Witty Wisdom

July 22, 2014

I love having a pro agree with me, so finding Garrison Keillor reflecting on his work and quoting Ecclesiastes made my day. “Comedy does give good value,” he writes. “There are so many discouraging facts around – e.g., half of all people are below average – and jokes relieve some of the misery. Solomon said, ‘Whoever increases knowledge increases sorrow.’ That’s a joke. And ‘The rivers run into the sea and yet the sea is not full.’ That’s a joke. And how about this one? “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong nor riches to men of understanding, but time and chance happeneth to them all.’ That’s the essence of comedy in less than 25 words.” (In AARP Bulletin, May 2014. Yes, I’ve received this for years now.)

Jokes do relieve misery just as they often grow out of misery. Jokes spring out of surprises, odd reversals, funny tensions and contradictions, and quirkiness in life. Their humor helps us cope, but it can also teach and guide us. Using humor, the wisdom literature in the Bible teaches us but also helps make the teaching memorable. Effective humor helps ideas stick.

Proverbs in the Bible (and anywhere else) are supposed to stick in your head, not from rote memorization, but because they’re witty, funny, short, full of word play, and spot-on true. Of course, they’re not all funny, but many are. I’ve been enjoying a “Polish proverb” recently on how to resist being drawn into other people’s conflicts: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Biblical proverbs can have the same punch. How about, “The words of a fool start fights; do him a favor and gag him.” (18:6, The Message) Or, “Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.” (17:28). Maybe this: “The shopper says, ‘That’s junk – let me take it off your hands,’ then goes off boasting of the bargain.” (20:14) Unlike Keillor, I’ve used the modern language of Peterson’s The Message, partly to help us see funny phrases in a language we actually use. But the larger point, of course, is that humor shows up in the Bible’s wisdom literature. We should expect it, look for it, and welcome it.

I’ve chosen examples from Proverbs, Keillor from Ecclesiastes, and along the way I’ll write about humor in Job. All three use humor to nail the truth. Here’s a take-along: “Yes, there’s a right time and way for everything, even though, unfortunately, we miss it for the most part.” (Ecclesiastes 8:6) In comedy and in life, great timing is everything, but half of us are below average. You can choose your half.

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Comments

  1. Jokes in Job? Now that I want to see.

    • hmacy says:

      Of course, now you’re egging me on. :-) I was first puzzled to see an article on humor in Ecclesiastes. And now I suspect there’s some in Job. I’ll try to tell you why before long.

  2. Nancy says:

    Here’s a proverb from the Living Bible. I’m quoting from memory and don’t have the reference. So…. “Better to meet up with a mother bear robbed of her cubs, than some fool busy with a stupid project.”

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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