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Crossroads: Tales from the Heartland - 4. Heavenly Mother

“I do hope you get the position,” Lynn, my wife of twelve years said as we drove up Meridian Street. “It’s about time you become a senior pastor of a major parish,” she went on to say. “After all, you’re over forty.”

“Don’t remind me,” I admonished, and then I reminded her, “and don’t forget, they call them congregations up here.”

“Whatever,” she replied and, even though I had my eyes focused on the road, I could picture her rolling her eyes as she always did when saying, ‘whatever’.

It had been a tiring drive to Indianapolis from our current home just outside of Jackson, Mississippi. No matter which route we might have taken, it was a twelve-to-thirteen-hour trip and even though we’d left at seven this morning, it was already nearing eight o’clock when we turned off the interstate onto North Meridian Street. Heading north on Indy’s main street, we left the city center behind. When we crossed 38th street, the road narrowed and commercial businesses gave way to elegant mansions and stately trees that hung over the roadway, nearly forming a complete arch overhead. The church where I was interviewing was putting us up in a small guesthouse. Although the sign was small, we had no trouble finding it and we pulled up the circular drive in front.

Before I even had a chance to open the door to our RAV4 SUV, a small black boy ran out of the mansion and said, “Welcome to the Meridian Manour B&B, my name’s Jerome and I’ll be happy to assist you with your luggage tonight. The boy looked to be about thirteen at most and was so effeminate that I wondered if he might be a girl dressed in boys’ clothing. However there was no mistaking the peach fuzz on his upper lip. I couldn’t imagine how he would manage, but no sooner had I popped the liftback than he had all of our luggage assembled on the front steps. He was obviously stronger than he looked.

As I got out of the car, I noticed that my wife was being helped by a lanky Hispanic boy of perhaps sixteen, or maybe he was a bit younger than that as, I suspected, his mustache made him look old for his age. Lynn and I entered the mansion just in time to see the two boys disappearing upstairs with our luggage, evidently taking it to our room. It was a nice touch, but I would need to get out my wallet to give each boy an appropriate tip. Otherwise, all expenses were being covered by the church.

“Reverend and Ms. Slater?” a distinguished gentleman who appeared to be in his mid-fifties asked as he greeted us.

“That would be us,” I replied.

“Welcome to Indianapolis,” the man responded as he extended his hand and shook each of ours in turn. “Your credentials are certainly impressive and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get to know you better.”

“You’re one of the congregants?” I asked.

“That, and a member of the Board of Directors, not to mention the head of the search committee. However, as long as you’re under our roof, I’m Rick, your humble servant. If there’s anything you need, all you have to do is ask.

The two boys returned from upstairs as the man continued, “I take it you’ve met my grandson, Jerry, as well as Carlos.” Apparently sensing my curiosity at a white man having a black grandson, he explained, “Our son and his partner adopted Jerry nearly two years ago, when his natural parents rejected him. We adopted our own son, Ty, under very similar circumstances. You’ll have a chance to meet Ty and his partner, Ricky, tomorrow. Since they started school at Butler University, they’ve had to cut down their hours working here at the B&B and so Jerry and Carlos have been filling in.”

“It’s hard to fathom how parents could turn their backs on a child, just because he acts differently,” Carlos joined in, “but had it not been for Jerry coming to live with his dads, we might never have met.” As Carlos looked down at the smaller youth, the significance of what he was saying suddenly dawned on me. Jerry and Carlos were boyfriends. Boyfriends, for cripes sake. You could see it in their eyes, the way they looked at each other. If Rick and his family were prominent members of the congregation, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was getting myself into. I already knew the church was more liberal than the one where I currently was the senior pastor, but that wouldn’t have taken much. Still, this was the Midwest and I’d expected that certain things were still sacrosanct, including the church’s traditional views toward homosexuality. If this congregation openly welcomed gay members, then I feared it would not be the congregation for me. Of course I was still obligated to go through with the interview but, afterwards, I would find a way to bow out graciously. I could tell from the look on my wife’s face that she was thinking the same thing.

“By the way,” the man said, interrupting my thoughts, “There’s always plenty of regular and decaf coffee available in the dining room, and you can always find a plate of freshly-baked cookies as well. My wife’s a true gourmet and there are always special treats available, twenty-four, seven.

“Although the room only includes breakfast, we can provide an evening meal, should you so desire. Since the church is paying all your expenses, the added cost will be billed directly. We can also provide box lunches, and we can provide a light evening snack if you wish, including tonight?” Lynn and I both shook our head. We’d eaten in Columbus, Indiana, about an hour before.

Motioning for us to follow, Rick continued, “Although your bedroom has its own TV, you might wish to watch the one out here,” he said as he showed us the living room. We have an extensive video collection as you can see and you’re more than welcome to borrow any of them to watch on the TV in your own room, too, or you can share one out here with the other guests.”

Taking us behind the living room, we came to a small library with an impressive collection of books, many of them leather-bound. Sitting in a window seat was a boy of perhaps fourteen or fifteen, reading one of the leather-bound editions and seated in one of the leather chairs was boy I guessed to be sixteen or seventeen, reading something on an e-book reader. “In addition to the extensive collection of classics you see here,” Rick continued, “we have a handful of e-book readers, loaded with all the latest best-sellers. And if there’s something we don’t have, we’ll try to get it for you.

“If there’s anything else you need, just call the front desk,” Rick added as he handed each of us a key card. “Our rooms are named after famous Hoosiers. You’re in the Otis Bowen Room. It’s the second room on your left from the top of the stairs. Have a restful night. Breakfast is available from six to nine but, then, you’re first appointment’s at 8:30, so keep that in mind.”

As we headed up the stairs, at first I couldn’t think of who Otis Bowen was, but then I remembered he was the Secretary of Health and Human Services under Ronald Reagan and, if I recalled properly, he was at one time the Governor of Indiana. Slipping the key card into the slot, a green light flashed and I opened the door to reveal an elegant, large bedroom with ornate furnishings. Dominating the room was a king-size bed, but all of the other furniture consisted of period pieces if not genuine antiques, including a lovely settee. Rather than a closet, there were two very nice wardrobes in which to hang our clothes.

