He was a professional clown. If you had asked me, at the time, who in the congregation was the LEAST likely to be a clown, I would have said, “that guy.” Don’t get me wrong, he was a wonderful guy; a man of solid faith, warm, and good & kind to me and my family. But I consider one of the primary functions of a good clown is that they are funny. He wasn’t. In fact, sometimes, he was downright depressing.
Throughout time that I knew him, however, clowning was something he took very seriously (I see the irony). He also saw it as a ministry, and that’s what made him so endearing. He used his not-so-great jokes, tricks, props, and “clown personality” to open a door to God, hoping that others would see God there (when they couldn’t see Jesus anywhere else).
The other thing about this guy was that he was, in all the years I knew him, constantly dying. I mean, he wasn’t REALLY dying but he thought he was, and prepared us all for it. He had his final wishes, written in detail, decades before his exit from this age. He made sure that the staff at church knew his plans. They were elaborate, and many of the personal touches he planned required him to create and construct some things himself.
He wanted balloons, not flowers. He wanted to be dressed and made up as his clown persona. He wanted his photos and props displayed. He wanted happy music played (a calliope if we could find one). He wanted jokes told. He wanted tears left behind. He had his portrait painted, as his clown persona, on silk and sewn into the panel of the coffin lid, which he had already purchased. The best idea (in my mind at least) was a device he drew up and started but didn’t complete: it was a lapel flower for him to wear in the casket. It was rigged with a hose, a bag of water, and a small foot-operated floor pump. The idea was someone standing near the head of the casket, during “The Calling”, would have their foot near the pump. When a grieving friend or family member approached the casket, bending to kiss or whisper or merely take a closer look at the clown makeup, the flower would squirt water on them.
When he did finally pass, we were somewhat shocked. It was an event we had all heard about (from him) for years but never really expected. Thankfully, all the plans were set.
Or were they?
His family loved him, to a point, but that love was mixed with the feeling that he was an old fool. When confronted with the detailed plans he had made for the service, they were horrified, humiliated, and flatly refused to fulfill his wishes. (This is where the minister earns his money by acting as referee and arbitrator.) He tried his best to convince the family of their father’s wishes (I was NOT the Pastor in charge of the memorial, thank Heaven!). They, in turn, gave the reasonable argument that this was a service for his family and friends, not him, since he wasn’t there. Eventually a compromise was reached.
I don’t know what the best result would’ve been, and I was not a part of the service, just a mourner. But this is what I saw: a funeral constructed compromise and committee. A life, boiled down to compromise and not exactly a good representation of that life, to say the least. His wishes, not quite observed.
I walked into the service just before it began. I signed my name in the registry, which was in the entrance alcove of the chapel. I walked a few feet, turned left, and stood at the back of the filled chapel. Looking down the aisle, I saw an open casket surrounded by multicolored, hydrogen-filled balloons. A portrait of the deceased, in full clown face, was smiling and facing me from the lid of the casket. And, from the back of the chapel I could see, barely poking over the top edge of the open casket, a red nose.
I wish that I could say what followed was laughter, inappropriate jokes, and stories and the warmth of a well-lived and remembered life. But that’s not what happened. What followed was none of what this kind and generous man wanted, it was (based on his family’s wishes) a morose, traditional, and dull affair. A very strange mix, with a clown in the casket…surrounded by balloons.
And I mourned that clown in the casket: a man who saw himself and his destiny as something his loved ones could not, or chose not to, see. And in a way I saw something of all of us.
Sometimes following our passion, against the odds (or the expectation of others) is very difficult.
Was he a success as the clown he wanted to be? Was he a minister to those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see God any other way? I don’t know, but I’d like to think that he was.
But one thing I DO know: On that day that he gave ME a message and he ministered to ME: Use God-given discernment to know through whom The Spirit is speaking. Follow Jesus. Follow the path the Father has started in your heart. Don’t let anyone, including those closest to you, distract you from your God-given dream.