He blushed. “I, I mean…I told Jackson I’m pretty sure I am, and it felt so amazing to hear him say it, and there weren’t lightning bolts from heaven, and nobody jumped him about it, no one acted scandalized, in fact everyone was impressed. I couldn’t believe it. Where I come from you just can’t imagine anything like that happening.”
“Why don’t you tell me about that?” I leaned back in my chair and smiled at him again. He then proceeded to tell me he grew up LDS in a suburb of Salt Lake City, his parents and family were really religious, that it had always been “homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals go to hell,” that he figured out he liked boys when he was fourteen or fifteen, and his only experience was playing around with a close friend.
“I made sure my parents knew I wasn’t religious enough to go on a Mormon mission, and that I wanted to go to a good liberal arts college out-of-state and major in art, and we fought about that for two years, but they finally figured out I wasn’t going to Brigham Young University where my Dad went, and I also wanted to go to college outside of Utah. Meaning out of the Mormon culture scene. I kind of won that battle, and I love my parents, I just couldn’t drop being gay on them too. It seemed too unfair.”
“Unfair to them, or unfair to you?”
He looked surprised. “What do you…well, unfair to them. Why would it be unfair to me. Oh…you mean what we talked about with identity, don’t you? That I’m being unfair to myself if I’m denying or hiding who I am?”
I nodded. “You can’t live a healthy life and be true to yourself if you don’t sort out your own identity. Remember the saying we talked about in class, ‘know thyself,’ or updated, ‘to thine own self be true?’ That’s what we’re talking about. It doesn’t mean you have to rub your parents face in it. It just means you have to prioritize it. And you know what? You’re in the perfect place to sort it out, and you’ve made that possible for yourself. You’re in an open and accepting liberal arts college in a fairly progressive city. We’re here to help, but it seems to me that the first thing you’ve got to do is make the decision for yourself that it looks to me you’ve pretty well made.”
He nodded. “I feel kind of dumb now, I mean that’s all pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
“Not necessarily. Remember how much of identity is bestowed on you from family and tribe. Tribalism and religious beliefs exert a tremendously powerful force on people, and it’s hard to unpack it all. Also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, because the condemnation of homosexuality comes from religion, you also need to plan on a religious reassessment, because sooner or later it will come up too.”
He smiled, knowingly. “I know that too. Being Mormon I don’t know if there’s a more straight-laced religion, but there’s also a lot of hypocrisy. And there’s plenty of gay members. I don’t mean lots, but they’re there. You know, it’s really strict, like no caffeine or alcohol, really rigid, and all this structure about dating and stuff. I mean, how do you send two teenagers off to live together for two years on a mission and not have some of it happen? Anyway, I’ve been putting that off too.”
“It’ll come in time. Just let it happen at its own pace. Now, can I ask you a question, Ron?”
He glanced up from his thoughts, surprised. “Sure.”
“One of the expectations when I was hired for this job was that the Center would be open and supportive of homosexual students. Not the least of the reasons is that it is now legal in Oregon, and the age of consent is eighteen, and that means homosexuals have civil rights that have to be acknowledged and we as a campus community have to provide support and guidance to gay students like all others. What I’m wondering is if it would be helpful to have a kind of support group kind of thing for gay students. I mean separate and apart from the discussion group on Wednesday night.”
He nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense, I guess. What would be the expectations?”
“There wouldn’t be any. The idea would just be a place to talk and share and get support. No particular agenda. You could just show up and listen, or open your heart with your problems, or help other kids with what they’re going through.”
“I think that would be very cool.”
I told Jackson about it on the way home, and he thought it was a great idea too. He grinned. “Keep this up, and you’ll have as busy a schedule as I do!”
At the discussion group Wednesday night, I started out with a quick review of the first two stages of faith, especially emphasizing that the ability to move beyond literalism was a key part of being able to transition into stage 3, which Fowler called Synthetic-Conventional faith. It correlated with the young adult age range of 13 to 23, and how at this age the person’s influences reached beyond family and tribe to educational and vocational inputs, to which could be added religious and media inputs too.”
I paused, “So, presumably you’re seeing that for the average person, life is getting more complex and there’s a broader range of involvement and a more diverse source of inputs to life and identity. What do you think the role of faith is in this stage?”
There weren’t many answers, but Ruth suggested it operated like a defense to help stabilize the person.
“You mean against all those sinful secular influences?”
She giggled. “Yeah, but when you say it that way it doesn’t sound right. I guess the organization is the defense isn’t it, meaning the church and maybe its doctrines.”
“I think you’re right. Fowler says faith has a synthesizing function, that the faith each person has, the content that has been formed in that container, whatever size or shape it’s in at the time, synthesizes values and information. By doing so, it provides the basis for developing identity and worldview. Does that make sense?”
We discussed that function for a few minutes, and Ron commented about how helpful what Jackson shared about how faith got him through the bad years was, and how it made sense that it would work to synthesize all this new information.
I pointed out how Fowler described this as principally a conformist stage because it’s tuned into the expectations and judgments of significant others—meaning family and tribe, and sees value and power in terms of personal relationships. The problem being that it isn’t solid enough in its own identity and judgment to form much in the way of its own identity and opinions. I asked if they were following, and they all nodded their heads.
“So, early in this stage we’re starting to form our own identity. Here’s where Fowler really got my attention, when he said that at this stage the person has an ideology. In other words, a kind of consistent cluster of values and beliefs, but the person has not yet been able to define or describe those values and beliefs, let alone examine and assess them. I think we’re mainly talking about the values and beliefs that have been put in your container for you, that you probably haven’t started to examine. Does that feel like any of you?”
There was a bunch of giggling at that question, and a lot of comments about maybe examination and assessment can happen when you’re out of the family home and going to college. I glanced at Ron and Ruth and smiled. They both smiled back knowingly.
“So, now it starts to get serious, because the individual, that is, you and me, have the opportunity to look at the content that’s been poured into that faith container and ask yourself if you like it, if you would have put it there if you’d been able to choose. What do you think?”
Ruth spoke right up. “It’s hard to move out of that conformist mode and get out from under the expectations and judgments of others. I can say that in a special way, since my Dad’s a minister and you can guess how much content got dumped in my container, but also all the expectations and judgments. But I’m realizing that doing the assessment is real and important. If we’re going to be true to ourselves, we have to start doing it.”
I thanked Ruth for her candor, and said she had perfectly illustrated the other main challenge of this stage, that while there’s a dawning awareness of your ability to shape your own identity and faith, getting beyond the expectations of others can be so difficult that it jeopardizes your own ability to do the assessment and make judgments about the content. Or, the betrayal of others can drive a person to despair that ends up with atheism or personal dependency.
Ruth was right there. “Can you help us understand what that last part means?”
“Sure. I think the inability to get beyond the expectations of others means it’s really difficult or impossible to separate or break free to be your own person. In my own case, I had a distant and absent father, and I only figured out in the last year that a lot of my own pursuing religion was seeking a replacement father. It can also set you up for personal dependency, like the kind that happens with religious cults.”
She smiled at me. “That must have been hard to figure out, but I can relate.”
