Part 2 of the Jesus Camp episode is now up! In this episode, we pick up where we left off. Justin and Ken tell us who their favorite Christian musicians are and they continue the walk down memory lane. We discuss how we each approach religion with our kids and how we can teach our children values and morals without indoctrination.
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The greatest thing for your ears since diamonds. Listen to this episode of the Not Guilty No Way podcast.
In this episode, Marc and I discuss his unfortunately brilliant plan for allowing folks who can drive drunk, to, well, drive drunk. I hate that I think it’s completely reasonable. I also try to get him to explain his stance on Black Lives Matter and he ends up talking in a circle and coming back to it’s fine, don’t worry about it. We talk about whether God has a penis (according to Christian lore, he does. For some reason, Marc disagrees.) Basically, Marc’s brain explodes all over this episode.
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Below find Justin’s post: I Went to Jesus Camp. Part I: The Camper
The film tracks an evangelical christian summer camp that is designed to create christian soldiers. These soldiers (small children) were to take up arms and fight in the culture war that was taking place in America. If you have not seen this movie go see itÂ hereÂ for free.
If you have never experienced evangelical Christianity the movie will blow your mind. If you have, and you arenâ€™t too far removed from the experience, it will seem familiar but not too shocking. That is the scary part.
When I first told a friend of mine that I went to a Jesus Camp she told me she had seen the movie. She was asked, â€śis your campÂ really like that?â€ť I went on to explain. Bewilderment ensued.Â Brookhill Ranch Summer CampÂ was my destination for Jesus. I attended camp from around 5th grade through the 9th or 10th grade and then was a camp counselor for about 3 summers.
The truth is, there is too much to tell for a single blog post.Â This post alone is almost 3k words.Â So, we will start you off with my experience as a camper. (Later posts will be dedicated to the counselor experience, the parent experience, and the post-religious holy-shit experience)
Iâ€™m sure there are quite a few of you who have experienced summer camp. A day camp with some outdoor fun, some bad food, and making out with a boy or two before you go home. Well, this was not like that experience.Â To some thisÂ tale will be one that you cannot relate to in any way shape or form. My goal is to follow this thing fact by fact. Memory by memory. And, while doing that, share the thoughts and feelings thatÂ went through my head and chest. WhatÂ I donâ€™t want is for it to read like a pile of fuck you Christianity from the get go. To do that would be disingenuous and would allow me to recreate who I have been along the way.
I was an average kid. Milquetoast. I had a bit of a hard time fitting in. (like most do)Â As a way pass the time and feel special I got involved at church. (A Methodist Church) My first post for service was as an acolyte. This was a position of great responsibility. I not only lit the candles, but I also put them out. IÂ came to learnÂ that you can more easily twiddle your thumbs as an acolyteÂ because you get to sit on the front row and canâ€™t get tiny elbow pinched by your mother for acting foolish. I went to church about every Sunday. Most days my parents were too tired from work or would really rather golf. Who could blame them? But I craved it. So I would dragÂ my mother some SundaysÂ against her will.Â A few years later, I joined the church youth group. (even went to aÂ PetraÂ concert baby!)Â It started off fairly vanilla.Â We had some youth leaders in the summer thatÂ were bigÂ Jesus fans.Â One of them, I really only remember that he had the Lion King soundtrack and would play it or Elton John in the car often.Â We went on float trips, we would mow peopleâ€™s yards, and we would also do communion for shut-inâ€™s, etc. The final youth director I had was nice. But, there would be a lot of really charismatic people coming in and out that he would associate with. It eventually started looking more like theÂ evangelical talkÂ I was hearing at summer camp. (put god and prayer back in school, Jesus all day, no secular rock music, sexual abstinence, and no drugs or smoking) Donâ€™t get me wrong. the Methodist elders were not throwing orgies or drug experimentation parties. However, it really was more of a WASPY traditional thing. You go to church, you have a potluck, you hang out with white church folk, etc. It was religious indoctrination, but not quite as exciting!
