I am afraid of clowns. With Halloween approaching quickly you can imagine my clown anxiety (Coulrophobia) is surfacing. As I drove home today I noticed someone had a clown costume on a skeleton in their yard, and a shiver ran down my back, creepy… just creepy. So lets ask the theological question- why do clowns scare me?
Theory one- One summer as a part of a language exchange program my older brother went to stay with a family from Quebec. When I went to visit him I watched the movie “It” for the first time. “It” is a lovely tale of an evil demon who poses as a clown. I was 10 when we watched it way, too young to watch that kind of thing. What made it even worse was because we were in Quebec not only was it an evil clown but it was an evil clown that I could barely understand. The movie was in French and I couldn’t understand everything that was happening but I got the jest this clown was homicidal and that may have been where the trauma started.
Theory Two- My mom in jest bought me a sign that says “Can’t sleep or the clowns will eat me.” I had to ask her- “hey mom have I always been afraid of clowns.” She shared that I have always been afraid of people in masks. From Santa to Disney characters I never liked when someone hid their true identity. Perhaps that is the key- I don’t like not knowing who someone REALLY is. Perhaps I have always been afraid of masks-
This week I am honored to be the speaker at a conference for women in ministry and one of the topics the organizers asked me to address was the question “What masks do we wear?” I took sometime to think about this one. I too quickly felt defensive. Masks why would I wear masks? I am authentic. That’s my whole speal I share with people. My messages usually highlight that I am on a quest for authenticity, and that is what I want for everyone else. I have the bold belief that God made us with unique gifts, and graces and that the world needs us to be our most authentic selves. But alas even that is a mask. Because when I am honest I wear masks all the time.
As a people pleaser I try masks on all the time. I wear masks around anyone who doesn’t seem to like who my authentic self is. This looks a lot like me trying to figure out which mask will please the person I am in conversation with. Do they need me to be assertive Sarah, submitting Sarah, bold Sarah, shy Sarah, which Sarah pleases them most? That’s the problem with being someone who wants to be loved and is good at working a crowd. I know that I am really capable of reading people and sometimes that makes me insecure so I pick up a mask. Wearing a mask I have played lots of roles- I have played more intelligent than I am, and I have even played less. I have played more empathetic than I am and I have played harsher boss lady. Everytime I have found myself trying out a new character I walk away feeling more shame than I would have had I just disappointed the person by being me.
So how do I avoid wearing masks? By testing out my authentic self with folks and experiencing some rejection but also lots of acceptance. Every time I am really me even when I know it disappoints the other person something happens. I become more and more capable of authenticity and leave the masks for the appropriate times like Halloween. I am learning to love this unmasked version of myself but I don’t think I will ever learn to love clowns.