Humor in the Pulpit: Laughter’s the Best Weapon

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It will come as no surprise to many of you (especially those who have read my last few posts) that I rather enjoy good humor.  I enjoy writing it, watching it and reading it.  This is why Jon Acuff’s book, which I reviewed earlier, has stuck with me more than any book I have read in the last year.

It is also why a month later I am still laughing at how much effort it took to convince myself to run 10 extra minutes on a treadmill, only to get back on and immediately abort because my son woke up from a nap.  And I am still laughing at the absurdity of naming your hymnal “Hymns for the Living Church” as if there could ever be a hymn for a dead church.

I am laughing at these things because humor is the most valuable tool for surviving this world.  Underneath the fragile fabric of our everyday lives there is a deep absurdity threatening to rise up and overwhelm us and if we don’t laugh it, it will probably win.

For example, we park on driveways and drive on parkways.

We now watch reality TV shows centered around fishing.

Even more humorous is that those “reality” shows are scripted with lines the fishermen have to say upon catching a fish.

Our Country Time Lemonade has no lemons in it.  Our furniture polish does.

Speaking of which, our Green Tea is not made with tea leaves, but with chemically flavored corn syrup.  This means we are artificially making the most unhealthy substance taste like the most disgusting beverage.  I would rather drink soda pop.  At least it tastes good.

However, the “Diet Green Tea” is made from real tea leaves.  Someone explain that to me.

In the USA we have one political party that claims to love small government, but is crusading to make everything illegal.  The other party campaigns on the effectiveness of big government but wants to legalize everything.

In addition the divorced people are the angriest at the homosexuals for “ruining marriage.”

Our Christmas presents are the best thing that ever happened to us until January 10th, when we can’t remember what it was we got for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas presents, there is a whole realm of silliness that happens there.  I have a friend whose grandparents went to the mall every year.  They split up and each bought themselves a present for Christmas.  Then they met back at the car, exchanged bags, went home and gift wrapped the other’s presents.  Then on Christmas morning they went out of their way to act surprised when they got “exactly what I wanted!”

We have nondenominational churches who claim to be about transcending the disunity of denominations.  Then these churches name themselves, “Real Life” in a way of giving the middle finger to all those “Dead Life Denominational” Churches out there.

In addition, the most religious people claim to “spiritual, not religious” so that people will like them.

At times I want to scream at it all.  Other times I want to cry tears of overwhelming desperation.  Other times I go to write incredibly cruel blog posts that will certainly be the final word on the topic.  Then I remember that writing a blog post to end the absurdity in the world is a lot like buying a wild bear to protect me from wild bears.

In the end, I have found that the most effective way to conquer the absurdity is to laugh at it.  In such thinking, there is a lot of truth behind the saying, “I laugh so I will not cry.”

Speaking of “laughing so as to avoid crying,” I was working at a Rescue Mission a few years back.  One night, one of our regulars found several large cases of alcohol in an alleyway behind a nightclub.  He quickly piled them into his van and drove over to our street where he passed them out to the clients who had not come in for the night.  Then he left, leaving the alcohol in the hands of a trusted friend.  After getting a little tipsy, the trusted friend drunkenly bumped into the stacked crates and knocked the whole thing over, causing our street to become a land flowing with beer and wine.  Not one minute later, the client who had found the free alcohol showed back up and was furious that they had spilled “his liquor.”

The story ended with them throwing empty bottles at each other and us calling the police.

This story is sad and deeply troubling.  Yet it also crazy funny.  It reads like an episode of a sitcom with all kinds of punchlines and irony.  I remember shrugging my shoulders and laughing at the whole event because it was the only weapon I had against the heartbreaking absurdity of drunks destroying themselves and others and stealing that which was not theirs.

In such a way when we talk about struggling against the powers and forces of this present world, laughter becomes an invaluable weapon.  I have found the right amount of humor at the right time can disarm even the most defended strongholds of sin.

