spiritual fitness centres?

I have taken the plunge and joined a gym (and yes, that is a mixed metaphor as they don’t have a pool). I have done so in order to continue the rehabilitation process following my surgery earlier in the year.

fitness Series 1It’s the first time I have joined a gym and the induction was an interesting experience for a novice like me. The first thing I was asked was what I wanted to achieve. I said that I want to improve my general fitness and stamina and also rebuild some of the muscle bulk that I had lost during the past six months (the gym is aware of my cardiac surgery). So the instructor showed me a number of machines and devices that I could use in order to achieve these goals. I am not sure that some of them would not have been out of place in a medieval torture chamber, but they are all designed to work on a different set of muscles, or to improve general stamina and fitness. A couple of days afterwards I am now feeling the burn in some of the muscle groups that weren’t previously exercised too much. But I am also confident that I can achieve what I want to achieve if I am regular in my attendance and work hard when I am there.

When I was on some of the machines that work on the basis of resistance against the muscles they are designed to enhance I was shown how to adjust them by engaging different quantities of weights. As I am not a weightlifter and am looking to start slowly most of the time the instructor advised reducing the weights to a level that I think others might categorise as ‘puny’. Apparently it’s important not to start too high but to build up gradually so that the muscles get warmed up and are not stressed. I can cope with that, I think.

I also had a go on a treadmill – getting up to a decent walking pace and adjusting the angle so that I was walking uphill. I felt quite pleased with myself until I noticed that further along were some people who were running rather fast on similar machines. In comparison to them I was going at a snail’s pace. But walking fast is what I need to do to raise my heart rate without over-stressing, so I am happy with that.

I imagine that a lot of the lycra-clad gym-dwellers would not think my efforts are very impressive. I reckon that there are plenty of people who are older than me who are able to lift more weights and go faster. But that’s not the point. I have to start from where I am and aim for the goals I have set myself. Others will be fitter, faster and stronger and will other goals that are not mine. I wish them well in that but I am not in competition with them, I am on my own journey of fitness.

Reflecting on my first experience of the gym I wonder whether there are a few lessons that we need to learn in churches.

I think it’s really important to recognise that people are at different places in their journey of faith, and to consider how we might help them to grow from the point they are at now, rather than offering a one-size fits all solution. When I was getting ready to be baptised at the age of 13 I had a series of sessions with a more experienced Christian who helped me to understand more of my faith and how to follow Jesus more closely. Sadly after I was baptised that stopped and I was not mature or confident enough to ask that we continue. But can we offer that to those who want it?

And on a similar theme do all of the small groups in a church operate at the same ‘level’? My personal preference would be that all of them are exploring the same theme at the same time so that the church as a whole has this in common. But almost all of the study material I have seen always seems to be pitched at just one level. I am not talking about academic levels or even levels of spiritual comprehension, but what if people were offered the opportunity to explore the same theme in different ways that suited their preferred learning style and also that understood that people want to explore at different depths, and which enabled people to engage with the theme in ways that most suited their spiritual preferences? The material might be more complicated to create (although I would love to have a go) but I think it would be far more healthy and helpful in the church and perhaps more people might engage with the groups. And what if then there were collective opportunities for people to share together what they have experienced in their groups and encourage one another? Would that be a healthier model of church?

I’m not expecting that we introduce spiritual torture devices to achieve this – the Spanish Inquisition should remain a hideous historical event (cue “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…”). But I think we should recognise that people are at different stages in their journey of faith and that they find it easier to encounter God in different ways. So some people find meditation and contemplation really helpful while others find that they are closer to God in serving others and still others prefer energetic worship, but all can enable an encounter with God. (For more on this read Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.)

I have found my spiritual home in the Baptist church family. One of the distinctives is an emphasis that all of us can encounter God, can serve him and other people, and that he speaks through whomever he chooses to speak (so we should listen to one another). We summarise it as ‘the priesthood of all believers’. As I see it those who are in ‘leadership’ positions are there to serve the church and enable everyone to grow in the depth of their relationship with Jesus and to live out their faith in their daily lives. They are not ‘in charge’, nor are they more important than anyone else. There’s not meant to be a hierarchy, but somehow it feels as if there is, with people putting others on high spiritual pedestals (or at least on small raised areas) above them. Other church traditions have a more overt and acknowledged hierarchical approach. But we do ourselves a disservice and perhaps even undermine what God’s Spirit is doing in each of us if we start comparing ourselves with one another and playing a version of church Top Trumps. It’s a fine line between seeking to emulate those we admire and feeling like we are unworthy because we are not like them. But God doesn’t want you to be like anyone else, he wants to help you to become the best you that you can be.

