Jerrod was sitting in the kitchen with David and Jackson when his phone rang about 6:00 PM. It was right in front of him, and he was waiting for the call, but it still startled him.
“Hi, selle. What’s the story?”
“Whew! Far out. That’s great news.”
“You haven’t been worrying, have you?”
“About you? Right! Why would I be worrying about you?” He rolled his eyes and looked at Jackson who was grinning at him.
“So, what happened?” Roger told him that Dr. Yanowitz was thrilled there had been no more seizures or visual events, and had him go for an EEG which came back almost clear, with just a small amount of unusual electrical activity in his brain, which he’d described as normal. “He said not to worry about it. I’ll outgrow this epilepsy, and the fact that it’s under control and barely can be seen on an EEG is a real good sign.”
“I’m so happy. I’ve been sweating it since I dropped you off at home.”
“I figured, but I told you it’d be a breeze.”
“I know, but you’re my soulmate. I can’t even start to think what I’d do if…” He was looking at Jackson who was shaking his head at him. Jerrod stopped and swallowed. “Anyway, selle, the point is just that I love you so much and I’m totally psyched that you got a clean bill of health.”
“Good. Me too. Oh, there’s more.”
“Yeah. Dr. Yanowitz apologized for being busy the last couple of Sunday’s and not being able to come down to the hospital and meet Kaiser. He’s going to try this Sunday or next. And he was quizzing me about loss of libido or erectile dysfunction.”
“And you told him what?”
“I told him that I wasn’t aware of any problems but that I wasn’t the right person to ask, so he wants you to call him. Shall I give you his phone number? He seemed very serious about it.”
“Get out! I’m not calling him to tell him you can still get a hard on!”
He heard Roger starting to giggle on the other end of the call, and looked at Jackson and David who had turned from the kitchen counter where they were working on dinner to watch and hear what was happening. David had a bemused smile on his face, while Jackson was struggling not to lose it and fall into fits of laughter.
“I know you were kidding. But you also knew I wasn’t going to fall for it, right? I can tell you that there are two very curious voyeurs standing here in the kitchen quite interested in our conversation about your ability to get a hard on.”
Jerrod paused, and a wry grin spread on his face. “Okay, I will. I love you selle. Thanks for calling. See you in the morning.”
He clicked his phone off and turned to the two adults and said, “Roger wants to assure you that he is fully functional in the able-to-get-a-hard-on category, and is willing to challenge you both to a competition, if you’re up for accepting the challenge!”
He could see David processing, but Jackson wasted no time in replying with, “And who would be the judge in this competition? You? It’s not like you’re unbiased, you know. It seems to me that you’ve been way too intimate with one of the hard-ons in this would-be competition to be anything near objective. Also, you don’t own a stopwatch!”
Jerrod was trying hard not to lose it, but when Jackson started laughing and walked over to ruffle his hair, he started laughing too. “Yanowitz said he’s fine, the meds are working, and he’s really happy that there’s no sexual dysfunction. I can tell you both that Yanowitz is not the only one happy about that!”
Michael called that night after dinner, and they talked for a while before he said, “Jerrod, you know Spring Break is only six weeks away. Are you guys doing anything?”
“No, at least we haven’t talked about anything yet. I mean we’ll have the Sunday before and after at the hospital with Kaiser. Why?”
“Well, ‘cause I’d like to ask you guys to come up here to Pendleton for a couple of days. See eastern Oregon. I can show you around and show you the rodeo and stuff.”
“You mean, come and visit you. Come and visit our friend who lives in Pendleton?”
“Well, yeah.” He sounded embarrassed.
“Michael, give it up. You don’t need to be embarrassed. I think it’s really cool of you to ask me. You said, ‘you guys,’ though. Have you asked Roger?”
“No. I haven’t talked to him.”
“When did you last call him?”
“I don’t know, at least a week.”
“Well, you need to call him too. To keep in touch, and ask him, if you want both of us to visit.”
“That makes sense.”
“Have you talked to your parents? Are they cool with the idea?”
“I’ve talked to my Mom. She said she thought it was a fine idea. I haven’t said anything to my Dad. Mom said she’d talk to him if it all came together.”
“That’s cool. Like I said, we don’t have plans, and I think it’s a nice idea. I’ve never been east of the Cascades, you know… in cowboy country! You’ve got to call Roger and talk to him and ask him, and if he’s into it, we’ll sort It out with his parents and with David and Jackson. Okay?”
Michael agreed and thanked him for the reminder that they were both his friends and he needed to stay in touch with both of them. “I’ll call him tonight, okay?”
“Deal. When’s your next scan?”
“It’s the weekend before Spring break?”
“Well then, I can see a possibility. If it comes together, you can stay here again, and we can drive you home in the Cherokee on Monday.”
“Wow! That’d be cool. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Okay, man, it’s a deal.”
On the way to school the next morning Jerrod asked if Michael had called him the night before.
“Yeah, it was cool that he talked to both of us, and that he asked us to come up. I don’t care that he’s a sophomore. He’s a good guy, and it’ll only be a couple of days and might be fun.”
“Agreed. You even been to Pendleton before?”
“No. I’ve been to Bend with my parents a couple of times, but that’s the closest. He said you want to see cowboy country.”
“Well, I said I’d never seen it before, that’s all. Did you talk to your parents?”
“No, I figured we needed to talk first. Are you good with it?”
“Yeah. I think its kind of neat. I’ll talk to David and Jackson tonight. I’m sure they’ll be cool with it. Your parents?”
“Same. They liked him when he was down here for his scan.
After school Roger asked Jerrod to come to his house so they could read poetry. Roger’s Mom offered then a drink and some homemade cookies, and then when they settled in his room Roger showed him two volumes of poetry by the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas.
“I read a bunch of different poems by the poets Dad suggested, and decided I like Thomas the best. Dad bought them when he attended a conference in Cardiff a few years ago.” They looked at the introduction of each volume together to learn that Thomas was born in 1913 and had been an Anglican clergyman, who learned Welsh in his thirties, and started writing poetry. They were surprised to learn that he became a fierce advocate of Welsh nationalism, something they weren’t aware of.
“I guess that means separating from England, right?”
Roger nodded and said, “I think so. I’ve got to learn more about that. I didn’t know he was a priest. The poems I read weren’t religious. I hope that’s not what it all ends up being.”
“So, which poem are you going to read me to start with?”
“This one’s called The Ancients of the World, but I’ve got to figure out the Welsh pronunciation for the places. It’s a nature poem that applies feelings to animals like salmon and owls. Anyway, I like it, so you’ll have to tell me what you think.”
He picked up the book are read:
The salmon lying in the depths of Llyn Llifon
Secretly as a thought in a dark mind,
Is not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd
Who tells her sorrow nightly on the wind.
