A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 5

I let Jackson keep working on the album collection, taking a peek on progress from time to time to see how he was doing, in the hope that doing something constructive would actually help him feel better about himself given what he'd been through and that he was going home shortly.

At about ten minutes to 4:00 o'clock I walked back in the living room and asked how it was going.

He looked up and sounded a lot better than he had at 2:00 o'clock! "It's almost all done, and they're finally organized so we can find what we're looking for when we want them. You've got a lot of music here, David. I don't know a lot of the bands, but I guess it's good or you wouldn't still have them, right?"

I nodded and said, "Pretty much, yeah. I'm also a collector, like with books too, so it's hard to get rid of certain things once you have them. What do you think of the Simon and Garfunkel album?"

He said simply, "I like it okay, but I prefer rock and roll. Still, their voices are good, and their harmonies are super, even if it is too folksy for me. I'd rather be listening to Rumors, the new Fleetwood Mac album which I don't have yet (hint, hint!!), but I did see you have one of their albums."

"Yeah, that's Then Play On, but it was early Fleetwood Mac and much more bluesy and jazzier, and not so much rock and roll. You probably wouldn't like it, but we can give it a spin sometime and see what you think. I think you're talking about the new Rumors album, right?" He nodded, and I continued "Now, though, you've got to get it together to head home. I want you back in the house by 4:00 o'clock so there's no complications with your Dad, Okay?"

"I guess," he grudgingly said. I took him by the hand, and we headed out of the living room for the kitchen where I stopped, turned to him and pulled him close to me. "I love you Jackson, in all the ways I told you I did a little while ago. You heard me, right?"

We looked each other directly in the eyes, neither budging or blinking, and after a few seconds he said, "Yep, I did, and I love you back all the same ways. Will you kiss me again before I go?"

"Are you kidding," I replied, "you wouldn't have gotten out of here without one, no way!"

We kissed again, this time more sensuous—open mouths but no tongue play, just two people telling the other that they love them. I broke it off before it started getting too sensual and said, "Okay, time to go. Don't be late, and let's hope things improve overnight."

He smiled briefly and said, "Right on that one, Rev, and I haven't forgotten what I told you I'd do. I still hate the idea, but I'll do it because I know it's right and because I love you." And with that he was out the kitchen door and down the driveway heading home.

Whoa! I had to go sit down and try to process what had happened and where I was emotionally. Suddenly I was deeper into family counseling that I'd ever dreamed possible. Counseling in seminary is more like an intro course or an overview—you just don't get down and dirty and into the thick of things. But here I was, right in the middle of a huge family problem involving physical abuse and it was compounded by me having fallen in love with one of the victims! Jeez!

I ruminated on all of that for a while and then thought it was time to go back to work on my sermon. Now that I had new inspiration, if I focused, I could get that wrapped up before supper. With a little luck there wouldn't be any surprises tonight and later I'd be able to watch the news and see what else was on TV.

I sat down at my desk and pulled the lectionary for tomorrow and looked at the three texts: The Psalm, the Colossians passage and the Good Samaritan passage from the Gospel of Luke. There was no contest: giving what had gone on in this parish in the last twenty-four hours, even if only a few people knew the details, the Good Samaritan passage had to be the basis of the sermon. I spent a little time taking the passage apart, made sure I was clear on the context and setting of the passage, and making sure I understood where Samaritans stood in the hierarchy of Judaism at the time. Once I had that mapped out in my head, pulling the rest of the sermon outline together was easy, and the link Jackson had unwittingly given me from the Simon and Garfunkel album made it all fit together.

I found myself getting enthusiastic for the subject, and by the time I finished the outline and then turned it into the working copy of the sermon it was 6:30. My, how time flies when you're having fun! I wandered into the kitchen, grabbed a beer and the makings for dinner out of the refrigerator and started doing some prep and cooking. The evening was going well, though I wondered what was happening a few houses down at the Harris home, and after cleaning up the kitchen, even though I'd missed the news, I decided to watch some TV to just relax. Pretty soon it was late enough to hit the hay and hope for a good night's sleep. Unlike last night, I wouldn't be laying in bed hoping and waiting for Jackson to come to me but would be worrying about how he was. At least I did for a few minutes before falling asleep.

I woke at 7:00 am, without the alarm clock, only a little nervous about this being my first Sunday in Newberg. After yesterday's emotional roller coaster, celebrating a service and giving a sermon seemed pretty light weight. So, I showered, put on my clerical garb and organized some breakfast. I knew I had plenty of time, and sure enough the Sunday paper was on the back porch – Jackson had been forced to stick to his original delivery schedule and that put me first and well before I was up. But it also meant there was some level of normalcy at the Harris home.

Sunday worship service began at 10:00 am, and I was at the church by 9:00. It was a pretty typical church building—white clap board exterior with a high and pointed steeple replete with bell. I'll skip the boring morning details and the details of the service itself, other than to say it was a full house. It seemed like everyone wanted to check out the new pastor, and it was standing room only for the last eight or ten people who arrived. All the pews were full, side to side.

Susan was right, this was a participative parish, and the not only was the choir good, the congregation sang mightily. The Harris family was about a third of the way back from the front, but close enough to enable eye contact with them as I sat in the celebrants' s chair, and I knew that meant it would really be the case when I mounted the pulpit. Jackson and Gary were wedged between their parents, and Jackson looked up and gave the weakest of smiles when I glanced their way. I kept my face expressionless. Susan was doing a very good job as organist, working with the choir director to assure a good flow and lovely pace in all the hymns.

The lectionary readings were given by an Elder from a lectern on the left side of the chancel, and the pulpit was on the right side, both in front of the altar. The pulpit was built-in and elevated two steps, so that when you stepped up into the pulpit you had the feeling of looking down at the congregation. So, when I ascended to give the sermon it was with a little feeling of trepidation but also one of responsibility because they were all looking up at me anticipating the delivery of the sermon.

I began with some light banter about being the new minister, this being my first sermon not only in this church, but also in my first pastorate, and a joke or two about the likely stumble or mistakes surely to occur—which resulted in chuckles from the congregation. Then I turned to the subject at hand by saying that today's Epistle and Gospel lessons were different enough that a real choice had to be made between theology and practical Christianity….and that I had chosen to go with practical Christianity. I saw quite a few smiles, and an equal number of blank faces as if they weren't quite sure what the implications of that statement was.

