Tags: Religion | humor | faith | jokes

Religious Humorists Promote Smiles in Tough Times

Thursday, 13 Oct 2011 02:44 PM

And on the eighth day, after a day of rest, God looked around and said, “This is good, but I need to create a funny bone.”

And that was very good, say the increasing numbers of clergy, believers, and comics of all denominations who contend that God appreciates a good joke as much as anyone.

Humorous takes on religion, in books and comedy clubs alike, “provide a laugh-track countertrend to the political attacks and Supreme Court cases that often place religion in the public square today. And they create an oasis of common ground where friction among the faithful can be set aside for laughter,” according to a report in USA Today.

The humor, which strives to inspire laughter without being sacrilegious, often relies on sacred texts and frequently notes that God has had a sense of humor since before the beginning of time.

"Humor is a sign of God's creativity. Look at giraffes,” the Rev. James Martin told USA Today. “If Jesus didn't have a sense of humor, he wouldn't have been fully human.”

Martin, a Jesuit priest and humorist, brings out the lighter side of faith through books, including his new one, “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life,” and a 2010 tome, “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.”

"People who can't laugh have a wrong-headed notion about Christianity and the Bible," Martin said.

Smiling Jesus by the Sea, humor, religion
Artist Jack Jewell's depiction of a smiling Risen Christ by the Sea symbolizes the Fellowship of Merry Christians. It is one of the group's most popular products, says founder Cal Samra.
Also seeing the funny side to faith is Cal Samra of Portage, Mich., founder the Fellowship of Merry Christians and longtime publisher of the Joyful Noiseletter, which offers artwork, books, jokes, and fit-for-the-church-bulletin cartoons to numerous denominations.

Samra gave USA Today a peek at the newsletter's Christmas edition featuring a cartoon of the wise men following the star to a manger. There, a young woman holds a baby, five are wailing in the manger and a seventh howls in the father's arms. The caption says, "Sorry, wrong manger but good luck to you."

"God laughing with us," Samra said.

Another mirthful Christian is Susan Sparks, pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, who says: "I take my cue from Voltaire who said, 'God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.’”

Sparks, who often tours with Muslim comic Azhar Usman and Rabbi Bob Alper, acknowledges that religious humor can be risky.

"Humor and power don't go hand in hand. Humor exposes truth and that can make people nervous," says Sparks, author of “Laugh your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.”

And Liel Leibovitz, who writes Blessed Week Ever, a weekly Torah column for the Jewish magazine The Tablet, says faith and laughter have much in common.

"There's shared DNA between faith and humor. Both are attempts to deal with fundamental human anxiety and things you can't control. That's why so many rabbis and priests walk into a bar at the beginning of jokes. Laughing gets you past the anxiety," Leibovitz told USA Today. "There are Torah passages that crack me up. Look at the Israelites at Mount Sinai. God is about to reveal himself and everyone is in chaos. The about-to-be-chosen people want to know, 'Can we transfer this membership card to someone else?'

"They want to know about being chosen? Chosen for what? And God's answer is, 'You figure it out! What am I, God?' It's mind blowing and entertaining at the same time, which is all you could ask of a text."

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