“I had such high hopes for this job,” Lynn began as we got ready for bed. “I really thought this could be the position that was right for you. If nothing else, it might catapult you to even bigger and better things.”

“It still could,” I pointed out. “It might not be the ideal congregation for us, but it’s a plum assignment and being the senior pastor here would carry a lot of clout in securing a position at an even larger congregation, one with more traditional values … if we managed to stick it out here for a few years.”

Before I’d even suggested it, I knew what my wife’s response would be. She did not disappoint me.

“Do you really think that would be wise?” She responded. “You have a history, Charlie. I know I can trust you… but you’re susceptible to temptation, just like everyone else. I married you because you’re a good man and because I love you… and I know you love me. You already have your demons and I’d really hoped you could leave them behind. Here, I’m not so sure of that.”

Lynn certainly had a point. Last year I came close to cheating on her and, although I came clean in the end, it put a serious strain on the marriage that could have easily destroyed everything we had. That I’d allowed myself to get so close to a teenager had made it doubly difficult. Thank God it wasn’t with someone who was underage but, even still, the scandal that would have resulted from an extramarital affair with a teenage parishioner would have made it virtually impossible to get another job in the clergy. I had faith that such a thing would never happen again. Lynn, on the other hand, was more of a realist and I knew she was watching out for our best interests.

“You’re undoubtedly right,” I replied. “I’ll proceed with the interview as planned now that we’re here but, if offered the position, I’ll politely turn it down and we’ll keep looking.”

After a long day of driving, I should have fallen asleep quickly, particularly given the quietness of the room and the exceptionally comfortable mattress and pillows. I could have understood tossing and turning much of the night in nervousness over the interview, but the interview itself was one of the farthest things from my mind. I kept thinking back to the young boys who took our luggage from us - boys who were completely comfortable in their perversion. They should have been ashamed of themselves and, yet, they were proud, as were the owners of this establishment, who’d already raised a perverted son of their own. If someone like that could be on the board, it was pretty obvious this was not the congregation for me. Yet Indianapolis seemed to be a very nice city and a conservative one in line with our values. Was it possible I was misreading things? Was it possible the elders did not know of Rick’s perverse attitudes? Did they not know of his son and grandson?

I supposed I would find out, I reasoned to myself as the fog of sleep finally took hold with the approaching dawn. When the wakeup call came it felt as if I’d hardly slept at all.

Showered and dressed, Lynn and I made our way downstairs to partake of breakfast. There were already a number of guests seated around the large dining room table, including the two teenage boys I’d seen sitting in the library the previous night, and a man who looked to be around my age, who was clearly the father of the younger boy. Jerry and Carlos were also seated at the table enjoying their breakfasts, probably getting ready for a full day of school. A couple of young men, one black and one white, were busy collecting plates and bringing out more food to set up on the buffet. I wondered if they could be the owners’ adopted son and his partner.

“Good morning Reverend Slater, Ms. Slater,” a middle-aged woman called out as we entered the dining room. “I’m Barbara, Rick’s wife. Please sit wherever you like. Breakfast is served buffet style. Today we have home made granola, Lox Benedict, smoked whitefish and an assortment of fruits and gourmet cheeses. If you prefer, I can prepare an omelet to order, and we have a variety of home made breads that can be toasted if you wish. Our regular and decaf house blend is available, or I can prepare an espresso-based drink if you prefer.”

My mouth was already watering from the scent of the food that was out on the buffet, so I saw no reason to request anything else. Lynn and I grabbed an assortment of food and sat down at the table, opposite the two boys I’d seen in the library the previous evening.

The boy directly across from me looked up at me and smiled. He had dimples that were adorable and I couldn’t help but smile back. “Are you the guy who’s interviewing to be the new pastor of our church?” the young man asked with an exceptionally polite composure.

“Why yes,” I answered. “I’m Charles Slater and this is my wife, Lynn,”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” the boy’s father chimed in. It was evident from the way he and his son talked and acted that they came from a very affluent background. “I’m Keith, and this is my son, Lance.”

“And I’m Lance’s boyfriend, Kevin,” the older boy volunteered. I did my best to hide my shock as I wondered how we ended up at queer central. Lynn was considerably less successful, getting a sudden case of hiccups.

Before any of us were able to react, Carlos had left the table and was back in a flash with a jar of peanut butter and a tablespoon. “This isn’t foolproof but it usually works for me. Take a heaping tablespoonful of peanut butter and swallow it. By the time you finally get it down, your hiccups will be gone.

I could tell from the way she kinda rolled her eyes that she wasn’t buying it. Still, she took the jar and the spoon and swallowed the proffered peanut butter down. Damned if those hiccups didn’t stop!

“I’m surprised at how many… homosexual teenagers you have staying or working here,” my wife started speaking, taking the conversation in a direction I was certain I didn’t want to go, but I knew she had her purpose. “Isn’t that unusual, or did the church put us up in an establishment that caters to homosexuals?”

Laughing, one of the young men who was serving us responded, “Sometimes it seems there are a lot of gay guests that stay here, but that’s only because we’ve developed a reputation as being gay-friendly. Most of our clientele are straight, just like you guys. Keith, Lance and Kevin are temporary residents here for reasons I’m sure they’d be happy to discuss later. Ty and I of course grew up here. We have our own place now a couple blocks away. It’s the home Ty grew up in until his dad kicked him out for being gay. We adopted Jerry when his parents threw him out, too. They didn’t even know he was gay… just that he liked to wear his mother’s dresses. At ten, he was really too young to be labeled gay…”

“I knew,” the boy, Jerry, interrupted. “I’ve always known.”

“Ten years old and his parents threw him out with the trash,” the black young man chimed in. “Can you imagine? Ricky and I had to do something, but CPS wouldn’t even let us foster him at first. Although there is no minimum age, I was still a teenager and Ricky was just twenty. More importantly, we were gay and CPS had concerns about young gay men fostering a young boy. It took a year of Jerry being bounced around from foster home to foster home for them to finally give us a try…”

“A really fucked-up year,” the boy interrupted, but then the young man, Ty, glared at him and the boy added, “Sorry”. I was surprised to hear him using foul language so casually around adults, but probably not half as shocked as my wife. At least she had the good sense to keep her mouth shut.

