I believe in the power of humor to unite, console, liberate, and transform us. I’m a lector at my church, and at times I wish the Bible had more jokes in it. I think about ad libbing from time to time (“Did you hear the one about the donkey and the Samaritan woman?”) as a tonic for the dozers. But I can never think of anything divinely funny enough. Although sometimes just telling people that I went to Harvard and I believe in the Garden of Eden is enough to make them burst out laughing.
Who hasn’t had their life saved or at least a crummy day salvaged by an Onion headline? I know a woman named Prudence, a cancer survivor, whose laughter could keep a sinking ship afloat. When my father was dying, in an inexplicable way, I think it was the jokes people sent that sustained him the most. And let me tell you, if you’ve never read the jokes economists send each other, you have never lived.
Life is a serious business. I know. But levity and industry function in tandem. Laughter sweetens our step and lightens our load; it can make our burdens more bearable. Consider this excerpt sent to my college magazine by an elderly alumnus: “My 37-year-old son is slowly being destroyed by ALS, which leaves my life in ashes. I have quit chasing girls as I can no longer run.” It sits on my desk and I bless its author every time I read it. It breaks my heart and makes me smile.
A good joke can jolt us out of our old ways of thinking more swiftly than any diatribe. What we need is some banana-peel diplomacy. Maybe Bush should consider telling Kim Jong Il a really great knock-knock joke instead of badgering him with sanctions. OK, I’m kidding.
But I know a young priest who wants to make a movie about Jesus’ life with Will Farrell in the starring role. I told him I thought it was a fantastic idea. Is this kind of humor sacrilegious? On the contrary, humor is the fulfillment of the divine will. God wants for our joy, wants it more than we do ourselves at times. Surprisingly enough, it was an incredibly funny new TV show that said it best. In the words of a Harriet Hayes, a character on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”: ” … Jesus Christ, who must have had a sense of humor in order to get so many people to listen to him.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.