Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wit and Wonder, Humour and Holiness

I was recently listening to the CBC radio when an article came on about humour in faith. (Ok. Technically it was my wife who was listening to this, and she suggested that I find it in the CBC web-site, but that just didn't roll off the tongue as well when I began to type it, so I just wrote it as if it happened to me. Sorry about that.)

Now, if you haven't read Laugh Your Way to Grace, I suggest you click on this link and order it. You will find it well worth it.

As you may have figured out by now, I think that humour and religion should go hand in hand. (And if you haven't figured it out yet, for shame. Go back and read some earlier articles.) (This is one of my favorites.)

So I think it is high time that I put off my shackles and really get down to it.

Remember, a while ago I referred to a statement made by Sydney Sprague, in which he said that the Persian friends in India were so joyous, as opposed to his Puritan ancestors who approached their faith with a dour disposition. You know, this reminded me of something that I have often thought, but never quite put into words. When I was in my high school history class, my teacher tried to convince us that the Puritans were "kicked out" of Europe because of religious differences. I don't think so. I think the real reason was that they were so dour-faced that they just brought everyone else around them down, too. They weren't fun to be around, and tried to impose their misery upon others. Bleah. I can't blame people for not wanting them around (he says with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

In fact, this seems to be a symptom of anyone who is fanatical about their faith. They seem to forget to laugh. (If you fall into this category, please skip the rest of this article. I guarantee you won't find it amusing, and I would not want to risk offending you.) (Especially if you are likely to go out of your way to hurt me.) (Can't you just hear the fanatic now? "We're funny. See how funny it is when that person thrashes about?") (And no, I don't find watching someone thrash as they're hit with bullets amusing.)

It reminds me of Ruhiyyih Khanum (the humour, not the fanaticism), who said that we should take the Faith seriously, but never ourselves.

Whenever I am in danger of taking myself too seriously, someone should just hold a mirror up to my face and remind me of the hair that God gave me. That'll cure me of it right and goodly.

But don't just think that it's me and the Baha'i Faith. Oh no. I think there is humour in all the religions, if we only look. And not all of it is what I would call PG. (Final warning - If you're easily offended, please skip this one, and look at a nice site with pretty pictures of kittens or something.) (Here's a nice one for you.)

I mean, come on. Look at some of the stories in the Bible. Here we have Adam and Eve who just broke the only law that God gave them, so He was forced to kick them out of Eden. That must've just sucked for Him (well, all three of them). God must have been a little upset over all this. Can't you just see it? God creates this incredible garden and tells them to take whatever they want, except for this one little thing. And they go ahead an do it. Man, He must have been ticked. And what did He say to them? "Go forth and multiply." Doesn't that translate more literally to "F off"?

And when does that phrase come up again? In the story of Jacob. Here is Jacob, alone in the dessert, and God, out of His boundless mercy and love sends Jacob an angel. How cool is that? God has never sent me an angel (except for my wife), no matter how much I pray to Him. You've got to admit that an angel is a darn sight better than a small box of chocolates, which probably would have melted the next day anyways. And what does Jacob do? Does he say, "Wow, you shouldn't have", or "Gee thanks". No. He grabs the angel and wrestles him. Tosses him to the ground. Gets him in a head-lock or a half-Nelson. How rude is that? Yeah, I can just imagine God sitting saying, "Man, look what you did. I send you this angel and you... I mean.... An angel... Aww, jeez, go forth and multiply."

But all that's a bit far off. What about today?

There is a great letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in which he is writing someone back about a submission they sent to him. I don't know if it was a poem or a piece of music, but his reply, in part, reads, "He sincerely hopes that as the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner, they will begin to produce in art the divine spirit that animates their soul."

Really? "As the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner"? Just how bad was this poem?

Oh, and then there is 'Abdu'l-Baha in His meeting with Admiral Peary. How tactful He was, thanking him for relieving the concern of the public by discovering that there was nothing at the North Pole. You have to admit, that's pretty funny.

And then when the Master was in the West, a reporter asked Him some questions. Without hesitation, 'Abdu'l-Baha replied in English, to the man's surprise. And what does He say? Something profound about putting your mind to something and accomplishing it? The need for a singular auxiliary world language? Nope. He "uttered a number of complicated English words, such as 'hippopotamus', and then laughingly said, 'Very difficult English words I speak.'"

But really, what shines through, over and over again, in all the religions, is the love of laughter. It doesn't matter what faith I look at, when I look for humour within it, I find it. Really.

And as for coarse humour, well, let's just say that my threshold is a bit higher than some others. That's why the warnings above.

In the end, though, God seems to really want us to be happy in our lives. Safe and healthy, and thinking about the spiritual. And if we can't laugh, if we can't show our joy, then I think we're missing something.

So let me leave you with what has come to be regarded as the world's funniest joke: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"

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