“It took Jerry being the victim of a sexual assault for CPS to relent,” Ty continued. “Thank God he got away before he’d been penetrated, but he had welts all over his back.”

At that point a single tear escaped from Jerry's eyes and Carlos put his arm around him and pulled him closer, kissing him on the top of his head. Intellectually I understood that homosexuality is about more than just sex, however, the Bible is quite clear on how God views the man who lies down with another man. Here, on the other hand, it was quite clear that Carlos cared very deeply for his boyfriend. What I witnessed clearly constituted love, but a love that took its roots in perversion.

“Even with Jerry as our foster son,” Ty continued, “the courts took a dim view on us adopting him, much as we wanted to. We felt he needed the stability of loving, nurturing home that could not be taken away from him on a whim.”

“Jer’s a genius,” Carlos added. “He’s taking sophomore and junior level classes, even though he’s a year younger than me.”

“Only one of my classes is junior level,” Jerry countered. “And most of your classes are sophomore level, too.”

“Could I ask how old you boys are?” I inquired.

“I’m thirteen and Carlos is fourteen,” Jerry answered.

“And I’m fourteen and Kevin’s sixteen,” Lance answered from across the table. They were all obviously very bright boys.

“Did your parents reject you too, Carlos?” I asked out of curiosity.

Shaking his head, he answered, “My sister gave me a hard time at first, but my brother was great from the moment I came out. My parents haven’t exactly been thrilled, but they’ve been supportive and they love Jerry like he was their kid. We’ve been boyfriends for over a year now, and I’ve been working here at the B&B for nearly as long, saving up money so I can buy a car when I’m sixteen.”

Looking pointedly at Kevin, but smiling, he added, “Not all of us have a Mercedes handed to us before we even have a license.” The way Kevin colored up, it was evident there was a story there.

“Most of the time Jerry lives with his dads in their house and I live with my parents over on the Central Canal. When there are guests to tend to at the B&B, however… not counting Kevin, Lance and Keith, that is… Jerry and I stay in the maid’s quarters here…”

“You stay together?” I asked incredulously. “In the same room?”

“We sleep together in the same bed,” Carlos answered. “Not that there’s any time to do anything. Usually we’re too tired to do anything more than cuddle. But we love to cuddle. That’s even more important than having sex. Not that we have sex…”

The sound of Ricky clearing his throat made him color up, and then he added, “not much anyway. But given the choice between not being able to cuddle, but having all the sex we wanted, and not being able to have sex, but being able to cuddle, I’d choose cuddling.”

“Beyond a doubt,” Kevin added and just about everyone else in the room nodded in agreement. These boys were blowing away just about every conception on homosexuality I ever had. A teenager choosing intimacy over sex, well, I wasn’t sure many straight boys would make that choice.

“Speaking of school,” Kevin interrupted my thoughts, “we need to get going.” Then turning to me, he added, “Good luck with the interview, Reverend Slater.”

“Thanks, and nice to meet you,” I replied as Kevin and Lance carried their dishes into the kitchen, something I wouldn’t have expected of a couple of teens. A minute later, I heard the rumble of a fine sports car starting up, and then the sound of someone driving away.

Looking at Jerry, I asked, “Don’t you boys have to get going as well?”

“Soon,” he answered, “but we still have a few. Kevin and Lance go to Park Tudor. It’s an exclusive private school and, although it’s not far, they have to drive.

“Carlos and I go to Shortridge High School. It's a city magnet school for Law and Public Policy.”

“Technically, we should be going to different high schools.” Carlos interrupted. “The B&B and Jerry’s home are in the area served by Broad Ripple High School. Broad Ripple is a magnet school for The Arts and Humanities. A lot of gay kids go there and they have the largest and most active GSA in Indy. It would have been great for us socially, but I want to be a lawyer. I’m fascinated by the Criminal Justice System. It’s my passion.”

Giggling, Jerry added, “I’d like to go into politics in some way. Not sure if the public is ready to vote for a gay transvestite, but who knows . . . maybe someday. Anyway, that means going to Law School too, so the choice of Shortridge was an easy one for us both, even if a lot of the kids pick on us for being gay.”

“You’re out?” I asked in surprise.

Laughing, Carlos responded, “It’s pretty hard for Jerry to hide who he is…”

“Not that I want to,” Jerry interrupted.

“And I’m not about to distance myself from him,” Carlos resumed. “When other kids insinuated that I must be his boyfriend, ’cause we’re always together, I responded by…”

“He kissed me in front of everyone,” Jerry again interrupted, “right on the lips. We had to serve detention but, by the end of the day, everyone knew.”

“Now, we don’t make any bones about it,” Carlos concluded. “We proudly walk down the halls of Shortridge High, hand-in-hand. However, now we really do need to get going,” he added.

Again the boys carried their own dishes into the kitchen, but this time there was no sound of a car starting, so I asked, “How do they get to school?”

“It’s only about a mile, so they walk,” Ty answered.

“I still think it’s wrong to let them share a bed together,” Lynn said out of the blue. She had evidently not moved beyond that conversation. “God only knows what they do together in that bed.”

Laughing, Ricky responded, “Probably not nearly as much as you think, not that it would matter to us. Our feeling is that the boys are going to do what they’re going to do, no matter whether or not we condone it. Teenage boys always have, whether they’re gay or straight. By showing them trust, we believe that they are far less likely to push boundaries or take risks than if we tried to keep them apart. If they choose to go all the way under our roof or under another one, at least here we know they’ll have access to condoms, no questions asked.”

All the talk of sex was making me very uncomfortable, and I could only imagine what it was doing to Lynn. Before I could change topics, however, Keith slid over so he was facing me and said, “I know for a fact that Kevin and Lance are intimate. We’ve discussed it at length and there isn’t much they haven’t done. I’ve told them I think they should be using condoms, but I know they don’t. They swear up and down they’ve never had sex with anyone else and that they’re fully committed to each other. Personally I think Lance is far too young to make such a choice and I’ve told him so, but then he points out my youth and the terrible mistakes I made.

“The one consolation… the only thing that makes up for my mistakes as a teenager is that if it hadn’t been for those mistakes… if it hadn’t been for my attempt to prove I was something I was not… Lance wouldn’t be here today. Lance means everything to me, and Kevin is like another son so, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Reverend,” Rick announced as he walked into the dining room, “we need to get you to the church for your first interview.”

