“…a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” – [Proverbs 17:22]
“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” – Yiddish proverb.
Humour. Where did it go? In politics, day-to-day life, religion; it seems being funny has vanished like the magician’s assistant in the mirrored box.
While many would argue there is little to laugh about in the modern world, perhaps it is in the most difficult times that we need humour the most.
Laughter is promoted by health professionals as important for well-being. It triggers the release of endorphins which are the body’s feel-good chemicals. A study conducted by Dr Robin Dunbar in 2011 suggested that “laughter, through an endorphin-mediated opiate effect, may play a crucial role in social bonding”.
A man with perhaps the most serious job in the world is US President Barack Obama. Whatever your opinion of his time in office, one of the great gifts the POTUS resurrected was humour. He injected public commentary with a refreshing set of one-liners – some ad-lib and others presented with rehearsed and relaxed comedic professionalism.
We witnessed his use of humour in 2011 when Donald Trump suggested the president was not a US citizen. Forced to publish his birth information, Obama observed that “… no-one is happier to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald and that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
So how does humour work in religion? Often not that well. Take the official reaction to Westminster Abbey verger’s cartwheel of joy following the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Realising the wedding went off without a hitch, verger Ben Sheward showed a burst of spontaneous happiness after guests departed.
“We are just trying to keep a lid on this one,” read an official statement from the Abbey. “The verger has been spoken to a number of times and has been advised how to handle the situation.”
The Abbey also voiced its disapproval to broadcaster ITV for airing the clip, stating ITV had breached an understanding that the cameras would be switched off at the end of the service.
It looked like the joy of working in a church had been crushed in the name of propriety.
We were thrilled with the response last week to a light-hearted online article discussing the Pokemon GO craze taking over the world. Although one of the first comments we received was critical of the Church for being frivolous – “…And just when you thought the @ucavictas might be above this fatuous idiocy – you were wrong” – hundreds of readers joined in the spirit of the article. Comments such as “this is why I love my church”, “Pokemon GO players are welcome here!”, “Inclusivity at its finest!” and “…you have just made my day! This is hilarious!!!!” illustrate the sense of community to be found in humour.
Many readers were excited by the opportunities the game presented to engage with a community united in having frivolous fun.
As churches face the challenges of remaining relevant in today’s society, is it possible they risk getting so tied up in bureaucratic correctness that they forget to have fun? As worshippers see their traditional forms of worship change, there is a chance that they focus more on bricks and mortar than the laughing friendships of those they break bread and wine with.
When circumstances force churches to make unpopular decisions, the choice is to remain grieving for a past gone or to seek to smile about the challenge of building a new future. Annie Broadbent, author of We Need To Talk About Grief, wrote that “the joke acts as a signal to the non-bereaved that the person is still there, doing the best they can in dealing with their loss”.
What do you think? Should we, as one commenter on twitter said, have fun “Only if you don’t have anything more relevant to do with your time…you know, like the Gospel, the poor, the Kingdom” or should we join in the fun and take the advice of comedian Doug Stanhope and “laugh everywhere you can find even the slightest glimmer of humour”?
Image by Rachael Ramos via Flickr.