I am sure that I am being idealistic here. But what’s wrong with pursuing an ideal? And if I am going a long way down this line, maybe we should stop calling ourselves churches and start to call ourselves spiritual fitness centres in order to embed these ideas?

Or maybe not.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

crouching God, hidden pain

This is a slightly edited version of my ‘thought for the week’ yesterday – sent to the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association…

11/9/2018 is a landmark day (or 9/11/2018 if you are American). (Cue trumpet fanfare, ticker-tape parade and 21 gun salute… or maybe not). That day was the last day of my cardiac rehabilitation process. While I am still not 100% back to where I was before the surgery and still have one or two further appointments, I reckon I am about 95% and today is a significant milestone along the way that demonstrates the progress that has been made since my surgery back in February. I am now back at work full time.

Immense thanks go to my amazing wife, Sally, who has been a wonderful support and encourager throughout the time. Immense thanks go to the surgical, medical and rehab teams at the Essex Cardio-Thoracic Centre in Basildon who have looked after me incredibly. And immense thanks go to you and your churches for the many prayers that have been offered on my behalf – I have been acutely conscious of them and am sure that part of my progress is attributable to them. But most of all immense thanks go to my Lord who has been with me from start to finish along the difficult journey, and of course continues to do so. And I have discovered a new way in which he is with us.

SilhouetteYou may recall that in my recent Thoughts for the Week (not published here) I have been reflecting on Psalm 40. In verse 1 David wrote: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” In my first reflection on this psalm I noted how it must have felt to David to have God give him his attention. But since then I have done some more research on the Psalm and have discovered that our English translation is somewhat inadequate, albeit literally correct. The sense in the original Hebrew language is not of God turning to face David as he was in the slimy pit so much as ‘he crouched down to me and listened to me crying’. The image is of a loving parent who sees their child in tears and gets down on the floor to be with them in their sorrow so that they know that they are not alone. There’s no suggestion of wiping away tears or words of comfort, or attempting to explain what’s going on, just a God who crouches down with us and listens to our crying. That’s an astonishing thing for David to write about God when the gods of other nations were warlike and needing to be invoked or remote and needing to be appeased. I love it, and I have experienced it.

9/11 is the anniversary of the day when terrorists hijacked passenger planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and another crashed as the passengers sought to prevent greater tragedy. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

There are many in today’s world who are victims of natural disasters, human violence and tragic circumstances. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

I am conscious that some of you and some of your church are going through deep, dark valleys at the moment. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

May we all experience and bring his reassuring presence in our life and ministry.

taking the time to thank

Thank youThis week I have been blessed by two people who have taken the time to thank me for something I said or wrote. It was unexpected and a real encouragement and blessing to be thanked – one electronically and the other by a card in the post.

I like to encourage an attitude of gratitude in myself and in others (as much as anything else I like the way it rhymes). When I am blessed by someone else in this way it not only boosts and encourages me, it also encourages me to do the same. So, I wonder, why don’t we do more of it when it is so positive?

Sometimes we may struggle to find something to thank someone for. My wife told me that in a group discussion among spouses at the Bible College where I trained they were considering what to say when your other half has ‘preached a stinker’. One suggestion was, “It was a good text!” I hope not to hear that too often! But it represents an attitude of gratitude – there is almost always something good for which we can be thankful in any circumstance.

Recently a lorry bumped the back of my car while we were in a slow moving queue of traffic on the M25. It has only caused minor damage to my bumper but it has caused major hassle with insurers as the lorry is from overseas. So, where’s the good for which I can be thankful?

Well, one is that nobody was injured. Another is that the driver spoke excellent English and knew which documents I would need to see. Another is that the traffic around us was moving so slowly that we were able to pull across onto the hard shoulder safely from the middle lane (and get back into the ‘flow’ of traffic after exchanging details). Another is that my car is still very much driveable. Another is that we were able to get moving again and get off the M25 before it was brought to a complete standstill.

Perhaps it’s a silly example, but I think it illustrates what an attitude of gratitude looks like. And I am trying to carry that through in all of my frustrating conversations with insurance people by making sure that I thank them for doing their job (even when it is frustrating that they can’t do what I want). So I am trying to put what I am calling the 5T principle into practice – taking the time to thank.

