Or church camp. You know how it goes. The teacher or counselor guides the kids, color this, glue that. Add some glitter. And at the end of the hour, a bunch of kids have completed the project. They all have uniform little bookmarks or light-catchers, or some other trinket that tied neatly into the Bible lesson of the day.
Crafts from church or camp are tangible things that kids show off, which prove to the parents that they are getting their money’s worth. What kid comes home from camp empty-handed?
One of the ironies of my occupation as an art teacher is how much I cannot stand “craft time” at church, camp, or Vacation Bible School. I’ve always avoided leading these activities as much as possible (though I’ve still found myself roped in from time to time.) But it’s not just that I’d rather not lead craft time. I think all the craft times your kids will enjoy this summer are actually a very appropriate metaphor for the broken Christianity they will be expected to embrace when they are adults.
It’s time for American churches to let go of “craft time” Christianity.
The Difference Between “Art” and “Crafts”
Early in Life After Art, I make it clear that my room is an absolutely pure, glitter-free zone. I make absolutely no exceptions to this rule. First, glitter comes straight from the bowels of hell itself. If unicorns fart rainbows, then satan farts glitter. I refuse to deal with it. But more than that, I make a distinction between “craft time,” which is embodied by glitter, popsicle sticks, and macaroni, and fine art.
What is the difference between “art” and “crafts?”
“Art” starts with objectives, but the result is open ended. There is room for kids to get creative or make mistakes. Every project looks different, even though they all started from the same place. I am often delighted to see how twenty children interpret my guidelines on their art projects.
“Crafts” on the other hand, often come from a box and don’t have that margin for mistakes or creativity. “Crafts” follow step by step instructions, like a recipe. When the last step is finished, the project is complete. A group of kids who do a “craft” will all have fairly uniform results. Crafts are easy for kids, low maintenance and pretty simple for any adult to teach, no matter how “uncreative” they are.
What Kind of Christianity Are We Teaching Our Kids?
Which kind of Christianity will be taught this summer at thousands of VBS sessions or church camps?
Will it be the kind of Christianity that begins with a common starting point, but requires individual thought? Will it be rich, complex, leaving room in the margins for mistakes and doubts? Will it take practice and determination to develop? Is it the kind of Christianity that allows twenty unique children to achieve twenty unique results, the way?
Or, will it be the kind of Christianity that is easy to teach, because it’s nothing but a formula, a step-by-step guide for success? Will it value uniformity in results and leave little room for error, individual thought or creativity?
That second kind of faith – that’s what I call “craft time” Christianity. Just like most church camps and VBS programs specialize in “crafts,” many American churches specialize in spreading “craft time” Christianity. It’s the kind of faith that’s just like a little popsicle stick and macaroni craft at church camp. It’s cute. It’s easy to teach. It follows a formula straight out of the box.
And it’s not very useful.
The Beauty of “One Body, Many Parts”
You know what the funny thing is about kids’ art? (That is, when it really is “art” that they are learning, and not “crafts.”)
Some kids will have really impressive results. Other kids won’t. Some kids will stick very close to the directions. Others will veer off into unexpected territory. Some work will be super neat, and other work will be messy.
And when it is all hung up together, it looks awesome. There is truly strength in numbers when it comes to kids’ art. All of the pieces sort of blend together, like they become one body of many parts.
The real crime of arts and crafts Christianity is that people who fall outside the norms are alienated and left out. And the people who do meet the standard share the praise for being uniform, but they never experience community as it is meant to be, one body made of many diverse parts.
What do you think? Is it time for us to give up trying to get our kids, and the rest our churches, to become completely uniform, to allow for spontaneity, for differences, for the happy accidents that are inevitable in art?