The next Friday was the Spring Choir Recital, and as the main choir performance of the year, it was held in the evening. It traditionally generated a large turnout, not just of students but parents and local folks interested in music—especially from choir members at other churches that appreciated Susan’s abilities. Prof. Higgins and his wife were not able to attend, but we had arranged a rain check in the near future where they would come down for an evening to include Susan and Ellen.
Will picked Jackson up early for warm up, both of them looking smart in their suits. Gary and Lois and I got to the auditorium at school a few minutes early to get good seats down front and met Ellen in the lobby. We created a fan foursome and headed down to find our seats. The program was quite intriguing, with a broad cross section of music.
SPRING CHOIR RECITAL PROGRAM
Over The Rainbow, composed by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by Yip Harburg
Let It Be, composed by John Lennon-Paul McCartney
Sibylla Europaea, motet composed by Orlande de Lassus
Kyrie from Missa Et ecce terrae motus, by Joannes Brumel
I’ve Gotta Be Me, music and lyrics by Walter Marks
Attics of My Life, music by Jerry Garcia, Lyrics by Robert Hunter
God Only Knows, composed by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
I looked at Ellen and raised my eyebrows. She smiled knowing and only said, “Remember what Susan said she learned from coaching the boy’s band, and that now they owed her?”
I smiled questioningly. She smiled back, “Just wait and see.”
After everyone in the audience was seated, the choir walked on stage and arranged themselves on the dais, and then Susan entered, and all were greeted with a round of applause. She turned to the audience and bowed slightly, then introduced the program.
“We’ve all worked hard this Spring to create a music program with something for everyone. Just a quick look at the program listing will tell you that we range from the classical and sacred, to mid-century popular music to contemporary pop music. We’re doing this on purpose for two reasons. First, it makes our performance more relevant. Second, I would be remiss without saying that many of our choir members have made the case for contemporary choral arrangements of these newer compositions, and I have to tell you I concurred. They are well done, they are beautiful to listen to, and we hope you enjoy them.”
“We’ll begin tonight’s performance with a light and fun song that everyone knows from the film The Wizard of Oz. It was written specifically for that film, wherein it was sung by Judy Garland. We hope our choral arrangement does justice to the original.”
The choir was accompanied by piano and launched their performance with an old favorite everyone knew, which was sung antiphonally between the female and male voices, verse by verse. It was a lovely arrangement and brought the song to life in a whole new way. They received a loud applause.
Susan then turned back to the audience. “I’ve never been a pop or rock music fan, but I must say that I’ve opened my mind and changed my opinion this year based on sound arguments made by members of this choir. To wit, the next song by the Beatles that I’m sure everyone knows.”
The choral arrangement was quite good, using a solo tenor voice to sing the opening and subsequent verses and then the whole choir to sing the refrain. Will sang the solo, softly opening and then building as he sang:
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Then the whole choir came in, again softly but building to fuller volume by the end of the second line, singing:
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Most everyone in the audience knew the tune, and many knew the lyrics, and immediately were singing along with the choir on the refrain. It was warm and fun and wonderful to experience.
As the last notes ended, Susan turned back to the audience and said, “We’re so glad you liked that song and that you joined in, singing with us. That’s when we know we’ve made a good choice. For our next selection, we’ve chosen a motet by the Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus that most will probably not be familiar with. It was composed in the mid-1500’s, is one of twelve motets in the entire composition, this one about the birth of Christ. It’s written for four voices, and we hope you appreciate its subtlety and majesty.”
They proceeded to a surprisingly good rendition of the de Lassus motet, given the modulating complexity of its polyphonic sound. Somehow, the stark contrast between it and Let It Be was such that the audience seemed to be really taken by it and applauded loudly when it was concluded.
Susan turned back to the audience, bowed slightly again, and waved her arm at the choir in appreciation. That prompted another round of applause. She then continued, “The next selection is another Renaissance composition. I have to tell you a little story about it, though. I know a lot of music, but I didn’t know this one. For my good fortune, Pastor Ayers at my church introduced me to it, and it is classic Renaissance polyphony, but the most striking thing about it is that while it’s written for four voices, how big the sound is, how it builds from a very quiet beginning, written by Brumel for the male voices to a massive sound by the entire choir as the hymn reaches its peak. This is called a Kyrie, because in the Latin mass it is a hymn where the only words are Kyrie eleison, followed by Christe eleison, meaning ‘Lord, have mercy’ and ‘Christ, have mercy,’ so think on that, too. All this singing, all this sound, and only four words.”
The choir was noticeably quiet and somber, and then they male voices started singing the first Kyrie eleison, and the vibe built as the female voices joined in, and then the volume of the sound slowly started to build. The wall of sound was being built! The choir did well, given the vocal capabilities they had, the male voices being stronger than the female. They certainly sang it with gusto, and the audience appreciated it, sitting silently as the last refrains fell away to silence, and then slowly beginning to give what became a rousing applause at the end, almost as if they couldn’t believe what they heard. I appreciated the tip-of-the-hat Susan have given me but was much happier that she had just chosen to perform it.
Susan turned back to the audience, visibly pleased, and then said, “We’re so pleased you appreciated that wonderful hymn. Now we are dramatically changing musical styles to a Walter Marks composition originally made popular by Sammy Davis Jr. You’ll all know the tune, and so should enjoy it.”
This was my big surprise of the evening. The arrangement they were using alternated tenor solo with the full choir, and Jackson was singing the opening verse solo:
Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I've gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am
Then the choir came in to sing the next three verses, until the last verse that Jackson sang solo again, with the choir coming back in for the last two lines. The arrangement had a little gospel or lilting feel to it and was just wonderful to experience. The audience was really taken with the solo voice complementing the full choir sound, just like they had been on Let It Be, and let them all know it with their applause when it ended.
Susan now turned to them and said, “Thank you. We truly appreciate you being here, your appreciation of the performance, and the fact that you seem to like the music. Am I right, you like the music?”
The audience clapped and hooted. Susan was beaming. “Wonderful! Now that we’ve established that, and also that you like the theme of “I’ve got to be me,” along those same lines, our next song is a choral arrangement of a contemporary song by The Grateful Dead. You’ll all guess correctly I wouldn’t have known about a Grateful Dead song if, once again, it hadn’t been introduced to me by Pastor Ayers, and equally importantly, the choral arrangement that we’re performing is one done Will Summers and we think you’ll like the harmony singing and the instrumental accompaniment.”
That comment got my full attention. This was one of my favorite songs ever, and neither Will nor Jackson had said a word about it since that one time, months ago. Not even Susan had commented when she returned the album that I had loaned her, beyond saying it was quite interesting.
Will had quietly stepped away from the choir, picked up his acoustic guitar and now came around to the opposite side from the piano. Susan and Will nodded at each other, then she raised her arms and Will started playing the melody. After the soft guitar intro, the whole choir began softly singing Robert Hunter’s lyrics.
In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me
I have spent my life
Seeking all that's still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see.
When there were no strings to play
You played to me
In the book of love's own dream
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
You flew to me, to me…
And then after a short guitar interlude, the meditative continuation of the last verse, slowly softening to the final words.
In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me.
Listen to the YouTube video of Attics of My Life by Larry Campbell, Amy Helm & Theresa Williams from Levon Helm’s Ramble Toronto Concert in 2011
There was a hushed silence in the auditorium, corresponding to the meditative ending in both music and lyrics that the song delivered. I was so stoked I wanted to jump up and applaud out loud and shout “Bravo!” but instead went along with the well-meant and subdued house applause.
Susan turned back with a wide smile, “Thank you. That’s a beautiful composition with very meaningful lyrics. To conclude tonight’s performance, we’re going to do another contemporary song, this one quite different in its style of composition as well as its meaning. You should all know, too, it’s by The Beach Boys, but among its other attributes is that it is a wonderful contemporary example of harmony singing. It’s lovely and so enjoyable to sing and to listen to, and we do hope you appreciate it.”