My parents werenâ€™t that religious in their day to day lives. We didnâ€™t pray over dinner every night or talk about how god helped them sell a dryer or carpet at the store that day. On the other hand, I donâ€™t remember having anyone over that was not white or a Christian. A few Catholic friends, but that was about as edgy as it got.
By elementary school my cousins had been going to this summer camp. (Brookhill) You would not believe my excitement. I heard the stories one summer when I was at their house visiting. Go karts? Swimming? Bows and Arrows? You stay in a cabin named after a horse. I asked my mother if I could go and she said yes.
The first day of camp starts out very pedestrian. You have campers driving up in their vans with their parents and they get in line to pay for camp and get assigned a cabin. As a kid, and after you have been there a year previously, you start darting your eyes around the camp to see what counselors were there. These people were gods. They wore red tshirts and they commanded much attention and respect. So, you would go get settled into the cabin. The counselors would usher you in and yes mâ€™am and yes sir your parents. They would be so pleased and comforted by these nice young counselors. (They would have to be comforting because my mother was a nervous wreck)
I was so anxious that I could not stand it. But, my counselor comforted me and introduced me to a few other boys in my cabin and I was able to get settled in pretty quick.Â Â Below I have done an exhaustive run through ofÂ a day at camp. It may beÂ laborious to read.Â However, I think it is necessary. If you have not been to Jesus Camp you need to read this to get an idea. If you have been, and you still think it is all normal and fine then do this: take this list, print it out, tape it to a 2Ă—4, and smack your face with it.
A typical day at Brookhill when I was there would be as follows. We would wake up and take showers and get ready along with our cabin. We would then stumble outside and pray in a circle with our cabin mates. If it were one the younger kids it would be really painful for everyone else. â€śI would like to thankâ€¦.*feeling the pressure of what to say* Godâ€¦.and thank him for this yummy foodâ€¦..*long pause* amen.â€ť *sigh from rest of the boys and counselors* â€śAmen! Letâ€™s go eatâ€ť If it was one of the older boys in the cabin then there would be a much more elaborate performance. Iâ€™m not saying you know it is a performance when you are doing it. But, that is what it is. You realize that as you mature your way through the rank that more elaborate prayer was met with praise and reinforcement. â€śI would like to thank Jesus for what he put on my heart so far this week, and thank Counselor Steve who has shown me that I have talents that GodÂ has given to me and I plan to share the word of Christ when I get back to school.â€ť Then Counselor Steve would chime in: â€śThat is awesome. Simply awesome. God is going to do great things in you!â€ť What I quickly found is that all good things came from Jesus. I am nice to you because of Jesus. You will be at peace with Jesus.
Eat Breakfast. Then, morning devotions. The devotions would consist of one of the cabins doing a skit on the bible. The skit would usually be a lesson on how to apply biblical ideas to your every day life. (A common theme is â€¦ everyone is doing drugs but you do not have to! You have the power of Jesus in your heart!) After the skit a counselor tells something about Jesus that Jesus himself laid on the counselorâ€™s heart. A few songs are sung, a prayer again, and then start the day. As a camper it all seemed pretty normal. I had been in youth group and we had done somewhat similar skits for my church I grew up in. What I could feel, and clearly what the camp staff wanted you to feel, is that this Jesuslifestyle was something to never put down. There was a very certain way to do it. And, not only that, it was expected that you do it. You are a Christian (or a Christian prospect). You will have to be a certain way. They would illustrate this these skits. What is wrong with telling kids they donâ€™t have to give into peer pressure? Or do drugs? Or have exploratory sexual experiences? What, I tell you? You were a vessel for Christ. Jesus-down trickle lifestyle economics.
The day is filled with busy activities: go karts, horseback riding, archery, etc. These are fun. Donâ€™t get me wrong. Constant motion. They would wear us out to such a degree that you couldnâ€™t help but pass out when your head hit the pillow at night. Now to lunch! We then would pray for lunch and then eat. We would sing some pop-like Jesus tunes to fire you up. (Ex.Â Pharoh, Pharoh!)Then, on to more activities. Rinse and Repeat. Constant reinforcement of Jesus paired with the excitement of song and activity.