I began by observing that like all the parables, everyone had heard it enough times, or heard enough about it, that they all felt great familiarity with it. So, question one was "if you had to narrow the parable down to a single most meaningful word, what would that be?" The answer was "neighbor" because Christ's answer to the scholar of the law was "You shall love the Lord, you God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and will all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Also, and what was often missed was that the second part of the parable, the part that actually involved the Good Samaritan, was given in response to the question "who is my neighbor?"

The second question was about how many different characters appeared in the Good Samaritan parable and what that meant in terms of the culture and in terms of what Jesus was trying to teach. The point was that after the beaten man, the list of characters began with a priest then a Levite then a Samaritan. But you had to understand how the characters stood in Jewish society at the time. At the top of the religious hierarchy was the Priest, and below him the Levite, then on down to the Rabbi, the Cantor, the Lay Leader and finally the Laity. The laity—now we were down to the people, the folks in the pew…or more specifically the Jews in the seats of the synagogue. But what's hard to understand is that the Samaritan isn't part of that hierarchy at all—he's not even a Jew. The Samaritan is, in fact, outside it — the Samaritan is an outsider. The reasons are complicated, but the net is that Samaria was outside Judea and the Samaritans claimed not to have been through the Babylonian exile and thus to be separate from the Jews. The Jews, of course, looked down on the Samaritans, not quite like heretics, but certainly as inferior and separate.

We can assume that all the other characters in the parable are Jews. So, here's this separate and inferior outsider and he's the only one who stops to care for the man beaten by robbers, and even more he's the one who takes the beaten man to an inn and pays for his stay and care. And about him Jesus the Teacher asks about all the characters in the parable "which of these was neighbor to the robber's victim?"

It was quiet, but I sensed I had their attention at least because some of the explication of the passage was new, if not novel, to most of the congregation. I went on to point out that in most of our lives this is a stark example: when was the last time we found someone beaten on the side of the road and had to decide to help or not? Which begs the question of how do you translate this parable form ancient Judaism two thousand years ago into how we live in Newberg today? The case I made was that it centered on a single word, and that word was compassion. And the relevance is that without compassion, there is no love.

I then tried to make it practical by saying its all well and good to talk about the Samaritan and compassion and love, but that was 2000 years ago and what does it have to do with me today on this fine July day in 1977? My answer to that, dear parishioners, is what happened to me recently when a good friend challenged me about something, I thought I knew quite a bit about. You see, I'm an audiophile and have a large record collection and I'm a big fan of Simon and Garfunkel, and it took this good friend (and here I was visually sweeping the congregation and looked for a second directly at Jackson) to challenge what I thought I knew about their song "I Am A Rock." Why, because I'd always thought of it more of less as "I am a rock…I am strong…I am independent, etc." But this time I had to consider the lyrics, and I read them the verse that had pained me when Jackson read it to me:

I've built walls, a fortress steep and mighty, That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship: friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock...I am an island.

My point was simply that this was not the world view of the Good Samaritan, and if we had any aspirations to be like the Good Samaritan, this couldn't be part of our way of life either. Then I went on to point out that Jesus had been addressed as "Teacher" in the beginning of the parable, and that there are many teachers across time and history. And guess what? My good friend challenging me to revisit these lyrics reconnected me to a contemporary teacher by the name of Paul Simon. And this wasn't all he had to say. We all know at least one other Paul Simon song, namely The Sound of Silence." (Pretty much everyone nodded when I asked that question), I said "Let me share a key verse in that song:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools, " said I, "You do not know
Silence, like a cancer, grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells, of silence

Watch the video of Simon and Garfunkel singing The Sound of Silence from 1960s

My conclusion was quite simple. You may think it's heretical that I introduce a "modern teacher" and compare him to Jesus the Teacher, but just consider the two messages and ask yourself if they are that far apart. And if you have any doubt about how important this is in our lives, then just consider how Art Garfunkel described "The Sound of Silence" when he was asked what it meant. He said it's about "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other." And that is the point of the parable: all but the Samaritan were unable to love each other."

With that I stepped down from the pulpit and returned to the celebrant's chair. Susan struck up the chords for the final hymn, and everyone joined the choir in "A Mighty Fortress is our God." I found myself hoping the folks left the church thinking more about compassion than about fortresses! The service ended with the Benediction and I processed down the aisle to give the Dismissal from the rear, and then stand at the front door as the people left. It was arduous, literally twenty minutes of handshaking and "what a wonderful message" and "so nice to have you as our Pastor, etc." All of it well meaning, including (I'm sure) the one's who didn't have anything to say about the message, but just said "Nice service, Pastor," or "Pleasure to have you here."

When the Harris family approached, Bud lead the way and barely met my eye and made a terse statement like "Good service, Pastor. A good start," and moved on. Lily merely nodded and followed Bud. Gary was like an automaton and just shook my hand and didn't even look up. Jackson, on the other hand took my hand and looked deeply into my eyes and said "Thank you. I needed to hear that. It was inspirational." I could see a tear or two starting, so quickly said "You're welcome, Jackson. I'm pleased you found it meaningful. Thanks for being here."

The press of the congregation kept them moving and soon enough Jackson and his family were out of sight down the street and heading home. They clearly weren't staying for coffee after the service. After the congregation had exited and most went to the basement for coffee and cookies, the last one out was Susan. She was beaming.

"Pastor, that was inspired. Thank you so much. There are a lot of people in this community, and we know a few especially, who needed to hear that!"

I looked her directly in the eyes and said simply and directly, "Susan. It wouldn't have happened if two new and very special friends hadn't inspired me to understand a few things differently and to be willing to talk about them. Thank you, you've already started to change my life!"

She blushed, leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek, and said, "I'll see you downstairs for a cup of coffee. You probably need it by now!"

It took almost two hours to get through the coffee hour, meet (or at least say hello to) everyone, help with the clean up and then close up the church. That meant it was almost 1:30 by the time I got back to the rectory, grabbed a quick sandwich to eat for lunch, and then took a needed nap. I woke up forty-five minutes later from a deep sleep, and it took me a few minutes to figure out where I was and what had transpired in the past couple of days. The adrenaline high of the first service was long gone, the caffeine was burned through, the rest and recovery from some food and a nap had worked its magic, and I was just relaxed for the first time in days.

