A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 12

After Jackson left, I took a shower, pulled on some clean clothes and sat on the back porch with a cold beer. It had been a grand day on all fronts. We'd had a fun day, spent good time with Susan and Ellen, discussed some substantive matters, gotten closer and enjoyed each other's company and gotten some good quality exercise to boot! What was not to like?

I knew there were a lot of major challenges ahead, but somehow, I believed we could navigate them and come out the other side. At least I was hopeful. If I had to say, in my life I'd never felt more fulfilled or satisfied, or happy. Those were hard feelings to argue with, and I was pretty sure I wasn't deceiving myself. It may have begun ten days ago with something akin to infatuation, but it had quickly become something else, and was finally beginning to resolve itself into yet another thing—that I was in love with a person in a way I'd never thought possible. Yes, that person happened to be a seventeen-year-old boy, but that's what the situation was. I realized I was reveling in the bliss arising form the end of a perfect day, and decided it was time to think about some supper and polishing off my sermon.

I had the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned up by 7:30 PM and wandered into my office starting to think sermon. This Sunday's Gospel passage continued the readings in the Gospel of Luke and was the Martha and Mary passage in Chapter 10. Like the Good Samaritan passage, the week before, this was one that could almost be considered a classic and that meant most people already thought they knew what it meant, whether they did or not. I'd done my exegesis earlier, made sure I understood the key words in the original Greek, so I had a solid sense of what the author was trying to say and what message he was trying to convey to the reader.

Just as was the case with the Good Samaritan passage, I was struck with the contrasts that are so obvious in the passage that they are easy to miss: one sister sitting and listening to Jesus teaching, and the other distracted and missing the most important thing taking place. How like us humans so much of the time. I finalized my sermon notes, read over the order of service in the Bulletin and felt I was ready for my second Sunday service. I knew I could count on Susan to have the choir ready with the hymns, so I set my service materials aside and headed upstairs for a good night's sleep. I could feel my calf and thigh muscles as I climbed the stairs and reminded myself that I would need to ride my bicycle more regularly to stay in shape….and be able to keep up with Jackson.

I was up at the usual time on Sunday, did my morning ablutions and slipped on my clerical clothing, then headed downstairs to start the coffee. I decided on a light breakfast and was just finishing up when Jackson came up the drive on his bike, and then in the back door with my Sunday paper. I looked up and smiled, and he grinned sunnily.

"Geez, Rev, you look so formal and all compared to yesterday! You looked so sexy in those shorts you wore on the bike ride!"

"Well, it is the Sabbath, you know. And, I've got to work today while most of the rest of you can call it a day of rest and lounge around or go to church if you choose."

He shot right back, "Going to church is still no option for me. Mom made it clear we're going. Maybe it won't be so much like being in the penalty box, though, without Bud there. That is, of course, as long as the music is good, and the sermon isn't too boring! I'm not so sure I'd be going if it was up to me!" He was pouring himself a cup of coffee by this time.

"Help yourself to breakfast too, Lover Boy. I only had cereal and toast, but you're welcome to what you want."

"I'll have the same, then I won't have to clean up pans," he said pulling down a bowl. "And I don't know if I'm going to let you call me Lover Boy any more after last night."

"What?" As soon as I said it, I knew it was a set up and figured out where it was going.

"I mean, how can you call me Lover Boy when you told me I couldn't come over last night. That meant no love. You know, no love hurts. You remember the Nazareth song, don't you? Their point was that "love hurts," and I'm here to tell you that no love hurts too."

He's set his bowl of cereal and coffee on the table and as he sat down, I reached over and hugged him and then gave him a kiss. "You know that not being here last night doesn't mean I don't love you. I'm betting I missed you as much as you missed me. Am I right?"

He tried to act serious and a little petulant, but then grinned and said "Yeah, I'm guessing we were both equally miserable."

It felt like he wanted to say more, so I urged him, "What? You wanted to say something else."

He paused and after the grin disappeared from his face, he said, "You were right, it may have saved our bacon. When I got up to do my paper route, Gary was up in the bathroom. That never happens, he always sleeps like a log till he wakes up for the day. If I'd met him coming out of the bathroom when I was coming up the stairs, that could have been a catastrophe!"

"You're right," I said quietly, "that was close then. Believe me, I had no premonition, but just know we've got to be careful. If we are then we can do this, and we can make it. I want us to have a life together, but that won't happen if this blows up on us in the next month or year or whatever."

"You're so right about that." he replied. "So, are you all ready for church? Good sermon? Is it going to match last week's?"

I paused and then said, "I don't know. That one might be hard to beat. Still you know, with sermons you're supposed to help people understand the text and apply it in their lives, so you really can't do a side by side or week to week comparison. It's not about performance."

"Well, Rev, trust me, that's what all the folks in the pews will be doing. They'll be asking if it was as good as last Sunday. Were the illustrations as good? Is he slipping already after just two weeks?" He was grinning again now, and I knew he was just giving me grief.

"Yeah, right! Well, those doing that kind of comparative analysis are in for some depressed Sundays because what they're after is each one better than the last, and it doesn't happen that way! The texts change, and so does the delivery and ……well, you know all of this. Tell me, why are we having this conversation? Are you trying to get me all riled up before the service?"

"No way, Rev. I'm just trying to help, you know, keep you on your toes." He'd managed to finish the cereal by now and took his last swig of coffee. "Okay, I'd better get home. If I'm too late Mom will be quizzing me. She thinks it's kind of cool that I can come in and have a cup of coffee with you after my paper route, so that helps."

He got up and gave me a kiss and headed for the door. "See you in church." He smiled as he left.

