Will arranged with Jackson that he and Kevin would come into Portland together and they’d join us for our hike on Thursday, stay overnight and then head back home on Friday to satisfy the parent’s expectations. Jackson had stressed that they had to be here by 10:00 AM since we had a drive to the trail head. They pulled it off, and a little before 10:00 pulled up out front. We met and did the introductions on the front lawn, and shortly headed out with Will driving his car, to do the hike to McNeil Point. The hike books listed it as having one of the best views of Mount Hood, looking up the west slope of the mountain, and none of us had seen the mountain up close. They’d been riding BMX all summer and were in better shape than me and Jackson, but we kept up as we hiked through old-growth forest and were stunned with how striking and beautiful Mount Hood’s summit is when you get close. From a distance you see the year-round snow-capped volcanic peak, but when you get close you see how the tree line ends, the bare snow-covered upper slope starts, and can pick out the glaciers that are part of the upper mountain.
After the hike, we headed home for dinner, where we’d planned something simple: grilled hamburgers, accompanied by vegetable and potatoes so it was upscale and wasn’t like being at a drive-in. Jackson did the salad and had made a run to the store for a pie for dessert.
We were sitting on the two long sides of the dining room table, Jackson and I on one side, Will and Kevin on the other. Kevin was across from Jackson, and that also gave Jackson easy access to the kitchen. We’d gotten the chit chat out of the way as we prepared dinner, including talking about how wonderful the views of Mount Hood were and what a super hike it had been.
I asked him about his name and where in Ireland the family originated. He described a long Irish lineage from County Galway. “My family descends from Clan Chonnmhaigh, but after the Anglo-Norman invasion, the family was supplanted by the Burkes and lost their castle and lands. Our name is Finnerty, a lot of others in the same descent are named Fenton.”
Jackson said he knew what the Norman Conquest under William the Conqueror was, but asked what the Anglo-Norman conquest was, and Kevin described how after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, starting in 1169 the Norman invasions began, they made Ireland a Lordship of the King of England and the conquest and colonizing continued up to 1536. Richard II of England made his son, Prince John, Lord of Ireland in 1177, and he arrived in Ireland to rule in 1185. Ireland was transformed, different clans with their King under a High King were finished, and ownership of the land changed with imported tenants and the country became mainly agricultural, supplying England.
Jackson admitted he knew little about that, not having studied English history. Kevin went on, “It changed Ireland, and it’s probably a lot of what makes us so hard-headed. Hard-headed and tough. You know, resentment! Well, truth be known, probably more of the resentment came from what Cromwell and William III did. Anyway, mine’s a family with a long history and an equally long history of being committed Catholics. At least one male in every generation has been a priest. My uncle is a priest back east. My Grandfather’s brother was a priest. Yeah, it’s a pretty religious family. That’s one of the reasons they live in Salem. It’s not far to the monastery on Mt. Angel. My parents go on retreats there a lot. My mom goes to mass every day.”
Kevin turned the conversation to us. “Thanks so much for inviting us and letting us stay. Will’s told me so much about you guys, being his best friends and all that. I’m really glad to meet you and be able to spend time with you.”
I knew Jackson had been watching all day, assessing his best friend’s potential boyfriend. I saw his eyes flick my way and knew he wanted to say something. “Kevin, it’s great having you here too, getting to meet you and all. I mean, like, Will has told us a thing or two about you. I mean beyond the red hair and the blue eyes!”
He was grinning as he said it, and was really open, and his eyes were twinkling. It was the perfect opening. He wanted to see where Kevin would go.
Kevin blushed a little. “Well, you know, we’ve gotten to know each other because of BMX race circuit riding, and found we like each other and it’s fun being together.” He was acting like he was having a hard time expressing his feelings.
Jackson kept grinning, “Yeah?”
“Well, yeah. He also told me you told him he should take me to watch the submarine races!”
Jackson laughed. “Yeah, I did, but only if he’d like tested the waters first and got a positive vibe. I didn’t’ tell him to just jump your bones or anything.”
I saw the opening. “You mean like you would have done to me last summer, Love?”
He flashed a wicked grin my way, then turned back to Kevin. “He means when we first met, I was young and horny and stupid and was way pushy. But I got over it and grew up and we got together and here we are.”
Kevin finally was able to say what was on his mind. “I’ve never met a gay couple before. Hell, I’ve never really met anyone who’s gay before. You know, I guess you figure out if you’re gay or not, if you like boys or whatever, but the rest of it is in your head. I mean like I told you, I grew up in a really religious family, and the church we go to is really conservative, like everyone is really pious. I mean, our priest is Irish and went to seminary in the Old Country, so it’s really…I don’t know how to say it, really, by the book, I guess. Lots of rules and regulations. Lots of church services. Lots of going to confession and stuff. Lots of time talking about right and wrong and sin and stuff. And of course, being gay is like way up there on the sin scale, so there’s not just no talk about it, there’s no, what do you call it, like possibility to see it….” He faded off.
“Do you mean exposure,” I asked, “like there’s no possibility to be exposed to it, or even exposed to much outside your church community standards?”
“Yeah, I mean except at school and stuff. But you know, we had, it seemed like, constant catechism classes to ‘correct the erroneous teachings of the secular school system.’ He was waving his fingers in the air to make quotation marks. Then he was quiet.
Jackson was still smiling and said, “We’ll you’ll get plenty of gay exposure with me and David. Are you good with that?”
He smiled wanly. “Yeah. It’s new and stuff, but it’s kind of exciting. Will told me how great you guys are and that I’d really like you and I do. And it’s so cool to feel so accepted. And, you know, growing up religious you never expect to be able to be open about being gay, like it always has to be hidden, so being here it’s like being free somehow. And it’s pretty radical that one of you is a gay priest, I mean minister. You can imagine how that would go over in my parish.”
“Being liberated is pretty wonderful,” Jackson said softly. “It was for me after years of like being in prison with my family. When I got out, I wasn’t just free, I was in love, and it was like my life had been completely turned around. As in good turned around.”
Will had been silent while we talked. Jackson looked at him and said to Kevin, “Will went through something kind of like that when he was figuring himself out. And he was honest and strong and honorable and brave, and that made him an even better best friend than he was before. You know what I mean?”
Kevin and Jackson were looking directly at each other now, and Jackson was sending him a message. “Yeah, I think I do. I was amazed how honest he was about himself when we were talking that first time. The time before the submarine races at St. Louis Ponds! Anyway, I really respect that and have to work on it myself.”
He looked over at Will and gave him a shove with his shoulder. “I don’t know what this guy sees in me. I mean I’m not out, I still live at home, I’m from this really religious background.”
Will was trying to lighten it up when he said, “Let’s see, you’ve got beautiful red hair and cool blue eyes and nice lips. What’s not to like. I told Jackson about you being a good kisser, and he was impressed.”
Kevin got big-eyed and said, “You didn’t!” They both laughed, and Jackson said, “Yeah he did, and he said you were as good as me! I told him he didn’t have much to compare to. That was kind of funny!”
They laughed and cut up a little longer before clearing the dishes and we all joined together doing the dishes.
It was a quiet and early evening after the hike to McNeil Point. We were all tired, and no one had a problem with an early night. When we got into bed, I asked Jackson what he thought? He asked what I meant.
“Come on, Love, you were sizing him up, as in is he good enough for my best friend. I could see it. Did he pass?”
He smiled and rolled against me and ran his arms around me, leaning his face on my chest. “Well, he passes on the physical side, he’s athletic, he’s good looking, as in way cute. He’s nice too.”
“And what? Does there have to be an ‘And,’ didn’t I just say he’s cute and nice?”
“Yeah, you did, but there’s more, and you know it.”
“Okay, you tell me.”
I thought for a couple of seconds. “There’s something going on. He seems a little emotionally disconnected, like he had a hard time talking about himself. About his feelings. Remember that guy you know who wasn’t in touch with his feelings and had a hard time talking about them? Is this what it looked like?
He nodded, and said softly, “Yeah, and that worries me, because on top of the feelings part is all that hardcore religious stuff, priests and church and monastery and stuff. That’s got to be a lot of extra baggage if you’re gay. I just don’t want Will to get hurt in his first relationship with a boy.”
“Me too, Love, me too. We’ll do all we can to help. But he’s a big boy and went in with his eyes open.”
I cooked breakfast in the morning, and the conversation was light, but it was clearly about anything and everything except gay relationship in general and their relationship in particular.
They were off by 10:00 am, so Will could drive Kevin home before he headed back to Newberg. He called that night and had a long talk with Jackson.
When they were done, he came into the living room and dropped down on the couch with his head in my lap. I stroked his forehead and asked him how Will was.
“He’s like really confused. He thought things were going well yesterday and last night, you know the hike and then dinner and the conversation and stuff. But when they went to bed, he said Kevin started acting a little distant and said something about having to sort out how to be in bed with another boy. Will was ready to go for it, and eventually they were hugging and kissing, but Kevin wouldn’t take off his boxers or T-shirt, and Will said it just felt weird.”
“That does sound kind of strange. Maybe he’s got emotional hang-ups he has to work through. Remember how I first reacted when you were all over me?”
“Yeah, I do, but Will said this was different, kind of like a switch had been flipped. He just changed when they got back in the bedroom, like he’s been turned off. And he said he was distant this morning, like preoccupied. I noticed it when we were having breakfast, he hardly said anything, and then Will said it was like that all the drive back to Salem.”
