A couple of years ago, a Jesuit priest wrote a book about how laughter is at the very center of the spiritual life. It got a lot of attention as bemused Christians wondered aloud: have Christians lost their sense of humor? Did we ever have it all?
We are the type of people to point fingers, start wars, and even lobby Congress. We, in our little tribe in the United Church of Christ, are the kind of people who don’t shy away from action. We seek a bold faith with a revolutionary Jesus to lead us.
But, have we ever been known to laugh? Would anyone ever describe us as amusing or entertaining or just plain silly? Are we the kind of people that might guffaw or chuckle? Might we be those who grin and giggle? Am I just having way too much fun with the thesaurus or might any of these things actually describe us?
Come to church on Sunday morning and you might hear the preacher crack a joke. You might hear a tickle among the pews but no one busts a gut.
It’s not because the preacher’s not funny. Well, it might be because of that. I can’t really say.
But, it might have more to with the fact that laughter is not at the very center of our spiritual practice. We have properly told each other that when it really matters—when it’s really important—you really shouldn’t crack a smile. No really, this is serious. Faith and belief always are. And yet, it was G.K. Chesterton that wrote, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”
Anyone who has seen the Tony award-winning musical The Book Of Mormon has sat with that discomfort. I sure did. I practically rolled on the floor down the center aisle while the actors poked fun at evangelism and belief. These are things that really matter to me. My faith in God and Jesus Christ are at the top of the list of things that I take seriously. But, I just couldn’t stop myself. Tears were rolling down my face. My cheeks ached from being stretched into a permanent smile, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It was just that funny.
So that when I heard the NPR broadcast that caught this poor devout Mormon during intermission outside the premiere of the Salt Lake City premiere of The Book Of Mormon say to the reporter, “I might leave, yeah – except that I keep laughing. And that bothers me because it’s so funny. So my outsides are telling me, don’t go forward. Don’t see it. But my insides are telling me, this is really funny. So I’m very conflicted at this point,” I completely understood.
There were others that called it offensive. Another said that the play “ridiculed Mormon doctrine.” And I get it. I felt that same discomfort in laughing at the tenets of the Mormon faith.
But, there just might be a log in my own eye.
Because the Christian faith has some pretty crazy ideas. Impossible tenets, you might say.
There are things we struggle to believe and things we desperately want to prove, but wasn’t it Jesus that told the disbelieving rich man, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God,” (Luke 18:27, NRSV)?
Might that just be our Savior’s way of asking where we lost our sense of humor?
Are we so busy looking for certainty that we miss the sheer ridiculousness of life so that we can’t find a single aspect of our faith that makes us giggle?
Maybe it’s just me. Because I can’t help myself. I giggle every time that man runs around half-naked after the resurrection. I wonder what the heck he is doing and why this detail made it into the gospel. I laugh at the trees clapping in the Psalms and even find myself staring out the windows of the sanctuary daring the trees to do it. C’mon! Clap! (They never do so on my command.)
Must we be so serious that we can’t laugh at these things?
Might these impossible details that show up each and every day convert us into a spiritual practice of laughter?
Perhaps the true test of our faith is best revealed by the people that created South Park. The one-liners reveal our doubts and we just can’t stop laughing so that our worship and our serious theological banter might look more like this.
It seems like God might be floating up there on the ceiling, just waiting to say, “How nice! I was hoping you’d turn up. We always have such a jolly time!”
The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine and Washington. She believes in the power of community, that poverty can end in our lifetime and that everyone needs a little more love. Follow along in her adventures in ministry at http://revelsaanderspeters.com. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsa.a.peters.