Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Goodie Bag Rant

 Paul taught the 5th graders in Vacation Bible School the other week.  The day before it was over, or maybe the day of, he informed me that he was just informed that he is supposed to give each of his students a treat or gift on the last night of Bible school.  And, of course, he would really like me to gather these gifts for him.


Gift giving is not my gift, or Paul's either.  Well, we both get a big thrill out of filling a specific need, like if we can give a struggling teacher a little grocery money or send chocolate chips to a missionary.  But we are especially bad at the sort of gift giving that involves filling little bags with sugar and plastic in bright colors oriented to the age and gender of students.

But did I REALLY have to?  I asked Jenny: "So I'm supposed to get gifts for your dad's VBS students?"
Jenny said, "Yes.  Everybody does."
Me: Like...candy bars?  Goodie bags??  Picasso paintings???
Jenny: Yeah.  [Me: YEAH??]  Or like, books.  Or Jesus junk.
Jenny: You know.  Those flashlights that talk about letting your light shine that break after two days.

Fellow Christians who work with kids:  May I suggest we have a problem or two?

1. Children expect a bag of goodies for every occasion.  Parties, programs, picnics, and much more.  I think, ok, you were honored with an invitation, the place was decorated pretty, you got to have fun with friends, you stuffed yourself with amazing food, and you got a free ride to and from.  And you need a bag of stuff to take home yet and to fight with your sister over and to drop half-sucked into the crack of the van seat and to mourn with a great lament when the skinny little rubber band breaks the third time you hit the little ball with the paddle?

2. We who say that every knee shall bow and give honor to Jesus as the King of Kings plaster cheesy Christian words and symbols on dreadful little worthless objects such as the abovementioned flashlights.  Or pencils that say "Smile, God loves you" and that, I am told, you can NEVER sharpen right.  The lead ALWAYS breaks.  Or little compasses that say "One way to Heaven" but they don't compass north which is kind of a bad omen.

I will grant that some of this is just me and not everyone is obligated to be like me.  I have friends who love to shop for and assemble yummy and cute little somethings into inviting little bags to give to the little kids in their care.  Everyone is happy.

Well, everyone except me, the teacher two doors down who feels obligated to do the same.  I asked Jenny the expert kid what would happen if I said, "Well, that teacher decided to give gifts but I decided not to."

She said something like, "The kids would all think you were really lame.  Even now, kids compare teachers and who gives the best stuff and they're like, Ha ha, I get to be in 'Linda's' class and she gives really good treats and you're in "Grace's" and she just gives a homemade bookmark."

[You might guess that "Grace" is a euphemism for "Dorcas."]

I have no idea where the balance is, with goodie bags and a lot of other things.

On the one hand, while our kids are in the back seat breaking the cheap kaleidoscope on the way home from Vacation Bible School, little kids in Africa are walking a mile to fetch drinking water from a stagnant pond.  It seems Jesus might be a little concerned about this situation, seeing as how he said,  “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

On the other hand, there was that lady who poured perfume on Jesus' head, and the disciples got all snippy and said, "We could have sold it and given the money to the poor," and Jesus said, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."

I don't know what the answer is, for me or anyone else.  I will continue to stuff goodie bags when the occasion calls for it, I'm sure, to prevent kids from feeling like I don't love them, but from here on I refuse to buy and give Jesus junk.

The end.

Quote of the Day:
On our way to the neighborhood garage sale in Harrisburg:
Jenny: Thank you for not wearing a fanny pack.
Me: You're welcome, but I don't see why it matters so much.
Jenny: It's like Pride and Prejudice.  How you act determines whether or not I'll get married.


  1. Oh, Dorcas! This is just one more reason I love reading what you write. AMEN!

  2. Dorcas you always know exactly what to say on a subject. I truly enjoy hearing your perspective on things. God has truly given you an amazing gift. Never stop shooting right to the heart of the matter.

    Amy Varnell-Miller

  3. Goodie bag contents HAVE to break before the next party. Can you imagine how much stuff kids would have if it didn't? On the other hand, I agree with you and find myself in the same situation. That's why I choose to teach teens or adults.

  4. death to the goodie bag!!!! Seriously, I agree with you. The culture of cheap plastic crap that breaks immediately is teaching our kids to be consumers, which creates much larger problems, which do, yes, have a connection to the children in Africa. I will NOT apologize for not giving out goodie bags in Sunday school or at birthday parties (we have yet to have a peer party for our children's birthdays - family only at this point). I do think it's good for children to see adults being authentic and real, so I think it's fine for you to say your gift is storytelling and not filling goodie bags. They will remember your stories!

  5. And lets not even get into the fact of what bad stewards of the Earth we are filling the landfills with all this plastic junk!

  6. I have to agree with you Dorcas! This goodie bag thing is a waste of resources and money. I have the children decorate a paper sack to carry all of the things that they made and what everyone else gives them.
    That's my contribution!

  7. This is so heavy on my heart. We sell a 'cheap Jesus' when we make it about stuff. We leave out the truth - why do we need Jesus to begin with. I am thankful to find your blog today. We need more people keeping it real and making it about truth - not junk - thus creating new idols!

