MacDonald Channels Jesus
Ross MacDonald is my favorite pilgrim, an ascetic who believes in the virtue of material things as long as they are handmade and functional. He recently channeled The Holy Carpenter’s original teaching into the creation a bible of DIY miracles titled What Would Jesus Craft?, 30 easy-to-make offerings that are perfect for Christmas, Easter and Day of the Dead gifts. Here he talks about the faith he has in this book.
I know this is tongue in cheek … but some, if not all, of the crafts you showcase are actually viable. Are you trying to have your Jesus cake and eat it too? I feel like this book could be in the craft section of the bookstore, and in the humor section. I didn’t want this book to be just another religious parody, although that’s obviously a big part of it. I’ve always liked making stuff, I make stuff for a living, and so I also wanted the crafting part of the book to be real. The publisher asked me to describe my book, and this is what I wrote:
What Would Jesus Craft? is a humorous how-to book – full of crafts for those who are full of faith, or those who just want to look like they are full of it. It draws inspiration from the vast and incredibly rich tradition of Christian kitsch, and uses up-to-date crafting techniques to create Christian-themed crafts for the home, crafts to wear, crafts for the kitchen and crafts for Christmas. While some might say that it pokes gentle fun at church-goers, the book always strives to make fun, funny, yet beautiful things, things that people will really want to make, whether they be of the Faith, or happily hell-bound. To that end, it is a serious craft book—there are clear, careful, well-illustrated instructions, and a detailed description of materials and techniques. In other words, if Martha Stewart were to undergo a sex change, become a born-again Christian and move to a trailer park, this is the book he might write.
Assuming you will not be smote or set aflame for your heresy, what prompted such devotion to Christian crafts? I’m not a believer, but I love the imagery of Christianity—the whole range of it, from old master paintings and cathedrals to plaster nativity scenes. It’s a huge rich part of both art and kitsch. I have a collection of late- 19th-century and early 20th-century Christian stuff—old painted icons, beautiful framed 19th-century lithographs of the Lord’s prayer, vintage holy cards, an 18th-century Bible, church banners, holy water bottles, crucifixes, a small altar, a pew, calendars, Bible lesson cards, Sunday school books, and more. In some ways, this book celebrates that imagery.
And you’re not a believer? Do you anticipate any blow-back from the true believers? Probably the humorless ones. So far the Christians with a healthy sense of humor have embraced it. While I was working on the book, I showed it to two good friends who are firm believers—one a lifelong Catholic, and the other a born-again Christian. They both laughed their asses off. Of course, there’s every chance that it was the thought of me burning in the fires of hell for eternity that was giving them so much joy.
The book is written in first person, but the narrator is a fictional character. He thinks of himself as a good Christian, but the reader can see that he’s really not—he lives with his elderly auntie, and he steals all of her precious things to use in his craft projects, and rationalizes that he’ll make better use of them than she does. It’s clear he hasn’t read much of the Bible that he’s so loudly opinionated about. I think even good Christians probably know someone like that.
I feel reborn having tried your “Jesus Pet Dinosaur Nacho Platter.” Do you have a favorite? I do love that one. My favorite, though, is the “Eye See You In Hell Mirror.” It looks really impressive in the flesh. It’s a large, thick mosaic eye, and the pupil is a deep hole lined with red glass marbles, with a magnifying mirror at the bottom. When you look into the pupil, you see your own face, looking bloated and surrounded by the red glow of hell, as if you’re looking at a vision of your future afterlife. There are letter beads that form the “lashes.” They spell out “Look who we missed seeing in church last Sunday.” It was inspired by these cards that Sunday school teachers would send out if you missed one Sunday. The cards would have a reflective foil disc on the front, and they’d say, “look who we missed seeing in Sunday school last Sunday.” Subtle yet masterful propaganda.
Were there any blasphemous ideas that you decided went too far? I don’t see any Jesus condoms, for instance? I’m perfectly capable of coming up with an idea like Jesus condoms, but somehow I didn’t. If I had, I probably would have given it thoughtful consideration, and then passed. I feel like what’s in the book is pretty restrained, although I’ve written a sequel that has a couple of more out-there things. I tried to do two things with each craft—the first was to create something humorous and hopefully original. The second was to make something that looked good, that people might actually want to make whether they were true believers or not. And when I say “looked good,” I mean in a fun, kitschy kind of way, of course. So the object was never to create something blasphemous or offensive, just funny, fun, and cool looking. When I was working on the book, friends would suggest things like “make a Jesus fish medallion out of a bent paper clip and string.” I get the humor of that, but that’s a different book.
Since you seem to have his ear, how did Jesus like the book? There’s no doubt that Jesus had a good sense of humor. Haven’t you ever seen that painting of him busting a gut laughing? But seriously—he had lots of great material. He was always taking ironic jabs at the self-righteous Pharisees, and the gospels are full of his great one-liners, like, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” If you read his words in his original Aramaic, it probably kills!
What other incredibly sacred icon are you going to tackle next? Buddha? Justin Bieber? Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving—I have enough material for three more books. After that, maybe Scientology? Nah—too easy.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →