alright, let's just get one thing straight up front: JESUS CAMP is a freaking weird little film. actually, "freaking awkward" may be a better descriptor. yes, let's say that JESUS CAMP is a freaking awkward little film that unsettles viewers at nearly every angle of viewing. admittedly, it's freaking awkward to see people raising children to believe something you do not believe or, on the flip side, to believe something you personally hold dear but in drastically different ways. in either scenario - as a distanced outsider of non-christian belief or as a fellow participant of Gospel faith - JESUS CAMP is a freaking awkward little film. and i love freaking awkward little films.
one of the most freaking awkward aspects of choosing to believe in God / a god / a goddess / some gods / this totally unfeasible gospel of miraculous birth followed by an even more unfeasible miracle of continuous redemption and resurrection is that, by making the choice to believe one path, you nix every other possible road to Paradise. also, by choosing a particular Path to follow, you simultaneously choose to become tragically narrow-minded, socially disheveled, perpetually repentive, potentially offensive, and hypocritically incapable of upholding the statutes of your chosen faith. awkwardness and close-mindedness come with the faith territory. they're unavoidable. fervent belief in one thing leads one to firmly believe all other possibilities are not. and it's that last bit right there that really pisses people off.
me and latonya are narrow-minded believers of the Gospel of Jesus. all that immaculate conception, resurrection and ascension, gifts and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, authority of the Bible, communion of the saints, coming of the Kingdom, power of forgiveness and blessings, the tragic nature of christian music, we believe it all. and we are awkwardly narrow-minded enough to believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, just like the freaking weirdos in JESUS CAMP. me and the wife have bought into this jacked-up and nonsensical Gospel of Jesus hook, line and sinker.
and we have also committed, like the weirdos in JESUS CAMP, that when we have children - all four of those little caramel skinned mulattoes - we will teach them what we believe. to skirt around the issue and not teach them what we believe would be a sure sign that we do not really believe what we say that we believe. and as narrow-minded and awkward as it may appear to raise little caramel skinned mulatto children on Bible verses, worship songs and hopeful prayers, it is what the wife and i agreed to the day we buckled and relinquished our common senses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
and God only knows what a documentary about our christian parenting would look like: little Social Distortion shirted half-black girls with bright purple clacker balls and skull-n-crossbone stockings praying cancer out of the neighbor lady "in the name of Jesus." they'll be locking us up one day for sure.
so, back to the documentary. obviously i viewed JESUS CAMP as a fellow participant rather than a distanced peruser. still, by the end of the film i felt a combination of great hope and great sadness. great hope because i personally find children desiring God a beautiful sight. great sadness because i personally do not believe the Gospel of Jesus is as melodramatic, difficult, busy, and militant as the adults in JESUS CAMP pressed upon these children. and while i enjoyed seeing children excited about scripture and loving Jesus, i also knew that the pressure of faith forced upon their youth would haunt them one day, and many of those children will have long painful paths of learning to forgive those who presented faith so harshly in the beginning.
when i look into the Gospels, there are images of Jesus gathering up the children, calling them to Himself, speaking blessings over them. there is a tenderness that woos the children to Jesus, one so light that it caused the disciples to envy and rebuke the children. that tenderness and wooing was not evident in this film. far from it, in fact. and that lack tenderness, that absence of necessary wooing, i fear, could scar any child raised beneath a viciously aggressive Gospel.
the Gospel of Jesus is one that promises peace and blessing but has been revealed prominently by a history of war and division. for this reason, the film also looks at the militant Gospel training of young people through the eyes of fundamentalist political power and uber-conservative republican doctrine. the political talk in JESUS CAMP feels out of place until the viewer realizes that the way we view our authority - ie. our God/god - is the way we view our powers. and the way we view our powers decides how we treat our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. this is where, i suppose, the lack of tenderness in training children to believe in an all-powerful God becomes more scary than sad.
overall, i give JESUS CAMP four dc talk cassette tapes out of five. for all the film's awkwardness (and there's loads of it), and in spite of my personal reactions (which were flaming fierce), JESUS CAMP does capture an earnestness in faith that is phenomenally more pure than its expression. this purity is difficult to see in the midst of so much holy-rolling oddity, but it's there, bedrocked beneath the surface, deep down under a whole heap of human weirdness. and perhaps that's the beauty, rather than the horror, of the whole affair. after all, at the end of the day, i trust my righteousness to be determined far more by my faith than by my ridiculously failed attempts and approaches.
Lord God in Christ, i'm banking on it.