The Barlow Boy
Peter Keegan parked his Honda behind the Family Life Center on the sprawling grounds of the Calvary Baptist Church. He didnít really have time for what he had to do but it went with the job so he got out of his car and headed toward his office.
He had lucked out to get the job of Youth Minister for a large suburban church. He had prayed for it for months and gave all of the credit to God. It was just the right sort of stepping stone that a young Minister needs while working on his Maters degree in Pastoral Counseling. With any luck at all in a few years he would be selected to be a young dynamic Minister for a church like this one.
It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in early May. The sun was shining and the immaculately landscaped church grounds were awash with the colors of Azalea and dogwood. As much as he would like to take the time to enjoy it, he couldnít. He had a paper due and finals soon and every second of his time was accounted for.
As he went inside all the churches various after school programs were going on. Kids from elementary age up to high school smiled and waved at him as they played basketball and other games inside the safety of the Family Life Center. As he walked, he steeled himself for what he had to do, as distasteful as he found it to be.
In January he had been called in to counsel the Barlow family in a crisis. Their son, a popular sixteen year old named Chris, had told his parents that he was gay. Of course good Baptists like the Barlowís demanded that their son be fixed immediately and the whole mess had landed in his lap.
He had counseled teens with all sorts of problems but this one was the most trying by far. Secular doctors and psychiatrists had given up trying to cure homosexuals. It was a task left to men of the cloth but it was also something that made Matthew very uncomfortable.
The family took a punitive course of action, something that Peter had advised against. They had transferred Chris to an alternative school where he did his work in the morning and then his mother took him home. They had cut all of his social ties except at church which had isolated the boy.
Chris had suffered for it too. Peter had gotten to the point to where he dreaded seeing the boy for their weekly counseling sessions. He had changed from an outgoing and respectful boy to sullen, angry and sarcastic. Peter couldnít blame him for that but Chris was no longer cooperating anymore. He wasnít talking and when he was talking, Peter didnít believe him. Chris was making matters worse for himself. The Barlow family had decided to send Chris off for in-patient treatment as soon as school ended for the summer.
In the absence of any explanation for his harsh treatment, rumors swirled around Chris among the teens in the church. Some guessed that he was on drugs. Others thought that he had gotten some girl pregnant. A few even guessed at the truth but Peter had intervened and told them to leave it alone. He had taught a Sunday school lesson about the harm of gossip.
When Peter arrived in his office he found that Chris was already there. He was sitting in the chair that he usually sat in for their sessions waiting for him.
Something was different about Chris today. He had lost the slumped over posture of defeat and was sitting more erect. He held himself more like the old Chris with poise and confidence.
Peter said, "Hello Chris. You look upbeat. How are you doing today?"
Chris smiled and said, "Fine sir."
Peter asked, "Are you ready to answer the questions? Who molested you? Who are you having sex with?"
Chris said, "Iíve answered those questions until Iím blue in the face. No one."
Peter sat back in his chair and looked at the boy and said, "Chris from what we know about homosexuality thatís hard for us to believe. If you would just answer the questions we could move on and I could help you."
Chris said, "You want me to lie?"
Peter sighed. "When we have a clean cut All-American kid that weíve known all their life tell us that they think that they are a homosexual, they have usually been molested or are have had sex. If you would just answer the questions we could help you and whoever the other party is."
Chris laughed bitterly. "Help them? You mean fuck up their life donít you?"
"There no need for such language Chris."
Chris angrily responded, "I canít think of a more appropriate use for such language. This whole damn thing has been a witch hunt from the start. I told the truth about how I feel and youíve been assuming that Iíve been lying ever since."
Peter decided to change directions. He had Chris talking and he was angry. In his experience most teenagers would slip up under those conditions. "Assuming what you say is true. How do you know that you are a homosexual? Sex defines homosexuality. Teenagers have all sorts of feelings."
Chris said, "Iíve known ever since I was little. I just never said or did anything about it. Itís not about sex itís about who I am attracted too."
Peter said, "Why did you choose this for yourself? You had to know that it would put you at odds with your family and permanently damage your witness for Jesus Christ."
Chris sat back in his chair and said, "First off I didnít choose it. It is just how I feel. I wanted to be honest with my family. I know kids from school that had come out and their families accepted them. I just didnít appreciate how brainwashed my family was."
Peter said, "Your family is acting in accordance with sound biblical teachings."
Chris interrupted angrily, "Öand making my life a living hell. Donít they know by the way that they are treating me that they are going to lose me?"
Peter said, "They are trying to save your soul."
Chris said, "By making me lie about who I am?"
Peter said, "What you say that you are is abominable in Godís eyes. Itís shameful to your self and too your family. In this day and age the world wants us to accept the unacceptable but we are Godís people. We have to be in the world but must not be of the world."
Chris said, "I think that I may have heard that a few timesÖ"
Peter said, "I donít think you fully comprehend the seriousness of this. In the bible it says that God turns his eyes away from you and doesnít hear your prayers."
Chris said, "One of the things that my parents have done is make me read the bible over and over again. Iíve seen maybe six verses that might apply to homosexuality and thousands of verses that apply to other sins. Why is mine so bad?"
Chris had scored. Peter was speechless.
He continued, "The bible speaks harshly about divorce and half the congregation is divorced. The bible speaks harshly about abusing alcohol and half the youth group drinks occasionally. The bible talks harshly about gambling and half the congregation eats lunch at a casino after church on Sundays."
Peter said, "Chris, have you been on the internet?"
Chris snorted and said, "My parents wonít let me anywhere near a computer. The reason I feel better about myself now is that I understand now."
Peter said, "What is it that you understand?"
Chris said, "That you, the congregation needs a scapegoat. Thatís why youíve been dumping on me, calling me a liar and making me feel like shit. Youíve been quoting scripture to me, how about this one: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments"
Peter started to say something but Chris beat him to the punch.
"All I did was acknowledge who and what I am and youíve been trying to make me hate myself ever since. Shame on me? No. Shame on you."
Peter recovered enough to say, "You can rationalize things all you want. Itís in the bible. Your eternal soul is in the balance."
Chris said, "Do you know everything about souls?"
Peter said, "No. No one does."
Chris said, "No one does. Is every soul alike?"
That stumped Peter. In all of his years of theological study that was a question that had simply never come up. He said, after some deliberation, "I honestly donít know."
Chris said, "They are not. In every generation a few souls are born different and they have a purpose. Their purpose is to challenge you. Challenge your compassion, challenge you to think for yourself and challenge you to question dogma and to act with your heart. How would you react to a person who is doomed to hell according to your most holy book? Would you call that child an abomination? Would you gleefully sentence them to eternal damnation or would you treat them with kindness and dignity? That is the answer to the riddle if you are just enlightened enough to see it."
Peter said, "This goes against everything that Iíve been taught. I donít understand."
Chris stood. From his shoulders spread an enormous set of white wings and a bright blue-white aura of blinding light surrounded him. He said, "You will."
With a flourish of his wings Chris was gone.
Peter sat at his desk blinking in disbelief. He stood and looked around the room. He rubbed his eyes and noticed a long white feather lying on edge of his desk. He looked all around his office and could find no trace of Chris.
He left his office and walked to the church office where he saw the church receptionist dutifully manning the phones.
Peter asked, "Have you seen Chris Barlow?"
The receptionist looked up at him sadly and said, "Oh. Iím sorry Minister Keegan. You havenít heard. Chris Barlow hanged himself last night."