Another reason why we may not thank people is that it does take a bit of extra thought and effort. 5T includes ‘taking the time’ and that’s not always easy to do when we are busy people. But perhaps because it is not easy to do the effort is even more appreciated and worth it. Someone took the time to send me a message to thank me for something I wrote. Another person took the time to get a card, write it, address it, put a stamp on it and then post it! In addition to the words, the act itself speaks volumes and it has encouraged me to take the time to thank.

And as a follower of Jesus I also want to remember to put the 5T principle into practice in my relationship with God. I have so much to be grateful to him for that I won’t run out of ideas!

Because I am trying to put the 5T principle into practice – taking the time to thank – thank you for reading this bloggage.

Be blessed, be a blessing

dancin’ like Mrs May

woman in peach color and red floral sweatshirt holding gray jacket
Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

These week TV news programmes showed us the British Prime Minister Theresa May on a trade visit to some African countries. And we were shown two separate occasions when she attempted to dance as she was welcomed in the traditional way with singing and dancing.

At first I cringed. The dancing was on a par with my ‘Dad dancing’, for which I get mocked at weddings, and the whole world was watching! Social media has subsequently enjoyed the opportunities to mock and ridicule with lots of different memes emerging.

But this morning I paused as I watched a video of Mrs May with superimposed bandy elastic legs and I decided that not only was I being unfair to her, but I was also missing the point completely. I don’t agree with much of what Mrs May is doing politically, and she is being hamstrung by a party that is riven by those with their own leadership ambitions, others who believe she is too liberal and others who believe she is too right wing. It’s not an easy job.

But here, knowing that in all likelihood she would be ridiculed for it, Mrs May took the courageous step to respond to her hosts and to dance as part of the welcome she received. Well done Mrs May. It would have been easy to stand still and applaud politely in true British fashion but she entered into the spirit of things and in doing so made a strong statement that she was willing to risk her reputation in order to honour her hosts. Good on her.

I also wonder how many of those who are now mocking Mrs May would have had the courage to do what she did? I am not sure I would. And how many of these people have somewhere got a poster, a sticker or a picture saying, “Dance like no-one is watching”? How do we dance when someone is?

Be blessed, be a blessing

playground politics

Picture of Childrens Playground - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

A long time ago I upset our local MP by posting a bloggage that revealed how he had voted against a motion that highlighted the issue of the growth in demand for foodbanks. You can see it here if you want, and it led to a lengthy correspondence with him (he was still unhappy at the end of it). But it was an unusual occurrence because although I consider myself to be a political person and have strong opinions about many issues, I don’t tend to post them here. But it may be time to upset some more politicians…

And it’s because of playground politics.

I would like to think that those who enter politics do so in order to serve the country. I would like to think that those who enter politics do so particularly to care for those who are weakest and most vulnerable in our society. I would like to think that those who seek office do so in order to make a positive difference. And I am sure that if you asked any politician whether this is the case they would respond positively (or if not they would evade the question by answering a different one they would rather have been asked).

But increasingly to me it appears as if many politicians are acting in the interests of their party rather than the interests of the country, and some are even acting in the interests of their own political ambitions above even the interests of their party! How can that serve the interests of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised?

There are all sorts of allegations being made about lies and broken promises by each of our political parties and by the different sides of the EU referendum but the level of disingenuous rhetoric that I perceive is greater today than at any other time. One of the most obvious examples is the £350million for the NHS promised on the side of the notorious bus was an outright lie and nobody now is making that promise. It really bothers me that some of the leading Brexit politicians in this country are busy squirreling their wealth overseas while telling us that there’s nothing to worry about.

But what really bothers me is when politicians (in the UK and USA) label opposing views with a blanket phrase that allegedly discounts them immediately without engaging in the issues being raised. So in this country any criticism of the Brexit plans (or lack thereof) is labelled ‘Project Fear’ and by doing so the criticisms can be ignored in one fell swoop. In the USA criticisms are labelled ‘Fake News’ in the same way. And people believe this because they trust the politicians. If we let our politicians get away with this we may not be surprised if we eventually find that they have removed any sense of personal or corporate accountability for their actions.

It feels like the playground when a child’s taunt would receive responses like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue: whatever you say you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Or the annoying constant retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

So what can we do?

