Heaven and Oats

March 12, 2011

My dad, Mahlon Macy, passed away this week at age 88. Dad had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. One he told often before he could no longer tell jokes was about an older couple who were thrilled at their recent arrival in heaven. “This is wonderful!” he marveled. “And to think we could have been here sooner if we hadn’t eaten all that oat bran!”

I’m thinking Dad has already told that joke a few times, maybe even to friends who had already heard it.


Furious over Mercy

March 7, 2011

The Ninevites were the world’s worst people. Everyone knew that, and everyone would jeer and cheer at Nineveh’s destruction since they had all suffered her “unrelenting cruelty.” (See Nahum 3) Jonah would have been a jeerleader. That’s what makes Jonah’s story so powerful and so funny. Instead of cheering over Nineveh’s ruins, Jonah ends up yelling at God.

Humor often comes from the outrageous, the absurd, the upside-down. What could be more absurd than being furious with God for loving and forgiving people? After all, Israel sang praises about God’s compassion. But Jonah scolds, “I knew you’d do this! I know you’re merciful, compassionate, full of unfailing love, and eager to forgive. That’s why I didn’t want to come here to begin with.” (See Jonah 4) That’s also why he had gone only part way into Nineveh and had given a lousy one-sentence sermon announcing destruction, leaving out any call to repentance. Against all odds, they repented; a sure bet, God forgave them. Now in his rage Jonah demands, “If you won’t kill them, kill me.” Jonah had a point. Sometimes you just can’t stand God’s mercy, especially when God loves people you hate.


Bible Reading that Misses Humor

March 2, 2011

Humor in the Bible goes undetected for several reasons. One is that we hold misleading ideas about both the Bible and humor. Many folks, at least, think that the Bible is so serious that it can’t be funny and think that humor is so frivolous that it can’t tell the truth. I’ll discuss these ideas in more detail in another post.

We also miss humor in the Bible because we read, quite unwittingly, in ways that block it. An insightful article by Willie van Heerden called “Why the Humour in the Bible Plays Hide and Seek with Us” points out several hindrances in reading; I’ll add some of my own observations.

1. For many readers, the Bible is so familiar that they don’t see the humor. Sometimes people become very familiar with biblical texts when they’re quite young and before they develop a keen sense of humor. For others, the words are so well worn and comfortable that they don’t easily surprise us or make us laugh. Because we think we know what’s coming, we may put our reading attention on cruise control.

2. Other readers don’t know the Bible very well, so they lack the general background or context of the stories that would allow them to see what’s funny. In many cases, it helps to know the larger story. For example, the history of trickery in Jacob and his family will help readers understand the comic twists in his father-in-law’s deceptions and the rollercoaster humor in the stories of Joseph.

3. Many readers don’t know the cultural details that give texture to a story or a conversation, so they miss what is odd, surprising, or just out of place. It helps to have clues about the history and culture the stories call home.

4. Modern readers often read very quickly and, as Robert Mulholland notes, practice merely informational reading. Surface or managed reading hinders letting the words of the Bible tell a funny story and create vivid pictures.

5. Other Bible readers approach the text eager to squeeze meaning out of every word and phrase. They are so earnest and devout that subtle and even obvious comic touches hardly have a chance.

A lot of humor in the Bible isn’t hiding at all, but many of us won’t see it until we adjust what we expect and how we read.


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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