Cumberland Times-News

March 10, 2012

A sense of humor makes life easier

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— This may not be a secret — but I love laughing.

As far as I am concerned, a sense of humor transforms life from something that has to be gotten through grudgingly, just because you happened to be born and have no other choice, into an opportunity for joy, if only for a moment here and there.

That’s gotta be good for your heart.

But so often, when I laugh a little about something serious, I get a dirty look.

Real humor (as opposed to the current insult-, obscenity-, self-obsessed variety on TV) has always seemed to me to be one of the greatest blessings a person can possess. It keeps you from taking yourself too seriously, which can be a very uncomfortable personality trait. Why,a true sense of the absurd might even lower your blood pressure.

And I have noticed that very often when women rate their men for their good points, “he makes me laugh” often comes in first or second. Having a true sense of humor (seeing the foolishness of a situation, not a person), can turn the world from gray to gold.

There are books of funny tombstones (”Hey, wait a minute!” or “I told you I was sick!”), humorous saints, and, at risk of displeasing humorless Christians, I will even dare to mention that more than one book has been written about Jesus’s sense of humor and joy. Often mentioned in this respect is his comment that the chances of rich people getting into heaven are about as easy as a camel going through the eye of a needle. What I think He meant was not wholesale condemnation of the rich but the sheer difficulty of ignoring all the distractions that being rich can create. ( I speak from observation.) Like many good public speakers (and many ministers who came after), He used an amusing idea to get the point across..

His comparison of Himself with the ultra-serious John the Baptist is interesting: “John came neither eating nor drinking ... the Son of Man came eating and drinking. and they say, ‘Look, a drunkard and a glutton.’ “ Jesus was neither, but there was as much prejudice in those days against religious people being light-hearted as there is these days. Especially, oddly enough, among other religious people.

I'm not the only one who thinks this! A famous minister of the 1900s, George Buttrick, once said that Jesus is “crowned in believers' hearts, among tears and confession and great laughter.” He meant, I think, that the promise of Christianity includes overwhelming, loving joy. Not just a sour preachy distaste for anyone who might not accept my idea of God.

I don’t mean to get too serious here, but surely the hope that accompanies faith just naturally points to a humorous outlook on daily life. (For Christians, surely, but also for true Jews and Muslims as well.) As in, “Well, things might not be working out well now, but all will be well in God’s time. Meanwhile, find the joy.” I never could understand uptight believers, at least in the United States. (First century Rome, not to mention current-day Afghanistan or Iraq, might be a different story.)

Lighthearted religious behavior is not unheard of in the church. For instance, when I was in seminary, at Gettysburg, the statue of Martin Luther underwent a serious transformation every Reformation Day. You woke up in the morning to find him dressed as the Pope, or a cardinal, or a beggar, or basketball player or any sort of character that promised a laugh, or even, just a teensy-tiny little sensation of shock. (Religious people can be human too, you know.)

Luther would have understood — he was a bit of a joker himself, when he wasn’t running around reforming things. And his wife Katherine was too. One night, the story goes, he had a lot of serious conversation with friends, not a joke in the lot, this time. The next morning Katherine came downstairs dressed in deep mourning. Luther looked at her with concern. “Who died?” he asked. “Why, according to what you all were saying last night,” she said, “I thought God had died.” (Hey, wives know how to get the point across, don’t they?)

As you know, my whole family was riddled with ministers, and I think we had more laughs than anyone else in town when we got together. And apparently some other religious people have a sense of humor too. I read recently that, at St. Catherine’s in Sinai, there is a tourist site that claims to be the original location of Moses’ burning bush. There right next to the current bush is — a fire extinguisher.

Just being human makes life amusing enough — the trick is being able to locate the humor. It’s not always laugh-out-loud, but it’s the human foible and the paradox that make it funny. In his book “Between Heaven and Mirth,” Father James Martin tells about an Ash Wednesday service in which, as he traced the cross on a woman’s forehead in ashes, saying “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” she said, “Watch my hair.”

And here’s a child’s version of the Old Testament story of Lot’s Wife, innocently mashed up with the story of the Exodus: “Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt during the day, and a ball of fire at night.”

Come on, now, the artless combination of knowledge and innocence is surefire every time.

Laugh a little.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News