“It’s only hard until you figure it out,” I said to her with a smile. “The other part, is that if you’re betrayed or injured in this phase, you may never be able to stand independently and do the assessment necessary to be independent, to be your own person. If you’re not your own person, you’re dependent. If your life lacks personal intimacy, you seek it elsewhere. That could explain why so much of contemporary Christianity is based on ‘a personal relationship with Jesus,’ as illustrated by the ‘I Found It’ movement. Maybe now you can understand why Fowler says that while this is supposed to be the stage for adolescents or young adults, an awful lot of adults never get beyond this stage, because they’re never freed or empowered to do the assessment and exercise their own judgment.”
There were a couple more questions about the details, but I had the distinct impression that everyone was doing some serious thinking about Fowler’s statement that an awful lot of adults get stuck in this stage. I know I had been.
On the way home Jackson was stroking the back of my hand on the shifter. He was so practiced at it now, that he could follow my hand as it moved through the shift pattern from 1st to 2nd to 3rd and still have his fingertips on the top of my hand.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I don’t know, Love, but I do know you were quiet tonight.”
“Yeah, I was thinking a lot, and really thinking that if it weren’t for us falling for each other, loving each other so much, helping each other so much, we’d still be stuck in stage 3.”
I paused, because I hadn’t yet framed it that way in my own mind, and was still assessing if that’s where I was. I also didn’t want to act in the least bit dismissive of what he was saying, because it was so substantive.
“I think what we have is so wonderful and so special in so many ways, and this is one of them. I’ve said from the day I met you that I needed you to get through a lot of things, and I wasn’t thinking about stages of faith back then, but I think you’re right. If I’m out of stage 3, or on my way on to the next stage, it’s because of you and all the things that happened around me falling in love with you.”
He lifted up my hand and kissed it. I pulled his over and kissed it back.
When I drove over to pick up the hymn arrangement from Father Alexi, we also loaded the votive candle holder in the trunk and then set it up in the chapel. Now I found myself thinking about what to have at the front of the chapel, the equivalent of the altar. I mentioned that to Mona, and her response was “That’s easy.”
I must have looked dumbfounded. “You only need an altar if you’re going to sacrifice, like Abraham with the lamb. Right?”
Sometimes the simplest thing is the best. We weren’t going to celebrate Communion, which is directly tied to sacrifice, and thus the altar. She was right, all we needed was some kind of worship table up front.
“I know you have something in mind, so please fill me in.”
She smiled a little sheepishly. “As a matter of fact, I do. We remodeled our living room a year ago, and we had behind our couch one of those high and narrow tables. You know what I mean? A console table. We pulled it out and placed the new couch against the wall with a nice coffee table in front of it. I gave the couch to my neighbor, but the old table is still in my garage. Why don’t you come look at it and see if you think it will work?”
I did, and it did, and the next weekend Jackson and I drove over and loaded it into the trunk of the BMW, and for the first time since we’d sold it, I wished I still had the El Camino. We tenderly transported it to the Center, and it worked perfectly. It was immediately obvious it needed a couple of candle sticks of some sort, maybe a simple cross, and then we’d about be there.
It was the last week of September, and Jackson along with the rest of the choir were beginning to feel the heat, their Fall performance being just under a month away. He also had to make a term paper decision for Western civ, and decided to go with the position of women in classical Greek society, and by extension how inclusive for women was democracy in Ancient Greece?
I raised my eyebrows in appreciation, and he said, “What I really wanted to do the paper on, after reading The Last of the Wine, was the nature of male homosexual relationships in ancient Greece, but I pretty well got the impression that the Prof. isn’t ready for that!”
I giggled at that. “It is only 1978, you know only twenty-four hundred years or so have passed!”
Monday afternoon I came downstairs for a cup of coffee, and spied Ruth and Jackson reading in the lounge. The both nodded ‘yes’ when I asked if they wanted one too, so I waved them to follow me into the kitchen. While it was brewing, I glanced at Jackson and gave him the high sign, and he signaled back, so I turned to Ruth. “Jackson told me you apologized to him about the question you asked me, and I want you to know I think that was very gracious.”
She smiled, blushing just a little bit. “I’m still embarrassed. It was such a dumb thing to do.”
“Not necessarily. Remember the line ‘out of the lips of babes?’ Well, you may think it was nosy or childish or impulsive, but we’ve talked about it, and we want you to know that we both think it was innocent curiosity, and we consider you our friend, and there are some things you don’t keep from friends.”
Her face was blank. I glanced at Jackson, and he said, “Ruth, I want you to know I wasn’t offended, and neither was David. We were impressed with your intuition, and what you said was a compliment. But we didn’t know what we have between us was so apparent to others.”
The surprise was all over her face now. It was like she was speechless.
“So, Ruth,” I continued, “you told Jackson you planned on being his friend, and he feels the same way, and so do I, so that means you treat friends with honesty and respect. What we want you to know is that we’re both gay, we’re in a relationship and we live together.”
The expression on her face slowly changed from surprise to a soft smile. You could see she was deciding which direction to go with her first words. She took the gracious approach again. “Thank you for considering me worthy of telling me. I know it’s legal in Oregon now, but there’s still a lot of prejudice, especially in the church, and the religious response is horrible. I’ve gotten into huge arguments with my Dad about it. Anyway, I’m so happy for you. I meant what I said about the relationship you both have and how happy and healthy it seems. I’m envious. It’s the type of relationship I hope I can have some day.”
A smile, a smirk really, swept across Jackson’s face. “With a girl?”
Ruth started, then laughed. “No, sweet boy, not with a girl. I’m straight and go for boys. But if you hadn’t have told us all that you were gay right off the bat, I’d have been hustling you something fierce!”
He grinned at that, and they both started laughing. “That would have been something to watch. I’ve never had a date with a girl. I wouldn’t know what to do.”
She smiled coyly. “I could show you a thing or two.”
Now she had him on the defensive. “Oh no, I’m spoken for. This is my other half, right here.”
Ruth smiled knowingly, then said, “I know and I’m kidding, and I love both of you guys. But will you explain that ‘other half’ comment to me some time? I really like the sound of that.”
“Black or cream,” I asked, bringing the conversation back down to earth. We ended with a hug and I went back to my office and they resumed studying.
The next discussion group began with a short give and take about being stuck in stage three for one’s whole life, and I had to admit that if nothing else, just getting everyone to understand that faith development was a process and it was possible to get stuck in the adolescent stage, and that it probably wasn’t a great thing if it happened, had made it all worthwhile. Then I turned to the next stage and pulled out one of Fowler’s papers.
“I want to read you what he says about stage 4, because it is rather telling. He calls it Individuative-Reflective faith and says it is ‘particularly critical for it is in this transition that the late adolescent or adult must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes.’ That strikes me when we contrast it to what he said about stage 3, that an awful lot of adults get stuck there and never move on. I’m not saying they abdicate their responsibility. I think they’re stuck for one reason or another, a lot of it beyond their control. Fowler is so serious about this, about faith development and identity formation, that he’s talking about the burden of responsibility, that each of us have to take on in order to grow and develop and become all that we can be. To me that’s very serious.”
There was no argument, and the questions were about the problems of getting stuck in an adolescent phase.
“In my mind, this is the pivotal stage, assuming that we’re talking about being able to not be trapped in stage 3. There’s enough to it that I’ve made copies for each of you of the pages in his paper where he describes it. I’m only going to talk about two elements tonight, and then ask you to read the pages I’ve copied, and we can have a more complete discussion next week. The given here is that Stage 4 begins in young adulthood, but just like so many adults get stuck in Stage 3, there are a lot who get delayed and don’t start Stage 4, as young adults but later into their thirties or forties. My take is the same kinds of things that cause some people to get stuck in Stage 3 take a while to work through and delay starting the work of Stage 4.”
They all seemed to be with me, so I went on. “The first of the two main characteristics are that the person that used to be firmly grounded in a web of significant others from which he or she took their identity and faith, now moves into a space where identity is independent of those significant others and the relationships to them. That’s the challenge of independence, and it can be lonely and scary. Anyone feeling lonely and scared at times?”
There were giggles and laughs, but also a lot of head nodding.
“The second characteristic extends that independence, meaning the person begins forming a new identity by developing his or her own frame of meaning and worldview and the connections that go along with them. If both of those things happen, then the person’s identity (in Fowler’s words, how they understand themselves) and their worldview (how they look at and understand the world) are not just differentiated from others, they become your own unique creation and possession. Thoughts?”
It was quiet for a minute or so, then Ron said, “Isn’t a lot of that just automatic when what’s happening to most of us, meaning we’re in a new school in a new city with new friends and away from home, when all of that happens. The new circumstance forces it, doesn’t it?”
I agreed. “Ron, it does, at that level of things. For the sake of this discussion, let’s call those external and inter-personal components. My sense of this though, is that for many people those external and inter-personal components happen, whether you want them to or not, and that is allowed to be a substitute for doing the serious work on the internal components, the deeper ones having to do with identity, beliefs and faith.”
“You mean that just because I moved out of state and out of the Mormon culture and all that, the fact that I’ve got these new connections and places and people in my life isn’t the same as engaging and doing the work about who I really am and who I really want to be?”
I nodded, and I could see a slight smile, and a kind of glimmer in his eyes, and he said, “So, if I just settle for being here in Portland, at this school with all these caring and cool people,” and here he waved his hands around the room to include everyone in the discussion group,” and don’t get serious about whether or not I’m gay, I’m contributing to being stuck in Stage 3 and will probably be that way as an adult?”
I smiled at him, immensely proud of his courage. “Yes, that is what I mean, and you must know the saying about even the longest journey begins with the first step. Well, I think I can speak for all of us that we’re proud you consider us worthy to share publicly that you’re embarked on that journey.”
I looked at everyone and they were either nodding or simply looking sympathetic. The two students sitting next to Ron gave him a hug.
“Moving on, what’s so important about the kind of decision Ron made, and the courage that went along with it, to let us all be part of it, is that many people don’t start doing the work till they’re jolted into it by events.”
Ruth said, “What does that mean?”
“It means, most people don’t do any more than they have to until life hits them up the side of the head and they’re forced to.”
“Ruth, if it helps,” Jackson said, “I just finished a pretty heavy book called Ordinary People, which is about a family with two sons, and everything appears ordinary, even though they’ve got their problems, right? But it’s not till there’s a sailing accident and the oldest son drowns, and they’ve all got to deal with what that means for each one of them personally, that they start getting real about their own problems. Now that we’re discussing stages of faith, I can look at the early part of the book and say I think they were all stuck in Stage 3, even the parents, but by the end, after they got hit up the side of the head by life, they kind of got their acts together. Even the younger son who was in high school, really goes through some changes and sorts his stuff out. Pastor Dave, is that what you’re talking about?”
“It is, and while a little extreme because most of us won’t have a brother or sister die, it illustrates the point that it’s easier to sit back and settle for the identity and faith we’re given than it is to do the personal work. But then we’ve got to be ready, because life will hit us up the side of the head. It’s just the way it goes.”
There was some chatter about it sounds like good theory, but was that really the way it worked, and finally I said, “I’ve shared a little with you about having distant parents and what the consequences were, right? Well, let me tell you that while I knew much of what we’ve been talking about intellectually in my head, I’d never sorted out the consequences, done the personal work, let alone worked through resolving them until something dramatic happened. They both died in a car accident earlier this year. And then guess what? There was no choice about it, it was time to do the personal work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can do it all in advance, just that we’re a lot more prepared for a fulfilled life and ready to handle challenges like that if we’ve done the work. Let’s leave it there, and we’ll pick up the rest of this stage next week.”
Jackson was talking to Will at least a couple of times per week, who was also talking to Kevin by phone, but Kevin was being distant and was resisting any physical contact. It was driving Will nuts, and his explanation to Jackson was that he said he was trying to balance his love for Will with what his faith required. As time went by, though, and Will pressed him more and more, what became apparent was that while he said he loved Will, he was wracked with guilt and he was saying that he had to come completely clean in confession about what had happened between them.
It was not only a difficult balancing act for Kevin, it was an emotional roller coaster for Will. Finally, Will essentially said he had to see Kevin in person, he couldn’t stand it, and couldn’t go on trying to have a relationship by phone. Kevin’s response was to delay because he was going to the monastery on Saturday to see his father confessor, because his parents and priest were still really unhappy he had been gone two Saturday nights and missed confession and Mass.
During the week Will called Jackson to let him know that Kevin had gone to the monastery and seen his father confessor, but it was a short visit, and now he felt even worse because he hadn’t come clean in confession. He told Jackson, “He told me he loved me, and he was too afraid of what would happen if he was honest about our being together and making love. He told me It’s tearing him up too, and he can’t keep it up.”
Jackson got to the center a few minutes early on Wednesday, and when I asked, he said that Glee Club practice had gone well, and they were all starting to feel very comfortable singing together, and the songs for the performance were coming together nicely. When everyone else arrived, I started us off reviewing what we’d discussed the week before about getting stuck in Stage 3 and/or not doing the work to progress to Stage 4 until we were hit up the side of the head by life. One of the usually quiet students said, “I thought about that a lot this week, because I haven’t had anything that serious happen, but I know my approach was to hang back, and only do something when I had to. Like when my parents got a divorce. Then I had a real struggle with guilt and if I was part of the cause.”
I told him I was sorry to hear that, but his experience also illustrated the point. We then started on the two main parts in the pages I’d copied for them all, that the major strength of a person who’s progressed to this stage is the capacity for critical reflection on their identity and beliefs, but it’s a two edged sword, and the risk is over-confidence in the intellect and critical thinking.
Ruth commented that she understood that point, and especially what Fowler said about falling into a ‘second narcissism’ and people think they’ve got all the answers and think they know it all and put people who aren’t at their level down. “It happens in church all the time. I’m guessing it happens in academics too, right Pastor Dave?”
I was able to say, “I really wouldn’t know, since I’m not an academic, just a campus minister over here across the street from campus.” She giggled at that.
