Circus Life

Barnum & Bailey clowns and geese2.jpg

So lately I've been thinking more than usual about circuses. How much thinking about circuses is "usual," you may ask? Good question, Reader.

In-keeping with this post's circus theme, I may skirt the line between logic and absurdity a bit. I apologize ahead of time if this happens. 

I just watched the movie Water for Elephants, and I gotta say, not bad. Not extraordinary, but not bad. One thing I found very interesting, though, is the nature of circus life as portrayed in the film. Night after night these characters break their backs to put on over-the-top performances for the crowds, larger-than-life visions of the human experience at its most spectacular. All the while, though, the lives of these proprietors are bankrupt, empty. Day in and day out those who make magic happen for the masses wallow in their own depravity offstage. Adultery, abuse, none of it matters when they can put on a show for the world. The show becomes reality, reality becomes a show. And they're not the only ones. In the absence of lives of genuine fulfillment we settle for the flash and flesh of what postmodern philosophers call "hyperreality," life in the circus.

One of the characters in the film describes it in these terms:

"From one kind of world too
hard to bear came some kinda
heaven no one knew existed."

The circus is escapism at its most grande. Families show up in droves to be entertained, so that, for the moment, they can forget the woes of the "world too hard to bear". This engineered heaven is benign enough, at first. The thing is, though, we can't live there. We can't dwell in our own false visions of heaven, because they are hollow. They crumble when touched.

The tragic fact of the matter is we are indeed settling into perpetual circus life, more and more it seems. We are all running away from home and joining the travelling circus because we can't cope with reality. We grow tired of searching for true meaning in life so we indwell these realms of illusion because they give us what appears to be joy on the surface. Don't be fooled, though. They're just facsimile. There's no life to be found in them, only what appears to be life.

Of course the circus is almost never actually a circus. More often it's popularity, internet fame, drugs, celebrity worship, the party scene. The big top is filled to the brim with manufactured heaven, spectacle and absurdity, because living in a perpetual carnival is preferable to having to build one's life on a truly solid foundation, something lasting, something eternal. That's too much hard work. After all, we need to be happy, right? And right now if at all possible. Happiness is obviously what's most important, and in the words of Steve Perry, "we all need a clown to make us smile."

The trouble is, though, the show can't go on.

What starts off like this

Very quickly becomes

And before you know it
Evil Clown wallpaper from Clowns wallpapers

I warned you we might go some weird places before we're done.

In any case, all I mean to say with this is, there is no life to be found in the places we're looking for it. The performance we've constructed, the show, is dangerous, because it allows us to become complacent in our pig troughs. Contemporary philosophers see this Bakhtinian carnival as an inevitable arriving place for society, and when I see the state of things, I wonder if they're right. But the thing is, I know better. I know there is true life, beautiful life, and I know where to find it. I don't mean to stand on some moral high ground here. I'm simply "one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread." There is more to life than the circus we've made of it.

Christ desires to tear the veil, reveal what's hidden behind the stage, and in doing so treat the core wounds causing us to seek satisfaction in such things in the first place. We commit sins, sure, big and small, but the true issue is the shame rooted deep within our hearts. Circus life acts as a placebo, and the symptoms subside until the next high, but the disease rages on, uncured. Jesus wants to redeem us from stem to stern, every aspect of our human experience. He wants to clean the inside and out, forgive our sins and give us legs to walk. For this is the true miracle, not that Jesus gives sight to the blind, ears to the deaf or legs to the lame, but that he uproots the vines of brokenness that smother our hearts and drive us to drink, and deceive, and die.

We all know something's wrong. We can all sense the world is fundamentally damaged, and that things ought to be better than they are. The world prescribes we seek solace in fleeting pleasures, but the Gospel, the good news, is that God has the antidote to our brokenness. God has done the work to save us, and restore us to life, to shalom. And I understand why those who don't know this, or don't believe it, might live as if it wasn't true, but I cannot for the life of me imagine why those who know the goodness of God would settle for the show. I don't understand it. Maybe we all just need a reminder. Lord, let it be so, whatever the cost.

"Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

- Luke 5:23-24


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