“Well, with that strict Catholic upbringing, even if he likes guys, maybe this is the first time he’s been with one alone and just didn’t know what to do.”
“Maybe, but it makes me uncomfortable. I want the best for Will.”
I hugged him and kissed his forehead. After a couple of minutes, I said, “I think we’ll have a guest for dinner if he’s free. Fred told us he was raised Catholic. Maybe he can help us understand what’s going on.”
I called Fred to see if he was available for dinner that night, and we were fortunate he was free. Michael and Jane were flying in the next day for four days.
Then I spent some more time on the Tillich book. The thing that immediately struck me was that while I’d previously been impressed with his correlation approach, his premise was about philosophy asking the questions that theology answered. But the way theology was defined in that relationship virtually required a theistic view – a belief in God, more specifically the Christian view of God. As fearless as he was in engaging with philosophy, he still believed that the Christian message provided the answers to the question, that it was the revelatory events of Christianity that were the principal source of those answers. What does that say to those of us who don’t, or no longer, believe literally in those revelatory events?
After getting my head around that information, I called Carter and outlined the subject I was working on. He told me that he was very familiar with Tillich’s work, and he was one of the theologians discussed in another class he taught on World Religions. He also pointed me to the more recent work of Robert Fowler on how faith develops and that it was an important corollary to Tillich’s earlier work.
I heard him stand up and walk to his bookshelves, and then he said, “Yes, I thought so. Fowler started publishing on this subject in Religious Education magazine a few years ago, and now has a few articles on the different developmental stages of faith. You should come and borrow these and give them a read, because Fowler’s research and writing points out that faith is a universal. It is, you might say, generic, and isn’t limited to a specific belief system. It may be just what you’re looking for. And when you’re done you can update me, because I have a feeling that by the time you’ve worked on the subject it will be a good adjunct to introducing identity into the mythology class.”
I asked if I could come by today and he brightly said, “Certainly, and it will be a pleasure to see you’re smiling face!” I swung by his office in the early afternoon, then by the grocery store for the items we needed for dinner.
Fred was right on time and was effusive about how cool and charming our house was. We’d given him the overview of our story for the last few months, and now, over a glass of wine we filled him in on my reaching the end of my ministry, Jackson being accepted at Lewis & Clark, the job I had in the Campus Ministry work there, how we’d bought the house and how fortunate we’d been that the wife of a professor I’d gotten to know was a decorator and that it was her touch that had made the house a home. Otherwise, I told him, it would look more like some house a couple of college students lived in.
He grinned and Jackson winced, “Come on, that’s not fair. You’ve got good taste, and I would have done Okay. We could have pulled it off.” Fred was loving the repartee.
“Well, maybe,” I said, “but it would have been a roll of the dice. I’ve never furnished a house from scratch before and neither have you. Anyway, we’ve been fortunate, and we have a wonderful and very livable home, and Fred is one of our earliest guests, so he’ll have to give us an overall rating at the end of the evening.” He rolled his eyes on that one.
Eventually we moved into the kitchen and I started the grill out the back door. We’d made potato salad earlier, and I had some fresh asparagus to go with the steaks I was going to grill. Jackson had the salad under control and had picked out some frozen dinner rolls that you baked in your own oven. It all turned out really well, and after we’d cleaned up after dinner, I opened a second bottle of wine and suggested we move to the living room.
Even Jackson was up for a second glass of wine tonight, and after I’d poured, I said, “So, Fred, first my apologies again for being so flaky about keeping in touch since we first met. I know you said to forget it, but I can’t so you have to accept my apology.”
He did, smiling widely.
“Now, I want you to tell us about the Metropolitan Community Church. Then we get to my ulterior motive for the evening. We have a friend, he’s actually Jackson’s best friend, who’s in a relatively early relationship with a boy who grew up in a very conservative and religious Catholic family. Neither of us have any direct knowledge of the Catholic theological and practical views on homosexuality, but we’re already concerned with a few things, and hope you can illuminate us. And, let me say, that Jackson may be only about to begin college, but he got a forced theological education in the last year. I’m pretty certain he’ll be able to follow along. First, though, tell us about your church.”
Fred told us the history of the Metropolitan Community Church and of the founding of the Portland church a few years ago as a gay-friendly church, and said he joined after he left the Catholic Church his freshman year in college. That’s when he was outed and it was so bad with his family and church that he basically transferred from the University of Portland, a catholic school, to Portland Community College to finish his degree. The relations with his family had gotten a little better over time, but the church not only condemned him, they rejected him, so he left and went to MCC where he was not only accepted but encouraged. He healed, got involved in teaching and then found himself wanting to go into ministry.
“The amazing thing was that my Mom, like all Catholic moms, wanted the priesthood for her son. I didn’t want it. Then they find out I’m gay and pretty well reject me, so I leave family and church, and end up in a gay church and now I’m in seminary studying for the ministry. It doesn’t get any weirder than that.” We all laughed.
He turned serious, “But what you’re asking about, the Catholic Church and homosexuality, is a much more serious subject. Reading between the lines, it seems you’re really concerned about your friend. Can you tell me more?”
We filled him in on Will growing up Presbyterian in the church I had pastored until recently, being Jackson’s friend, coming from a very religious Protestant family, and some of the detail about his accepting he was bi. “I think the main question in my mind,” I said, “is that I fully understand the Protestant view, but my understanding of the Catholic view of homosexuality is second hand and book learning. That doesn’t position me to be effective or helpful if this turns into a problem for Will.”
Fred smiled, but it was grim. “Alright, let’s start with the simple stuff and then move up to doctrine and theology. I’m attending a Protestant seminary now, so I’ve learned a lot of Protestant doctrine, but you’ll know that better than me from growing up in it. You know that diagram thing with overlapping circles?”
I nodded, though I wasn’t sure Jackson understood. It didn’t matter. “So, here’s the deal, in terms of implication and consequence, meaning the practical stuff, at least eighty percent of it is the same as the Reformed Protestant tradition, meaning Calvin, Zwingli and Luther. Maybe it’s as much as ninety percent. Anyway, it’s the majority. That said, Catholicism has its own special wrinkles that came out of Medieval theology.”
We started with the doctrine where much was the same, then the practical stuff where the differences started to appear. Sex was dirty. Sex was shameful. Sex was unnatural unless rightly used. This, then, was the first point of departure. Its only valid purpose was procreation, not pleasure! Then on top of that was thinking. Thinking about it was wrong. Premeditation itself was a sin, and so was flirting. So, Catholic kids grew up not just being told they were inherently sinful, just like Protestant kids, and needed to be saved, but that just thinking about something they hadn’t done was a sin too!
He went on, “According to the catechism, the sixth commandment forbids all impurity and immodesty in words, looks and actions, and on top of that there’s the dangers of sinful curiosity, bad companions, drinking, immodest dress and indecent books, and movies. What I now know as a Protestant is that most of those things are not inherently sinful, but people can make the wrong choices and commit sins. That’s a huge difference.
I was processing it theologically. Jackson was not, he was totally floored. “You’re telling us being curious about sex, just thinking about it is a sin? What about doing something, like masturbation? I’m not even asking about actually having sex!”
Fred was no longer smiling, “Adultery and premarital sex and homosexual sex are mortal sins. Masturbation, depending on who you’re talking to, is on the boundary between mortal and venial sin. When you dig down or ask, you’re told that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. Mortal sins are those that are conducted with full and deliberate knowledge, knowing it is against God’s law, and with no regard for that law. Homosexuality is categorized as an intrinsically disordered condition. See why masturbation can go both ways? Additionally, a homosexual act itself is a grave depravity.”
We both nodded, almost speechless.
He went on, “So let’s, skip masturbation because it’s debated. What isn’t debated is gay sex. We’re all gay here so we can just talk, right? Just like masturbation, the act is considered intrinsically and gravely disordered. But it doesn’t stop there. That description also applies to the person practicing it. So, if you think about gay sex, you are considering engaging in an intrinsically and gravely disordered behavior. Considering it, thinking about it, desiring it with another person, are all mortal sins. But, if you do it, then you become the behavior. You become intrinsically and gravely disordered. In Protestant terminology doesn’t that equate with depraved sin and being a depraved sinner?”
I nodded, “Yeah, they share pretty much the same practical meaning. The behavior is depraved, meaning perverted or unnatural, or an abomination if you quote Leviticus, and engaging in it means you become a depraved sinner. That’s where I started parting company with the Presbyterian Church. I know I’m not depraved, and I know what I do with Jackson, the person I love most in the world isn’t depraved either. It is purely and completely love. Once I realized that, I knew I was on my way out the door. I guess what you describe should be no surprise since Luther was a Catholic priest until the Wittenburg Door event, and along with Calvin and Zwingli, they all grew up with pretty much the standard Catholic view.”
He agreed, but also said, “Yes to that, but there’s a difference. It’s one of those unique Catholic wrinkles I mentioned, and that has to do with it being considered a mortal sin. Parsing sins into mortal versus venial isn’t a Protestant concept. But like Papal bulls and indulgences and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and all that other Medieval theology stuff, there are all these distinctions, and many carry with them great, or you might say, grave consequences.”
