Thinking Out Loud

November 24, 2017

The Place for Christian Satire and Humor

When a comment popped up on an earlier look at this topic — originally posted seven years ago — I thought I might revisit this. I quickly realized that most of the references in the original article were to blogs and websites which no longer exist, so this is greatly revised.

For readers today, it’s hard to imagine a future world without, for example, The Babylon Bee — or its Roman Catholic equivalent, Eye of the Tiber — but I suppose it will happen eventually. Sometimes the humor is topical references to things currently on our minds. Other times the jokes are somewhat timeless…

The original article began with a comment from a reader who found the rather humorous graphic, Fundy Preacher Bingo, not so funny. (Click the link to see it full size, or perhaps even print a few!)

Actually, “Christian hate” is the term she used. “Hate?” Really? Not surprising though. I have in the past encountered Christians who don’t get religious humor or satire. “Foolish talk and course jesting;” is the verse usually quoted.

And then she asked the question that I think is key to all this:

What kind of hardened heart finds delight in making fun of your brothers and sisters in Christ, as if you weren’t flawed and saved by Grace – same as them?

Well, the answer is, many people. One of the items in our personal book collection is Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row. I’m sure it was not the first example of literature in which Christians take some potshots at their own foibles. And space does not permit us to list the many examples of Jesus using wordplay with both his disciples and his critics. (See this book review.)

And the phrase “at their own” is also key. When non-believers want to lampoon and ridicule Christianity that’s one thing. But even there, I wouldn’t want to be too dismissive, because I think it’s important for us to be able to see ourselves as others see us. Some of the attacks by atheists are unwarranted, but at other times, it’s like holding a mirror up to The Church.

But it’s always better when the barbs come from within, ergo the long-time popularity of the now not-in-print Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door. One of my earliest mentors was a musician who said, “The Wittenburg Door is my conscience.”

Humor is a powerful force and it can be abused for sure, but it can also be a force for keeping us all honest and accountable. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Many a truth is spoken in jest. [Add your own cliché here.]

So while I could criticize fellow Evangelicals, I wouldn’t criticize Lutherans. For that we have Garrison Keillor, although he has spent enough time among Baptists and Pentecostals that increasingly a larger group of people are swept up in his humor and storytelling.

So rule number one would be that you criticize your own. You might even need to quantify that, as one writer did at the time:

I’m a conservative evangelical Christian. Very, very conservative by most standards and I’ve got the Wide-Margin Old Scofield King James Bible to prove it.. [comment at Stuff Fundies Like, Sept 10, 2010]

Over the years, spoofers have included Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like (now a motivational and business writer) and Joel Kilpatrick and the author of the blog Jesus or Squirrel or Matthew Paul Turner at Jesus Needs New PR or the host of cartoonists including many different ones at Baptist Press (who years ago stopped allowing us to use them). And let’s not forget years and years of cartoon and satire books published by Zondervan and InterVarsity (the latter having returned to the genre with two books each in the Coffee With Jesus and Theologygrams series) and the cartoons that were printed in each issue of Leadership Journal.

The enemy of The Church today is not those who poke fun at our sacred cows, but the people who simply walk away. I responded to the woman who left the comment:

…For what it’s worth, “hardened hearts” don’t engage. They walk away. They are apathetic. Most of us read something like this and it’s very easy to resonate with the spirit of it, and that is fully compatible — to me at least — with being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.” In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.

As to “hardened hearts,” I think if anything, reading satire from different denominational tribes has softened my heart in terms of understanding and relating to people who are from faith families different to my own.

So what’s your take on Christian comics, Christian cartoons, Christian satire, Christian humor, etc.? Is there a place for this genre? Is it helpful? Is it hurtful?

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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.

 

 

 

July 12, 2017

Mother Seeks Christian Bookstore Job for Her Wayward Daughter

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, parenting — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 am

This appeared last March on the Facebook page of an American Christian bookstore we have frequently visited. I’ve chosen not to link to the comment, but can authenticate it for you offline if need be. Note: This is more sad than funny.

I was a fan of this store until my prodigal daughter wanted me to pick her up a job application. The person who gave me the application questioned me about my daughter’s faith and how her being prodigal would make her basically unemployable to the store, because she would not be knowledgeable of the stores content.

In my mind I was thinking don’t they train you to do the job? I felt she was being biased and prejudiced because my daughter was not a practicing Christian. This is not only not what I expected from a supposedly Christ centered ministry, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that this was not at all acceptable as well, in His eyes! Jesus would NEVER turn away someone who was away from Him, especially if their was even a hint of Him being able to reach the person, especially through a ministry!

