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. 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 “red t-shirt.” (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 injected with the holy spirit. By holy spirit I mean you would get a cult high. As part of this cult cleansing youwould get RID OF ALL OF YOUR MUSIC. The matriarch, Hettie Lou Brooks, would talk about the devil’s music. Do you know how many times I heard the story about the song where if you played it backwards you could hear a satanic message? The terrible part for me is that I hadn’t even listened to good classic rock and folk music. You know that kind that talks about real human experiences? Love, hate, sex, loss, running in fields? People did these things without Jesus. The extent of my parent’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. 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? Don’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 “graduate” 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 couldn’t end for me! I was in the group man. I was getting attention. More more more. Being in a group meant I didn’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 didn’t have this awareness of myself at the time. I did act on it though. My narcissism and emptiness couldn’t do without the high of being in the Brookhill group. I’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 don’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 isn’t just cult euphoria. There is fear, judgment, and anxiety. I felt severe 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 don’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 doesn’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 hadn’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 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 didn’t realize then. I honestly didn’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. “We want to hear what Jesus has put on your heart and what Jesus is doing in your life?” WHAAA? Oh god, I hadn’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 I’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 wouldn’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 I’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 can’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 didn’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 can’t wait to see what God does through me this week.
I can’t even describe the sweat gathering in my palms. I couldn’t decide at that point if I was a Jesus Faker or not. I was pretty sure I was. But, I didn’t drink or smoke and at the time I didn’t possess any rock music. 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. I’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 “Praise Jesus!” Hettie Lou would interject, “isn’t that so good? Isn’t it good? God is so good.” I didn’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 would happen in the staff quarters. A little more on that. Now upstairs in the staff quarters they didn’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 couldn’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 didn’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 “habahaba haba bludy bludy doo rararara.” Where did this come from? I knew it couldn’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 feel like a million bucks.
Narcissistic aside. 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 didn’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? The kids don’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 and to get attention resulted in my sacrificing of the mental health of my boys. The damage may be too great to overcome now. I don’t know. Don’t do this to your kids. If you are hardcore Jesus then I probably can’t reach you. If you aren’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.