St. Paul Oregon has a population of less than 500 people, but every year they host a rodeo that is at a world class level. Over 10,000 people descend upon this small town daily for 5 days around the 4th of July. The St. Paul community reminds me of people who believe in the mustard seed. They know that when small seeds are planted, great things can happen. The rodeo began over 80 years ago and is still going strong today bringing in cowboys and cowgirls from all over the country.
The rodeo brings life to a small town that only has one stop light in it. Everyone in the community pitches in to make the rodeo a success; in fact most are expected to volunteer and hold multiple jobs and responsibilities. I thought it was interesting that parking was $10.00 at whatever lot you found. It was like the town came together and decided on the price. It wasn’t a competition; it was a community working together for the benefit of all.
The moment we arrived in St. Paul we were welcomed by hearty greetings and cowboy hats. We walked into a different culture that brought a slice of the old west to the present. The air was ripe with excitement as crowds of people shuffled between the vendors selling elephant ears and BBQ chicken. We entered the huge stadium, found our seats, and we were ready for the show.
After the parade of all the contestants, I was totally surprised that the announcer said of lovely prayer for all those gathered and for our world and the freedoms we enjoy. My first instinct was to look around and see how people were reacting to this prayer in this very public place. It felt awkward for me as I wondered “how can he get away with it without anyone causing a ruckus?” Yet no one threw any tomatoes at him. I was intrigued. It felt good to be able to take a moment with 10,000 possible friends and just stop for a moment and say thank you for all of our blessings.
One of the first events was bull riding. Each cowboy only had to stay on this huge bucking animal for 8 seconds to be considered for a prize. Most of them didn’t qualify. I was impressed with their ability to take the risk, even though they knew it included danger and that most of the time they would fail. They still climbed on the bull dreaming of taking the ride of their lives. When they were knocked off, they would jump up as fast as they could and hobble off. We need risk takers in life. We need people to inspire us to try things we never imagined doing. When we fall, we need resilience. As the church, we cannot be afraid to fail. In fact, it is probably good to expect to fail at least part of the time so it pushes us to dream a bit bigger.
During the calf roping event my 9 year old niece said she didn’t like rodeos. She thought they were being mean to the animals. I could appreciate her point. But I also knew that she and I didn’t understand the culture of the rodeo very well. I was reminded how easy it is to judge others who we don’t understand. Tradition has it that cowboys are to be efficient in roping their calves, so the calves could be branded quickly and reunited with their mothers sooner. It would be less traumatic for all involved.
Every rodeo must have a clown! The clown reminds us how important it is to be able to laugh at ourselves. As J.J. the Clown interacted with the audience, the contestants, and even with the animals, he reminded us to appreciate the moment and not take ourselves too seriously. I truly enjoyed going to the St. Paul Rodeo this past July and was inspired to remember that great things can be done by a small group of people, and that taking risks is an important part of life. May God inspire us and may we work together taking risks to love our neighbors more boldly.
May we believe, like the cowboy climbing up on the bull, that great things are possible.