“Riding bulls just seems crazy.” That was the first thought which crossed my mind at a recent rodeo I attended. As I settled into the bleachers I reminisced about the only other rodeo I had witnessed when I was in high school, then leaned over to my wife and joked, “This ain’t my first rodeo… it’s my second.” With a snow cone in hand, I glanced around at the crowd. I saw cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and one guy holding a beer and three sippy cups. We stood for the national anthem and a quick prayer, then a new cultural experience (at least for me) began.
Forty-five cowboys were introduced and ready for action, each hoping to hold on for eight short seconds. But eight seconds is more like an eternity when holding onto a 1,800 pound raging, jumping, spinning, kicking beast with horns. In most circumstances seeing someone intentionally jump onto a bull would seem like an emergency, leading me to call animal control, emergency responders, and a psychiatrist. Yet there I was in a crowd of 1,000 people watching in shocked amazement hoping to be entertained.
Only one rider held on for eight seconds. The bulls made quick work of the other 44. Most competitors lasted only two or three seconds. Each was thrown off and escaped the stomping hooves with a dive, jump, or roll out of the way. No cowboy wants an adrenaline rush to turn into an adrenaline crush! Still, a few were stepped on and limped away. It was hard to feel sorry for them. After all, I’m sure they’d say it was “their decision” and “part of the job.” I accepted the fact that these grown men willingly chose to put themselves in danger.
Those who truly amazed me were the rodeo clowns, whose job is no laughing matter! They got no attention, no glory, and no name called over the speakers. Yet there they were, ride after ride, bull after bull, jumping in front of the wild animal before them. Two clowns darted back and forth, distracting the bulls attention from each vulnerable man on the ground. One particular moment stands fixed in my mind. A cowboy had difficulty getting up. The bull seemed inches away from launching him with a swinging head-butt. But the clown placed himself between the man and beast, pulled him out of the way, and placed himself in danger, only to step aside at the last second.
I was stunned at what I saw. These few “clowns” intentionally and literally placed themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the riders. They provided an alternate target for the bulls as they shouted, threw their hat, clapped their hands, and used whatever they could to put the bull’s attention on themselves. Apparently they call it bull fighting (not the same kind of cruel fighting done in other parts of the world). I call it people-saving.
I left wanting to be a rodeo clown in the arena of life. Many people engage in behavior most acknowledge as crazy or reckless. Yet most sit passively watching, waiting to see whether the person will be trampled by their choices or escape. A special few, however, jump into the mix and put themselves at great personal risk in order to protect others. Because they step in, they stand out. That night there were way more bull watchers than bull riders… and way more bull riders than bull fighters. That night I was a bull watcher… but I’m training to be a bull fighter.
Dr. Chris Larmoyeux is the pastor at First Baptist Church Maumelle. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Maumelle with their three children. You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.