When I was a kid, Vacation Bible School was an opportunity to get together with people you kind of knew from elementary school and gather together in a multipurpose room that smelled like deep fried baked goods covered in mildew to make cheap hand puppets, work blue ink ditto worksheets, iron broken crayons into fake stained glass windows, and sing songs like Jesus Loves Me and the Velvet Underground's Jesus. Okay, just kidding about the last one. But wouldn't that be cool?
So when we signed my daughter up for VBS a few years back, I was thinking she'd be experiencing the same thing, except maybe via iPad apps. She was having it at the local presumptuously named "Christian Church" and several of her friends were attending. Seemed innocuous.
But when I went to pick her up one day, I was in for a surprise. The pews were rocking with kids marching as this played:
So many questions ran through my head as I sat there with my mouth wide open. What the hell was this budget Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film being played for my kid? Why did Jesus need camouflage if he was all powerful? Were the aviators an homage to Top Gun? Top Goyim, perhaps? Why was that South Park soldier kicking the crap out of Love of the World? What was the "False Teaching" he was punching in the nads? Creationism? Were these guys wearing Member's Only jackets? Wasn't the LL Cool J outfit out of style 20 years before this was made? And for the love of all that's holy, Autotune?????????
I looked around for a parent to be as appalled as I was. Nope. They were clapping, punching, and singing along.
Years later those images are still burned in my head as I see VBS signs popping up all around town. Maybe I'd been hallucinating. So I did some googling. And I turned up the video above, and the guidelines here.
"Hang on," you say. "You realize this is just a symbolic fight against evil, right?"
And I say, "yes, but these are people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and was created in 7 days."
And look at that video. From a group of people who is heavily pro-military, is it a coincidence these kids are wrapped in trappings of modern day war? Do these KIDS get that it's supposed to be symbolic? Hell, do the adults?
But while researching, I saw something else. This song wasn't some corporate monstrosity created by a terrible Christian rock band for corporate Christ crusaders, but an actual gospel song. In fact, strip away the awful "modern" sound, add a few good men, and this is what you get:
Hear the difference? This version sounds driven by the Holy Spirit. The first version sounds like it was brewed up in Satan's colon.
Hearing this got me to thinking about today's Christianity. The Blind Boys version is a highly personal song, one in which it's clear the spirit is moved within the singer to fight not just evil externally, but more importantly, internally. The Go Fish version is a group think singalong and video designed to point to evil as an external force.
For the Franklin Grahams, Mike Huckabees, and Duggars of the world, Christianity is not a religion of self reflection and thought, in which one seeks to become a better person and create a better world by fighting against the evils within ourselves and that hurt others. Instead it's a cheap and easy faith in which you excuse your own sins by finding someone who isn't like you to deflect blame on. If you can convince people that the evil to be "fought" is some external minority group, it's much easier to get them to ignore the evil, the greed, and the hypocrisy within you and around you. Even Autotune.
Now excuse me while I go load up my Nerf gun for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.