As you probably already know, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I still haven’t given up on my grade school dream of being a teacher, my junior high dream of being a librarian, and my high school dream of being Secretary of State (because I could wear cool suits with big shoulder pads and would not be judged harshly for not ever wearing perfume).
But clown would be good, too.
I was thinking of this in church today (who says being Catholic isn’t a laugh a minute?) when the priest called all the kids up to the front of the church, gave them a little pep talk and sent them off to kids’ church, or as it’s officially called, The Place Where Bible Stories Have Puppets and a Snack.
I noticed that mixed in there with the little kids were some older ones, all hunched over and trying to look young enough to go see the puppet show instead of stay and hear the homily. One had obviously nicked himself shaving and another “little girl” looked suspiciously like someone who served on a committee with me last year, with hair in pigtails, no makeup, and a dress with Peter Pan collar. As if.
I haven’t ever been in kids’ church, but it must be fun. But I digress. The priest was obviously comfortable in front of all those kids. He’s a comfortable kind of guy in front of anyone, but you could just tell that he enjoyed looking out and seeing all those young faces. And I thought, “I bet he’d make a good clown.”
When your audience is younger than 15, you have to be a little bit clownish to keep their attention. The first year I taught religion, I had a kindergarten class. For an hour every Tuesday, I would take in anywhere from 15 to 20 little 5- and 6-year-olds (attendance hinging on what pox or virus was making its rounds and who threw up what) and try to keep their collective attention long enough to teach them something.
My goals were not lofty, my assignment not ambitious. I had about 25 class sessions in the year to teach them 1) The Lord’s Prayer 2) the Hail Mary 3) that Jesus loves them and 4) the holy water fonts are not for rinsing off the Happy Meal toys that you brought to Mass.
I started out thinking I was prepared, with a felt board, a gallon Ziploc bag full of stickers, washable markers, a box of popsicle sticks, and a couple of Veggie Tales videos.
Oh, what a fool I was. The stickers were gone in the first 45 minutes of the first class. To keep them interested and not wandering out of the classroom and into the parking lot I found myself talking louder, speaking in funny voices, using my hands a lot, and acting everything out. The problem with that is, this kind of behavior will grab their attention, but they’ll fade off unless you keep stepping it up a notch. By the end of the class, I found myself standing on a desk, doing the chicken dance while reciting John 3:16 in a British accent.
In short, I had become a clown. And I think I was a good clown. With the exception of Nicole, who insisted on saying, “ . . . blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of the Loom, Jesus,” the kids did learn their prayers and successfully graduated to 1st grade CCD.
I teach older kids now and I’ve left that all behind me. Occasionally I find myself starting to put a funny hat on, or a red ball on my nose, but the kids just don’t need it. They’re calm, they listen, and I can get through a whole Bible verse without resorting to sound effects.
I’m thankful that God has a sense of humor.