The auditorium grew quiet, and softly they launched into the lyrics of the famous Brian Wilson song:
I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I'd be without you
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on, believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on, believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
It was a lovely arrangement, though it didn’t have some of the vocal subtlety or counterpoint found in the Beach Boy’s rendition, it was well done, and everyone was just emotionally melting by the time it was over.
Watch the YouTube video of the Lugn Choral Group perform a choral arrangement of God Only Knows by Brian Wilson
The result? A standing ovation. The audience came to their feet hooting and applauding, and I had to think it was as much by the variety in the musical selection that Susan had made as the performance the choir pulled off.
The four of us were in the lobby and had been joined by Will’s parents, and a few minutes later Jackson and Will came along. Everyone was congratulating them over their performance and giving them hugs, even Gary! Susan eventually joined us, and I shared my thoughts with her about the superb musical selection, and she smiled saying, “Don’t give me the credit, there was you and these two in that formula, you know!”
We all went our ways after that. Lois and Gary had a date, and so did Jackson and me. We were going to dinner at a local restaurant. It was the first and only time, so far, we had both been out together in suits. We were overdressed for pretty much anyplace in Newberg, but we didn’t care.
On the drive to the restaurant I was holding his hand on the console. “You were great tonight. Why didn’t you tell me about any of this?”
“So, Rev! You don’t know what a surprise is? Susan was surprising the community with the selections, and we decided to surprise you and Gary and Lois with who was singing what.”
Then he fell silent for a few seconds. I watched out of the corner of my eye and could see him glancing my way. Finally, he said, “So, did you like the Sammy Davis song? I kind of sang that for you, about us.”
“Why are you acting bashful about it? Of course, I loved it. For the record, I don’t buy the opening line about whether you’re right or wrong, But the next three are right on the money, and are such a positive declaration:
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I've gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am
“I know there were only a few people hearing it who knew what you were really saying, but I did. I already know you’ve gotta be you…and that’s because you helped me figure out that I’ve gotta be me.”
I squeezed his hand, and he lifted mine in his and kissed the palm of my hand.
“Isn’t music wonderful?”
“It is, and so are you. You did an amazing job tonight, and so did all your choir members. When you all sang together like on the de Lassus motet and the Brumel Kyrie, the choir voice sounded nice and tight, really, really good.”
“Cool. It was fun. Those two were a stretch for us, but Susan convinced us we could do it, and she was right. I mean, we’re not going to get a recording contract or anything, but we got into it and did the best we could.”
“You know you blew my mind with Attics of My Life, don’t you?”
“Were you happy with it?”
“Will’s arrangement was magnificent. Such lovely counter play between guitar and voice, and such a full sound and tight singing. The tempo was great, and the volume control made it so meditative. Then there was the harmony singing that was super, and you all nailed it on the high note at the end of the line when I had no wings to fly. You all were magnificent.”
“When Will was working on the arrangement we started working out the performance by ourselves, then we took it to Susan when we kind of had it sorted out. She took it from there. But that initial work made me realize why you love it; how much it could be about us.”
“Well, the lines that end each verse, starting with When there was no ear to hear you sang to me…and then going on to When there were no strings to play you played to me…and then when it gets really personal with When I had no wings to fly You flew to me…and then that mystical concluding line… When there was no dream of mine you dreamed of me.”
I was quiet, not from a loss of words, but from pure love. I just smiled deeply and let him continue.
“We did all of that for each other, didn’t we? Sang to each other, played for each other, flew to each other, dream of each other. I think it is so wonderful.”
“It is,” I said softly, “I think it expresses two things to me now. First what you just said about our relationship, and second the way it summarizes my belief system. It can be about your lover or it can be about your conception of god or the divine, or it can be both. It’s mystical and metaphorical at the same time.”
We kept talking about the performance over dinner, and especially how happy and excited Susan seemed about the whole thing. Then I said, “You haven’t said anything about God Only Knows. Were you happy with that performance?”
Suddenly he seemed deflated. I reached across the table and took his hand. “What’s wrong, Lover Boy? It was sung beautifully.”
He was quiet, but then slowly said, “It wasn’t the singing, it was the lyrics. I handled them Okay when we were practicing, but tonight it seemed like I was singing all the songs to you, and when we got to the last one, to God Only Knows, it suddenly hit me.”
“What? Jackson, what? Tell me? What hit you?”
His eyes were getting red and I could see he was suddenly really emotional, and I could see tears forming.
“Tell me, please.”
He gulped, took a few deep breaths and said, “It could end. What we have could end. That’s what the song is about. That ‘God only knows what I’d be without you.’ You know, ‘If you should ever leave me…what good would living do me?’ It just hit me like it could happen, I’ve never even thought about it before.”
He was trying not to sob.
“Jackson. Look at me.”
Slowly, he did. “Okay, in this life anything is possible. What I can tell you is that I made you a promise. There’s no way I’d ever go back on that promise. We can talk about the possible, and sing about it, but that’s not the same as what is going to happen.”
He was looking down at his plate of food.
“Look at me, please.” He slowly looked up.
“Trust me. Please, trust me. It’ll never happen. For that to happen I’d have to consciously rip my own heart out and throw it on the ground. That’s never going to happen. I couldn’t live without you.”
He was looking at me, slowly starting to smile.
“Trust me, please. This is supposed to be a time to celebrate, not lament.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get depressed and bring you down. It just suddenly hit me tonight, like it could all be over or something. I guess cause I’m a kid still I’ve never even thought about it.”
I knew I needed so say something real to support and encourage him, not just give him romantic lip service. “Have you ever heard about the ‘What happens if you get run over by a bus’ question?”
“No, what’s that?”
“It’s one of those things I learned from my father about business. No one can be so important, so critical, that if they get run over by a bus…or have a heart attack, or whatever…the business can’t go on without them. It means like worst case scenario. So, let’s look at that. Worst case, I get run over by a bus or whatever. You’re devastated. But you’re not alone. You have Gary and Lois; you have your Dad and your Grandfather. And, Susan and Ellen. It’s not going to happen, because I’m not going to let it happen, but you’ve got to put it in perspective, that’s all.”
“But what if…”
“Stop. Please stop. This will go nowhere good. It’s all negative speculation based on an emotion generated by the lyrics of a song. Look at me. There’s no way I’m ever leaving you. The only way I’m out of this picture is if I literally get run over by a bus. As in, I’m dead. Got it?”
He started to smile at that.
“Okay, now, no more of this maudlin shit. We’re supposed to be celebrating. By the way, just for the record, you know what this conversation you felt obligated to have tonight has confirmed?”
He looked at me quizzically.
“No more blow jobs while we’re driving. Seriously,” and I was grinning now, “that’s the closest we’ve come to getting killed together, and you did it. You and your ESL for god’s sake?”
Now he was grinning too. “Got it, Rev. I’m sorry. Forget everything I said, Okay. I didn’t mean to bring you down or anything. But there was something really attractive about that cock of yours standing up out of the fly of your pants, and the vibration of the big engine in the El Camino…”
“No, we’re done with that. Too risky. Next time just tell me to pull over. Then it’ll be fine. Now, are you ready to finish your dinner before it gets cold?”
Before we were done, I asked how the band was coming in picking and learning some additional slow dance tunes.
“We’re pretty close now. We’re going to keep Never My Love by The Association cause it is a great slow dance song. But you know what? Most of the kids my age don’t know it, but the teacher sponsors remember it and think it’s cool. Pretty funny, huh?”
I grinned and nodded. “What else is on the list?”
“We’ve been working on a couple you should know, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head by BJ Thomas. It was a song in that movie about Butch Cassidy, right?
“Yeah, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s kind of a cool song and it was sort of unusual that it got to be such a big hit.”
“I know, but it’s got a nice melody, and Will’s got the right voice for it. I think we’ll pull it off Okay. The big challenge is going to be How Deep is Your Love by The Bee Gees. Those Gibbs brothers all had such high voices, it’s really hard to sing it right. The solo part is regular tenor range, and Will can sing that fine. The harmony is female voices, so it’s a push for me to get high enough and do it right. I mean I have to make it sound like I’m a line of soprano backup singers!”
“Is that so bad?”