What he'd just told me made my point about caution, and even though we'd just stumbled onto one of the potential discovery points, the odds were good sooner or later that Gary or whoever was up early in the Harris house would see him coming in instead of going out, and then what? All we could do was be cautious and try and anticipate. I rinsed the dishes and headed into the office to pick up my sermon notes and the bulletins and get organized to leave.

Preparation for the service went smoothly, and Susan was there early to make sure there were no problems, and much to my surprise the church was three quarters full. I figured there was a good chance it would fall off by half after the first sermon was out of the way. Who knows, maybe the attendance would hold up!

We moved through the service in normal fashion with good congregational participation, the choir sang well for the hymns, and when we came to the Scripture readings, I took a moment to explain that my preference was to follow a lexicon. That laid out the readings for the year, and essentially cycled through Gospel and Epistle readings. It also meant ministers couldn't always choose their favorite passage to preach on, they were kept on their toes, and more importantly over time the congregation was exposed to a much larger hearing of the New Testament than just the standard well-known passages. That was why this Sunday's Gospel lesson was also from Luke, as the lexicon I was following was currently in the Lukan section.

Today's Gospel was Luke 10: 38-42, the very familiar Mary and Martha passage that most people recall as one sister choosing teaching over the other's choice of housekeeping. At one level that's true, but there are some interesting elements in the passage that people tend to miss or not understand. I started by pointing out the cultural elements. First, the place of women in Jewish society and within a Jewish home, and that hospitality was very important in the culture. Thus, it's not a surprise that Martha would busy herself with what likely was preparing a meal of some sort. Even today Middle Eastern cultures strongly emphasize this type of hospitality and it's hard to visit someone's home without being served food and drink and to refuse it is almost an insult. I knew this from the time with my family overseas. Second, the fact that Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to the instruction to his followers meant she was focused on the Good News, on his teaching.

The passage almost gives the impression that Martha had taken the poorer path given that Jesus says to her "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part." Martha likely had, because the verb form says Martha was "distracted," and that meant she was overlooking the most important aspect of hospitality—gracious attention to the guest. So, there is a message here about prioritization and being able to discern what is most important and to focus on that, and yes, in this case teaching about the Kingdom is more important than housekeeping.

What is usually missed, though, is the obvious but blatant fact that Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet and listening. If you draw back from that setting, what would you see? You'd likely have seen Jesus surrounded by a group of male followers and Mary likely the only woman in the group. That's a fact that is equally striking because at the time, in Judea like the rest of the Mediterranean world, women had no civil rights and were, in fact, chattel—that is owned by their husband. If you just peeked in a synagogue, you'd have seen the women in the rear, behind a screen, separated from the men, because their position and role was secondary. They could listen but not be active participants in worship services. So, the striking thing is that she is accepted not just by Jesus but by the other followers and allowed to join the teaching group and participate.

The point I wanted to make was about acceptance. This, like the Good Samaritan parable, was also a teaching about accepting The Other. In this case, accepting a woman into what was normally a male setting, just as in the Good Samaritan parable the Jew who had been robbed was accepted and cared for by a Samaritan, an outsider considered a second-class citizen. Accepting people for who and what they are, as human beings, is critically important. Just as we have to be able and willing to let down our barriers and communicate with other people, we have to be able to accept them for who they are and accept them into our circles especially if they seem to be different.

So, the point is that if we want to be like Jesus, we can't just limit it to the things we like or are attracted to. He defended the woman taken in adultery. He healed the leper, he interacted mainly with people who were lower class or outcasts in Jewish society, and here he was accepting a woman in his circle of students. All these were The Others and He accepted them. My illustration was a "wanted poster" for Jesus Christ that I remembered seeing a few years previously, styled like an outlaw wanted poster from the old West. It said at the top "Wanted Dead or Alive: Jesus Christ" with a picture. Then it went on to detail the charges against him: Sedition, Criminal Anarchy, Vagrancy and Conspiracy to overthrow the Government.

Then below it detailed the crimes: "dresses poorly, said to be a carpenter by trade, ill nourished, has visionary ideas, associates with common people, the unemployed and bums, Alien, believed to be a Jew." It went on to list his claims to be the "Prince of Peace, Son of Man, etc.

But my question to the congregation went back to did you hear "associates with common people, the unemployed and bums. An Alien?" He accepted The Other. Do you? Do we? Isn't now a good time to start? Of course, what I couldn't in good faith add to the list of others was homosexuals, because that wasn't in the text, but it sure was in my mind.

When the service ended, I processed to the entrance and stood at the door greeting parishioners and saying goodbye. Most of the comments were general, "Good sermon, Pastor," or "Nice job today." They were the type that made you wonder if the speaker had really been listening. A few, like Spencer Sullivan's were more pointed: "that interpretation makes it much more challenging, doesn't it, Pastor." At least he seemed to be thinking of the implications. I thanked him and told him I'd be calling him the next day. When Lilly and the boys came by, she was quite upbeat, "That was a very moving sermon, Pastor. Thank you. It gives us a lot to think about." Gary said nothing and kind of smiled. I looked at Jackson and he smiled and commented, "The point about not seeing people as outsiders and accepting them is pretty strong. I'm guessing it's lots harder to actually do than it is to talk about. Where do we start?"

I was pretty certain he was being serious, not asking a rhetorical question, so I answered, "That's where the challenge lies for us all. Our normal behavior, what we're conditioned to do is to act tribal, and to exclude those outside the tribe or who don't meet certain standards we set. It takes a lot of work to get past that. Not to worry though, it's a process that happens over time."

I turned to Lilly and said. "It's great to see you and the boys at church. I'll check in with you tomorrow afternoon and see how the day has gone." She smiled and then left the church, heading for home.

