As Agile as a Clown in the Belfry

The Clown in the Belfry

Fredrick Buechner, whose books have mentored my spirit for nearly 50 years, was preparing to preach for the 200th anniversary for the Congregational Church in Rupert, Vermont, when he came across the story of Lyman Woodard.

The church history records that in 1831, when they added a new steeple with a bell in it, “one agile Lyman Woodard stood on his head in the belfry with his feet toward heaven.”

That’s all Buechner could find out about Woodard, but it was enough to get his imagination going!

Buechner wrote, “It was a crazy…risky thing to do…It ran counter to all standards of New England practicality and prudence.” But he pointed out that when we follow Jesus, “everything goes topsy-turvy.”

Take a look at the Beatitudes.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:3-12, The Message)

Living Upside Down

Talk about standing on your head with your feet toward heaven! Jesus turns all the commonly held assumptions of our culture upside down. We need to be as “agile” as Lyman Woodard to live like that!

Buechner invites us to “join Lyman Woodard in the belfry with our feet toward Heaven because Heaven is where we are heading. What better image of faith could there be? It is a little crazy. It is a little risky. It sets many a level head wagging. And it is our richest treasure and the source of our deeply joy and highest hope.” (The Clown in the Belfry, p. 116-117)

How about meeting me in the belfry?

Grace and peace,


Next Summer!

After a year’s delay due to the pandemic, I’ll be a speaker on a 12-day journey to the Oberammergau Passion Play and a Danube River Cruise. You’re invited!

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7 thoughts on “As Agile as a Clown in the Belfry

  1. I suppose that lots of congregations have a Lyman Woodard, each needs one or two. I hope all is well with you!

  2. Dr. Larry E. Webb July 13, 2021 — 6:34 pm

    Peace for the journey, friend.

  3. Quite an honor for you and wonderful for the travelers, including you two [assume M is going]. I hope you and Martha can snag first class seats on the plane over. lfw

    Sent from my iPad

    Linda: It should be a beautiful trip but (like your husband!), my wife doesn’t want to fly, so I’ll be on my own.

  4. My spirit too has been mentored by the books of Frederick Buechner. During the pandemic I read A Clown in the Belfry. It has also been mentored by many of your books. I’m currently being renewed from my reading of Extra ordinary Ministry in Ordinary Time. It is very helpful as have been your posts during the past couple of years. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  5. Jim,



  6. Daniel Steding July 20, 2021 — 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the logic in levity! I love it and all your writings..

  7. Jim, I got a bit behind. Sandra and I were in Wyoming for a week earlier this month and I just now am catching up and read this. Great post! Thanks for your thoughts, your friendship and everything else you have done for me and my family. And, keep the posts coming. I truly get a lot out of them.


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