I just finished reading Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres last night. Lest you think I spend all of my time reading non-fiction books about Christian weirdos, I’ll clear up any rumors: I don’t. My girlfriend lent me both of these books, and religious zealots and other freaks are simply some of the interests that we share. It was actually useful for me to read Rapture Ready! before Jesus Land because the former gave me some insight into the Christian Evangelical world, though from a decidedly more pleasant angle. The running theme through both the retail Evangelical world and the process of converting one’s faith through fear is that there’s no holds barred when it comes to witnessing for Christ. Nothing is off limits when the final result is someone’s eternal salvation, even if it means you have to completely break their spirit here on earth.
Jesus Land is a memoir about the author’s late teen years, growing up in a strict Christian household with her two adopted Black brothers, mean mother and temperamental father on some dusty, fucked-up farmland in the middle of Indiana. The book is divided into two parts, helpfully labeled “part one” and “part two.” The first part deals mostly with the author and her adopted brother of the same age dealing with racism and bullying and a shitty home situation, which is exacerbated by the mother’s insane fundamentalist leanings. The older adopted brother molests the author, part of a cycle of abuse perpetrated by their father, which just makes the situation even shittier. The complexity of the relationships between everyone, severed and then rejoined again along lines of gender, color, age and dogma is very interesting, and the author does a good job weaving this familial lattice so the reader can comprehend it, or at least comprehend the pattern.
I don’t read a ton of memoirs, but I have read a few, and I feel this needs to be said: I don’t want to read another point-of-view account of a teenage girl losing her virginity ever again unless it is germane to the story. It’s ridiculous, all of these poor women pinned down by pimply jaggovs who struggle with bra clasps and breathe hot beer breath in their faces…enough. We get it. Your first time wasn’t on a gilded cloud fucking a unicorn or something. Sorry that my teenage hormones had to burst your teenage hormones’ bubble, but I’d like to point out that my first time wasn’t with Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a Thunderbird, either. Beer breath settles on the just and unjust alike.
Anyway, this particular book can’t be held too guilty for that, but it is a little self-serving. Why shouldn’t it be? Jesus Land is a memoir, after all. Part two of the book deals with the author and her adopted brother (the one closest to her age, not the one that molested her) being sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. It’s pretty brutal, and more than once I winced while reading the author’s account of the cruelty that adults heaped on spindly children. However, I was more captivated and interested in part one of the book, how a family can operate so dysfunctionally for so long. My girlfriend remembered part two of the book more, which makes sense since it was more sensational. I’ll probably remember scenes from part two more as time goes on.
I’m glad I read this book, it was well-written and engaging and offered some insight into the retarded world of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. It certainly makes one wonder how screwed up the average person is; not everyone is articulate enough to come from the shit side of this experience and write a lucid memoir. How many people that we see each day, how many cashiers, bus drivers, teachers and police had their brains warped by similar experiences? It kind of makes you feel weird to think about. Thank goodness I grew up in a Satanic household where we did penance by stuffing ourselves with candy corn.
(Incidentally, all of the pics in this essay were stolen from the author’s website, http://www.juliascheeres.com/. Check it out after you’ve read the book.)