Many years ago a good friend of mine introduced me to the idea of doing clown ministry, which he was very enthusiastically involved in. Since then it became a great blessing in my own life and ministry experience.
One of my friend’s favorite slogans is found in the willingness to be a “Fool For Christ” when engaged this good work. He taught me how one picks a clown persona and name, one that stems from the heart of a person, and from God’s purposes for his life. And he showed me that process by which one applies that clown face…clown make-up…which then becomes a very significant prelude in doing this kind of ministry.
He always began with a kind prayerful reverence that almost belies the end result.
It helps to know, I think, that my friend grew up in a very abusive home, and suffered at the hand of nagging insecurity and acute depression for many years as a young adult. Clown ministry became a saving grace in his life. Over the years it has been a transformational experience for him.
He once poetically shared with me that the act of putting on his clown face allowed him to be `gathered by the Holy Spirit so that he might be distributed upon the wings of compassion’.
And I’ve always thought it a real a paradox that, in this joyful form of ministry, the first thing one does in applying clown make-up is to put on the `white-face’; which represents death.
As the individual pats on that base layer, he symbolically dies to the old self: dies to pride and hatred, dies to envy and jealousy, dies to fear and inhibition, dies to self-centeredness and self-consciousness. He dies, in essence, to the wages and the results of sin.
At that point the person no longer speaks with his worldly voice. No further words are spoken. Only actions will serve: the language of praise, the language of love. And only after that individual death occurs, can the person then put on the vibrant colors of new life in Christ.
When the clown face is painted on, each person has a unique design, one which represents both what that person leaves behind as well as what he is becoming through this process of death and rebirth. The clown puts on the face of peace, of compassion, of humility, and joy; of openness and truth.
It can truly be a startling transformation to witness and to experience.
It’s a resurrection. And it’s a revelation.
The donning of such persona is, I believe, a paradigm for the One who comes to this earth as the Mighty Creator of the Universe, God incarnate, emptying Himself into the form of Infant tender and mild.
Because it was only by donning the persona of fragile humanity that this Infinite God of ours was able to show His true power; to offer salvation for all through self-surrender and in meekness come to rule the world.
In many ways Jesus’ Way is the way of the clown.
My friend and I brought our raucous fool’s parade shamelessly into high-steepled sanctuaries, and did our proud pratfalls onto the chancel of struggling inner city churches. We took our little clown troop into orphanages and children’s hospitals, to bring the light of God’s hope into darkened worlds.
I have witnessed such joyful power splinter the gloom of suffering; and seen the colorful hope of utter folly laugh in the face of death. I, myself, have watched through grease paint and bulbous red nose, cancerous children leap out of bed to dance gleefully.
I’ve seen a stodgy corporate CEO transformed into a clown face streaming with tears of joy. I’ve wondered at the metamorphosis of a painfully shy wallflower of a teenage who, once in clown face, changed into an indomitable disciple of the Lord.
And at the end of the day, after all the fanfare had become stilled, I would often find myself wondering, “Which constitutes the true face and which is the false mask?”
My good friend and homiletics professor John McClure also once told his class of budding preachers, “If you really want to be a good preacher, you must be willing to be a `fool for Christ’.”
I believe the same must be true for those wanting to be good disciples of Jesus Christ, as well.
You must be willing to seem a fool in the eyes of the world. You must be willing to say “No, I won’t,” when all around you are saying “Yes, we will”.
You must be willing to bear your soul to a stranger to witness to a Savior who found no home and precious little acceptance in this world.
You have to be willing to put it all on the line for the One who put it all on the line for you.
You have to be willing to spend your life believing and in pursuit of things like hope against hope, strength in humility, peace that passes all understanding, joy like a river.
In Hebrew prophesy, the messiah was expect to come into the world as a king of kings, fulfilling the ancient imagery of royalty riding in on the majestic back of a battle-ready steed, conquering all that stood in his way.
But instead Jesus came down the road on the back of that beast of common burden, a donkey’s colt; his legs dangling so far down that his sandals scraped the ground as they went, bobbing awkwardly back and forth as he rode into Jerusalem for the last time.