Ron was equally serious and said, “The part that got my attention was when he was talking about how inner voices start being heard, like you start processing them whether you want to or not. Like he talked about elements from a childish past, or images from earlier in life or a sense of sterility like life has no meaning. I’ve heard adults talk like that, and my parents talk about some of their friends going through that stuff, and I never understood where it came from. I guess you just get to a point in life where it happens.”
I grinned at him and said, “Only if you are going through the process. If you got stuck or choose to stay in the adolescent stage, that probably doesn’t happen. But instead, you’re in the thrall of charismatic cult leaders or have an ideology that shapes your life, but you can’t explain it if you have to. That probably causes a sterile feeling of its own.”
Jackson summarized the discussion with a comment from Western Civ, “I’ve been reading about Greek philosophers, and Heraclitus said, ‘Change is the only constant in life.’ I guess in terms of this discussion, it means we have to be in the process and willing to keep pursuing it.”
Thursday night, Will told Jackson he kind of like laid down the law, that this can’t go on, that we love each other and this isn’t good for us or our love, that he had to see him so they could talk, and it ended up that they agreed to Will visiting the family on his way home from Eugene that Friday night. Kevin got permission from his parents, and he was invited for a family dinner, which was cordial, if a little stiff. Dinner conversation was about going to college, then a not-so-veiled discussion about Will not being Catholic, and then Kevin’s parents turned it to how wonderful it would have been if he’d done what everyone hoped and followed in the family footsteps and gone to seminary to become a priest.
Will said they were nice enough people, but he clearly got the vibe from the parents that their religious beliefs and hopes predominated. He felt like they were being just friendly enough because it was nice their son had a good friend who was his age and also a BMX racing mate. But he couldn’t lose the feeling that they were also suspicious that he was the cause of Kevin’s admission about being attracted to other boys. His mother had even made a kind of joke about BMX racing wasn’t the kind of thing a candidate for the priesthood should be doing, as if she couldn’t let go of her wishes.
The breakthrough for Will came when they were talking about singing in choir, and he shared that his other best friend had a choir scholarship at Lewis & Clark and was singing in a sacred music choir performance the next Saturday that included pieces by Brahms and Bach, as well as a contemporary arrangement of the Agnus Dei and the Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez. Kevin’s parents were suitably impressed, talking about how some of those very pieces had been sung during festal Mass at the monastery in the past year. That was when Will sprung his trap and told them that he and Kevin had been invited by Jackson to attend the concert
Kevin apparently held up his end about making the case of how edifying the performance would be, and received begrudging agreement that since it was edifying sacred music rather than BMX racing, he could go. Needless to say, Will’s conversation with Jackson ended on a high note.
That week for Jackson was a slog, with lots of reading plus exams, on top of what was becoming a complicated paper for Western civ or the role of women in Greek society. He walked into the living room one evening and said, “I just ran into Diotima again.”
I was trying to finish The Return of the King, and I must have looked startled, so he continued, “Ahh, you’ve forgotten. Remember when you introduced me to Plato’s Symposium last year and we talked about Aristophanes’ speech and the two halves finding fulfillment in each other?”
I nodded agreement. He went on, as he lay down on the couch and dropped his head in my lap, “Well, the final speech in The Symposium is by Diotima, she’s the one who took many of the points the other speakers had made and tied it all together into a sensible whole. She separates physical from spiritual, homo from hetero, love of body from love of beauty and makes the closing argument about love being defined principally as the longing to perceive beauty in its true and absolute form, a feat that one can only accomplish through philosophy. So, anyway, part of the Philosophy reading assignment is Plato and Socrates on friendship and love, and that means reading Diotima again. Cool, huh?”
“Yeah, and you’ll be educating me on love before long. Seriously, I mean that. Don’t assume I know it all. I want to know what you learn, Okay?”
He nodded. “How’s the term paper coming?”
“It’s coming along well. I’ve got most of the reading done, and have an outline. Pretty soon I’ll be sitting down at the Selectric and going to town on it.” I ran my fingers through his hair, loving the way it felt.
Tuesday was an intense choir practice, one of the last two before the performance on Saturday. The discussion group that week got going in a friendly and supportive way. Jackson, Ruth, Ron and I had all disclosed private and personal things about ourselves, and they were accepted at face value by everyone, meaning we had a good and healthy group. I knew Stages 5 and 6 were going to be pretty theoretical given all our ages, so I started the discussion with a review of Stage 4, and then focusing on something Fowler had said about Stage 4 that was very important.
Where genuine movement toward Stage 5 is underway the person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern versus service to and being for others; the question of being committed to the relative versus struggle with the possibility of an absolute.
“So, Stage 5 and 6 are late in life, fully mature adult stages, and will seem pretty theoretical to us at our age. Still, they’re important to understand in terms of the process, and the frame up is what I just read about ‘genuine’ movement through Stage 4 and into 5 which he calls Conjunctive faith. By that he means that it incorporates final resolution of what was suppressed or unrecognized in Stage 4. The certainty we have with our own conceptual and thinking abilities. It’s almost like it has to be processed all over again. That’s why there’s this warning about how for it to be genuine, there has to be resolution of individual versus group, of self-confidence versus the remaining unexamined elements, putting service to and for others over self-fulfillment and self-actualization, and maybe the biggest of all, committing to the relative versus the absolute. Thoughts on that?”
Ruth smiled and quipped, “It doesn’t sound like too big a deal. Why does he think it has to occur so late in life?” Everyone laughed one way or another, then she said, “Seriously, it’s pretty heavy isn’t it. It means we’ve got to reach a point where it’s not about us, where it’s about others. And, I don’t know what to make of that relative versus absolute part.”
“You’ll soon enough get to the part of Prof. Higgins course where he takes you through the detail of Joseph Campbell’s work on mythology, and one of his laments is that mythology should be metaphorical, but in western religion we’ve turned it into something literal, something absolute.”
The student who had made the earlier comment about mis-understanding faith said, “It sounds like Eastern religion almost. My parents were early hippies, the Maharishi and all that, but they still talk about the pull of reaching a place where you transcend yourself, and what your life should be about is giving and serving others instead of yourself.”
I told him I thought he was onto something, and maybe while it’s youthful idealism in early stages of faith that attract people, that so many don’t last because it requires maturity in the process of becoming a whole person with an integrated identity. “And don’t think I’m just talking about people raised in Buddhism and Hinduism, or westerners who fall in love with it. There is a whole early Christian monastic and spiritual tradition that is based on very similar goals and virtues. Fowler says that beyond reworking the past, people in this stage have to be open to their deeper self, and there has to be a real recognition of a person’s social consciousness, which I take to mean finally reaching the point of pouring all the content out of the faith container and assessing it all, the myths, the worldview, the beliefs, the prejudices, to achieve full integration.”
“How do you get to the point of doing that,” Ron asked?
“I don’t know, I’m only twenty-seven, not that much older than you. I’d guess it means either having committed to truly working through the process to be in a position to continue, to make the jump over the next big challenge, or it requires physical separation. I’m thinking leaving the world to go to an ashram or a monastery or whatever. Either you get there in this life, like Gandhi did, or you step out of this life to be able to focus on it. He also talks about being open to new truths and vulnerable to the persons and truths of others, so that implies transcending ego too.”
