Monday, September 21, 2015

When laughter does more harm than good. . .

Laughter is a good thing.  God gave laughter to us.  We ought to encourage more holy laughter (the kind in which we are not tearing down something).  But there is too much laughter that is inappropriate.  I am not talking about out of place but the kind of laughter that diminishes the very things we ought to be lifting up.

Once there was a discussion about honoring a pastor and about what kind of event to plan.  Some wanted to organize a roast -- the kind of event you once saw on TV when someone took in on the chin from his peers.  I resisted the idea.  In fact, I attempted to veto it.  It was not that I did not enjoy a good time or love a good joke or like to laugh.  I do.  But when the office of the ministry ends up as the object of the humor, it is no longer funny. Yes, we ought to separate the office from the man and this we do often.  But too often our humor has the power to diminish and make common something meant to be noble.

I watched a few minutes of that TV show called Impastor or something like it.  Not to mention the crude portayals of clergy that abound on TV and in movies.  And then there was a YouTube video someone sent me with pastors doing the strangest things (often completely inappropriate) and usually at weddings.  It all began to bother me that although they were funny, the end of the humor was not.  It ended up diminishing the office and not just the office holder.

I grew up when pastors and priests were portrayed as heroes.  Bing Crosby wore the collar in some of those movies.  Shoes of a Fisherman was another good movie.  Who can forget Karl Malden as a heroic priest in On the Waterfront.  Yes, they are old.  Perhaps that is the point.  More modern films do not portray pastors heroically or seriously or fairly.  That is not accidental.  Could this have something to do with the fact that seminary classes are shrinking (among the many other reasons)?  Think about it.

Many years ago I was given the sage advice to not take myself too seriously but to take very seriously the office I hold, the people I serve, and the church I represent as a pastor.  It is still good counsel.  We do not need to be jealous about every smile or snicker about us but we do need to be careful to make sure that we are not making little of the much that Christ has established in the church and the office of the ministry.

I say this only because our culture loves to tear people down to size using humor to diminish.  Perhaps many of us as pastors do deserve to be laughed at.  But if this humor ends up making the office smaller, something is wrong.  Again, I am not saying we should not laugh but we should at least exercise care to make sure that the office does not suffer more than its holder.  Just sayin. . .


Kirk Skeptic said...

Have you forgotten the bloviating clerics in Jane Austen's and others' works? What about Burns' "Holy Willie's Prayer"? Chaucer was also unsparing in his views on the clergy. I suppose enough wits have been hosed by collared and caparisoned scoundrels to bring the ridicule you dislike to the public's attention, even before Sinclair Lewis' "Elmer Gantry" and the fact that George Babbitt was a Presbyterian deacon.

Carl Vehse said...

"Who can forget Karl Malden as a heroic priest in On the Waterfront."

And there is Karl Malden as Rev. Paul Ford delivering a Sunday sermon in the 1960 movie, "Pollyanna."