The ousel singing in the woods of Cilgwri,
Tirelessly as a stream over the mossed stones,
Is not so old as the toad of Cors Fochno
Who feels the cold skin sagging round his bones.
The toad and the ousel and the stag of Rhedynfre,
That has cropped each leaf from the tree of life,
Are not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd,
That the proud eagle would have to wife.
Jerrod had closed his eyes as Roger read, and after the reading stopped, he slowly opened them and smiled, saying, “Tell me what you think.”
“I love the feeling that he applies to each animal, like the salmon ‘lying secretly,’ and the owl ‘telling her sorrow,” and the ousel ‘singing in the woods.’ They just come to life somehow because I can relate to those feelings and to the places they’re in. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, it does. You’ve read it before and this is the first time for me, but I can relate to what you’re saying. That sounds like nature poetry to me, not religious stuff.”
“I know, but I’ve got more poems to read, don’t you know! Now, where are you on picking a poet?”
Jerrod said he’d read about the poet laureates for Oregon and Washington, but what the English Prof had said about William Stafford had gotten his attention. “I was impressed that he’d been Oregon’s poet laureate till 1990, and that he’d taught at Lewis & Clark for almost twenty-five years till 1980.”
“So, you’re feeling a connection?”
“Yeah. Is that bad?”
“No. I’m just asking. I mean, I know you want to go to college there. I think it’s cool. Was that all before David’s time?”
“Kind of. He started out doing campus ministry, not being on faculty, and that was in 1978. It was a few years before he was hired by the college, so Stafford had retired by them and he may have known him by name. But still, there’s a nice connection there, don’t you think? Oh, and he died in 1993, but he wrote his last poem the morning of the day he died.”
“Serious poet! Are you going to read me a poem?”
“It’s called Consolations, and you’ve got to tell me what you think, okay?”
“The broken part heals even stronger than
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
“What difference in a hundred years?”
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats’ feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
“No good thing is easy.” They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.
They were both quiet when Jerrod ended, and Roger was watching his boyfriend, waiting to catch his eye. When he did, he said, “It’s kind of dark, isn’t it? Rainy afternoons and a Mom hanging her child. What do you make of that?”
Jerrod was slow to answer, then said, “That life if full of shit. Of bad stuff as well as good. Death is part of life. We’re seeing a bunch of what can happen at the hospital every Sunday. What really got to me, though was the end, the part about ‘they say the hurt is good for you, it makes what comes later a gift all the more precious.’ That’s true for me. Hearing you read that made me think of the precious gifts I have. Like you. My gift from Samichlaus. And David and Jackson, and Eric and Kim. All this stuff and the people that have come into my life in the last eight months that I probably wouldn’t have appreciated if I hadn’t gone through the broken part. You know what I mean?”
Roger made him put down the book of poetry and pulled him onto the bed where he could pull him tight into a hug and kiss the side of his face.
“I do. It’s called appreciation, and I’ve gotten a new understanding about it in the last few months too.”
The next GSA discussion was about personal identity, and the processes and influences that affect it. David used the chart he’d developed years before to illustrate the different ages in which major elements of identity are formed. “It will be no surprise to any of you to see the typical breakdown by age: Childhood, Youth, Young Adult and Adult. To start with I just want you to think about the lower description in each box. Ignore the Tribalism label, and we’ll come back to it. Everyone with me?”
They all nodded, and he went on to explain how setting aside the physical aspects like eye and hair color, across Childhood almost all formative elements of a person’s identity come from their family, and that begins to change when they start school and move into the Youth category. Now they are receiving formative information that builds on what they received from their families, and may even challenge or contradict the family teaching, much of it coming from the educational system. Then the next big change comes when they move into the workplace, either part time in high school and college, or full time after graduation, and often a whole new set of information and elements are presented and absorbed and again some of them may challenge or contradict the earlier teaching.
“Let’s stop and talk about this for a few minutes to make sure you’re with me.”
The group seemed to be following what he’d been saying, so he asked if there were any questions?”
“It seems so cut and dry,” one student asked, “I mean family and then education and then vocation. How can that be?”
“Well, first, the terms are being used in the broad sense, so family means immediate like your parents. It also means extended family, like grandparents and aunts and uncles. I’m sure some of you grew up in families where there was a grandfather who was a patriarchal figure, who set the rules or the pace for your parents, and was the final say, or the final arbiter for many subjects.” A couple of the students commented about grandfathers who basically ran the family, and one said, “We’re Italian, so it was like the mafia. You know, like in The Godfather!”
That got a good laugh, and then David said, “There’s a good point in The Godfather illustration, and that is that when we’re young we’re told what much of our identity will be.” Then he asked what they thought the transition from Young Adult to Adult, from Educational to Vocational would be like.
“Well, you get a job and you’ve got a new set of rules to play by,” one young man said, “like discrimination isn’t tolerated, a lot of people learn about equal rights for the first time.”
“And a lot of men learn for the first time that sexism, and specifically misogyny” added one of the girls, “isn’t acceptable.”
“Both good observations, and true,” David said. “This is also where, for many people for the first time, they learn about institutional rules, concepts like teamwork and consensus, all things that can change behaviors, and also shape a person’s identity. Now let’s talk about Tribalism. I want you to know that I’m just using this one illustration today, but originally there were three, and the second one shows Tribalism as a separate category, because most people think that Tribalism is a separate thing, separate from their family, and one they can control, one they don’t have to subscribe to if they don’t want to. Who wants to take a shot a defining Tribalism?”
Most of the comments were about primitive people living in tribes, or the tribes of Native Americans.
“That is one use of the term, but that’s not the meaning I’m after. In terms of personal identity, tribalism is made up of the attitudes and behaviors that stem from strong loyalty to one's own tribe or social group. Hear that: social group? So, here’s the take-away for today. Families are not standalone units that are uninfluenced by other things. In terms of human development and the way life works, families exist within tribes. It’s a lot easier to understand this for a primitive tribe somewhere, and how belonging to a tribe increases the probability of surviving and thriving, but what about us, where we live? What tribes are our families part of?”
The group was quiet. “Okay, let me use terms you’re more familiar with. What organizations or institutions are your families part of that provide teaching and norms and rules that you have to follow?”
“You mean,” one girl asked, “like church?”
“Yes, religion is a very good example of tribalism at work in society because beyond belief and teaching, it provides rules and regulations that members are expected to comply with. They also provide a network of friends with like beliefs, and support structures, as well as solace and comfort in times of trouble. It’s not limited to religion, though. Most political parties are also tribes.”
“And they also make for intolerance and rejection,” another student added.