They were pretty quiet. Finally, Ron said, “I guess this work is so far ahead of us, all we can do is conceptualize it, whereas the Stage 3 and 4 stuff we can relate to directly because we’re there or can see it just ahead.”
Will had gone home to Newberg from Eugene on Friday to do laundry, do some work on his car and some other things he’d fallen behind on, and was coming to Portland from there. Kevin was driving up from Salem and they both arrived in the afternoon within half an hour of each other around 4:00 PM, and we got them settled in the guest room. They were familiar with our home and how things worked, so they pretty much dropped into the routine. We were eating early so Jackson had time to digest dinner before the performance. He kiddingly reminded Will that Pavarotti always ate a pasta meal a few hours before he performed. That brought back memories of last year in Susan’s choir, and they all chatted away. We talked BMX and Jackson told them I should be picking up my replacement bike anytime, and they thought that was cool.
After we were pretty well done with dinner, I looked at Will and Kevin and said, “You guys have to forgive me if you think I’m out of line, but I used to be Will’s pastor, and consider him a friend. How are you guys doing? I mean, it can’t be easy being in school in two different cities, seeing each other only occasionally, and I’m guessing there are other pressures too.”
Will was so honest and transparent that I knew if he had been alone, he would have opened up his heart. Kevin took the line of parroting back my question. “Yes, it’s challenging being in college in two different cities, and not seeing each other regularly, but we do talk a lot on the phone, and we care a lot for each other.”
Jackson reached over and put his hand on top of one of Kevin’s and said, “You said the last time you stayed here that you were struggling with being gay. Are you getting that sorted out? I mean I look at you two together and it’s obvious you love each other.”
Kevin blushed and said, “That part’s not so easy with my religious family, but they met Will last weekend and agreed I could be here this weekend for the choir concert. They were really impressed with the selections your choir will be performing. But, honestly, I don’t know if they’ll ever accept that I’m gay.”
“How are you going to sort that out? I’m not only asking because Will’s my best friend, but because you’re becoming my friend and I’m worried about you too. Until you get this sorted out in your head and align your life with it, how’s that going to work for you?”
Kevin sounded like the wind had been knocked out of his sails as he said, “I don’t know. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
That gave me an opening to say, “Kevin, if I can be so bold, I may not be Catholic, but I’ve studied enough of church history to know quite a bit about it. For instance, did you know that the church didn’t formulate a position against homosexuality until the 12th Century? And that’s because until then the church’s understanding of human sexuality was the same as that of the culture, in Europe and in the east. That is to say, humans had sex in all its varieties of expression, and no one type was singled out to be condemned. Hetero was preferred for sure, because that’s how children are born, but becoming anti-gay was a pretty late thing, and surprisingly, it more or less coincided with the equally new doctrine that priests should be celibate?”
This was obviously all new to him, and he clearly didn’t know what to say. I tried to put him at ease. “Listen, Will and Jackson have heard me on this before, but what I want you to know is that being gay is not abnormal. It happens all over the world, and it is only the Judeo-Christian tradition in which we were raised where it is defined as an aberration and a sin. You’re from a religious family, you went to church school and catechism. Do you remember what we’re told in Genesis that God said at the end of the creation narrative?”
He was looking at me blankly, not like he didn’t know, but more like he couldn’t speak.
“God said ‘it is good.’ So, lock onto that. God described all creation as good. That creation includes all people, and it includes humans and their sexuality. It includes you. If God can say you are inherently good because you are part of his creation, then how can he condemn the sexual orientation that you have. That is part of creation, part of you, that you didn’t seek out?”
He was quiet, and I saw Will take his free hand. Jackson still had his hand on top of Kevin’s other hand.
“He can’t and he doesn’t Kevin. The whole notion of depraved sin, which is what Protestantism calls Jackson and me, or intrinsic moral fault, which is what your church calls you, is a human construct. We love each other, and we are not depraved sinners. I think you two love each other, and I’m here to tell you that you are not intrinsically morally disordered. You are a wonderful young man, lucky enough to have someone, that guy next to you, who really loves you. You are good, Kevin, and God loves you just the way you are”
I could see the emotion building and his eyes reddening, and I didn’t want to ruin dinner by making him cry, so it was time to let it go. “Just know, Kevin, that not only do we all love you just the way you are, but God loves you too. Now, let’s finish dinner and then get organized for the choir concert.”
We arrived early, so Jackson could be there for the choir warm up, and Jackson and I gave Will and Kevin a quick walking tour of the campus, then we were back to the chapel in plenty of time to find our seats. Jackson had told me the pieces in the program that they had been practicing, but seeing it printed was something different.
Cappella Chorale – Fall Recital
There Is A Balm In Gilead, arranged by William Dawson
Ein kleiner, hubscher Vogel nahm (A Small Pretty Bird) Liebeslieder Waltzes No. 6 by Johannes Brahms Singet Dem Herrn (Sing to the Lord a New Song); Motet by Johann Sebastian Bach
Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber
Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez
O Fortuna (No. 1) from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff
I remembered Jackson telling me that Robert Atkins purposefully began with There Is A Balm in Gilead because it is a familiar melody using the traditional arrangement, easy to sing along with, was an arrangement based on an old Negro spiritual, and would put everyone at ease. That set up quite a switch to the Brahms Waltz titled A Small Pretty Bird in English. This was a rhythmic and lyrical but punchier arrangement for choir, and noticeably changed the feeling from the more placid spiritual that had opened the recital
That transition set the stage for the longest piece of the recital, Bach’s Sing to the Lord a New Song, which settled down the tempo and shifted to a more classical rendition of sacred music. The arrangement was for a small choir accompanied by organ and bass, and the technical complexity required was suddenly more noticeable. It was also apparent that this choir had many really good singers.
The next piece was a contemporary arrangement of the Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber, which was described by the critics as surfacing a sense of spirituality in a manner similar to the works of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Gabrieli. To their surprise, the audience was moved into a new space, one of pure vocal presentation with subtle and nuanced singing.
With the Agnus Dei, the transition had been made and the tone had been set for the most sublime piece of the evening, the Renaissance polyphonic composition of Ave Maria by des Prez. This was the piece Jackson said required the most technical proficiency given that the opening section was like a litany and moved from highest to lowest voice, and then added counterpoint where all voices join together. It was glorious to listen to in its beauty and complexity.
That the audience had been moved into a tranquil state by the des Prez composition was palpable, and there was a hushed sigh as the hymn ended. The choir director had a real surprise in store for the final piece, a dramatic counterpoint to all that had come before. Audience and choir paused while two pianos were rolled in front of the choir, and from the sides appeared a set of kettle drums and a cymbal. This last piece was the dramatic O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. Jackson had told me the director had searched high and low for an arrangement for a small choir that didn’t require a full orchestra to back it, and had found one he was happy with, that only required these few instruments for accompaniment.