“You’ll see if it’s bad…or not. Anyway, we’ve also got a couple of newer rock songs we’re working on and hope to have by then. You maybe won’t know them. There’s a great song on the first album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, called American Girl. Then we’re also working on Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones.”
“That should be enough new material to make everyone happy.”
“I hope so, and then we’ve got to pull it off and perform it well. We’d like to do Sultans of Swing, by Dire Straits, but the guitar playing is too complicated. It’s like trying to do Stairway to Heaven.”
“Why can’t you do that song?”
“Remember what I told you about the challenge of doing The Eagles Hotel California? It’s pretty much the same. You need a double necked guitar and a way better voice than I’ve got! In the beginning of Stairway to Heaven, Jimmy Page plays a double necked guitar and uses the bottom 6-string neck for the intro and first verse, then switches to the top 12-string neck, then to the 6-string neck for the extended guitar solo, and back to the 12-string for the final chorus. Will’s a pretty good guitarist, but not that good. Then you have to be able to sing like Robert Plant who has a really high voice. I mean I’m just a choir boy singing in a local rock band!”
He grinned. I grinned back.
“You’re my choir boy, and I love you, and I think you sing like and angel…or a rock star. Take your pick.”
The waitress arrived about them asking about dessert, and we ordered, and before long were heading home.
On the way home we talked mowing. They’d picked up some new customers, and Jackson was helping with the jobs in the afternoon after school, weather permitting, and Gary was working almost eight-hour days on Tuesday and Thursday. Jackson said “If we get another couple of customers, he’ll have to hire someone else to help with the mowing. I can’t do it and get school done well, too.”
I reached over and stroked his cheek. “I know he understands that. Just talk to him about it. The worst thing is him having to assume. If he knows your limitations and that you’re good with him hiring someone else, than I bet he’ll be a happy camper.”
He smiled and put his hand over mine of his cheek. We were home before Gary, and after we changed into comfortable clothes, settled into the couch in the living room to listen to some music. It wasn’t long before Jackson had swung around so he was laying with his head in my lap. And it wasn’t long after that he was rubbing my crotch with his head and I had my hand in his pants, stroking his pubes.
“Why are we sitting down here when we both know where we want to be and what we want to be doing?”
He wiggled his eyebrows and grabbed my hand, hauling me upstairs to what became a languid and sensuous love making session. He was emotionally relaxed after his performance this evening, and I was able to make wonderful love to my choir boy.
Early the next week I called Spence and we arranged to have lunch. I put before him the case Jackson had made about turning the mowing business over to Gary as well as giving him Jackson’s half of the house ownership since he was moving to Portland for college in the fall.
He initially took the “why is any of this necessary” position, trying to make the case that Jackson needed to protect his financial interests and look to the future. It fell to me to explain what Gary had been doing to pay off the mower, that he did more of the work, that he was intent on building a landscaping business and that Jackson knew his brother. That also extended to his half ownership of the house, and that Jackson’s view was that he needed to do what was best for Gary.
“You know he and Lois have been going together since last Fall?”
He nodded. “Well, Jackson’s convinced that the main hang up for Gary tying the knot is that he’s so practical, he can’t see beyond half ownership of the new mowing business and is hung up about only owning half of the house. How can he get married under those circumstances?”
Spencer looked at me, thinking, then said, “I think I can see Jackson’s logic, but it doesn’t make sense to me that he wants to just walk away from the equity. He does have his own life to worry about, too! Going to college isn’t free. It costs money.”
“Those two have been through a trial by fire together. They care for and take care of each other. Jackson would give Gary his right arm, and Gary would do the same thing, too. I was skeptical, too, but Jackson’s convinced me what he wants to do is the right thing to do. How do we do it?”
“Oh! That’s easy. Jackson doesn’t give Gary either the business or the house. He sells it to him. For $1 each. But I think that would be a mistake…for both of them. It’s one thing to do that for the mowing business where Gary has done more work and put in more money. To try and do the same thing with the house has a high risk of creating a different type of financial dependency. Lots of people don’t like the idea of charity, and I think Gary would be one of them.”
“So, what do we do?”
“Jackson offers to sell Gary his half of the house similarly to how we financed the riding mower. It’s an open-ended note in the amount of half the appraised value, that Gary can pay when he is able. Then Gary isn’t getting something for nothing. He earned what he owns when he pays it off and feels good about himself, and Jackson doesn’t give away his equity in the house. It would be a win all around.”
I grinned. “That’s so obvious. Now, how do we convince Gary?”
“I don’t know, but there’s time ahead of us, so my guess is that the right opportunity will present itself. But, now, I’ve got a couple of questions for you. I have to say that usually attorneys are quite sensitive about privacy boundaries and don’t step over them with their clients. We’re a little different. We’re in a business relationship having loaned the boys the money to buy the mower. I handled Lilly’s estate. You’re also the Pastor of my church and I’m on Session. It’s kind of complicated, but it gives me some insight most lawyers don’t have and prompts some questions. For the record, you’re perfectly within your rights to tell me that the answers to the questions are none of my business.”
“I understand. Ask away.” I didn’t anticipate where he was going. But then, I should have known that lawyers are trained in developing a line of questions to get to the heart of the case.
“So, Jackson is going to college and has a partial scholarship plus the child support from Bud. That won’t cover tuition plus books and room and board. Where’s the rest of the money coming from? Then there’s the question of room and board. Is he planning to live on campus in a dorm? Then there’s the part of the equation that concerns you. You moved out of the parsonage and into their home to maintain a family dynamic, and that was commendable. What happens to that situation when Jackson goes to college? Oh, and what happens to Pastor Ayers? Does he stay in the house with Gary, or does that become a bit odd and he moves back to the parsonage? Gary can’t very well get married and bring a new wife to a home with this older guy who’s the church minister living in it.”
I’m sure I sat there looking more and more blank and not doing a good job of linking all those questions together.
“David. I’m not just your lawyer and all the rest of it. I’m also you’re friend. Maybe it’s time to come clean with me.”
I paused, both caught off guard, but also concerned. “I don’t know if I can. I mean you being on Session, being a lawyer and all.”
“Have you never heard of attorney-client privilege? What you tell me as your attorney is privileged and has to be kept confidential. That applies here, but is not what this is about, though. I’m asking you to fill me in as a friend. Your friend and Jackson and Gary’s friend.”
I smiled wanly. I also knew the game was up. “This could be the end of the world.”
He smiled back. “You don’t think I’m totally clueless, do you?”
“What does that mean?”
“David, I’ve got eyes and ears, I sense things, too. Now just give me the straight scoop. The only way I can really help you guys out, and I mean all of you, is if I know what’s going on.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Everything you know about me, and everything I’ve ever told you is true. I’ve never lied to you or mislead you. However, there is another part, and that is that I’m gay and so is Jackson. We’re in a relationship. We were both very aware of Oregon’s age of consent is eighteen, and in case you didn’t know he turned eighteen last October. He’s going to college in Portland this Fall, and I’m going to resign and move there, too. I’m going to buy a house with my inheritance and get a new position in Portland. That’s what makes what Jackson wants to do with the house possible.”
“First, thanks for telling me that, I know it wasn’t easy. Second, for your mental comfort there was only about half of it I hadn’t figured out for myself. Third, you guys blow my mind. Pretty much everyone else in the world is only looking out for themselves, and you guys are all about each other and giving each other houses and businesses and stuff. It’s amazing.”
“When you’ve been through what Jackson and Gary went through, I think it changes your perspective on what matters. With me, too, in a different way. I had distant parents and a dysfunctional family situation. We were never close or communicated, but what’s happened with Jackson’s Dad coming into the picture is that we’re building a new family – his words, not mine – and I’m happily a part of it. So are Gary and Lois, for the record. So, I guess you’d say, that creates a completely different dynamic in which all of this stuff is happening.”
“That explains a lot. Like I said, none of what you’ve told me is really a big surprise. We can handle it all. I’m just somewhat in awe that you all really care about each other the way you do and want to do the kinds of things you’re talking about.”
I smiled at that. “And about me being gay and Jackson being my boyfriend….?”