I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling wondering just how this cataclysm that had entered my life had come about. What a whirlwind three and a half days. A week ago I was a recently graduated and newly ordained minister with a new pastor position, a new minister who was deeply out of touch with his own feelings and sexuality, and now here I was only days later having pulled off my first worship service as pastor of this church, and having been forced to come to grips with my feelings and being gay by this gorgeous young man I'd fallen in love with. Talk about riding a meteor!

And to make matters more complicated, Jackson was only seventeen (almost eighteen, but in Oregon the age of consent was eighteen!) and now we knew he was part of a family with a history of physical abuse and maybe more. It wasn't easy to lie there and reflect on all of that without beginning to worry about not just what might happen, but what could go wrong.

I do some of my best thinking while just being, whether it was during a run in my college days, or on a long hike or bike ride, or in this case just laying there allowing the stream of consciousness to happen. What I knew, or at least what was forming as a realization in my mind was that there had to be a way to make this work. There was a lot at risk, but there had to be a way to make it work. It didn't have to be a train wreck, it didn't have to end up with me defrocked and in jail, it didn't have to include Jackson devastated and continuing to be abused. There was a good way forward. There had to be.

I guess I lay there thinking long enough that I fell back to sleep on my bed, for I don't know how long, but when I woke again, I realized I wasn't alone. It was like the previous Thursday night when I woke up in the middle of the night and Jackson was sitting on the chair in my bedroom because he didn't want to wake me. This time it was the same. Jackson was sitting on the same chair, smiling pleasantly as I struggled to bring him into focus.

I must have looked like I didn't believe what I was seeing because he said, "Yep, Rev, it's me. Looks like you're all rested up now, and ready for a little action!"

I didn't know what to say and started stammering out something about being on detention and how could you get out…….and finally realized that in the immediate moment I didn't care about any of that. What I cared about was that he was out, that he was here, and I just said" Jackson, please come here. The thing I need most of all right now is just to hold you."

He rose and crossed the space to the bed, saying "David, I know, me too." He slid into my arms and we just hugged and stroked each other and sobbed in joy. "How did you get out, how did you get here, will you be in trouble?" I finally whispered into his ear all in one breath.

He answered slowly, first leaning back so he could look me square in the eyes and said, "No, I won't get in trouble for being here for a little while. The parents let me out to see how you were doing."

"What?" After what I'd seen and been told, I couldn't believe it. "How……what happened?"

He kept looking me straight in the eyes and said, "A couple of things. First, I apologized last night. I hated it, but I did it. They didn't say hardly anything then besides 'the least you could do,' like that. But then this morning before church, Mom did say I'd really surprised her when I apologized and was almost nice. That was a mind blower."

I hugged him involuntarily and whispered, "I sure wouldn't have expected it. Did your Dad say anything?"

"Nope," he said, "nothing beyond a grunt. But then there was church today and your sermon. Man, that was a mind blower too. Where did all that come from? You saw we didn't stay for coffee, because I think they were embarrassed, telling people I had an accident and fell off my bike and hit my face! But when we got home Mom did try to talk about compassion and communication and love. Dad pretty much brushed her off and then left saying he had stuff to do at his machine shop. He does that macho thing; you know where you don't talk about emotional stuff or your feelings. But I saw an opportunity and talked to Mom a little about the message in your sermon and even though she didn't say much, it seemed to touch her. At least she didn't blow it off and she seemed open. So, then a little later after lunch when I asked her if I could go over to see you and how you were doing because we didn't really finish up all the organizing work yesterday, she thought about it and said yes. She also said that because I'd apologized, I was off detention, but still grounded till Dad got home and they talked about it. So, she told me I could go out for an hour to see you. So here I am, cuz I love you and I want you to hold me and hug me. Is that Okay?"

"There's nothing I'd rather do for the next hour, especially after the emotional roller coaster of the last couple of days. There's a lot of serious subjects on the table, but we're not going to get into them now. We're just going to enjoy this brief reprieve and hold each other and make each other feel safe and loved."

"That's cool," he said, "I'm not up to dealing with any more heavy stuff today. I just want to be here loved by you." And with that he leaned down and tucked his head under my chin and kissed my neck.

We lay like that for minutes, hugging each other and I stroked his hair and head, down his back to his bum and hugged him some more. Then I found myself weeping and I finally realized how scared I'd been over the last two days that this love we'd found was about to be destroyed. Now that the crisis was temporarily over, I could get in touch with those feelings.

It must have been after thirty minutes of just cuddling and stroking, after the sighs and the tears had stopped, that I felt him start to get hard. Knowing I'd not be far behind, I gently tipped up his face and it looked relaxed, and at the same time I could see the spark in his eyes. I said, "I love you, and if you get hard and start rubbing on me, I'll get hard too. I'm sure not saying it's wrong, but I think right now we should just enjoy this loving peace and quiet and not let it get sexual. I've been so afraid I'd lose you so soon after I found you that I just want to hold you like it'll never end. To absorb your love and energy. Am I making any sense?"

He didn't respond for thirty seconds of so, then said "I know cuz I've been scared of the same things. But I also think us getting it on would help heal the wounds, don't you? Isn't that what the Good Samaritan did? Didn't he heal the wounds of the beaten man with oil? So why shouldn't we?"

Horny Jackson, I thought! "Because, my little lover boy, that was a Gospel parable and this is here and now, and there's a time for everything, and if we can hold this whole thing together there'll be plenty of time to get physical. Remember what I said the other day about how we both have to be ready in our hearts and minds, not just in our bodies? I feel like we just skated over some very thin ice that was cracking behind us and now we're safe….at least for now. I'm so relieved by that I don't know if I could get it up if I wanted to."

Jackson grinned. I could see his face and his eyes sparkled as he said, "I'm pretty sure I could make sure you get it up, Rev!" Then he paused.