“That can be true, sadly. That moves us toward sexual identity and religious rejection, which we’ll talk about more in the next two weeks. I hope you can see right there, though, how tribalism works. It provides many positive things for the family and its members, but that comes at a price. That price is compliance. And if there is intolerance for certain things, then that’s part of the package. So, let’s look at some examples. The second-class status of African Americans in the south is a deeply embedded cultural dynamic and is part of southern tribalism. The intolerance of homosexuality by religion is based in religious teaching. But that has to do with theology and doctrine. The broad-based rejection, shame and stigma is tribalism at work. And here’s the final point. Because families are always part of a tribe, those views, right or wrong, become embedded in the family as well.”
David looked the group over and said, “Did I lose you? Have I dropped too much heavy material on you?”
Most of the students shook their head, and he continued, “Okay, to wrap up, here’s the point. Your personal identity, my personal identity, is all shaped and influenced by these factors: family, education, vocation and tribe. The verb I use is ‘bestowed’ because it implies that all these things are ‘given’ to us, but they are also given in a very formal and structured way that is very, very difficult to say no to. In fact, for most people it’s only as you get older and are free to question, or run into major challenges or problems in your lives, that you might be forced to come to grips with the elements of your identity. Then you can begin to decide if that’s the way you want to be or not. I’ll give you a personal example because I’m not the least bit embarrassed about it. Do you remember last week I said I was pretty clueless about homosexuality when I was younger? What I meant was not just that I had the usual conventional understanding, but that I was clueless about why I thought of myself as straight. I just was because that’s what the deal was in my family and in my tribe and through my college and seminary education and into my first vocation as a minister. You all know the religious teaching that homosexuality is a sin, it’s deviant, etc., etc. Right?”
Most of the students were smiling. Some were outright grinning, including Jerrod, Roger, Eric and Kim.
“So, imagine the shock when this minister falls in love with a guy and suddenly finds out that he’s gay. There’s two points here. The first is that it would have been very difficult for me to do anything about it when I was younger because I was still embedded in that family and tribe. But it happened to me after the education was complete, and while the vocational bit was hard, I was in a position to decide if the gay part of my identity was for real and what I wanted to accept or not. In contrast to twenty years ago, you all are incredibly fortunate. You’re in high school and you’ve been able to sort out a fundamental identity question about yourselves that before recently was almost impossible to do. Any other questions?”
Jerrod raised his hand and said, “Is it almost like osmosis? I mean, you and all these guys know I only came out this quarter, but I knew I was gay last year, and I had all these conflicts because I had all that anti-gay stuff in me. It was part of me. Do you mean that I just absorbed it all as I grew up without even knowing it?”
David gave him an understanding smile and said “Jerrod, that’s a great way to describe it. One of the failings of tribalism is that members tend to be so certain about the rules and regulations that they don’t evaluate them. And the tribe doesn’t teach any alternatives. Like here in the US, we’re so sold on capitalism, and against socialism and communism, that we’ve lost sight of the fact that the countries in the world with the highest levels of personal satisfaction are the socialist democracies in Europe. Why? Because we don’t even consider it to be a possibility. Remember too, that a person doesn’t have to grow up in a tribe that is rampantly homophobic and taught to be a bully and abuser. Just growing up in a tribe or society that treats homosexuals as not normal or depraved means a lot of that gets absorbed. You’ve all heard straight guys say things like ‘how gay is that?’ and often they don’t even understand they’re making a sexist slur.”
The questions continued for a few more minutes and David told them they’d continue by discussing sexual identity the following week.
Winter quarter gained momentum, and with Matt’s bullying not part of their lives, the weeks just seemed to flow by. They studied together at least twice a week to read poetry and discuss the poet and the motivation. They met Sean and his Mom each Thursday afternoon. Jerrod raced most Saturdays, and always placed in at least one event and occasionally won. Twice they got permission for an early out on Friday afternoon so they could drive down to Oregon State and then University of Oregon to see the campuses. They visited Reed College one afternoon after school, and now had a regular Sunday dog therapy schedule from 10:00 am to 2:00 PM. That gave them time to take Kaiser home and then in the mid-afternoon drive up the hill to Lewis & Clark to start playing tennis since David, as his guardian, had been able to get Jerrod into the indoor courts.
Jerrod called his parents once or twice a week, and found the conversations more open and engaging, and occasionally simply enjoyable. To his surprise he found himself sharing more and more about his life, and even his love, and was thrilled that his parents not only wanted to know, but simply accepted it. He also received a letter back from Harold Unger expressing his thanks for honoring him by requesting a letter of recommendation, which he enclosed separately.
As David had promised, the third GSA was on sexual identity. “Last time we got into religion as a major part of tribalism, and how most of the intolerance for homosexuality comes from religion. I want to talk about that a little, and then about how sexuality has been understood across human time, and how sexual identity develops. We’ll start with human sexuality and how it’s been understood historically. Many of you may already know this, but it’s worth repeating. First, it’s not an overstatement to say that we can thank the moralism of the Judeo-Christian traditions for condemning homosexuality, and because Islam was a split from Christianity it was inherited there. However, it’s very important to understand that accounting for periods of condemnation when Emperors opposed to it instituted laws against it, during most of the first eleven hundred years of Christianity there was no condemnation of homosexuality and no concept of heterosexual versus homosexual. In fact, like with the rest of humanity there was only sex which occurred in a variety of forms, and same sex relations was one of them. Period. When it was condemned it was mainly because of a moral judgment.”
He looked around the group. “Are you with me? I know some of this is new to many of you. The fact is though, that’s the way it was until the same religions that transformed mythology into historical fact institutionalized a moral judgment. For most of human history, until at least the end of the middle ages when arranged marriages started to fall out of favor, marriage was about property and passing it along to progeny. It wasn’t about love and it wasn’t about sex… other than creating children. Yes, people got married for those reasons, but there wasn’t this ‘focus on the family’ concept that implies that only heterosexual sex is acceptable within marriage. Questions about that?”
“So, people were getting married for property reasons and to have kids,” a girl asked, “but they were still having different kinds of sex? I mean hetero and homo.”
That got a chuckle, and David replied, “In a word, Yes. For the most part, as long as you were doing your duty in terms of having children to carry on the family and pass on the property that went with it, the sex you had was up to you. The historical record shows lots of same sex relations, up to and including many Roman emperors. There’s David and Jonathan in the Bible. There are lots of well-known people in history. There were also tons of people having straight sex outside their marriage. As in, affairs have been going on forever.”
He paused, then asked, “How many of you know about the origin of the term homosexual and that the way it’s now applied is another misconception.” There was silence, and David continued, “The term originated in 1868 in Prussia and was used in legal arguments against anti-sodomy laws. The originator was contrasting same and opposite-sex behavior, and used the two terms to argue that same-sex relations were not treated the same way that opposite-sex relations were. So, the fact is that its only one hundred and thirty years old, but what happened after that, is the term began to be used more as a clinical term. And anytime you get contrasting terms, you can use one to exclude. And the result was that homosexual became a pejorative, even though it was created to defend same-sex relations. That’s why it doesn’t appear in the Bible or any other older reference text. In addition to that, is the fact that the doctrinal condemnation of homosexuality within Christianity happened late, like in the 12th century. Before that it was just accepted as part of the human condition. I’m going to stop for a minute and take any questions.”