The audience response was overwhelming, in a large part mirroring the dramatic transition from quiet and meditative to the loud and rhythmic sound of the Orff piece. After the performance, as the choir broke up and Robert Atkins had been greeted by most of the faculty and parents, Jackson introduced him to our group. He made a point of telling him that Will also sang in the choir with Susan in Newberg, was a much better musician than he was, played guitar, and had arranged some contemporary songs for choir. Will was duly embarrassed. Jackson then introduced Kevin as a good friend of Will’s who was Catholic and thus had a special appreciation for the selections that had been sung tonight. Kevin knew what to do with that intro and commented on how he’d heard many of them sung at the monastery church outside of Salem and how well the choir had performed tonight. Atkins beamed.
When we got home, we sat and talked for a while, mainly discussing the performance, what we considered the highlights, and listening to Jackson describe his missteps and the things he really needed to focus on and improve. We all laughed and told him to chill out.
Before long both couples were making eyes at each other, and we wrapped it up for the evening and went to bed. Notwithstanding his self-criticism, Jackson was on a high, having done well even if not perfectly. We completed our bathroom routine, and met as we often did, naked at the foot of our bed.
“You know you were the most beautiful boy on that stage, don’t you?”
He giggled, his eyes flashing in the light of our bedroom. I leaned over and kissed him as I took his cock in my hand. “I know you were one of many tonight, but the whole performance, my eyes were on you, watching how hard you worked, how into it you were, how attractive you were as you made those beautiful sounds. Angelic. That’s the thought that was in my mind. My angelic boy. “
I’d been stroking his cock with my right hand, stroking up and down his spine with my left, and whispering in his ear. He shuddered.
“Angelic. And, sensitive. And, sexy. I got excited just watching you, because I knew what was under those clothes. This beautiful body.”
I ran my left hand across his chest, then down his belly to his pubes and back up. Then I looked him directly in the eyes. “That beautiful voice, this beautiful body, and this beautiful cock. Do you know how much I love you?”
He was smiling softly, quiet because of the emotion of the evening. “I love you this much,” I said, as I dropped to my knees and took his cock in my mouth, stroking his flanks with my hands.
He groaned and his fingers were in my hair. I worked his cockhead with my tongue, and then took him fully in my mouth, but was careful. I didn’t want him to come too soon. I’d put the Vaseline on the bed, and released him, moved up and then sat on the end of the bed where I could pull him to me, stroking his shoulders and back while I licked and sucked his nipples. I could feel his cock pulsing against my belly, and I looked up at him and said softly, “Take me, please. I want my Lover Boy with the angelic voice as deep inside me as possible.”
I could see his eyes widen, and begin to switch from passive to aggressive as he pushed me back down on the bed and crawled on top of me, kissing me passionately, pushing his tongue deep in my mouth as a precursor of what his cock would shortly be doing. When he came inside me, he was smiling widely, a deep and satisfying smile, one of pleasuring and being pleasured, and I was writhing on the bed below him.
We were up before Will and Kevin, and Jackson had the coffee brewed and I had breakfast under control when Will walked into the kitchen. He smiled, but it was immediately apparent he was putting on a brave face. We went through the ‘good morning’ and ‘how’d you sleep’ routine, and then I put breakfast on the table. Kevin was only five minutes behind him, but also quiet beyond the morning courtesies. As soon as he finished eating, Kevin cleared his dishes and went back to the bedroom. Will followed him and Jackson looked at me like he’d just seen a train wreck.
A few minutes later they were back, Kevin carrying his duffle bag and thanking us for everything but apologizing that he had to leave in a rush, but he had things to do in Salem he had to get back for. There wasn’t much to say, and we said goodbye, and Will walked him out to his car on the street.
We watched them say goodbye, and it was a stilted hug, one with no passion. Jackson was standing inside the front door when Will came in, the tears already running down his face.
Jackson walked right up to him and took him in his arms, trying to comfort him. I walked over as well and put my arms around both of them. Will was crying on Jackson’s shoulder, wracking sobs that had his shoulders flexing. “I don’t know what happened, after we talked last night, we kissed and made love, he told me he loved me, he slept in my arms. It felt so good being together like that. But when we woke up, I could see in his eyes that something had changed.”
Jackson said softly, “what changed?”
“He was distant. I could see in his eyes that he’d stepped back. It was physical too. He wouldn’t let me get close to him. I told you he had lonely eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, but it was like he was gone or something.”
I hugged them both tight and said to Will, “If this helps, and we’re using figures of speech here, but the fact is that Kevin doesn’t have lonely eyes, though he may be lonely. He has haunted eyes.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means he’s haunted by something, as in there’s something in his life that’s eating at him. Something big and deep that looms over everything else. And that means it affects everything in his life, and it looks like it’s a problem in your relationship.”
I suggested we go into the living room, and Jackson pulled Will down on the couch next to him with his arm around his shoulder. I took an armchair close by.
“Are you comfortable talking about some of the details?”
He looked at me directly, his tears had dried. “Yeah, if you think it’ll help. I’m not afraid to tell you guys anything.”
He paused, collecting his thoughts. “After dinner and our talk last night about being gay and it being the way we are and okay and even good in God’s eyes, when we went to bed and kissed and hugged, and then it got more intense and we undressed each other, but he didn’t want to take off his T-shirt, but that had happened before. Anyway, we played with each other, and then sixty-nined. We’d done it before, remember that time when he got all wigged out the next day and split? Well, this time he seemed to really enjoy it and was happy and telling me how great it felt and how much he loved me. I thought maybe what had happened last time had just been a one-time thing. Anyway, we were holding each other, and both were still horny and got going again, and this time I told him that I wanted him inside me. He wasn’t sure, and we kept kissing and stuff and talking, and I told him I loved him and really wanted him to, and then I saw the smile and he agreed. He was lying on top of me and I was stroking his butt and back, and he still had his T-shirt on. Anyway, when we got going, I’d kept stroking him and finally pulled his T-shirt up and over his head. I didn’t think much about it, you know, people wear all kinds of stuff and have tattoos, and we were both really horny and kept going. But when I was stroking up and down his back, or his chest, I kept running into the straps of his scapular, and finally he said ‘Help me take this off,’, and we did and it felt wonderful with no straps to interfere and I could hold him and stroke him and feel the skin on his shoulder blades and under his arms, and then he was inside me and it was like magic, and when he came I could see his eyes light up, like he wasn’t just feeling good, you know, sexually, but like he was even feeling good about himself.”
Jackson was hugging him, and I asked if he was Okay. “Can you keep talking about this, I know it can’t be easy?”
He nodded and said “Anyway, when I woke up, it was like I said, I could see in his eyes that something had changed.” He paused and swallowed hard, and the tears were back in his eyes.
“He was lying away from me, still in bed, but away from me. He was already awake, and he was distant. I could see in his eyes that he’d stepped back. He had the scapular back on and was holding onto the square on his chest. And, he was holding onto it tight and looking at me like I was something in a lab to be examined or something. I told you he had lonely eyes, but it was like he was gone or something.”
Jackson asked softly, “So, again he didn’t want to take his T-shirt off because of that scapular, then he did. Did you ask him what that was all about?”
