“The Ideal Pastor: is always casual but never underdressed–is warm and friendly but not too familiar–is humorous but not funny–calls on his members but is never out of the office–is an expository preacher but always preaches on the family–is profound but comprehensible– condemns sin but is always positive–has a family of ordinary people who never sin–has two eyes, one brown and the other blue!” –R. Kent Hughes
I still remember when a family at a church we used to go to cornered me and my wife one day between church services. It had the feel of an alley way deal about to go down: “Psst, Buddy. Over here. We hear you’re a Christian who likes to have fun.” The issue at hand was that they were relatively new Christians, new to the church, but found it hard to find folks who liked to let loose (read: laugh and enjoy the occasional adult beverage). I don’t know what it says about me that they were pointed my way.
But, much like the pastor in the above quote, many Christians struggle with the appropriateness of humor in their walks, much like hiding your glass of wine at dinner in case a member of your congregation might happen to pass by. It’s as if becoming “dour” is the lifestyle choice many Christians make upon joining the faith. There are several issues that conflate into the “problem” of humor when it comes to our spirituality:
1) The pursuit of holiness is serious business. Many confuse a joke or two with irreverence. For them humor has no place in the discussion of weighty matters, after all, a man died on a cross for you to make whatever bit of silly. That’ll kill any mood in a room. Look, we get it: this world is difficult and fully of suffering; the Christian journey isn’t easy and will often drive you to your knees. But humor and religion aren’t mutually exclusive. We don’t need to put religion in the corner segregated with all the serious things in life just like we can’t lose sight that life is to be enjoyed and that laughter is a part of the human experience.
2) Jokes are risky business. The best stand-up comedians are not only thought-provoking but even prophetic. Their routines begin with an observational truth, the joke itself shaped with exaggeration. Already you can see the roots of possible offense. That which is the object of said observation may not always be amused and there’s a fine line between exaggeration and insult. In other words, jokes risk offense.
3) Jokes are a subjective business. This is probably just a corollary to point number two, but I really wanted a third point to seem like I really thought this through. What’s funny to me might not be funny to you. Humor is often fickle, subject to personal taste.
I’m probably the last person to offer any commentary when it comes to humor in church circles. I’ve openly advocated for a tastier savior during Communion (cause I don’t think nasty @$$ stale crackers were how Jesus wanted us to remember Him by). Left to my own devices, I would probably end sermons by yelling “Sexual Chocolate” and dropping the mic (there are maybe six people out there who may get that reference). I have traced God’s interesting fascination of boobies through Scripture, reduced the immigration debate to the fact that brown people scare us, and written open letters to white people who seem to have only one black friend in their lives. Satire is tough to do, just see the entire book of Jonah.
No discussion about humor is funny just as the first all-to-defensive comment will usually run along the lines of “who made you the arbiter of humor?” I love my brothers and sisters who take themselves too seriously if for no other reason than they make for good targets to lampoon (because, seriously, who else is going to issue a gay warning concerning SpongeBob Squarepants). However, I will say this: joy and wonder and excitement and laughter are just as much a part of the human condition as sadness and suffering. To everything there is a season. Laughter is a gift and a blessing, and my wife and I both laugh at completely inappropriate things and situations. It’s how we deal with the difficult and often ridiculous things life brings our way. Humor helps us keep things in perspective. So don’t look at me with any expectations of knowing where the funny line is (though if I had to guess, it’s probably in my rear view mirror).