Jackson was following along and said so. “I think I get it, and it’s actually pretty scary. I remember when I first realized what a depraved sinner was and I said, ‘no fucking way, I’m not a depraved sinner.’ Isn’t that so?” He was looking at me.
I nodded, took his hand, and then laughed. “Fred, this is private, just between us, and I’m not telling you to embarrass Jackson because it shouldn’t be embarrassing. Rather, it makes the point. I’d said something to him about wrestling with the concepts of depraved sin and being a depraved sinner early in our relationship. Then one night, after we’d made love, and were just laying together enjoying the bliss, and he whispers a question in my ear. “What’s a depraved sin?”
Fred’s jaw dropped, and we all started laughing. “In retrospect, it is pretty funny,” I said, “don’t you think?” I kissed the back of Jackson’s hand and said, “If he hadn’t asked me that question then, at that point in time, I’d have probably put off coming to grips with the reality.”
“Lucky you guys! But, let’s go on. With masturbation it’s subject to debate, but with more serious mortal sins, it’s locked down. If you don’t repent of those sins in confession and with penance and by receiving absolution, then you go to purgatory where you stay till you do repent. And then, I guess, if enough time passes and you don’t repent, then you go to hell. So, you’ve lost your salvation. Now think about that one!”
We were quiet, and then I said, “Wait a minute, you think this is just a wrinkle? This is huge. This is fundamental! For sacramental churches the concept is that a state of grace occurs as a result of baptism. You’re telling us that the proposition is that you are out of the state of grace and can lose your salvation?” I was stunned, and said to Jackson, “I’m sorry if we’re in this theology stuff too deep, but this is major.”
He nodded. “It’s Okay, I’m following even if I don’t understand it all. Go on.”
Fred nodded, and said, “I remember one catechism class like it was yesterday and in Technicolor! The Sister, who was teaching, was discussing the concept of ‘damning yourself.’ Now think about that for just a second. Then she went on to illuminate us that there were certain things we could do on this earth that would eternally damn us. She said there were certain sins that we could never recover from and that would cause us to turn our backs on God forever. How does that square with Protestant theology?”
I was still reeling, but replied, “Well, for Protestants it ranges between two extremes, ‘once saved always saved’ or predestination on the one hand, and damnation due to failure to be saved. But everyone can be saved, and all who fall from grace can be redeemed. Where did this ‘never recover’ concept come from?”
Fred said he couldn’t tell us the specific origin of the theology, but his personal view was that at root its purpose was to be a huge mill stone hanging around the necks of the faithful to make them comply.
“Think about it, and I know you haven’t been there, but I have. It’s constant, permanent, interminable guilt. If I don’t go to confession every week, I’ll be damned. If I don’t pray the Rosary the right way, God won’t love me. I have to do everything right, meaning follow every church teaching, or I’ll go to hell. If I think immoral thoughts, I’m in deep trouble…and in our cases, and that of your friend’s potential boyfriend, to think homosexual thoughts means he’s already committed a mortal sin.”
We sat in stunned silence for a minute, sipping our wine. Finally, I said, “I had no idea that the ‘Catholic wrinkles,’ as you describe them, came with such consequences. It’s enough to make you want to jump off a cliff.”
He didn’t smile. “Many do, sadly. That’s why I’m so thankful what happened to me actually occurred. It forced me to come to grips with it, and leave, and rethink it all in an accepting and caring place.”
“Fred, I know this is heavy and you’ve left it all behind, but would you mind sticking with me for a few more minutes on mortal sin and its implications?”
He smiled, “Sure, guess what? I get to talk to lots of ex-Catholics and recovering Catholics about it all the time. That’s why I seem so smart!”
“Thank you, you don’t know how much we appreciate you doing this for us. So, with what we’ve told you, what do you think are the major things that we should know and understand about Will’s potential boyfriend given that he comes from a very pious Irish Catholic family, at least one priest in every generation, his mother goes to Mass every day, his parish priest is Irish and was educated in an Irish seminary, and on top of all that he says he’s gay?”
“Talk about loading the deck! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily talking doom and gloom, but you’ve got to understand that’s a huge load to get out from under. I’m going to answer your question in theological terms, Okay? Jackson, if you need me to translate, just tell me. I’m going to run down the list that I usually have to talk about with ex-Catholics, Okay?
“First, obedience to moral prescriptions is not, for ordinary Catholics, part of an ethical program of self-improvement, but the condition for belonging to a church body that emphasizes obedience. In other words, obeying Catholic strictures on morality is not about becoming a better person, it’s a condition of being a Catholic at all. Now add to that the papal teaching from Pius XII onward that the human condition is such that curing a parishioner’s guilt feelings does not necessarily remove the moral fault that produced them. Then you can begin to understand the centuries-long teaching that sins are forgiven through the sacrament of confession and penance…the priest’s absolution, together with the penitent’s contrition, objectively removes the guilt that the penitent had incurred through sin.
“If you’re with me, that kind of gives us a framework. And, as if that isn’t enough, now add this: the Papacy and the hierarchy have been concerned for years with what they see as the decline in the frequency of confession that they blame on the rise of secularity in the west, but actually attribute it to the widespread disappearance of what they term a ‘sense of sin.’ Are you with me about how radical that sounds, the disappearance of a sense of sin? Now, I’m not so biased as to think it’s only a Catholic problem. I know Protestants worry about secularization too. But the given is that ordinary Catholics, who accept guilt as the necessary side effect of belonging, live in the tension between sinfulness and moral purity. And that tension is measured in simplistic and juridical terms, for which confession and penance are the only remedy.”
Fred paused, looking at us. “Jackson, are you with me so far?”
Jackson nodded, but I could see he looked pale, almost frightened. “Yeah, I’m with you, but I’m getting more scared by the minute. What you said about living under a constant sense of guilt. Is this for real?”
With just the hint of a wry smile on his face, Fred said. “Sadly, it is. The church teachings set up this generalized sense of guilt, and it can remain largely unconscious, except for moments when it awakens into specific feelings like remorse or guilt-feelings. So, it can look like everything’s fine until something sets it off, and then this kind of guilt can manifest as a pattern of irrational behavior in which a person expresses an unconsciously held obsession over his own guilt and often it’s done in terms of religious symbols or rituals. So, those in that place struggle constantly with their failure to uphold the standards of absolute purity in their thinking, let alone in their actions, and live in the kind of dread only guilt can cause.”
“It sounds like a horror movie,” Jackson said softly, “and I thought my family situation was bad, and it was. I mean I wasn’t loved and was abused. But somehow this is different, this adds a whole new twist to the program.”
Fred nodded. “Look, you’ve got to understand that all organized religions come with more or less of this stuff, Okay? One of the liberating things about the MCC is that it bills itself upfront as an accepting community. It doesn’t condemn anyone. You asked me to help you understand the Roman Catholic version. I know from what you’ve said that you two have sorted out the Reformed Protestant version. It’s mostly the same, and you lived through it and survived so it doesn’t seem so bad to you now. I’m just teasing out the nuances, because at the end of the day, that’s where the problems are going to lie with your best friend’s boyfriend.”
“Potential boyfriend,” Jackson said.
“Okay, potential boyfriend. Jackson, you know I’m on your side, really concerned, and trying to help, don’t you?”
For a minute I didn’t know if Jackson was going to get angry or cry. But he stood up and walked over to Fred who was sitting in an armchair, knelt down and put his arm around his shoulder. “I do, and I’m sorry. I’m just so worried about Will. This is really scary. I don’t want him hurt. This sounds like it could tear his heart out.”
Fred took his hand and said, “It is scary, but theologically speaking, it’s really not that much worse than what you two went through about being depraved sinners. The big difference here is the community and it’s teachings and how deep they reach.”
Jackson looked at me, “That’s tribalism, isn’t it?”
I grimly nodded back and said to Fred, “We studied tribalism last year as part of mythology in a study group of a Campbell book with Prof. Higgins.
Fred nodded and then said, “I’m almost done, so let’s finish up. We were talking about guilt. It’s important to understand that this isn’t normal guilt, like would happen if you did something you thought you shouldn’t do, it’s guilt that comes from the failure to uphold our obligations—we’re guilty with respect to our ties to family and church and community. So, Catholic parish life is centered on obedience and purity and the spiritual authority of an institutional priesthood, that is ordained to negotiate their place before God. Frankly, that’s a lot like much of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity, without the clerical, sacramental and liturgical trappings.
“Now, add that all up and what do you get? A religious situation where mortal sins are serious enough to merit the loss of God’s indwelling grace given in baptism, and one that requires the mediation by a priest in confession as the only means by which a parishioner who has sinned mortally could be reunited with God. And if you die before you go to confession, you go straight to hell.
“To make matters worse, you say the potential boyfriend is Irish Catholic, and what is slowly coming to light in Ireland about clerical abuse, Nun’s orphanages and the like, is an Irish style of Catholicism that is centered on having no use for human freedom and an emphasis on fear as a means of achieving moral obedience. So, obedience is most important, and when sexual purity is in the mix you have to deal with the underlying doctrine regarding why it should be limited to procreation only. It’s very much like the prudish Protestant notions about sex. Essentially, Catholic doctrine says that you can’t have sex without sinning, that virginity is better than marriage, that passion is inherently sinful, and that sex in marriage is a necessary evil in order to procreate. And that’s hetero sex, not even considering gay sex. I remember a friend of my mother who had a very difficult birth of her seventh child, serious enough she almost died from blood loss and was in surgery for hours. Her doctor told her she could not risk becoming pregnant again. When she went to her priest to discuss the possibility of birth control to prevent a pregnancy, she was told it was against church teaching and she and her husband should just live as brother and sister!