"But you're right," he went on, "we skated by this mess for now, and I learned just how much it hurt to be feeling that I was going to lose you. That they'd lock me up and I'd never see you again, or worse yet only see you on Sunday at church but never be able to be with you, or even worse than that, that they found out about us and it got worse and they killed me or something. I know now that I couldn't take it if that happened. I just couldn't cause I finally have found someone I love, and I have to protect that. Just being on detention for a couple of days and scared to death it was over has taught me to appreciate what we've got and maybe be more careful. So, I want to get it on, but I'm cool just staying right here cuddling……but you have to know I can't control that hard on down there."

"Jackson, you're a very mature young man, and thank you for sharing those feelings. We're on the same wavelength there. And, somehow I think I can put up with that tent down there in your shorts."

And that's what we ended up doing for most of the hour, until I asked him what was next when he went home? He said he didn't really know, but his Mom wasn't terrible all the time, just when she was drunk. But that his Dad was going to be the problem and he wouldn't know for sure what was up till he got home tonight and his parents talked.

So, we decided to leave it there. I didn't tell him what I knew—that Susan was going to report his parents to Child Protective Services tomorrow and that there would likely be another storm breaking over the family after that. Better wait until we see what happens, I thought.

But before this love session ended, Jackson needed to feel he was passionately loved, and I needed it too. So, I tipped his chin up and then pulled him up the bed just a bit, so we were laying evenly and then I rolled him on his back and leaned my face over his. "I want you to know what I'm feeling," I whispered, and then leaned down to kiss him. He immediately responded and I flicked my tongue across his lips. I felt them open and his tongue respond, and we were quickly exploring each other's mouths with our tongues. I could feel myself getting hard now for sure, but I knew this was only going so far. I stroked the back of his neck and under his shoulders and ran my fingers through his hair. His hands were all over my back, up into my hair, and then running down to my butt and pulling me hard into him. That was enough. I gave his tongue a final lick with mine and withdrew, raising my head from his and just looking into his eyes which were flashing green against their hazel background. We both were silent for a few moments, knowing this short period of bliss was ending.

Finally, I said, "Okay, Lover Boy, let's go. We've got to get you organized and back home, so you stay on good terms with your Mom. Tell her we've got everything organized over here now, and I'll finish up the albums and books this evening so if she and her Parsonage Committee came through the house the work will be done."

We walked downstairs to the kitchen hand in hand. I turned him around by the kitchen door and said "There's nothing I'd love more that to have you stay here tonight, and I don't necessarily mean in "your" bedroom, if you know what I mean. But we've got to get through this mess, and we will, and we'll figure out a way to make this work. Okay? I mean make our relationship work, so we can be together. Is that what you want too?" Then I kissed the side of his face with the contusion and his black eye and the bruise on his forehead.

He barely paused and said "Yes, that's not only what I want, it's what I need. I need you David. You're the best thing that's ever happened in my life. I've never felt this way before. Yeah, I want to get it on with you, but I also just want to be with you……all the time. I guess that means we're in love, huh?"

I just smiled, said "I think so," and leaned down and kissed him. This time it was more sensuous and passionate, and our tongues met and danced around over our lips. It was electric, and I felt myself getting hard again. "Jackson, time to go." I said as I gave his bum a squeeze. "Let's see what tomorrow brings. I love you. Keep the peace at home and sleep well tonight, Okay?"

He grinned and nodded his head and headed out the kitchen door across the porch and down the driveway. So, I spent the evening putting away the last of the albums, the rest of my books and the theology texts, and hauled the remaining empty boxes out the kitchen door to the garage out back to dispose of later. Finally, the house was organized, and all the moving stuff was out, and we were ready for the new week that started tomorrow.

Monday morning started much the same as Sunday. I woke at 7:00 am, rolled out of bed, spent time in the bathroom completing the morning ablutions, then headed downstairs for breakfast. I knew the newspaper would already be on the back porch but was hoping something would have changed overnight. It was not to be. The paper was there and apparently nothing had changed. Jackson was still being controlled on his paper route and wasn't changing the order around so he could deliver to the parsonage last and spend time with me over breakfast. I told that side of my brain, "Well, no surprise there really!"

I put the coffee on and pulled from the refrigerator the makings for toast and jam to accompany some cereal and tried reading the paper. I found myself just thumbing through it, unable really to concentrate. All these fleeting thoughts just shot around in my head. Is Jackson really off detention? Will I see him today? Should I make a move? What will happen when Susan reports his parents?

Then I started connecting the dots in a dark and bleak way. After Susan reports his parents will he be removed? Will he be put in custody? What happens to the parents? Will both boys end up in foster care who knows where? Those were all scary thoughts. Nothing I could do about them until the next chapter started to unfold. Well, actually there was something I could do. I'm the family's pastor. Bud is at work. I can visit Lily this morning and offer some pastoral assistance.

I decided to wait till late morning and drop over. I'd looked out the window and there was no sign of life at the Harris home. It was a fair bet that Bud was at his machine shop, and likely that Lily and the two boys were there…. unless Gary had gone off somewhere. It was summer after all.

I found myself thinking about the Session meeting scheduled for that evening at the church. This being my first meeting, I wouldn't be expected to do much except get acquainted with the Elders, listen and start to learn about the parish, get a sense of the annual budget, maybe start to understand goals and challenges, and then raise the subject of a summer church camp. For the church camp proposal, I decided I'd better put together an outline of what I was proposing, and as Susan had suggested, a rough budget as well. I'd to that this afternoon. In the meantime, after breakfast, I decided I'd take a shower, put on my clerical garb and be ready to visit the Harris home a little later in the morning.

It was almost 11:00 am when I knocked on the Harris' front door. There was a minute of silence, then Lily opened the door. She seemed surprised to see me, then said "Good morning, Pastor. This is a surprise. What can I do for you?"

I'd decided the direct approach was going to be the best, and replied right back to her, "Lily, good morning. This shouldn't be a surprise given my conversation with Bud on Saturday about the problem with Jackson on Friday night. I stopped by to see you both as your pastor and see if there's anything I can do to help. May I come in?"

She paused for a few seconds like she wasn't sure what she wanted to do, then stepped back from the door and said, "Yes, please come into the living room." I stepped into the hall, she closed the front door, then she walked across the hall to the living room and I followed her. She asked me if I'd like anything to drink, I declined, and she waved at the couch, indicating I should sit.

