On Becoming a Pastoral Counselor or As God is My Pimp
As God is My Pimp
“What would you do, if I tried to kiss you, tried to get it on with you right now?” She said it with a smile on her pretty face. She was a very attractive coed in his office for her third session of counseling, who had originally come to him depressed over her involvement with a faculty member, actually talking about suicide at the time. It was 1972, and swinging had become a fad being tried out by many bored couples, however, the wife of the couple Nan was involved with had become furiously jealous when she found a note to the husband expressing the girl’s deep feelings for him; and consequently, insisted on being present and watching any time the student and professor had sex. She was telling him that the whole thing had started to feel scuzzy to her, and she really wanted out of the relationship, but she was reluctant, because it was the only way she had of dealing with a depressing loneliness.
Then she started talking as though she were giving a testimony, “And I’m talking about an intimate relationship.” But with each succeeding statement her transitions became more deviant. “You know, I’ve learned a lot about how to have really good sex, I mean really good, outstanding – outstanding, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh crap!” He thought. “I hope she’s not going where it sounds like she’s going.”
“Did anyone ever tell you, Barry, you have bedroom eyes?”
“I guess she is.” He silently affirmed, and chastised himself for encouraging her to call him by his first name.
To her he said, “I can’t remember; it doesn’t matter.”
“Oh but it does matter, ” At this point her transitions had become outrageously arbitrary. “Because I think you are a very attractive man.”
He sighed, a long, strong, conspicuous sigh. He had never transgressed the limits of a counseling relationship. No matter how attractive or appealing the client or how feasible the situation, for him the boundaries had always been inviolable.
She continued, “I want to be intimate with you.” her look assuming a ubiquitous sexual hunger of the human male. “I mean, sexy man, I want you.”
Trying for a level of professional detachment, he told her, “You are very attractive.” Which was true, and she was, and it was not that he was unaffected, being neither gay or a eunuch, nor had he taken a vow of chastity; nevertheless, he explained, “but it would destroy the counseling process, and that would be a shame, because we are making progress, definite progress.” which may have been a slight elasticizing of the truth, but it was the best he could come up with. She then cocked her head with a vulpine expression, or at least it fit his image of a fox’s seductive smile. “What would you do if I jumped on you right now and started hugging and kissing you?
He tried for a severely stoic expression. “Are you threatening to sexually assault me?” And it worked. The tension to which she was escalating was defused as she realized the absurdity of her proposal, which was his intention in posing the sarcastic question. He ended the session by reiterating how crucial it was to respect the parameters of a counseling relationship.
The experience with Nan confirmed his feeling that he needed more training in counseling, not that he was inexperienced, for as a chaplain at Duke University, he had been counseling students for a couple of years, without, he hoped, doing any serious damage to the twisted psyches he had encountered. His approach was a self-taught one based on Carl Rogers Client Centered Therapy, about which he had read and studied extensively on his own. And while he felt comfortable listening to clients and trying to make sure both understood what was really being said; nevertheless, he was feeling, especially since his sessions with Nan, insecure enough to believe that he would be more effective with some formal training that would qualify him officially as a counselor, a legitimate pastoral counselor.
Consequently, one morning, after several more sessions with Nan, the coed, who had yet to withdraw from her swinging scene, he was sitting around two tables pushed together with seven other candidates enrolled in the Master of Divinity Degree program in Pastoral Counseling. This was the clinical training requirement for the degree, an eight week seminar, or a series of eight sensitivity sessions as they were called at that time. The training was sponsored by the Psychiatric Department of the Duke Medical Center, and was facilitated by a psychiatrist on their staff, Dr. Crienstein.
Although it had been less than a half an hour since the session began at eight o’clock, those thirty minutes that particular morning had been torturous for Barry. It had taken a Herculean effort to give the appearance of being involved in the interaction of the group, but apparently he had been successful, so far, at least to the extent that no one had called attention to his disheveled appearance. But masquerading a sincere interest in the discussion had become so onerous, fearing that his facial expression would expose the sham of his participation, that he had to bow his head, imperceptibly enough, he hoped, to let the body language of his shoulders sustain an illusion of listening and thinking, but at the same time allow him a break from the stress of the fabricated eye contact . Looking down, however, did not alleviate the tension, quite the contrary, it jolted him with just the opposite of the intended effect, for in lowering his head he immediately noticed a couple of spots on the table, two blotches of viscous liquid, browned to a chestnut murkiness by the dark color of the table.