“I’ll conclude by saying that I’m sorry I have to dump so much of this on you, but my personal belief is that any religious context that diminishes its members’ opportunity to realize their human potential is destructive. I don’t care if it’s Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox or Jewish or whatever! All of them have their share of destructive behaviors. As a former Catholic I say that the really hard part to intervene and effect a change is the way it works. It isn’t just taught by the church, it’s instilled by the family, into the children. That’s why it’s so hard to break through or break out. In my case, I was essentially forced out, and I think that’s where I got my break.”
I was on overload, and I could see Jackson was stressed out, and Fred was starting to look tired too. To start to wrap it up, I said, “I’m not a psychologist by any stretch, but I have a good friend who is and all of this is in total opposition to what he tells me Freud set out as what’s necessary for mental health, namely the ability and freedom to work, to love, to communicate and to enjoy pleasure.”
He smiled grimly. “It’s almost the polar opposite of much of that, isn’t it? And what I hope you don’t encounter with your friend is what it often comes down to. I mean that overemphasizing human sinfulness in religious life tends to cause one or more of three things: either forms of subversion to get around it, total or partial withdrawal, or caving into symptoms of obsessional neurosis.
Jackson looked stricken and I could see he was almost in tears again. “It sounds so hopeless. What is obsessional neurosis?”
“In the simplest terms,” Fred said to him, “it means that piling on all this guilt can make people neurotic. So neurotic that they obsess about it. In other words, it controls their lives because it’s pretty much all they think about.”
Fred was trying to smile now, aiming to lighten it up a bit. “Hope springs eternal, and the human will often prevails! We can participate in free acts of love just like we can receive love. You can argue that the Church’s teachings are flawed, but what’s really flawed is the mentality behind them, and our reasons for following them. That’s what squelches spiritual growth. There is a value in obedience, but the lie in much of religion is the proposition that in order for God to love me, I must do specific things, I must be obedient. The reality is that God loves you and me as we are. At least, that’s what I believe. Following God then, should stem from my desire to respond to His love, because nothing you or I can do will make God love us any less, or anymore.”
My immediate reaction was that Fred was a man very wise for his years, and who should soon be in a seminary teaching ministry, not serving as a minister at a local church. This was the kind of wisdom that needed to be shared with each and every person studying for the ministry.
We said goodnight shortly after that, really thanking Fred for joining us and taking the time and effort to educate us on all of this. He said he was happy to help and extended an invitation to come to the Portland Metropolitan Community Church one Sunday. “I’m only going to be here a few more weeks before I go back to seminary. I’d sure like you to come and worship while I’m still here. We’ve recently purchased an old church building in northwest Portland, and I think you’d really like it.”
I owed him that.
Later, Jackson said, “God, there’s so much to worry about and to talk about. We can’t do it all tonight. I’m too stressed out already. That obsessional neurosis thing is totally scary. What about those other two though? What do you think he meant when he said overemphasizing sinfulness can cause either forms of subversion or partial withdrawal?”
“Well, the first one’s easy, whether at the personal or institutional level, you find a work around, so you don’t have to deal with it. I think the withdrawal one is either you withdraw personally like become a recluse or a monk, or you bail on the church, like withdraw from it and leave. The third one is most troubling, because it implies that overloading people about being sinful can make them neurotic. I’ve never experienced anything like that. But after listening to Fred tonight, I have to believe it can happen.”
Jackson had been restless all night, and the next morning over breakfast, it was apparent he was still concerned. When I asked, he said, “I’m just worried. You add all that stuff together that Fred told us about, intrinsic moral fault, obedience, guilt, confession, and aren’t you worried?”
“Frankly, yes, I am. We talked about the neurosis that can come from being overloaded on sin, and what’s new to us and, probably the vast majority of Protestants, is the concept of a priest as the intermediary for receiving forgiveness. That’s just totally foreign for Protestants, and means you are not an independent person. If you want to resolve the guilt you’re struggling with, you’re tied to a priest. Which is probably perfectly fine if that priest cares about you as a person and wants to free you to be all you can be. Not so much, though, if the priest is pushing control and obedience. The other troubling thing is the point he made about obedience and how guilt centered around moral and behavioral perfection is overwhelming. I can understand the moral perfection one. I mean if I tell you that you have to be morally perfect in order to be accepted, that is an impossible hurdle to overcome. Then if I add in behavioral perfection in the form of obedience, it gets doubly complicated.”
His brow was wrinkled, and he said, “You’ve got to explain that to me in simpler terms. I’m just a dumb high school kid!”
I grinned and messed his hair. “Not dumb and no longer in high school, but let me try. Know, though, that I’m still working it out. For context, recall your situation with Bud: he expected obedience, right?” Jackson nodded his head.
“And, when he didn’t get it, he punished you one way or another, including detention, right?”
He nodded again, and said, “Alright, I see that, he expected us to be obedient. Isn’t that the way it always is?”
“No. Most of what I know I learned from you and Gary and Susan. It was almost like for Bud it wasn’t that he expected obedience because he wanted to instruct you on how to behave well. It was more like obedience was what you had to do in order to belong to his family. To be part of his club, you had to obey the rules of his club. And if you didn’t you were punished.”
“Okay, you’re tracking with me. Do you think he expected obedience because he was trying to make you a model citizen?”
“No way. It was about control and you’re right, it’s what he had to have if we were going to be part of his family. “
“You see the difference, right? One uses obedience to educate and build character, the other uses obedience in a manipulative way to achieve other goals. I hadn’t thought of the club example before, but I think it’s a good one. Obedience is part of a sense of belonging, like you have to obey the club’s rules, and especially so if it’s an exclusive club meaning not everyone can join, then it’s from that obedience that part of the enjoyment comes. You know, like privilege comes at a price. You hear about fraternity hazing in college, pledges having to lick shoes and eat raw onions and stuff. That’s part of the price they have to pay to join the club, then they have to play by the rules.”
“So, you mean that the obedience thing can be warped?”
“That’s what I’m beginning to understand in a whole new religious way. So obedience can be used for control and to manipulate people, and I guess what goes along with it is not just the idea that I’m in a club and you’re not, but that I have something better than you and that sets me apart from you, and that almost always gets interpreted as ‘that means I’m better than you’ too.”
“I never felt I was better than the other kids when I was part of Bud’s family.”
“Of course not, Love, because you were being abused and you saw it for the control trip it was. There wasn’t some higher benefit being held out for you to achieve. It was just more work or more abuse, right?”
“So, let’s look at it tribally. Belonging is tribal, and belonging is a powerful need. I never felt like I belonged and was loved in my family, so I looked for an alternative and found it in the church. Obedience, of itself, is morally neutral; the problem comes when the maintenance of tribal obedience is put in the hands of manipulative leaders. And guilt is a wonderful weapon to wield in order to enforce obedience.
“But that’s very different from the kind of obedience that is freely given. Look at Lois. She’s a good friend of yours and you know her parents. I’ve not seen a single instance of them demanding or forcing obedience on her, but she is a model of obedience in the healthiest way. She’s obedient because she wants to be because she loves her parents and it’s just understood to be part of the life they have together. And her parents don’t abuse it, they set boundaries because they love her and want the best for her. Is that a fair assessment?”
“Yeah, and I never thought of it that way, cause it’s so different from what I went through with Bud. It’s pretty radically different from obedience that is demanded and enforced, isn’t it?”
“It is, and sadly when it is demanded and enforced, it’s usually when the original rules of the club are being changed or expanded by those at the top, and usually it’s to further their personal interests or to advance the interests of the institutions. That’s what Fred was getting at, that this scenario having to do with obedience and control has been built up over centuries, and the result is an overwhelming sense of guilt.”
We were quiet, thinking, finishing our coffee.
“Talking about it like this is great for me, because it doesn’t just help me sort out the theology and doctrine, but it helps me better understand it and translate it into terms, into language, that the ordinary person can understand.” I reached out and stroked the side of his face. “Not that I think you’re ordinary, Love, you understand.”
He smiled. “I know, and I love you too, Babe, but this is worrisome isn’t it. It’s almost like Will has gotten into something he can’t handle. I mean none of us really understand it, but you and me, we’re outside watching, and he’s inside involved in it. What can we do?”
“We watch and communicate and encourage and love and try to help. That’s all we can do.”
We woke leisurely on Saturday, though still concerned from the night before, but what we didn’t anticipate was how great the next few days were going to be. We went shopping in the morning and ran a few errands so we wouldn’t have to deal with them after Michael and Jane arrived. The flight from Philly was on time, and when we’d last spoken, he’d understood the practical reality that I had an El Camino with seating for two and said he’d rent a car.
Michael, my brother, was offering to do something to make it work for all of us! That was a good sign. They arrived in the late afternoon, and we got them settled in the guest room. They both liked the house, and Jane was full of questions about the decorating and furniture, and we filled them in on all the details. It was clear Michael and I were getting along better than we ever had, and Jackson and Jane hit it off like the two Scotch terriers on the bottle of Black and White Scotch that Michael had brought along as a house-warming gift. What that meant was that the next few days were great fun and consumed with showing Michael and Jane parts of Oregon, and we were only occasionally worrying about Will and Kevin.