“Yeah, this morning. I asked him why he was holding onto it instead of holding me? He said his father confessor gave it to him last year, and that he recently told him it was more important than ever so he could overcome his moral fault. He said his father confessor reminded him that it was the promise of salvation when worn piously and had to be worn all the time. He’s not ever supposed to take it off.
“That’s what he said. His father confessor gave it to him to so he could be pious and morally strong, to strengthen him against falling into sin again, to assure his salvation. Now he thinks he’s not only committed a mortal sin again, but made it worse by committing the sin without the scapular.”
“Will, I know you’re distraught, and that this is incredibly painful for you, but can you try to run two tracks in your mind here. Run the emotional one, feel the pain and anguish, let us help you through that. But also run a logical track too, Okay.
He turned to look at me, the tears running down his face, and nodded.
“Do you understand logically what that scapular has become? What’s going on isn’t grace, it’s magic. That thing has become a token, a talisman. This isn’t healthy. You understand what a talisman is, don’t you? It’s a thing that works like a charm to avoid evil or provide miraculous effects. In Medieval Europe people wore cloves of garlic around their neck to ward off the evil eye, to keep them safe from demons and werewolves. This is the 20th century. We know the world isn’t flat. We’ve been to the moon and back. We know demons don’t exist. How can intelligent people think wearing something around their neck will provide salvation?”
Jackson interjected, “Worse yet, how can so-called religious people make the regular people think that? What have they been telling them? What kind of hold do they have over them?
I looked at Will. He was looking blankly at us, too emotionally pained to reply. I hoped he was tracking intellectually.
“Jackson, that’s a great question and I wish I knew the answer to it. What we can see is what’s on the surface. What’s behind it is likely either identity, like tattoos on gang members to show they belong to the group, or obedience and power. My fear is that it’s the obedience and control thing. I mean many of us wore or wear crosses, and as Christians that was part of our group identity, but that didn’t mean we thought the thing we had around our neck was the means of salvation. This has to go a lot deeper, down to the level of something he’s totally fearful about. He’s got some deep-seated guilt he can’t get clear of, and if he can’t sort it out it could destroy him. This isn’t healthy guilt, the kind you feel if you’ve offended someone or broken a vow or whatever. This is unhealthy, neurotic guilt. And the worst kind of guilt is the moral kind.”
Will was looking at me now, “What do you mean ‘moral kind,’ I don’t understand.”
“Purposeful or not, the whole idea of commandments and sin isn’t just to set out rules, it’s also to create fear and guilt. Lots of institutions, especially religious ones, depend on fear and guilt. But to have them really work, it has to be really deep seated so that the person can’t just decide ‘I don’t buy that’ anymore and walk away. So, look at something we’ve talked about before. If as your pastor I’d just told you gay sex was a sin, you could easily say to yourself, ‘so is greed, and it’s not a big deal’ and walk away. But what if you’ve been raised to think that obedience to your church’s teachings is the most important thing in life. Then if I tell you that it’s a depraved sin, or in this case an intrinsic moral fault and a mortal sin, now I’ve upped the ante. It’s not so easy to walk away from because it’s both especially moral and way high up on the scale of things and you believe that obedience is the most important thing in your life. Now take it a step further. I don’t just tell you that having gay sex in immoral, I convince you that BEING gay is immoral, that being gay makes you depraved, that being gay is a mortal sin, that being gay makes you intrinsically flawed, if I can convince you of that, then I’ve got you. Because now you need something to change you. It’s not just about your thoughts or beliefs or inclinations or even your behavior. It’s about you, about your very identity.”
He seemed to be following me. “That’s way serious. I mean how can you change your identity. I’m pretty sure when we talked about it back in Newberg, your point was that you can’t change the basic stuff.”
“That’s true. You can change the elements of your identity that you or your family or your culture added on, but you can’t change the basic stuff. It’s like saying you’ve got the wrong hair color. Or, do you want a real historical example, one that Kevin might understand?”
“During that same period when people wore garlic cloves around their necks, they did a lot of other bizarre stuff too and believed a lot of stuff we now think of as crazy. There are a lot of superstitions, and one used to be about being left-handed. Specifically, the one about the “left-hand side” being associated with evil. As an example, in France it was believed that witches greet Satan avec le bras gauche or with the left hand. It is also considered that we can only see ghosts if we look over our left shoulder and that the Devil watches us over the left shoulder.
“It goes on from there, and some are in the New Testament: the sheep are set on Christ's right hand and the goats on the left. Those on the right inherit the kingdom of god while those on the left depart into everlasting fire. Witches were left-handed. Do you see where I’m going with this? Now, what are the Latin words for right and left? Right is dexter, as in dexterous. Left is sinister, as in unlucky or evil. So, if you were left-handed or sinister, you were associated with evil. In time, sinister itself meant evil.
Jackson interjected, “Holy shit! Is that really why they try to get left-handed persons to change to right? Does it really go back to all that?”
I nodded. “People and cultures and slow to change, even in the face of logic and science.”
Will was dumbfounded, and I said softly, “have you noticed Kevin’s left-handed? On top of all this other stuff, he’s left-handed too. Oh my god, could they have been using that on him too?”
Will stayed with us most of the day Sunday, and then drove back to Eugene. There wasn’t much we could do beside comfort him. Jackson did all he could, and after lunch we walked down to Oak Bottom Park just to try and get our minds off it. Eventually Will had had leave to make it back to Eugene at a decent hour.
Will called a couple of times during the week, and it was a study in frustration. At first Kevin wouldn’t speak to him, then when he finally would, after saying he loved him, he spent most of the time describing his torment, how guilty he felt and that he knew there was no choice, that he had to go to confession. Will kept trying to be reasonable and loving, but he got nowhere.
I noticed that the World Book Encyclopedias were getting a workout as Jackson started doing the writing for his term paper in Western Civ, and he was diligent in maintaining his reading for Sociology and Philosophy and also not letting Spanish and Biology fall behind. And the Selectric typewriter made a lovely sound as he typed away in the study.
At our Wednesday discussion I introduced Fowler’s sixth stage by pointing out that it really began with overcoming the paradoxes of Stage 5, engaging actively in the transformation of reality to achieve transcendence.
“You know what struck me? The verb form he uses about the self when he talks about engaging in transformation of reality is ‘spending and being spent.’ That was new to me, but it implies letting go of self, of being willing to give all of one’s self for this ultimate transformation.”
“Isn’t that just martyrdom,” Ruth asked?
“I don’t think he’s talking about martyrdom; I think it’s more a commitment to achieving that transcendent goal to the point that you’re willing to give yourself up for it, maybe even piece by piece.”
Ron grinned, “You mean like watching someone disappear piece by piece as the get transported off the Starship Enterprise?”
“Maybe something like that,” I said reflectively, “although for a higher purpose than chasing Klingons! He talks about heedlessness for self-preservation and devotion of universalizing compassion, of moving beyond obsessing about survival, security and significance, accompanied by a universal compassion that bestows on them strong leadership that shocks us. I’d say think Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”
When I asked about any other thoughts or comments, it was quiet and I suggest they think on it for the coming week, and then we’d have a broader discussion about how to practically apply it in our lives.