“Well,” he replied, “let’s see. He’s over eighteen and he’s emancipated. So, you two can do what you want. The only thing you have to worry about is the church and society.” He laughed out loud at that.
I laughed along with him. “Yeah, not too many obstacles there, are there?”
“Right! I tell you what though, we got together today to talk about Jackson’s desires regarding the business and the house. You and I are going to get together soon to talk about you and being a gay minister and the related issues. I say that as a friend. I want to know and need to know, especially as a Session member, if I’m going to help you and be able to be an advocate for others, too.”
I looked at his for a few seconds, calculating, and knew in the end he was sincere, and I could trust him. “I’m willing to do that. I trust you and consider you a friend as well.”
“Listen, I went to law school in Eugene at U of O. The first gay-friendly laws in the state were passed in Eugene, and just last year they amended the city’s human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination against gays in employment, housing, and public accommodations. So, I have some understanding and sensibility about being gay. Now back to the matter about the business and the house. We don’t need to rush, so tell Jackson to relax and I’ll think about the best legal approach, and then we’ll have it in place when it’s time to move.
“I’m not blowing this off. I’m on your side. We’ve become friends, and I respect both of those boys a lot, and want the best for them, too. Part of my responsibility as Lilly’s attorney and the attorney that handled the estate, is to make sure that happens. That attitude also extends to you and your future plans. If we handle this right it doesn’t have to have anything to do with you being gay, or Jackson either, for that matter. It just turned out that being a minister in a small farm town wasn’t the ideal situation for an Ivy League graduate with a degree from a really good seminary, and you decided to relocate to a more metropolitan area. Then it just turns out that metro area is Portland. What a coincidence…Jackson is going to college there. Let’s try and keep the drama and the publicity out of it. That’ll be best for you, and it will certainly be best for both of the boys and for the church, too.”
I nodded, realizing as I did, that I had a much better friend in this attorney sitting across the table from me than I had previously realized.
The following week was the last study group where we were wrapping up the Campbell book in May because June posed immediate schedule conflicts for many. Carter led the discussion, and the group had become divided. There was Prof. Higgins, me and the other two professors, and in resistance to the summary that Campbell was trying to make were the two ministers and the two students. The last three chapters were on widely diverse subjects, schizophrenia, the moon walk, and no more horizons. However, they contained Campbell's effort to unite all of his themes into a cohesive proposition that people are all made to be taught in the formula of myths. That, of course was already turning out to be something that institutional religion would fight mightily.
However, his point was that sooner or later we’d likely figure out that in an age when science has given humanity a perspective of itself as the inhabitants of a singularly miraculous planet, it will become necessary move to a new mythology. In other words, to allow our unity and intellectual evolution to carry us forward to an age when our philosophies and mythologies teach and unite us with their poetic truths instead of dividing us by remaining literal and nationalistic dogmas.
Carter did a superb job of discussing Campbell’s main points and the overarching thesis in as neutral a way as possible, aiming not to offend those who wouldn’t move off their religious foundations. We ended up pretty much agreeing to disagree on the main points, but everyone also agreeing that it had been a worthwhile study group.
We chatted briefly afterwards, and I told him I’d sent in my application for the Counseling and Campus Ministry position, and that I had an interview in a few weeks. He was positive about that, as he was about him and his wife coming down to Newberg for dinner in two weekends. I made clear that while it was only an hour drive, they didn’t have to plan on driving home and were welcome to stay overnight in the parsonage.
The next day I receive an Express Mail letter from the attorney in Philadelphia. It contained the final estate settlement, and a check for $93,350. I sat looking at the check, thinking about the sad outcome that this is what it all came down to. However, Michael said he was going to visit during the summer with his wife, so no need not be maudlin about it. When Jackson came home from school I said, “Clear the decks Lover Boy. We’re going to be busy every Saturday for the next few weeks?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
I told him I’d received my inheritance, and we were going to spend the coming weekends exploring neighborhoods in Portland to decide where we wanted to live. Then we’d start looking at houses. He grinned widely. “Wow! That sounds so cool. We can go check out the vibe of a neighborhood, see what it’s got to offer and then decide where we want to be. How cool is that! I’ll tell Dad when he calls in the next day or two. I’m sure he’ll think it’s great. Wouldn’t it be cool to find a neat house in a cool neighborhood like the one he lives in?”
I kissed him, and he said, “By the way, I talked to Gary like you suggested, about hiring someone if he needed to. He was so great, like he’d been sweating it or something, not wanting to hurt my feelings. He’s got two more new customers, so he really needs to do it, and has been talking to his friend who covered last summer the couple of times we went somewhere. So, I think it’s cool now.”
That Saturday we left early to scope out our first Portland neighborhoods. Gary was being a good sport about it and told us to be sure we stayed out of the high rent district. I was trying to be practical, so we started by going to the Lewis and Clark campus and then drove down the hill to the west, cruised through the neighborhoods in the Terwilliger area, then crossed I-5 and spent some time in the south Portland neighborhoods. After lunch we drove back to campus and then downhill and to the south, into Lake Oswego and were wowed with the neighborhood and the likely prices. There was river front property on the Willamette, and lakeside property around Oswego Lake, and it all said “expensive!” It was fun to see, but we knew this wouldn’t work for us. It was a fun outing, though, and a good start for what we were aiming to accomplish. We were back in time for dinner, and though Gary ate with us, he was off for a date shortly thereafter, and Jackson and I opted for a movie at the theatre in town.
Sunday’s service went smoothly, as did Youth Fellowship in the evening, but afterwards, Will asked if he could talk to us both. After everyone else left, we settled in the living room of the parsonage.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. I mean it’s not like I’ve got something specific I want to tell you guys about. I just thought it was time we talked after what happened a few weeks ago.”
I smiled at him. “You know, I could be a wise ass and bust your chops and ask, ‘what happened a few weeks ago?’ But I wouldn’t do that to you. We all know what happened, and to your credit you were right there and part of it with Jackson and then talking to me about it. So, what’s your thinking about it now.”
“I guess I’m just thankful. I’m thankful I’ve got a friend like Jackson who was willing to do what he did for me, and I’m thankful I’ve got a friend like you who was willing to talk about it and help me figure it out. I mean, it’s not like I’ve got the answers yet or anything, but I just feel like I’m no longer under this dark cloud or something. I owe you both big time and I want you to know it.”
“Bro, you don’t owe us anything. Like you’re said, you’re our friend, and it’s what friends do. The most important thing for me is that you’re no longer afraid. You tore my heart out when you were crying on my shoulder and telling me you were so afraid. No one deserves to feel that way about who they are. I know, I’ve been there. Are you good with that?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I’m still worried about what my parents will do if they find out. I mean, I can bet money they’ll go ballistic, but that’s not what you’re talking about. You’re talking about just being afraid of who you are, and I’m not that anymore. I’m hoping what Pastor Dave said happens when I get to U of O this fall, that I can date who I want and figure it out, I mean figure out what it means to be bi.”
“Time out!” They both looked at me like I had rung a bell, and in a way I had. “Will, stand up.” He did, and so did I. I took the two steps to him and grabbed him in a big hug. “You’ve owned it. You just said you want to figure out what it means to be bi. You’ve owned it, and that’s half the battle. It no longer owns you, the fear about it no longer controls you. It doesn’t matter if you end up with Mr. Right or Mrs. Right. You’re in control of you. That’s what’s most important.”
I started to let go of him, but he wasn’t letting go of me. I paused, then I felt him sobbing, like he’d just had this realization dawn on him. I hugged him tight again, and I felt Jackson join us. We stood like that for a couple of minutes, just holding each other, pouring emotional energy into one another, reveling in this new realization and the acceptance that accompanied it for Will.
We finally had to break it up, and I kept an arm around his shoulders and said, “You’re one of my heroes. You’re not caving into convention; you’re being your own man and following your heart. You’re the best. No one’s saying it’ll be easy from here, but you know you’ve got us. We’re on your side no matter what.”
He smiled at us, and said, “Thanks, that means a lot.”