I was even more appalled when I got home and read through the application! The first thing that stood out to me was what was written just below the company logo. ” We are an equal opportunity employer “. Are you kidding me! You discriminated against my daughter in the store and there was further discrimination in the application under references, “name a pastor or church leader”, give me a break! That’s out right bias right there! Oh and they conveniently left out ” We do not discriminate against race, color, sex, RELIGION etc. etc. etc “. , how convenient! To me that further proves more bias!

Oh and yet they want the person to agree to having their life scrutinized in-depth way more than I would ever tolerate, in the applicant statement and agreement section! I would not be employable just on that section alone! If a job or a landlord or a bank or anybody wants to use my credit score against me that’s not acceptable under any condition!

For reasons why, check your bibles under how Jesus treated the poor, if you think it’s OK to deny someone just because of their credit score (which may not even be their fault IE identity theft etc. )! As far as the last paragraph in that section, it needs to be eliminated that’s not acceptable to me either! I am totally appalled by this whole thing! I will never shop at the store again! I can see Jesus being infuriated by this Companies policies as well, shame on you guys! I would have given it zero stars, but it would not let me write the review but did. So technically a big zero from me sorry to say. I know you will delete this when you read it, because your even bias in what reviews you allow visible, but know Jesus has already seen it!

So how would you reply to this?


The Wednesday Link List returns July 19th

December 31, 2016

More from the Church Curmudgeon

I thought we’d end the year the way we did in 2013 with some 4th-Quarter highlights from everyone’s favorite (well, 93,000 people anyway*) anon account on Twitter,  Church Curmudgeon:

Church Curmudgeon

 

  • Between Pentecostal and Baptist worship styles, I prefer Baptist, hands down.
  • If the complementarians are right, Santa’s wife is a subordinate Claus.
  • The youth pastor just got back from 40 days in the wilderness.
    By “days,” I mean minutes. By “wilderness,” not looking at his phone.
  • Pastor’s on a prayer retreat this week. The secretary has been telling everyone, “He went to be with the Lord Monday.”
  • Asked the worship leader if he knew any hymns more than 20 years old.
    He started singing, “If you like to talk to tomatoes…”
  • Our auctioneer, Mr. Long, perused the last known flannel-graph showing the cosmic effects of the fall as he ascertained its value. Long weighed the world, in sin and error pining, till he appraised what the sole felt was worth.
  • Why did the worship leader cross the river alone?
    He was the only one who knew the bridge.
  • You can make anything sound grave and important by adding the phrase, “for such a time as this.”
  • Looking back, Linus must have converted from pagan pumpkin worship after Halloween, and began spreading the gospel by Christmas.
  • The worship leader was complaining about how our church hates change.
    To help him understand, we changed worship leaders. 
  • The difference between the Holy Spirit and the church wifi is that everybody screams if the wifi is gone.
  • Our pastor is now nearing his lifelong goal of alliterating his sermon points twice through the alphabet in one year.
  • What do you call it when someone gets saved just before the end of a Baptist’s sermon?
    A two-point conversion.
  • Our church is split between antinomians and legalists. Today’s closing song was “Trust or Obey.”
  • My Monday’s built on nothing less
    Than coffee pouring from the press
  • Made a Liszt.
    Went Chopin.
    Be Bach soon.
    Hope you can Handel it.
  • At the beginning of the year, pastor set a goal of funding one new church plant. If the Christmas tree counts, we did it.
  • There was an ascetic named Arius
    Whose view of the Son was precarious.
    They met at Nicea
    To mull this idea
    duly pronounced it nefarious.
  • Every head was bowed, and every eye was closed, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see you at the prayer meeting.

* And now 41,000 on Facebook, too.

May 17, 2016

Without Words

Filed under: Christianity, graphics, Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

…At least not words that I had to type…

We’re stealing from tomorrow’s graphics since, as of 11:15 last night, I didn’t have anything else prepared. Images from two Facebook pages, Church Meme Committee, and Word of Faith Shenanigans. I think you’ll know which is which.

VBS - Half Time Show


Sermon - Offended


Guitars in Church


Jesus Was Wealthy


Jesus is Here


If it be Thy will


Jesus existed only as an image

March 17, 2016

Before You Can Scam Me, I Need Your VISA Number

Filed under: Christianity, Humor — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

After trashing another idea for today’s blog post, I decided to see what my friend Lorne Anderson had written lately. You can click the title below to read this at source while I’m busy asking Lorne for permission for an article I’ve already posted.

Who Is The Traffic Department?

“Mr. Anderson, this is the Traffic Department calling. We are calling about a claim regarding an accident involving a vehicle registered to your address.”

