Humor and Faith


My church did something interesting and different this past Sunday: we told each other jokes instead of having a traditional sermon. The practice of doing this the weekend after Easter Sunday is called “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday” as it was in my church and apparently goes back quite a ways – centuries, in fact. Neither my church nor my pastor had ever done it before, but we forged ahead and it was a surprisingly fun and uplifting experience. Which shouldn’t be surprising, really. There’s a lot to celebrate in the resurrection!

However, because I’m a bit of a navel gazer to begin with and am always on the lookout for good material for this blog, you probably already know I can’t just leave it there. That service, like so many things, got me pondering, which then got me writing. There is nothing inherently blasphemous, sacrilegious, heretical, sinful, irreverent, or inappropriate about humor. In fact, the only negative reference I can find to it in humor is Proverbs 26:18-19, which is more a passage that calls out that it’s not cool to be a jerk and then pretend it was all for laughs.  So there’s nothing wrong with humor, at least from a Christian perspective, but it seems like Christians often forget that.

Like a maniac shooting
    flaming arrows of death
   is one who deceives their neighbor
    and says, “I was only joking!”
-Proverbs 26:18-19

That thread of somber, anti-humor thinking has a couple of effects: first, it tends to take the joy out of faith, which is a tragedy all on its own. As I mentioned in Episode 108 during the Patreon question, my favorite memory from a gaming table was a riotous, silly good time that I had with at least two other practicing Christians, one of whom was running the game. I could barely talk for say two of the con from all the shouting, laughing, and funny voices and my sides hurt from all the laughing by the end of the night, and I really enjoyed myself. That experience formed good memories and bonded us at the table, if only for a few hours.

Rabbit: “He’s got a flush…he threw away three cards!”
<pause>
Rabbit: “He drew a better flush?!”
Mouse: “They’re stupid AND lucky! Interrupting this game will be a mercy!”

-Two talking animal PCs watching some talking dog NPCs play poker…badly.

I’ve come to feel the same way about jokes and snark around the table as long as it doesn’t completely derail the game. And it’s interesting that in the D&D game Grant runs that I play in, a lot of that humor has slipped into character. My neutral good cleric spends some time playing shoulder angel to the chaotic neutral fighter and rogue, but he’s also become their friend and that means that some joking around happens. Okay, it means that nearly-constant joking around happens. (The humor moves in and out of character pretty fluidly as you can see from the use of the #DND hashtag among our group members with public Twitter accounts.) And Lambert (my PC; a neutral good human cleric), though I think he’s probably one of my top three favorite PCs of all time, is the kind of person for whom it’s fortunate that he can take a joke, because he makes a very easy target. Exceeded only by the actual governor of the colony in the level of responsibility he feels for the well-being of the colonists and prone to adding any other non-hostile parties he encounters to the list of people he feels responsible for at the drop of a hat, it’s not hard to pick on his sense of propriety, his desire to help, his unwillingness to let the party be too self-serving, and the stress all of these concerns give him, and he himself realizes it.

Toucan: “I’m going to tell your boss, and then you will be in BIG. TROUBLE.”
Dog: “I dunno, man. He seems pretty reasonable.”
Dog’s player casually eats a nacho

-Another moment from the funny con game

And here’s the interesting thing: because Lambert has actually become friends with the other PCs instead of just angrily shoving them back into line whenever they do something he doesn’t like, they have actually started to act like his moral compass is in play even when they aren’t around him. Not completely, but more than they would have at the beginning of the game. The most dramatic example of this shift occurring was the “arrow incident” that I’ve written about before. However, because Grant is a considerate GM and not, for example Frank Miller, good actions may be difficult, but they aren’t foolish or a lie in his world.  And that in turn means the snowball effect of consistently doing the right thing (or at least trying to) is starting to roll. The party has begun to be trusted with a significant amount of resources – specifically a boat and the personnel to crew it.

This lines up well with Lambert’s faith, which is just Christianity with not even all of the serial numbers filed off after the monotheistic retcon we did a while back. He’s in the colony in the first place to help make the world better, to keep peace between the colonists and the natives, to heal the injured and sick, and generally help bring about the Kingdom of God in the new world. The fact that he can give and take humor is actually helping with that. It’s not the main thing, and it’s certainly not the only thing (his utter stubbornness is helping him at least as much) but it is helping.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Humor, while certainly not inherently holy is definitely not inherently unholy either, and can serve a holy purpose, especially when things are hard. It’s a simple way to provide some relief from stress, anxiety, and sometimes even real suffering and it’s a bonding agent for relationships. There’s some real worth in letting the joy out, don’t you think?

This week’s image is from Umair Mohsin, used under Creative Commons.

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