom and Steve and they said they were pissed too, like it means all musicians are fairies and don’t count cause they don’t play football and stuff. And guess what else?”
He was grinning now. “They told Will and me they want bracelets too. Guess what Tom said? ‘We’ll show those fuckers. They can’t think we’re all fairies!’ Is that cool or what?”
“It’d be amazing if a bunch of people wear them, because that would really call the bullies bluff. Seriously though, was this all just talk? You’re not worried about it getting physical? I don’t want you guys doing anything that could get you hurt.”
“I don’t want to get in a fight cause I’m not a fighter, and I don’t want to get hurt either. But I told Justin we were all together for each other, and that’s what this is about now We all have to stand together. If we do, we’re fine. The bullies can’t beat us all up!”