Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Connecting, clown-style

Though others may argue to the contrary, I have only ever been a clown once in my professional life. To be sure, I’ve slipped on a few metaphorical banana skins along the way, but the whole painted-face-and-baggy-suit thing is limited to a single occurrence.

When I was a young newspaper reporter, my news editor sent me out to write a feature on a traveling circus visiting our town. He thought it would be a good idea for me to experience life under the Big Top. So, against my will, I was made up, decked out, and “pressed” into the clown routine.

Given my terrible case of self-consciousness at the time, the prospect of having to play the fool in front of a bunch of strangers was mortifying. I’m probably one of the few young people who has ever wanted to run away from the circus.

It was all horribly embarrassing. My humiliation grew when the photographer sent along to document things missed the crucial moment when another clown drenched me with a bucket of water. So they had to do it all again.

The only saving grace: hardly anyone was in the audience that night.

But any lingering discomfort I may have had about clowns was dispelled during a recent short-term mission trip to Guatemala. I came away with some life lessons from the world of red noses and over-sized shoes.

One of the other groups we worked with was a clown ministry team from a church in South Dakota. It was fun to see how, in the absence of much Spanish, they still connected with people through pranks, pratfalls, and painted personalities.

I learned that you can communicate a lot without words. Three things in particular stuck with me:

Just smile. The clowns’ face makeup was carefully designed to exaggerate their mouths and eyes, to draw people’s gazes, whether in the front row or at the back of the room. This reminded me of the importance of taking time to simply make eye contact with people. Looking at them warmly and deliberately, going face-to-face as it were, rather than just sweeping around the room to see who else may be there, speaks volumes.

Just wave. Whether they were young or old, everyone returned the greeting when one of the clowns flapped a welcoming hand. This reminded me how body language speaks for us even when we have our mouths closed. The gestures we make and the way we carry ourselves can either invite people to move close or keep them at arms’ length. Are we open or shut?

Just shrug. What people liked most was when the clowns would do something goofy and then just own it with a big smile and a hunch of the shoulders that said, “Pretty dumb, huh?” People laughed with them, not at them. Who isn’t drawn to someone who’s not afraid to acknowledge their mistakes and who doesn’t feel the need to pretend to have it all together?

Being winsome can help you win some.

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