Sunday, January 16, 2011

Humor in Uniform

When I came to my first parish, things were tense.  The parish had gone through the mill.  The parish was divided.  There were those who thought themselves more spiritual and those who might be affectionately called the bronze age Missourians, and others who wanted not much of either crowd.  I am convinced that they called a candidate from the Seminary because each side believed that God would only given them one of them.  So it came as a surprise to them when I showed up -- beard, chasuble, chanting, and confessional...  For a time they did not know what to do with me.  During that time we were able to ease some of the tension and distract us from each other and on to the work of the kingdom.  It was a very fruitful time and when we left the people were strong, united, and happily Lutheran in identity and practice.  There was a window of opportunity that provided us the kairos to accomplish this through teaching, preaching and faithful practice... a not a little humor.

One of the things I did there was to put up a joke board of religious humor.  I called it Humor in Uniform (a la Readers Digest) and drew a picture of a Pastor in collar sipping a cup of coffee.  I started accumulating jokes of a religious or even Lutheran theme -- some from the newspaper, some from the Lutheran magazines, some from theological journals, and some from joke books that soon began showing up at my door.  I have continued this practice in my current parish.  A little humor can do more for a congregation in trouble that a lot of ranting and raving.  Especially when we learn to laugh at ourselves.

So a couple of times a year I put up several hundred cartoons and jokes (nothing inappropriate) but some have become my favorites.  Like the one in which a dad and son are sitting way back in the congregation and the son asks, "What are they doing up there?"  To which dad replies, "They are ordaining him, son; they are taking out his backbone..."  Ah, there is truth in humor which can be expressed without ruffling so many feathers or causing so much division as when it is simply blurted out.

One of the things I love about President Matt Harrison is that he can tell a good story.  One of his stories about antiquing with his wife and her search for hankies and the BB gun his sons found is a laugh a minute.  Humor is good -- not the kind that is meant to isolate somebody and put him or her down but the kind that relieves the tension when we take ourselves too seriously.  Great advice I got as a young Pastor -- "Take the Church seriously, take the Ministry seriously, but do not take yourself seriously..."  Ahhh, I still need to remember that when I get so full of myself it shows.  Don't we all.

I used to belong to a church humor society.  I guess it is defunct now since I have not heard hide nor hair from them for years.  Humor can be a great gift when God's people have been so conflicted, so divided, or so beaten down that it is hard to look up.  Someone once gave me a picture of the laughing Jesus.  I am not so fond of the picture but I think the idea of Jesus laughing is a good one.  He laughs not to put us down but because sometimes the tension in the air is too great for anything fruitful to be accomplished.  We need some relief from the great seriousness witch which we take ourselves.

I do NOT believe that the sermon is the place to tell those good jokes you have been saving up.  A little humor now and then is okay but the homily is not a monologue and the sermon is not your moment at the Comedy Club.  Still in all, it is a good thing when the Pastor can laugh, when the people can laugh with him (and even at him, when he lets them).  It occurs to me that some of the things in Missouri at the moment and many of the things in the ELCA right now have made us pretty serious.  Perhaps too serious.  Part of this holy laughter is the realization that we are mortals and God is God... what is impossible and even foolish for us to think about or do, is God's domain to do always and in His own time.  Sometimes we laugh because we realize that often get that turned around.

So if you stop by my parish, take a gander at the joke board and laugh a bit... especially if you have something very serious to talk to me about... Some of the folks who need to laugh most are those who find it hard to crack a smile... I hope some of the things I write here cause you to smile...and some of them don't... now we just have to figure out which is which...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do graduates of Concordia
Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne,
hang their diploma on the dashboard
of their car?

So they can get handicap parking
spaces.

Pastor Peters said...

Okay, who insulted me with something vaguely resembling the truth?

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters was going to fly to
the Symposium At Concordia Seminary
in Fort Wayne this week, but they
could not find a plane with TWO
RIGHT WINGS.

Pastor Peters said...

I'm still trying to find the humor in that flying joke... well, maybe I will sit during the Symposia and ponder on it a while and it will come to me... like inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters is ultra-conservative
and is in the right wing of the
LCMS. So when he flies he needs
a plane with 2 right wings. That
is really funny......