Coming back from an afternoon of activity we would be allowed to purchase snacks, candies and drinks to help cool off and satisfy our sweet tooth. We would relax with our cache of goodies and settle in for a story.
Hettie Lou Brooks, the matriarch of the camp, would come out and greet the campers in the pavilion.Â This woman had jet black hair that was huge and curly. She had a vision that god had given her to create a summer camp where kids could come and become christian kids and mingle with other christian kids. TheÂ counselors would retire for their meeting (more on that in part 2: The Counselor), and Hettie would talk about the culture of America going to Satan. Little did I know but Satan had his hands in everything. Music, television, and SEX. She would describe sex as boys with their frothy mouths drooling all around. There would be many mentions through the week of common themes: no prayer in school, Satan taking over our government, Satan taking over our sex, and Satan making people think they were gay, (I was educated to the scientific fact that no homosexual acts occurred in the animal kingdom)Â Satan Satan Satan. Oh, and before we would retire for a nap, she would tell us a very riveting story. She could tell stories on the fly in a very impressive way. I can remember being quite spellbound and attentive as she would seem to tell these stories in an improvisational way. She would weave all the above mentioned themes together until the story ended at the end of the week. A boy would befriend a girl that was struggling and then in the struggling the kid would find Jesus and it would all be better. (For some insight into the type of ideas being shared you should look toDavid Barton. Mr. Barton was friends with the Brooks and he seemed to heavily influence her. To get an idea of the madness that this man spreads:Â click here
Ok, let us quicklyÂ move through the rest. It is getting boring. After story time was nap time. Wake up from the nap and leave your cabin with your cabin mates and go down dinner. (pray for dinner of course).
The evenings would be more of of a serious affair. EveningÂ vespersÂ would be the service. This would include slower songs, a parable skit told by a cabin,Â a small sermon from the counselor, and then a prayer. Kids would raise their hands in the air orÂ kneel on the ground and audibly pray to themselves. There would be mention of Jesus being the only way. I can remember feeling the beginnings of the pressure. I couldnâ€™t articulate it then. I wouldnâ€™t even dream of saying anything if I could have. These counselors were so nice and so kind to me. That along with the rush of emotions, music, and wanting to belong were a powerful combination. I found a link to two videos I have embedded below. I canâ€™t hardly watch the one from Brookhill now without a lot of shitty feelings. IÂ remember the rush of it. I was going to do it! I was going to be the greatest Jesus ambassador! I had no idea howÂ psychologically damagingthis experienceÂ was. (more talk on the psychology of these things in Part 2: The Counselor)
I worshiped the camp counselors. They paidÂ so muchÂ attention to me. I never was left out. They would ask what I liked, where I was from, andÂ how I was doing.Â The constant attention was a drug. What made these people act like this? The love of Christ. Why wouldnâ€™t I do the love of Christ? I get to fit in here and be part of something. I never had any particular desire to do drugs or drink (alcohol in the family). I was so ridiculously awkward and Jesus-y I had no worries of any girls wanting to share froth with me. A pretty easy pitch for a kid like me.
After the evening worship service we would go back to the cabin and get ready for bed. The counselors would tell amateur morality tales. It would depend on the counselor. If the counselor had been into drugs, girls,Â or rock music, the counselor would describe how bad it was before and how much better it felt to be a Christian. I was convinced I would never need any of those things to make my life better. Just summer camp would do for me.
The above daily schedule would repeat itself until the crescendo of the week: Salvation. Salvation, as I would come to know, was the one and only purpose of Brookhill. The rides, the nice people, and the stories were all to woo you.
I can remember the music playing. I can remember a counselor in tattered clothes with fake blood and the crucifixion being reenacted. There would be wailing women and the crack of a whip. It was an emotional experience. Kids in the crowd would be crying and then they would ask us if we would want to be Christians. They asked if we were ready to live lives as good Christian young men and women. I had thought I might be a Christian already from being a member of the church. But, I wasnâ€™t going to chance it. I certainly wasnâ€™t going to be one of only kids not to go to the front and heed the call. So, I did it. I could never tell you what year I ever became a Christian. Every one of the other counselors had a date they remembered. It would always stress me out because I did not know the day I became a Christian. If you had been saved youÂ were supposed to know the day that it happened. I probably went to the front to accept Christ almost half a dozen times. Hard to be too sure on these things.