Write to your MP when there’s an issue that concerns you. You can send them an email through https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/ They are obliged to write back. And if the answer is unsatisfactory, write again. You can use the same process to write directly to the Prime Minister or any other politician (email addresses are firstname.surname.mp@parliament.uk).

Join campaigning groups.

Join with others who want to make a difference to their community in groups such as Citizens UK

Join with your local church who will (hopefully) be working to make a positive difference to some of those on the margins of our society.

And just maybe we can leave the playground and return to the nobler purpose of politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

no joking matter

not speakHaving recently posted my degree dissertation on ‘A Theology of Humour’ it feels appropriate to be making an observation on the recent comments by Boris Johnson about women wearing Burqas. I am not going to give Mr Johnson’s comments any publicity by repeating them save to say that I consider them to be reprehensible and offensive, especially when written by someone with his public profile.

Had the hideous comments been made by someone in a far right organisation there might have been a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. If you doubt that this is the case I was deeply distressed to read a report last week of how some yobs had been abusing and harassing a lady wearing a burqa in such a way that it was clearly ‘inspired’ by Mr Johnson’s comments.

It has been suggested that Mr Johnson should not be censured for his comments because they were “a joke”. Even if that was so it was in extremely poor taste. But a joke can still be offensive and can still incite others to copy them because the words, once released, carry a life and notoriety all of their own and any humorous intent can swiftly be lost.

And it’s this ‘joke’ concept that has niggled away at me – perhaps because I have recently revisited my dissertation. It seems to me that there is a very fine line between laughing at someone or something we hold affectionately – like laughing when one of our friends says something unintentionally funny – and ridiculing someone we do not respect – which feels like the tone of Mr Johnson’s comments, particularly given his (apparent) unwillingness to apologise for them.

I think there may be some sort of comedic continuum here with concepts like: ‘parody, lampooning, caricaturing, send-up, spoof, and satire’ at one end and ‘mockery, scorn, ridicule, derision, contempt, disdain, sarcasm, jeering’ at the other. The problem is that it is very difficult to know where satire becomes ridicule, or lampooning becomes jeering. And I think the answer is revealed as much by the outcome as the words themselves and the intent of the author, and perhaps as much by the (lack of) affection or respect we have for the subject.

Words, once spoken or written and released publicly, are not harmless. I can remember reciting the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” as I was being verbally bullied at school. It was intended as a defence mechanism because I was unwilling to become physically violent in response. But deep down I knew that those words did hurt. It was not only the words themselves that hurt, but I knew that there was disrespect and hatred behind them.

If we let a domesticated, well-trained dog off the lead in the countryside and it harasses or savages a flock of sheep we have to take responsibility for that and I believe we also have to take responsibility for what we say even if the words have taken on a significance and meaning we did not intend. That is true not only for Mr Johnson, but for all of us. In the letter written in the Bible by James (possibly Jesus’ brother) we read in chapter 3 verses 3-12:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus was even more direct (Matthew 12):

33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

Gulp.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A Theology of Humour (part 3)

laughing ladyThis is the third (and in my view the weakest) part of the dissertation. Having established what humour and a sense of it is; and (I hope) that God has a sense of humour and is the source of humour; this section attempts to apply some of that to life in church…

A Theology of Humour – The Punch-Line

“If you’re not allowed to laugh in Heaven, I don’t want to go there.”

We have seen from the Bible that God is a God of humour.   We will attempt to draw certain conclusions from this humour concerning God, our relationship with him, and our relationships with One another within the Church.

God is the source of laughter

This suggests that the ability to perceive humour is part of mankind’s innate being.  If God is the source of laughter, he is the one who gave it to humanity as part of the gift of creation.  On particular occasions his activity leads to the laughter of individuals.  We have concluded that God does have a sense of humour.  If humans are made ‘in his image’, and we too have a sense of humour, it does not take much thought to see where that sense of humour comes from.  If this is so, then we can surmise that before the Fall mankind’s humour was devoid of the destructive elements that it has today.

We have all experienced painful jibes in the guise of humour on various occasions.  Mockery in the hands of men and women can be a weapon that cuts deeper than any blade.   In the hands of God, however, it is not tainted with the desire to hurt or abuse.  It is part of what amuses God to see the efforts of his enemies to frustrate him and his plans.  We must be careful not to attempt to use mockery  in the manner that God uses it, for to do so is to elevate  one’s status above others, contrary to the ‘first shall be  last’ principle that Jesus taught his disciples.

God’s humour teaches and rebukes.