“Yes, of course,” I replied, my head still reeling from all I’d heard at breakfast. Lynn, for her part, looked like her head was about to explode as she’d undoubtedly picked up on the fact that Keith was gay too.

The job interview was to be a whirlwind experience conducted over a three-day period. This morning I would meet with the deacon, the Board of Directors and with the members of the search committee. Following lunch at a nice restaurant downtown, there would be another series of interviews, this time with the principal of the religious school, the assistant minister and the church’s music director.

On the first day, while I was interviewing, my wife would be meeting with some of the same people but at different times, and would be given a tour of the city. The two of us were to meet up in the late afternoon to tour the church facilities together and then we would be brought back to the B&B to freshen up. Finally, we would be taken out to dinner that night by a group of prominent church members.

Tomorrow, which was Saturday, was to be a day for us to explore Indianapolis. We would meet up with a realtor in the morning who would take us to see various neighborhoods all over the city and suburbs. After lunch we would be visiting several museums, the zoo and the Circle Centre Mall downtown. A second group of prominent church members would be taking us to dinner that evening at another four-star restaurant.

Sunday would be my chance to shine, or to crash and burn. I would be co-leading the two Sunday prayer services, giving the sermon at each. After the services, we were to be taken to the small town of Nashville, where we’d enjoy an authentic southern Indiana Sunday dinner, whatever that was, and then to Brown County State Park, where we could see Indiana’s natural beauty on display. We would return to the B&B for a light evening meal and to rest up for the long trip home on Monday.

As might have been expected, very little went according to plan. We were rushed over to the church, which was a much grander structure than I’d been expecting, only to be kept waiting for more than an hour. It turned out the deacon, who was up in his years and known to be forgetful, had forgotten about the interview and was playing golf with some of his buddies, oblivious of the cell phone going off in the golf cart, where he’d left it. Of course we didn’t know any of that at the time and so we waited until it was time for my interview with the Board of Directors. The interview with them was supposed to take place in the boardroom from 9:30 to 11:00, however some of the members were late and the interview didn’t start until closer to 10:00.

Rick was indeed present for the interview with the Board. I found the Directors to be a very congenial, approachable group of people. I found the Chair to be a bit intimidating, but perhaps that was because he was a famous basketball player with the Indiana Pacers. All in all, I thought my interview went well. I would have very much enjoyed working with this Board, were it not for the issue of the church’s strong lean to the left.

Unfortunately, the interview with the Board ran well over the allotted time, cutting substantially into the time for my interview with the members of the search committee. Rather than mess up the schedule for the afternoon, it was decided that I would interview with the search committee over lunch. Given the need for privacy and an extended lunch, the reservation downtown was cancelled. With a quick call, arrangements were made for us to have lunch at the B&B.

I was amazed at the lunch Barbara managed to put together for us with virtually no notice. She served us an assortment of gourmet sandwiches I would have put up against any I’d ever had, a home made black bean soup that was outstanding, and a delightful salad of tossed greens that was as fresh as it could be. For dessert she served freshly baked cookies and home made ice cream. What an extraordinary meal!

Surprisingly, the search committee interview was much more rigorous than that of the Board. Perhaps it was because they’d all reviewed so many applications and checked out numerous references, narrowing choices down over a period of months. Hence they were acutely aware of the competition for the position and could hone right in on the types of questions that would help to differentiate the candidates from each other. It was also this group that would be held responsible if the chosen candidate turned out to be a failure.

Although the questions were piercing, they were incisive and direct, and I appreciated that. This group obviously knew what they were doing and were prepared to make a deal once they identified the top candidate. This bode quite well for the process as a whole and, again, I found myself almost wishing the congregation were more traditional so that I could take the job if it were offered.

I wasn’t surprised the afternoon meetings ran behind just as much as the morning interviews and, by the time I met with Lynn for the tour of the facilities, most of the church staff had left for the day, making it much more difficult to get a sense of how the church functioned. Still, the building was over a hundred years old and very stately, yet the lighting, sound system, pews and decoration were modern. It would be an outstanding place to work.

Dinner on Friday night was in a restaurant at the top of the tallest building in Indianapolis. The cuisine was continental and I had to admit that it was extraordinary. Our hosts for the evening were a member of the Indianapolis Colts and his wife; the director of the Indiana State Historical Society and her partner, who was herself a curator at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the largest museum of its kind in America; and Keith Johnson, Lance’s father from the B&B, who dined alone. The presence of a lesbian couple and a gay man at dinner again highlighted the difficulties I would face, were I to be the senior pastor. However I found myself having a wonderful evening with this eclectic group of individuals, in spite of Lynn’s obvious displeasure at dining with them.

On Saturday the realtor showed up bright and early. She asked us about our interests and what we were looking for in a house, and how much we anticipated spending. That was a difficult question to answer without knowing how much the church would be offering! Undoubtedly it would be a lot more than I was currently making, given the size of the congregation, but if I went looking primarily at million-dollar mansions, that would undoubtedly filter back to the search committee and they might well nix my candidacy. However if we looked primarily at modest homes, the committee might decide they could get me on the cheap. It was a catch-22.

With little to go on, I threw out a broad range of figures and she told us that we could get a fair amount of house in that range in a wide variety of neighborhoods. I hoped I hadn’t suggested too much. Because we didn’t have children and hence, schools were not a concern, we decided to focus on houses in the city that were fairly near the church. It made little sense for us to live in a McMansion in a distant suburb such as Carmel when we weren’t interested in the school system, nor would we have had anything in common with our neighbors.

It was a whirlwind of a tour of the city center, with houses that ranged from the unaffordable, stately mansions on North Meridian Street, to the more affordable, but older homes in the Butler-Tarkington and Broad Ripple neighborhoods, to the authentic Victorian houses in the Lockerbie Square Historic District, where James Whitcomb Riley once lived. We were particularly intrigued by the newer housing that lined the redeveloped Central Canal, right downtown. Some of the single-family houses that lined the canal were simply out of reach, costing well in excess of a million dollars for a house that wasn’t all that big. There were some townhouses, however, that were perfect for so-called empty nesters like ourselves, and the prices were reasonable. I was impressed!

