We couldn’t be what we wanted. Weeks included boy scouts, church prep, church, game night, and the same the next week. We rode in boats and helicopters, paintballed, camped in the mountains, played sand volleyball. We dreamed of high school girls. Community men looked after us and told us about a God that watched our thoughts. They taught us the songs of salvation, where to look, what to say, and how to be right.
“At every beginning is an urge, and subduing urges and keeping your hands to yourself is crucial to this process,” said Peterson, our assigned adult leader.
“Which process?” said someone.
Peterson looked like he’d lost 13kg overnight. His eyes sunk into a face that sloped down an Irish chin and disappeared into a fist-sized neck. He shielded his hands with his eyes as he spoke as if he was avoiding our youthful splendor.
“I remember when I was your age,” said a man in the corner wearing a dark suit. “When I was your age, I needed the gospel like a horse needs its bridle.” He stood and wrote the word AROUSAL on the chalkboard. He considered the word for a few seconds in silence. Peterson sat. Two girls braided their hair, and two others took notes. A girl nearest to the teacher crossed her legs, then uncrossed them. I followed her legs up as far as her white dress would let me, and I thought about underneath. I could hear other boys breathing. No one looked at me.
“Young men and young women, do you know why a horse needs his bridle?” asked the tall man.
“Are any of you familiar with the bit?” He held a finger sideways to his mouth. “It’s the part that the horse fights the most, but it controls him. It tells him where to go. At first, he’ll resist, but horses need the bit to know where to go. The bridle gives the rider control of the horse. When we use the gospel for a bit and let God take control, we are less likely to make mistakes. But we mess up, don’t we boys? I know all about disobedient horses. A horse without its bridle will run any which way, just like a teenager without the gospel will let their heart betray them.”