“Wait a minute,” one boy said. You’re telling us that before a hundred and thirty years ago there were no homosexuals?”
“Not quite. What I’m telling you is that the use of the term is only a hundred and thirty years old, and it’s only in that recent time frame that this new term has been used to negatively describe people who have same-sex relations. Sure, there were other terms used before that, but homosexual has become part of the lexicon today, even though we’ve now added bisexual, but they are both juxtaposed against heterosexual. So, let me ask you back. If heterosexual is juxtaposed against homosexual and bisexual, what is the intended understanding of heterosexual and the implied relationship between the terms?”
“That heterosexual stuff is normal and homosexual and bisexual stuff is abnormal. Is that what you’re getting at?”
“It sure is. And you just set up one other very important point because we talked last week about personal identity, and today we’re talking about sexual identity. If the term heterosexual is understood to mean normal, and homosexual and bisexual by extension to mean abnormal, like you said, what does that mean about you? I mean about you as a person?”
The boy looked confused for a few seconds, and then everyone could see his expression change like he’d just understood something completely new. “It means I’m abnormal, doesn’t it?”
“You’ve got it. By labeling the behavior as abnormal, then that must mean the people doing it are abnormal, right? And if you can get most of society to think that the behavior is abnormal, then you’ve also got them, consciously or unconsciously, thinking that the people are abnormal. I’m here to say to all of you that you are good, healthy and normal people who have same-sex attractions. Those attractions are not abnormal. Are you beginning to see why identity matters?”
Another student raised her hand and asked, “So that’s the way religious teaching works? I thought there were a bunch of scriptures that say it’s illegal or depraved, or whatever.”
“There are a bunch of scriptures, and they’re kindly called the ‘clobber passages’ because they’re the ones used to clobber you over the head. But I’m here to tell you that they are all interpreted to support the moral position and that none of them have the word homosexual in them because it didn’t exist. And none of them condemn same-sex relations the way we understand them today. That said, though, what has happened is that because of the way the term is defined as abnormal, that’s how the behavior and persons are judged. Ask yourself this: if homosexuality was such a big deal, like it’s totally depraved and is going to destroy traditional marriage and cause the end of the world, why isn’t it one of the Ten Commandments? Because like I said, earlier, back then marriage was mainly a property and inheritance transaction, and sex was just sex. Yes, adultery is one of the Ten, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”
Eric raised his hand and said, “I remember my Mom and Dad talking about a lot of this stuff, the history and all, but the whole concept of abnormal built into the terms is new to me. If like you said we grow up absorbing a lot of this stuff from our tribe or society, no wonder we’re all kind of screwed up.” He looked around the room and grinned. “I don’t mean we’re all screwed up now, I mean we were kind of screwed up before from the stuff we absorbed and had to sort out when we realized we were gay. My parents were completely open and supportive and never negative and judgmental, and I still had to sort a lot of this stuff out, I mean about feeling I was abnormal and liking boys made me weird.”
“Eric, thanks for sharing that. It’s important. I know your parents and they’re the most open, honest and supportive people I know on the subject of sexuality. So, I want you all to think about what Eric said. If he had to struggle with some of this stuff even growing up in that family, what about the rest of you that grew up in less understanding or less tolerant or even hostile families? That gets to the main point for today, and that’s sexual identity. Using the recent terms, it operates in humans on a scale that runs from homo to hetero, or from same sex to opposite sex. That’s just a fact, and we now know that same sex relations happen among certain animals in nature, the most recent revelation being Emperor penguins! Go figure!”
There was a twitter of nervous laughter at that, and David went on. “Science is now pretty well demonstrating that your sexual identity is mainly genetic. Yes, there are some social and cultural components but most of it is genetic. The big challenge then is recognizing it and accepting it and being accepted for it. One of my biggest beefs about the church back when I was a minister, and it applies to most organizations, is that they talk a lot about helping people discover and develop their gifts. However, it’s pretty limited. They’ll focus on helping you identify if you’re a singer or public speaker or whatever, but did any of you ever experience someone trying to help you figure out if you were gay or bi or lesbian?”
Everyone was shaking their head, some with huge grins on their face as they imagined what they might have been like.
“The point is, if we can get to the place where we understand sexuality and sexual identity properly, then part of the obligation is to help children and youth understand and accept their sexual identity. How many of you had the conversations about sex with your parents when you were younger?” Most of the student’s hands went up in the air.
“Now, let me ask you how many of you were told in that talk that humans have opposite and same sex relations and that as you grow older you might be gay or straight? That you might have same sex or opposite sex or even both sex attractions, and those attractions might lead to same or opposite or both sex relations? How many were told you could grow up to be homo or hetero or bi and be a perfectly fine and happy person regardless of which you turned out to be?”
David saw Roger grinning, and his hand raised. When David nodded at him, he said, “Then we’d have had to have a gay ‘birds and the bees’ talk, right?”
The group cracked up, and David asked Roger if he cared to expand on his question. He giggled and then said, “You all know Jerrod is my boyfriend and that he lives with David. When we got together, he gave us the gay ‘birds and the bees’ talk, and it was great. My parents are really cool, but they didn’t know what to do, how to handle it.”
David thanked him and continued, “Isn’t that the way it would be in an ideal world? The reality is that religion, directly or indirectly as the determinator of societal norms, is the biggest obstacle to the healthy determination of a person’s sexual identity. We’re going to stop here for now, and then next GSA we’ll talk about integration, authenticity and coming out.”
By late February Team Kaiser was almost a fixture at Doernbecher, Kaiser and the boys were recognized by most of the staff and many of the patients. Dr. Yanowitz had been true to his word and come by the hospital one Sunday to meet Kaiser, and they talked about the role that dog therapy can play in assisting neuro surgical patients recover. “Some of these patients lose some brain function. Most often its temporary, sometimes permanent, and so interacting with known and positive things is really important. There’s not too many things more basic for a kid or teenager than petting a friendly dog.”
They worked two Sundays when Suzanne and Rufus were also on, so they got to catch up with her and the dogs got to play together in the pavilion for a short while. They also now had a pretty good understanding of the range of patients and conditions they’d be visiting,
Michael called every week, usually on Sunday nights, and most often his Mom asked to speak to David after he talked to Jerrod. David usually reported that his Mom continued to be pleased with his new attitude framed with hope, and that it was translating into not just better work at school, but improved relations at home. Jerrod frequently asked Michael about talking to his Mom or attending GSA, but the answer was always the same: “I know I should, but Mom’s a teacher at my school. If I go to GSA, she’ll know the same day. That means I’m out. I can’t do that till I talk to her, and I’m just not ready.”
