VBS construction paper paint, pasta,

VBS

construction paper
paint, pasta, glue that dries clear
making Jesus art

Because I live in Texas there are approximately 20 protestant churches per every three people. And every single church in town seems to be advertising vacation bible school right now. There are banners across major roads, ads in newspapers, billboards in front of churches, flyers, things taped to telephone polls, signs jammed into the ground at intersections, etc. It’s nuts. I’m surprised we haven’t been accosted by some dude dressed as a giant Bible/Golgotha skull handing out flyers in front of the grocery store. (Maybe he’s at Wal-Mart.)

Anyway, the weird thing is that I don’t actually think any of the churches charge for you to abandon drop off your kids there. So it seems funny that there’s all this competition. Maybe VBS’s are run like the reward systems for fundraisers. Ordinarily, you sell candy bars and in the end earn a free Pac Man mug or possibly a duffel bag. With VBS, if you can get at least 20 kids in each age group to show up to your church you’ll automatically be granted a place in Heaven (or at least five minutes to plead your case with Peter).

I just don’t understand why there’s so much clamoring going on. Maybe parents are expected to make donations to the church for the VBS services. Maybe churches use VBS as a recruitment drive for new members. Maybe VBS really is “the most fun your child will have all summer” so I should just shut my trap.

But I remember VBS. I used to go every summer at my tiny Methodist church. One summer I even went twice (once at my church, once at another). That was a disaster. The first time that summer was fine. It was held at my church, in the small building with green tinted windows and a noisy, humid air-conditioner. I spent all week learning songs like This Little Light of Mine and The B-I-B-L-E and I made some Jesus art with macaroni, and at the end of the week had a food fight in the kitchen while my class prepared some sort of cake or something. I sort of learned about the Bible and I enjoyed a week in a cool building instead of sweltering during tennis lessons at the Y. All was well.

The second time I went to VBS that summer I went with a friend (who, interestingly enough, became a stripper) to her Southern Baptist VBS. Before any song learning or macaroni gluing we had to sit through a devilishly long sermon, then pledge allegiance to the Baptist Flag or some crazy thing, and then admit that we were all going to Hell unless we became born again.

I went home in tears. I didn’t want to go to Hell. I was only 9 years old. I just wanted to make a macaroni cross, eat oatmeal cookies and wash them down with grape juice that doubled as Christ’s blood on Communion Sunday.

I’d like to say I was traumatized for life by this experience, but actually I got over it pretty quickly. My parents explained I wasn’t going to hell, and they didn’t let me go back to that VBS.

Still, though, I’m weary about VBS in general. It’s cool that churches offer a free baby-sitting “educational” service for parents in the summertime. And I don’t have a problem with teaching kids about religion (as long as you don’t tell them they’re going to rot in Hell). I imagine that, if you planned it out well enough, there are so many churches out here, you could probably have your kid in free daycare for most of the summer. But would you want that? Would you want to send them off to strange churches teaching things you’re not familiar with just so you could shop at Target without a screaming pile of midgets hanging off your legs? (Well, maybe…) I think we all know that each Christian church has it’s own way of preaching – some good, some not so much.

And that’s another thing. Do synagogues, mosques, Buddhist temples, etc. all have VBS’s? (I guess it wouldn’t be vacation Bible school for them all, but you know what I mean). I’m sure they must. It just doesn’t get advertised as heavily here in the Bible Belt. But that’s a whole different issue.

I’m trying to come to my point here, but I’m not sure I actually have one. I guess that as I grow older religion becomes a more and more personal matter to me. Religion itself has morphed into a kind of generalized sprituality that, to me, is a very private matter. It makes me uncomfortable to see the name “Jesus” splashed all over town as if he were the mayor. It makes me uncomfortable to think of people throwing their kids at unfamiliar churches just for the sake of free baby-sitting. It makes me uncomfortable that churches are comfortable recruiting young children this way.

I know that last remark was a very cynical thing to say. And I should throw out the disclaimer that I’m not against VBS, or churches, or Jesus, or any of that. I just think the concept of vacation bible school is a little weird. Maybe I’ll take up my concerns with Mr. Gologtha Skull over at Wal-Mart and see what he has to say on the matter.

Oh, wait. I made him up.

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