We ended up at the Circle Centre Mall, where we enjoyed lunch as we sat in a food court that was perched right over a major intersection below us. It was typical food court fare, but it was decent and it gave us a unique perspective of the city. The mall itself was very nicely done, having been carved out of a series of original department stores and buildings on the near south side. The original facades were left intact, with an elevated glassed-in interconnecting spine added to create a modern shopping experience.

After finishing our lunch, we visited a series of museums including the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and, later, the Children’s Museum, which was on the way to the B&B. First, however, we briefly toured the White River State Park, which included the Indianapolis Zoo. I couldn’t help but be impressed by everything I saw. Between the parks, the museums and the professional basketball and football teams, there was a lot to do in Indianapolis.

Nothing we’d seen, however, prepared us for the Children’s Museum. Located between Meridian and Illinois Streets and taking up two city blocks, the size and scope of the museum was like nothing else. The focus might have been on children and the facilities were high-tech, but there were plenty of things of interest for adults, too. For example, Lynn loved the doll collection and authentic carousel, and I could have spent days watching the model trains.

After finishing up, we returned to the B&B to freshen up for dinner, oblivious as to where we would be going or with whom we would be dining. I knew it would be at an elegant restaurant, given the way things had gone so far, and I expected our hosts would again be another eclectic group of individuals. What a surprise it was when a stretch Hummer limo showed up to take us to dinner. When the driver opened the door for us, waiting inside were twelve teenagers - seven boys and five girls, all of whom looked to be young. I doubted that any was older than sixteen. These were the prominent church members with whom we would be dining?

Actually, when I thought about it, it was an ingenious strategy. The youth represented the future of the church. Further, youth programs and activities are often what bring the parents back to a church they might otherwise not bother to attend. Engaging the youth of the congregation would be critical to the vitality of the church and that justified our having dinner with a group of children.

Never particularly keen on children, especially teenagers, I could see the look of discomfort on my wife’s face as she stepped inside. Thanks to her dissatisfaction, I feared it would be a very long evening indeed. Once seated, I immediately recognized four faces among them, helping to put me, if not my wife, at ease. Kevin and Lance were there, as were Carlos and Jerry. That meant that out of a dozen teens, at least a third of them were gay, a fact that I was certain was not lost on Lynn.

As the limo drove southward, toward downtown, each of the teens introduced themselves. However, even they realized it was an exercise in futility with so many faces to remember.

We continued down Meridian, driving around the Monument Circle and ending up on the near south side, not far from where we’d been earlier in the day. I was most surprised when the limo pulled up in front of a cafeteria called Shapiro’s.

“This place has the best Kosher-style deli food of any place in the Midwest,” one of the boys whose name I couldn’t remember gushed as we exited the limo. “It may not look like much, but it’s a genuine Hoosier institution and has been around for more than a century. There’s a newer one up in Carmel, but this one’s way better. You won’t find food better than here outside of New York.”

As we entered the restaurant, I had to admit that the smells inside were absolutely wonderful. I’d never smelled anything like it. Lynn, however, still had a dour look on her face. How could anyone not feel the excitement of the young men and women around her? There was vitality in this group, and it was infectious.

Rather than get in line for the cafeteria, Kevin stepped up to the takeout counter and took a number from a dispenser. Handing me a menu, he said, “It’s too noisy to eat here and have any kind of conversation. We’re gonna order the food to go and then take it someplace more quiet to eat it. Let me know now if there’s anything you don’t eat or that you’d particularly like me to order. Don’t be stingy. We’ll order more food than you think you can eat. Whatever you can’t finish, the rest of us will eat. We’re teenagers, after all. Eating is a big part of what we do.” I couldn’t help but laugh at Kevin’s comments. I was coming to appreciate just what a personable young man he was, in spite of growing up in considerable affluence.

“My plan is to order several pounds of their famous corned beef, some of their pastrami, their sliced turkey, and several loaves of their most excellent rye bread. We’ll pick up a few gallons of matza ball soup, a platter of cheese blintzes and a platter of their potato pancakes. We’ll grab several quarts of potato salad and several quarts of coleslaw, oh, and a ton of their dill pickles. Finally, we’ll get a New York style cheesecake and a key lime pie, for which they’re famous. Sound good to you?” Kevin asked.

Looking at Lynn and seeing at best a neutral expression on her face, I replied, “Sounds excellent. I can’t wait to try the food if it’s as good as you guys say it is.”

Once our order was assembled and boxed up for us, the kids wasted no time in carrying the food out to the limo and storing it behind the back seats. Then we were on our way to who knew where. Actually, we headed right back up Meridian Street and, surprisingly, pulled into the parking lot at the church!

“There’s only a tiny elevator,” a girl explained, “so give us a few minutes to make the several trips up there to get everything set up for you.”

While most of the kids helped carry the food into the church, two boys and two girls stayed behind with us to keep us company as the others went about their work. As we sat there, we started to chat - at least I did in any case.

“I must say, I was a bit surprised to find that our hosts for the evening were a bunch of teenagers,” I began. “On the other hand, you guys represent the future of the congregation, and it’s often teens that bring their parents into services. You’re good at making them feel guilty,” I said with a smile.

“I really wish that were the case,” one of the boys responded, a boy who’s name was Scott. “My parents used to be heavily involved in the church we attended. Actually, I’m sure they still are, and that was part of the problem. We belonged to a fundamentalist church near our home.

“Then, nearly three years ago, I made a terrible mistake. I’d just turned fourteen and, with everything the church taught me… had been teaching me ever since I could remember… I was troubled by the fact that I was only attracted to boys. I knew in my heart that this was wrong and I thought I could trust my parents to help me with my struggle. I thought they would love me no matter what and that their love would carry me through my ordeal. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Early in the morning, before I’d even gotten up to get ready for school, white-coated thugs barged into my room and handcuffed me. They forced me into an ambulance and drove away. It all happened so fast… I didn’t even see my parents and wouldn’t see them again for more than six months.

“I was tortured for my entire time in captivity, and it was captivity. I was completely cut off from the world, and I don’t just mean from the Internet. For more than six months, the only people I saw were the prison guards who held me captive, and my fellow prisoners and even that wasn’t every day. For the most part I spent the entire time in solitary confinement and was fed whenever the guards decided to feed me, hosed down whenever the guards decided I smelled too rank and allowed clothing, a prison-issued orange jump suit, only when forced to pray with the other prisoners. Otherwise I spent my time without books, TV or any form of diversion, locked naked in my cold cell without even bed sheets to cover me.