After the last parishioners had said goodbye, I headed to the community hall to join those there and have a much-needed cup of coffee. Susan and Ellen were standing across the room, and I headed over cup in hand. "Susan, the choir sounded very good today. Strong and enthusiastic."

She smiled, and said, "When the message is positive it's easy to be that way. They're more enthusiastic because the service is better." I smiled and demurred. Ellen jumped right in, "Susan's right, Pastor, and she's not being patronizing. The services have been very good, and people are upbeat about it."

I thanked them both and changed the subject to tomorrow. Susan said she'd already told Lilly she would check in during the day to see how the in-home therapy session went. I nodded and told her I appreciated their involvement. We chatted a few more minutes and they asked how the trail ride had gone at the part. I filled them in and then I thanked them for being such gracious hostesses and for suggesting the park to us—we'd both enjoyed it and managed to have a good ride and not get sunburned! A couple of minutes later I took my leave and headed home.

A quick lunch and I was ready for an equally quick nap. I woke up knowing what I needed to do next and walked into the office and called Paul Gallagher. When he answered I apologized for having called him during the work week last time, and unannounced to boot, when he might have had clients. He said not to worry, if there was a scheduling conflict, he'd let me know. He then directly asked, "So, how are things going with your first family intervention crises?"

I filled him in on the developments since we first spoke, most importantly that the CPS had arranged for in-home therapy and that began the next day. He was positive about that as having a good chance of getting the remaining family members back on track and working together. I also told him I'd had a one-on-one with the boys and encouraged them to actively participate and not be hands off, and that it was for their own good. He was positive about that too.

He then asked, "So how is the relationship going with the younger boy?" I tried to be honest and still maintain a distance from the personal emotion as I told him about the bicycle ride, the plan of having him as a counselor for church camp and helping him and Gary get a lawn mowing business going. I then said, "I shared with him your comment about Presbyterians still considering homosexuality as a depraved sin, and we discussed that in some detail as the doctrinal foundation for hatred and you won't believe what he asked me." He simply said, "Go on."

"Well, he just asked why we're still Presbyterians or even Christians if that's the way it is. I was floored. I didn't know what to say to that."

Paul was quiet for a minute, and then replied, "Well, I'm liking your friend. He appears to be a pretty sharp kid, at least in terms of connecting the implications. Now I have to ask you how you are doing and where you are on the potential realization we talked about before, about being gay yourself."

There was the ton of bricks. I wasn't going to dodge it, as helpful as he was being. "Paul, I'm now pretty certain that I'm gay, and I can't believe I've been so out of touch with myself, but I've never felt the way I feel about him with anybody before, and I've never felt so happy or fulfilled. I'm still kind of in shock by it all."

He didn't act surprised at all. "As I said before, David, admitting it is half the battle, and it means you can start doing the work to understand why you're in the situation you are in. By that I mean why you feel out of touch about it, and what caused you to be in denial and what the implications of all that are. You're already working on the last point if you're having discussions about the doctrine of depraved sin being the basis of the hate. That means you're dealing with the implications, and I hope you know it's not just theory. It's real. Ultimately that's what's behind what Anita Bryant is doing in Florida, you know."

I didn't want to sound dumb, but had to say, "I don't know anything about that. What are you talking about?"

He replied, "Maybe you've been out of touch with graduation, ordination, the relocation to Oregon and all, but she's launched a campaign in Florida called 'Save the Children' aimed to overturn a local ordinance in Dade County that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. She's against gay rights, and she launched a campaign to overturn them wherever they exist in the country and the argument is that we're a threat to children. Notice the name, which implies all homosexuals are pederasts and pedophiles! So, she's an evangelical Christian, and clearly what's behind that is a warped theology and it's built on the doctrine of depravity and she's fanning the fires with scare tactics. That's why the United Church of Christ came out just this month with a resolution on it, condemning it."

"Wow, I had no idea, but what do you mean it's a warped theology? And tell me more about this resolution" was all I could say. He suggested I start reading the paper or watching the news to stay current. "This is serious, brother, it could get out of control. It almost feels like the less progressive evangelicals and fundamentalists starting a counter campaign and they're using us as the scapegoats. It's serious, David, a gay man was beaten to death in San Francisco of all places, just last month. Don't overlook the fact that her argument is we're a threat to children, and the relationship you're having is with an underage boy."

"As to warped theology, you'll remember from Seminary that there are very few, as in almost no, verses in the Bible that deal with homosexuality, in fact that isn't a word that appears in Aramaic or Hebrew. There's some interesting different interpretations that go back a long time in the Mishnah, the Jewish oral tradition of teaching by rabbis. You went to Yale but graduated before John Boswell was hired in 1975. His first book was about the Mujedar Muslims in Aragon, but then he started researching homosexuality in the early church. He had a pretty unique approach, publicly speaking and lecturing on the material he was researching as he did the work and developed his material. I only mention it because I have a friend who's on faculty at Yale and he's attended Boswell's lectures and keeps me up to date, and his report is that the argument is basically that the Roman Catholic Church didn't condemn homosexuality until late, like the twelfth century, and that likely means the same for the church in the East, although the formal split didn't happen until the mid 15th century. If he's right, then it makes the case that for the first millennium the Church pretty well accepted the previous Roman and Greek cultural view that sex was sex and gay sex was just one variation on a theme. And so, what is now being interpreted as anti-homosexual teaching in the Bible is a relatively late interpretation that can't be supported Biblically."

