check out the full summary on GoodReads.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, a Hell House is a production that some conservative churches produce that are intended to mirror haunted houses, while showing the effects of sin with the intention of bringing them to Christ. (Side note: I feel like "bringing them to Christ" is a very Christian-ese phrase, but "saving souls" has a negative sound to me and I'm having a hard time coming up with something non-Christian-ese but also not implying some kind of mind-washing attempt)
I live in the South, grew up in a conservative Christian home (my parents were missionaries when I was a child and pastors while I've been an adult), and homeschooled/went to Christian schools. My friends were all in evangelical denominations and I went to a Baptist college. I've also always lived in the South - so the concept of a Hell House was not new to me, although I've never been a part of a church that held one. I have attended at least one that I remember, in 7th grade, and I was so scared I left. Honestly, while I'm not outraged and offended by them the way some people are, I don't see them as a very positive thing either. I feel like it takes away from the seriousness and human-ness of the "sins" that are depicted. The kids who are participating are, as it shows in the book, fighting over who gets to be Abortion Girl or Suicide Boy instead of learning compassion for people who have had abortions or struggled with suicidal thoughts. Also, I never see Jesus scaring us into loving Him in the Bible. For the most part, I think they are misguided though, not done with bad intentions. If you are interested in learning more about or seeing clips of Hell Houses, there is an incredible documentary that is well worth watching. Click here for more info on it.
There are so many other aspects of this book I could discuss, but I'd really just like to say that I think it's worth reading for the discussion value alone. And so many of my fellow Faith and Fiction Roundtablers are addressing them, so please check out their blogs. What struck me the most was how much I identified with Lacey. Like Lacey, I grew up in a very insular world - and to a large degree I still live in that insular world. I homeschooled, went to private Christian school and college, married a man from my church, and spend most of my time with other Christians. I also grew up in a missionary/pastor's family. And I don't think anyone can truly identify with that unless you grew up the same way. So many small things about Lacey felt so familiar to me: not being able to complete a conversation with your parents while on church grounds, being known by everyone - even if you don't know them, having your personal life made public, the expectations of everyone and knowing that people are constantly watching.
Like Lacey, I've also recently dealt with some hard questions in my faith, especially within my church. I've mentioned since December that Luke and I are looking for a new church, but haven't discussed why. The church we were attending, that I have known since my childhood, is a beautiful place full of wonderful people. But as the daughter of the pastor, you don't see just what the pastors want you to see. You know all of the real life, behind the scenes, ugly things that happen at churches. And after seeing one of the ugliest examples of what can happen in church leadership, that many church members will never even know, Luke and I left the church, along with the rest of my family. And for the last six months we (just Luke and I here) haven't gone to church. I've really questioned the function of the church and church leadership as a whole. I just can't express to you how damaging an experience like Lacey's can be. It didn't make me question God, but it has made me question many of the things I've taken for granted as fact about church.
Luke and I just started visiting a new church and we are so happy. We are really enjoying the community and spending time with other Christians. I read this book at a great time in my life - not immediately after what happened at our old church, but while I am still hurting from it. I'm bothered by the fact that the author never led Lacey to any answers to her questions - the book only showed that questions are ok. I'd love to see more of Lacey's life now that she has learned that it's ok to question your beliefs. Thankfully, I was raised by parents who encouraged us to question our beliefs, but also taught us how to maintain faith in God despite those questions. I hope that Lacey continued to learn the same things I'm learning right now...and I'm choosing to believe that while she may not ever have it all figured out, she maintained her faith in Christ and His love, despite the flaws in His followers. I'd like to think that Lacey goes on to learn to reconcile the mistakes of her leaders with her own human imperfections and discovers, as I am in the process of discovering (please don't think I'm there yet) that none of us deserve grace, but that just as she has received grace, the flawed leaders she sees can receive it too.