Last night my wife and I enjoyed the Swansea visit of the Seriously Funny Tour featuring the music of Nicki Rogers (You really must hear her new single I Bless the Day. No, I insist. No, really, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t, all your teeth will fall out and people will point and laugh) and the wit and wisdom of Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas. It was mostly location humour and I doubt Christians have ever laughed so much in church – mostly at ourselves. There was blessing in abundance as we walked out with permission to take the gospel seriously while not take ourselves too seriously.
Some think humour doesn’t belong in church but I have a high doctrine of humour. Indeed, if humour is essential anywhere it is in church. Having worked for many years in ministry to the cults I have found humour one essential marker in the progress of the former cultist/new Christian in their journey out of the cult and into the church. It is when someone stops being precious or fearful about their cult past, can look back and chuckle at themselves and where they came from, that we begin to see real progress.
That said, there are pitfalls. It is the case that, especially among men, jokes can become very competitive. As each one-liner or shaggy dog story is told and the laughter rises to a pitch of hysteria (or so we like to think) things can get out of control. In the race to be the funniest someone tells an off-colour joke which gives permission to others to become more risqué. Soon the contest seems to override all sense of propriety until you are stopped short by the sudden realisation that you are laughing at the a dirty joke, or worse, telling one.
If we can see where the joke is going we might have the courage to object or, failing that, make excuses and go to the toilet or something but sometimes an inappropriate joke can be upon us before we know it. Years ago someone uttered a one-liner in our company at work and before I knew it I had heard a grubby little joke (a pretty lame one at that) that comes unbidden to my mind every time a particular Christian teaching is preached or discussed. Wild horses would not induce me to tell it and I deal with it by giving it to God and asking for his grace, but it does spoil things.
Perhaps like me you have learned the hard way to guard yourself against these things. People who maintain a standard whose value is so hard-earned can find themselves the object of mocking and derision, described as prudish and judgemental. A meaningless nod is sometimes given to our sensibilities as we are warned that what is imminent is not for people who are easily offended. I get angered by this misrepresentation of people with values as somehow milksop weak and old-womanly and want to say, “I am not easily offended. You are simply offensive!”
Comedy, it has been said, is the new rock and roll. Given the drive to shock, the rise in irreverence and sometimes downright insolence and cruelty in that field I can see the parallels. I find myself sometimes asking whether anything is sacred to people and that, I suppose, is my point. There are some things in life altogether too sacred to be mocked. Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas demonstrated that nothing need be out of bounds for well- handled good humour but they also demonstrated that, while it is good to laugh, even then some things are simply sacred and even our humour should revere the sacred.
If nothing is sacred to us I suggest our lives are impoverished, even as they are colourless without a good sense of humour. Without a good sense of the ridiculous we risk becoming far too self-regarding and serious. Without a sense of the sacred our sense of humour becomes a vehicle for bitterness and snide cynicism. I thank God for the lessons and laughs of the Seriously Funny Tour and hope we can find more and more inventive ways to laugh at ourselves while holding the sacred in the highest place in our thinking and living.