That’s when it really dawned on me just how vulnerable and exposed it is for someone his age. Approaching high school graduation, anticipating beginning college, starting to accept who they are and formulate the kind of life they want to live, yet facing a host of obstacles and possible rejection from family, friends, church and society. All just over coming to grips with realizing who they really are, what their identity truly is. By contrast, Jackson and I had spent the last nine months in a kind of isolation that didn’t have to really contend with or face the pressures of the world out there. This kid did. And he was trying to accept it. He was trying to be himself. He was trying to be brave.
We sat back down, and I glanced at Jackson and raised my eyebrows. He nodded, seemingly knowing where I was going. “Will, we want to tell you something about us and our life plans. Because you’re part of us. Jackson may have told you where he has been accepted to college, and that he’s going to Lewis and Clark in Portland. We’re going together. I’m buying a house in Portland and we’re going to live together. I’ll be resigning as pastor here in the summer. What you need to know is that you always, and I mean always, have a place with us. That’s whether it’s for a weekend, or if the shit hits the fan and you need a place to go to.”
He looked surprised, and then a little unbelieving. It was a lot of info to process, but he got the most important part. “You guys really mean that, don’t you?”
We both grinned. “We do. Any time. We hope you can get out from under your parent’s pressure, but no matter what, we expect this friendship to continue, and you always have a place with us.”
He looked like it was the last thing he expected to hear tonight. Jackson was watching him closely, though I’d been doing most of the talking. I watched him stand up and step over to Will, reach down and grab him by the arm pits and pull him up into an embrace. With no embarrassment, he kissed him and then hugged him tight, and then kissed him again on the neck as he embraced him. I heard him say, “You accepted me just like that when I reappeared in your life, and I wouldn’t have made it without you. You’re my best friend and I love you. I always will, no matter what. Just know we’re all friends, Okay? I mean friends in a way no one else is or can be. See this?”
He held up his arm and pulled down the sleeve of his shirt to expose the Lovebirds bracelet. “You wear one, too. So does David. So, never forget, you’re always part of this family.”
The next Saturday we spent looking at neighborhoods on the east side of the Willamette. The surprise was how many there were. Again, there were the highbrow and expensive ones like Laurelhurst and Eastmoreland near Reed College, that were beautiful and expensive. There were also really neat blue-collar neighborhoods like the Hollywood district and the Woodstock neighborhood that were affordable and had a lot of character derived from the mix of homes and stores and shops, the kinds of things that made neighborhoods.
We realized on the drive back home that we’d only seen a few of many, and if we were going to be practical about it we had to dial back the neighborhood search idea, and limit it to those that were close enough to campus to make for a short and practical drive.
The next three weeks were pretty standard, school for the boys, band practice to prep for Homecoming for Jackson, landscaping projects out in the field for Gary, and more mowing as the weather continued to improve. It was Sunday worship and Youth Fellowship for me, supplemented with the other typical church responsibilities.
Carter Higgins and his wife were driving down for dinner on the second Friday of the month, and we’d be joined by Susan and Ellen. I made a point of asking Gary to invite Lois, wanting Carter to meet Jackson’s brother, of whom he had already heard a lot, and his girlfriend as well.
It was near the end of the spring chinook salmon season, but I was sure I could get fresh filets, and luckily enough did. I planned to grill them with the marinade from our old family cook. That would also make dinner easy to manage. The Higgins came early, opting to stay overnight, and I set them up in the parsonage. I gave them a quick drive around Newberg, then dropped them off to freshen up, and they walked down to our house about 6:00 PM. Gary and Lois were already there, and Jackson let them in and made introductions, and was about to ask about drinks when Susan and Ellen arrived. He got them all settled, and then we all settled in the living room while Jackson and Lois poured red or white wine as our guests preferred. The joke was that it was California wine because vineyards in Oregon were still so young that they weren’t in production yet, but who knew what the future held.
The conversation was quite animated, most of it naturally centering on what each person did, what their plans were and the like. About 7:00 I gave Lois, Gary and Jackson the eye, and we excused ourselves to the kitchen where Lois took on garlic mashed potatoes, Gary prepared garlic bread, and I put the salmon fillets on the grill while some water boiled to blanch asparagus. We’d all done this before, and twenty minutes later Jackson had prepared a salad and we were serving dinner to the table and inviting our guests to join us.
The food was good, and once we got past those comments, the conversation turned to music. Carter wanted to learn more from Susan and Jackson about the Choir Recital, the music selection, how the performance, went…and after that about the upcoming Homecoming Dance and how the rock band fit into the formula.
Jackson deftly pointed out that he was lucky to have the coolest choir teacher in the country because she also provided vocal coaching for the band he sang in. Higgins and his wife were impressed. Jackson gave them a quick summary of the new songs they were working on for Homecoming, all of which, of course, were unknown to the Higgins.
Gary and Lois did not escape being the center of conversation either, Carter wanting to know about his course work at the community college and how it fit into his developing landscaping business. That set Gary on a detailed description of the hands on field work this quarter doing landscaping projects with horticultural material they had grown over the winter, and all the important things they had learned about slopes and grades, soil types, building flower beds, proper soil amendment, etc.
Carter was amazingly astute, and directing a conversation and eliciting information without making people feel like they were put on the spot. I told myself to remember how he did it. Then he turned his attention to Lois asking about her and her plans, and softly suggesting the she was very likely the model of the concept of a “better half.” It looked for a second or two like she might be embarrassed and blush, but she didn’t. She answered him directly. Gary and I are a team. It takes a team to run a business. I can’t do the landscaping and horticulture, and he’s not the best on bookkeeping and office work, so there’s a what do you call it there? Oh, right. Division of labor. So, we complement each other. And you may have heard that’s not the only team I’m on. I’m also one of the Fellowship of the Four, and that’s a great part of my life, too. Except someone always has to be on top of those three. I came into the kitchen for breakfast a couple of weeks ago and they were having a food fight. Just like kindergarten!”
She started laughing, and then we all were, and there was no point arguing or even trying to explain what had happened.
Susan and Ellen watched the conversation like pleased godparents, contributing and commenting along the way. I mainly watched and listened, pleased as punch not just at the content of the conversation, but how well these three teenagers actively engaged in animated conversation with these adults.
Later in the evening Carter commented to Susan on the value of the letter of recommendation and scholarship recommendation she had made, and that led to a hilarious for them, but a little embarrassing for me, discussion of how Pastor Dave had this thing about recommendation letters and had pulled it off for Gary at community college and again for Jackson at Lewis and Clark. Carter was nonplussed. “It’s not unusual, and in fact, applications accompanied with letters of recommendation are taken more seriously, so be thankful he went to an Ivy League college and understood that.”
As the evening ended, and Susan and Ellen were taking their leave, Jackson made a point of inviting everyone for breakfast in the morning. We both knew Susan and Ellen weren’t going to drive into town to have breakfast with us, but it was a given that the Higgins would join us. What I quickly figured out was that it was a set up so Jackson could tell everyone about breakfast some weeks back and ask me if I was going to cook in boxers and a T-shirt. That got a round of laughter, and Jackson was standing off to the side smiling angelically, his eyes sparkling! I demurred and let on I was more than happy to dress for the occasion.
Breakfast was banana pancakes with bacons and eggs for those wanting it all, and the coffee was brewing when the Higgins arrived. It was a much more casual affair than the evening before, and Carter and his wife spent a lot of time talking to Gary about his plans for translating what he’d learned this year into his landscaping business. Gary seemed pleased and confirmed in the reinforcement he was receiving. Jackson wisely stayed kind of quiet and allowed Gary to have center stage.
I had the interview for the Campus Ministry and Counseling position in the coming week, and we chatted about that, and then the upcoming Homecoming Dance and the new songs that Jackson and the band were learning. What was news to the Higgins was that Jackson’s Dad and Grandfather were coming down from Seattle for it, specifically to hear him sing the David Bowie song.
That made for some raised eyebrows on the part of Carter and his wife, which led to Jackson telling them the whole story about me giving him the album for his birthday, about Heroes being the song of our life, about how Susan had coached him on singing it and the band on playing it, and how they’d pulled it off once before. Now this was the big event of the high school year, so the pressure was on.
