Friday, January 8, 2010

Jesus Land

Apparently there's a storm a-brewin' over this book and New Horizons Youth Ministry, which runs Escuela Caribe referenced below. I'm not involved in this debate in any way. This post is only my reaction to Julia Scheeres book and insights I drew from it personally as a Christian. My judgments and observations are based on information from the book, without any further investigation into the veracity of Ms. Scheeres claims. However, the firestorm of comments elicited from the next post on this blog (Small Dog, Big Yap) are very convincing.
My son needed some books for school, so he and I were scouring the bookshelves down in the basement the other night and I stumbled on a book I don't remember ever seeing before. I cannot imagine where I got it. Maybe I bought it on sale? Or maybe my sister lent it to me? Can't say. But it caught my attention, so I brought it upstairs to read. It's called Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres, and it is a page-turner.
The book is a memoir, the horrifying true story of her growing up in a Christian home. Maybe I shouldn't "like" the book because it does paint an extremely disparaging picture of Christians and Christian family life. Her cynicism toward all things Christian pervades the story. I can't blame her given the atmosphere in her home, the deep dysfunction of her parents and, essentially, their neglect and their lack of love for their children. What child could possibly not be angry and needy and bitter under those circumstances? What child would not be completely crippled emotionally in that home?
As a Christian, it's a weird read. It was disconcerting to hear the sneer in her voice, her mocking tone, as she described a church service, the pastor interacting with his flock, taking communion, a Sunday school teacher, or the well-intentioned people she and her siblings interacted with in church. But it was weird to recognize everything she describes as an intrinsic part of my own current family life, the fabric of what I've deliberately inculcated into my own children's upbringings – yet she gives it all such an ugly twist, making the basic tenets of Christianity sound ridiculous and church people seem daffy.
So, from my perspective, knowing that the basic tenets of Christianity are not ridiculous and that the people who worship God are not daffy, I'm left with a sobering picture of what evil is done to the name of Christ when folks play Christian without any serious intention of obeying Christ. If her parents were going to be unloving, how much better if she had been raised in a non-religious home! Then she could have discovered the love of Christ as true and the answer to her heart's ache. But instead, Christ became inextricably connected to the abuse she and her siblings suffered at their parents' hands. It's a sickening tragedy.
Eventually she and her same-age sibling (an adopted African-American brother) are sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, Escuela Caribe. Apparently it's a type of boot camp, but with a Christian substructure that makes the overseers appear, as she describes them, to be deranged psychopaths.
I was struck as I read the story of their experience in the reform school with the fact that she and her brother were not the guilty parties in need of reform. Their behavior was only a reaction to their unmet need for tenderness and affection, and they were essentially being punished for their parents' misconduct. The school dealt with their rebellion, but not with the reason for their rebellion. (And it didn't appear that her brother was rebellious at all; the parents seemed to just want to be rid of him. Turns out he was not the only one at Escuela Caribe whose preeminent crime was that of being an inconvenience.) In fact, the school ended up being more of what they had experienced at home, just cranked up several notches: the harsh administration of authority with no foundation in love.
So the book gives us an alarming portrait of what Christianity looks like without love: at best punitive and austere, at worst fiendish and sadistic.
That isn't the way God deals with His children. All His laws are given with the best interest of His children in mind, because He knows their happiness and well-being depends on adherence to these laws, not the other way around. But what a picture this story is of what happens when God's ways are shoved down children's throats without the backdrop of tender affection.
It's a wake-up call to me to make sure that my love for my children mirrors God's love for them. If I'm going to proclaim His truth, I'd better live it out in gentleness, kindness and respect.

1 comment:

  1. How come Phil Redwine and the Blossoms are not headed for jail?