After we got home, over dinner, I asked my boyfriend if he had any plans for the next night?
He looked at me coyly, “Do you have something in mind?”
I grinned. “Well, as a matter of fact, yes. In case you’ve forgotten, tomorrow is your birthday. You didn’t forget your birthday, did you?”
He smiled glibly, and said, “No, and I knew you wouldn’t either. It was kind of a big day for us a year ago, wasn’t it?”
“It was the most memorable day in my life.”
“What are you thinking?”
“That you shouldn’t eat dinner before choir practice.”
“Well, duh! It’s because I’m taking you to dinner. I also want you to see if you can convince Robert to let you leave early. Do you want me to call him, or do you think you can handle it?”
“I can. I bet I can be out by 7:15 if he’s in a good mood. He was still pretty pumped last night after the performance Saturday. I guess we’re still in a post-concert happy time.”
“Is that similar to post-coital bliss,” I asked grinning again?”
He grinned back. “Pretty much. Where are we going?”
“Someplace new for us, a restaurant Carter told me about downtown, called Jake’s Famous Crawfish Restaurant, and it’s the second oldest restaurant in Portland.”
His eyebrows went up. “Wow! On a Campus Minister salary?”
“Don’t be a brat. It’s a special occasion, and you deserve it. Carter says they have terrific seafood and meat, in a historic building with tile floors, a maze of booths, antique paintings and wood paneling, a fabulous old bar and white linen. What’s not to like?”
He grinned. “Sounds like the Ritz to me.”
He was able to arrange being out and at the car in the parking lot by just after 7:15, and we were downtown at the restaurant in twenty minutes. Being a Thursday night, parking was a breeze, and we were jauntily shown to our table by a formal but friendly maître d’. The menu options were expansive, but it was October and the salmon was fresh and wild, and we both opted for that. I ordered a bottle of white wine with one glass, and managed to slip some to Jackson in his water glass. As pleasant as it was to be able to walk to our favorite local restaurant, it was a great change to go upscale and downtown for an event like this.
When we got home, we settled in the living room and I handed him two presents. The first was obviously an album, and he eyed it and them me with raised eyebrows. “You’ll have to open it to see.”
He did and was surprised. “What’s this all about?”
“Well, you’re singing sacred music, the last few albums you got as gifts were classical, so it seemed like you were due for a contemporary rock album. I guess it’s considered pop-punk, but I really like the song called “Heart of Glass.”
“You? You know about Blondie? How did you learn about this?”
“Well, I have broad musical tastes, don’t you think? And, I’m not totally clueless. Plus, I work on a college campus and there are lots of people your age to speak to about music. I’m told there’s a certain anti-establishment and anti-male-hierarchy tone to a lot of the songs. Actually, Jane told me about the album and thought you’d like it. But I have to say, while I like the music and rhythm of Heart of Glass, the message in the lyrics is the opposite of what we’ve got. Listening to lines like Once I had a love and it was divine; Soon found out I was losing my mind; It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind makes me realize that what we have is so special. Maybe we are unusual, and most people go through constant heartbreak.”
He leaned over and hugged me, pulling me down for a kiss. “Thanks, I love that you considered all those elements and details in buying something for me. You’re thoughtful. My Thoughtful Sexy Man. And we do have something really special!”
Jackson put the album on, and when he came back to the couch. I handed him a moderately large box. He raised his eyebrows and I just smiled. He carefully removed the wrapping and opened the box and pulled out an orange mountain parka.
“Whoa! What’s up with this? This is amazing. Why did you get me this?”
“Because you look so wonderful in orange, it contrasts so nicely with your hazel eyes.”
“Come on, really?”
“Well, Lover Boy, you live in Portland now, and from what I could see over the last year you never had a decent weather-proof jacket, so now you do.”
“This is so cool. I love the color.” He paused and held it up to his chest. “Does it really go with my eyes?” He was wiggling his eyebrows and trying to look sexy when he asked.
“It sure does. Of course, most any color will go with your eyes, they’re so magical.”
He rolled his eyes now. “Right! Now, come on, be nice and tell me about the parka.”
“Well, it’s a Sierra Design Mountain Parka, otherwise known as a 60/40 jacket. They invented it and made the original. The fabric is 60% nylon and 40% cotton, so it’s water repellent and still breathes. It’s got great outdoor features, like a hood, and an industrial nylon two-way zipper, four front pocket with Velcro closures, and cool detail features like the leather tags on the hood cinch, a weather flap over the zipper and the small flap at the top of the zipper to keep the cold zipper from touching your skin. See, it even has a label that says it’s an ‘Original 60/40’ which makes it doubly cool. Come on, Love, try it on.”
He did, and it fit, and he did a few pirouettes in the living room for me.
“You have no idea how sexy you look in that.”
He stopped turning, and I could see a sultry look form in his eyes, and a lascivious smile form on his face.
“Sexy enough that you’d fuck me in it?”
“If you insist, but I’d prefer without the jacket, because then I have contact with that lovely soft skin you have. And, I’m betting it will be more enjoyable for you too.”
“Well, Kind Sir, would you care to show me?”
It was the next morning when we checked the answering machine and found that Will had called while we were out to dinner. Jackson called him back in the afternoon after he got back from classes, to find him almost totally dejected. He said they’d talked, and Kevin was now adamant that he had to go to confession to unburden himself. Jackson looked absolutely pained as he told me, “He said he can’t live with the torment any longer, then he said he needs Will’s love, but he also needs absolution.”
I winced as I listened to him. “Where does it go from here?”
“Will says he’s driving up to Salem tomorrow. He says he has to see him. He somehow thinks if he can see him, can talk to him, it will change things.”
We found out Saturday afternoon that he’d done just that, and talked to Kevin on the front porch of his family home, but while Kevin said he loved him, he also said he couldn’t spend any time with him. They need space between them.
“What does that mean?”
“It means nothing. I think it’s nonsense. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, and meanwhile he’s totally messing up my best friend.”
Will called us Sunday afternoon in a panic. He’d reached Kevin on the phone only because he was home alone, and he’d gone to confession the night before and confessed not only feelings for another boy but that they’d made love. His priest not only gave him penance but confirmed his fallen and disordered condition, and told him he had to divulge it to his parents. Kevin did and they weren’t home because they had driven to the monastery to meet with his father confessor.
“God, Jackson, this is getting out of hand. Where does it go from here?”
“Will said Kevin sounded distraught, almost lost like a little kid or something, but he made Kevin promise that he’d call him tomorrow when he knows what’s happening. He said he was crying, telling him he loved him and if he loved him back, he couldn’t do this. Kevin was pretty distant, but promised, Will said he actually pledged, that somehow he’d call him tomorrow.”
And he did, and it was the opposite of good news. Kevin’s parents had met with the father confessor, and they’d agreed that he was required to spend the next three weekends at the monastery on a penitential retreat. He was to have no contact with Will, and during his time at the monastery he would spend his weekends attending the five Offices of the day, praying and meditating and reading Scripture, and twice a day meeting with his father confessor. Kevin was calling him from a pay phone at a gas station while he fueled up his car.