Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Interdependency of the Circus Horse and the Plough Horse

Written by: on November 18, 2021

      My first response to Akiko Busch’s book “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency,” was a spontaneous laugh. I thought how she could have known that all I want to disappear into a land of anonymity. At the moment I was wondering if only I could be invisible from the onslaught of people requiring answers to questions I do not have. The constant push, push from people who have no sense of boundaries. Their hidden agendas, lack of clear expectations. For a reason that is a mystery to me, those unexpressed agendas and expectations were of the same level of urgency and importance as mine.

      In the midst of my chaos, I enjoyed a moment of laughter, which provided a moment of relief and self-reflection. Busch’s title peeked an interested into what she might be talking about that prompted such a spontaneous response.
The numerous reviews that have been written on “How to Disappear…” reveal a literary work of profound insight into the tension between the drive to be seen and needing to the solitude of invisibility. The complexity of the human soul to learn, grow, and develop some symbiotic relationship between these contrasting parts, is poetically outlined in Busch’s writing. She uses her real-life experiences, blended together with the developmental psychology to take a journey of self-actualization with her.

     She starts the book with a word picture of what it is like to be still within nature and be an observer. To be still for just a moment in space and time. She invites her readers to take themselves out from being the center of everything that is going on and just be within that particular space. It was reminiscent of the recent weather. The moment when I give myself the space to see that the storm, torrential rains, floods, washed out roads, downed trees, and powerlines to breathe in the moment. It is at that point that I am able to observe the clouds roll away revealing a palette of blue sky on which the free, flying, bald eagle reminds me of hope.

    Both Simon Walker’s front stage and backstage discussion, Busch’s invisibility, and transparency, reveal an interconnectedness of the two extremes. These examples can either feed a healthy or unhealthy intrapersonal self. Busch adds that the current influx, and desired or undesired invasiveness of technology in the life of the individual. The questions of how do I maintain a sense of margins in this time of such pressure? Where do I find my own borders? How do I find that solitude to see the world with wonder in the midst of those who thrive in the chaos?
My life as a foreign worker catapults me into a position of being a translator of worlds. There is need to be a kind of wordsmith much like Busch, to describe the world in which I live. For years I struggled with people referring the US as my home. It took sitting with the discomfort of this concept in the solitude of space and time to produce the image of the two horses.

     The two horses are distinct in visibility, and purpose yet of equal value and significance. The plough horse is my life overseas. I have blinders of purpose and go about my business day in and out. Unnoticed and anonymously this horse goes about its a solitary work. To our fast-paced, colorful, and information saturated society this horse seems obsolete. Through the beautiful word picture of the introduction of this book, Busch gives a different view. She implies that just because a horse, or anything appears to be worn out, and unappealing it can be the very situation that ushers us into a place of reflective wonder and transformative observation.

     When I return to the US, that same horse must morph into a circus horse. The circus horse is full of color and must perform many skills to translate his life of solitude to the public. It would be easy to say that one horse, or lifestyle is better than the other. However, is that really possible? In my case, no. It is the lifestyle and practices of the plough horse that opens the door to observation and wonder. It is the pursuit of such practices or moments of solitude that allows the circus horse to perform in an array of environments at moment’s notice with authenticity.

     While the circus horse’s lifestyle makes the plough horse possible. The circus horse is the one who works to create a community of support, affirmation, and connection that would not occur with him. The challenge always is how do the two horses live together in harmony. The tension between the glamour of visibility and the solitude of invisibility.

     I found myself struggling with the issue of inconspicuous material. I have to ask is there any inconspicuous material in my life that is contaminating or hindering my walk with Jesus? Are there factors hiding in plain view that is causing damage to my relationships or ministry?

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

6 responses to “The Interdependency of the Circus Horse and the Plough Horse”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    What a fascinating take on this book, Denise. I am deeply grateful for the personal reflection in all its complexities and vulnerability.

    I, too, find myself in similar tension. However, my post might be the take of two jackasses.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, what a creative picture of life on the mission field and the “home” field. I’m married to an missionary kid and she’s told me about what it was like to be in South Africa and have life proceed one way, and then come to the US for deputation and how it was like entering ‘bizzaro’ world that had nothing to do with the other, at least for her. I hope you can find a place to be invisible there when you need it.

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thanks Roy!
    I’m pretty good about finding a good ebb and flow, this year is particularly unusual. It helps to be a person is comfortable with being transparent. I work to be a person who WYSIWYG. Being trained by European’s I found that it helped in being in the moment. It is a lot less work because there is nothing that needs to be hidden. Therefore there is less to remember what needs to remain in the back stage. I think the challenge is when others aren’t prepared to handle it.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Denise, thank you for your thoughtful post as you wrestle with the visible/invisible tensions in your life. I’m curious to hear how owning your own home in the US will contribute to managing this movement, this ebb and flow? Having also lived for many months traveling from one home to another while we meet with churches in the USA, I know how tiring it can be to not have that personal space. I also appreciated you touching on the issue of ‘inconspicuous material.’ That has given me food for thought as well. Thank you.

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise I truly appreciate your honest and deeply reflective blog. You are asking yourself meaningful questions.
    Is it possible that there can be one horse that wears different costumes? 🙂
    As you continue to work out for yourself the healthy boundaries that will work for you, how might you integrate Friedman’s understanding of triangles and Walker’s front/back stage?

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