He would have paid no attention to the spots were they not wet, but that fact caused him to make a surreptitious examination of his elbows, which, as he suspected, were the source of the tiny pools of turbid dampness from the blood seeping through the blue cotton of his dress shirt. “Damn!” cursing to himself, afraid someone in the group would see and call attention to the wet spots. He quickly raised his head, and attempted to reestablish a visual simulation of intensely pensive listening, but since his façade of pricked up ears was no more than a stratagem to give him time to deal with the dark wet spots, and void of any genuine engagement, it afforded scant comfort to his apprehension.
“This is silly.” He said to himself, trying to relieve the emotional pressure of maintaining his subterfuge. Then quickly changing his mind. “No, it’s not silly. I’m hung over and tired. It’s natural for me to feel paranoid. Hell, it’s inevitable.” But he was still on the verge of internal panic, anticipating that the globs of moisture would be observed. He reasoned, “If anyone sees those damp patches it’s going to trigger a focus on me, so it’s not being silly, because this is definitely not a good time for me to be questioned by the group. I am not up to revealing and dealing with why I have bloody elbows. Still got too much alcohol in my blood to mount a cohesive defense.” Moreover, his paranoia was whispering to be careful, he could derail his journey to a Master’s degree.
But it had been more than thirty minutes during which he had been successful in not being noticed, and he was grateful, but he was also amazed, actually somewhat disconcerted, that no one had remarked his obvious condition. His elbows were bleeding through the sleeves of his blue dress shirt, unchanged since yesterday, the knuckles of his left hand so freshly skinned they were scabless. His forehead had an abraded bump on it, with a new beginning of seepage. And he was sure his eyes must look like they had been decorated by an angry kid with a blood red magic marker seeking graffitial revenge. He asked himself, “Is this really happening? Am I really here? What the hell do they see?”
The hot seat was currently occupied by Gordon Donnely, a Southern Baptist minister who professed to being a liberal, but whose views and demeanor belied his claims, the expression on his face rarely changing from a arrant air of disapproval and unabated condemnation of all forms of sin. The good Reverend Donnely was recounting a counseling session he had recently had with a member of his congregation. “She came to me because she was concerned about her relationship with her boyfriend. She said she was having sex with him but wasn’t sure that she really loved him.”
Before he was able to continue, Dr. Crienstein, group leader and supervising psychiatrist of all the candidates, interrupted him by asking, “How did you respond to that?”
With no reason to doubt he was giving the right answer, Gordon replied, “I asked her if they were using protection.”
It was infrequent that the dead pan neutrality of Dr. Crienstein’s expression was breached, but Gordon’s reply caused him to duck his head and look at the Baptist preacher through a pair of unruly, bushy eyebrows. “Why did you ask her that?” His voice had a whisper of a frown in it that was sufficient to rattle Gordon’s confidence as well as quicken the group’s prurient interest as it waited for his answer.
It was obviously a good time to deal with the high profile blood spots, but the necessary duplicity turned into a precarious balancing act, as Barry tried to feign an attentiveness genuine enough to blend with the interest of the other participants, while simultaneously dealing with the incriminating spill. By leaning forward and casually covering the two spots as he shifted in his chair, he slowly drew his hands toward the edge of the table, trying to relate the gesture to his feigned enthusiasm as he followed through with extra pressure from his fingers in hopes of absorbing enough moisture to compromise the evidence. And finally, making a determined effort not to disrupt his fabricated involvement with the group process, he reached under the table and wiped his hands on its bottom.
“Is it worth it? Is it worth it?” he questioned himself, trying to conceal the degree of angst he was feeling, and all the time amazed at the insensitivity of the participants who were supposed to be in a session in order to develop sensitivity, but most of all, he was astounded at Dr. Crienstein’s apparent lack of awareness. But perhaps it was a choice, since it was hard to believe that the Dr.’s
keen sense of scrutinizing had not read his emotional and physical distress; nevertheless, he was grateful.