“That wasn’t the worst part, though. No, that wasn’t the part I refer to as my torture. Almost every day I was forced to take part in sessions in which a so-called doctor hooked me up to electrodes. A band around my penis measured my level of excitement and whenever I was deemed to have an inappropriate response, my testicles were zapped with electricity. The doctor talked to me for an hour or more about sexual situations and he sometimes showed me pictures of young naked girls and boys engaged in certain sexual acts. If I reacted to a boy, I received a shock. If I failed to react to a girl, I received a shock. I never did develop an interest in girls, so I received a lot of shocks.

“Some of the other prisoners learned to fake their responses by reversing what they heard or saw in their mind. They learned to conjure up the ‘right response’ and were deemed cured and released. Me, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it. After months of getting absolutely nowhere, I was deemed a treatment failure. I was told my parents didn’t even want me back, but I tried to return home nevertheless. It was a waste of time. They wouldn’t even open the door.

“With nothing more than the light jacket, pair of jeans, flimsy white T-shirt and sandals I was given upon my release, I wandered the streets in the bitter cold. I thought about selling myself so I could buy food and clothing, but the one thing the so-called program succeeded at was making me totally averse to sex, gay or straight. I couldn’t even get it up anymore. I didn’t even have a desire to jack off. I was psychologically neutered.

“With no other way to survive, I got by by begging and, when necessary, stealing. I knew it was wrong, but survival is a powerful incentive. For the next year I survived as best I could on the streets. Sometimes I can hardly believe I managed to survive at all and, on more than one occasion, I seriously considered letting the bitter cold or an oncoming car take me to a better place.

“Twice I was caught stealing and arrested. The first time I was released with nothing more than a night in lock-up, which was a serious improvement over where I usually slept. The second time I got a sympathetic judge who told me about a church that had a program to actually help gay teens… not to try to change them… but to provide food, temporary shelter and counseling. The church program helps undo the damage done by parents and loved ones and by the sort of aversion therapy I’d been through. I’m not completely back yet, but I’m getting there. I have a lot of friends now - friends who have shown me the true meaning of Christian love. I’ve even managed to catch up with what I missed in school, so I’ll graduate with the rest of my class this year.

“I’m not ready for a boyfriend yet… I may never be… not for a long time anyway, but I am ready to love again. I just need to find someone who’s patient. At least the thought of sex doesn’t make me feel sick anymore.” Even in the dark I could see that he was blushing as he continued with a hushed voice, “I jerk off a lot, but the counselors tell me it’s just an escape… a way of avoiding intimacy with other boys.

“I’m not sure where I’ll go to school next year,” he added. “Maybe if I can get a scholarship, I could pay my foster parents room and board while I attend Butler or something. I can’t afford to go away to school and live in a dorm, but by hook or by crook, I’m going to college and I’m going to get my MBA. I’m gonna make something of my life.”

I’d been so riveted by Scott’s story, I hadn’t even noticed that the girl sitting next to him had tears streaming down her face - not until she took Scott’s hand in her own, and then pulled him into a warm embrace. I didn’t even realize that I’d been crying until Lynn said, “What the hell are you crying about, Charlie? He’s a homo, for Christ’s sake.” I shot her a dirty look. No matter how she felt, now was not the time.

“I’m beginning to think this whole church is nothing but a group of faggots,” my wife went on to say, which made me furious.

Tersely, I said, “Christians do not resort to calling other Christians dirty names, no matter how you personally feel about the life they lead.”

“The church is known for its gay outreach program,” one of the other girls interjected, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a gay church. On the contrary, the gay membership isn’t any larger than what you’d likely find in any congregation… any congregation that doesn’t scare them away, that is.

“We’re all members of the church’s gay youth group,” she went on to say. “It’s a church-run group that provides for the unique needs of gay teens, particularly those that have been the victims of hate. Yes, we’re all gay here, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less Christian than you are.”

“Good Christians don’t live lives of perversion, having sex with whomever like animals in heat,” Lynn replied. Then focusing her eyes on Scott, she continued, “And you! If you’d have only gone into that program with an open mind, you might have been cured of your terrible disease. All you had to do was to turn to God and let him into your heart but, no, you prayed without seeking his guidance. You assumed you couldn’t be helped, so God left you with your perversion. You condemned yourself to an eternity in Hell…”

My wife went on and on, but I was no longer listening. Horrible images of my own past flooded my mind - images of penises crawling with maggots and men with horrible deformities. Memories of ice cold showers, of being forced to run naked in the snow, of electric shocks and drugs that either doped me up or made me sick to the stomach. Memories of hours upon hours of praying to God, asking him to forgive me for being a filthy sick pervert. Suddenly it became too much for me.

“NO!” I shouted out. “It’s not like that! It’s not like that at all! Do you think I didn’t pray to God to make me normal? Do you think I didn’t want to change?

“Every day I prayed and I prayed and I prayed for God to make me normal. Every day I prayed for Him to make me feel what I was supposed to feel. Every day I prayed for Him to give me the strength to resist Satan’s call.”

“Maybe the problem was that when you prayed to God, you should have been praying to Her and not to Him,” quipped the girl who’d spoken up earlier, much to everyone’s amusement, but Lynn’s.

I continued my story. “Every day I put up with cold showers and exercise in the bitter cold until my feet were numb. Every day I was drugged, or shocked, or beaten… sometimes all three. Every night I went to bed hungry and cold.

“Eventually I learned to hide my true feelings. Thank God they didn’t punish me for failing to respond to pictures of girls. I’d have been dead if they had. I simply learned to stop feeling anything at all, and that’s when they pronounced me cured.

“But last year I got close to one of the parishioners. He was no older than you are, Scott,” I added as I looked up at the boy to see that he too had tears in his eyes - fresh tears from hearing my story. Until then I hadn’t even been aware that I’d been crying.

“The age of consent in Mississippi is only sixteen…”

“It’s sixteen here too,” Scott interrupted.