  8. I totally agree. And as someone who loves nature, I hate that all that cheap stuff from China will just end up in a landfill, doing no one any good whatsoever.

  9. I agree! My solution has been to fill my bags ( when I teach VBS ) with usable items such as small notebooks, bottles of bubbles, good quality pens or pencils etc. No "Jesus Junk" :)

  10. Could not agree with you more Dorcas! In fact, if we're teaching our kids about Christ and being Christ-like, why don't we have them put together a little care/food box to be given to a needy family in the community? We need to be teaching them to be the light of the world, not worldly.
    Blessings, Aimee

  11. I like the idea about the children putting together a food basket for the needy or the local food bank.

  12. Oh I so agree...first I spend my week trying to keep their attention, then I need to spend $$ on a goodie bag, that may or may not meet some ambiguous standard...but my request is that ALL the teachers agree if we decide "no goodie bags" because it sure makes life interesting when 2 out of 3 of my children get a goodie bag
    Jenny's quote is a stern reminder to me.

  13. Can I just express how much I agree with this post? Or the idea that the church is still the one place children can be filled with sugar and sent out the door to their families on a sugar-and-food-coloring-induced high? Why are we afraid to make church about substance for kids? I'll never forget the impression it made on me when I travelled to Africa and saw an eight-year-old orphan lead adults in prayer and passionate worship. Why not THAT in North America?

    Thanks for the courage to speak out.

  14. I back you up 200%. Seems a teacher could also teach about service and generosity to the less-advantaged.

  15. I agree. Especially about giving away plastic junk that supposedly represents something greater. What is worse is that today's VBSs has incorporated crafts into their curriculum. I did learn the children lack basic skills like using a scissors but to teach them about its use is beyond the mission of VBS, or so I thought.

    Anyhow, I agree with your article...Maybe next time give the children a bag of cookies...or a pretty cupcake! :-)

  16. We do the same thing at our church and it bugs me, too. The students should be bringing the teacher a gift since she/he is the one who put all the time and effort into teaching!

  17. "How you act determines whether or not I'll get married." -- What a terrible responsibility.

    Wonderful line! I laughed and laughed.

  18. Excellent points! Couldn't agree more. Thanks for saying it here. :)

  19. Yeah! And another thing that is awful, like goodie bags with Jesus stuff in it, is a "Jesus Is my Boyfriend" song. (Personally, I think it's a little...weird for Jesus to be called my boyfriend. Weirder than putting random Bible verse references that are so obscure that you have to look it up AND look at the context on bracelets. It's silly.)

  20. Amen and amen. Wish I were brave enough to address this kind of thing in my church. I feel like a meanie for being so old and fuddy-duddy, but you expressed my sentiments exactly. I would love, love, love to see you write something similar (but perhaps you don't share this perspective) regarding short term mission trips largely funded by parents and friends of parents who feel obligated to give to such, much like the "goodie-bag" situation. The season of such is just drawing to a close, so our mailbox will no longer be full of cheery requests from 16 and 17 year olds who are eager to reach and lost and hurting of the world (with perhaps a short stop at Disneyland on the way home). The letters follow a predictable pattern...."give if you can but your prayer support is what's most important...(tightwad)" Meanwhile, perhaps the grandparents of these young missionaries are lonely and could sure use their companionship). I long for the "old days" when long-term missionaries were the emphasis of our missions giving, and teenagers were taught that charity begins at home. But, I think I'm a "Grace" (Dorcas) down the hall with this line of thinking. I digress.....Thank you for this post!

  21. I overheard my kids talking about goodie bags on the way home from a church function similar to VBS. One asked what they should do with all the "stuff". Someone else said, " I left mine there in case someone else wanted it" and the youngest said..."Do they know we don't need more to bring home?" to which the oldest said "They're being nice and trying to bless us, so don't be so ungrateful!"

  22. Hallelujah! Down with goodie bags!

    Also, totally agree with "Anonymous". I think if someone wants the educational experience of short term missions they should go to work and earn it. Totally agree that missions enthusiasm should begin at home. It's been a really difficult year for us. I'm so thankful and encouraged by several of the kids from church that blessed us with baking or babysitting during our time of need. I think it really shows where the "heart" for missions is at when it is present in the home community first.

  23. Amen ,Dorcas,you have a good point! Why don't you print out your post and put it in the halls of VBS? Or publish it in your newspaper?

    Love your books

  24. I totally agree! I refuse to buy "Jesus junk"!! I think it must be demeaning to Jesus.


  25. I remember as a child VERY much looking forward to a gift from my teacher on the last night of VBS, but we didn't get goodie bags, but rather a good book, or I remember one teacher making us ceramic bells with our names on. Obviously it meant a lot to me as I still remember these gifts. Back then gifts were rare and therefore, very special. This was also before the time of going to a birthday party and taking a gift for the birthday person, but then coming home with a gift too. I have never understood that!

    Susie Schrock