When it comes to clowns, the Church has had its share. (Jim Bakker and his former wife Tammy Faye Messner come to mind, particularly when I think of all the makeup for which Tammy Faye was infamous.) So I guess it should come as no surprise that some churches should seek to attract attention by imitating other aspects of circus performance.
On Sunday night, during the service at City Church here in Chicago, Pastor Kent Munsey made a short presentation pertaining to the fact that it was Father's Day. Then he mentioned that his father, Steve Munsey, had joined us in order to present the Father's Day message. Kent said something to the effect that we might smell the odor of lion and bear. I didn't smell anything particularly odd, so I thought maybe it was some kind of inside joke pertaining to his dad. Then I noticed the two large cages on the state, covered with sheets. The cage on the far side of the stage wasn't entirely covered, however. Looking more attentively, I saw that one of the cages contained a small black bear, which was pacing back and forth. I couldn't see anything inside the other cage, but I assumed (based on the size of the bear) that they must have a very young lion inside the second cage.
When he took the stage to deliver the message, Steve Munsey began to talk about King David, and about how David had persuaded King Saul that he was able to defeat Goliath when none of the other Israeli soldiers were willing to fight the Philistine giant. Previously, as a shepherd, David had fearlessly protected the flock from a bear and a lion. So he was ready to take on Goliath. Saul was persuaded, and we all know the rest of the story.
Considering his youth, Kent Munsey is a fairly confident preacher. But this was the first time I'd ever heard his father speak. To say that Steve Munsey is a dynamic preacher is an understatement. He could aptly be described as a blend between a preacher and an entertainer. He likes to use dramatic presentations in order to drive home the points of his sermons. Some would say that that's a bad thing. Others would say that in a world where the Church is often dismissed as irrelevant and boring, a little bit of risk taking is needed in order to shake people up and make the message of the Bible more accessible to people.
During a suitable point in his presentation, Steve pulled back the sheet in order to reveal the small black bear inside. Later, he did the same thing for the lion cage. I was surprised to see that the lion was full grown. He was physically magnificent, with a full mane which was well groomed.
It was clear that the lion had spent a lot of time in front of human audiences. He was silent throughout most of the presentation, even though the Praise Team played its usual rock music. The only time that the lion got visibly upset was when a couple of actors dramatized the confrontation between young David and Goliath. The dwarf playing the part of David approached the "slain" Goliath, fake sword raised high, in order to pretend to cut off Goliath's head. When he got close to the lion's cage, the lion apparently (and not surprisingly) saw the upraised sword as a threat. He lunged for the dwarf. We were all glad that the bars of the cage stood between the two of them! Otherwise, I shudder to think what the newspaper headlines might have said. ("Lion Mauls Dwarf In Chicago Church Service", probably.)
When I was young, my maternal grandparents lived in St. Louis. It was almost unheard of for our family to visit St. Louis without taking at least one trip to the city's excellent zoo. Consequently, I'd seen quite a few lions in my life
During one of our visits to the zoo, my mother and brother and I were all standing just outside one of the lion's cages. Suddenly, my mother cried out in a startled tone of voice. One of the big cats had relieved itself, shooting a potent stream of urine right into my mother's face!
On Sunday night, I couldn't help but be reminded of that earlier incident. Nevertheless, despite my awareness of what could potentially happen to anyone standing near a lion cage, I went up to the stage after the service ended in order to get a closer look at the lion. He was very beautiful.
Later on, I was walking down the stairs towards the stage when my foot somehow got wedged between one of the seats and the floor, sending me sprawling in a most undignified manner. In addition to the embarrassment caused to me by the incident, my leg got severely bruised, and hurt for a couple of days. It's still a little bit sore. But it could have been much worse. The lion could have gotten loose and turned me into cat food.