A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to write another article for the "Religion" column of the Waverly newspaper. I was winding up my awesome month in Europe, and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and Birthday of the Protestant Church (October 31) was on its way. Seemed like the perfect time on both counts to roll out some serious thoughts on the Funniest God Joke of All Time. So here's that column (and, of course, the joke!)
GOD IS ALIVE AND GOD IS LOVE
I’m proud to say I know the comic who wrote what is deemed the funniest God joke of all time!
And here it is, as written and shared by fellow Chicago comedian Emo Phillips:
— Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Regions Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over. —
There’s much to laugh at in this joke. (Even if you don’t get to hear Emo’s brilliant delivery of it!)
For one thing, it pokes fun of the fact that just about every Protestant denomination has gadjillions of branches/sub-groups/religious families/sects. There are even several words for what you call the differentiations! The Baptist ones are skewered here, but there are just aboutas many with the Methodists (no Great Lakes Region Councils of 1879 or 1912 as far as Iknow, though…).
For another thing, this joke satirically reminds that differences between these various groups, as miniscule as they may be, has led sometimes to very tragic results.
I was quite sadly reminded of this during my recent visit to Zürich, Switzerland, home of the “Swiss Reformation” led by the Reformed Church’s great hero, Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531). One of Zwingli’s most ardent and brilliant students was Felix Manz. So enthusiastic and sharp was Manz that he came to understand the Bible has as much (if not more) to say about the importance and validity of “adult” vs. “child” baptism. Manz began to cross Zwingli by advocating the former and condemning the latter. This, and other “radical reforms” (like granting congregations the power to choose their own pastor) resulted in Manz being thrown out of Zürich, and now on the run with the law. Manz retreated to a cave up in the hills nearby Bäretswil, where he continued to preach to local peasants not only about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God available to all. He also was preaching adult baptism. A local farmer outed Manz to the authorities, and several weeks later he was discovered, arrested, tried and convicted of “heresy,” and condemned to death by drowning. He was invited to recant on several occasions, but he refused (aided by the impassioned pleas of his mother to stick to his to stick to his guns). On January 5, 1527, Felix Manz was taken out on a boat off the Limmet, the grand river that flows through Zürich. With hands tied behind his knees - and a pole shoved between arms and knees to ensure he couldn’t wiggle to freedom - Manz was dumped, while singing and praying, overboard.
It’s hard to believe that those adhering to a faith that purports to uphold the primacy and ultimacy of love would let things come to this. Of course, the history of Christianity is rife with stuff that, if Jesus were in a grave, would cause him to be turning over in it.
Maybe one of the hardest things to do is so both hold onto our passionately held ideas and also let them fall by the wayside when love washes in. And it always washes in, if we believe, as the Bible insists, that God is alive and God is love. As the 500th Anniversary of theProtestant Reformation draws near, perhaps the heartbreaks we have caused one another between denominations is at least one of the greatest sins are called to repent, and our hope of and commitment to a love will always indeed have the last word (even as our ideas still don’t mesh) can and should be our prayer for the future.
In a world where new examples of radical love across boundaries are so needed, and the Church can seem evermore hypocritical and irrelevant because of its ability to manage this, even and especially within its various tribes, I can’t imagine a better mission for our path forward.
To show the world how to love even as we still disagree - because ideas don’t have the last word - that is the Gospel’s sweet spot, especially for today.
(And even as Protestants pursue this aim first and fore mostly, I’m pretty sure Emo’s joke will still be really funny. :)).