That night we had a spaghetti dinner and made the recipe our cook had used when we were growing up. They were sitting at the kitchen table sipping wine and we were all talking as I make the Bolognese sauce and Jackson prepared the salad. Eventually I slipped the pasta in the water and a loaf of garlic bread in the oven, and Jackson set the living room table.
Michael was the first to comment on the sauce, and how he remembered the flavor and wanted to know what the secret was. I told him that it the recipe I learned from Doris, our cook in Philly. “That’s why it tastes familiar. What’s the secret ingredient?”
I told him I was using spicy bulk sausage made with star anise, and he smiled. Jackson added, “He also adds diced red pepper with the onion, and that’s part of what makes it great too.” Michael smiled, seeming unsure what to say to that, but Jane hopped right in. “Okay, did you know how to cook when you guys met, or is this new?”
Jackson grinned at her. “Are you kidding? Me? I couldn’t cook a thing. But when we got together, I’d start doing things, and then David started teaching me the basics, like how to chop an onion and stuff, and then I kind of became the salad guy.” He laughed.
Jane looked at him with raised eyebrows and said, “Yes?”
“Well, actually David didn’t call me the salad guy. He said I needed to learn to do more in the kitchen so I wouldn’t end up being the salad wench! Pretty funny, huh? A gay teenager called a salad wench!” Jane thought it was hilarious, and we talked cooking techniques and recipes for a while, and then she said, “It looks like you guys operate as a team. That’s pretty cool.”
I smiled at her, realizing how Michael could take it negatively if he wanted to. “We do, and it works well. We’re not just in love, we have a lot in common and enjoy being with each other. That helps a lot. Pretty soon, though, I’ll have him completely trained and I can sit in a chair and give directions and watch him cook.”
Jackson made like he was going to throw a piece of bread at me. That gave me an idea. “Michael, do you remember Gas House Specials?” He wrinkled his brow thinking and said no. “You know, where the hole gets cut out of a piece of bread and the egg is fried in the bread. Remember? Doris used to make them.”
“Oh yeah, I remember those. They were pretty good. I haven’t had that for years.”
“Well, we’ll have them tomorrow morning. That’ll be a treat.” I wiggled my eyebrows at Jackson, and he said, “Yeah, that’ll be fun.” I knew what he had in mind too, the same thing I did—food fight! After we’d cleaned up, we settled in the living room and Michael was kind of quiet. Jane asked us to tell her about our bracelets. She said she’d noticed mine when I was back for the funeral, but now that she’d seen Jackson had an identical one, she wanted to know the story. I smiled at Jackson, and he told them the full story, starting back when I’d found them originally in Seattle when our parents had been out to visit, and that I’d gotten one for him for his birthday, and then he’d gotten one for me when we were in Seattle visiting his Dad for the first time. He glanced at me, and I nodded, and he went on to tell them about that evening when he’d asked his Dad to put the bracelet on my wrist.
Jane was gushing about how romantic it sounded, immediately getting the connection to the equivalent of wedding rings and kept chatting away with Jackson about how he’d worked up the nerve and how cool it must have been to have his Dad do that. Then she turned to Michael and said, “Isn’t that so romantic?” He nodded, saying ‘Yeah, that sounds really good.”
It was time to address the elephant in the room. I said, “Michael, just so we’re clear, I know being around gay guys is new to you and may have you feeling uncomfortable right now. So, let me say we’re both glad you and Jane are here. I hope you can see we love each other, like other couples do. We kind of live like normal couples do too. We cook and do laundry and tend the garden and all the other stuff too. So, it may take a little getting used to, but we’re not too strange.”
He was quiet, then flushed a little and said, “I’m sorry, you guys. It’s just me. It’s new for me, and Jane and I talked about it a lot, and I’ve had an attitude that I’m working on. I don’t mean I’m anti-gay, I just mean in the world I’ve lived in for the last twenty years, well, you know it wasn’t very tolerant. So, I’m getting used to it. You’re my brother and I told you I wasn’t going to let our relationship dwindle down to nothing, and I accept who you are.”
He turned to Jackson. “I like you a lot too. It’s just new seeing guys together. And seeing my brother with a guy, with you, I mean, and you guys get along so well. I mean like in the kitchen cooking, and stuff. I just didn’t expect it.”
Jackson asked softly, “What did you expect?”
Michael was quiet again and then said, “I don’t know. I guess whatever I expected was a bunch of crap in my head, because like I said I’ve never been around gay guys.”
Jackson grinned and then asked, “You didn’t expect to see drag queens or something, did you. Like we’d be all limp-wristed and lisping and stuff?”
Michael started replying, “Well, no…I mean not at all, I didn’t think…” Then he saw Jackson was about to crack up and he started laughing too.
“Pretty bizarre, isn’t it. Pretty pathetic, actually. I’m sorry you guys for being so clueless.”
“Hey, don’t sweat it. My brother’s straight and he and his girlfriend are getting married soon. So, I went through it with him. It didn’t take long and he figured it out, and he said he didn’t care cause he could see that we loved each other. Then after our Mom died, David moved into our house so there was no question about us getting hassled by CPS about foster care or anything like that, but you can imagine we had a really interesting conversation about who was sleeping where.” He laughed again. It was infectious, and suddenly Michael and Jane were laughing along too.
“I bet that was an eye-opener.”
“Well, yeah, but he was so cool. He said, we were the couple and we should have the main bedroom, and we agreed on new beds and furniture and stuff, and then he was giving me shit for a while about if we’d been breaking the bed in the right way?” The laughter continued.
“But by then he’d gotten really serious about his girlfriend, and we could work him about if he’d tested out his bed with her, and stuff like that.” Jane thought that was hilarious.
Jackson wasn’t done yet. “But the best one was that I not only got a Dad after my Mom died cause he came to the funeral, but when were up in Seattle for spring break we met his Dad. So, I’ve also got a grandfather, and he’s a retired Army colonel. Anyway, we met him at his apartment, and he asked me to help him get drinks for everyone, and we’re in his kitchen and he’s trying to be cool. I mean be cool in a nice way, like trying to connect with me, and he wasn’t thinking about what he was saying and started to kid around, I guess like you do with most guys, about if I was getting it on with my boyfriend. Then he realized he’d screwed it up big time, and he started apologizing about it. But I told him not to sweat it, and that he could go ahead and ask if we were having great sex. And you know what? He did. And I told him it was none of his business, and we both busted up laughing. So, anyway, what it’s all about is just that we’re a couple of normal people who love each other and live together and just happen to be guys. Other than that, we’re perfectly normal, just like everyone else. Right, David?”
I was laughing too, just like Michael and Jane. He’d made it so simple and straight forward and funny at the same time! I said, “You’d have to meet Jackson’s grandfather to really understand how funny it was. Ramrod straight, steel gray hair, and stumbling into saying that, and then getting over it in a second, and now those two are pretty close. He respects Jackson and I think it’s mutual, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Yeah, he’s a really cool guy. Kinda hard, like you’d expect an officer to be, but cool. And I don’t just respect him, I love him too.”
“So, to wrap this up, because I don’t want to have you on the spot all night,” I said, looking at Michael, “Jane asked about us being a team and I said we have a lot in common and enjoy being with each other. There’s a really important and deeper thing here too. Jackson knew he was gay when we met, and I told you I didn’t. That was part of me coming to grips with myself. But the reality is that we both helped each other figure out our problems and start healing. We’re both fucked up, but we’re fucked up together and we’re helping each other get better. I was out of touch after the concussion, and just like he did the whole time I was in Philly with you for the funeral, he kept on me to get in touch with my feelings, to stay in touch with my feeling, not to stuff them and shut down.”
Jackson had come over to sit next to me on the couch. I put my arm around his shoulder.
“So, this is the person who makes me whole. I told you back in February that we’re building a family here. It started with Jackson and Gary and me. Then it included Lois, Gary’s girlfriend, and into the picture comes JC, Jackson’s Dad. And then along comes the grandfather. But here’s the important part. We all love each other. And we all accept each other as they are, and for what they are. And we’re all here to help each other out. It’s no more complicated than that. And you guys are included if you want to be.”
Michael appeared to be at a loss for words. I could see Jane getting quite emotional, her eyes getting moist, like she’d just connected with some feeling for the first time. It grew quiet after that, which wasn’t a surprise. Shortly after that they started yawning and we sent them off to bed since they were on east coast time.
We all slept in a little on Sunday morning, and Jackson and I were in the kitchen when Jane and Michael came in. He had orange juice on the table and sat them down at the kitchen table and poured coffee, and then came back to the counter where I’d stacked the rounds I’d cut out of the bread. We moved apart with our weapons, and then turned and I said, “One thing you and I were never taught in our household about Gas House Specials is what you can do with the rounds. So, En Garde!”
With that Jackson and I started zipping the rounds at them. They were surprised and shocked, ducking and dodging till they figured it out, then throwing them back our way as we all cracked up. That was the ice breaker. It only took a couple of minutes of acting like out-of-control children, laughing like kids because it was so crazy to have a food fight, that the edge from last night was gone…and it didn’t reappear.
