Spacious Reading without Laugh-tracks

February 6, 2012

Often I crack up reading jokes, humorous essays, or collections of cartoons. Sometimes, though, what promises to be funny seems flat. Maybe I’m not clever enough to get the humor. But more often it’s because I’m reading in a hurry, superficially, or inattentively. Humor needs breathing spaces, and I’m squeezing the life out of it.

Lots of folks miss humor in the Bible because they don’t expect it. Many more miss it because they don’t read well. Students have taught me about three levels of reading: careful reading, where you dig into the text; skimming, where you do a fly-over to get the shape of the piece; and retinizing, where the image of the page merely hits the back of your eyeballs. For all kinds of reasons, a lot of modern reading is fly-over and retinizing. When we read that way, we’ll miss humor and a lot more. In reading the Bible, we’ll miss the power of poetry and the wonder of miracles. While we read about the crowds being amazed at Jesus, inside we just go “ho-hum.” Fast, drone reading or mentally mumbling our way through the text just won’t do.

We can read in more rewarding ways. We can soak in a text and create space for attention and imagination. We can take in the scene the writer has painted with words. We can let the words open and bloom and see what they’re trying to describe. We can use our imaginations, not to make stuff up, but to enter what’s already there. Many writers encourage us to read the Bible with all of our senses on alert, an old and proven practice often associated with the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.

A soaking, spacious reading helps especially with humor. Storytellers and comics work hard to learn “timing,” creating space for listeners to see the picture or move in the direction that makes the funny punch-line or surprise work. They want listeners to experience the outlandish, the odd, and the absurd, and they want them to be caught off guard by the comic twist.

This is true, too, for Bible writers. As readers, we can help, allowing spaciousness and imagination in stories that are often very compact. We can remember the set-up of the story and make the characters vivid. We can experiment with pause and vocal inflection, and allow characters to raise an eyebrow, roll their eyes, give a mischievous smile, or even roar with laughter. And we have to do it without benefit of laugh-tracks or a back-up band to add rim-shots to good (or lame) jokes.

Experiment with reading aloud and visualizing various scenes. For example, when Jesus compares and quotes two men praying, it’s easy to imagine using exaggerated voices to accent the religious stuffiness of the one and the quiet humility of the other. (Luke 18:9-14) (Frankly, at this point, I can hardly imagine that Jesus didn’t do that and get guffaws from simple folks who had had their fill of self-righteous religious guys.) Or we can see the Samson and Delilah dialogue as the kind of man/woman teasing and cajoling that frequents sit-coms. “How can you say you love me when you don’t trust me?” (Judges 16:4-21) Or we could read Laban’s apparently heart-wrenching speech to son-in-law Jacob, knowing that this was a lying, cheating, maybe even murderous father-in-law who was mostly looking for stolen property. (Genesis 31:26-30) Try it with a fake, even angry, sobbing voice. And the suspenseful story that follows, Laban searching for the stolen “household gods,” has a wonderfully comic surprise ending.

Whether we find humor or not, reading the Bible spaciously, with mind and senses on alert, will open the way to fresh understanding. And, in more places than we suspect, I’m sure we’ll find cues for laughter.

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Comments

  1. MRS.NIGERIAFINANCEMINISTER says:

    I AM TRYFAKE EVEN ANGRY SOBBER VOICING, NOBODY AM GIVE ME MONEYS FOR FUNNY STORY BIBLE, MY COUNTRY AM WOMAN-MAN TEASING “WHY DON’T YOU TRUST ME?” FOR SPACIOUS NIGERIA LIVING FINANCE FLAT DECEASED MINISTER. THERE ARE NO DECEITFUL STORY HERE, AM NEEDING YOUR ASS INSTANCE FOR TO HELP CHRISTIANS IN GREAT NEED….

    • hmacy says:

      Should this blog and site become wildly popular or even go viral, perhaps we can provide some ass instance to our needy friends in dear Nigeria. Thanks for your interest and response. Work on that sobbing voice, in the meantime. You may need it.

  2. Lady hearing about angry sobber voicing says:

    I am not tryfake I am angry sobber voice that you keep bother my main man. I say, “Go away.” And then I say, “Go away you tryfake sobber angry voice woman.” No more bothering my main man

Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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