catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 18 :: 2004.11.05 — 2004.11.18


The gift of laughter

Q: What goes ?ha, ha, ha, plop??

A: Someone who laughs his head off!

My favorite cartoon ever hung on the wall of Pastor Bob Cochran. It was a Far Side cartoon, I believe, and in the first frame there is a line of people checking in at the Pearly Gates. God is at the desk talking to the man at the front of the line, ?The secret to life, Bob, was learning to laugh at your self.? In the next frame Bob is walking away when he overhears God saying to the next person in line, ?The secret to life, Jim, was learning to laugh at Bob.?

Laughter is a good thing. Scientists tell us that laughter, humor and joy are an important part of life. Laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and increases muscle flexion. It increases the circulation of antibodies in the blood stream and makes a person more resistant to infection. “She who laughs?.lasts.”

But is laughter really appropriate in church? Nowhere in the Bible does it say Jesus laughed. Not only that, but the only mention of God’s laughter is in ridicule of the wicked. Perhaps there?s not so much to laugh about. After all, we all know about the pain and suffering of this life. And we have also known moments when we stood in the awesome mystery of God’s powerful presence and were tearfully overwhelmed by the love and grace we knew we had received. In the midst of such genuine and important emotions, humor can seem out of place. There?s nothing funny about the cross.

Unless of course you?ve seen the The Life of Brian

. What a great reminder to us all that when we only focus on the cross, we miss the broader story of the Gospel. The cross is significant because it points to the selfless love of Jesus’ life. But there’s more to the story than that. If we spend all of our time at the foot of the cross, we miss out on the joy of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Gospels. If we never move beyond the tragic horror of the crucifixion, we completely miss the celebration of the glory and mystery of resurrection and the joy of the early church living in the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. If the mark of the Christian were to be continually solemn and serious, I think the Bible would reflect a very different story.

Let?s take a closer look at this Jesus character whom so many people complained about. Jesus gets in trouble because he likes a good party and he likes to surround himself by people who are fun to be around. The Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunkard. He goes to wedding celebrations. He turns the water into wine. He hangs out with folks who know how to have a good time. And these folks listen to Him and learn of the love of God through His care.

Here’s the point, as expressed by Pastor Stephen Jolly (isn?t that a GREAT name for a pastor?): ?If Jesus were as dour and serious as some paint him, what’s he doing at wedding parties or hanging out at the first century equivalent of the corner pub or dance club? Really now, would the everyday folks like tax collectors, fishermen and tent makers be attracted to a guy who never laughed??

Billy Joel sang, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints—’cause sinners are much more fun.” Who of us might not make the same choice? If the choice is between the depression and solemnity of the pious Pharisee “saints” and the laughter and relaxed comfort of real, live “sinners,? wouldn’t we go for the fun? If I read my Bible right, it seems to me that Jesus did!

In fact, if you read the Gospel story closely, it would appear Jesus had a great sense of humor! He used metaphors of people with huge log sized beams in their eyes trying to remove a gnat-sized speck from another’s eye and a camel trying to squirm through the eye of a needle. If I were a betting person, I’d wager those next to Jesus knew Him as not just the King of Kings, but the King of the one liners.
If you spent time around Jesus, the laughter was loud, long and abundant—for a Christ who talks about the abundant life and the kingdom of God being like a welcome home party is a Christ who laughs often—and with a freedom and joyousness that is contagious.

There is a holiness in laughter. Laughter brings us closer to each other—and there is something holy about people coming together. Laughter provides us a moment of grace. It occurs spontaneously and unexpectedly. It catches us by surprise and we respond. We never expect to laugh, just as we never expect God?s grace when it arrives. And bathed in that grace, we are able to recognize the folly of our own pursuits—and more. Because when we laugh, when we really laugh, deep from the belly, we feel alive.

I have read that children laugh on average 200 times a day and adults 26 times a day. I suspect I?m not even close to 26 laughs a day and that it takes people like my husband to bring that average up. How many times a day do you laugh? Laughter helps us transcend ourselves?and I need that help, because I often take myself far too seriously. There is a danger in taking ourselves, our beliefs and our lives too seriously. Fanatics, it seems to me, see nothing as funny.

Our challenge is to experience the rich joy of laughter. And here?s a suggestion. The next time you?re in the middle of an argument, start laughing?not in a derogatory tone, but in the jovial sense of being in on a good joke. Then see if the anger begins to melt away and if you can find a more creative way to handle things. I?ve done this with my kids and it actually works. And now I know that when I don?t think about laughing during those times, it?s a red flag that I have seriously lost my perspective.

Laughter can also be an important tool for keeping our troubles in proportion, for realizing that things aren?t always as bad as we think they are. Laughter helps create positive emotions and helps us find a frame of mind in which we can cope with things even when they really are as bad as we think they are. Laughter eases tension and sharpens our ability to concentrate. Laughter is a lot like changing a baby?s diaper—it doesn?t permanently solve any problems, but it makes things a lot more acceptable for a while.

Jesus came sharing the richness of life, with its irony and humor. He loved his food and wine, and hanging out with people who had fun. He was saying then, and he tells us now, that life is filled with both joy and sorrow. Tears are a reality, but so is laughter. The soul that is able to laugh at the good in life, is also able to weep and feel compassion for others.

If we are able to laugh with one another in our mistakes, it suggests we are all flawed and imperfect—and saved only by God’s overwhelming and life-giving grace. Jesus Christ shares with us the gift of Holy Humor—the humility to see the foolishness of trying to be perfect and the gift of enjoying the smiles and laughter of love.

And if you can?t learn to laugh at yourself, at least learn to laugh at Bob.

Barbara Zielinski is the mission developer at ”" target="_blank">Extended Grace in Grand Haven, Michigan.

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