“Holy Fools”: Exploring the Journey of Calling for Christian Variety Performers

The juggler: a village fair by Fritz Beinke, 1873.

I am happy to announce that my PhD dissertation has been published to ProQuest, an academic database for published research.

I have made the dissertation open source, which means anyone anywhere can access the full content free of charge.

Here is the full dissertation:

Please share far and wide. I am very much excited about this research and the future projects that may come out of it.

Here is the abstract:

The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of a lived calling for Christian variety performers. A basic qualitative study method was employed to conduct hour-long semi-structured interviews with thirty seasoned variety performers (jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, clowns, and other similar entertainers) who ascribe to the Christian faith and claim to live out a life calling through their vocations. All the participants live and work in North America except for one who lives in England. The findings were evaluated through a theoretical framework of theology, vocational meaning-making, and socio-cultural learning theory. Prior research has shown that a calling-oriented approach to one’s work can lead to deep levels of satisfaction, meaning, and engagement in one’s work (Duffy et al. 2018, 423). But research has also unearthed what are known as “dark sides” to calling (Duffy and Dik 2013, 433). This study found both positive and negative experiences related to living out one’s calling as well. Based on the findings from this study, the major themes were named as journey, joy, community, and oblation. Calling was found to be an ongoing journey. The variety performers expressed the purpose of their work, both intrinsically and extrinsically, in terms of joy. The participants described the essential role of community in their lived callings, identified in this study as the vocational support system. Finally, this study found that each participant viewed their calling as an oblation (Maslow 1967, 94), something they wholistically offer back to God as a sacrificial offering. Implications for practice and suggestions for future study are discussed.

The Easiest Large Group Game Ever

IMG_0368This is probably the easiest large group game ever invented.  If you can think of an easier one, please let me know in the comments.

Heads or Tails!

This game of heads or tails involves EVERYONE in your large group.  It is actually better the larger the group gets.  There is an elimination factor to it, so that you are left with only one winner.  But the eliminating happens so fast that the people waiting to play the next round don’t have to wait long.

What you need: A lot of people and one coin (I like to use a quarter).

How to play: Have everyone stand up.  Tell them that they need to select heads or tails before you flip the coin each time you flip it.  They indicate heads by putting both hands on their head.  They indicate tails by putting both hands on their rear.  Whatever the coin says, those people stay in the game and advance to the next flip.  The eliminated people (their side did NOT flip) must sit down and wait for the next game.  Repeat this over and over until you are left with one final winner.


  • Don’t worry, this game moves fast.
  • Before you flip, say “ONE-TWO-THREE-Lock it in!” so that the players all lock in their heads or tails at the same time.
  • No switching selection after you say “lock it in!”  If a player does so, they’re out.
  • Let the winner be the coin flipper for the game after they win.

Kids want to play this game ALL DAY LONG.  You’ll be surprised at how crazy easy it is.

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Want to learn how to juggle? Here are the basics!….

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Not a Single Bone Shall Be Broken

Today is Good Friday on the Christian calendar. I would like to share a Good Friday reflection with you. Thank you for reading…

Credit: KLAU2018 on Pixabay

When I speak at children’s events, I tell the story of Jesus and his ministry on earth. I point out that Jesus was the only human in history who lived a perfect life – because he was both God and human at the same time. I then explain to them the story of how Jesus was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, and subsequently put on a cross. I tell them that the cross was a terrible way to die – it was the punishment back then that was reserved for the really bad guys. Then I ask them, “but was Jesus a bad guy?” They say, “No.”

That’s when I say, “So, Jesus did not die on the cross because he deserved to. He died on the cross because he loves you.” That’s 1 John 4:10: God’s love is that he “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” What is propitiation? Some versions use the terms “atonement” or “sacrifice.” Propitiation is the act of satisfying the wrath of God, in this context, against the sin of the world. We also know that Jesus accepted this call, albeit with reluctance in his humanity. He told his father in prayer, “If you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42a).

But we know Jesus did not maintain this reluctance. For the very next thing he said was, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). We further know that Jesus died out of enduring and hesed (covenant love) love for us because of a small detail John leaves us in the crucifixion account.

You see, shortly after Jesus and the two criminals beside him were placed on the crosses, the Jews petitioned Pilate to speed up the process so that no bodies would be left on a cross during the Sabbath, which was fast approaching. Pilate sent guards to do just that. What did they do to speed up the process? Break the legs of the crucified. That would accelerate the death of the punished because as long as their legs worked, they could still push themselves up a little to gasp for every last breath of air in an effort to stay alive. John says,

So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:32-33).

John himself interprets this as a fulfillment of Scripture, from which the Israelites were given instructions not to break the bones of their passover lambs (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; see John 19:36). I also see something very telling in this physical detail. And I could be wrong about this, but I have a guess based on the evidence we do have in Scripture. My guess is that Jesus physically accepted the consequences of the cross without trying to fight back against it.

Here’s what I mean: The two criminals were still alive when the guards approached them to break their legs. Jesus was not. What is the difference between the criminals and Jesus? The criminals were probably trying to extend their life and breath as long as humanly possible, as if to try to reverse their punishments if even for a few more moments. You see, once a crucified person’s legs are broken, their body weight shifts from being held by the legs to being held by the “shoulders and chest, and the prisoner would suffocate in a few minutes” (Michael Card, The Parable of Joy [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995], p. 228). Jesus, on the other hand, gave himself up for us before the guards even got to him for this final blow. He did not fight against his Father’s calling. He lovingly poured out his hesed for us on that cross. Paul testifies to this in his poem about Christ in Philippians 2:

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

John also recounts the time when Jesus spoke about this obedience to death – even saying that he has authority to lay down his own life:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18a).