And the subterfuge did seem to be working, at least well enough to hear and understand the dialogue between Gordon and Dr. Crientstein. The hot seat can be discomfiting. When in it you are the focus of the group, the purpose being an honest exposure of your thoughts, actions, and emotions which is facilitated primarily by questions from the leader. You are the focus of the group, and it is difficult to keep those writhing serpents of doubt at bay. Thus pressured, Gordon was becoming more pedantic in tone, if not in content. “Well, I wanted to be sure. . I mean it’s important that . . you . . you know, when you . . Well . . ” and finding himself in a logorrheac cul de sac, he stopped talking.
Returning to his professional persona of neutrality, Dr. Crienstein urged him to go on, “Yes, and then . . ?”
At this point Barry’s attention had become genuine. No longer pretending, he became genuinely interested in where the dialogue was headed.
“Well, she said that they weren’t using anything, that when he reached a climax he would pull out of her and shoot off on her stomach.” He stopped, seemingly waiting for a response. It struck Barry that Gordon had used “shoot off” instead of ejaculate, and it seemed incongruous to him, out of place with the rest of the account, and he didn’t know why.
But Dr. Chrienstein’s response was a simple prompt, “And? ”
“Well, I told her it would be good if they could find a different method.”
“Why did you tell her that?”
“Because that’s so messy.” Gordon stated it as a universally accepted maxim.
Dr. Chrienstein lifted his eyebrows, a gesture so blatantly ambivalent that Gordon blurted out, “What?”
“Messy? You think it’s messy?”
“Yes”, and while he was able to keep his tone neutral, there was an involuntary twist of disgust to his mouth, “Don’t you?” In response to the answering silence his lips opened in a circle of uncertainty as his eyes darted about the group in a futile hope of support; finally, retreating to a non-sequitous shrugging, he asked, “Well, isn’t it?”.
The exchange had been just licentious enough to tempt Barry, momentarily, to shake his self-absorbing funk and almost get involved in the discussion. Fearing, however, that a residual inebriation from the previous night might hinder him in making sense, or even worse, expose the depths of his own lasciviousness, he attempted to give himself a moment to decide whether he was capable of cogent verbal expression by once again lowering his head, only this time his respite was thwarted as his eyes immediately came to rest on two more spots, this time on his trousers, where the blood from his abraded knees had seeped through.
Though the spots were probably not prominent enough to be noticed, the sight of them was sufficient to awaken the pain he had managed to suppress, and with the reemergence of the pain came memories of the previous night’s escapades. Also concurrent with the memory provoking pain was Crienstein’s response to Gordon’s malaprop shrug, which was his own esoteric shrug, indicating that he would wait him out for an answer to the question. Aborting the pause, Gordie capitulated. “Well, isn’t it?”
In the eerie silence, Barry almost chuckled as he thought about how the doctor and the group would deal with him, were he to relate last night’s little adventure, but he also knew there was no way he was going to talk about last night in this group. In a different setting, maybe a one on one with Dr. Crienstein it might happen, but there was no way he was going to trust anything personal to these ministerially oriented participants, some of whom he was certain were more dedicated to a rigid brand of religious morality than to any concept of counseling with principles of acceptance and confidentiality.
The persistent silence of the group had an incubating effect on his thoughts, cradling him into a daydream mode, and he began to rerun the events of the previous night. He and his wife, Doris, had gone to a party hosted by Dr. Phillip Lambert, a physics professor. The most appealing feature of the party for Barry was a large cut glass bowl, bottomless full of an exotic punch seriously spiked with a pure grain alcohol that had been produced in a university chemistry lab. And coincidentally, it had become an established fact that Phil’s presence at a party was a guarantee of an ample supply of organic alcohol, which translated for Barry as the definition of a friend with benefits.
However, an even more significant imperative for his rapport with Phil was the satisfaction and stimulation he got from their discussions about physics, the recent discoveries and developments, and what they boded for the future. It was in grave contrast to the apathy he felt when discussing the implications of the currently popular, “God is Dead” theology with his fellow chaplains. When talking with Phil, the “god is dead” idea was the tip of the Nietzchean ice berg, scientifically and philosophically.