God’s sense of humour educates those who experience it.   The educational experience is not a painful ‘telling off’ but a warm-hearted pointer in the right direction.  It would appear that this is a much more beneficial and positive use of humour than mockery.

God does rebuke us, of that there can be no doubt.  The messages delivered through the prophets were often condemnatory.  But God sometimes seems to use humour to help his people understand him.  At this point we refer back to Jonathan Miller’s sabbatical from reality.  Humour allows us to look at ourselves in a manner that is less painful than being told ‘straight’, but is nonetheless searching.  Jesus used humour in this fashion, and one feels that in the hands of God, humour is a loving form of rebuke.  Thomas Carlyle wrote, “True humour springs not more from the head than from the heart; it is not contempt, its essence is love.”  In the hands of man, it has the potential to have the same effect, but also the potential to be destructive and heartless.  The former use of humour is to be encouraged, particularly in sermons and Christian ‘educational’ material, as a means of communicating truth.  The latter use of humour should be vigorously discouraged, and attempts should be made by all in leadership to eschew the use of humour that harms.

An example might be to mock or mimic someone in the congregation from the pulpit to make a point in the sermon, or worse still to get a cheap laugh.  Such a use of humour not only degrades and humiliates the person, but demonstrates a marked lack of sensitivity and compassion on the part of the preacher who is apparently delivering the ‘Word of God’.  At such times one suspects God is leaving him to it.  The problem is that non-Christians see ministers and vicars in particular as representatives of God and may be offended and put off seeking him.   Furthermore, if the congregation senses an opportunity to entertain others, they may pick up on the ridicule of the individual concerned, or feel that since the preacher did it, it must be all right…

On this subject, Karl Barth wrote the following words.   “As ministers we ought to speak of God.  We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God.  We ought therefore to recognise both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory.  This is our perplexity.  The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”  Barth in his theological reflections has unearthed the incongruity of preaching, and whilst one does not wish to write much on homiletics, it is worth bearing this incongruity in mind if one intends to preach: the incongruity being the lofty ambition of speaking of God and the inadequacy of our ability to fulfil that ambition unaided.  All that preachers can do is seek God’s assistance, and seek to remove any potential for offence that they might give – the offence of the gospel is surely more than sufficient for the average person!

The playful God

This is one of the most important things we have discerned in the writing of this paper.  God has a sense of fun, of play.  In the later chapters of Job, God seems to be enjoying his Creation for its own sake.  The image of a boring old man in a white robe is dispelled in the face of this revelation; the sorrowful, sombre Christ is seen as inaccurate; the God of wrath and judgement is seen with a pleasant smile on his face.  It would be quite wrong, however, to throw away all these images of God.  He is a God who judges, he is angry at sin and its effects; Jesus was at times sorrowful and sombre, not least during the Passion.  What is needed, and what one hopes has been achieved, is a more balanced picture of a God who is sad when people reject his love, who mourned the death of his Son, yet enjoys the company of mankind, whom he created for that purpose, and has a sense of humour and fun that he is not afraid to enjoy and share with them.

Some may fear that this portrayal of God diminishes his greatness, or is even blasphemous.  This is not so.   Surely a God who is not afraid to enjoy himself is greater than a god who must always remain austere for fear that some might not take him seriously.  God is sufficiently great that he need not fear the opinions of men – that will not diminish his greatness – and he has made us sufficiently in his image that when we see the humorous side of his nature, we are attracted to him.  As William Ingo once said, “I have never understood why it is considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he has a sense of humour.”

The Church and God’s humour

We began this paper by suggesting that the presence or absence of the humour of God has implications for his Church.  Now that we have established the presence of his humour, we need to explore the implications further.

We have already mentioned the inappropriate the use of humour in preaching, above, and we must not lose sight of that.  At the same time, we must not be so serious in preaching that we put off even the most lugubrious of people.  Humour is a useful tool for communication of truth: Jesus demonstrated that brilliantly.  It is also a useful tool for exegesis, when used to illustrate truth and challenge with it, rather than using it to explain away the challenge.

