I spent the summer after my first year in college working at a church camp. (My atheist boyfriend at the time referred to it as Camp Christ Died For Me.) In the middle of the summer, during an elementary camp week (we had elementary, junior high, and high school campers) the director invited a pastor-friend of his to come to camp to entertain the kids. Mr. Reverend was a balloon-tying minister from somewhere in the South. He showed up late one afternoon in a beat up mini-van and began setting up his props in the conference center. Just before dinner we all piled into the fellowship hall for the evening lesson. All the kids sat toward the front so they could see — it was clear something special was happening because there was a stool with limp balloons sitting all over it.
I was sitting toward the back of the room along with some of the other counselors. Brother Balloon had begun blowing up his balloons and tying them in various shapes while telling Bible stories that he thought corresponded. For example, as he tied a balloon giraffe he talked about Noah’s Ark and everyone may have sung the line “the animals they came in, they came in by twosies twosies,” etc. As time passed he started tying something that seemed to have no shape at all; it certainly did not resemble anything from the Bible — at least as best I could tell from, like a good Methodist, my seat in the back row. The more he tied the more perplexed I became, until finally he held it up in triumph, and asked: “Do you know what this is, children?” In response to which he received a hundred and twenty blank stares. And then by explanation: “It’s an Octopus!” Instantaneously I was looking around, quizzing people with my eyes in an attempt to discern whether or not I missed something along the way or this guy was just a total fuck up. Where could he possibly be going with this?
Well never in a million years would I have guessed. He continued: “Do y’all know how an Octopus kills its prey?” he asked. More blank stares. With great sweeping arm motions, he explained: “An Octopus has eight tentacles that he uses to totally engulf his prey; he wraps his arms completely around it! And that, kids, is just like God’s love for us!” He beamed. The rubber balloon octopus was swooping around in grand circles as Pastor Crazy waved his two inadequate arms in an illustrative way. “God engulfs us with His love just like an Octopus engulfs its prey! God’s love is all-encompassing; we are totally surrounded by it!”
I sat there: a) trying to figure out how in the world this gas bag could imagine a message of love being conveyed by comparing that love to an Octopus’s dinner time (not only was it the opposite of our normal tendency to anthropomorphize God, but I was suddenly picturing a giant spineless diety with a puffy alien head and a tiny beak trying to eat me); b) figuring he must have run out of animals he actually knew how to tie; and c) thinking back to elementary science classes in an effort to remember whether or not Octopus tentacles were either toxic or electric? I lurched out of my dumbfounded revelry to watch in horrific fascination as he concluded, with a flourish: “Thank God ours is a God who wants to wrap his legs around us!”
I didn’t hear much more than that because I, in a line of fellow counselors, raced out of the room in single file so as not to fall out laughing in front of all the campers, one of whom by that point had picked the Octopus balloon up off the floor and placed it on his head, wearing it like a hat.
UPDATE! Check this out. I may have to get one!