Carter was giving me appraising and supportive glance throughout, and I was pleased that in its own way Jackson telling him about it had provided a different take on what I had explained to him about our relationship.
Before they left to drive back to Portland, they made clear that they wished they could be back the following Saturday to hear Jackson sing the Bowie song, but they were already committed. Carter, though, made clear that with the scholarship there was going to be an expectation of the same levels of performance during the school year, and that somehow, he fully expected to hear Heroes sung by next year on campus by a certain new student friend he had.
The next day after church Jackson and I loaded our bikes in the El Camino and drove to a state park south of the Willamette River and rode our bikes for a couple of hours. On the drive home he commented that between school, band, choir and mowing we hadn’t gotten much bike riding time in, and it looked as if the future would be that way, too.
“Can I tell you something?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“One upside about selling Gary the business and moving to Portland is I won’t have to and feel the need to mow all the time. You know, we’ll have…what do they call it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I’m liking the idea of some leisure time!”
I grinned. Ahh, the benefits of good grades and responsibility.
The job interview was actually something of a surprise. Even though I’d filled out an application, I expected a more detailed form to be completed or a test or something. That wasn’t the case. Rather it was a very conversational interview with the President of the nonprofit that ran the Campus Ministry program. It was sponsored by the college, but not a part of the college structure, and it was through the Campus Ministry program that not only was spiritual guidance and counseling provided to students, but much of the formal worship service that happened in the campus chapel. It was from the provision of spiritual counseling that the role had expanded into guidance counseling, in tandem with vocational counseling that occurred in the college’s admissions and administration department.
Carter Higgins had pointed out to me the large house in which Campus Ministry was located, and it was owned by the nonprofit, and that fact plus the working relationship with the college allowed much more flexibility in roles and programs that if it was part of the college and the position I was interviewing for was a college employee. For instance, the face that my advanced degree was in theology not in counseling.
We talked about my career choices, undergraduate and seminary education, the different forms of counseling that I had done in seminary, and a kind of overview of my one year of church ministry. I probably started answering the questions about the last year hesitantly, because the gentleman interviewing me said, “Let me say something to put your mind at ease. Carter Higgins is on our Board, and he has told me a lot, in confidence of course, about you and your work over the past year. It’s because of that information, the kind of material that doesn’t rise off the pages of an application, that I’m especially interested in talking with you so candidly.”
I thanked him for his candor and said given that there was little I was unwilling to discuss with him. He pointed out that from the Board’s point of view the most important thing was hiring a person who was young enough to work with college kids, yet mature and experienced enough to provide value in the area of spiritual counseling and the kind of personal counseling that usually happens during college age. “A lot of what Carter tells me about your involvement with Youth Fellowship, and specifically some of the youth in your church, tells me you have a high level of empathy and competence. He also shared very positively your engagement in the study group of Campbell’s mythology book. Let me just say that the role is spiritual guidance, but we are not dogmatic. We have students from all backgrounds. You could be talking to a student struggling with his Christian values today, and a foreign student struggling with how to make Buddhism work in our society tomorrow.”
That was all I needed to hear, and the rest of the interview was frank and open and very encouraging. They weren’t looking for a standard minister with a snap-on clerical collar, but someone who had some understanding of what young people go through spiritually and personally, and who had enough life experience to provide some value to them.
When we got to discussing some of the technical details he told me Carter had shared the Identity Chart with him and we discussed how it worked, how it could be used to stimulate conversation and help students describe themselves and how that fit with where they wanted to go or what they wanted to be. I left feeling quite positive. But you never know! I told Jackson that when I got home. All the signs were positive, the vibe was good, but you never know what drives the final decision of who gets hired!
JC and Frank drove down on the Saturday of Homecoming, arriving in the early afternoon. Their idea had been to stay in a motel, but I dissuaded them of that one and insisted they had to stay at the parsonage. Once they were settled in, they walked down to the house and fell right in with us. Gary was there and Lois was coming over for dinner. Jackson would be taking off early for band set up, but we all spent the rest of the afternoon and dinner prep together. Frank studiously quizzed Gary about his studies and his aspirations for the land scaping business. Jackson showed them both his fort, explaining that it was seriously falling into disrepair due to lack of use since he didn’t have to hide away from his family or the world anymore. About 5:30 he wolfed down some food and was off with Will shortly thereafter. The rest of us took our time.
Our plan, coordinated with Susan, who was one of the teacher monitors, was to slip into the dance about 8:00 PM, about the time the second set of music started. We knew that they’d be performing Heroes toward the end of the evening and we could hopefully slip in and find a table to sit at with no one being the wiser.
Like most Homecoming dances, the second half was more romantic that the first, and two of the planned slow dance numbers were in it, Never My Love and How Deep Is Your Love. Neither JC nor Frank knew Jackson would be singing the high backing vocals for The Bee Gees song and were as impressed as I was. JC was old enough to remember The Association song and knew it well since the band was originally from Tacoma. He really got into it. It wasn’t Frank’s style of music, but he smiled appreciatively and appeared to understand his new grandson was doing a good job.
The last half of the second set took the vibe up a notch. Here they rolled out the Tom Petty song American Girl, explaining that they’d learned a couple of new songs just for this dance. They performed it well, and it was a huge hit with the students, getting a lot of applause when it ended. They did well on Brown Sugar too, although the song really needed a bigger band for a fuller musical sound, especially for the brass portions, but Will did a good job singing lead.
I expected that they’d close with Heroes, and before they performed it, Jackson spent a couple of minutes explaining the song like he had before, for those who weren’t familiar with the back story. His point was that it was a song about and for people facing obstacles or challenges to their love, and that they could overcome, they could be heroes, they could prevail. I saw him look at Will as he said this.
Then he went on. “The first time we sang this song, I dedicated it to my hero. Things have changed in my life. Almost none of you will know this, but I’ve found my Dad in the last few months, and my grandfather too. So, I’ve got two new heroes in my life. I’ve also got the best friend in the world right here,” and he pointed to Will, “so I’m lucky enough to have a few heroes in my life. I hope all of you are that lucky, too. And I dedicate this song to my heroes.”
I glanced at JC and Frank, and they were spellbound. I could see Will was choked up.
Jackson looked at him and the band and said, “Are we ready?”
Will swallowed and then said, “One, two, three….” and off they went.
Most of the students were familiar with the song by now since it was getting radio playtime, so they were moving with the rhythm as the song started, and many singing along as the lyrics unfolded with I wish you could swim like dolphins could swim, and noticeably louder with the first we could be heroes just for one day. He was using his modified lyrics about this love will keep us together that made my heart resonate.
Jackson was in the groove, and really hit the punchy high note on I, I will be King…. And almost everyone was joining in on the refrain we could be heroes just for one day.
I lit up on the line about we can be us just for one day.
The whole dance floor was rocking rhythmically rather than dancing as they sang about standing by the wall, and on to we kissed as though nothing could fall, and then on to we could beat them forever and ever.
By the time they got to the last three “we could be heroes” everyone was singing along. It was so great. The room was just alive, and the vibe was so warm and so positive. The song ended with raucous applause, lots of hoots and hollers and foot stomping. They’d obviously struck a chord that resonated with this young audience and what was possible for their own lives.
Jackson and Will worked their way through the crowd of students after the sound equipment was turned off, heading our way. It took them a few minutes, but when they got to us, Susan had joined us, and they were greeted with enthusiasm and affection. It seemed like every student wanted to talk to them and give them praise, and after a couple of minutes with us, they had to move on and take care of their fans.
Gary and Lois went their way at the end of the dance, and JC, Frank and I headed home. We were sitting in the living room with a glass of wine when Jackson made it home an hour later. He walked in the front door looking like a tired but triumphant warrior.
I couldn’t help myself. I stood up and stepped toward him, whispering, “My hero returns.” He slipped into my embrace. I released him after a minute saying, “Your Dad and Grandfather were pretty impressed, too!”
He turned to look at JC and Frank, blushing just a little bit. He was so cute. The hero who really didn’t think he deserved the adulation he was receiving.