Yet I must give a warning that the wrong humor at the wrong time directed at the wrong people can only increase the defensiveness of those we are trying to reach.  After, all at the heart of humor is the risk that others won’t find the joke funny but offensive.

There is certainly a tightrope to walk here but it is one that must be braved.  This week I will describe the ways I have used humor to minister to the hurt and broken.  I will cover the bases of ministry, from reading Scripture, to preaching to meetings to counseling.  In each of these areas there is a deep absurdity threatening to swallow our churches whole.  But there are also valuable opportunities to lighten people’s loads.

Until then if the absurdity to the Holiday season is overwhelming you, I recommend watching “Christmas Family Vacation,” “Home Alone,” “The Grinch” and “Muppet’s Christmas Carol.”  Each of those movies comes at Christmas from incredibly unique perspectives.  They laugh at everything from family dysfunction to Holiday killjoys to crazy light displays to Dicken’s overly dramatic prose.

So enjoy them and see you tomorrow!

U

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Religiously Spiritual Board Meetings

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I am very spiritual and not very religious.  This is really good for me because we live in a world where everybody is spiritual and nobody is religious.  In fact saying, “I am spiritual but not religious” has become the pass-code that lets that gatekeepers of spirituality know that I belong in their religious establishment.

Still, despite the fact that I am very spiritual and not at all religious, I have no idea what it means to be spiritual and not religious.  I think it might have something to do with not doing things you don’t want to do while doing only the things you want to do.

So I don’t want to pray ten times a week.  That would be very religious.  I do want to think about God while watching TV, which is a very spiritual thing to do if you ask me.  I don’t want to do the very religious thing of getting out of bed on Sunday morning and going to a building full of people.  I do want to do the very spiritual thing of sleeping in and watching NFL games in the comfort and safety of a warm pillow.  After all, I hear some of those quarterbacks are Christians and a few of them even pray when they score touchdowns, which is so spiritual and not very religious.

Or maybe I am wrong about that and you can be spiritual by going to church, so long as that is what you want to do.

Either way and no matter where you stand there is certainly nothing more religious than church board meetings.  You cannot get any less spiritual than the two hours it takes a group of people to discuss things like who is going to clean the church toilets and who might want to run the nursery next month and how much money it is going to cost to buy a new heater.

And those are the easy parts of most board meetings.  Once we get through the mundane list we have to tackle the brutal issues.  For example we have to figure out how we are going to open our beautiful building to 40 un-churched teenagers and still have a building left by the end of the night.  Then we have to argue about whether the latest criticism from the most critical member of the congregation is worthy of our attention this time around.  Then we have to hang our heads in despair because another family moved out of town and took a sizable chunk of tithes with them (which means we can forget that new heater).  And we have to do all this while planning the next potluck even though nobody wants to bring mashed potatoes.

I have a feeling that when we throw around the words “not religious,” board meetings are the kind of establishment religiosity we are talking about.

Yet there is a very deep spiritual connection that happens when a group of diverse but committed Christians who are chosen both by God and the congregation get together once a month to pray together, laugh together, cry together and dream together.

Under the right leadership, board meetings can be incredibly spiritual.  They can be times of prayer.  We pray about our shortcomings and we pray for that person who loves to point them out.  They can be times of grieving when we cry about the loss of a very committed family while hoping that they still have a a peaceful move.  They can be times of commitment where we remember that God is not glorified by an empty building and only by opening our doors to those out of control teenagers do we stay on mission.

And they can be times of worship where we bring to God our broken light bulbs, our empty nursery, our depleted checking account and our lack of a desire to mash potatoes for the potluck.  We bring all these with our sincere hearts and let God remind us that even the tiniest of chores are in fact large acts of spiritual devotion.

We open and close our meetings with prayer but we really don’t stop praying the entire time because we know that to do the business of the Kingdom with the King is a high and worthy calling.

I don’t know if that makes it religious or spiritual and I don’t really care.  All I know is that when our board meets, we all meet God.