‘Only joking . . .’

I have been thinking lately about that quality that we call ‘a sense of humour’.

For some it is thought of in terms of being a national characteristic. Something shared amongst people of a similar outlook.

A friend told me before I came to New Zealand that I would be OK here, for folk would ‘get’ my sense of humour. He went on to say that I wouldn’t go down quite so well in the USA. Indeed when I visited those shores 15 years ago or so, I was alerted to that. Things that I saw as being funny weren’t perceived so as my hosts. Sharing a meal, a place where in my life laughter has found a home, was a very different experience for me.

This isn’t to say that American’s don’t have a sense of humour!!!! [doing my level best to avoid unintentional offence!! 🙂 ]  Like most folk in the Western world, I grew up with US humour streamed into my living room via the TV. I ‘got’ ‘I love Lucy’, ‘Happy Days’, Frasier, and ‘The Simpsons’. I came to appreciate American humour because in some regards I was immersed in it over a period of many years (as you will have realised from the list of programmes (sic! 🙂 ), and learned over a long period to appreciate its particular characteristics and nuances.

Humour to ‘work’ requires relationship. It took me time to learn US humour – my long suffering congregation are gradually learning mine (not ALL humour is shared between Northern England and Southern New Zealand 🙂 ) – and my VERY long suffering family have learned to smile weakly . . .

But what is it for humour to work? It is surely when the joke is Shared – when there is sufficient commonality at how we look at life to see the humourous, for we both stand in a similar position. In other words it requires Love.

Thus the bully uses humour to hurt. As a school teacher I regularly heard the defence, ‘I was only joking, Sir’. Much stand up comedy it seems to me is laced with such a distant approach to its subject. So, recently, many laughs have been harvested in the UK over the death of Margaret Thatcher. In a sense one may well argue, that this is precisely what I have been suggesting is healthy. It was the common experience of those who lived through the years of her premiership that enabled the humour of the various comedians to work. Except of course it was still out of relationship – Mrs T wasn’t there to share in the laughter . . .

The best Comedy, and my favourite comics are those who observe the absurdities of our lives, in other words, those who teach us to laugh at ourselves 🙂

Which brings me to my point – before we learn to laugh with others, we need to know them, and above all we need to be honest with ourselves

Life giving humour comes from the place where we are able to laugh at ourselves, gently and kindly. Like all things that are truly life giving, humour requires us to be at peace with ourselves, which is perhaps the first step to living in peace with others.

This is a lesson I am still learning. The more God reveals to me of myself, the more I have to make a choice, either to despise myself, or to laugh at the absurdity of myself 🙂 If I choose the former path, I will still use humour to wound – but if the latter then I might learn a greater sensitivity to others – and thus discover more occasions where we can laugh together.

One of the interesting thing about scriptures is that laughter is almost entirely portrayed negatively. [Indeed if you put laugh into Oremus Bible browser there is a salutary lesson to be learned from the word in which the letters ‘laugh’ are most commonly found]. And yet this should not surprise us – so much of the Scriptures find people at war with one another and with God (literally or metaphorically). Which can only occasion harsh and derisive laughter.

Laughter is perhaps one of those things which more than most belongs to the End, one of those things which we need a lifetime’s schooling in that it might be life giving. We must Know each other and be utterly safe together, before we can laugh. I know that in my own experience, those with whom I laugh most freely are those whom I have known for many years, and yet it is Still a learning experience.

This experience is renewed each day as we look in the mirror, appreciate God’s humour – and the staggering fact that we are unreservedly loved.

Put another way – learning to be funny is at once uneccessary (look in the mirror 🙂 ), AND a lifelong task.

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