JC was right behind me, giving him a hug. “Where did that come from? I didn’t know anyone in this family could sing. Dad, do you have a hidden talent we don’t know about?”
“Nah, I only sing in the shower. But remember that Jon played guitar and sang, so the talent gene is in the mix somewhere.” He was up on his feet now, too. “I’m looking to give you a hug as well, Jackson. That was terrific tonight. I don’t just mean the singing either. I mean how you interacted with the crowd. When you were speaking you took command, like a drill Sergeant on a parade ground. Well, maybe not that hard, but you know what I mean! I was impressed. When I was active duty, it was young people like you we looked for as officer candidates.”
Jackson was bug eyed, never having thought of it, let alone believing it might apply to him. We finally all settled down and talked about how he and Will and the rest of the band felt about the performance overall, and especially the new songs.
“We’re all pretty happy with it. I’m guessing you never get so you’re perfectly satisfied. You could always do this or that better, or different. We’re really aware that some of those songs need a bigger band with more instruments to really come off well. But as Susan keeps telling us, it’s about context: we’re a high school band in our first year together, so considering that we should be satisfied.”
We all commented about the wisdom in those words.
“Do you want to hear what happened later, after all you guys left?”
Now he had our attention. “I’m guessing since you’re here and smiling that it was good?”
He grinned. “You remember the bully, the one that was calling me and Josh a fairy, and then tried to corner Will and Tom and me that time with his football buddies?”
I could see JC reacting to this new set of information.’
“No worry, JC. It didn’t come to anything. Jackson and Will and Tom called their bluff, basically got them to think about who really needed the help and then embarrassed them by letting them know they were playing at the next school dance and maybe they could announce from the stage who the bullies were, the guys that wanted to bully the band and all. You know, do it in front of their girlfriends and everyone else, and they all split.”
“Way to go Jackson!”
He demurred this time. “It was really Tom and Will, they weren’t going to take any shit. They stood up to the bullies and said they wore Native American bracelets, too. Remember, Dad, we bought Will’s bear bracelet with you, and then you bought two more for them?”
JC was smiling again, and I went on, “But the turnaround was at that school dance when Jackson co-opted the whole bunch of those bullies by leading a round of applause for the school’s football heroes. He had them eating out of his hand when that was over.”
Jackson was grinning at the memory. “That’s what I wanted to tell you about. We were heading back to the stage to break down the equipment and most of the students were still there in the gym, and we’re in the middle of them, and suddenly those football guys all showed up in front of us, and there was a moment like ‘What’s this all about?” And then they all started laughing and the big guy says, ‘last time you said we were warriors and the school football heroes, well, tonight you were great, and we want you to know you’re our heroes, too.’ And with that they picked all four of us up and carried us to the stage. I mean carried up over their heads and then set us down standing upright on the stage. It was kind of amazing!”
Frank was applauding and JC was grinning broadly. Jackson was, too, and looked at me with a “what do you think?” expression.
I smiled back. “That was more than co-opting. You got them into a new way of thinking with the confrontation and with the thing you did at the first dance. I think you’ve shown them a new way to be. It doesn’t have to be macho and rough and tough. You’re now seeing that in their behavior. Them saying you artsy, musician, creative types are their heroes is a pretty radical change.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. Pretty radical is right!”
“There’s an important way to understand it, too. It’s theological,” and I looked at JC and Frank and said, “you may not find this relevant.” They waved me on.
“Okay, you asked for it. One thing you’ll learn about Jackson is that he is pretty theologically astute even if he’s not a Christian. It’s what can happen when your boyfriend is a seminary graduate. Anyway, the point is this. The English word ‘convert’ usually is thought to mean changing what you believe. But that’s not what the original means. It comes from the Greek work metanoia, and that means a fundamental change in thinking that leads to a fundamental change in behavior or the way you live your life.”
They were all silent.
“So, for the record, what you guys accomplished was converting those tough guys.” I paused. “Maybe instead of education or counseling you should go into the ministry. You seem to be pretty good talking in front of crowds and now we know you can convert very difficult people into a whole new way of life.”
Jackson’s was still smiling, but his eyes were flashing. I turned to JC and Frank. “Well, gentlemen, what do you think!”
Before they could say a word, I saw Jackson grin, the dimples flare and he shouted, “No way, Jose! You can forget that idea,” as he shot across the room and dove into me on the couch. We ended up a jumbled, but hugging and happy mess of bodies.
JC and Frank were giggling, too, now, and that characterized the rest of the evening. They were coming down again in two more weeks for graduation. I said my goodbyes in the morning and headed for church, and they spent more time with Jackson and Gary before they headed north to Seattle.
That afternoon we loaded the bikes in the El Camino and drove down to the BMX course. It wasn’t too crowded and was actually Jackson’s first chance to give the new bike a workout on the local course. We did a course loop together, and when we got back to the start saw that Will had arrived, and it was clear there was a competitive, though friendly, spirit in the air. They took off to race each other. I knew trying to keep up with them would be an invitation to trouble.
Spencer and I met for lunch on Tuesday, and we picked up right where we left off a couple of weeks prior. It confirmed to me he was a friend and could be trusted. After we got the niceties out of the way and he asked about Jackson and Gary and I told him about the Homecoming Dance, he said, “Look, I had no intention of putting you on the defensive about being gay, and if I did, I’m sorry. I want to understand. We’re friends, so that’s the way it should be. Beyond that, I’m on Session so I have a responsibility. Also, I’m an attorney and I can see the laws changing and I can see where gay rights and equal rights for women are going from a legal perspective. I’m also a Presbyterian, so I need to understand the theological issues. That’s all I meant.”
His eyes looked sincere and almost pleading. “Spencer, that’s how I took your comment about us getting together again and talking about this. I didn’t take it personally. I figured if it was a real problem for you, the last thing you’d want to do after me telling you, is have lunch with me!”
He grinned. “Here’s what I know. You can’t be the only minister who’s gay, and Jackson can’t be the only high school student in church who’s gay. For all I know there are more kids in our church. I’ve thought about what little we discussed, and I have to think we don’t make it easy. So, educate me. You don’t have to get personal and private, that’s not what I’m after. Just help me understand.”
I smiled at him. “Spencer, I have one, and only one experience, and that’s my own, so I can only tell you about that and what I learned from it. That means it will be personal, and that’s fine. I certainly appreciate the way you’re framing the question, and you can be assured I’m not the only gay minister on Oregon, and Jackson isn’t the only gay high school kid in Newberg, or even in our church. That’s all I’m going to say, no details. But as a member of Session, I just ask you to think about that.”
He nodded. I went on, “I’m going to tell you one anecdote, with no names attached, about a kid struggling with his sexuality, and Jackson was involved, and when this kid finally was able to vocalize what he was struggling with, and Jackson not only accepted it, but told him it was cool and hugged him, this kid broke down crying on his shoulder, saying he’d been so afraid, and that he thought his whole world was going to end if people found out.”
All the humor was off Spencer’s face now. “This is the level of impact, the level of pain, the level of fear that most of these kids are dealing with. And that’s just the kids who are in touch with their identity enough to wrestle with it. Most aren’t and don’t. They stuff it and deny it and ignore it. For me the scandal is this: in early Christianity, the concept was that the church is a hospital where people can come to be healed, to be made whole. There was a very different view of sexuality and a lot of other things back then. But, what’s happened is that Christianity has developed into a kind of exclusive club, with a lot of rigidity and intolerance. It’s no hospital to help people heal. Worse yet, it isn’t even a communion to help people understand and discover themselves and become all that they can be. It has essentially become an institution to mold people into a certain approved way. And the sad thing is that the so-called ‘approved way,’ in many instances is de-humanizing. That begins to explain the transition I’ve gone through in the past year.”
“Well, yes. That’s a mouth full, and I accept what you’re saying as gospel truth…pun intended. What I don’t understand, even accepting all of that as true, is why that has to lead to you resigning and leaving this church. Set aside Jackson is going to college, because my sense is that’s incidental to my question.”
“You’re right, it is. The answer to that question starts with the first realization after I accepted that I was in love with Jackson and was gay. In the eyes of the church, and here I specifically mean Presbyterian and most denominations, that makes me a depraved sinner.”