“So although I would have been guilty of the crime of adultery,” I continued, “having an affair with him wouldn’t have been criminal. Since he was a parishioner, however, it would have been unethical. It would have been wrong.”

At that instant, the door swung open and Kevin announced, “Dinner awaits!” If he noticed the tears on everyone’s faces, he didn’t mention it.

As I got out of the limo and reached back to grasp Lynn's hand and help her out of the vehicle, I could literally feel that anger seething within her. I had broken a fundamental pledge I’d made to her many years ago. Somehow I knew things would never be the same, even if we were able to patch things up in the end. For the first time since we married, however, I actually wondered if I really wanted to patch things up.

The elevator really was tiny - big enough for only four or five of us at a time. Kevin and Scott waited below so that Lynn and I could ride up first, with the girls. When we got to the top, I was surprised to find we were inside one of the church towers. A small door led outside, to a small rooftop terrace.

Although the church was on a busy street, the terrace was remarkably quiet, yet we had a breathtaking view of the city skyline, brilliantly illuminated as it was. The feeling was almost magical. Right in the middle of the terrace was a long folding table, large enough to seat all of us. The table was set with a white tablecloth and a series of comfortable folding chairs extended along both sides of the table, with a chair at each end as well.

I was of course offered one of the end chairs as the guest of honor and I figured that Lynn would do the polite thing and take one of the chairs next to me; however she decided to sit in the other end chair, a position from which she could glare at me without sitting near me.

Once we were all seated, the kids started passing around serving plates filled with corned beef, pastrami, smoked turkey and rye bread, as well as bowls of coleslaw, potato salad and, of course, Kosher dill pickles. A couple of jars of spicy mustard also made the rounds, as did pitchers of ice tea and lemonade. At first I thought the ice tea tasted funny until I realized it was unsweetened, in sharp contrast to the sweetened ice tea that is prevalent in the South.

Kevin had been right - the food was excellent. It was definitely the best deli food I’d ever had. As we ate, we talked. We talked about the church activities they were involved in, where they went to school and what they hoped to do with their lives. We talked about relationships and love, and the difficulties faced by gay teens growing up in America. The one thing we avoided was any talk of the secrets revealed in the limo moments before.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening. I was impressed by the depth and maturity of feelings expressed by this group of teens that ranged in age from twelve to sixteen.

After the teenagers took the time to clean everything up and to put the left-overs away in the church kitchen, we returned to the limo for the short trip back to the B&B, back to the fireworks that I knew awaited me there.

No sooner were we in the front door than my wife shouted at me, “I told you what would happen if you ever told anyone about your history. I TOLD YOU! So what did you do tonight? And with children, no less.”

“Shouldn’t we do this in the privacy of our room?” I asked, although I doubted that it would keep the other guests from hearing every word. Still, the front door was wide open and Lynn was screaming loudly enough for all the neighbors to hear. The limo was still parked in the circular drive and Kevin, Lance, Carlos and Jerry were just outside the door, waiting to enter, but were blocked by my screaming wife.

“I don’t give a FUCK who hears!” she screamed. “You broke your promise… a promise you made the day you proposed marriage to me. You’ve known the score ever since. Now, you’re turning into a faggot, right in front of me.”

“There’s no way I can be turning gay,” I countered. “There’s no way I can turn gay because I’m already gay!” I shouted back. “And you’ve known that from even before I proposed marriage to you. You knew the score, but you believed in my redemption, or perhaps you just knew you could control me and keep me under your thumb. Well NO MORE!”

The slap that came was so fast and furious, at first I wondered if she had broken my neck, but then she stormed off up the stairs and, a short time later, I heard the door to the Otis Bowen room slam shut.

For a moment I just stood there in stunned disbelief. In reality the altercation had been building for quite some time, from even before I became involved with a teenage boy from our Mississippi parish. I didn’t even realize others were watching until Kevin took my hand and led me to one of the comfortable leather chairs in the library. A cup of steaming hot tea magically appeared as Keith sat down in the leather chair next to mine and the children left us alone.

“Do you feel like talking about it?” Keith asked with a gentleness I hadn’t realized existed within him before.

At first I just shook my head, but then I responded with, “I can’t believe how blind I’ve been. What a bitch she is. All this time I thought I loved her, but she never really loved me. She only loved me for the feeling of power from being the pastor’s wife, and from controlling me on top of that.

“I never really thought about it before,” I continued, “but I used to think how fortunate it was that I found a woman who didn’t think it odd that I wasn’t interested in sex. I would have liked to have at least had children, but she didn’t even want to try for that much. I always assumed it was because she knew I was gay underneath it all and that she wasn’t going to push me.

“But that wasn’t really it at all, was it? It was never about me and my sexuality. It was about her and her sexuality, or lack thereof. Maybe she’s a lesbian or maybe her parents’ ‘Christian values’ have left her so fucked up that she can’t enjoy sex any more than I was able to. It’s she who is abnormal. My parents tried to make me think I was sick, that I was perverted. Thanks to the horrible things that were done to me, I may never be able to enjoy sex ever again… perfectly normal, gay sex.”

“What exactly did your parents do to you, Charlie?” Keith asked. Remembering that he hadn’t been present when Scott told me his story and when I related my own, I told Keith everything, from growing up with unwanted feelings, to being locked away for close to a year while I underwent intensive aversion therapy, to meeting and falling in love with Lynn. I explained what had happened in the limo and how I had, in effect, broken my promise to Lynn to never tell anyone about my homosexuality. I also told Keith about my nearly having had an affair with a sixteen-year-old boy.

“Does that make me a pedophile?” I asked.

Laughing, Keith responded, “the correct term would be pederast but, no, I don’t think you’re one of those either. I think you’re just a healthy gay man who underwent psychological torture, but who persevered. Denying yourself all these years has taken its toll. Truth be told, most healthy adults find teens sexually attractive if they’re honest with themselves. Youth itself is beautiful. You just found yourself in a position where an opportunity presented itself. That you didn’t follow through with it just shows what a fine man you really are. Many a heterosexual man has fallen prey to temptation when it’s placed before them.”