"Anyway, not to get off track. You also asked about the UCC resolution. It is called a 'Resolution Deploring the Violation of Civil Rights of Gay and Bisexual Persons,' and it points out that the UCC has a position on ending discrimination due to sexual preference, and specifically points out the recent increase in violation of gay rights in the name of Christianity. It goes on to deplore the use of Scripture to generate hatred and violation of gay person's civil rights and calls on the entire UCC to work for civil rights legislation at all levels of government."

I was silent, "How could I not know about this?"

"That's easy, it hasn't been on your radar screen but now it is. I want you to understand the scope of what's happening and that this is a very real issue in our society today. But let's not get off subject here. I didn't mean any of this as an insult or a challenge, just as a dose of realism. I'm certain the statistics on pedophilia show that adult men on underage girls far outnumbers gay men on underage boys, but if this movement takes off no one will care, all they'll remember is "gays are a threat to our children, and of course that means boys. And they'll work to remove civil rights for gays and lesbians. So, tell me about your relationship with Jackson. Is it physical?"

"Well, yeah, I mean, uhm…." I stammered. He interrupted me, "David, I'm not asking for the graphic details."

"Then yes, it's gotten physical, but like I said before really no more than petting."

"And how are you handling that, I mean not just as a man coming to grips with your own sexuality but also the fact that you're a minster?"

This wasn't easy. "I don't know, Paul. I'm still processing it all. Like I said, it starts with almost feeling like I'm waking up, and having to come to grips with being gay and at the same time having this new and overwhelming feeling of being in love. One side of my brain wants to say it would be the same regardless of his gender, but I know that's not true because we're physical. And it has gone no further than, then, uhm mutual masturbating. There, now you know! And I know what sodomy is and I have no intention of letting it go that far. But it's so intense: the feelings, the emotions, and situation. I sometimes feel like I'm going to explode."

"Alright, listen up. None of that is a surprise given the situation you're in. You've just got to work it through and be careful. Don't get the impression that I endorse pedophilia or sex with underage children generally, but I'm struck by your situation—coming to the realization of your own sexuality because of the love between you and this teenager who is almost of age. None of that would absolve you in a court of law, though, so as I said you have to be extremely careful. But if this is really and truly the love of your life, then you have to cherish it and you have to nurture it and you also have to do the work on your situation because you owe that to yourself and to Jackson."

I didn't know what to say to that. Finally, I said, "Paul, I'm so thankful to have you in my life. I don't know what I'd do in this situation if I wasn't able to talk to you."

"Thanks for saying that, but that's what we're here for. We're brothers in more ways than one. I think this is enough heavy material for now, but don't be bashful and call when you need to. If I'm busy or there's a conflict I'll just let you know, it's that easy."

"One more question, if I may?" He said sure. "You just said the work I have to do on my situation. Can you help me be more specific about that?"

"That's easy, David. You repressed your sexuality for a reason. You need to understand why. It's probably no coincidence that you also became religious and chose to go into the ministry, and you need to explore that too. The simple answer 'I felt a call to the ministry' doesn't cut it. You need to really look at your motivations. Does that help?"

"It does, but sadly doesn't make it any easier. Ah well, that's life I suppose—no pain, no gain."

He laughed and said, "God bless and stay in touch."

I hung up the phone and just sat there for a while thinking about what we'd just discussed. I felt like I'd been hit with a blunt instrument. I was worried that the two things Paul challenged me about, that my repressed sexuality and my becoming religious were more connected than I'd ever wanted to admit. Then there were the things I'd been discussing with Jackson: absentee father, family dynamics, being an outsider. Were they all connected together? I just sat in thought for a while, and then I did something that surprised me. I got up and walked into the living room and knelt down in front of the bookshelves with my sci-fi library, hunted through the books and found The Heritage of Hastur and sat down to read. I figured I had thirty minutes to an hour before Jackson came over.

I was still sitting in the living room reading when Jackson walked in the back door in the middle of the afternoon. I looked up as he walked in the living room, watched him stroll across to the couch, and anticipated the kiss as he leaned over and bent down while saying "Hi, my Sexy Man." It felt like bliss. Relief and connection and peace and passion all rolled into one simple action. I put the book down and put my arms around his shoulders and hugged him, pulling him to me and down onto the couch. We hugged and then he rolled over laying on the couch with his head in my lap. "How are you," he whispered?

I smiled and said, "I'm fine," knowing that was an understatement. I saw him wiggling, and then he reached under his back and pulled out a book. "What's this? Oh! Why are you reading The Heritage of Hastur? I thought you told me you already read it."

I kissed his forehead and said, "I have read it but that was a couple of years ago. I had a long phone call with my friend Paul Gallagher this afternoon. You remember I told you I knew him in seminary, and he's a psychologist and gay? Well, it was pretty heavy and a lot of it was him telling me the work I've got to do, especially on my own sexuality. Afterward I was sitting in the office just thinking about what he said, and I suddenly thought about Regis Hastur and the dynamics in the book, and I wondered if I was remembering it correctly and if it could help."

"Wow, that's pretty radical. You mean you didn't reach for the Bible?" He smiled as he said it and I knew he wasn't being accusatory.

"No, if for no other reason than Paul reminded me there's almost no mention of homosexuality in the Bible. How's that for a new fact! A subject about which we've got a whole doctrine of depravity and it's hardly mentioned. Anyway, I stated reading this and got through the first hundred pages or so, and some of it blew my mind. I mean, first off like you said last week, it is a society on another world that accepts or at least tolerates homosexuality. That's pretty different than our society, but you know what, it wasn't always that way here. Before Christianity there wasn't hetero vs. homo when it comes to sex. There was just sex. This was true in ancient Greece and most ancient civilizations.

