Thinking Out Loud

August 14, 2017

Of Bees, and Larks, and Doors

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Humor, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:08 am

For authors and readers alike, the use of satire in Christian writing can be a touchy subject. As someone who grew up with Christian humor books consisting of about 100 pages of single panel comics, I found them to be helpful on a number of levels.

First, I learned there were other people who thought like me. Second, they broke through the tension of thorny issues. Third, they pointed out the various foibles of Evangelicalism.

Today, Christian satire has moved beyond single-panel or even 4-panel cartoons. Baptist Press is one of the greatest distributors (or hoarders) of those, but their rather mean-spirited copyright statement prevents us from including a sample at this point. Elsewhere, Adam Ford’s Adam4d.com is a good example of the comic format.

Rather, today we have the sophistication of longer form pieces which mimic news satire site The Onion. The Wittenburg Door somewhat owned this form for many years, first in print and later online. Growing up, a Christian musician and leader who greatly influenced me said, “That magazine is my conscience.”

With the internet came Lark News, which still has an online lot caster if you’re facing a tough decision.

Mission recruiters may be disappointed if everyone gets the same outcome as I did

Since 2012, Roman Catholics have had the artificial news site Eye of the Tiber. Lutheran’s have Lutheran Satire as well as its popular YouTube channel. Baptists have Landover Baptist. Megachurch members have the videos of John Crist. The homeschool crowd has the insanity of Matthew Pierce.

Then we have the most recent arrival, The Babylon Bee, which turned out to also be the brainchild of Adam Ford, though it uses multiple authors.

Some of the things you might stumble into online are written by outsiders. Often these people have an axe to grind. The best and funniest though usually are produced by people within the particular movement. The best satirists on Baptist life are Baptists; the best person to poke fun at The Salvation Army is an Army soldier or officer. You need to know the nuances of spiritual life within any given faith tribe in order to best deal with its idiosyncrasies. You also need the sensitivity of an insider to avoid crossing the line into mockery or ridicule. But if the given tribe has no sense of humor, then sometimes it takes an outsider to step up.

While not everyone is gifted at writing what is essentially fake news, sarcasm and satire can easily creep into our emails and online writing. Twitter makes it possible to be especially pithy, as do various meme sites. One blogger, Matt Marino at The Gospel Side includes a “snark meter” for most of his posts, so you can tell toward which side of his cheek is tongue is pointing.

Readers should check the meter before reading the article

Does all this have a place in God’s Kingdom? Do Christians have the ability to laugh at themselves? Can we be funny without offending people?

It’s a tough row to hoe.

In one church I attended as a twenty-something, there were two twenty-something women who felt they needed to address my penchant for humor, both in a general sense and also in terms of being able to point out the various elephants in our ecclesiastical room. Their admonitions were based on an application of Ephesians 5:4 which speaks of “foolish talk or coarse joking.” The type of silly talk or crude jesting in view has to be seen in the context of the verses before and after, which are dealing with sexual immorality and impurity. I think we all know what it’s like to be in a room where that’s going on, and there is clearly a difference.

They also would bring in I Peter 5:8 about being “sober minded,” though again, contextually this is speaking of an undistracted spiritual alertness; it’s not saying, ‘Never tell jokes; never point out the humor of anything.’  I think they just wanted to impose a rather Puritanical standard on their Christianity, and mine, and everyone else’s.

At the end of the day, each of our local churches and each of our denominations have some unique characteristics which are simply funny. Lacking the ability to see the rather odd distinctives we possess is to take a high-minded, scriptural view of our group’s perfection. No group has the right to claim that. We see as though through greasy glasses [ref], we know in part, we prophesy in part [ref], we stumble in various ways [ref]. We’re fallible.

The Bible contains humor (think of the kids calling Elisha ‘Baldy’) and certainly also irony (Haman’s demise on the gallows built for Mordecai) and also hyperbole (Paul suggests a group of legalists simply castrate themselves) but not specifically satire. So we give ourselves permission that a story can be humorous, but if something written parallels life in the modern church, certain people stand up and declare that unacceptable. They don’t allow us to find humor in speaking in tongues (which is a rather unusual gift) by Pentecostals or the wearing of bonnets (the Bible does speak about head coverings) by Amish women; or any of the distinctives of Baptists, Catholics or anyone else.

That’s unfortunate. Laughter is a gift from God. Where would the modern church be without the practical observations of Phil Callaway, the church drama of Adrian Plass, the resilience of the late Barbara Johnson, etc. The dry wit of Plass is an especially good example of what we’re discussing here with both the Plymouth Brethren and Charismatics in his sights. And after several decades, how can we can forget Garrison Keillor’s hilarious weekly look at life among the Lutherans.

Like my musician friend taught me all those years ago, satire can address something in our church culture which is ripe for reconsideration.

 

 

 

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Paul. But even more, thanks for a few great new sites I didn’t know about!

    Matt

    Comment by Matt Marino — August 14, 2017 @ 8:27 am


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