Jerrod understood the fear and anxiety of coming out, and didn’t press, but felt asking was important so Michael didn’t let it slip out of mind. In early March, with Michael’s next scan and Spring Break only two weeks away, she confirmed with David that she and Michael’s Dad had discussed it and agreed that Michael could travel down by train on Friday and stay over the weekend, and then Jerrod and Roger would drive him home on Monday and stay for a couple of days.
“Am I missing something, or are you concerned about it?”
“No, not really. I just don’t want him to be overstaying his welcome or anything.”
David assured her that would not be the case, that he was a good friend of Jerrod and Roger’s and was loved by Kaiser, and that he’d been a very pleasant house guest the first time he stayed.
“I should tell you that I continue to be pleased and impressed with Michael’s development. He’s much more communicative and open. We talk a lot about a wide range of subjects. Over the last few years, he was pretty withdrawn, as I’ve told you, so this is so pleasant to see and experience.”
“It sounds like he’s coming into his own in a whole new way,” David replied. “In my experience, and I’m sure yours as well, these kind of behaviors emanate from interior growth and enhanced self-confidence.”
“I agree. I’m so appreciative that Jerrod and Roger talk to him weekly. That is so considerate and helps a great deal.”
“We all need friends who relate to us and understand us. Having Michael as a friend is just a natural thing for them, it’s the way those two boys are made. Let me ask, has this increase in communication and interaction extended to his father as well? I got the impression when he was here that they have been somewhat distant.”
“Things in that space have improved. My husband is a man of few words, if you know what I mean. He grew up on a ranch with a father cut from the same cloth, so it’s difficult for him since that’s the model he knew. But even he has commented to me about the change in Michael.”
“May I be so bold as to make a suggestion?”
“Certainly. I want to hear whatever you have to suggest.”
“Encourage him to reach out and be open. There’s nothing teenage boys want and need more than that connection. I speak from experience about how long it takes and how much work is required to compensate for having a distant or absent father. Anything he can do, no matter how trivial it may seem, can help.”
“That makes sense. I understand from counseling training about compensation and the need students have to fill up those empty spaces in their lives.”
“And it’s always harder when that student is your own son, someone you love and are emotionally connected to. In my experience, the old social behavior maxim is among the truest: we judge ourselves by our intentions, while others judge us by our actions. Michael may have told you a few things about our home, and that’s why there’s lots of hugs, open discussion about everything. We’re all in it together. Because the other people in the group or the family can’t read minds, they have to rely on behavior. Our actions, the things we do, then, become all the more important.”
“That’s good advice and so obviously true that it shouldn’t need to be stated, should it? Let me think about that and talk to Michael’s father. He has told us about how warm and happy your home is. He said, ‘lots of hugs,’ I think.”
David laughed. “Yeah, that’s true. It takes a while for some people to get used to it. It took Jerrod a while when he landed on our doorstep last summer. What he didn’t know is that it was what he needed, he just had to get used to it and meet a few new and close friends.”
“He and Roger are very close, aren’t they? I don’t mean to pry, but Michael almost never speaks of them individually, but as ‘Jerrod and Roger this,’ or ‘Roger and Jerrod did that.’ It’s quite striking.”
“It is striking. They are best friends in a very substantial way. I’ve seen and worked with lots of teenagers over the years who had close friendships between them, but this is the closest I’ve ever seen. I will also say, however, that there is one very different and unique aspect to their friendship.”
“Oh, what is that?”
“It’s a dog. They are all part of Team Kaiser. In addition to all the aspects of their relationship, they are both deeply connected to that dog, and he to them. When they went through the therapy dog training, one of the striking realizations for, both of them, was that Kaiser responded equally to both of them when they were handling him. He sees them both the same way. It’s quite amazing.”
“It sounds like it, and I’m looking forward to meeting Kaiser when Jerrod and Roger come to visit. We only have one dog now, and she’s almost too old to hunt. Michael’s grandfather has always had dogs, though he’s down to an older dog now too. Dogs are part of the family. At any rate, I won’t keep you and it has been wonderful speaking with you, as always. Tell Jerrod and Roger to bring some old or work clothes because it might be the beginning of calving when they’re here, so they’ll get to be part of something I bet they’ve never seen before.”
Jerrod had gone back to doing his homework in the study, and David walked into the living room and sat down next to Jackson.
“Did the call go well? You were on for a while.”
“She needed to talk. It went well. Michael continues to make good progress. You know what else, though, based on the questions she asked, I think she’s beginning to figure out that Jerrod and Roger may be a couple.”
“Is that a problem?”
“It doesn’t seem so. I mean, it won’t be for them, and she gave no indication of it being a problem for her. As a schoolteacher she can’t discriminate, and it sounded like she was trying to understand, not be judgmental. I made it sound like really good best friends with a magical bond provided by an amazing dog.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at his boyfriend, and Jackson said, “That’s probably a good approach. She hasn’t met them, so let her come to her conclusions from afar, and have them confirmed when they’re up there visiting.” He paused and grinned. “What could possibly go wrong?”
David began his last GSA talk, the Wednesday before spring break, by saying they’d be covering integration, authenticity and coming out. He looked the entire group over and then said, “It all centers on the old Greek phrase from the Temple at Delph. We’ve covered a lot of material in the last few weeks, and I know much of it was new to you. I’m hoping I didn’t swamp the boat!”
There was a mix of laughter and positive comments and he was basically assured that wasn’t the case.
“Good to know because I’m going to wrap up by talking about three major subjects that are really important. Integration, authenticity and coming out, and the point of it all being for personal fulfillment and happiness. Now, I’m guessing most of you have already come out to your family, or at least to someone, or you wouldn’t be here, right? I want to end by talking about the question: is coming out even necessary anymore? But first, I want to spend some time on integration and authenticity. Can anyone suggest why I’m tying those two terms together?”
Jerrod raised his hand and said, “I have a suspicion that it has to do with that old saying you told me about last summer, ‘Know Thyself.’ Wasn’t that from the Delphic oracle?”
“You remember well, and that is the origin of the variations on the statement about authenticity. It was the first of three maxims in the forecourt of the Temple at Delphi, where Greeks went to receive prophecies from the Delphic oracle. The point was, before you ask for a prophesy, you better know yourself! From it derive versions like Shakespeare’s ‘To Thine Own Self Be True,’ and the point of all of them is simply that to be a complete and healthy person you need to deeply and truly understand yourself. It’s pretty hard to contemplate being an authentic person if you don’t know yourself. Likewise, how can you be fully integrated if you don’t know yourself?”