I could hear sounds from the kitchen, and said, "Lily, I know situations like this are unpleasant and difficult. I would like to help if I can. I take it Bud is at work?"

Lily nodded. I went on "He told me about the confrontation with Jackson on Friday night. He was pretty upset about Jackson swearing at you and not doing what you and Bud wanted" I left it there, kind of open ended to see what she'd say.

"There was more than that, Pastor. I caught him trying to sneak out of the house around midnight, he defied me when I told him he couldn't go, then he cussed me out. Then when his father came out of the bedroom, he got belligerent and defied him too."

I paused as if considering this like it was information I didn't know about, and carefully said, "That is pretty strong behavior. It seems pretty unusual. I don't know Jackson well, and even though I can tell he's intelligent and strong willed, this seems extreme. Are things improved now? Is there something I can do? Would some pastoral counseling or anger management help do you think?"

She didn't answer for a few seconds, and then said "Well, Jackson apologized which was a surprise to Bud and me. I can't say anything about counseling without talking to Bud. He'd have to agree. Things have gotten better, though, since the apology. Jackson is still grounded other than his paper route, and Bud let him come over to the parsonage yesterday afternoon to help you finish up the unpacking and organizing. Is that all done now?

"Yes," I replied, "all the unpacking and organizing is completed, the moving boxes are out in the garage, and the parsonage is spic and span. Jackson was very helpful."

"That's good to hear. Things have gotten better here, but until Bud says he's released he's still grounded. He's still got an attitude problem that we've got to work on. If only he'd be more like Gary who fits into the family and doesn't have the attitude and cause the problems Jackson does."

"Well, Lily, you've got two sons that don't just look different, but have different personalities, don't you? It means you have to deal with each one differently, and that can be a challenge."

I could see her flinch when I said what I did about looking different and different personalities, but then she said, "They've both got to comply with the rules of this family. That's just the way it is. I appreciate you coming by, but until I talk to Bud, and he won't be home until this evening, I can't say anything about any counseling."

It was just then I heard steps in the hall and saw Jackson start up the stairs. He'd clearly been in the kitchen, and now he stopped and looked at me with a kind of pleading expression and the smallest smile. Lily's back was to the hall.

I turned to Lily and said, "Well there he is, certainly he looks like he's up and around."

Lily turned and looked at Jackson, saw he'd stopped and said "Jackson, come in here and say hello to the Pastor. No need to sneak around."

Jackson blanched, turned and came down the stairs and walked across the living room. He stopped two steps in front of me and said, "Hello, Pastor." I reached out my hand and replied, "Good morning, Jackson. Good to see you."

He reached out and we shook hands, and I could feel his warmth and his saw his eyes sparkle for a second, and then I said, "Thanks for consistently delivering my newspaper on time, and helping me wrap up the unpacking and organizing yesterday. It was very helpful to have you over so we could get it finished."

That was when I turned him just a little as I released his hand. I did it purposely I so Lilly would hear me say "your face is looking better, but the bruise on your forehead has gotten larger and you have a black eye." While I didn't like the look of the bruising which was spreading, there were signs of slow healing. I was also personally satisfied that they were still evident in case CPS came by today or tomorrow.

Lilly said nothing to that, but Jackson said, "Yeah, but it's healing. I'll be back to normal soon."

Lilly was quiet for a few seconds, then said to Jackson, "OK, you can go up to your room now. Say goodbye to the Pastor."

Jackson looked me in the eye and smiled and just said, "Good to see you Pastor," then turned and left the room. I lost sight of him after a few steps but heard him going up the stairs. I turned to Lilly and said, "Thank you for your time, and let me know about counseling after you've spoken to Bud."

She nodded, and then acted like she wanted to say something additional. I just waited and she eventually went on, "I really enjoyed your sermon yesterday, Pastor. It was a good change to hear the message in terms people can relate to, you know, the Paul Simon examples you gave. You're right about all of us needing to practice compassion and also to listen and hear."

"Thank you, Lilly. Yes, that's an important Gospel message. Not just compassion, and not just hearing and listening, but also loving. We all have to remember that love isn't just an emotion, it is something that has to be put into action between people. Especially between the people of God. Thank you for the kind words. I'd better be going now but will wait till I hear from you or Bud. I'll show myself out, and thanks for the time this morning."

She followed me to the front door and said goodbye as I stepped out, and I heard the door close behind me as I went down the porch step. As I walked home, I wondered to myself if a positive counseling outcome was possible. Lilly seemed not just to be timid but to be dependent on her husband, and Bud certainly came across not just as sullen and controlling but also as a man with very strongly held views—almost resistant to change. Oh well, we'd see!

I headed home deciding it was time for some lunch and then I'd spend some office time outlining plans for the summer church camp to present to the Session this evening.

The phone rang and a new voice introduced himself as a Presbyterian minister who was the clergy liaison officially known as the Advocate for Clergy, and he was welcoming me to the new church and the Presbytery. He talked about the challenges of a new church, how long it can take to get settled in, how I'm missed the semi-annual Presbytery meeting that had been held in late June but I'd be able to attend the next one in November, and telling me we'd have to get together to meet in person after I'd gotten settled. I told him that was fine by me, but that I'd arrived to find a family in crisis with child abuse going on, that it was serious enough that CPS had been called, and it would likely be a few weeks before I'd have the time to meet him. He sounded understanding and almost relieved, telling me we could stay in touch by phone between now and then, and to call if he could be of any help.

I got back to work and spent and hour and a half outlining the church camp proposal, and roughing out a budget for some fun activities like visiting the amusement park in Portland, a swimming venue at a mountain lake, and a canoe and kayak facility at a lake outside of Salem. The fourth afternoon activity would be a short hike in the Cascades, and that wouldn't have an expense associated with it other than travel costs.

It was after 3:00 PM and I was in the office making enough copies for the Session when I saw out the window a car pull up in front of the Harris home. A lady in professional dress was accompanied by a man in uniform, and they walked up to the front door and rang the bell. It had happened! I had to make myself breathe and decided the best thing for me to do was step away from the window and pray for a positive outcome. Whatever was going to happen was underway, and there was little I could do at this time to affect the outcome.

I was back in the office putting the copies together when the phone rang. I still hadn't decided how to answer the phone, but picked the handset up and said, "Hello, Grace Church Parsonage."

