Thou Shall Be Funny. . . Within Limits!

I occasionally enlist satirical or ironic wit to drive home my more salient points. Humor has a way of penetrating defenses and bypassing even the most formidable interior walls. Also, humor is really funny! Even the most astute and solemn theologian must come to grips with the origins of funny. Either all jokes rose from the pit of hell or our God is hilarious. The fact that you and I exist lends credence to God’s sense of humor. Our hairiness alone cannot be fully explained by functionality. I’m convinced God snickered when he put hair in Adam’s nose and ears.

As with all communication tools, comedy can be used for both noble and ignoble purposes. Humor in particular has the tremendous potential of being misunderstood. We’ve all found ourselves in the awkward position of trying to determine if someone is laughing with us, at us, about us, or simply for no particularly rational reason. Humor requires a bit of context and the ability to read more subtle social cues.

Many jokes simply cease to translate once removed from their initial context. We’ve all experienced this when trying to relay that “really funny thing” that happened the other day. Seldom does the funny translate in the retelling. Instead, we get a blank, waiting for a punch line that will never come stare until we say the obligatory “You had to be there” transition.

Humor requires risk taking. This is primarily because some of the funniest things ever spoken or written reside precariously close to the dreaded “line.” For those of you unfamiliar with the “line,” it is usually referenced only when it has been crossed. Anyone who dabbles in persistent levity will at least once or twice in their life hear the phrase, “You crossed the line.” This pronouncement is usually accompanied by a sour faced scowl or a vitriolic email laden with the perfunctory “How dare you,” “I’d never,” and “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” chastisements.

The problem with the “line” is it has a tendency to migrate with individual preference. Not only does it ebb and flow with personal sensibilities, but that “line” that must not be crossed seems to appear only after it has been crossed. Oh the joy of turning a room full of laughter into an angry mob. Oh the thrill of transforming a good read into an unnecessary trauma. This is the power and fruit of comedic error.

In my defense, I try my best to dance up to the line without going over. Some people get their thrills jumping out of planes or skiing glaciers. I get my kicks trying to get you to laugh about some of your more absurd and possibly irrational behaviors. I start with the premise that we are all messed up, yet still very much loved by God. The very fact we are loved by God allows us to look at our failings. When we embrace God’s grace, we become more willing to look at our own faults, weaknesses, and sins.

It is truly liberating to confront one’s failings in a moment of mirth. Marriage provides opportunity for such revelation. Many times I’ve found myself caught in a pit of my own stubborn depravity. Unwilling to admit to my wife or to God the wrongness of my disposition, I’ve persisted in holding my anger against my lovely bride. Logic would suggest a careful discussion concerning the central points of our dispute would be the best way to resolve such conflicts. In reality, a humorous non sequitur does the trick. If Jennifer can make me laugh, she’s won the war.

With this in mind, I want to encourage my readers to actively pursue a moment or two of planned foolishness. Laughter might not be the best medicine, but it is covered by most health plans. As for me, I’ll keep dancing the line.


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