He sat in front of me with a blank expression. “Spencer, these aren’t the kinds of subjects taught in Sunday school, and until you do some theological study you won’t understand the underlying theological principles that inform a doctrinal position, or a denominational belief. I’m guessing it’s the same in law. Most people know something about this law or that law, but don’t understand the underlying State or Federal constitution and the associated case law that makes for those laws that affect them.”
He nodded. “Go on.” I did, and walked him through the depraved sin doctrine, the very few Biblical passages condemning homosexuality, what sexuality looked like in society two thousand years ago...and a lot more. To his credit, and this went along with his being a good lawyer, he didn’t react. He listened and absorbed as if he was considering new information.
“I’m not here to do a complete data dump on you. I think the most important things are these two. First, homosexuality and bisexuality and heterosexuality have been around since the beginning. And, by extension, it’s only in the second millennia of Christianity that it has become codified as a sin. Second, on top on that is the fact that people are what they are, and they fall in love with who they do. To condemn it, and also to condemn the person is horrific and, I would argue, unchristian. We’re supposed to accept and affirm the stranger, the other. I don’t have to tell you about the New Testament passages on that subject. You’ve heard me preach on them. By way of illustration, and I’ll tell you that I’ve struggled long and hard with this over the past year, let me give you an illustration. Not long ago I pulled out a Red Letter version of the New Testament. Do you know what that is?”
He shook his head.
“Well, originally it was a printed version that had the words of Jesus in red font while everything else was in black. The idea was to easily identify the words of Jesus. That was a start, but it’s still hard to understand them in the context of everything else. The one I pulled out is only the Red Letter text. That is to say, it is the New Testament reduced only to the words said to be spoken by Jesus Christ. That means almost all of St. Paul is gone, for example. Revelation is gone. Instead of interpretation and doctrine likely imposed later, it’s just the words of the Nazarene.”
He was silent.
“I encourage you to read it. Because it is not only so much shorter and simpler, it is also so different. The main point of departure is that the words of Christ carry more weight than the others that provide context or someone else’s interpretation. Things like the Beatitudes take on new meaning because they stand out so clearly. You know, ‘Blessed are the peace makers…’ Second, to your question and what we’re discussing today, Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. That’s a pretty hard one to ignore. I’ll give you one example, and then I’ll stop. There are those who interpret the passage about Jesus being approached by the Centurion who asks to have his slave healed in a manner different from what meets the eye. We tend to think of slavery along the lines of how it occurred in the South before the Civil War. In that society at the time, and looking at the linguistic usage, the word that gets translated as ‘slave’ could just as easily reference a boy that the Centurion owned who was in a same-sex relationship with his owner. That’s the way the culture worked. So, say the odds are 50/50 that was the case, or not. It should be striking that Jesus didn’t make any distinction…as in, ‘I’ll heal your slave if both of you aren’t gay,’ or, perhaps even more telling, as the canon of the New Testament was formed in the first four hundred years of Christianity, there was no editorial effort to remove the implications of those words. The reason being that at least though those first five hundred years of early Christianity, sexuality was accepted in the church as it was in the culture at large, and there wasn’t some agreed upon standard that was the only one acceptable form.”
Spencer was silent. Finally, he said, “Is that really the case about the Centurion passage?
“It sure is. One has to think about the fact that if Jesus could heal the Centurion’s slave, and if those books of the New Testament that were canonized at Carthage in 397 could leave that passage in, which could just as easily reference a boy in a same-sex relationship as a regular servant, then that says something powerful about the cultural milieu around sex in the first few centuries of Christianity.”
“Certainly, a lot of food for thought there. Now, what are your plans?”
“I’m looking at neighborhoods in Portland, and we plan to buy a house soon. I plan on resigning during the summer. I’ve applied for a Campus Ministry and Counseling position at a college in Portland. If it all comes together, we’ll move in the late summer and I’ll start the new job when Jackson starts college.”
“Wow. That will be in almost no time, won’t it?
“Time flies, doesn’t it? I’ll tell you this, though, our friendship won’t end. You’ve not only helped the boys you’ve helped me in a lot of ways. You also turned me on to German engineering in that amazing BMW you have. Anyway, I’m pretty sure you have to take it to Portland to have it worked on, as in there’s no mechanic here in Newberg you’d trust with it, so right there is an opportunity for us to stay in touch.”
He smiled knowingly. “You’ve done a very good job of making your case and I have to say that a lot of it is new to me. That’s my shortcoming, and I apologize for it. I have work to do, and I will do it. This is too important. The story you told about one kid crying on another kid’s shoulder out of pure fear is too much. I have kids. If one is gay, that could be them. I don’t want that to happen to them, or anyone, if I can help it.”
I smiled at him. “And that, Spencer, is one of the reasons I’ve know from the outset that you’re a good man!”
The next Saturday we spent in Sellwood. I’d spent a little time with a map of Portland after realizing the practical realities we had to face if both of us needed to be on campus at Lewis and Clark daily.
The history was interesting because Sellwood began as a rival city to Portland, across the Willamette and a little south. It was founded by a minister of that name who sold his 1,320 acre claim to a real estate company in 1882, and eventually it became part of Portland. The towns age means it had a few really older homes, but a lot that were built in the first half of the century, many of them Victorian style or Northwest Craftsman style. It has a main north to south road that connects to Portland, and east to west thoroughfare that goes to the Sellwood Bridge over the river. It also sits on the east bank of the Willamette River, so part of the town is characterized by waterfront and sloughs with potential to become a wildlife refuge. All of that translated into a park on the river, walking trails and riding trails too. And once across the Sellwood Bridge, it was only five or ten minutes up the Palatine Hill to campus.
We spent the entire day walking different parts of the neighborhood, had lunch in a local restaurant, checked out shops and stores, looked at all kinds of houses, and then took a walk along the river in the mid-afternoon. We were both getting more and more enthused and could see ourselves there. The people we’d talked to seemed open and friendly and it was a mix of young and old, families and single college kids, a real potpourri.
When we got back to the El Camino, I said, “Okay, now we’ll run a test. It may not be completely valid because it’s a Saturday afternoon, not Monday morning rush hour, but we’ll see how long it takes us to drive to campus from here.” Jackson grinned and we both hopped in the car and headed toward the bridge.
It was less than ten minutes. We sat in the parking lot grinning like fools. “This could be so cool, couldn’t it, David. If you get the job here and we’re both living in Sellwood, we won’t need two cars, we’ll be together and living in a groovy neighborhood. I’m loving the idea.”
“I’m with you. So, here’s what we’ll do. I probably won’t find out if I get the job for another month or two, but things like this take time. I’m with you, I like the Sellwood vibe, and want us to live there even if I don’t get the counseling job here. So next week I’ll call a local realtor and get the house search part going. We were kidding around the last time we were in Seattle that a house like JC’s would be cool. Do you still agree?”
His eyes were sparkling in the sun and his smile was animated. “Yeah, it’s really comfortable.”
I squeezed his hand. “Translation in real estate terms, means it’s a house built before the war, with three bedrooms and two full baths, and which hasn’t been remodeled.”
“Why is the remodeled part important?”
“Because it means they haven’t pulled out the original wood casework, like baseboards and door and window frames and replaced them with ugly modern stuff. That, plus the wood floors, is what gives older houses like JCs and the parsonage its character.”
“And why three bedrooms. There’s just us and maybe a spare if someone stays, right?”
“Yeah, but a third bedroom, even a small one, makes something else possible, a study. I’ve got a library, you’ll be building one as you go to college, and it’s a dedicated space to read and study. It’ll also be a place to put the dictionary stand.”
“Got it. Do you think we’ll find something?”
“I saw For Sale signs scattered around today, and we have another advantage. The economy overall hasn’t recovered completely from the last recession, inflation and interest rates are going up, unemployment is still kind of high, but we’re going to be cash buyers. Also, it’s almost early summer and there’ll be people who are selling who want to be out and relocated by Fall for school or jobs or whatever, so that will help. We should do Okay.”
With that thought in mind we drove home.