“Well, I know myself. I mean, I’m me, so doesn’t that mean I know myself?” one student asked.
“Perhaps, but the statement implies in-depth knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, of your motivations and desires. It implies knowing yourself well enough to be able to control your weak impulses and redirect negative ones. Now, we’re not going to turn this into a therapy session, but the point in terms of personal and sexual identity is that we all have to know ourselves, understand ourselves in order to be true to ourselves. In terms of sexuality that means recognizing, knowing, and accepting our sexual identity. Does that make sense?”
“What’s the process to know yourself? I mean isn’t it easy to say that?” another student asked, “but how do you do it?”
“Well, the first thing I’ll say is that it sounds so obvious that it also sounds easy, and it’s not. Most people who pursue it out of choice find it to be a lot of work. Our society doesn’t encourage it as a matter of course, and that’s why most people don’t do it till something happens in their life to force them to. Like breaking up from a relationship that forces assessment of your role and shortcomings in it. Or getting fired from a job that forces you to take a hard look at what went wrong. Here’s two other examples. Much of psychotherapy is based on the concept of helping a person understand themselves and their motivations, because once that’s done the patient is in a much better position to implement changes in behavior. Another example is spiritual formation whether it’s in a monastery or an ashram in India. The point of having a teacher or mentor is that they are experienced in these things and helping the student to understand what they’re doing, and why, and then making the necessary changes. Are you following?”
Most of the students nodded, but a few still looked a little confused. “Let me put it another way by contrasting what we think of ourselves and what others see. We judge ourselves by our intentions, meaning that unless we’re about to do something pretty outrageous or horrible, we tend to tell ourselves that it’s cool or the right thing to do. That’s inside our head. We assess our intentions, even if they’re for our benefit, and think to ourselves ‘my intentions are good!’ So, let me ask you this: do other people know your intentions?”
It was quiet, and then Eric said, “There’s no mind reading, so, no. If we’re only working on what we think is cool, then we could be deceiving ourselves.”
“Exactly! The reality is that because we can’t mind read, others see and judge us by our actions. They can’t get inside our head to understand what we want to do or mean to do, so they work with what they’ve got, which is what they see us do. In other words, our actions and behaviors. The point is that there can be a lot of conflict between what we think we’re doing and why, and the actual behavior. When there’s a disconnect, that’s a problem. It’s getting to the point of understanding our strengths and weaknesses, our real motivations and goals that allow us to begin to be whole and integrated.”
“Is it possible,” another girl asked, “to be authentic and not be integrated?”
“It sure is. This is a gay straight alliance, right? So, let’s assume for a minute that being out is equivalent to being authentic, because that means you’re being honest about who you are. No more lies, no more hiding, right?”
Everyone was nodding. “So, tell me this. Is everyone you know whose out also integrated, meaning they’ve integrated what they’ve learned about themselves, what they understand about their strengths and weaknesses, their motivations and needs, so that they’re whole and happy people?”
“No way,” Kim said. “There’s plenty of LGB kids who are out who are still self-centered A-holes.”
“Good point. So, I can assume you’re with me that knowing and understanding yourself is a good thing, and that it’s a necessary foundation to be an integrated person. That’s a whole separate area of personal work. I’m not here to lead a personal integration seminar, but I want you to understand that it is part of the program that leads to a healthy and happy life. Now let’s talk about coming out, because for most people that is still an event that is somewhere between scary and traumatic. Am I overstating that?”
Most of the students laughed, shaking their heads and tossing up comments like ‘right on,’ or ‘totally!’
“Thanks for confirming that I’m not so old that I’m totally out of touch! If that’s the way coming out is generally experienced, ask yourself why that is? We’ve talked about the kinds of things that make it that way over the last three weeks. Now ask yourself what it would take or what it would be like if it didn’t have to be that way, if it wasn’t that kind of event anymore?”
He paused for effect, and could see from the expressions on the student’s faces that he’d touched a nerve, because they’d all been there and experienced it to one degree of another.
“Historically the concept of coming out is pretty much letting your friends or family in on something that society thinks is less than optimal, in fact may even be bad. It’s a form of being honest, or coming to terms with something that has been hidden so far, and now you have to come clean for whatever reason. Maybe you can’t stand hiding it any longer. Maybe you choose to be transparent going forward. Maybe you don’t want to be caught or embarrassed. You should be able to see that in most of those examples, as much as anything else, it’s kind of like fessing up to something. Something others may not approve of.
So, I’m suggesting that we’ve reached the point in our society that the traditional coming out is a thing of the past. Why do I say that? There are countries already that have enacted civil union laws, and it won’t be long before there will be countries that make same sex marriage legal. What that tells you is that some societies are fully accepting of the range of human sexuality, or at least that the majority of people in those countries are. Of course, with the religious right, the USA won’t be one of the early adopters, right?”
That brought a raucous round of laughter.
“The point though, is that things are changing and changing fast. If you understand and agree with the subjects we’ve talked about over the last weeks, about personal identity and sexual identity, then the key result is knowing yourself and being true to yourself. You are all old enough that, as I said earlier, most of you have already come out. What I’m suggesting to you is that you are models today. You’re out and you’re attending GSA and many of you have same sex boyfriends and girlfriends. You may not know it, but other kids, the ones that aren’t out yet, look up to you. So, work to be authentic and live an integrated life. And if you agree that coming out as a big deal is a thing of the past, work to make it unnecessary for the kids you know who are struggling.”
David noted quite a few smiles on student faces as the reality of the challenge sank in.
“We live in a capitalist society that chases the almighty buck, and which puts a huge emphasis on possessions. There’s a place for money and possessions in life, but they’re not life. There were many great Greek philosophers, and one I’ve always been impressed with was Epicurus, who’s main teaching was that we should aim for a happy life of simple contentment while avoiding fear or pain, all the while developing strong friendships while behaving kindly and ethically towards everyone.”
He looked around at the faces. “Any of you familiar with Epicurus?”
A few hands went up, half-heartedly. “No surprise there. He’s been suffering under a weight of condemnation, mainly from Christianity, for two thousand years. He’s the one the Christians blamed for hedonism, because he had what I consider a healthy view of life. For example, Epicurus regularly admitted women and slaves into his school, so that would raise some eyebrows! He was also among the earliest Greeks to break from the traditional god-fearing and god-worshipping traditions of his time… even though he affirmed that religious activities are useful as a way to understand the gods as an example of the pleasant life.”
Jerrod raised his hand. “Is that like what you were saying about understanding religion metaphorically?”
“I can’t say for certain because so few of his actual writings still exist. That’s my interpretation though, because I don’t see how you can achieve a happy and tranquil life characterized by peace and freedom if you’ve got literal religion hanging over your head. As he said, it’s when we move on from fear that we can become truly happy and at peace with our mortal lifespans. To me that is another way to describe an authentic and integrated life based on knowing yourself.”
