When I was about ten years old, I was in a puppet ministry group at the church I grew up in. There was an older woman who had coarse, frizzy, black hair with streaks of silver running through it. Her name was Ara Tizi. She had unique characteristics that matched her name, but she loved kids, loved to get her (and our) hands messy, and loved to direct puppet shows of stories from the Bible.
It was a process. First we had to make our puppets by hand. We’d meet on a Saturday morning to get messy with balloons, strips of newspaper, glue and big bowls of water which made a goopy mess. We’d dip the newspaper strips into the bowl of watered down glue and slop in around the balloon. I remember as I pulled newspaper out of the bowl, the feeling of the weight of watered down glue as I plastered it on the balloon and the sticky, smooth feeling on my fingers. To me it was a glorious feeling. This task formed the head of the puppet I was creating. Then we’d cut out patches of material to make the shirt and arms of the puppet and then Ms. Tizi would take them home to sew them together.
The next weekend we’d come back to paint our puppet’s faces. We were given the color to paint the skin and hair. Then she taught us how to paint the eyes, nose and lips. We’d then do the finishing touches by attaching hats, crowns, or props to the puppet’s hand. Then rehearsal would begin.
There was a puppet stage someone had made out of wood and there were curtains like a real theater. Sometimes up to five or six of us would cram behind it, on our knees, raising our arms (which did start hurting sometimes!)
It was a fun experience to tell a story in an artistic way – me being the one who loves stories and making art. I was able to be part of a story behind the scenes. Looking back now though, I think another reason I really liked doing the shows is because no one saw me. I was hidden behind the stage and curtain to be someone else. And I was very OK with that. I couldn’t trip on a stage in front of the audience and I didn’t have to worry about forgetting my lines because I could read them from the script if I needed to.
As an adult now, I find myself feeling the way I was when it came to puppet shows – I honestly prefer to be “behind the scenes”. Well, that’s the nice way of putting it. Sometimes I’d rather be unseen.
But, when I feel that way, somehow I’m reminded of Moses.
Moses had left Pharaoh’s home to hide because he had killed two men out of vengeance for the way his people were being harshly treated. After things settled down, he found a new community, a wife who was part of a shepherding family, and started his own family.
Moses got real comfortable with ordinary life as he tended sheep for 40 years. Then one day it happened as he was tending flock on a desert mountain. He was ambushed by a bush. Well, not physically attacked by a bush, but flames arose from a bush and as clear as could be he heard God call out his name, “Moses!” He knew right then he was on holy ground and hid his face out of fear. Once he gained his composure enough to listen to God, the Lord told Moses now was the time for him to help rescue His people.
I can hear Moses (or myself) start spewing out excuses, “Um…, What if I flop? What if they don’t listen to me? What if I mess up? Someone else can do this better than me – someone younger and outspoken. Someone who doesn’t have a speech impairment.” But then comes the excuse that hit home to me.
“Moses said to the Lord, ‘O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’” (Exodus 4:10)
After a little research, it’s very likely the Moses did have a speech impairment. I’m right there with him because I have one too. That’s another story of mine for another time, but Moses is either scared out of his wits or is throwing himself his own pity party. Maybe it’s a combination of both. He’s coming up with every excuse in the book. He didn’t want to break his routine, his comfortable way of life. He didn’t want to be bold.
Ummm. I’m guilty. Sound familiar to you? Has God asked you to step out of your comfortable routine to help him save people who are hurting physically or spiritually?
Then God comes hard with a come-back to Moses. “Who give man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)
Now more than ever we need to be brave like Moses and do what God told him to do (I bet with nervousness still) – help rescue and claim the Promised Land. What are we doing to help rescue and direct people to the Promised Land? Are we speaking God’s truth with love and gentleness when we hear others talk about politics, social issues in America, and ISIS? Are we stepping out of the norm to be formed into the image of God? First I need to get on my knees, like I did behind the stage, and pray. Then, I need to get myself out from hiding behind the curtain and do what God calls me to do in this broken world. What about you?
Even though we are broken, hide behind curtains, and want to be unseen, God still sees us. He loves us unconditionally and to our sometimes unbelievable ways, works though us – and puppets.
above image from http://jfarson.weebly.com/junk-puppet-theater.html but that’s just like the ones we made!