"So anyway, in Darkover homosexuality is accepted or maybe tolerated even though it was preferred to marry and have children, but there was plenty of homosexuality in the society. So, do you remember the main characters, Regis Hastur and Lew Alton? Regis was royalty but repressed and hung up, and Lew was half human and telepathic but knew exactly what he was." I stopped to make sure Jackson was tracking with me. He nodded.

I went on, "Well, by the end of the book I remember that Regis discovered it wasn't just his telepathy ability that was repressed, but also his homosexuality. Do you remember that?"

Jackson nodded, like he was replaying the story in his head, "Yeah, and then he reconciled with his friend Danilo, the one he had the crush on, when he got his stuff all sorted out, right?"

"Yep, at the end. But here's what just blew my mind, in terms of where we are and what we're sorting out, and it's at the beginning of the book when Regis and Lew are re-establishing their relationship. Remember that Regis is going into the Cadet Guard with Danilo and Lew is older and already an officer?"

He nodded, "I'm with you. Go on."

"So, at that stage Regis and Lew are figuring out their relationship after being childhood friends but not seeing each other for years, Lew tries to read Regis' mind telepathically, and he's blown away because what he encounters is not just a block. I reached for the book, turned to the marked page and read, 'but 'an overwhelming sense of desolation and loneliness. Regis had built a barrier, a locked defense, a blank wall, that cut off almost all of his potential.' He'd blocked his personal potential so completely that Lew, with the gift of telepathy can't penetrate that block. Meanwhile, Lew is a bastard, half human and half Darkover, and he's in a love/hate relationship with his father."

"See, here he says about his father 'I faced the torture of knowing that, as deeply as I loved my father, I hated him too. Hated him for making me bastardized, half-caste, alien, belonging nowhere.' Then while he recalls his own misery, he looks at Regis and realizes he's suffering just as much but for different reasons."

Jackson was silent, just listening. His facial expression was blank. I stopped and then said, "Look, I'm not trying to make out that this sci-fi novel is some psychology textbook with all the answers, just that it contains an illustration that might help us both get at our issues. I mean, we both have father image problems, right? I'm more like Regis—emotionally shut down with a solid barrier to stop all feelings from getting through, and you're more like Lew—in this miserable bastard position and hating your father."

I leaned down and kissed his forehead. "I'm sorry for calling you a bastard. Think of it as a figure of speech since I'm using it in the way it's used in the book."

He looked me straight in the eyes. "No worry, I kind of connected with the bastard part when I read the book, knowing just how different I am from Bud, you know not just in looks but in personality. So, it kind of got me wondering. But then the weird thing is that Lew's not gay, but Regis is, so I was also thinking I'm gay just like Regis. Is that strange or what?"

I breathed a sign of relief. "Yeah, that's weird, and the point is just that we've got a literary example that might hep us work though our shit. You know what I mean." He nodded.

"I don't know what it means," I went on, "but I've got to sort out the father figure role in all of this. Paul basically implied that repressing my homosexuality and my religious motivation were tied together, so I've got to figure that out. On the other hand, you got handed a whole new piece of info last week, that Bud isn't your father. You haven't said anything about it, but I have to think you're thinking about it. Am I right? Fortunately, we have each other to help sort this stuff out, right?"

I grinned and leaned over and kissed him again. He reached up and wrapped his arms around my neck and hugged me tight. "Yeah, Rev, we've both got each other to help sort out our shit. By the way, what's a minister doing talking about 'sorting out their shit? That doesn't sound too ministerial to me!" He was laughing now.

"You're right there, Lover Boy. Nothing ministerial about that. But it sure is real. That's what I want to be from now on. I want to be real. And I want us to be real together."

He quipped, "I'm all for that. But, Rev, I've got to ask what you remember about the end of the book, about where Regis and Dani end up and how they got there? Do you remember that?"

I looked at him blankly, and had to say, "No, I'm ashamed to say I don't. Just from what I've reread this afternoon I'm pretty sure I read the entire book the first time with a filter on. I saw it as some kind of feudal society on a different planet with all their hierarchies and protocols and hang ups and managed to use that as an excuse to avoid the social and personal commentaries. I mean I knew that Bradley had created a society in her novel that included homosexuality, but it was just a thing. It didn't apply to me. Like you said last week, I was out of it and didn't make any of the practical applications that could have helped me personally."

"Well," he said, smiling, "don't get all hung up over that. The good news is that they both sort it out and when they resolved their problems and come together it's pretty cool. You'll have to reread the whole book now, Rev."

I was looking straight down into his eyes and replied, "I will, because I think it's important for both of us—especially for me. But I also want you to know that even though we haven't talked about it, I'm here for you to help sort out what it means not to be Bud's son."

"Well, honestly," he said, "that's what I've been worrying about with the in-home therapy. Mom's going to have to work through her stuff, Gary will have to work through the abuse, and then it'll come to me and I'll have to deal with the invisible kid stuff and having no father."

"Not true," I said to him. "You do have a father; you just don't know who it is. What you now know that is liberating is that Bud isn't that father. It's painful and sad, but it's also a relief, isn't it?"

He just smiled and I could see the green glint in his hazel eyes, and they seemed to radiate love and acceptance. I could see this going on for the rest of my life.

"Yes, it is, but I don't know if I'm up for a whole bunch of counseling about it. Anyway, Rev, that's all important and stuff, but what I want to know is if you're going to make up tonight for what you did last night. You remember, don't you, you denied me love last night. That wasn't very nice. I've been in pain all day long. You're not going to do that again are you? Don't you think you owe it to us to make that up?"

He tried hard to be serious and keep a straight face, but the longer he went on the harder it was, and it turned into a smile, then a big smile, then a grin, and then he lost it and started laughing. "Come on Rev, I need you. You know I want to get it on, and you do too."

