Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., March 28, 29 or 30
Reverent Christians this week are torn between sadness and joy, reliving the shocking betrayal, trumped-up charges and gruesome crucifixion of Jesus on the one hand and the exhilaration of his resurrection on the other.
Reasonable Christians – really, people of any faith, or none at all – may jump to the conclusion that a book written by a professor of pastoral theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., has got to be deadly dry.
They’d be wrong.
Holy wrong, even.
Rather than deadly dry, “Laughter in a Time of Turmoil: Humor as Spiritual Practice,” by Dr. Richard P. Olson, is lively fun.
Further, the 40-year Baptist pastor has written a title that’s at once silly and serious, simultaneously inspiring and also a refreshing diversion from holy-roller pomposity, this week or any time.
Offering thoughtful descriptions of various types of humor and why they work, Olson touches on Sara’s smile, Jesus’ joy and a lot of other perspectives that are less historical and more hysterical.
“I am persuaded,” Olson writes, “that a healthy dose of humor, play and lively, supportive friends can help one heal when bruised, and can provide the needed rest/recuperation when one is fatigued, burned out, weary and stressed out, to uphold those who take on the heavy responsibilities for the Christian cause.”
The book, just published by Wipf & Stock in Eugene, Ore., is eminently quotable. For example, there’s Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Distinguished Professor of Catholic-Jewish Studies at Saint Leo University and author of “The Divine Comedy: Humor in The Bible” in Religious Education: The official journal of the Religious Education Association. Fisher writes, “The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with a sense of playfulness, especially with the language… Satire, gentle wit, and even farce abound in almost every book… The Hebrew Bible sings. It laughs. It makes bad jokes and shows a tendency for slapstick.”
Presbyterian minister M. Conrad Hyers, author of “And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy,” writes, “Faith without humor becomes fanaticism. Humor without faith becomes cynicism.”
Olson – who recommends more individuals and more congregations and other faith communities use more humor – adds, “Humor is a precondition to our healing and our growing in holiness. It helps us to get out of the way, to loosen our grip, to lessen our need to control, and to let God be God.
“It helps us in this because it encourages us not to take ourselves too seriously,” he continues, “for when we do, it is almost impossible to grow in holiness.”
As the iconoclastic writer and Christian G.K. Chesterton famously said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.”
Also recommended: the Fellowship of Merry Christians’ monthly publication, Joyous Noiseletter (online at www.joyfulnoiseletter.com), which featured this timely story:
A pastor was speaking to a group of second-graders about the Resurrection of Jesus when one student asked, “What did Jesus say right after He came out of the grave?”
The pastor explained that the Gospels do not tell us what He said.
The hand of one little girl shot up.
She said, “I know what He said: He said, ‘Tah-dah!’”
[PICTURED: Jack Jewell's painting “The Risen Christ by the Sea” for the Fellowship of Merry Christians.]