Laughing With Church Lady
by Pastor Steve Schantz
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Gen 21:6-7 NIV)
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. (Luke 6:21 NIV)
Laughing Church Lady
Sometime in the late 80’s I discovered Cal and Rose Samra’s volumes I & II of Holy Humor, (still available for about $2 a copy at on-line sites and sponsored by the Interdenominational Fellowship of Merry Christians.) I came across these well-worn gems at a used book store in Cape Coral, Fl, one shelf down from the ragged edged Harlequin Romances, (which I passed by). Before the computer revolution and on-line resourcing they took up new residence in my Pastoral library.
The illustrations, jokes, and anecdotes shared by the Samra’s began showing up in my preaching – an anecdote during an offertory message here, some church announcement bloopers there, and a healthy dose of cajoling for our Christian insensibilities sprinkled generously everywhere. Pastors are assumed to have discriminating literary taste buds. So, like many, collecting pulpit jokes had not been a high priority item on my assigned reading list. But humor and laughter are not a supposed to kind of experience. And in similar manner but at another level, neither is truth – or God, for that matter. As Michael Jinkins observes the creator smiling at us through His freedom, “Creation is grounded in the delight of God, not in divine compulsion.” (Invitation to Theology, p. 88)
Humor and truth go hand in hand. They are a connected part of reality. There’s an honesty to laughter that leaves even the most straight laced doubled over. Children cackle uncontrollably at nothing (or everything!) until the curious parent queries, “Who tipped over your giggle box?” Laughter has an infectious life all of its own. It invades and catapults right over our sense of personal priority and our overprotective egos.
A couple years ago something happened during the ceremonial blessing of a newborn during our congregational worship that none present soon forgot. Parents, grandparents, family and friends were assembled at the front of the sanctuary poised together between the front pew and the stage. Heads were bowed in prayer, and as I leaned over the parents with outstretched hands and gently touched the newborn’s forehead, a very active two month old little girl, uhhhh, well… broke wind. The sound escaped right through her diaper and surged through my lapel microphone to the surprise of the audience. First her Dad’s shoulders began to quake. Then a snicker came from Mom. My eyes met her older brother’s as he glanced up hoping to take his cue from the pastor. Trying to regain composure through my own chuckle, sincere words were totally eclipsed by the authentic harmonic tide of laughter as the congregation responded in kind. (I had not experienced this new form of call and response in 25 years of pastoral ministry, though I’m sure others have.) I tried to finish the prayer without ignoring the truth of this precious child’s presence and impact in our midst. If we can’t laugh at ourselves with sincerity, then we’re taking ourselves way too seriously.
We carry this glorious truth about laughter with us. Something funny strikes you at an inopportune moment, and in trying to suppress your laughter you begin to snort and shake uncontrollably. When friends witness your unsuccessful struggle to regain composure, they become caught up in the spontaneous hilarity. Count the friends you have belly laughed with and you have counted some of your closest friends.
Maybe that’s why people say that the best kind of humor just happens. I give stand up comedians some credit even when I don’t appreciate all of their material. When we watch our own facade drop away through the honest drama of the comedian, laughter really becomes good for the soul – like a medicine.
When Dana Carvey invented The Church Lady (Enid Strict) for Saturday Night Live, he said the inspiration for the character came from his own experience attending church as a youth with his mother. He noticed how multiple women of the congregation were always tracking their worship attendance week to week and making comment. (“Well… Isn’t that Special?”)
I doubt that Satan laughs often, and if he does it probably resembles more of a grimace proffered at the expense of others. He has an “I told you so” and a “Gottcha” aimed right at our bruised funny bones. It’s a category of humor we can live without. No one bangs that nerve on the inside of an elbow and then laughs about it! So here is another bit of truth related to humor -when we’re laughing at someone and not with them, not everyone is laughing and it won’t be funny for long.
Not everything about life is funny, and there are many tears during our sojourn here as well. But God’s ending for us is a happy one. The life He holds out to us carries a smile and not a grimace. Steve Brown of key Life Ministry puts it like this, “Christians are the only ones who have something to laugh about!” And I’m convinced we will be laughing together for a long time.