It was one a.m. when they got home, and the sitter, Rhonda, a senior in the Duke School of Nursing, assured them that there was no problem with Paul and Ashley. “I read them the one about Maleficent and they were terrified not to go to sleep.” Her terrification smile was slightly discomfiting, but there was no reason not to trust Rhonda who was a very bright and serious student. She wore no make up on her seriously scholarly face, which was smooth and without blemish. Her face seemed longer than it was because there was no roundness to it, or fullness to her lips. She had a tendency to be a bit sarcastic in everything she said.
After Doris paid her, Barry gave her a choice. “You want me to take you home in the car or on the bike.” She smiled, “Why would I ride in the car when I can ride on a motorcycle?” Although his blood alcohol level was alarmingly high, his level of intoxication was not an issue; it was 1972, and there would be thousands of drunk driving deaths before drinking and driving became a concern serious enough to deal with.
“You know, I’m thinking about getting one of those mopeds.” And her reply to his skeptical look was, “What? You think I can’t handle it because I’m a girl? Or just not Butch enough?” Respecting her penchant for oral combat and his alcohol dulled faculties he refused the bait, and they were off. It was a Honda CB 160, his first bike, and he loved it; it handled better than any of the many bigger bikes he was yet to own.
The bike’s name was Nellie, and he leaned her deep into a couple of corners and felt Rhonda increase her hold on him with a strong pressure as she pressed her body into his. It had no particular significance for him, as there had never been any signals, overt or otherwise, between then, but after the third corner of a rather extreme lean she pressed even harder against him, and, brushing her lips against his ear, it sounded like she said, “I don’t want to be a virgin anymore.” But he was sure he misunderstood; it was incongruous with the Rhonda he thought he knew.
He pulled over and stopped, and twisted around in his seat to look at her, which caused her to release him from the embrace, but she kept her hands on his waist.
He tried to keep his voice neutral. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.”
“You mean. . .?”
In response she looked at him, and what he saw was a gorgeously grotesque mask of ambivalence enhanced by wispy shadows of the darkness. He was seeing for the first time a definite sensuality in the shape of her face; it was spooky, throwing him totally off balance.
There had been nothing, no hints, nothing to suggest a possible intimacy. He continued to look at her long enough to define a tiny space in time. She held the mask until he turned back, pressed it into first gear, released the clutch and accelerated at a pace giving no hint of anything aberrant. But as he shifted into second and she re-spooned him with an even tighter hold, his brain was carpet bombed with a plethora of incendiary thoughts, until his head began to feel as combustible as time bomb with the minutes ticking off. From myriad directions he was jarred with facts, fears, myths, questions, warnings, rationales, possibilities, justifications, all piling into his brain.
“You’re old enough to be her father – But she’s not a minor – My first infidelity would be with a virgin? That a plus or minus? I’m sure I could make it a good experience for her – The evidence indicates the first time is often a bad experience for the girl. How strong is my professed commitment to the philosophy of ‘make love, not war? A chaplain is obligated to take a stand regarding the radical change in college student morality brought about by the pill. How long ago did she plan this? Is she on the pill?”
This conglomeration of thoughts was rampaging and bouncing off the cerebrative walls of his mind. But more germane than any of these considerations was the feeling that his marriage did not feel all that satisfying. He had recently concluded that sex had become more important to him than to Doris. “Could this be a rescue ship?” He wondered, “Maybe even salvage the relationship while still on the rocks, before it sinks.”
Extenuating further, he assured himself that he would not be violating any counseling strictures, because while Rhonda had shared personal information, such as she was a virgin, nothing had been formalized in terms of counseling. They were almost in front of the nursing school dorm where she lived, but he didn’t slow down, and as they rode past he knew right then in that moment that the decision had been made. He didn’t stop until reaching the isolated building between east and West Campus where he had his office. It was on the third floor at the end of the hall, conveniently isolated. The second floor housed a miscellany of staff offices while the whole first floor belonged to the Department of Human Resources.
He stopped near the front door, but didn’t get off or even turn around, just sat there and spoke straight ahead to whatever ghostly conscience might be lurking behind the full length window next to the door. “You’re sure this is what you want?” Her answer was a strong hug with her body pressed up against his. Nan got off, and he put the kick stand down, knowing it would hold in the gravel of the drive, because it was where he parked the bike when working late. When campus security would see it parked there, they wold know he was in the office and not bother him. He walked to the door, but before he could get the key in she said, “I don’t want it to be in the office.” He turned and saw her still standing next to the bike, and over her left shoulder a mood setting backdrop of a large magnolia in full bloom.
