The Funny Thing About Being Funny

The best day of my entire elementary school career was the day I smuggled fake vomit into the cafeteria.   I couldn’t believe how real it looked.   Finely crafted from the highest quality plastic in Hong Kong and painted to grotesque perfection, it was sure to fool even the most observant school nurse.  What I had planned was going to be incredible. 

I was about to become a legend. 

I walked into the cafeteria that day, Superfriends lunchbox in hand, and could barely suppress a giggle knowing what I had tucked away inside.  My friends took forever, absolutely forever, to get through the lunch line.  I couldn’t pull the trigger until everyone had been seated.  I wanted a big audience. 

Continue reading

Faith Like a Ninja

When I was eleven years old I wanted to be a ninja.  I had thoroughly weighed my career options at this point – doctor, lawyer, teacher, ninja – and found that the ancient art of ninjutsu was the best fit for my particular skills.  Sure, you can make a lot of money as a doctor, but can you take out a room full of battle-hardened soldiers and disappear in a puff of smoke?  Doubtful. 

Ninja was totally the way to go.  Yeah, I was overweight, clumsy and didn’t know any karate, but I had some black sweats and a ski mask that I was pretty sure would make up for it.  Now all I needed were weapons. 

I talked my parents into taking me to a martial arts store and buying me a set of wooden nunchucks and a couple of throwing stars.  The thing they don’t tell you when they sell you nunchucks is that it’s really easy to crack yourself in the head with them and really hard to hit anyone else.  I’m sure if I had a CAT scan today, it would reveal multiple skull fractures dating from 1983. 

But these are the lessons you learn along the way to becoming a world class ninja. 

When I first began to follow God back in college, it was a little like my ninja days.  I was so excited that I went out and bought all the gear: a new Bible, lots of books and t-shirts with cheesy, Christian slogans.  I never got the fish bumper sticker, though, because I didn’t want to make God look bad when I ticked people off in traffic.  But other than that, I was set. 

I had all the God stuff I needed to be a world class believer!

Over time, though, I got cracked in the skull with my own spiritual immaturity.  Sure, I had a clever t-shirt that told you all about Jesus, but in a lot of ways, I was still a jerk.  I cared more about fitting in than doing the right thing and excluded people who needed connection so I could spend more time with my friends.  In short, my God-gear said one thing, but my character said another. 

You want to know the coolest thing about ninjas?  They’re stealth warriors.  They don’t wear ninja t-shirts or drive around with ninja bumper stickers.  In fact, you wouldn’t even know they were a ninja until it was too late.  

The most spiritually mature people I’ve ever met are like that.  They just live out their faith in simple, quiet obedience, demonstrating God’s love through acts of kindness and sacrificial generosity.  Their God gear isn’t a t-shirt.  It’s a bucket and a mop.  They’re servants at heart and it shows in everything they do. 

I have nothing against people buying merchandise that helps encourage them in their faith, but as for me, I’m done with it.  I’m ready to go stealth.  I want to grow in a faith that surprises people because, like my ninja counterparts, you never see it coming.

Breaking Character

We’d been rehearsing the show for months.  Our three middle school actors stood center stage, playing a scene they’d practiced dozens of times.  In this pivotal moment, Joe, our lead actor, was supposed to break an expensive surfboard while clowning around.   This one act of carelessness would get him into all kinds of trouble and would drive the plot for the rest of the play. 

Everything was going like clockwork.  The costumes, make-up and set all sparkled under the lights.  The kids were hitting their lines just as we’d practiced.  Even the Styrofoam surfboard looked real.   Of course it had a slot cut out underneath to make it break at just the right time. 

The only problem was, it didn’t break.  Joe hopped on it right on cue, but the dumb thing held his weight.  Our entire production crew stopped breathing.  We had 300 people in the room, and the rest of the show hinged on how Joe would react to this mishap.  Would he stop?  Get flustered?  Fumble around?

Nope, he stayed in character.  We never saw Joe, only Jake, the character he was portraying.  He snapped the surfboard over his knee – which got a huge laugh – and just kept going.  I couldn’t believe how he’d handled the pressure and never broke character for even a second.  I was so proud of him. 

Staying in character is harder than it sounds.  In live theater anything can happen.  Anything can go wrong.  Actors may forget a line.  Sound and lighting effects could be cued at the wrong time.  Sets, costumes and props can malfunction in dozens of ways.

Staying in character means that no matter what goes wrong, the actor plays their role consistently.  It means they keep doing what they’re supposed to do no matter what. 

As hard as it is to stay in character on the stage, I can tell you it’s much harder to stay in character in everyday life.  There are two versions of all of us.  There is the me I show everyone else, and then there is the real me, the me I am when no one is looking.  When public me and private me are the same, I have what is called integrity.  When they’re different, that’s when life gets complicated. 

In life, just like in a play, things are bound to go wrong.  And when the pressure is on, that’s when people who don’t have integrity typically “break character.”  That’s when we see the real them underneath the role they were playing.  That’s when politicians from both parties resign or get indicted.  That’s when marriages fall apart and people get fired. 

When you find out the private me is radically different from the public me, you realize I actually broke character a long time ago.  But if the public me and private me are the same, my integrity protects me when life throws me a curve ball. 

What’s the easiest way for me to stay in character?  Close the gap between the two versions of me.  It’s like a man standing with one foot on a dock and the other on a drifting row boat.  If the boat keeps moving, he’s eventually going to fall.  His only hope is reigning in the boat.  His only hope is closing the gap.

Fortunately for all us, there is a God who wants to help us close that gap.  There is a God who wants to help us make private choices consistent with our public selves.  There is a God who gives us grace even when we break character.  He is a God who wants to make us whole.

The Bible says that people with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.  That doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean taking a step in the right direction to playing the role you were born to play and staying character a little more each day.