You gotta laugh!

ONE of the great Jewish jokes is about a grandmother who takes her beloved grandson, aged five, to the beach.

She watches the kid, decked out in his new hat, building sand castles near the water.

When the grandmother dozes, the grandson wanders into the water, is suddenly caught in an undertow and starts to drown.

The frantic woman calls for help, but there is no one else on the beach. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she falls to the ground, raises her arms to heaven and prays, “God, if you are there, please save my grandson. I promise I’ll make it up to you. I’ll donate to the hospital; I’ll join the synagogue and work with the poor. Whatever makes you happy.”

Suddenly a huge wave tosses the grandson on to the beach at her feet. The grandmother notices colour in his cheeks, his eyes opening, but she appears upset. Bringing herself to full height, she wags her finger at the sky and yells: “He had a hat, you know!”

There’s something about Jewish humour that cuts to the core. In Jewish terms, humour is not the opposite of seriousness. It is the opposite of despair.

Christians seem, by comparison, more restrained about humour. In fact, Christians are often portrayed as stodgy, self-righteous and serious. If they are being funny, it’s unintentional.

For example, writer Quentin Crisp said that when he told a meeting in Northern Ireland that he was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”

But Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, said that the Christian faith was the most humorous point of view a person could take. Why? Because once you’ve seen this world as the creation of God, once you know that life at its root is joy and not fear, then you can laugh freely.

In other words, humour acknowledges that God takes our tragedies and adds a punch line.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Laughing has something in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater.”

Humour touches upon the most important topics — politics and science, sex and religion, life and death, good and evil. Good comics, like good ministers, wrestle with elementary questions.

Life is full of embarrassing reminders that, while we might be only a little lower than angels, we are also only a little higher than worms. Now that’s funny.

That’s why the Italian poet Dante titled his great poem of the Christian life, The Divine Comedy. In the best humour we learn to laugh at ourselves.

The big question is whether God has a sense of humour.

It seems so. Elton Trueblood wrote a book called The Humour of Christ in which he said Jesus was a first century stand-up comedian, a master of the one-liner.
Intentional exaggeration was big at the time. So, Jesus was using sacred humour with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. And surely there were laughs when he told the Pharisees they were so misguided that they would “strain out a gnat (from their glasses of wine) but swallow a camel”.

Unfortunately, a literal translation of Christ’s words doesn’t quite capture the cultural comedy.
For centuries, in Orthodox traditions, Easter Monday was observed in jokes, joy and laughter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

The custom was rooted in the thought that Easter was God’s supreme joke played on Satan.

In that light, it can be just as sacred to laugh as it is to pray.

9 thoughts on “You gotta laugh!

  1. or how about we put an effigy of muhammad in a fish tank of urine and see who can’t take a good joke – you know, diversity in action. Liberal arts.


    • Actually PG,

      I dont know just how we might create some sort of identifiable image of Muhammed in the first place. Is there some recognizable facial look that might distinguish the Prophet from all other Arabs?? Or would it just be sufficient to identify him by name in the title?

      Going back to that much despised image known as ‘Piss Christ’: – at the time, it struck me that strictly speaking it was rather beautiful. It only gained its infamy, when associated with that title, and one realized the nature of the fluid that was supposed to be surrounding the crucifix. For Monica, who has learnt to reject such images as the Crucifix, presumably the photo itself would not be disturbing, while only the title may be offensive.



      • Hi Rian,

        Actually, I wouldn’t say that I “reject” religious images such as the Crucifix. On the contrary, I have such a crucifix at home, which I have found to be a powerful symbol of my faith during times of intense spiritual battles against the demonic. But I will not wear a crucifix as I’ve learnt the hard lesson that God is not impressed with my hollow (religious) show of piety. He wants no such ‘symbol’ of faith from me, but instead is wanting to see that my ‘heart’ is truly circumcised. That’s the only ‘genuine’ sign of true repentance.

        I agree with you that I think the ‘Piss Christ’ picture is rather beautiful. And no, I am not offended by it.


      • Hi Bryan,

        Good to see you on the blog again….busy times eh? 🙂

        This is what the artist says about his work, Piss Christ:

        5. One of your most controversial works yet is the ‘Piss Christ’, and it portrays a crucifix submerged in urine, that is alleged to be yours. Is there a ‘message’ that this photograph is trying to convey and how did you deal with the resulting backlash that ensued after the piece was released?

        “The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to death, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if “Piss Christ” upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning. There was a time prior to the 17th century when the only important art, the only art that mattered, was religious art. After that, there were very few contemporary art pieces that were considered both art and religious, and “Piss Christ” is one of them.”

        It certainly made me think about Jesus’ love and sacrifice.


      • From Bill Hicks

        Lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he’s gonna want to see a cross, man? “Ohhh!” May be why he hasn’t shown up yet. “Man, they’re still wearing crosses. I’m not goin’, Dad. No, they totally missed the point. When they start wearing fishes I might show up again.

        You know, kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on, you know. “Thinkin’ of John, Jackie. We love him. Just tryin’ to keep that memory alive, baby.”


      • If it’s an empty cross, Bubba, it’s not supposed to symbolise his death, but his power over it.

        I have my own thoughts, which you might have read elsewhere here.


  2. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 10/12/15 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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