Like so many people I was particularly shocked by the massacre last week at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The idea that people would be so enraged by cartoons that they would kill someone, much less go on a mass murder spree, is stunning to me.
Obviously, murder does not reflect anything about God in any religious expression. But to kill in the name of God for the purpose of stamping out free expression is particularly revolting to me. As I have reflected on the repulsive nature of the event, I thought about how many times historically creativity has been stamped out in the name of religion, under the pretext of disrespect. Now, I want to be careful and not make any comparison – there is no comparison whatsoever between people who would murder large numbers of people and people who are just Debbie Downers.
But it does seem like we have a lot of Debbie Downers in the Church, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t matter from which side of the aisle you stand. I grew up spiritually rooted in conservative evangelicalism and man, if I had a dollar for every time someone was offended by a joke or comment I made I could build a new Crystal Cathedral! I used to beat myself up for it, promising I would rein myself in next time, get control of my mouth; not be so damned offensive. I was given lots (and I mean LOTS) of verses from offended fellow Christians about my need for self-control, my need to consider the “weaker” sisters and brothers who might be hurt in their faith by something I did or said, and my need to only say those things that are edifying to the Body of Christ. I tried to be speak only encouragement, but it only lasted as long as I didn’t see the blatant, hypocrisy so present in the church. In other words, it never lasted long. Now, I want to give my evangelical friends the benefit of the doubt and say that most meant well – they didn’t mean to stifle me, only to mature me. But no matter how they tried to “encourage” me, it always felt like a straightjacket; just too stifling.
And so when my job changed and I was hanging out with a whole lot more liberals and progressives I thought, “Hey, now it’s time for me to let it all hang out!” Boy was I wrong. And I am not talking about political correctness – I don’t feel the need to make racist statements. But I have felt, at times, as shut down by liberals as I ever was by conservatives. I am told quite a bit that there are just things that cannot be joked about and that list seems to be quite long. There are some folks – change that, there are a lot of folks, I just don’t joke with. And I know you are thinking, “lucky them!”
And let’s be serious. In the end, who really cares if I make some stupid jokes or not? No one. But I bring this up now because I am concerned for a church that is always so serious, that is always so offended at sarcasm or humor. A church that cannot laugh is a church that cannot breathe and a church that cannot breathe is certainly a church that will die.
No doubt, there are indeed somber moments in life. But the key word there is “moments.” Not years, not decades, not generations. Moments. There are times to be silent, times to be in awe of God’s beauty or wonder. And there are times to cut up, times to question the stupidity and mindlessness of the traditions we are handed down, times to mock the most serious of moments and ideas, times for sarcasm to remind us that what we believe is most holy might be only the most sacred of cows. Sarcasm can expose false gods and bring about much needed perspective. We need more sarcasm, more humor in the church, not less.