You’re a Funny Guy, Walker.

You’re a funny guy Sully.  I like you.  I’ll kill you last.

                – Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix in Commando

Something I fret over sometimes is the appropriateness of the humor in my faith-related scribbling.  It seems like an easy way to set spiritual land mines for myself.  If I were a Moslem I probably would have been beheaded a long time ago.  I’d love to write for a wider audience – say a diocesan newspaper – but I’d probably be a “thorn in the flesh” of my editor.  A sense of the absurd is hard-wired into me: not the mournful “vanity of vanities” absurdity of Ecclesiastes, but a wry smile-sense of absurdity that we ourselves and our day-to-day endeavors are never are as important as we think we are or they are. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church [Popular Piety 1674]:

The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis. It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, and provides reasons for joy and humor in the midst of a very life.

So according to the Catechism, a sense of humor should be part of the fabric of vibrant Christian life.  But when does wryness cross the line into impiety?  I was on a Catholic message board one time and the question was “What’s the most unusual liturgical practice you’ve encountered at a Mass?” and I posted “Someone streaking during the homily” (which of course never happened, but it’s a great visual).  This got a couple of LOL replies, but then a lady posted “Your irreverence is disturbing.”  Ouch.  Early morning Masses can be interesting experiences:  I’ve run into some very reverent but humorless people.  A friend and I were talking in what we thought were very low tones about liturgical music at the back of the church before a 6AM recitation of the Rosary, and a very pious fellow channeled Caiaphas descended on us and metaphorically tore his robes because we were apparently disturbing his prayers from many pews away.  And there’s this very nicely dressed lady that comes to 6:30AM Mass on Wednesdays that when we exchange the Kiss of Peace she smiles and replies “And also with you”, but her eyes say “A scrofulous disease be with you also” (I think I keep taking her preferred chair).  Maybe the early morning hour is a test of Christian love for some.  Lord forgive them, because I know not what I do.  Maybe instead of holy water little cups of espresso are in order.  But I digress…

I read Taylor Caldwell’s The Great Lion of God when I was in high school, about the life of St. Paul, and I remember St. Paul entertaining the thought that God had a sense of humor, but then dismissing it as impious.  I do believe Jesus had a sense of wry humor.  I think a lot of Christians pay lip service to the concept (Oh yeah, the “sons of thunder”, sure…) but don’t really embrace the idea.  Jesus had to be tempted by the pre-Resurrection Peter who seemed gullible enough to fall for the “pull my finger” gag every time, but that was probably a little too earthy for 1st-century Jews.  But Jesus had to inwardly high-five himself when the apostles urged him to dismiss the crowd so they could go buy food, and he told them “Feed them yourselves”.  The Gospels do not mention that Judas spun around on the ground and barked like Curly, but you know he did.  The theme of Jesus’ casualness in the face of the apostolic freak out is repeated on the Sea of Galilee, with the calming of the storm, and walking on the waters.  Jesus knew they’d flip out, and I’m sure he relished sharing it with the Father in prayer (“Love and protect those goofs Father as I love them.”)   Jesus had some fun with the Samaritan woman at the well too.  (You indeed have no husband – you have had five!)  Note that Jesus had no sense of humor in the presence of the Pharisees, although he yanked Nicodemus’ chain a little.

The key question (besides “Do I feel lucky?”) is “Does the way I comport myself in word and action attract people to want having a relationship with Jesus, or does it alienate them from Jesus?”  In other words, do they see Jesus in me, or do they see an irreverent smart-aleck?  It’s something I need to ask myself at the end of every day.  Am I more in love with being an entertainer or an evangelist?  Or am I being a good steward of my talents, or am I burying them in the ground?

I carry this deep conviction that a sense of humor – a true recognition of one’s shortcomings and their “slip on a banana peel” potential – is a key to true humility.  And I have a deep conviction that there will be a lot of laughs in Heaven, all “laughing with” not “laughing at”.  I want to ask St. Lawrence about that “Turn me over, I’m done on this side” anecdote as he was martyred on a griddle, and I imagine he’ll smile and but before he can answer Sam Kinison will interject “What he actually said was “AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!! I’M FRIGGING ON FIRE!!!!!!!!!!  THROW WATER ON ME!!!! AAAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!!” and the three of us will have a good chuckle, while J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis stand close by smoking their pipes and smiling wryly.  Seems more likely than all of us with solemn faces engaging in a harp jam.

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