After leaving Brookhill that summer I would enter in a constant cycle of mania, anxiety, guilt, and doubt over whatever it was I was supposed to be. Burning my secular music, telling people about Jesus, and living life for the Lord. Nothing felt as necessary as the next Brookhill Camp session. It was an addiction. An actual addiction. A need that would fill a spot that any other addiction would fill. Within a week of leaving camp the feelings of excitement were gone. The friends were gone, the constant praise was gone, and the pulsating music and promises of a godly world were gone. I was left confused and I felt like the very worst Christian that could ever be. I really had no desire to lead anyone to Christ. Seemed scary and a bit forward of me. Yikes, especially in real life? That was just crazy talk. It was easy to be a on-fire Jesus kid with all the other campers.
After the years as a camper I became fixated on the next goal. I was going to show everyone I had what it took to be a counselor. I knew how it felt to have someone talk to me. So, I was going to do the same. It was a whole new world on the other side of camp. The veneer would wear away a little bit. But, the addiction was still fed.
NoÂ speaking in tongues was going to stop me.Share on Facebook
Below find Justin’s second blog post on the Jesus Camp: “I went to Jesus Camp. Part II: The Counselor.”
Welcome back for more Jesus Camp. This blog post is part 2 in an ongoing series. I would suggest you ask yourself two questions before starting the read:
a. Have you been to a Jesus Camp? Start reading the blog post.
The Counselor.Â I will pick up where I left off from the previous blog post. After you have been to Brookhill for a few Summers you start to talk to your fellow campers about being a â€śred t-shirt.â€ť (camp counselors wore red t-shirts, duh) Each cabin of boys or girls were broken up into about 12 kids per bunk. Usually in each bunk there was a Senior Counselor and a Junior Counselor. A Senior Counselor was a fully vetted Jesus Commando. They were of college age and were the head of the cabin. A Junior Counselor was junior or senior in high school. Soldiers in training. Or, as a friend of mine who I recently connected with on this topic remarked:
memories of being creepily manipulated by a bunch of adults and other recently-manipulated teenagers/counselors to prepare me for what might as well have been Islamic jihad.
To get an idea of what Brookhill is looking for in their Junior Counselors you can check out their application here:
So if you have started to smoke, drink, dabble in the drug scene, have immoral sex, have any inappropriate body piercing, or do anything that would be a damaging witness to our campers please do not bother to fill this out.
Let us do the lead up to being a Junior Counselor. While at camp you are Â injected with the holy spirit. By holy spirit I mean you would get a cult high. As part of this cult cleansing youwouldÂ get RID OF ALL OF YOUR MUSIC. The matriarch, Hettie Lou Brooks, would talk about the devilâ€™s music. Do you know how many times I heard the story about the song where if you played it backwardsÂ you could hear a satanic message? The terrible part for me is that I hadnâ€™t even listened to good classic rock and folk music. You know that Â kind that talks about real human experiences? Love, hate, sex, loss, running in fields? People did these things without Jesus. The extent of my parentâ€™s music collection was Hall and Oates, Chicago, and Lionel Richie. So, in defiance of Satan, I destroyed my Collective Soul, Smashing Pumpkins, and Live. (Within a month I had purchased all of the music again. Â Then finally, before being a counselor, I got rid of it again. Tiring right?)
Ok ok so how do I stack up in other areas? Donâ€™t dabble in drugs? Check. Piercings? Nope. Immoral sex? No sex at all. Smoking? Nope. On paper I was a helluva candidate for a Junior Counselor. When you leave Jesus Camp as a camper and â€śgraduateâ€ť they tell you that only the very lucky few that get to be a Red T-Shirt. Dammit I wanted to be a Red T-Shirt. Camp couldnâ€™t end for me! I was in the group man. I was getting attention. More more more. Being in a group meant I didnâ€™t have to be who I really was. For a normal human, not healthy. For someone who is narcissistic, natural, but still not healthy. Being a fundamentalist gives you a huge rush in being part of the club. But that club will wack you over the head with shame, judgment, and fear.