Jesus’ disciples expected that he would be lifted upon the shoulders of his subjects as they rejoiced in his conquest. Instead he was lifted upon a cross between two common criminals.
Said Parker Palmer, “To walk the way of the cross, to allow one’s life to be torn by contradiction and swallowed up in paradox, is to live in the reality of resurrection . . . For the cross overcomes all contradictions. In symbol and in reality the crossing point is a point of transformation.” (The Promise of Paradox)
“My Kingdom is not of this world,” was Jesus’ simple response to a mocking Pilate. And in all of Jerusalem – indeed, in all the world – Jesus was the only one who fully comprehended the truth of who he was.
As He taught of love and faith and forgiveness within the Temple gates: Jesus was not who the Pharisees thought He was.
As He rode comically down through the streets of Jerusalem: Jesus was not who the teeming crowds thought he was.
As He stood before Pilate’s accusations, bared ironically as the King of the Jews: Jesus not who the Romans thought He was.
As He stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem towards the pratfall of a horrid death: Jesus was not who the skulking disciples thought He was.
Jesus came to the world as the King of kings, and the world led Him up the hill of Golgotha laughing at His human apparel.
Nobody recognized this divine King for who He really was.
I wonder how many do even today.
Through he is the Prince of Peace come to this world, his ever seems to be the banner by which kings summon the courage or moral conviction to carry forth their troops into battle.
And although he is the Great Redeemer come to save all humankind, all too often his is the name by which one will seek to condemn another.
And therein lies the true folly: for Christ triumphs neither by sword, nor missile, nor might.
This King seeks not vengeance, when His troops are attacked. Nor does He plan a calculated, proportional military response. This King does not yearn for retaliatory blood, when a loved one is brutalized. His justice seeks neither condemnation nor execution.
And yet, Christ came to turn the tables of power in order to turn back the tide of evil.
This condemned King of the Jews, this comic Messiah, this Clown Prince, this humble King of kings would be the One who finally and for all time and good fully revealed the power, majesty, glory, triumph and truth about the power found in a Servant God and a Crucified Savior.
It is really no wonder, when we look around us at the world we live in, that we cannot help but wonder: “How can Jesus Christ be supreme Ruler over this world?”
And it’s quite understandable, as we look inside at the sinful nature which lurks in heart and mind that we cannot help but ask ourselves: “How can Jesus ever become the Lord of my life?”
“Yes,” Jesus declared to his disciples with a wry smile, “it’s harder for a rich man to get into heaven, than to thread a camel through the eye of a needle.”
Impossible, you say? Not at all, Jesus replies, “What is impossible for human beings, is entirely possible with God.”
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing;” said Paul “but to us who are being saved it is the very power of God.”
In a world which urges people to assert the self at all costs: to assert one’s personality, one’s authority, one’s expertise, one’s interests over and above others; Jesus Christ calls us to surrender ourselves in sacrificial love that we might discover who we truly are as created in our Creator’s image.
While all the world around is urging us to strive for success through the accumulation of money, power, prestige, and adulation; we have to be willing to give it all away for the sake of someone who lived and died for us over two thousand years ago.
We followers of Christ are those comical people, so peculiar to this world, who, in the horrible aftermath of 9/11, included the terrorists in our fervent prayers as well as our fallen compatriots.
We are those odd disciples who stumble onto the world stage seeking the glory of heaven by giving ourselves, our hearts, our lives away.
We are those comic souls who race to the tombs of the world seeking, not death, but new life.
For as goes our King of Fools, so go we.
I want to share with you a well known prayer in clowning circles. It’s appropriately called The Clown’s Prayer; but I think it also could justly be consider The Christian’s Prayer. Let us pray:
“As I stumble through this life, help me to create more laughter than tears, dispense more happiness than gloom, spread more cheer than despair. Never let me become so indifferent that I will fail to see the wonder in the eyes of a child or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged. Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people, make them happy and forget at least momentarily all the unpleasantness in their lives. And, in my final moment; may I hear You whisper: When you made My people smile, you made Me smile.”