We’d only lived in Portland for less than a month but were beginning to feel like some kind of competent tour guides. On Sunday we drove them around some of the neighborhoods we knew and liked, also showed them downtown, and since they’d asked about Newberg, we drove down there so they knew a little more about where Jackson grew up and where I’d lived for the past year. It was early afternoon and I didn’t think that Gary was working. We stopped at the house and to our surprise, both Lois and Gary were there. The International pickup was in the driveway, so we all walked up to the back door and Jackson went in and then waved us in and introduced everyone. They were both painting, Lois with a brush doing the trim and woodwork, Gary with a roller doing the walls and ceilings. All the furniture in the downstairs rooms had been pushed into the center and covered with plastic, and they were hard at it. The redecoration had begun!
I explained to Michael and Jane about Gary and Lois soon to be getting married, and them taking over the house and now making it their own. It was a pleasant time, and we didn’t stay long. The paint was drying on the brush and roller, and we needed to head back. On the drive home, Jane did comment about how nice they were and what a sharp person Lois seemed to be.
That evening we walked to Jackson’s favorite restaurant for dinner. After we’d settled in, sipped some wine and then ordered dinner, Jackson said to me, “We forgot to ask them about the wedding, you know, have they decided on a date and place?” I agreed. It had slipped my mind too, talking about paint and decorating. Jackson told Jane and Michael that they’d asked me to marry them, the details were still to be settled.
Michael smiled, and I could see a grin forming. Ten years ago, I would have expected a wise-ass remark to follow. I said, “What?”
He said, softly, “It’s kind of interesting. They’re asking their gay minister to marry them so you can become their gay brother-in-law. I bet that doesn’t happen very often.”
We were looking at each other directly, and I could see both Jackson and Jane out of the corner of my eye, and they’d paused, watching waiting to see where this was going. I could see his eyes were smiling too, and was trying to be humorous and engage, not be difficult and obnoxious.
I smiled too then, and said, “Just think of all the first-time events that are going to happen in our lives that you never even thought about before!”
He started laughing and reached out his hand, palm open and thumb up, and we did that bro-handshake thing, as he said, “I can only imagine. I’m still trying to get my mind ready for the first time I see you kissing each other!”
We were all giggling now, and Jackson said, “You know we decided we had to be discreet till we were sure you were Okay with us, like no kissing or snuggling or using pet names. I forgot last night when I snuggled up next to him on the couch.”
Jane took the bait. “What pet names? Come on, out with it. And you can kiss and hug and call each other by your pet names all you want.” She looked at Michael, “Right?”
To his credit, he knew that “Yes,” was the only acceptable answer, and then he looked at us and grinned, “So what are these pet names? I can’t wait to hear this.”
I glanced at Jackson. He’d cracked this eggshell, and there was no going back now. He just shrugged and smiled at me demurely, meaning I got to do it.
“Well, I call him Love. And I know what you’re going to ask next, so I’ll just say, it’s short for Lover Boy.”
Michael rolled his eyes. Jane took Jackson’s hand and said, “That’s so romantic. And what do you call him?”
He blushed just a little. It turns out it’s different having to explain terms like this to people, even family, than it is just using them. “I call him Babe.”
Michael’s grin widened. Jane was gushing, “That’s so sweet.”
Jackson was no fool, “And, so you guys don’t have to ask, that’s so I don’t have to say My Sexy Man in public. But, that’s just between us, Okay?”
Michael was laughing softly. “God, you guys are too much. Jane calls me Pumpkin sometimes, and I don’t know what to make of it.”
I was about to make another comment about being normal, just like them, when our waitress arrived with our dinners.
On the walk home Jane asked me if I’d remembered our conversation about legal questions around homosexuality, Pennsylvania still criminalizing anal sex between men and the Equal Rights Amendment? I was holding Jackson’s hand and I could see his eyes widen.
“I sure do. I wouldn’t have understood how hypocritical the laws in Pennsylvania were without that conversation.” I turned to Jackson, “It turns out that in PA, it is legal for men to have anal sex with women, but illegal to have it with men. Can you top that for hypocrisy?”
He rolled his eyes. Jane went on, “I understand that probably comes from the whole anti-homosexuality thing. Like you told us about how later the Church started opposing and then condemning it. And PA is a pretty Catholic state, so there’s the whole influence of the church and all that. Where do you think opposition to the ERA comes from?”
We’d reached the house, and I suggested we continue the conversation in the living room with another glass of wine. I asked Jackson if he’d put on some music, and he looked us all over conspiratorially and asked if he could find something interesting in my record collection. I nodded, and he looked at Jane and Michael and said, “I’ve been exploring in his collection, which is huge, and a lot haven’t been listened to for years.”
Michael smiled and a minute later Jackson pulled out the Moody Blue’s On The Threshold of a Dream, saying, “Wow, this is a cool cover.”
Jane quipped, “If you like that one, wait till you see the covers for Days of Future Passed and In Search of the Lost Chord!”
I looked at her, saying, “I didn’t know you were a Moody Blues fan.”
She grinned tantalizingly, “Oh yeah. Before I met Michael, I went to three of their concerts. I could never get him to go with me though. He’s not much on big arena concerts.”
The opening refrains of In the Beginning came on, and I turned back to her, “Now, about your ERA question. Do you want my honest assessment? Because, it’s pretty hard core.” She nodded.
“Okay, it starts with what I told you both about the opposition to homosexuality, namely that there was virtually none for the first thousand years of Christianity, and then for the last thousand years the church, meaning first the Roman Catholic Church and then after the Reformation almost all churches, have condemned it…and that’s driven the laws in lots of countries and states.” She nodded.
I heard Lovely to See You start to play and went on. “There’s the first take away. Because we’re talking about countries where Judaism or Christianity or Islam are the main religions, the religious doctrine shapes the laws. That’s certainly the case with homosexuality, and you can see it in your example from PA. A very similar thing applies, I think, in terms of the ERA. I’ve thought about it on and off since we had that conversation, and I even went back and did a little reading and then looked at the relevant Bible verses. So, it starts with the Old Testament model where women were chattel, owned by their fathers and then husbands. Those men would certainly not give their women equal rights!”
She rolled her eyes. “God, isn’t that the truth.”
“That sets the stage, because the most vocal New Testament voice against homosexuality was Paul, at least as his comments are interpreted that way, and he was also the most vocal, though not the only, on the role and position of women. He was a Jewish rabbi who converted to become a Christian and brought with him a lot of Jewish legal views. So, take the Old Testament view as a starting point, and then from Paul there are three really telling passages that are all variations on the same theme, which is laid out in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, where he states:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything…Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
I paused, “Are you with me?” Jane nodded.
“So, the set up here is the two different verbs used which imply two different positions or roles, and which reinforce the hierarchy of men over women that came from the Old Testament. First, wives are told to submit and subject themselves to their husbands in everything because the husband is the head of the wife. Second, husbands are told to love their wives. Notice that in the injunction to the husbands it is assumed that they are over their wives in the hierarchal order.”
I paused again, and Jane was thinking and then said, “I remember those passages from somewhere in Sunday School, but wasn’t he also talking about how this is supposed to be a model based on Christ and the church or something like that?”
I nodded, “Yes, you remember correctly. The entire passage has two parts. The one addressed to wives talks about husbands being over their wives like Christ is over the church. The one addressed to husbands says love your wives like Christ loved the church. The problem is that it is so often taken out of context to make a completely different point. That is: wives submit to your husbands, and husbands love your wives. Or in the most reductionist form, wives have to do what they’re told, and men only have to love their wives. Then you get into the question of what love is?”
Jackson said, “What does that mean?”
Jean said, “Yeah, go on, what DOES that mean?”
“Well,” I replied, “like I said, this is taking it out of context, but the verb form is agape, which we translate in English as love, but Greek had at least four different verbs for what we call love, and this one, depending on the translation you choose is charitable love, or unconditional love or love characterized by tender solicitude. It is not eros, which means sexual love. Still with me?”
Jane and Jackson nodded, and I wasn’t sure if Michael was following. However, he hadn’t asked the question.
“Here’s the kicker, I’ve heard it presented as essentially wives should be obedient and husbands only have to give them some love. In other words, the people doing the interpreting change the verb form because in English we only have one word that is used for love in its different forms. The last part can be twisted pretty easily into ‘just be solicitous,’ or ‘wives have to provide sex.’ It sounds radical, but I knew a fellow student in seminary who was a Fundamentalist who said just that: wives have to do what they’re told, and love is taking care of them and having sex. I kid you not.”
“God almighty!” from Jane.
“You can say that again,” I replied. “Now, that’s not the common view, and it’s out of context, but tons of other passages are taken out of context to support personal or cultural views. The south justified slavery from the New Testament, for instance! We’ve had two thousand years of Christianity where women are slotted into subservient roles in the church, and until recently in society as well. So, for me it’s not much of a stretch to see the same institutions and organizations and law makers who want to maintain the status quo, who continue to oppose civil rights for homosexuals also use Biblical justification to prevent something sweeping like a civil rights amendment for women from passing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women have equal rights in almost all European countries which happen to be more secular, while we can’t get ERA passed here in this ‘Christian’ nation.”
Jane was flushed, and I pretty sure it was from anger, and she said, “I’ve never heard it explained that way, but it makes sense and confirms a lot of my suspicions. There’s a lot of entrenched chauvinism that has to be overturned, isn’t there?”
“There sure is, and it’s actually not much of a consolation that women are on the receiving end of it, just like gays are in a different way. It all still comes down to hatred and power and control.”
Jackson had flipped the album over when side one finished, and Have You Heard was playing. I looked at both of them. “Sorry for the theology lesson and the downer message, but at least in my mind those are the facts and it’s not all that encouraging.”
Jane smiled, somewhat painfully, and said. “I agree. But, thanks for the detailed answer. So, changing the subject to more upbeat subjects, what are we doing tomorrow?”
I grinned and said, “Tomorrow we’re taking you to the Oregon coast, and you are going to love it. The weather is supposed to be outstanding.” The next day we took them to the coast, heading north on Highway 30 so we could drive down the Columbia River to Astoria. We spent some time at the new Marine Museum, which impressed Michael, and then headed south to the beaches at Gearhart, and then on to Cannon Beach. They loved the town, and especially the visuals with the giant rock haystacks rising in the ocean off the beach.
We stopped for dinner at a restaurant on the drive home, and then on Tuesday we did the drive to Multnomah Falls, and then added Bridal Veil Falls so they would have a real feel of what the Columbia River Gorge was like. That evening we again walked to Jackson’s favorite restaurant, had a pleasant dinner, and comfortable walk home afterwards.
Wednesday morning, they left early for a flight that got them home in the evening. The farewells were heartfelt, and the last two days had just been fun companionship. No heavy family discussions, certainly no confrontations. We’d used out pet names and Michael hadn’t freaked out, just smiled knowingly. We’d listened to Days of Future Passed and In Search of the Lost Chord and Jackson really liked the cover art on those too. I’d told him that somewhere in there were five more, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, On the Threshold of a Dream, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor and Seventh Sojourn, as well as one called Blue Jays that wasn’t by the whole band. All had cool cover art and as I was rediscovering the Moody Blues albums after a multi-year absence, I had to also say that they contained a lot of really good music.
We’d had little time to read since Friday, and spent much of the day doing laundry and cleaning house, as well as some yard work and mowing the lawn. We just chilled that night, enjoying being back to our own life with no house guests, and had a hike planned to Mount Hood the next day. That evening, though, I called Lois and Gary to talk wedding plans. The church in Newberg still hadn’t hired a replacement minister, though they were close, and they’d spoken to the Chair of Session and agreed on a Saturday in mid-September, and he also agreed to let me officiate the ceremony. They wanted it simple, with a few friends and family, not a big deal with lots and lots of people. That was fine by me, and I suggested they meet with Susan to talk over the musical selections, since we’d agreed to follow the Presbyterian structure for the service. Lois agreed and told me I’d gotten out of town just in time. When I asked what she meant, she told me there had been three weddings during the summer, but the couples and the church had a dickens of a time finding a temporary minister who was available to officiate!
I walked back into the living room and sat down next to Jackson to tell him about the call. He reached up and put his hand around my shoulder and pulled me down, so I was laying with my head in his lap. He leaned over and kissed my forehead and said softly, “Good thing they’ve gotten the details sorted out and approved for the wedding.”
I nodded, looking up at his face, appreciating the view from down here, seeing the light flash off his eyes in new ways, and loving the sensuous way his lips appeared from below. “I love you; you know.”
He grinned, saying softly, “Oh, I know, and I love you too.” That’s when I felt his left-hand slide across my stomach and under the waist of my shorts and briefs.
“Whoa! That feels pretty nice.”
He grinned again. “It does feel nice. It’s so nice and soft right here.” He was drumming his fingertips just above my pubes and playing with my treasure trail. “So soft. And then there’s this, so nice.” His fingertips were dancing in my pubes now, and I could feel myself getting hard. It was only a minute before his fingertips were circling the base of my cock.
He was staring directly down at me, his eyes shining, just radiating love along with his smile. I smiled back, and he said softly, “You’re pretty hard down there. It can’t be very comfortable. Am I right?”
My smile widened, and I nodded.
“Allow me to relieve the pressure, then,” he said, pulling his hand out, and deftly undoing the snap on my shorts and unzipping them, and then carefully reaching in the fly to find my cock. For some reason I was feeling delirious, my cock standing out through the fly in my boxers and my shorts wide open, and me still staring at him.
His eyes glinted, and I saw the dimples flare, and I felt him stroking the top of my head with his right hand as he slowly began to stroke my cock.
“I’ve missed being able to be this open with all the house guests. It’s so cool to be here in our living room, stroking your big cock right here, and not caring about anything but how good it feels and how much I love you.”
“It does feel good, and I love you too.”
“Good. Now, do you know what I’m going to do?”
“I’m afraid to guess.”
“You’re going to stay right where you are, and I’m going to lean down and lick the head of your cock…just like this.”
I gasped, transfixed by the new waves of pleasure caused by doing it a different way. Jackson knew just what he was doing. He licked for a bit, then sat up and leaned over and kissed me, asking, “Does that feel good?”
I kissed him back and sighed.
“Good answer. And, because it was a good answer, you now get to feel this.” He leaned back to my cock and took the head in his mouth, stroking the shaft with his free hand. I gasped again.
“Ahh….that feels so wonderful. I won’t last long.”
“That’s the idea, Babe. I want you to come and have a totally explosive one, right here.”
It only took another minute, and I did, feeling like I was totally losing it. When we’d recovered, I reached up and stroked his face and said softly, as I rubbed the back of my head on his crotch, “I can think of a much better thing for you to do with your hard on than sit here. Come with me, and fill me up with it. What do you think?”
He smiled, knowingly, and said, “That, my Sexy Man, sounds wonderful.”
Ramona Falls Trail required taking the Lolo Pass Road at Zig Zag, which followed the Sandy River on the south side of Mount Hood. The hike is just over eight miles, half of it a loop that circles back on itself. It’s a moderate hike that includes crossing a stream on an amazing and somewhat scary log bridge, then the trail leads to the gorgeous Ramona Falls which drops 120 feet, cascading and splitting into ever smaller fingers of water broken up by the hexagonal columns of basalt at the base of the cliff.
We fixed pizza and salad for dinner that night, and then settled onto the couch to resume our book discussion. He knew I’d reviewed the Tillich book and had gotten the Fowler articles on stages of faith from Carter, so I asked him to go first.
He smiled, crossing his legs in the “book session position,” I was beginning to adore. It was sweet, and part of it was that depending on what he was wearing that day, there was more or less to see.
“Okay, I read the next three chapters, and Guest uses this interesting writing style where she changes tenses. I mean, there’s this continual use of the first person in the present tense when it’s about Conrad, the seven-teen year old, and that kind of puts you in his head, so you find out he’s not doing well in school because he’s making these declarative statements about having an assignment to do a book report but he hasn’t even read it, or a test coming up but he hasn’t studied. Anyway, it’s interesting and you feel like you’re there, inside the scene with Conrad. Then she switches when she’s talking about his parents or other characters, so it’s a narrative about them.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Does it work?”
“Yeah, like I said, you feel you’re there with Conrad, and at least for me, it makes you feel for Conrad, like you’re part of the story with him. That’s kind of cool. So anyway, the parents are distant. The dad was orphaned and grew up without his own parents, so he doesn’t know how to be a dad. Boy, can I relate to that. And his mom is distant, like going through the motions but it doesn’t feel like she’s emotionally connected to him.”
“That sounds kind of painful, I understand why you can relate.” I touched one of his knees and he smiled.
“So, there’s this kind of emphasis on how normal everything is, even though we’re realizing that it really isn’t. Like they’re an ordinary family and live in an ordinary neighborhood and have ordinary lives. But we’re beginning to learn a little more and understand and it’s not so ‘ordinary’ after all. As in, not only did Conrad attempt suicide, but a while before that his older brother died. Then we start meeting his friends on a drive to school, and find out he used to be on the swim team, but is repeating 11th Grade because he didn’t take finals last year. That was probably around the time of the suicide event. Anyway, he’s having trouble focusing, like daydreaming in class, and when he gets called by the teacher, he’s clueless. They’re reading a book called Jude the Obscure, that I’ve never heard of, but it sounds kind of fatalistic. And he’s trying to get back on the swim team, but not very motivated. Oh, and he’s in choir and it’s the only place he lets down his guard.”
“So, you relate to Conrad?”
He smiled meekly, “In a lot of ways, yeah. I’m not that much older and went through some of the same stuff. I mean I only thought about suicide, I didn’t try it, but that’s because you came into my life.”
“Well, empathizing with the characters, especially the main character, is a good thing. It really gets you engaged in the novel. Remember when we talked about Regis Hastur and how we both really engaged with him as a character because we shared characteristics?”
“Yeah, I do. And, it helps. Anyway, the other thing is that the parents aren’t getting along that well. The dad is worried all the time about Conrad, but doesn’t know what to do. The mother seems more interested in golf. Go figure!”
I touched his knee again. “You’ve lived through that kind of shit too, haven’t you?”
He smiled, “Yeah, but I came through it because I had someone to help me out and get me out.”
“Maybe Conrad will too. We’ll have to see. It’s interesting that you pick this book to read that has so many similarities to your own experience, don’t you think?”
“Sure is, as in kind of spooky, almost. So, how’s it going with The Two Towers?
“Slower than expected because I’ve been reading Tillich and Fowler too, but you remember I got to the split in the Fellowship?”