David looked around and smiled at everyone. “It’s been a real pleasure being here and sharing these thoughts with all of you. I’ll end by also sharing that the Christian distaste for Epicurus didn’t win out in the long run. As society as a whole moves to a more open and tolerant view, he is being rediscovered and appreciated anew. Thomas Jefferson was a fan. He even called himself an Epicurean. He said this: I consider the genuine doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.”
That night over dinner Jerrod asked David about the implications of his comment that kids not yet out look up to those who are out, and that they have to work to make the idea of coming out not being such a big deal become a reality in those kids lives.
David gave him a wicked smile and said simply, “It’s a pretty straight forward proposition, isn’t it? I mean society has moved a long way toward acceptance and tolerance. It just hasn’t adjusted all of the required behaviors.”
“I guess so.”
“I’ll give you another example, completely different than the coming out one. If I was still marrying couples and doing the marriage counseling that goes along with it, I’d be making sure every couple understood that as many as ten percent of people are homosexual and that means a one in ten chance it would be the case for any children they had. They I would make sure they reckoned with that fact in advance and decided how to handle the birds and the bees talk and how they’d handle a homosexual child.”
“That makes good sense. What I was asking about is more about helping kids come out. What it really means we have to do?”
“What are you worrying about? Michael being here this weekend and you and Roger going to Pendleton next week?”
Jerrod smiled conspiratorially. “Yeah, that’s part of it, but only part. I mean, don’t you think you’re loading a lot of responsibility onto high school kids?”
“If you put it that way, but you already know the reality because you’re doing it in other areas of your life. When you’ve got the ability or have the good fortune or have done some trailblazing, then it's incumbent on you, and I mean all of us, to use it to help those who follow.”
Before Jerrod could respond, Jackson asked, “Isn’t there a lyric in a Grateful Dead song that that says something about that?”
David grinned at him and said, “I think what you have in mind is the line ‘you who choose to lead must follow,’ from Ripple, and that actually means something different. What I’m getting at begins with Jesus’ words in Luke that of those to whom much is given, much will be required. On the one hand it’s about greatness being measured by service, by those who have something helping others. On the other hand, it’s about leading by example. It’s not good enough to get yours, whether that’s knowledge or status or possessions and then sit back in satisfaction. We have the responsibility to use what we have to help others.”
He looked at Jerrod and asked, “So what’s on your mind?”
“It’s about visiting Michael and his parents. We’re gay and out, he’s not. He’s worried about how his parents will react. What do we do? How do we handle it?”
“I’m pleased that’s what you’re worrying about.”
Jerrod smiled back at him in appreciation, and Jackson said, “Do you really think you can make a plan when you haven’t even met his parents? Seems to me your heart and mind are already in the right place. You just have to get there, meet them, size up the situation and decide what’s best to do.”
Jerrod grinned at him. “Well, that’ll make it easy. Like there’s nothing to worry about. Just get there and figure out what to do!”
As the quarter neared its end and the due date for the poetry reports drew closer, Jerrod and Roger poetry study sessions turned to interpreting selected poems to each other and then discussing them. They’d both decided that their approach would be to outline the life of the poet, discuss his influences and style, and then analyze two poems to illustrate his work.
They’d both discovered that while R.S. Thomas and William Stafford wrote plenty of nature poems, that was not by far the extent of their work or subject matter, and they were both working to select two other poems that illustrated the contrasts and wide variety in their work.
Besides nature, Roger had found two other major themes in Thomas’ work. The first was his family and especially his wife. The second was the nature of his faith and understanding of God. He explained this to Jerrod as they were beginning to write their report.
“It’s almost like he’s struggling with what he really believes, and sometimes he talks about what he believes in ways that make you wonder what he believes.”
Jerrod asked what that meant, and Roger read him Via Negativa:
Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.
As usual, Jerrod had leaned back with his eyes closed, letting Roger’s words cascade over him, letting the words create imagery in his mind. When Roger ended, he asked what he thought it all meant?
“Well, it doesn’t sound like what you’d expect from your typical minister, does it? I mean I’m not religious, but I can see that. I like the honesty and the kind of questions or quandaries he raises, but I really don’t know how to interpret most of it.”
Jerrod smiled at him. “You know what you’re missing, don’t you?”
Roger raised his eyebrows.
“You don’t have a religious background, just like me. Let’s go ask David. He got home a little while ago?”
They walked into the kitchen, Kaiser padding along behind them and after exchanging greetings Jerrod said, “Roger has a favor to ask you, if it’s okay.”
David looked at Roger suspiciously and said, “Almost certainly, but we’ll have to see.”
Roger then explained the poetry report that David was familiar with, and the poem he was working on. “The poet I chose is Welsh, and he was an Anglican priest, and some of his poems are kind of religious, but I don’t know how to interpret the one I really like the best. Can you help me?”
David smiled and said, “I’d be honored. You know the poet and his work, and by now are familiar with how he writes and the cadence he uses. How about we start with you reading it to me, and then we’ll talk about it?”
After Roger ended, they sat in silence for a few moments, the boys waiting for David, and David processing the words he’d just heard read to him.
He smiled, and then said, “Do you know when it was written?”
“I think it was in 1983. Is that important?”
“Only that I would like to have had you read it to me back in 1978 or 1979 when I was sorting out the changes my belief system was going through.”
“Well, you know I was a minister and fresh out of seminary when I moved to Oregon, meaning I had a pretty conventional belief system. That all got challenged when I met and fell in love with Jackson. The result was a few years of having to come to grips with what I really believed and why. As it turned out, one of the most influential people in that process was a professor named Carter Higgins at Lewis & Clark, who taught classes on comparative religion and mythology. Bear with me. We’re getting close to answering your question about the poem.”
He grinned at Roger, who said, “I’ve heard you talk about some of that, but didn’t realize it was that big a deal.”
“It ended up being a complete transformation in belief system, and what I came to believe is one of the two ways to explain that poem. First, I have to tell you a little about a man named Joseph Campbell, who died about ten years ago. I was introduced to him by Carter when he taught a class about mythology in the Star Wars movies.”
He saw the incredulous look on the boys faces and said, “Yes, it’s true. And it’s also true that George Lucas used a lot of Campbell’s understanding of mythology in writing the script. That’s another matter though. Campbell’s point is that we have all these religions, but if you can step back and take the big picture view, you realize that all religions are different forms of mythology. Now, it gets dicey because everyone is very protective about their own religion… usually meaning ‘I’m right and you’re wrong,’ as I’m sure you’ve experienced. He summed it all up by saying: ‘Myth is other people’s religion: religion is misunderstood mythology,’ which is a pretty substantial statement for only nine words.”