Personal side note- narcissism. I have found that I have some very strong narcissistic tendencies. (two years of therapy and a bunch of lies later) But, I didnâ€™t have this awareness of myself at the time. I did act on it though. Â My narcissism and emptiness couldnâ€™t do without the high of being in the Brookhill group. Iâ€™m pretty sure that is why I became a counselor. I told myself for so many years that I went because I liked to see the kids feel good and feel accepted. I donâ€™t believe that crap anymore. I think I, and most of the others, just enjoyed the ability to have that kind of power. The truth is that the place was chock full of narcissists. The whole institution of religion, especially this extremely nutty kind, is narcissistic to the core.
Back to it. Anxiety. Being in Jesus camp isnâ€™t just cult euphoria. There is fear, judgment, and anxiety. I felt severe Â anxiety. It was constant. About 70 percent of my dreams up and until a few years ago were Jesus Camp dreams. In my dream I would be there and everyone would be doing things and I would either have to leave or they would say I donâ€™t belong. I had these dreams for 15 years. It is fucked up.
With crazy religion also comes shame and guilt. The whole thing is driven by guilt. Sure, they will say Jesus is love. But, love doesnâ€™t motivate as well as these other things. Feeling part of a group, feeling judged, and being scared to death of hell moves people. The whole Jesus Camp mission is about nailing down the salvation. (intended) Once you are saved you then have to show that you are saved by the holy spirit and that this spirit is doing things in your life. That is some stressful shit.
What was the holy spirit doing for me? You had to tell them! At this point I had applied to be a Junior Counselor (J.C.). A year had passed. I hadnâ€™t saved anyone to Jesus that entire year since graduating as a camper. My salvation stats were abysmal. But, I was accepted! So excited to get back plugged in. Also, very very anxious. Was I Jesus-y enough? Was I Â really saved? I never felt like there was a day I was saved. I went up to the cross at the crucifixion reenactment at Brookhill. I was also confirmed in the Methodist Church. You were supposed to feel different and be different after salvation. I never felt a damn bit different. Ever.
Once you are accepted as a J.C. you have to come in for a training day. Train on horses? or go carts? or sport? Oh no no no. You are training for saving kids from burning hell man. That is it. Of course I didnâ€™t realize then. I honestly didnâ€™t put it all of this craziness together in my mind until this past year. When you arrive at camp for training you go straight to the staff quarters. In the room were counselors to be, full-time Summer staff, and Hettie Lou Brooks. A visit by Hettie Lou Brooks was a must and so was a visit by the Camp Director. â€śWe want to hear what Jesus has put on your heart and what Jesus is doing in your life?â€ť WHAAA? Oh god, I hadnâ€™t prepared. What do I say? What did Jesus do for me? There was some stiff competition. Some examples of the J.C. responses:
I have been praying this entire year. God has laid it on my heart to share my story and to win children to Christ. I have been in the mission field all year and Iâ€™ve led dozens of children to Jesus. I want to raise godly men and women that will stand up to Satan and the drugs and sex and rock music.
My mom used drugs. She was never around. I told myself I wouldnâ€™t be like that. I came to Brookhill. I had never heard about Jesus. I was saved here and my life has never been the same. I can feel his love and Iâ€™ve been sharing it whenever I can. I tell my friends at school, my teachers, and my family. God has been so good to me.
I used to listen to rock music. I canâ€™t believe I let it influence me. I thought I was cool. I had all of the friends. I was empty. I knew I was empty but I didnâ€™t know why. Right before I came to Brookhill I was saved at a church revival. I have been on fire for the Lord since then. I love Brookhill and I love being around so many other believers. I canâ€™t wait to see what God does through me this week.