“What the hell?” He wondered. “Does she want to go to a motel?” And he realized how late it was and how tired he was, but if a motel was what she wanted or needed. . . At this point it became clear to him what he was about to do, and it surprised him that as tired as he was he was feeling good about it, a maturing confidence that he was doing the right thing. He simplified it. “A young woman has a need, a need I am able to meet; and of course it’s outside the guidelines of the ‘traditional ministry’, but given the current counter cultural- revolution, I believe that this can be called a “cutting edge ministry”.
He followed as she started around the building, walking with what he took to be predestined steps. She went to back of the building and stopped at a debutante camellia, its size defining it more as a tree than a bush. Beneath its lavish array of opulently full, rose-pink blossoms, he laid his jacket on a bed of savory scented pine needles.
This would not be his first time with a virgin. He and his wife, at sixteen, had shared firsts with each other. And while this in no way qualified him as a veteran deflowerer, he had acquired a little knowledge; at least he learned that he could make it less painful and perhaps even pleasurable because of his state of un-circumcision.
Everyone started to stand, and he realized that the session had ended. Off in his reverie he had missed its conclusion, but he could see that The Reverend Donnelly definitely did not look “safe and secure” in any “everlasting arms” He couldn’t help but smile as he imagined Gordie wrestling with the theological correctness of a sperm splattered tummy, since the poor fellow already seemed to be caught in a gale force conflict that threatened him with a soul tossed torture of hurricane strength.
How the session actually ended was inconsequential to Barry, so grateful was he not to have been called out; however, he was overwhelmed by the insensitivity of these men of God who were able to ignore the claret spots from bleeding elbows, the sanguine seepage from trouser knees, or scuffed knuckles and a fresh abrasion on the forehead; but most of all how could they immunize their olfactory senses to the malodorous effluvium of sweat flavored alcohol. Astounding.
Once he felt safe from exposure, but aggrieved over his malady being blatantly ignored, or consciously evaded, he defiantly wiped up the remaining dampness from the table, making no attempt to disguise the action, his smile growing almost into a chuckle as he thought about how much more exciting his adventure would have been, for him to have been in the hot seat and explain how he made his existential decision. And back in the day dream mode he continued to remember the rest of the evening, and how he would have recounted it to the group, explaining to them that the reason he looked like he had been in an accident was because he had been.
He would relate how after performing his deflowering duty he had taken Rhonda home. In his mind he was recounting to the group, “She didn’t say anything on the ride back to the dorm, which caused me to try to assess whether her holding on had lost any of its pressure. Maybe. When we stopped at her dorm, and before getting off the bike she made one of her typical remarks, ‘So, that’s all there is to it?’ and it made me feel that maybe it wasn’t as good as it could have been, the way I hoped it would be. My punctured ego was partially salvaged, however, when she nodded her head after I hugged her, which I took as an affirmation of some kind, but maybe she was only saying goodnight.”
He was unable to imagine what questions Dr. Crienstein would ask, but continued his envisioned reverie. “It was less than three miles from her dorm to my house, and I was more than half way there when I fell asleep. Yes, that’s right, I fell asleep.” He imagined Dr. Crienstein or one of the candidates expressing their skepticism over falling asleep while riding a motorcycle. “Well, I did, and no I haven’t heard of anyone falling asleep on a motorcycle, but that’s what happened.
And with the bike on its own, the front wheel turned and dug into the street, the rear end erupting and catapulting me over the handle bars to land on my hands and knees and bang my helmetless head. And I guess God was looking out for me, since Nellie took an independent trajectory and missed me. Dragging her out of the street I left her and walked home. After three hours of passed out sleep, in my clothes, I got up and washed the blood off of my head. Then I called the motorcycle shop, and asked them to pick it up. I then came here to the seminar without a shower or shave.”