The caller had a thick accent. Indian or Pakistani I would say. A little difficult to understand, but I know a scam when I see one. But I had a few spare minutes and these calls can be amusing.

“Do you remember having an accident last year sir? There is still an outstanding amount owing”

Nobody in the family had an accident last year. I should have asked whether it was with the BMW or the Lexus (we own neither) and had fun with that, but I went a different direction.

“I didn’t have an accident last year,” but I think Willow did.” it was obviously an unfamiliar name, I had to repeat it several times. The caller kept referring to “he” and “him” and I had to correct that.

Mind you, calling Willow “she” is stretching it a bit also. Willow was spayed a couple of years ago. Willow is a cat, one that I would just as soon be rid of. I saw an opportunity.

“Did Willow tell you the details of the accident?”

“No, Willow doesn’t talk to me. But I know she is accident-prone. She is always having accidents. If someone had an accident with the car it must have been her. I’m sure it was her fault.”

The scammer can smell the money at this point. Apparently there was an accident and I am not doubting the legitimacy of his “Traffic Department.” Time to move in for the kill.

“The amount owing is $600 and you can pay by phone right now, all I need is your VISA card number.”

If I had been really paying attention I would have given him my VISA card number. I was preparing dinner and not really concentrating on the call. I only have one VISA number memorized, the number of my very first credit card issued in 1973. I’ve switched financial institutions since then, haven’t had that card for twenty years – it probably would have been safe to give him the number. But I didn’t think of that until after the call.

It was by that point time to concentrate on preparing the food for dinner.

I asked what would happen if I didn’t pay. Turns out that would be very bad. Could Willow go to jail, I asked. Yes.

I’ve been trying to get rid of that cat for a year. Jail seemed like a nice spot for her. But I doubted the scammer was able to deliver on that threat. Too bad really.

So I went on the offensive.

“First I will need your VISA number.” He was confused. Certainly he couldn’t have heard me correctly. I was supposed to be giving him a number, not asking for one. He asked again.

“No,” I said, “You need to give me your VISA number first.” Silence. If confusion had a sound that would be it.

“Sir, Willow had an accident and you must pay $600. You must give me your VISA number. You need to pay me. Why would I give you my VISA number?”

It was time to concentrate on dinner, time to end the call as amusing as I was finding it. “You need to give me your VISA number because you are a scammer and I want to get some money from your card.”

There was silence again, then he hung up. I guess he didn’t have much of a sense of humor.


There’s a picture of Willow if you click through, although, as it turns out, Willow was actually featured right here at the top of the December 23rd link list.

January 22, 2016

The Pastor’s Wife as “The First Lady”

First Lady ParkingIt’s spreading like a virus. Calling the wife of the senior pastor “The First Lady.” I think it may have had its beginnings in the African-American church, but it is no longer limited to those congregations. Where did this nonsense come from? Well, I looked it up and there it was:

II Amendations 4:3 The wife of the pastor shall be given a place of honor, for she is more special than the other women of the church. 4 She shall be called The First Lady, and everyone shall bless her. 5 She shall be seated on the front row of the assembly, unless that church has a balcony, in which case she shall sit on the front row there if it is her preference. 6 And if it is the case that she drives to church separately, she shall be given a reserved parking spot, it will be next to her husband’s, and this place shall be indicated by a sign which states, ‘Reserved for The First Lady.’ 7 And the pastor shall make reference to her during his sermon, and if it does not suit the text, he shall refer to her during the announcements.8 And if that service is televised, the cameras shall cut away to a shot of her smiling and shall linger there if she is especially telegenic.

9 Upon her arrival at the house of worship, the women of the church shall take care of her children so that she need not be concerned for them, for they are pastor’s kids and not particularly well-behaved. 10 She shall be exempted from the requirements of the other women, she shall not be asked to bake cookies, serve in the kitchen or the nursery, or make sandwiches for funerals. 11 She shall be permitted to be clothed lavishly, as she is an example to the other women of the church; with fine fabrics and gold jewelry shall she be dressed. 12 The congregation shall shower her with Ministry Appreciation cards on a regular basis as well as small gifts,  13 for she continually must attend to the needs of her husband whose schedule is hectic and whose life is filled with stress. 14 And she shall preach on Mother’s Day; for this expectation she is not to be exempted, even if speaking is not her particular gift.

January 7, 2016

A Theological Sampler Which Covers Everyone

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, theology — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

Normally, I wouldn’t devote a post to an email forward, but I have to hand it to the people who put this together; it’s very comprehensive. If anyone can verify the original source, I’ll note it here.

Chicken

Why Did the Theological Chicken Cross the Road?

