You Don’t Have to Be in Make-Up to Be a Clown

A professional clown informed a group of amateurs such as myself that “You don’t have to be in make-up” to fulfill the calling of a clown. She was talking about our calling as Christians to make ourselves vulnerable.

The clown in question, Trudi Sang, is chair of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins‘ student community. Trudi was giving a talk to us on the New Wine, New Wineskins community formation retreat on how to be Christian leaders. She was drawing from her many experiences as a professional clown to appeal to us to be those who lead like good clowns as Christians. Trudi was not trying to be funny. In fact, she was making a serious case in view of the long history of Christians being conceived as clowns–not for clowning around but for imitating Christ–the ultimate court jester and holy fool.

Would you and I like to be professional or master Christian clowns rather than amateurs? We don’t have to wear make-up to be clowns, so you and I can save some money there. We can be clowns simply by being vulnerable with others.

If we want people to take off their masks, we will need to take off our own masks. Why is it that people have to put on make-up as clowns to get people to take off their masks of pretense and be vulnerable? Perhaps it is because they think the clowns aren’t real and so they can be honest with them. What do you think?

Of course, Hollywood has filled many of us with fear of clowns. As a result, many of us won’t even let down our guard with clowns for fear that the Joker from The Dark Knight might be lurking below the surface. So, we’ll need to prove to others that the vulnerability they see in us is for real rather than a thin veneer used to cover more pretense and to cause further pain and suffering in their lives.

I guess as Christians we’ll have to prove ourselves by clothing ourselves in Jesus. Easier said than done given how Jesus’ enemies mocked him, undressing him, then casting lots for his clothing, even as they left him hanging to die from a tree. But still, this is how we prove that we are professional or master clowns, like him. Instead of mocking others, we take upon ourselves the mockery and scorn, like him. Instead of hurting the defenseless, like some notorious clown pretenders have done, we lay ourselves down like Jesus did for the defenseless in their distress.

Jesus did not put on a mask to be vulnerable. In fact, in appearing before us face to face as God’s holy fool, he aims to aid us in taking off our masks so that we can be seen and known for who we truly are. We’re all clowns. The question is: what kind of clowns are we?

All of us are clowns. Either we wear masks in pretense to cover our foolishness or we expose our foolishness by taking off the masks so as to wear Christ. Jesus is God’s master fool whose cross makes a mockery of human sophistication and autonomy, which is nothing more than sophistry. If we try to be wise in our own eyes, we become fools.

We need to give up the circus act of performing for others’ approval rather than seeking to please Jesus. Only as we find our value in relation to God’s holy fool will we be able to become vulnerable and love others no matter how foolish we appear. Only as we die to ourselves and carry our crosses will we be free to live. Only as we give up trying to be wise in our own eyes, willing to look foolish to people who live by pretense, will we become wise in God’s eyes and prove to be of help to our fellows so that they can put away their masks. We don’t have to wear make-up anymore to be clowns, if we want to see Jesus and others face to face.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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