He was uncertain of what Dr. Crienstein’s response would have been, but was convinced that most of the pastoral counselor candidates would have seen divine retribution at work, assured that he had received a just reward for his sins of debauchery. In reality the consequences heralded just the opposite. In the first place, the insurance from the accident allowed him to move up to a Bridgestone 440, the first in a series of bigger bikes that were to anoint him with enough wind and speed to gluttonize on the thrill of life’s freedom, paying only the cheap price of the wind’s immutable gift of premature wrinkles.. And it would take four more bikes and three more accidents, the last one vying with falling asleep for being atypical, before the threat of statistical power got so hot on his tail that he gave up riding altogether.
The second and major consequence of the evening, although not directly related to the bike accident, was that the Rhonda encounter inaugurated what he designated, confidentially to himself and a couple of intimates, as his “Ministry of Eros”. The endeavor would run parallel to his pastoral counseling ministry, because it was shortly after the Rhonda assignation that he received his Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling and became an official Pastoral Counselor. The two ministries were kept rigorously separate. The primary difference was that while both were based on the caring and compassion of agape and philia, only one would venture deep enough into the Dionysian mysteries to reap a passionate portion of eros.
And the rules and guidelines were as stringent as were those of the pastoral counseling. The cardinal principle for Barry was that he never initiated an affair, and was dogmatically insistent that the first move had to come from her, as an indisputably clear indication of desire. He did, however, become adept at recognizing cues, although some were cautiously subtle. With a sufficiently laid back signal, when failing to trigger a response, there could no question of her innocence. On the other hand some signals were flagrantly suggestive. “Did anyone ever tell you, you’ve got bedroom eyes?” was used frequently enough to qualify as a standard launching tool, with no ambiguity in its subtext.
Another statute to which he adhered with a sacred diligence, was never to refuse. It was a matter of pride with him. Even when he was not madly turned on, young or old, obese or anorexic, as long as he felt they were mentally stable enough to consent, he never refused. For him it was a ministerial obligation; consequently, any time he perceived a definite manifestation of a need, he was available.
And once on active duty, he became astute at appraising the signs, whether a smile, a gesture, or words. He was amazed at the frequency of the entreaties, and the quantity of requests led him to entertain the idea of it being a providential gesture. And it wasn’t that he was particularly handsome, although his mother had told him he was ever since he was old enough to think he knew what handsome meant, which motivated him to move about with a degree of suavity.
Before the seminars ended he had his turn in the hot seat, and talked about his mother, considering her a safe topic. He started, as though he were sharing an amusing anecdote. “I didn’t take her seriously; I just assumed it was her maternal instinct, the way mothers are. But I also felt there was some element of mystery, especially since she refused to talk about my biological father, whom I never knew. Anytime I asked her about him she would start to cry; so I stopped asking.
But after she died, three years ago, I found out the real story from an Uncle. He got drunk, and related the whole story. Uncle Darby claimed that she had an agenda with a definite goal in her relationship with me. Her inviolable mission, her parental raison d’etre, was to make me feel good about myself so that I would not blow my brains out as my father had, according to Uncle Darby’s account.”
Dr. Crienstein’s response was predictable. “How did that affect you?”
Barry answered with his acquired suavity, actually smiling in a lighthearted way as though the narration was amusing to him. “I don’t think it had much effect on me at all. I mean when I finally penetrated that shield of Southern mendacity it all became clear to me. She was terrified that I might have inherited that penchant for eating self-served bullets.”
He continued to smile, but the group was quiet, Dr. Crienstein as well. In the extended silence, Barry’s smile grew even bigger, until reaching its zenith it turned into a spurious grimace. Then as a shocking surprise to himself, he burst into tears, tears that had bypassed all thought process, and would not stop until he was sobbing and trying to apologize. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. This is crazy.” It was the first time in the six weeks seminar that anyone had actually cried.
Dr. Crienstein responded. “They are your tears; you have a right to them.”
The reason for the numerous liaisons was not because Barry was a studmuffin, although he was not unattractive. At thirty three years old he was in good physical condition, and had the body of a gymnast, in which sport he had competed for many years. Consequently, his body had a certain allure. Nevertheless, it’s still difficult to know why, once he became serviceable, there were so many requests.
One recipient of his ministry was a dean of women, a stunningly beautiful person. One day her body would give way to non- symmetrical bulges, but in the mean time it was perfect. And her face, with softly full lips, was expressive of an outrageous sensuality. Maura was engaged, but anticipated an insecurity if she went into the marriage with no other experience, which she felt could be a detriment to the long term relationship.