I grinned back and rolled my eyes. "No self-control, is that it?"

"That's right, Rev. Very little of that in this body, and I'm not seeing much more in yours. I can feel you getting hard here, right under my head. Seriously, I need you. I've got to go home for dinner in a little while, but I'll be lonely all evening and I need you. Can I come to you later?"

He was using my term against me now, but truth be known there was no huge argument to be waged here. "I told you I missed you as much as you missed me, so yes. But be careful, especially after what happened with Gary."

"No worries, Rev." And he leaned up and kissed me again. Ah, the invincibility of youth!

We just talked for a while. I asked him what the vibes were at home about the in-home therapy starting the next day. He said his Mom was pretty business like about it. Like 'the therapist will be here at 11:00 AM. I want you both here and on good behavior,' like that. I told him not to be surprised, since this was a pretty big undertaking for her. He said she'd also enrolled in an Alcoholics Anonymous program in town and that was going to meet two nights a week. He and Gary had talked about her staying off the booze and were impressed – almost a week with no back sliding. He said they both thought it pretty weird that as soon as Bud was out of the picture, Lilly could stop drinking with no problem. "That says a lot, doesn't it," he asked?

I just nodded. "I'll be seeing Spencer, the attorney, tomorrow, and he planned on visiting Bud in jail in the morning, so maybe there'll be some news. I'm glad to hear your Mom seems pretty solid about all of this. How are you and Gary handling the likelihood of them getting a divorce?"

He said, "We think it's way overdue, and how easy it was for her to stop drinking kind of confirms that. Anyway, she's way better to be around, and life at home is not a study in pain anymore. But there's a change—she's real quiet and subdued, and it almost seems like she doesn't feel well all the time. By the way, Spencer told me at church that he'd talked to a few other people about mowing their lawns, so he's helping us recruit customers. How cool is that? I've got a list and have to contact them tomorrow and see if they're serious."

I grinned at him. "You'll have the biggest mowing business in town at this rate, especially if you get fancy professionals like lawyers and ministers to do the recruiting for you!" He snickered at that and jabbed me in the ribs. I asked him how he thought Gary was doing.

"I guess he's doing Okay, what do you mean?"

"Well" I replied, "since the blow up and Bud's departure you and I have developed this relationship. We're happy and spend time together. You and I both have a new friend that's really important. Neither of us are alone. Gary doesn't have that, does he?"

Jackson thought a minute and then said, "No, you're right. He's really only got one friend; you know the guy he helped overhaul his bike. That's it. So, he probably is lonely. I'm kind of feeling bad for him now that you say that. Should I be doing something?"

I smiled at him. "I think you are by mowing lawns with him. You're spending time together doing something constructive and earning money. That's positive. If you get a bunch more customers that can take a lot of time. Susan told me he used to play football till Bud kind of shut down his activities. Maybe if he gets in shape this summer his attitude and self image will improve. Maybe you should kind of carefully talk to him about that. He needs something productive and enjoyable to fill his life. You can help there."

"Okay, I get it, and I will. We've never been that close but working together gives us common time and the opportunity to talk and stuff, so I'll feel him out. What are your plans for this week?"

"Well, I plan on having a formal meeting in the morning with my number one potential candidate for senior counselor for church camp. Then I have to meet with Spencer in the afternoon and after that I plan on checking in with your mother. Then as much of a roller coaster as the last week was, I thought I'd just be flexible for the following few days and see what happens. Maybe I'll even be able to get back to starting to meet the parishioners. Do you remember that's what we were going to do way back when, last week?"

"Yeah, I remember. When that starts, it'll fit around the lawn mowing, unless we get tons of new customers. And who's this 'number one potential candidate' you have a meeting with in the morning? Do I know him?" He was grinning again. "I don't have any meetings scheduled that I know of."

"You don't," I said, acting surprised, "Gee I'm certain I booked a meeting in the morning with this highly qualified candidate. You must know him. He's very smart and eloquent, and especially handsome, and all the kids look up to him. He told me he'd be here around 9:00 am."

"Yeah, right?" He was still grinning. "Why do we need a meeting?"

"That's easy. I've done this before, and you haven't. We need to talk through how it works, what the responsibilities are, we need to decide on the outside activities, all that kind of stuff. I thought if you came over for breakfast after your paper delivery then we could clean up and go into the office and get that done. Is that Okay with you?"

He smiled and nodded and kissed me. "Works for me, but you may find out that me as counselor doesn't work for you!"

I wasn't going to let him run with this. "My hunch is that you're going to be surprised, but I can't convince you by argument, you're just going to have to do it and then do an assessment afterwards. You told me you'd do it, so that's the plan! Have you thought anymore about the two other counselors?"

He paused, "Yeah, I think Susan had a good idea when she suggested I reconnect with Will Summers. You remember, we used to hang around a lot when we were younger. It's kind of embarrassing though. I mean, what do I say. 'Sorry I let you down when I dropped off the planet, but my stepfather was a total asshole and turned out to get arrested for child abuse. But, now I'm back!' Like that's gonna fly!"

I stroked his hair. "Just ease into it. You don't need to do the dramatics. Tell him what you need to tell him, no more. If he is a friend, a real friend, he'll understand. He may have gone through a difficult period too and you may find it's not all you. You never know."

I glanced at the clock and it was coming up on 5:00 PM. "Listen, Lover Boy, you're going to have to get home shortly. What do you do in your spare time these days? Do you have any unread books over there?"

He shook his head. "I've been meaning to go to the library but haven't gotten around to it. I haven't had the cash to buy books, but that's about to change with the mowing, so I've been borrowing from the library…when I have the time. You know, the last week or so has been kinda' hectic."

