“It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
— Mark Twain
The 1990’s would be a religious turning point for me. I found God in Science Camp and I was traumatized by visions of Hell.
The school I was attending was planning a week long trip to a redwood forest campground in California. I was ecstatic about the trip. All of the students who were going got a list of things to bring. My dad helped me pick out a poncho, sleeping bag and an assortment of other goodies. He was apprehensive about the trip, but I insisted I was old enough to go.
I love California redwoods. The trees seem to go up and up for miles. Banana slugs were everywhere. We learned about conservation and recycling. Our cabin counselor was an overweight redhead named Sherri. One night, after we had our daily activities, one of the girls wanted to hear stories of the gospel… Sherri agreed to tell us as long as we wouldn’t tell anyone. She explained that if we told anyone she would lose her job. I wanted to hear this forbidden knowledge so I made no protest about hearing these stories. Then Sherri began to tell the five of us about Jesus and how he was crucified for our sins. I listened in my bed and fear crept within my 11-year-old mind. I started feeling guilty about Jesus dying for me. I was upset. I tried to hold back my tears, but Sherri could hear the muffled sounds of my sobs. The other girls took notice, too. I was embarrassed because I had never heard this story before. I knew I was saved, but I didn’t understand why Jesus died for me. I would shut me eyes really tight but all I could see was a dead man’s face bleeding from his head and staring back at me. They were saying all of this stuff was real. It wasn’t like the ghost stories I had heard before. I thought they were lying to me. I’ve seen scary movies, heard ghost stories but they were all fake. I was told they were fake, using mirrors and fake blood, no one really died. Sherri hushed me and tried to comfort me. She explained I was born into sin, but god gave his only son to die on the cross so we don’t have to suffer for sin. She prayed with me.
Sherri paid a lot of attention to me after that night. She made sure I didn’t tell any of the other teachers or counselors. I was confused and stuck at camp. The other girls in my cabin were extra nice to me too. I think they felt bad for me not knowing the story of Jesus and how he rose from the dead. They would braid my hair and talk about god with authority.
When I returned home, I was a changed little girl. My dad knew something had happened but he didn’t know what. I would ask him in private about our family’s faith. “Dad, what religion are we?” He was shocked by the question. “Well, Michele… your mom is Catholic and I don’t have a religion. But I believe in God.” He could tell I didn’t understand. “You see Michele, there are hundreds of different religions out there. You can pick any one you want.” And that was that.
Sherri kept in touch with me for a few months, sending me letters and calling occasionally. She sent me a pamphlet containing The Lord’s Prayer and she would pray with me on the phone. It felt strange and perverse. I eventually stopped taking her calls, but I still used the prayer she gave me.