And she tried to express her reason for choosing Barry when she told him, “What I like about you is you’re so damn flamboyant.” He had no idea what she meant. He wondered, “Is it the bike?” He rode his motorcycle around campus before they became a fad. His was one of less than a dozen on campus. Or, he remembered, “It really turns her on to watch me do giant swings on the high bar.” But he never was quite sure what she meant. It didn’t occur to him that it could be an accidental charm or some essential animal magnetism.
Although he remained unaware, there were several reasons for the exponential success of his ministry. There were those whose needs made them desperate to find a way to meet their despair and hopelessness, and a bonus was that they felt safe having an illicit fling with a clergyman, certain he would respect the confidentiality, and be the last to brag. There was the coed who was turned off by the frat mentality of an alcohol induced hook up, but whose needs were intense for something deeper, without a long term commitment, and that would not detract from the time and energy she needed for her studies. It was convenient. Or for the med student’s wife, who felt secure in the long term relationship as a doctor’s wife, but had the serious problem of how to meet her lascivious desires while her husband’s time and energy was consumed memorizing the names of various germs, and a long list of anatomical terms.
For others it was the simple challenge of seducing a man of the cloth. The evidence to support this theory was indisputable, because once he had activated his ministry of eros, he discovered that the clerical collar could be a vigorous enhancement to sex appeal, one he discovered to be a useful tool of enticement, but one he chose not to exploit. Or perhaps it was simply an alluring symbol of the forbidden fruit, a chance to recreate the role of Eve in the garden drama of Eden.
The one person he was able to confide in was a local pastor in Durham. His trust in the man’s confidentiality was based on a confidence he had shared with Barry. One night after several drinks and listening to jazz for a few hours, The Reverend, Steven Brockley, who was committed to a conservative theology, confided that on the day of his wedding, while driving her to pick up some flowers, he had gotten a blow job from his wife’s maid of honor. Although there an was an incongruity about it, Barry considered the sharing of that event a binding link of trust.
In their conversations Barry went to great lengths to defend his ministry of eros. He would deny that he was defending it, considering it legitimate in the eyes of God. What he was doing was explaining exculpatory issues. He would tell Steven that as God’s representatives they had to accept that they were working in the early seventies in a social and spiritual milieu that came out of the sixties and that they were called to the task of dealing with the radical transitions brought about by the pill and Vietnam.
“But” Pastor Stephen would protest, “the basics are still applicable.”
“Oh Steve, if you’re going to try to defend and promote two thousand year precepts, man, you are on quick sand. We’re half way through the twentieth century.”
“The basics don’t change. Thou shalt not kill. There’s no ambiguity in that.”
“Ha Ha Are you serious? In the first place it didn’t even apply then, not to the elite. God told his people to kill, and not the least amorphous was his command to one of his favorites, to kill his own son.”
“Are you saying the ten commandments are no longer valid?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. All we have to do is find someone as evil as Hitler, and we are free to kill, kill, kill, until it gets out of hand, like the story that’s coming out about Mai Lai, where some are saying that “our boys” shot and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, but it’s O.K. because they were the enemy. Or you can’t even talk about coveting another man’s wife, because that assumes a woman is a piece of her husband’s property. And stealing?” At that point Steven realized that Barry was preaching, if not pontificating. He was on a roll. “And stealing? The American way is based on getting as much of another man’s money as you can. For the big millionaires, for the Fords and Rockefellers, succeeding is a euphemism for stealing. So there’s no way to apply these mandates per se, today. Moses claimed to have these decrees from God. But we are in a different time, with a different culture. We are in recklessly changing times, an era of chaotic fluctuation. Which means that we have to seek the essence of God’s Word and find new forms.”
“Is your ministry of eros a new form?”
“Yes, it is. Have you heard of that cult that calls itself “children of God?”
“The group created by David Berg?”
“That’s the one. Now that is a perversion of the Christian religion, a travesty of God’s love. Berg encourages, no, he demands, with no room for choice, that his followers demonstrate the love of Jesus by having indiscriminate sex with other members, and not just across marital lines but includes sex between adults and children as young as five or six. That’s a mockery of every kind of love, agape, philia, ludus, but it’s especially a gross violation of eros.”