It was Susan on the line, and she said simply, "Hello, Pastor. I reported the physical abuse this morning and Ellen went with me to make the case that this event also included medical neglect because of the bruises and the parent's unwillingness to take Jackson to the emergency room. I don't know when CPS will take action, but I think they will."

"Susan," I said, "I can tell you that they have. A lady and an officer went into the Harris home about ten minutes ago! What happens now?"

"My, that was fast," she replied. "I have to believe that it was the fact that this is a repeat offense with physical abuse compounded by the medical neglect. Ellen was very strong about the neglect part and how it was indicative of parents that really don't care about the well being of their children. I think as Nursing Director of the Emergency Room she made a convincing case. I don't know what will happen now. I guess that will depend on what they find after talking to the parents and to Jackson and Gary. I also told them there is a possibility of sexual abuse of the older boy by the father."

"Well thank you for filling me in, Susan. I saw Lilly and Jackson late this morning when I made a pastoral visit and offered some counseling if it would help. She declined unless Bud agreed, but I saw Jackson and the bruises are still there and he was clearly still under their thumb. He did apologize to his parents, though, for the swearing and belligerent attitude. I think that helped soothe things over."

"What are you planning on doing, Pastor," she asked?

"Nothing unless I'm asked to by the family or the authorities," I replied. "I decided it's best that way. What do you think?"

She agreed. "I think you're right. You should be concerned and available, certainly, but this is now in the hands of CPS, and their regulations and guidelines will decide what happens. What we've got to keep in mind is that if there's sexual abuse and if Bud is guilty then he will likely be removed, maybe even arrested. That leaves Lilly and the boys. If she's determined to be both alcoholic and an enabler, then it's at a fork in the road."

"What does that mean," I asked, "I don't have experience here."

"Simple," she said, "CPS has to look out for the good of the children and as I see it in these circumstances that means very possibly removing the children from the home. That begs the next question about placement. It might be guardianship or foster care, and where and with whom? I don't want to cross that bridge till we come to it, or overreact, but you need to be aware it's a possible action in the next day or two."

"Okay, I will," I stammered, "I hadn't been thinking about that, I've been focused on trying to help Jackson."

"As you should be," she encouraged me, "you may be the only friend he has. I've observed how close you two have become, and you're also his mentor. You should be focused on helping him through this situation. I have the luxury of being one step removed and can look at the larger picture. We don't know where this will go yet, I just want you to be aware of the possibilities. And with that, Pastor, I have to go, but I will stay in touch. Bye now." Susan hung up and the line went dead.

So, there I was on standby, just watching and waiting to see what happened. In a word nothing happened for hours. 5:30 pm and the CPS people were still there when Bud came home. Then another hour of no visible activity, and finally I saw the porch light come on and Bud escorted out of the house by the officer and accompanied by the lady from CPS.

What to make of that? Well, clearly there had been a confrontation of some sort, some information had come out, some decision had been made and there had been consequential actions. What did it mean though? And what was next? I had no idea, and unfortunately, I had a Session meeting to go to.

I got to the church a little before 7:00 pm and was able to greet the Elders as they came into the meeting. Fortunately, I didn't have to chair the meeting because I was having trouble keeping my mind on the subjects at hand. The Chair put me at ease with his introduction and welcome, which included some kind words about my first sermon and reminding everyone that this was my first session meeting in my first parish, and that I would mainly be in "learning mode." Everyone smiled and on we went, approving minutes from the last meeting, reviewing the budget, and a host of other mundane agenda items. I had to keep snapping back to the meeting from my worrying about what was going on at the Harris home.

Finally the Chair asked if there was any Special Business not on the agenda and I indicated I had something and laid out my aim to restart the Youth Fellowship and the suggestion for a summer church camp over a week that would start with a church activity in the morning and then involve a fun activity in the afternoon. It was well received given how the youth program needed reviving, just like Susan had predicted. I was asked about budget, and everyone seemed pleased that I had a rough budget to present, again, just like Susan had predicted!

The extent of the discussion was about the means of transportation to get 20 kids to and from the activities. I suggested that with a few volunteer parents we could handle the transportation that way at no cost. There was some discussion and the final decision for safety sake was to contact the school district and try and rent a school bus so all could travel together. The other concern was about the budget—specifically if I hadn't underestimated the cost, and so they approved the proposal and increased the budget by fifty percent! These people wanted their youth program to get going again. I thanked them all, gave a closing prayer, and the meeting was concluded.

That meant I walked home to an empty house with no information about what was happening to the most important thing in my life. It would be another lonely night of misery. There wasn't any choice though, unless Jackson risked sneaking out tonight and I certainly hope he wouldn't try that until the dust settled and we knew what was happening. I was thinking about Jackson as I got into bed, but they sure weren't romantic thoughts, and I just worried myself to sleep.


Tuesday morning started off the same as the day before: awake at 7:00 am, the paper had been delivered, no sign of Jackson and breakfast alone. I decided there was no choice but to make the best of it until there was some information to go on, so I spent some time on the paper, then decided to take a shower and when it came time to dress donned my clerical garb again. I thought maybe I'd start making some calls on members, and it wouldn't do to show up looking too casual. I was down in the office starting to put together a list of members with addresses and figuring out the address location against a local map when I heard a knock on the front door.

When I opened it, I recognized the lady from CPS I'd seen at the Harris home yesterday, and thanked God for being in my clerical garb. There's nothing like a black shirt and white clerical collar to denote gravity and command respect! She introduced herself as Mary McGinnis with Child Protective Services, and asked if I was Rev. David Ayers, I confirmed the fact and asked her in, and then she asked me if I had any knowledge of what had been recently occurring in a nearby parishioner home, namely the Harris home?

I'd been cautious when Mary had arrived, and now I found my brain whirring: what to say, how much to say, what would be too much to say? I quickly decided to answer her questions, tell her the basic facts, keep it all honest and as objective as I could. I also knew I had the advantage of being the family pastor, so could claim some level of confidentiality if it came to that—but I doubted it would.

So, I briefly outlined that Jackson had been assigned to help me move in and unpack, and that gave me a chance to get to know him, and I'd learned from him that he got caught trying to sneak out to his fort on Friday night, that he'd resisted his parents orders, that there had been a confrontation that I knew of because I'd seen him on Saturday afternoon and he had a contusion on his face and a bruise on his forehead, that he had not received any medical care, that I'd seen the family at church on Sunday but they'd left right after the service, that he'd been here yesterday when the church organist stopped by the parsonage, and that I'd called on the family yesterday to see if I could offer any pastoral counseling along the anger management lines to try to assist.

Mary listened intently, took notes as I was speaking, then paused and said, "You're the new priest at Grace Presbyterian Church, aren't you?" I said that correctly speaking I was the Reverend Ayers because I was a Presbyterian minister, wanting to make sure she didn't confuse my role with that of a Catholic priest, assuming that with a surname like McGinnis she was almost certainly Irish and likely then Roman Catholic. She smiled, and said "Thank you, Rev. Ayers, I appreciate that clarification. I'm Catholic as you guessed, and there are significant differences in roles and responsibilities with our priests. What I'm really trying to get at is that you're new here in Newberg and in this congregation, correct?"

I nodded yes. She went on, "As I thought. The point is that I'm starting to get into confidential family information, but you're a semi-professional as the parish priest…I mean as the pastor in this church…. you get my point, I trust."

Again, I nodded yes. "Here's the problem. Well, actually the first of two problems. This is not the first instance of physical abuse in this family. Two years ago, there was another reported incident and CPS intervention. There wasn't enough evidence to take legal action, but the parents were required to attend counseling and were essentially put on a kind of probation. Yesterday we got another report from a Mandatory Reporter. We take those seriously, especially if there is already a record, because Mandatory Reporters are professionals. This Mandatory Reporter I believe you know, Susan Albridge? She's a schoolteacher and your church organist, correct?"

Again, I nodded, and said "Yes she is. I've only known her now less than a week, but she's a pillar of the community and the church and one of the most conscientious and warm-hearted people I've ever met."

Mary nodded in agreement. "I'd agree based on the little time I spent with her. She came to my CPS office with her friend Ellen Pratt, and it was very evident that her concern was for the well being of the two minor children. The report they filed included physical abuse in the form of a beating Friday night inflicted on the younger boy followed by medical negligence in not taking the younger child to the Emergency Room. Is that your understanding?"

I decided it best to simply answer her questions, and again nodded and said "Yes."

"The additional concern we have is that Susan said that both the children in this family are withdrawn and appear to be intimated and socially under-developed. Is that your impression?"

I had to qualify my answer to her. "I've been here less than a week, Mary, so I can't claim to be that knowledgeable, but I can say that is what I've observed. Additionally, both boys were assigned by the Parsonage Committee to help me move in, and they were both withdrawn when around their parents. On my second day here I needed someone to show me around, and Jackson, that's the younger boy, accompanied me to grocery shop and then showed me the lay of the land so I'd know the road system to visit church members, and while we were out together for five hours or so he seemed normal and conversational. As soon as we got back to Newberg and his home, where his father happened to be outside in the front yard, he immediately withdrew and seemed to kind of shut down."

She looked at me pensively. "That's consistent with a pattern of emotional and/or physical abuse and is correlates with the prior incident and what I learned yesterday when I spoke to the mother and both boys. It also implies that abuse started again some time ago and has carried into the present and this most recent event. When I interviewed Jackson, he was reticent to be forthcoming, most abused kids are reticent because they see it as betraying their parents, but eventually he told me enough to confirm that. Susan also reported possible, and she emphasized possible, sexual abuse of the older boy. The second problem is that when I interviewed Gary, it was focused on the physical and emotional abuse Jackson suffered Friday night and that he had experienced from his parents as well—but he seemed to be wanting to tell me more. It was fortunate that the father wasn't in the house because that seemed to free Gary up to be more candid, and when I pressed him he finally seemed to decide it was time to be honest and he told me of sexual abuse inflicted on him by his father as well. That's why, as you may know by now, Bud Harris was taken into custody last night."

I was slow to respond and simply said, "I had no idea, and am shocked. As you know, I've been here less than a week, so I have no prior knowledge and haven't seen enough to draw the most serious conclusions. But you've been told the facts by the boys, so what now?"

"That's where it always gets difficult," she said. "Our top priority is to protect the children, but it's also to try and keep families together to the degree possible. There is both physical evidence of the abuse inflicted on Jackson and well as the medical neglect. We have corroborating testimony from Gary to that effect. We only have the boy's allegations of sexual abuse, so no physical evidence, but when it comes as activity that compounds physical abuse, the courts tend to give a great deal of credit to the children. You're a minister, so I'm going to take a chance here and talk to you more like professional to professional. Do you know that Lilly Harris has a drinking problem in addition to being part of the abuse?"

"Yes," I said, "Jackson mentioned at least twice about his mother's drinking problem."

"Well," Mary continued, "that contributes to her enabling behavior. She is subservient to Bud's domineering personality, and maybe she drinks to cope. Or, maybe she always drank, and she just continued in order to cope. Either way, it's a real problem. Bud is in jail, and he'll stay there unless he can make bond, and either way he's likely to get a prison sentence if Gary's testimony about sexual abuse holds up. It may not. I've seen credible accusations like this fall apart due to lack of corroborating evidence and the perpetrator go free. That may happen. Either way, my job is to protect the children. With Bud out of the house for now, things may improve, especially if we can get Lilly into counseling and an alcohol abuse program. But we've got the care and well being of both boys to worry about. Gary is eighteen and that may be the age of consent, but he's still a minor living at home. Jackson is only seventeen and he's small for his age, but also a minor and the most vulnerable. Pastor Ayers, do you understand where I'm heading here?""

I thought I knew, but wasn't really sure, but most of what she said rang true, so I once again said "Yes, I think so."

Mary then said, "There are a number of legal options that include the state taking the children into custody, placing them in temporary or permanent foster care because there's no immediate family they could be placed with. Foster care means the state legally taking the children out of the home and away from their parents and it pretty much establishes a road to adoption. The other option is guardianship—where both boys are placed with guardians, are removed from the home, but do not at this time go into custody of the state. Guardianship is a planned custody arrangement if we do not consider Lilly to be able to care for the children because of her mental health and the guardians will assume responsibility for a child's care without interference by the State. In terms of keeping the family together and doing what's best for the children, trying to not legally separate the children and keep the mother in the picture is important. Do you think Lilly is able to care for the children alone?"