"Right," I replied, "so I'm going to suggest that you start reading. And specifically read some of the historical novels by Mary Renault. She's a British writer who lives in South Africa but has written some classics. Most, but not all deal with homosexuality, and the one I'd recommend you start with is called "The King Must Die." It's ancient Greek mythology – kind of like a back story to the myth of Theseus that helps to explain how this person became a mythological hero. Unlike The Heritage of Hastur, the main character isn't gay, but the homosexuality was part of ancient Greek society and he tolerates those of his companions who are gay and lesbian. Anyway, my idea is you read them, and I really think you'll enjoy them, and then we can discuss the book like a book club. If you want." I grinned at him and wiggled my eyebrows.

He grinned back and agreed. We got off the couch and I went over to the bookshelf with the historical novels and pulled that one out. "Okay, Jackson, here you go. No rush, your schedule. Enjoy it, and then we'll discuss. Is that a deal?"

He said, "It's a deal if you give me a deep passionate kiss before I leave." He was smirking now.

I grinned back and said, "That I can do," and pulled him into and embrace and we started to kiss. It started out sensuous and was quickly passionate and then I tried to kind of tip him back, like you see guys do to girls in the movies, kind of hold them in your arms while they're laid back on one leg. That's when I discovered you're holding a lot of weight in your arms when you do that, and it's very hard to keep up an active passionate kiss when you're holding all that weight. Somehow your tongue stops working as you start holding the load.

We managed though, and when we were done Jackson had the grin back on his face. "Jeez, Rev, you keep surprising me. I didn't know you had it in you. I thought you were this repressed and subdued minister but now you're turning out to be a passionate lover."

I decided no to take the bait. "Listen, Lover Boy, if that's a problem for you, just let me know. It seems to me that you're the cause of the problem, so if we need to make some adjustments here you just let me know and I'll dial it down."

He smiled demurely and said, "Yeah, right!" Then he gave me a quick kiss and headed for the door with a parting "See you tonight, my Sexy Man."

Supper was pretty simply—it usually is when you're cooking for yourself. I'd finished the dishes and was deciding maybe I'd read a little more of The Heritage of Hastur when the phone rang. I fully expected it to be Susan checking in about tomorrow, but it was Fr. Stephen.

"Greetings, brother," I said, "how good to hear your voice and thanks for calling me. I appreciate hearing from you."

"Well," he replied, "it's been almost a week and given you got your first counseling or intervention crisis in your first week in the parish I thought it only right to make sure all was well, including you. How is it going, how are you? And, importantly, now that you've got two Sundays under your belt, how did the second sermon go?"

"It went well, I think as well as the first one," I began, "and if there's a reason it's because I followed your advice about trying to stay practical and relevant, and that meant for today's Gospel lesson instead of the standard approach to Mary and Martha I took the approach that Mary was the outsider, the only woman in a circle of men, but apparently a woman accepted into that circle even if she was societally an outsider. I got enough comments afterwards that I think the majority got the message about accepting The Other. What was the exegetical approach in your parish today?"

"It was the standard one about separation of roles, hospitality in the home and following the teachings of the Kingdom trumping household duties. I mean, that's part of the passage but as your approach shows, it's not the only message there."

"Steve, I also owe you a debt of gratitude. I took your advice and called Paul Gallagher and we've had two long conversations, one just this afternoon. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's becoming my therapist! I mean that in a positive way, but at any rate he was very practical and real helpful about the situation I'm in, about maintaining distance between my feelings and the family situation, and most importantly about guiding me in the work I've got to do to sort out my own problems and hang ups." I stopped there to see what Steve would say.

He paused, as if deciding how to proceed, then said, "Paul was always a very capable and thoughtful person, and a very competent therapist. I don't think you can go wrong with his direction. You were beginning to tell me about your personal realizations and the younger boy in the family in crisis." Clearly, he was looking to me to tell him, and I was thankful he wasn't going to do the third degree.

"Well, Paul didn't beat around the bush, but cut right to the chase and forced me to describe my feelings, and we discussed the implications and, and…. uhm, I've got a lot of work to do. I told you enough last week for you to figure out I'm suddenly having to address the question of whether I'm gay or not. And that leads to the next question about my relationship with the younger boy. But it's crazy because while on the one hand I feel like I'm having to deal with all this stuff I should have dealt with ten years ago and why I didn't, on the other I've never felt like this about anyone ever. I mean, Jackson was over here this afternoon and we talked about books and music and he's going to be a counselor for summer church camp, and we just click and I can be open and honest and, and, uhm, I don't know….I don't mean to go on and on."

"Dave," he said, "can I tell you something?" I muttered yes or sure. "We're friends, but you were never that emotive or expressive. I always seemed like you had a lid on. Don't get me wrong, I care for you as a friend and a brother, but that's different—you know what I mean? Now you sound different, like you've connected with some emotional center inside you that you weren't in touch with before. That's a wonderful thing, Okay?"

I was quiet for a while. "Thank you, Steve. I worried you'd automatically judge me and condemn me. This is all new to me."

"I know it is, and it's terrific that it's happening. I'd be saying the same kind of things if it was a young lady as opposed to a young man. Getting internally and personally reconnected is good and healthy and something you needed to do. I hope Paul can help you sort through the causes and get good resolution about them. All that said, like we discussed last week, you still have to be very cautious. Questions about homosexuality may be going on in the church and society, but that's far from acceptance, and I wouldn't want you to get hurt—personally or legally."

"And I appreciate that too," I replied, "more than I can say. I hope you know how important it is to have someone like you I can talk to as a friend. What I'm going through challenges most of the framework I was raised with, and I can't imagine where I'd be today if I hadn't had you and Paul to talk to over the last week."