In summary of this point, the reason I believe the soldiers did not have to break the legs of Jesus is because he laid down his life of his own accord. Again, not because of anything he did, but rather because his love for us is that great. He also knew, even on the cross, that the hope of Resurrection was right around the corner.

*This reflection is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at Eternity Church in Richmond, VA on March 27, 2022.

From the Lips of Children

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the day of the Christian calendar where we celebrate the Triumphal Entry, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowd shouted “Hosanna!” That means, “Save!” The choice of donkey versus a horse demonstrates that Jesus is the humble king. But there is another detail of this story that is often missed, and that is the role that children play in the Triumphal Entry according to the Matthew account of the story (Matt 21:1-17). Here is the passage from the NIV:

21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” 12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,”they were indignant. 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” 17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

Matthew 21:1-17, NIV

My wife and I have three children, ages 4, 7, and 13. For years, we have kept a notebook in a cabinet in our dining room that is basically the “from the lips of children” notebook. Any parents out there know what I’m talking about? It’s when your child, usually young and still learning English, says something silly, sweet, deeply profound, or all three at the same time. You need to write it down, otherwise you’ll forget it.

In our Bible passage today, we have the original entry into the “from the lips of children” notebook. And that is the sounds of children praising Jesus in the temple. Jesus confronts the religious leaders who were bothered by the sound of children singing praises in the temple. Jesus sticks up for the children and reminds the religious leaders, who knew their Bibles, that the Bible itself said the Lord would call forth praise from the lips of children. The religious people had somehow forgotten that children can and should worship God in the temple too. May we never forget the importance of welcoming the children in worship as we are doing today. In fact, I would challenge us to think of children as the ones from whom we should be learning how to worship.

You see, this passage shows us that the children continued their Palm Sunday praises all the way from the road to Jerusalem into the temple itself. Look at the passage – the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple happens immediately after his Triumphal Entry. He rode the donkey, entered Jerusalem, and then entered the temple. Verse 15 tells us that in the temple, “the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’…” This means that the kids kept praising. They didn’t stop at the end of the Triumphal Entry.

That’s why children should be the role models for us in worship, not the other way around. They keep praising, like the kids in Matthew 21:15. Let us always promote and foster opportunities for children to worship with and among adults in the life of Christian congregations. We are missing out on something if we never worship together with the children.

Continue to lean into intergenerational worship and always look for new and creative ways to have all the generations of God’s people intermingle, pray together, and worship together.

The Wise Neighbor

Mr. Belton was an elderly gentleman who lived next door to my wife and I when we lived in the first house we purchased. It was a small fixer-upper. I was determined to breathe new life into this house and make it a fine little abode for us. Every day, for as many hours as my life schedule allowed, I was swinging hammers, chopping wood, stripping paint, and sanding trim. I did a lot of the work in the backyard, in full view of Mr. Belton. He quietly watched as I struggled through the seemingly never-ending project of fixing this old house. We would occasionally chat across the fence, but not for long because I wanted to get back to my task at hand. His presence was one of gentle encouragement to me. His life was slower and more simple. He was retired and had no house to fix up. He also had many years of life experience and thus, a deep wisdom about the world from which I was about to learn…

Once, after a long day of working with lumber in the backyard, I was visibly sweaty and exhausted. Mr. Belton looked straight at me from across the fence and said ten words to me that I will never forget:

“Jesse, the Lord didn’t make the world in one day.”

That’s all I needed to hear in that moment. I stopped what I was doing, went inside, and spent time with my wife.

I eventually finished the fix-up job, but likely at a slower pace after that advice from Mr. Belton. He helped me see the big picture in perspective. Life was a lot more than fixing up that house. I did not need to devote all seven days of the week to hard labor (in addition to my “day job” at the time). I was on the path to burnout, and Mr. Belton saved me.

There is a lie going around in ministry. The lie comes from Satan himself and the lie is this: “The more you work in your ministry, the bigger and better its going to get.” But I challenge you to find that anywhere in Scripture. What we do see in Scripture is that on the seventh day, the Lord himself rested:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2-3, NIV

Ministers, students, volunteers, you need Sabbath rest (it’s one of the Ten Commandments!; Exodus 20:8-11). There is too much burn-out going around in ministry right now because too many people who feel called to ministry are sacrificing their own well-being and the well-being of those around them (family, friends, congregation, etc) on the altar of “ministry” (for example, working 80 hours a week at the church; see The Endurance Factor by Greg Surratt and Chip Judd, published by Avail in 2023, for more on that).

Take a day off each week – religiously. It probably won’t be Sunday if you’re in full-time pastoral ministry. So find another day of the week to be your Sabbath. On that day, refrain from any work-related tasks (including work-related emails, texts, phone calls, prep-work, etc.). Spend time with your family, with nature, with a hobby, in solitude, and overall, with the Lord. You’ll be surprised at how refreshing and freeing the discipline of Sabbath can be.

Quick quiz. There are only three questions:

1. Guess which fast food chain in America makes the most money per location? Bingo: it’s Chik-fil-a (source:

2. Guess how many days a week Chik-fil-a is open? Right again, only 6 (they’re closed Sundays).

3. Do you think they’re foolishly leaving money on the table by closing on Sundays? Or is the Sabbath more valuable than one more day of earnings? For a company that is already number one. Just think about that.

-Dr. Jesse Joyner, Dean of Children and Family Ministries, Ascent College