Pelagius: Because the chicken was able to.
Irenaeus: The glory of God is the chicken fully alive.
John Wesley: The chicken’s heart was strangely warmed.
C.S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.
Billy Graham: The chicken was surrendering all.
Pluralist: The chicken took one of many equally valid roads.
Universalist: All chickens cross the road.
Martin Luther: The chicken was fleeing the Antichrist who stole the Gospel with his papist lies.
Tim LaHaye: The chicken didn’t want to be left behind.
James White: I reject chicken centered eisegesis.
Rob Bell: The chicken. Crossed the road. To get. Cool glasses.
Joel Osteen: The chicken crossed the road to maximize his personal fulfillment so they he could be all that God created him to be.
Rick Warren: The chicken was purpose driven.
John Piper: God decreed the event to maximize his glory, or it was an act of Christian hedonism.
Roger Olson: The chicken recognizes no clear evangelical boundaries.
Mark Driscoll: A bleeping chicken crossed the road to go get a beer.
Gary Demar: The chicken was fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That’s it.
Jim Wallis: The chicken is an organizer for Occupy Barnyard.
Emergent: For this chicken, it’s not the destination that’s important. It’s the journey itself.
N.T. Wright: This act of the chicken, which would be unthinkable in British barnyards, reeks of that American individualism that is destructive to community.
Al Mohler: When a chicken begins to think theologically, he has no other alternative but to come over to the Calvinist side of the road.
Michael Horton: The chicken was forsaking the kingdom of this world to live solely in the Kingdom of Christ.
John Frame: The chicken had an existential need to change its situation according to a new norm.
T.F. Torrance: The inner logic of the incarnation proved an irresistible draw to the other side of the road.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: He was abandoning cheap grace for the costly discipleship of risking the dangers of crossing the road.
Karl Barth: The crossing of the road, like all true theology, was done for profoundly Christological reasons. All chickens cross the road in the end.
Paul Tillich: Because he sensed that the other side of the road represented the ground of all being.
New Ager: Because he saw the light beckoning him forward.
Fundamentalist: Because his pastor told him so. 

…Here’s a variation on this from 2010, featuring Calvin, Arminius, and even Greg Boyd! 


This is not the first time a chicken has figured into a post here at Thinking Out Loud. In January of 2010 — apparently a significant year for chickens — we posted a copy of Jerry Falwell’s classic 1978 fundraising letter where a personalized mailing system and a data entry clerk teamed up to produce a major fail.

 

November 20, 2015

lol

Filed under: Christianity, health, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:33 am

okay to laughIt’s probably the world’s most-used (and overused) acronym on emails, but not everyone actually laughs out loud in the course of a day, or for some, even a week.

For many people, it’s hard to laugh right now. Circumstances are somewhat dark, or tense, or frustrating; you’re under a cloud. I get that. I’ve been there.

But for others, the problem is this: Laughter is a surprise emotion, and if you already have guessed the punchline, or noticed the bucket of water above the door, then having seen what’s coming, usually the best you’re good for is a smile.

Unless you’re one of the people who simply laughs at everything. I know you bring joy to a lot of situations, but always bear in mind that when your friends are making a point and want to be taken seriously, that’s not the time for hilarity.

I’ve spent a lifetime of figuring out punchlines before they’re spoken. I know that readers at this Christianity-focused blog may not appreciate all the plot-lines on Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory, but these two sitcoms represent the top of their craft and there is some really good writing that goes into each and every episode. With both this week, I did find myself quite literally lol-ing, even if I wasn’t exactly rofl — look it up — or experiencing a laughter so severe it causes certain body parts to disconnect.

And you need to laugh. The medical folk tell us it’s good for you. Whether it’s Mr. Bean, or Inspector Clouseau, or Basil Fawlty, or Tina Fey; or just that naturally funny person who is in your sphere of influence. Having a pet will also bring down your blood pressure, although they say you have to actually pet the pet for that to work. Dog food and cat litter can get pricey, but laughter is free.

Jesus LaughingAnd the Bible got there first: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” at least that’s how the old KJV puts Proverbs 17:22; but I much prefer to leave you with The Voice Bible’s “A joy-filled heart is curative balm.” That’s right, curative balm. I guess it’s part of trying to make your translation stand out from the rest of the pack.

Which reminds me…

…A conservative Evangelical Bible translator walked into a bar. “Gee,” the bartender said, “We don’t get many conservative Evangelical Bible translators in here.” To which he replied, “No, and at these prices you’re not going to get many more.”

Finally, from the movie Uncle Buck, a song that’s been stuck in my head ever since.

 

May 8, 2015

Missing the Point

Social Media version of Phil 4 8

Church History

great-commission-revisted

Rescued

 

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