When I was twelve, we left Orange County, California and moved to King County, Washington.
Where we lived was like this: go to Kent, and then start driving east. Go up the hill. Keep driving. Pass Lake Meridian. Keep driving. Pass a bunch of housing developments. Keep driving. Keep driving. Keep driving. Wonder if you’ve gone too far. Keep driving. Keep driving. Keep driving.
The area was sort of patchily rural, with determinedly upscale housing developments bumped right up against places with yards that were full of pickup trucks that didn’t work.
I was excited to leave southern California and move to the northwest. I liked the trees and the weather and the water everywhere. I’m really not a desert person. I get excited by cedar bogs and swamps and dank drippy things. But it also meant leaving North Orange Christian Church, which was exactly perfectly suited to me, and starting to go to Lake Sawyer Christian Church, which was exactly the opposite of me in every conceivable way.
I assume we went there because it was near our house, although it seemed to draw more from the rural culture than from the suburban encroachment we represented. It was like going to a snake handler church. They all had these things that they understood, this shared culture and history and value system, and it was not ours. It was foreign to us. And it was, frankly, kinda weird.
There was no speaking in tongues going on, but it was the sort of church where during prayers some people close their eyes and lift their arms up as if catching a golden shower of heavenly blessings. (That sort of thing always creeped me out.)
Lake Sawyer was a textbook example of certain weird church trends: anti-intellectualism, young-earth creationism, pre-millenialism, Satanic paranoia, anti-feminism. (Sample Sunday-school lesson: "Another reason it’s good to obey your parents girls? It’s practice for obeying your husband!" I am not kidding. Seriously. I was told this. By the pastor’s wife. When she was teaching Sunday school.)
The people at Lake Sawyer in the early 1980s were obsessed with "getting right with God" primarily because the end of the world was supposedly imminent. (And not because they could get hit by a bus, a logical fallacy that struck me right away.) They were obsessed with how they could "really feel Satan working in my life." (To get them to do what? Another unanswered question.) They were obsessed with demons and mysterious evil powers and the legitimacy of the Shroud of Turin. (One woman thought it was "just so neat" that scientists were unable to definitively prove that it was a hoax.) They distrusted rock music, television, higher education, the mainstream media, science, and pretty much every other aspect of modern American life.
Really, it was kind of like how church would be if they tossed out the regular Bible and based their teachings entirely on the works of Jack Chick. Almost pure Chickism.
It started to shake my faith right way.
It shook my faith in the church. I started to wonder if I’d misunderstood what Christianity was all about. Maybe it wasn’t about the teachings of Jesus at all. Maybe Jack Chick was right — not about how the universe worked, but about what it meant to be a Christian.
It shook my faith in humanity. I was getting a glimpse of the reality disconnect that gives rise to things like witchcraft panics. I was starting to see how people who seem mostly normal can still believe completely insane things.
It shook my faith in my parents. They didn’t seem to agree wholeheartedly with all the craziness at Lake Sawyer, but, just as with the Chick tracts, they didn’t wholeheartedly condemn it either. I mean, the family went there for several years. I was made to go, whether I liked it or not. Clearly my parents thought we were getting some kind of essential spiritual benefit out of the experience.
I’ve tried to find out what my parents were thinking at the time, but it’s impossible to get a straight answer out of them now. They just sort of cringe, almost like they feel guilty for making me go to the church that destroyed my faith.
They don’t have to feel bad. I’m sure something would have destroyed it eventually.