During the time of the Cuban missile crisis, American and Soviet negotiators were trying to hammer out a trade deal. When the news of the crisis came into the room, everything came to a sudden, awful halt. Thankfully, for any number of reasons, it wasn’t okay for these people and their work to lose out to paralysis, anger and fear.
So, one of the Soviet delegates suggested they go around the room and everyone tell a joke. He offered to start.
Q: "What’s the difference between capitalism and communism?" A: "In capitalism, man exploits man, in communism, it’s the other way around.”
The laughter this joke not surprisingly engendered broke the ice, and the negotiations were able to continue.
This is one of my very favorite stories about the power of laughter.
I am happy to be presently focused on caring for my elderly dad, but his bad dementia means he asks the same few questions over and over again. This can make me really resentful in responding after just a couple of rounds, especially because he never wants me to write any of my answers out. Last night as we were watching the Cub game he for the umpteenth time asked me what their record currently was, and just as I was about yet again angrily shout out "TWENTY-FOUR AND SIX!" I asked myself if I might be able to find some humor here that maybe would make a difference.
And it pretty much immediately dawned on me.
“Dad, ya know what? Because your memory is bad, every day is like the first day you get to hear how well the Cubs are doing this year! How lucky are you!!” Dad got enough of the joke for his eyes to twinkle as he said, “I sure am!” And suddenly I realized how lucky I was, too. I get to tell him over and over right now the Cubs are playing .800 BALL!! Who else gets to repeat this amazing phrase so very much?? We then both really enjoyed watching the rest of the game.
This is becoming another of my very favorite stories about the power of laughter.
And then there’s this. Just about the best movie scene ever about the power of laughter. The sacred power....
(From Preston Struges' Sullivan's Travels: a local prison chain gang is invited by its local church to come over and enjoy some Kingdom-of-God hospitality....)
Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” And I’m sure (or at least I hope) you’ve experienced this glorious truth on many an occasion.
Jesus says, “Peace I give to you; my peace I give to you” (and we hear it again as this Sunday's gospel lectionary text). I’ve come to wonder if that peace to which he refers is the lively, joyful, just and immediate connection that fully blissfully comes to us and between us…through laughter.
After all, Jesus was a funny guy! Er, Messiah! He loved teaching in parables – riddles – with crazy punch lines intended to smash the ice in our understanding of how far-reaching God's love and community could be and was. Is.
Plus, Jesus comes from a faith tradition that’s founded in laughter! Remember, according to the Bible, the first descendant of the Judeo-Christian line is Isaac, meaning “laughter.” (But of course that’s what hisname means…his mother was a hundred years old when she got pregnant! ow wacky-delightful-hopeful the message her hilarious look conveys about the nature of God's ways!!)
The ultimate Divine laugh Jesus engenders and encourages is his sudden and startling resurrection from the cross. Early theologians called it the "Risus paschalis." Here's a contemporary expression for us to enjoy.... (The brief video below shares a popular Easter bit from yours truly, here captured on a recent podcast.)
Right now, I think about the peculiar, playful peace of Christ as my colleagues, both clergy and lay, meet at the United Methodist General Conference in Portland. It’s a massive event filled with meetings, prayerful dreams for the future of the denomination…and painful struggle.
Chief among wrenching issues is the very stressful, heartbreaking debate revolving around full inclusion of persons identifying as LGBTQ. It leaves many wondering if a satisfactory resolution -- beyond splitting the church in two -- is possible.
I have no answer, but I do believe we have a tool – a sacred gift! - at our disposal to move us dramatically (pun intended) onward as we together try to figure out how we're called to most faithfully emerge God's Realm.
I don’t want to make assumptions here (because of course we know what happens when we assume), but I’m giving an inspired guess that little attention has been paid as to how much humor will be employed and laughter emphasized in the goings-on at General Conference.
In any case, it doesn’t mean intentional, inspired folderol can’t be injected, sought, and celebrated even now! And in the strangest, toughest places. Like the way it births (and resurrects) itself in our scriptures.
I also don't want to assume what would work in terms of humor at General Conference. I do believe it should be aimed not at others but at one's one's own foibles and absurdities, the foibles and absurdities of the world around us and should be used to break down walls that divide us. How that translates - and amuses - is up to those gifted and called to take the lead.
But here are some thoughts....
What would it be if, in the middle of some tense legislative session - or worship even! - everyone was suddenly encouraged to turn to their neighbor and tell a favorite joke! What difference might that make??!!
Or what if it became a thing for folks to compose their own! Joke-writing is such a fun, life-giving exercise for the brain (especially after some mind-numbing or soul-scraping plenary). You get to reorganize the world in a perfectly happy, joyful, loopy way. And how Christlike is that??!!
I understand that there's a giant "doodle board" at the Discipleship Ministries exhibit. Why not there include all sorts of graffiti-esque JOHN WESLEY JOKES?!
Here are some initial few 'punnies' that floated off my noggin:
Q: "What do you call a Methodist minister who also services clogged drains?" A: "A Circuit Rooter!”
Q: "What do you call the headgear of a Methodist bishop" A: "A Circuit Mitre!"
Q: "When a couple of Methodist ministers seek to be green together, what is that called? A: "A Circuit Ride-Share!”
After all the benefits that a little giggling from stuff like this brings, how ready might all be to well carry on???
Here's another suggestion: everyone seek (as I finally discovered with my dad) opportunities to find and share the humor waiting to blossom in the midst of otherwise stressful, button-pushing situations. You can’t force the funny, but you can wait with eagerness for each next opportunity to present itself (and trust me, the wait won’t be long). You might even turn this process into some sort of drinking game (with sparkling cider, of course). Reward yourself with a pint every time you help build a new bridge to beloved new community with laughter.
Finally, don't say no to any and all inspirations to pull out all the stops! Engage in exercises of complete and happy madness! Upside-down explosions of crazy joy for yourself and others! Especially...Others!! It's an ultimate act of hospitality. Entertaining angels and then some.
For example, I’ve found when an "inner goading" erupts in me to invite folks to put on 1970’s polyester pantsuits (from my collection) and adventure around town so garbed, it becomes just about the most transcendent experience imaginable. Several participants throughout the years have said it changed their lives. And their understanding of perfect community. For reals.
May the peace of Christ be with us all, especially as we get our get noses stuck on flypaper and frolic like Methodist CIRCUS riders! Woo hoo!!!!