I canâ€™t even describe the sweat gathering in my palms. I couldnâ€™t decide at that point if I was a Jesus Faker or not. I was pretty sure I was. But, I didnâ€™t drink or smokeÂ and at the time I didnâ€™t possess any rock music. Â I stepped up to speak. I created a line that seemed almost good enough. It is a line that, for the most part, I used at all of these such question and answer sessions:
I am here because I want the children to feel good about who they are. I look forward to God using me to help the kids to feel OK. Iâ€™m going to pray to make the lives of these kids better.
Whew, I scanned the room. Now, there were varying levels of responses while J.C. were giving their testimonials. If you were really good and really Jesus-y you would get a few â€śPraise Jesus!â€ť Hettie Lou would interject, â€śisnâ€™t that so good? Isnâ€™t it good? God is so good.â€ť Â I didnâ€™t get much of a response to my words. I felt I had failed. The let down from the feeling of failure was soon replaced with the relief of it just being over.
This whole exchange wouldÂ happen in the staff quarters. A little more on that. Now upstairs in the staff quarters they didnâ€™t allow campers. It was strictly for counselors, counselors in training, and full-time staff. It would get weird as hell up there. It was so damned stressful going up there. I hated it. I know other counselors would say they couldnâ€™t wait to go up there in the afternoon of camp and get recharged singing songs. By the time the afternoon rolled in I was wore the hell out and I didnâ€™t like the pressure of having to feel super Jesus-y in mid afternoon in July. There would be songs and then at times an uncontrollable laughter from some of the counselors, Hettie, and others. Then I heard my first tongue-speaking. Hettie believed that we each had our own tongue language to speak in. I had never seen anything like it. It freaked me the F__K out. I was never a biblical scholar. I faked my bible knowledge. Most atheist or agnostics know more about the bible than I do. I did remember the whole speaking in tongues to spread the word to different people verse somewhere in there. But our own personal language of tongues? It sounded like gibberish. No I mean literally. It would be like â€śhabahaba haba bludy bludy doo rararara.â€ť Where did this come from? I knew it couldnâ€™t be real. Or did I know? Was I weak of faith? Great, more guilt and more shame. I had no tongue speaking. You could never feel as Jesus-y as a tongue speaker. They had you beaten in spades.
As part of your training you learned never to leave a camper alone. Ever. You always talk to them. You find out what they are interested in. Why are they here and are they having fun. The grooming of each camper for Jesus was hard work. It paid off though. You are taught to learn the campers names and to call them by name. Kids love to hear their name. If you went up to a kid without his name tag on and called him by his name? Bingo, that kid would be a very likely candidate for being saved at the end of the week. It made the kid feelÂ like a million bucks.
Narcissistic aside.Â I think that that my narcissistic need for attention was really met by counselor/camper dynamic. I craved it. Either from the camper or counselor side I wanted it badly. I take responsibility for my own personality fuckedupedness in how I wanted to do this Jesus Camp thing. Jesus didnâ€™t motivate me. But, the whole Jesus Camp institution is full of narcissists, grandiosity, and judgment. It thrives on creating and manipulating insecurities, then meeting them.
Finally, so you can see it with your own eyes, I have been scanning the Twitter for camper responses from this past Summer. (see Instagram post at the end) For someone who has read these two blog posts you would think that Jesus Camp sounds frightening and scarring. Traumatic faces right? Â The kids donâ€™t realize it while it is happening. The shame recognition sets in later.When you finally do realize the anxiety/fear/shame you stifle that shit down. You do not talk about it.
I have not been to church in 2 and a half years. The problem is that even two years ago I would have agreed to send them to Jesus Camp. My narcissistic desire to belong Â and to get attention resulted in my sacrificing of the mental health of my boys.Â The damage may be too great to overcome now. I donâ€™t know. Donâ€™t do this to your kids. If you are hardcore Jesus then I probably canâ€™t reach you. If you arenâ€™t a hardcore Jesus parent please do the research. This shit is so bad for your kids. Do not breed fear in them. Teach them to be human.Share on Facebook