Steven realized the futility of arguing, and hoped that with some questions he could get Barry to at least think about what he was saying. “But your ministry is different?”
“Absolutely! What they’re doing is using the concept of God’s love to legitimize sex. Mine is a way of expressing love and compassion.”
“What happens if one of your . . .devoted? falls in love with you?”
“I’ll help them deal with it. But I have never given any reason for anyone to entertain the possibility of a future relationship. I make it clear that it’s temporary, a hands on spiritual healing to help someone through a rough time, and sometimes save a marriage.”
Steven laughed. “Me thinks thou dost protest too much. Sounds like a doctrine of laissez- faire. A pretty radical theology.”
“For me theology is passe. Science and philosophy are where I find truth. And my own philosophy is that people can do whatever they want, hump purple-assed baboons, if that’s their cup of tea, and the baboon is willing, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Nodding his head, Steven replied, “I can accept that my theology is passe, if you can accept that you are full of bullshit.” They were good friends, and spent many nights having the same conversation while drinking and listening to jazz.
For the next three years Barry conducted his Ministry of Eros concurrently with but separate from, his Pastoral Counseling. He was respected on campus, especially in the university’s religious community, for his participation in the civil rights movement as well as for his homilies when it was his turn to preach in the Duke Chapel. His Ministry of Eros remained active, but underground, and was threatened with exposure only once.
In one of his quarterly reports to his synod level supervisor he inadvertently wrote that he felt good about his ministry in which he was able to chase wild rabbits. Two days after he sent the report the supervisor responded, and said he was confused about what he meant by “chase wild rabbits” and would like to discuss it with him. The Reverend Cranford Barber was going to come to Durham and meet with him
He was nervous, because while he was adroit at side stepping the truth, he had qualms about outright lying, and thus far had managed to keep it a covert ministry without deliberately lying. What he had meant was that he was grateful for the freedom to pursue activist causes, and he realized that his phrasing had been more revealing than he intended and was subject to misinterpretation.
He was to meet Pastor Cranford for lunch at the popular deli near campus, which happened to be where most of Barry’s assignations initially commenced. The meeting was on Monday at noon. At ten a.m. he received a call from the Pastor’s secretary, who informed him that Pastor Cranford had a stroke the night before and suffered some paralysis of his face, and would not be able to make the luncheon. Barry expressed his sympathy, and hung up, finding it not difficult to consider it one more providential gesture, but was reluctant to see it as a “providential stroke”.
In any case he was free to pursue his ministry, which he conscientiously did, until he met Beth. Beth, a graduate student in the theatre department, was working on her PhD. Her thesis was on Japanese Noh Drama, and would be finished at the end of the semester.
Not particularly religious, she had gone one Sunday to the Duke Chapel for the Gothic experience. Barry was preaching and after the service she invited him for coffee. They met at the deli where he was to meet Pastor Barber, and his life exploded. Never before had he experienced what he was feeling.
To him her face had a classic beauty, with every feature fitting together in the creation of a vitality that emanated through and from her blue eyes. When he looked into those eyes he perceived the power of a spiritual healing that previously he had only fantasized about.imagined. Before the first cup of coffee was finished he told her how beautiful she was. It was the first time he had broken his rule; he had made the first move, and though he didn’t know it, he was in love. He asked her to meet him for a beer that night. He wanted her. In many ways he wanted her, and though loath to admit it, he needed her.
With Beth his Ministry of Eros was out of the question, because she was ministering to him more than he to her. After hearing a couple of his sermons she was convinced on the basis of his delivery and content that he had a real talent as a writer and actor. And of course he was vulnerable enough to believe her had she told him about his great potential as lion tamer.
It took little time for him to be convinced that he had been blessed, to him she was a special gift. It took less than two months for them to decide that together their potential in theatre was unlimited. This shared vision became number one priority for him, as an obvious calling, hence taking precedence over his marriage, his family and his dual ministry.
Beth got her PHD, and he demitted the ministry. They left together for New York. Obviously, it was not going to work, and of course, it didn’t. Finding himself alone in New York City he tried and failed to develop a Ministry of Eros, eventually accepting that the clerical collar had been more pivotal than he thought.