Humour should invade the serious and weighty aspects of the Church, bringing a little levity and light.  Of course there are times when humour is probably inappropriate, as it was in the passion of Christ (for example during the celebration of Communion, or Eucharist) but there are equally times when a sombre attitude would be inappropriate (for example during celebrations of the resurrection).  In the same way as our perception of God needs balance, so does our worship of him.  What is being advocated here is not a descent into mirthful disorder, but a recognition of the place of humour in worship.  It is perhaps not surprising that many of the growing churches in this country are those that use contemporary forms of worship, and are generally described as ‘lively’.   Their sense of joy is infectious to those who attend (although they are as prone to falling prey to excesses as the rest of the Church), and one wonders whether they might not be presenting the humorous side of God to the world, albeit unwittingly.

If the Church is truly to be the body of Christ, his representatives on earth, we need to reflect him in our life-styles.  Again one wishes to emphasise that this is not a call to flippancy, but a call to recognise the importance and significance of humour.  It is an anathema to find a Christian who never smiles, and who is never amused, who is never joyful, who has no sense of humour, for that is to deny the presence of the living, laughing, humour-loving God in the person of the Holy Spirit in the life of that Christian.  At the same time, the  ‘happy-clappy’ Christian who never admits to having any  problems denies the serious side of that same presence: to  deliberately misquote Bill Shankly’s cliché about  football: Christianity is not a matter of life and death,  it’s more important than that.

Reinhold Neibuhr suggests that humour has an even more important role than we have previously suggested.  “Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.”  Niebuhr’s argument behind this startling statement is that faith, like humour, deals in incongruities.  The existence of humour and laughter at it is the starting point on the journey to discovering the greatest incongruity of them all – that God should love those who rejected him, and that he would be prepared to die for them.  If this is correct, the omission of humour from much of the Church’s activities over the last 2,000 years is all the more lamentable.  Not only is humour the prelude to faith, it is a gift for teaching and evangelism, and the absence of it in our faith has the opposite effect.

What this paper has endeavoured to show is that the Church  has missed much of the humour of God for the best part of  twenty centuries, and in so doing it has misinterpreted  and misapplied much Biblical truth and has portrayed an  inaccurate, boring, overly-serious image of that God to  the non-Christian world.  Murray Watts in the introduction to his collection of sketches, ‘Laughter in Heaven’, sums this up perfectly.

“There is no place for a church which never resounds with the laughter of faith.  Such a church commits a crime against humanity: it has become boring.  There are many serious obstacles to spreading the gospel, but this is one of the worst.  It is no good blaming the world for being blind to the truth, when we are blind to it ourselves.  If we are not free, how can we liberate others?  If we are not faithful to the uniqueness of the Resurrection experience, to the delight and heavenly joy which is ours for eternity, if we are dull, we shortchange our fellow men. …   The laughter born on that Easter morning is a gift  from heaven, which draws us closer to that day,  when ‘God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and  death shall be no more, neither shall there be  mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the  former things have passed away.'”

Amen.

Bibliography

The books listed appear in the order in which they were quoted in this paper, followed by those which were read but not directly quoted.

Castle (ed.) The Hodder Book of Christian Quotations (Hodder, London, 1982)

Metcalfe (ed.) The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (Penguin, London, 1986)

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (W.R. Chambers, Edinburgh, 1985)

Oxford English Dictionary H-K (Oxford University Press, London, 1933, Reprint 1970)

Koestler The Act of Creation (Hutchinson, London, 1964)

Drakeford Humor in Preaching (Zondervan, Michigan, 1986)

Durrant & J. Miller (eds.) Laughing Matters – A serious look at humour (Longman, Harlow, 1988)

The Holy Bible, New International Version (Zondervan, New York, 1978)

W.G. Morrice Joy in the New Testament (Paternoster, Exeter, 1984)

Muir (ed.) The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (O.U.P., Oxford, 1990)

Good News Bible (Bible Society, London, 1976)

Trueblood The Humor of Christ (Harper Collins, New York, 1964)

Wilcock The Saviour of the World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel (IVP, Leicester, 1979)

Morris The Gospel According to Luke (IVP, London, 1974)

Garrett My Brother Esau is an Hairy Man (Scottish Journal of Theology, (33), pp. 239-256)

Niebuhr Discerning the Signs of the Times (Scribner’s, New York, 1946)

Watts Laughter in Heaven (Minstrel, Eastbourne, 1985)

 

The Way, Vol. 31, no. 3 (July 1991)

Theology Today, Vol. XLVIII, no. 4 (January 1992)

Y.T. Radday & A. Brenner (eds.) On Humour and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible (Almoud Press, Sheffield, 1990)

M. Good Irony in the Old Testament (Almoud Press, Sheffield, 1965)