We Weren't as Good as the Muppets...

Our church has being doing a series entitled "I am Highland" which introduces one of our members and shares a bit about their ministry and journey with the church. You can watch these at Highland's site on Vimeo.

Anyhow, here was the "I am Highland" video from this week:

Daniel the Puppet - I am Highland from Highland Church on Vimeo.

BTW, regular readers know why Daniel doesn't play Jesus at Highland. It's because that role is already taken. For your information Daniel, I'm the one who plays Jesus at Highland.

Anyway, I loved Daniel's "I am Highland" video. It was very nostalgic for me.

If you didn't grow up going to church you may be unaware about just how much Christians are into puppetry. Puppets are huge with Christians. For example, puppets make it in at #123 on the list of Stuff Christians Like.

Puppets at my church mainly showed up during Vacation Bible School. I have fond memories of this as the High School students were in charge of the puppets for VBS. So as a teen I got pretty good at puppetry. I was aided in this by the fact that as a child I lived through the Golden Age of Puppets in the US. During my formative years Jim Henson made puppets mainstream, taking his creations from Sesame Street to primetime TV with The Muppet Show (the show debuted in 1976 and ran until 1981). In fact, this Thanksgiving weekend the Muppets are making a bit of a comeback with a new movie--The Muppets.

So as a kid I imbibed--from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show--a lot of good puppetry. Thus, when I became a senior I felt well prepared to be the teen in charge of the VBS puppets. And this being my last time with the puppets as a part of the youth group, I decided to raise the bar.

It ended up being a bit of a disaster.

For starters, I went a bit crazy with the scripts. Back then you couldn't (or at least we didn't) buy canned puppet scripts for VBS. You had to write your own. You'd look at the themes each night and try to write a little situational sketch with the puppets to illustrate that evening's message. I went a bit overboard with this, writing overly long (sort of like my blog posts) scenes aiming, in my own mind, at the VBS equivalent of an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The other problem was that, due to the complexity of the skits I wrote, I needed a lot of scene changes. That's right, I needed scene changes. No plain black background for me. Amazingly, I convinced our youth group to come to the church on weekends to paint backdrops for the puppets. I'd convinced them that all this work was going to be worth it. We were going to have the best VBS puppets our church had ever seen!

So we painted. And rehearsed. Watch out Jim Henson.

It all came to a humbling end when, on the first night, we were doing a skit to illustrate the theme "Jesus is our Savior." The scene I wrote had the puppets out on a boat on a sunny day. Things are looking good until the clouds darken and a storm blows in. (Scene change!) The waves get higher and one of the puppets is pitched out of the boat and begins to drown.

If I recall, the puppet gets pitched out of the boat because of a lighting strike. We had this big cardboard lighting bolt attached to a clothes hanger.

This is all very exciting isn't it?

Anyway, the puppets in the boat find a life preserver and throw it to the drowning puppet. After much effort and drama, they pull him back onboard. He's saved! At this point the clouds break and the sun returns. (Scene change!) Back under sunny skies the puppets discuss the rescue and make the observation that Jesus is...wait for it, wait for it...just like a life preserver!

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a damn fine puppet script.

Anyway, things don't go as planed. The scene changes involved pulling a string to get the painted fabric pulled up and over the 2x4 board above us. During the first scene change the fabric got caught and wouldn't move. So we tugged and tugged, eventually pulling the board onto our heads. Crash!

I think some of my friends actually did get whacked pretty good as our hands were occupied, being inserted into puppets as they were and thus unavailable to ward off the blow. The song leader rushed to our aid and helped pull the board and all that painstakingly painted scenery off of us.

Needles to say, the kids just loved it. Roaring with laughter through the entire mishap. The incident is now a part of church lore as the day-the-puppets-pulled-the-scenery-on-top-of-their-heads story.

And so ended my puppet career.

At the time, I felt like such an idiot. But now, looking back, I have such fond memories. I loved those puppets. So many warm memories of friends (we are all grown with kids of our own now) kneeling behind the puppet theater, arms aloft, scripts taped to the boards in front of us, making magic like Kermit the Frog.

We weren't as good as the Muppets, but we made the kids laugh. And that's what I remember most of all.

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5 thoughts on “We Weren't as Good as the Muppets...”

  1. I was a member of the Open Air Campaigners (Rev. Art Williams) from 1963-1969.  We traveled from Baltimore to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, from Toronto to Chicago, and Greenwich Village, NYC, to Newark, NJ.  We did "chalk talks".  We sang accapella (I was a member of both a gospel choir and a male quartet) in missions, tenements, and housing projects. 

    Our vans were often the target of violence. We "presented the Way of Salvation" to people who didn't seem to care,
    and ended up being shot at, having fire put into our gas tanks, and
    having our tires slashed.  We spoke on the street corners at the McCauley Water Street Mission, and the Cabreny-Greene Complex in Chicago, the largest public housing project in the US.  We "gave our testimonies", and signed up urchins for church membership.

    Our church was in inner Newark, and was 80% black and 20% white/hispanic.  There were race riots in 1967, and we had National Guard escorts (Jeeps mounted with machine guns).  It was a good introduction to a lifetime of public speaking.  All I remember now is being constantly scared.

  2. Thanks for the link to Stuff Christians Like - it looks VERY funny and astute. I immediately bought two copies on Amazon, one for my best friend and one for the local minister. Comedy Gold. :)

  3. It's funny, we were discussing the Muppets over lunch yesterday. They had Muppets on several cooking shows yesterday. Our oldest is home from his 1st semester at college, and he's too young to have any reference point with Muppet history. So he's trying to understand why certain Muppets are in the movies, and some never got promoted beyond Sesame Street. Also who was original (Kermit, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Oscar) and who came later (Miss Piggy, Beaker, Elmo, etc) .  Dinner conversation is always fun and a little more off the wall when he's home.

  4. Richard, ask your wife if she remembers Timmy from VBS. The idea, as yours, was borrowed and adapted. It proved to be a catalyst of pure joy for the lessons and Bible storis we presented. Our big refrigerator box theater stage creation has long since gone to cardboard heaven. Regretfully, and a bit shamefully, I must admit that the whereabouts of Timmy's remains are unknown at least to my knowledge. Nonetheless, Timothy the Friendly Snake will always have a place in the hearts of lots of big folks who once shouted and laughed with glee at his quirky and, thankfully, redeemable antics. The writer never made it to Jesus, but was honored one west Texas summer to be a visiting Abraham to the classrooms in that liitle white building. Ah, What pleasant memories you stirred, my creative friend!

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