Yesterday I wrote an article for my town's local paper, "The Waverly Democrat." I am one of the regular columnists for their "Religion" section, and the column I wrote yesterday (which will appear on tomorrow) I dedicate to today, the International Day of Peace. There is so much to say on such a day as this; here are my two cents. May we all find words and actions to honor this day!
So here is my article:
THIS FALL, PRATFALL!
In the midst of one of the direst episodes in world history, the Cuban Missile Crisis, American and Soviet delegations met to discuss possible trade agreements between their two countries. Needless to say, negotiations were very tense and eventually came to a bitter, disquieting halt.
That is, until one of the negotiators suggested each person share something humorous. One of the Russians offered up this riddle: “What’s the difference between capitalism and communism?” The answer? “In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism it’s the other way around.”
As you might expect, the tactic worked. With the mood relaxed, the talks continued. (Thank you Allen Klein and your book The Healing Power of Humor for that true anecdote.)
When it comes to breaking down walls – even seemingly impenetrable ones – there’s probably no more powerful tool than the funny. As Victor Borge once observed, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” (And undoubtedly he punctuated his statement with a pratfall off the side of his piano bench! Like this!)
This Presidential election season, tension, suspicion and tremendous animosity thickly fill the air. It’s quite something to witness on social media the bitterest of arguments and friendships suddenly ending over increasingly fiery political conversations. I’m sure many families are experiencing, or at least fearing, fissures in relationships, too, to say nothing about what’s bringing dread to neighborhoods and communities of all sorts.
As a Christian, I wonder what Jesus would want us to do. Stand against injustice, for sure. Learn as much as we can and do our best to support (honestly and humbly) those we believe best candidates with our vote, our voice and our volunteering, yes. Pray a lot and anticipate interesting, deep responses from the Divine, absolutely! Radically forgive. Marvel at the ways we see Christ’s face in others, especially our “Other”.
I can’t help but think Jesus would also want us to…laugh! And while that includes giggling at innocuous amusements that get our mind off the otherwise endlessly gnawing difficulties of our time, as well as guffawing with the sharp and smart satirists who - in the tradition of the biblical prophets - make it enjoyable to understand why we should reject the propaganda of candidates of all stripes, perhaps the most important kind of humor we can seek and find right now is of the self-deprecating variety.
We need to laugh more…at ourselves. We’re all of us a lot more like those we condemn than we ever want to admit. And laughing at that irony is the best place to begin finding a new way to discourse (as well as appreciate how the human penchant for obliviousness makes fools of us all.)
I also think we should look for the gifts of humor that come to us from surprising places.
A couple of months ago I got an email from a cousin of mine who I love but who is clearly of a different political persuasion. On more than one occasion he has posted on my Facebook page opinions and articles for his candidate and against mine that make my skin crawl and threaten to fill me with rage.
This particular email began, “Regardless of your political leanings, this has to affect your funny bone in some little manner…And please, no offense to my (other party) friends and relatives. Just trying to bring some humor to (my party’s) convention!”
Attached was a clearly fake news article describing how millions of folks from my political party were escaping to Canada following the convention of the “nemesis party.” The “article” went on to describe in pretty funny fashion all the ways Canada was now becoming especially nutty and fruity because of this onslaught, and it was all quite silly. It wasn’t mean. I actually loved it.
I loved how this article allowed me to gently laugh at the goofily-caricatured vagaries of those in my corner of the proverbial arena. Yeah, I guess to those on the other side of the fence, we must seem that way.
I loved even more that my cousin, someone truly becoming an intolerable “Other” to me, lobbed this pretty funny little joke into “enemy” territory, clearly not to antagonize me and my kind but to engender a safe space for us all, through laughter, to rediscover how short the distance between us truly is. And will remain.
Humor can remind us in a most fun and transforming way that there is something so much bigger, better, and life-giving beyond whatever black-and-white absolute moralities are limiting present thinking and causing us to grimace. And hate.
The Bible says its followers are Children of Isaac (ie “Laughter”). What good and important news this is for those of us who seek to be faithful, especially now.
:) :) :) :) :)
One more personal note. I have become a very tardy blogger! It's been several weeks since my last entry. My apologies - to you and to this project. I'm writing this to goad myself into better productivity. Please hold my feet to the fire!! (Or threaten to tickle them....) xo