I paused, the importance of my answer weighing on me. "I don't think I know her well enough to say for certain. I've only known her less than a week, and she certainly seemed both submissive and dominated by her husband. I can only hope that if the cycle is broken, she will improve. Have you asked Susan the same question?"

Mary said simply, "Yes." After a pause she continued, "Here's the situation. We're trying to move quickly so this situation doesn't get bogged down or drawn out in custody court. Bud is out of the family now, whether he remains in jail or is released for whatever reason—he will be barred from interacting with his children. Whatever the cause of Lilly's alcoholism, she's also a victim as are both children. We're trying to keep as much of a family together here as we can. Jackson is young enough, he's the most vulnerable, and they're both minors.. With Bud out of the home, if we can get Lilly into counseling and an alcoholics program it could improve the family dynamic enough that it eventually becomes positive for the boys—or at least neutral and not damaging. So, this is a decision point, foster care or guardianship and legal removal of the children from the family or developing a plan to keep the remaining family together. If we can avoid family separation, we would like to know that the father has been removed, but it depends on us having a high level of confidence that Lilly will comply and improve."

"Susan made clear you have a positive relationship with Jackson, and she and Ellen know both children as well. On top of that, you live close by. Susan and Ellen are concerned enough about the well being of the boys that they offered in their professional capacity to be involved in the family. I guess what I am trying to ascertain is if you feel the same level of concern and involvement, and if you think all of that plus removing the father plus getting family and alcoholic counseling will work?"

I still didn't know how to process the responsibility, so I took my time answering.

Mary looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "You know the old expression about first impressions being correct most of the time? Well, in my experience in this business it's pretty much the same thing. You ask people to do the right thing for other people, especially children, and they know right away if they should or shouldn't, if they can or can't. Can you do this, Rev. Ayers? As I said, we're trying to craft a solution that keeps the children out of court and keeps them out of the foster care system."

That was all I needed to hear. "Yes, I can and will do whatever I can. I'm not a certified counselor, but I have some counseling experience. To your point, Susan has years of formal experiences as a schoolteacher and Ellen is not only a Registered Nurse, but head of the Emergency Room. I have a great deal of confidence in Susan and Ellen's assessment, and if they think this is do-able, then I will concur and do my part. What do I need to do next?"

Mary continued, "there will be financial concerns with the main income earner possibly going to jail, but I understand he owns his own business so perhaps we'll get lucky and the family income won't suffer. What can you do on that front?"

"Well," I replied, "We have an attorney, Spencer Sullivan, on the church board of elders, and though I don't know him well, he has a general law practice here in Newberg, and would certainly be able to step in and address the legal issues. Would you like me to call him today?"

She nodded, "Yes that would be good, but better wait until tomorrow when we have finalized the decisions," and we were silent for a minute. The she said, "On top of that, there are a couple of other details that will have to be dealt with."

"Jeez, what now?" I said to her.

"Well, once you start getting people to be truthful about what's happening in situations like this, often it all comes out. What we learned in the interview with Gary is that while he was being sexually abused by his father, he was also doing it in a way that was trying to protect Jackson."

"What does that mean?" I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about now.

"I think it means that he knew he had no real control over whether it happened to him or not, but he was kind of bargaining with his father that Jackson had to be left alone, or threatening that it could only happen to him, or else. That's all we've learned to far, but it likely explains why Jackson hasn't been sexually abused and may have even gotten a lighter dose of the physical abuse. It's important information because although Gary comes off as sullen and withdrawn, there's a moral conscience in there."

I was incredulous.

"In addition to that, there's more. When we confronted Bud about the physical and sexual abuse, he started with outright denial. Then he admitted to corporal punishment, and when we pressed with what happened to Jackson getting knocked down the stairs and no medical attention he started with the 'my house is my castle' and 'spare the rod' stuff but finally gave up when we pointed out that what he did was illegal whether it was in his castle or not. Then when we started examining him about the sexual abuse of the boys he continued to deny it even though he knew Gary had confessed, but when it came to Jackson he said 'I'd have nothing to do with him because the little bastard's not even my son.' So, it turns out that's true: Bud is not Jackson's father. It appears that Lilly had an affair sixteen years ago, and conceiving Jackson was the result."

"Good grief," I said, "can it get any more complicated?"

Mary grinned. "You think this is a mess? You should read the files on the real complicated and messy family situations we have. However, that piece of information helps explain Lilly's behavior: subservient to Bud, enabling his dominance of the family and drinking to cope. And it explains how Bud treated Jackson as worthless and of no real value."

We both paused for a couple of minutes and let all of this information settle in. Finally, she said, "Rev. Ayers……can I call you David?" I nodded. She went on, "You're doing the right thing. You may barely know this child, but he's in your church and he needs to get out of this oppressive family dynamic and get into one that allows him to blossom. You know, kind of like out of the darkness and into the light? If we can help Lilly and maintain some semblance of family stability, then we've got hope and a good chance. If it doesn't work, then we're facing foster care or guardianship as a next step. What I would like is to have this same conversation with Susan and Ellen this afternoon. If we're all in agreement, then I will meet with Lilly tomorrow sometime and make clear to her what the situation is, the constraints she will be operating under, the types of behavioral changes that will have to occur, the support network she has in you, Susan and Ellen, and the consequences if she does not adjust her parenting style for the benefit of the children. Are you in agreement?"

I nodded. "Yes, I am. Let's get this process underway, and the sooner and the quieter the better. This is going to get out all over town, but the more we can control it, the better for the boys, and longer term the better for Lilly too. It seems to me that if the boys are staying with their mother in that home, and the degree to which we can keep the sexual abuse part out of the public eye the better for all. Do you agree?"

She said she did, but went on, "It will be hard to do but not impossible. It will be part of the court proceedings, and so could become public. Even if some people know, if it doesn't become public knowledge that spreads all over town and school, then that would be beneficial for the family. With that, I'm going to leave now and seen about meeting with Susan and Ellen. I'll be back in touch with you tomorrow, hopefully in the morning. Good day, David."

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