“But what if I find myself in that situation again?” I asked. “I know I'm probably not in the running for the position under the circumstances…”

“What makes you think that?” Keith asked, astonished that I even raised the matter. “From what I’ve been hearing, you impressed everyone during your interviews. You impressed them a lot. I’m certain you’ll end up being one of our top candidates, if not our top pick…”

“Even after what happened tonight?” I interrupted.

Laughing again, Keith said, “Charlie, the only negative comments people have had have been in regard to your wife. I’m certainly not telling you to get a divorce, but it’s hardly a revelation that the two of you don’t seem happy together. Our congregants would have no trouble hiring a senior pastor who’s single. They’d have no trouble hiring a gay pastor, whether single or in a long-term relationship with another man, for that matter. The one thing they won’t do is hire a senior pastor with a spouse who doesn’t support the values that are near and dear to the church.”

“Thank you, Keith,” I replied. “You’ve given me a lot to think about,” and then I added, “but the sermon I wrote for tomorrow is totally wrong for this church. It’s a sermon that would be welcome back home, but not here. If I’m still in the running, I guess I better write another one.”

“That’s up to you, Charlie,” he replied. “Oh, in regard to that other question, I don’t think you need to worry about temptation coming your way again. What you need, my friend, is to find the right man.”

With mouth agape, I couldn’t help but wonder if Keith was actually flirting with me. When he got up from his chair and stroked my face with his hand, I realized that he was, and that I liked it.

“I guess I better let you write that sermon,” Keith added as he started to leave the room, but then he turned at the last minute and said, “If you think you might need your own room for the night, you should talk to Rick before it gets any later.”

I ended up spending most of the night writing a new sermon from scratch, going to bed just as the sky was starting to lighten in the east. I did end up sleeping separately from Lynn, for the two hours of sleep I managed to enjoy before I had to get up to get ready.

At breakfast I learned that, during the two hours I’d been asleep, Lynn had left. She’d loaded up the RAV4 with all of our luggage, including mine, and driven off in the early morning hours, presumably heading south toward our home. Without my luggage, I ended up having to get a razor, a comb and basic toiletries from Barbara and Rick. It was fortunate that I still had the suit I wore to dinner the night before.

I really enjoyed the church services that morning and scarcely even realized I was still interviewing. The congregation was so much warmer and more welcoming than any I’d been in before. I felt so at home here and could only hope and pray that I’d get the job. I was pleased to see, scattered throughout the sanctuary, a number of same-sex couples. There weren’t any more of them than I would have expected to see in any congregation, but here they were out, and it just felt so right. It was also heartwarming to see some of the teenagers I’d met last night, sitting together with their boyfriends or girlfriends, hand in hand.

The sermon I gave was one I was particularly proud of. The theme was on trying to be something you’re not and, in it, I related some of the stories I’d heard last night without naming names and trying to stick to generalities so as to not give anything confidential away. A number of the congregants had tears in their eyes when I spoke of a young congregant whose life had been shattered by parents who’d violated his trust, and then I told everyone about my own story. Afterwards, a number of the congregants came up to me and told me they’d been through something similar, and how much they appreciated me baring my soul. It gave them the courage to face what they’d kept hidden for so long.

After services were over, since Lynn was no longer there, Keith offered to take me down to Nashville and Brown County, just the two of us. I asked, much to his surprise, if perhaps his sons would like to come with us. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Keith and me, they had plans of their own for the day, not the least of which involved completing homework assignments. It was just as well, as the time I spent alone with Keith was special. Borrowing some of his casual clothing, we had a wonderful meal at the Nashville House, we toured the T.C. Steel Memorial, and we drove through Brown County State Park and hiked along an out-of-the-way trail. I shared my first kiss with a man that day, and it was anything but chaste.

With no home to return to and having received a telegram from my former church, terminating me as their senior pastor, I decided to stay a while in Indy while deciding what to do with my life. Unfortunately, the search committee still had three candidates to interview for the position, and then there would be second interviews for the top candidates. Although I was assured I was the best candidate they’d interviewed by far - a phrase I’d heard far too many times in my life - I knew that, realistically, it would be months before a final decision was made.

In the meantime, Barbara and Rick were very generous in extending me a weekly room rate that was scarcely more than the rate for one day. Three weeks later I was served with divorce papers at the B&B, which I didn’t contest. About a week later, I moved in with Keith. Two months after that, I was offered the job and I readily accepted what was a very generous package of remuneration and benefits. A month later, Keith and I were officially united in a commitment ceremony, held right in the church. Not long after that, Keith’s lawsuit against his ex-wife was settled in his favor and we all moved into his mansion further up North Meridian Street. By we, I mean Keith and myself as well as Kevin and Lance. It was a little strange becoming an instant parent. However, I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful pair of sons.

Kevin and Lance were hardly my only children, however. I took a very active role in the youth activities of the church and particularly in the activities of the gay youth group. After much discussion and a large infusion of cash from Keith and myself, the church purchased a property nearby and fixed it up as a residential center for gay youth. Scarcely a month didn’t go by when a young boy or girl didn’t show up on our doorstep, looking for help - looking for hope.

Copyright © 2021 Altimexis; All Rights Reserved.
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Not sure why, but reading this reminded me of a story I read in a biography of Thomas Jefferson, mind you a man of many flaws and faults.

Jefferson had many quarrels with organized religion.  He was instrumental in removing the state sponsored church from unwarranted  intrusion into the lives of everyday citizens of Virginia. He was vehemently opposed to the state collecting taxes to support the church. It was an ingrained belief of his, that faith was a matter of individual conscience, and best left to the individual to sort out how they would choose to worship, if at all.

The point I am alluding to was that faith for Jefferson was a highly personal matter. To that extent, he created an annotated bible, choosing only to incorporate only the passages that could be directly attributed to Jesus, he cared not for the interpretations of others and those who followed later.

I can only wonder how much different things might be if those who profess to instruct, heeded the simple words and admonishments of Jesus.

In this great country of ours, we have the cherished right to faith, shame on those who would choose to abuse that right.

Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

William Sterne Randall has, I believe, a penultimate biography of Jefferson, well worth the time to read.

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To thine own self be true. (Unless you're a hater, in which case lying to yourself about being a good person may be the only way you can get through your day.)

Congratulations to Charlie:  It took a while, but he finally gets it! 🥰

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I shutter to think how many children are put through situations like these.  Some people should NOT be parents! 

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