Monday, March 13, 2006

The Friendliest Place on Earth

My parents grew up in a small town about a half-hour east of Sacramento, CA called "Placerville." While it's not a terribly tiny town, most people I know have never heard of it, and it's always a point of interest to have a conversation with someone who has. Back when I served as a planning team member for one of the Montreat Youth Conferences nearly 15 years ago, one of the other members was from nearby Diamond Springs. He was convinced that my Placerville credentials were indeed genuine simply because I'd pronounced the name of the town correctly. (It's "PLA-ser-ville," with the "a" as in "apple.")

Neither of my parents were born in Placerville, but they both moved there (independently) when they were still in elementary school, and much of my extended family (including most of mother's family, and my father's sister and her family) still lives there. Because my own immediate family grew up in Kentucky, we'd only make it out to Placerville every other year of so while I was growing up. But even still, I'd been there enough times that, by the time I moved to California and could drive up there on my own, I knew my way around to all the places I needed to go.

Placerville has it's origins in the Gold Rush of the 1840's and '50's, with the first discovery of gold at Sutter's mill only a couple of miles away. It had gained such a reputation for rowdy behavior back at the time that it earned the nickname "Old Hangtown," which is still honored (?) on displays throughout Main Street in the historical district, complete with a stuffed mannequin hung from a noose outside of one of the more prominent establishments.

Despite this rather macabre history, Placerville tends to be a rather nice place to visit (even apart from the relatives). Apparently, North Park University professor Scot McKnight liked it so much during a recent visit that he said it may be "the friendliest place on earth." Although I have no indication that McKnight specifically rubbed elbows with any of my relatives, I expect the compliment reflects well upon them, as well.

I must confess, there are a few more conservative aspects of Placerville that I still struggle with, including a particular church that has some of the most fundamentalist teachings I've ever come across. I'm convinced that the pastor of this particular church is not just right-wing (although he is indeed on the extreme edge of such), but actually is delusional on some level. I recall a sermon back before the year 2000 hit, when the "Y2K" scare was all the rage, where this pastor gave a "sermon" (no Biblical text was used or even claimed) informing us of the dangers: how even laundry machines would cease to function because of the embedded chips in them that would freeze up when the computers could no longer figure out what year it was. While I expect that a large degree of the "Y2K problem" was indeed averted because enough people updated their computers to be "Y2K compliant," I'm reasonably confident that few, if any, people upgraded their laundry machines. Yet I was able to continue washing my clothes without trouble....

I'm not always good about biting my tongue about this particular church and their pastor. But still, I'll need to try to be on my best behavior. A cousin of mine is getting married there next weekend, and my wife and I will heading up to Placerville to attend. While I'm more than a bit concerned about having details to share that mirror my experience a few months ago, I still want to support my family, and I look forward to some of the more pleasant attributes of Placerville in any event. Prayers for me (as I enter this particular "lion's den") and for my cousin (as she enters the uncertainty of her married life) are more than welcome.

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