"That's what I'm here for," he said quietly. "You wouldn't know this, but I have a younger cousin who is gay and went through a lot of what you're describing, and I was fortunate enough that he trusted me enough to talk. I'm not claiming to be an expert like Paul, just telling you that I relate and understand and will help however I can. You're still my friend and brother in the ministry no matter what."

I told him I did and went on to describe the in-home therapy starting the next day, the mother joining AA, the probably permanent removal of the father from the family and that the outlook was starting to become positive. He was encouraging and said, "Just think, you get through this and you'll have one heck of a book you could write on pastoral theology. You know, titles something like 'The Benefits of Starting Your Ministry With a Major Family Crisis,' or something like that."

We both laughed and then said our goodbyes. I promised to stay in touch and keep him informed along the way. It was a relief, I realized not only to not be judged and condemned by the minister who was my friend, but to actually get a measure of understanding and support form him.

I wandered back into the living room and picked up the book and started reading, but couldn't stay focused on the subject of the politics of the Cadet Guards on Darkover when I had all these here and now issues swirling around in my head fresh from my phone conversations. So, I just sat and thought, then flipped on the television to keep my eyes occupied for a couple of hours before bedtime.

Bedtime. Meaning sometime in the next few hours Jackson would come to me. What a delightful thought to hold in mind as I laid my head on the pillow and slipped into sleep.

I don't know the time, but I woke again to his presence. He was patiently sitting on the chair smiling. I raised the sheets to my bed; he rose and dropped his boxers and took off his T-shirt and slipped in beside me and into a deep embrace. I whispered in his ear, "Were you sitting there telepathically sending me messages?"

"I sure was, Rev, just like with Regis on Darkover, I was beaming my love into your soul. Did you feel it, is that what woke you up?"

"It must have been. It's always been like that, I feel warm and loved and then become conscious of not being alone, and I open my eyes and there you are—you've come to me. You know someday we won't have to deal with your coming and going, it will just be us together sharing a bed and sharing a life, don't you?"

"I can only hope," he whispered into my ear. I leaned down for a kiss and he rolled on top of me, kissing me deeply and passionately and then exploring the insides of my mouth with his tongue. I responded in kind, stroking up and down his spine, slowly running my open hands over his shoulders and up his neck into his hair, and then back down his spine and over his perfect buttocks and holding and squeezing them, pulling him into me as he ground on me. I could feel my fingertips slip into his crack as I pulled him down onto me.

There was moderate moonlight, and he was holding my face in his hands, looking into my eyes. I could barely make out the color, but the glint was there as he repeatedly leaned down and kissed my lips, then lifted his head away and looked softly at me while his fingertips stroked my cheeks. Then he leaned down and kissed me again, each kiss more sensuous than the last. It almost seemed like the roles were reversed, like he was the older lover carrying me along on this wave of love. I wasn't resisting, in fact I was reveling in it. I was being actively loved, and I realized it was something I'd never experienced before in my life. His hands slipped off my face past my ears and his fingertips slid into my hair and began massaging my scalp ever so softly. I had no idea it could be so sensuous. He dropped his head again to kiss me and drove his tongue deep into my mouth, and I felt his groin drive into mine at the same time.

He leaned up and looked at me. "You're my Sexy Man, and I love you. I love you!" I smiled at him and said simply, "You're the love of my life. I've never felt for anyone like I feel for you. Do we need to go slow or do something different, or is this good for you? It feels so wonderful to me." It felt wonderful to me too, and I felt like somehow, he needed to be in control.

"This is the most wonderful feeling I've ever had. I'd prefer it to never stop. Just love me, please, just love me."

He dove for my mouth again, and as his cock ground against mine I could feel both of us incredibly hard and I know I was making precum because we were easily sliding together. His kissing softened and his hands came back to the sides of my face but the grinding of his groin on mine increased and I could feel his cock forcefully sliding on my stomach, and mine slid on his. The sensations were intensifying, and I found myself raising my hips and pushing up into him, something I'd never done, but which was almost involuntarily. When I did, I could feel my cock head make stronger contact with his skin and it only drove stronger hip thrusts. He was doing the same as my hips dropped, driving his cock into my stomach. Soon we were not grinding but just thrusting at each other, our eyes riveted on each other as our sensitivity increased.

I could see his pupils dilate and recognized that he was getting close. His breathing became heavier and faster, and a minute later he whispered, "David, I love you, I'm going to cum. I love you." He pumped three or four times, first with a loud cry, then softer, then almost a whimper. As I watched his eyes and heard his exclamations and felt his cum shoot onto my stomach and increase the slickness between us, I suddenly felt like my cock had been touched with an electric current. I thrust up into his stomach two or three time and then pulled him tight to me as I cried out and exclaimed, "Arghh…. I'm cumming too, oh God!" Then we were silent, gasping and slowing our motions and reveling in the sensuous feelings as our cocks became more and more sensitive and finally, we just stopped and lay still enjoying the blissful sensations of just being in each other's arms after bringing each other to such ecstasy.

His face had been buried in my neck, and after a few minutes he raised his head and smiled and asked "Was it good for you? I'm sorry if I rushed it?"

"Good?" I asked, "It was bliss. There was no rushing. It was what we both wanted, what we both needed. I told you earlier that I missed you last night as much as you missed me. And I loved that we could make love and look at each other, watch each other like that. Your face is so expressive, and it was beautiful watching the waves of love sweep across it, and then the pure passion when you came. You are beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, and I'm the luckiest man alive to know you love me."

We stayed like that, dreamily kissing and stroking for a few more minutes, then cleaned up and I rolled on my side as he came back between the sheets and spooned back into me. And we slept.

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