He nodded, and I continued, “The remaining Fellowship had to decide to go after Frodo and Sam, or mount a rescue attempt for Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide to let the Ringbearer go and instead rescue Merry and Pippin. They pursue the orcs as they run across the fields of Rohan and we get introduced to another wizard named Saruman, who has a fortress at Isengard. And, he’s a wizard that has gone over to Sauron’s side, and they find evidence that the orcs of Sauron and Saruman have quarreled and that it seems like the hobbits are still alive, but they begin to lose hope as they fall farther and farther behind. After three days of running with little rest, they meet a troop of the riders of Rohan. The horsemen's leader, Éomer, informs the trio that the orcs were destroyed on the edge of Fangorn forest, with no survivors.”
“I remember that part about the raiding orc party that got Merry and Pippin.”
“So, it turns out that although they were roughed up by the orcs, Merry and Pippin manage to escape when the Rohirrim attack. They run to the safety of the forest, and eventually meet Treebeard the Ent. Remember him? The walking and talking tree who is the guardian of the forest? He does not particularly care about Sauron, but he takes the threat of Saruman very seriously. The wizard once cared for the forest and learned much from Treebeard, but now he chops down the trees to fuel the war machines of Isengard. Treebeard calls an Entmoot, a meeting of many Ents who decide to fight Saruman. That’s as far as I got, but the story is heating up. Like the bad guys are in league and cooking up a war with orcs and the pressure is on for the ring to get delivered to Mordor, and who know what’s going to happen to the rest of the Fellowship.”
He grinned knowingly. “You don’t want me to tell you, do you?”
“You know the answer to that question. However, I’d like to know if you’re too tired after our hike today for a little exercise under the sheets?”
“What? Geez, you’re doing a lot of initiating these days. I thought that was supposed to be me because I’m young and horny.” He was grinning.
I stroked his knee again, and reached as far up his thigh as I could. “Actually, you want to know what did it?”
He raised his eyebrows. “You’ve been playing those Moody Blues albums, and I heard Nights in White Satin. Back in the day when I heard it, it was just a figure of speech, now I hear it and I wonder why we don’t have satin sheets that we can spend the whole night making love on top of.”
He came down the couch to me, embracing me and pushing me backwards so he could kiss me at the same time. “You’re becoming such a romantic. Let’s go experiment and see if we can get by without the satin sheets.”
The next day I was had lunch scheduled with Spencer Sullivan, who’d called earlier in the week since he was going to be in Portland on business and said he had the insurance settlement check to deliver. Jackson said he was going to stay home and do “some stuff” since it was mainly a meeting to get the insurance payment. When we sat down to lunch, I asked him how he’d been, and he filled me in on the last few weeks, especially the process of finding a new minister. I asked him what brought him in to Portland today, and he said he had a meeting at a downtown law firm, then had to go by the BMW dealer. I raised my eyebrows.
“No, no. I’m not buying a new one. I love the one I’ve got. I just want some accessories, like fog lamps and some heavier duty front floor mats for the winter. I want the fog lamps installed by the dealer, not some add on I do in the driveway or have a mechanic in Newberg bolt on. You know, it’s a connection to the vehicle’s electrical system, so it’s kind of important it’s done right!”
He also wanted an update on Jackson and me. I told him Jackson had stepped up and not just done a ton of work for the redecorating and the move, but had worked with Marcia on paint and buying furniture and unpacking because my shoulder was still sensitive. He then wanted to know all about that and recovery from the concussion. I assured him I was recovered, and again Jackson had had a big role making me focus on being in touch with my feelings and not just space out, to work at recovering from having my bell rung. “It was a lot like he did when my parents died. He kept on me, he kept insisting I had to be in touch with my feelings, he wouldn’t just let me check out emotionally.”
“He’s quite a guy, that kid. Tell me, how are you doing overall, now that it’s six months since you lost your parents? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone handle a tragedy like that so well, and come back to quickly.”
I paused, thinking about what he said. “I’m doing just fine, Spencer, and know that it’s a two-edged sword, and not one to be proud of. My parents were distant, we were never close, we moved a lot when I was a kid, so no close friends or extended family or community connection. So, I got really good at not showing emotion. It’s called compartmentalization, where you can just stuff all the feelings and emotions about a move or a loss into that compartment over there, and not have to deal with them. That’s a lot of why I was emotionally clueless when I got hit with Cupid’s arrow after I met Jackson. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It’s a lot of what I meant when I told you that he made me whole. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
He was smiling. “It’s a thrill to watch you talk about it and describe him, because you are so obviously in love. It does my heart good to see! I’m really happy to see a good friend recover so well from what could have been a tragedy.”
He paused, and I said nothing, and then he went on. “While I was at the BMW dealership, I thought of you. That’s because I was talking to Dieter, the salesman that sold me my car, and he showed me this marvelous 2002 he just took in trade on a new sale. It would be the perfect car for you.”
I smiled and replied, “Me, in a BMW? I’m a minister type who now works in a Campus Ministry program. What do I need with a sports car?”
“David, you’re missing it. This is a two-door coupé, with front and back seats. It’s a real car. On top of that it has a fuel injected engine and puts out 135 horsepower coupled with one of the best suspensions out of Europe, so it drives like a dream. Well, not quite as much of a dream as mine, but mines a bigger and heavier model. Anyway, it would be a great car for you. Isn’t that El Camino getting a little clunky?”
I raised my eyebrows, smiling. “Clunky? No, not clunky. I still like it a lot, but I’ll tell you that since we bought the house and moved to the city, there have been quite a few times we were going someplace with other people, like Gary and Lois or Susan and Ellen, and had to take two cars because it only seats two. That’s my only problem with it.”
He saw the opening he was after. “Will you take some advice from a friend that has your best interest at heart? This is a classic car. It’s perfect for you guys. It’s in amazing condition, and you will absolutely love driving it.”
“Maybe, but there’s the cost. What makes you think I can afford a fancy and expensive German sports car?”
“David, let me say again, it’s a coupé: a two-door, four-seater. Will you stop with the sports car thing? It’s not a Porsche. It’s a performance family car. And as to affording it, it’s not that much more expensive than your El Camino and I happen to know you can afford it.”
“Oh? You happen to know how much I spent on the house and the re-decorating and the furniture?” I was kidding, and he knew it.
“Well, no, actually, I don’t,” he was sounding a little sheepish now, “but I can guess, and the price difference can’t be that great, and your El Camino is an SS model and there aren’t that many of them, so it’ll be in high demand. You won’t have any trouble selling it. What did you pay for it?”
I thought for a minute, then said, “It had a sticker price of about $3,600 plus the stereo upgrade and then the shell, so total just under $4,000.”
“Well, there’s a little bit of difference.”
“Go on, what’s the pricing on the BMW?”
“Okay, Dieter told me he sold that 2002 tii with a sticker price $6,570.”
“What? See, that’s what I mean. That car is $2,500 more than mine. How am I going to afford that after buying the house and all of that?”
“David, I know you can afford it. Maybe you need to do something good like this for yourself. Besides, if you hold that El Camino another year, you’ll get less and less out of it. The BMW will hold its value. That’s for certain, and you will understand what I’m trying to tell you when you drive it.”
“Spencer, it’s $2,500 dollars, maybe more if the El Camino has depreciated faster than that BMW. I can’t spend that on a car I don’t need. I’m living on a Campus Ministry salary now, there’s the cost of living, I have to make sure I can cover Jackson’s school expenses. Come on!”
He looked at me, smiling. “Does Jackson have child support and a scholarship? Do you have a monthly mortgage?”
“Yes, and then No. I paid cash for the house.”
“I rest my case!”
“What does that have to do with it? I don’t have a big salary even if I don’t have a monthly house payment.”
“Do one thing for me?” He was looking at me with this pleading look on his face.
“Promise me you’ll go look at it and drive it. I’ll call Dieter right now and have him hold it until you look at it. Will you go tomorrow. David, this car has you written all over it! Trust me on this.”
He was both persistent and persuasive. We went back and forth for a couple of minutes and I relented. He told me what a great color it was, repeated the pitch about the great condition, raved about the leather seats and the turbo charger, and in the end, I explained that Susan and Ellen were arriving this afternoon and I couldn’t possibly go to the dealer before Monday, but I promised to go see and drive the car on Monday.
After he got that out of his system, and he handed me the insurance payment check to replace my bicycle from the wreck. I was surprised that the car was more important to him than the bicycle payment! On top of that, he paid for lunch, and on the way out of the restaurant called the BMW dealer and spoke to his “friend” Dieter and got him to promise to not sell the car before I saw it on Monday.
When I got home, I found Jackson in the living room on the couch, Moody Blues albums spread out on the coffee table and the floor, with the volume cranked up. He smiled and waved at me, then made the rotating motion with his hand, signaling me to turn it down. After I did, I walked over, knelt by the couch and gave him a huge hug followed by a passionate kiss.
He looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Their music is really different than what I used to like, I mean it’s a lot more melodic and lyrical. There’s the flute and the symphony backing on a lot of songs. But you know what blows my mind? The lyrics. Some of the songs are wonderful love song hits like Nights in White Satin and Tuesday Afternoon, but others are so amazing as commentaries on human experience and friendship, like Question and Remember Me. I’m just blown away, not just that they produced this many albums, but that so many of the songs are so amazing!”
I hugged him again. “I’m so glad because it’s another discovery for you, and you are re-introducing me to part of my record collection that I’ve forgotten about. That’s a good thing.