Jerrod was listening, recognizing this was Roger’s conversation since he’d be writing the paper, but he was curious too. Roger said, “So, that means all religions are just myths?”
“The easy answer,” David said, “is ‘yes.’ But one has to consider how most people define myth… meaning a false religion. That’s the point of the statement. My myth is true—you know, it’s real religion--and your myth is false. Do you follow?”
Roger was nodding his head, and David continued. “We don’t have to get deep into the details, but back to your question about the poem, what Campbell ended up lamenting the most about the human state of affairs regarding mythology is that the three major religions who comprise most of the human race have screwed it up.”
Roger’s eyebrows went up, but his eyes were sparkling, and a wry grin spread across his face. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah, because as Campbell pointed out over and over, the whole premise of mythology is metaphorical. The stories, if you prefer to call them that rather than myths, have a very important purpose in human life, but they are not meant to be understood literally. They are metaphors. The ultimate failure of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is that they have turned the myths into historical stories, changing metaphor into literal fact… when, of course it wasn’t, isn’t and never was.”
“Wow! That’s heavy. I’ve never heard religion explained that way. It’s a whole new way to think about it.”
“It is. I’ll say one more thing and then we’ll talk poetry. Campbell’s contention about the importance of myth was that it answered the big existential questions of Who Am I, Where Did I Come From, and Where Am I Going. Pretty important questions. But the point is that the myths that answer those questions are metaphors, not historically factual events. Got it?”
Roger was nodding, still trying to absorb all this new material.
“Okay, now to the poem. My reaction is that Thomas is putting forward one of two approaches or propositions, and you should spend a little time reading about them to really make your report shine. The first would be what’s known as negative theology, and that maps right to the title which translates as ‘negative way.’ The assumption in this school of thought is that God is beyond comprehension and human language is inadequate to describe God, so the only way to do it is by describing what he is not. The theological term is apophasis which means ‘to say no.’ So, there’s one take. That approach is to describe God in negatives, like ‘I never thought other than that God is that great absence in our lives, the empty silence within.’ Are you following me?”
Roger nodded, and still had the book of poems open in his hand and was following along. He looked up and said, “And then it continues that way: the place where we go seeking, not in hope to arrive or find.’ Is that what you mean?”
“Yes, but what struck me, at least the way my mind works, is that the poem then changes from apophatic to metaphorical. I mean think about the use of phrases like interstices in our knowledge, darkness between stars, the echoes we follow, the footprints he has just left. Those are metaphorical images.”
Roger’s brow was still a little furrowed like he was processing all this new information, but he had a quick rejoinder. “So, David, are you saying that Thomas was employing mixed metaphors?”
David grinned back at him. “Possibly, but it could be a double entendre?”
“That can’t be, I mean two meanings. I like your suggestion, though, of apophasis and metaphor. Could it be that he started out being theological, you know, like a priest would do, and he was taking this negative theology approach. And then, maybe without even knowing it, he switched over to metaphor, expressing a deeper level of his belief? I like that idea. That would make a cool angle in my report.”
“I think you’re onto something. Though, you need to understand something else that doesn’t have to be part of the report.”
Roger raised his eyebrows.
“You can subscribe to apophasis, the negative way, and still be a believing Christian like many of the mystics were. Meaning you still believe in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, all the rest of it. When you move to a metaphorical understanding, though, you no longer believe in those things as factual historic events. They are myths that came into being to help us answer the three big questions.”
Roger was quiet, processing the implications, when Jerrod said, “Meaning Thomas may have reached a point that he no longer believed in the religious things literally? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I certainly don’t know, but that’s what I’m implying. Take a precious example in your own life. St. Nicholas was a real person, and the bishop of Myra in 3rd Century Turkey, and he had a reputation of being especially generous and caring with children, especially orphans. Samichlaus and Santa Claus are not real, but mythological characters based on St. Nicholas. As to Thomas, I don’t know the man. But I do know how hard it is to change one’s beliefs, especially as a minister. I also understand what can happen when you’re forced to really wrestle with what you believe and why. On top of that, I understand how in a creative form of expression like poetry one is able to imply or even say things that couldn’t be said in a sermon, say. Do you get my drift?”
Jerrod asked, “Is that what happened to you, Uncle David?”
“Pretty much. The tipping point was acknowledging I was gay and having to deal with Christianity’s position on homosexuality, and that forced me to reassess everything I thought I believed, and where I came out was in the metaphorical camp.”
“Yes, everything, because where I found myself was judged or condemned by all the institutions and organizations that I’d ever been part of. Against that was my absolute love for Jackson. That forced me to reassess my faith in all those other things.”
He paused, reflecting momentarily, looked back at Jerrod and then glanced at Roger. “Do you want an example of where I was? Of what it felt like?”
They both nodded.
“Okay, then I’m going to play you a song. It summarizes where I was and the decision I had to make. It captures the emotion and the intellectual, and even the spiritual aspects. It came out in 1993, so long after I went through it, but it pretty nearly perfectly captures where I was. Come on.”
They walked into the living room and David looked for and then pulled out Sting’s album Ten Summoner’s Tales, and said, “The song is titled If I Ever Lose My Faith In You.”
He pushed the start button and sat down in an armchair facing the boys who had settled on the couch.
You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse, but
If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do
Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me
If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do
I could be lost inside their lies without a trace
But every time I close my eyes I see your face
I never saw no miracle of science
That didn't go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn't always end up as something worse, but
Let me say this first
If I ever lose my faith in you
There'd be nothing left for me to do
David leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the music and lyrics cascade over him as it filled the room and surrounded the boys. When the song ended, they saw him open his eyes and they were moist, tears forming at the edges.
“That’s pretty heavy, Uncle David. Thanks for sharing something that personal with us.”
David wiped his eyes and then said, “It’s actually my pleasure. It’s a perfect example of what you asked about, just that there’s a deep personal connection too. You heard the list of things Sting lost faith in, just as I did. And in contrast was the one thing he couldn’t conceive losing faith in with there being nothing left for him to do.”
“The lyrics are pretty explicit,” Roger said softly, “but they also paint a very real and very challenging picture. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Don’t be. I’m glad I did. It made me a better person, and I can’t even conceive of what my life would have ended up like if I hadn’t gone through it, if I hadn’t met Jackson. Yes, the result was a completely different view of religion and other things, but still, I think religion has an important role to play in life. It’s just when it becomes literal, it can do more damage than good.”
He paused, and then said, “Sorry, Roger, that was a long-winded answer. Did it help you understand what might be going on with Thomas in the poem?”
“Yeah, in one way it answered my question about the poem, but it also loaded on a whole bunch of other questions I’ve got to go research!”
David laughed. “You just got a lesson in one of the important lessons in life: there are no simple answers to complex questions!”