Boundaries in Humor

laugh (1 of 1).jpg

First, I’ve got to lay this foundation: If we believe that God is in fact the divine Creator, then we are accepting that we, his creation, bear some aspect of his character. You cannot separate the creation from the Creator. Think of it like this: As with any author, the characters they write into their work reflect them to some degree; they can’t not, as it is virtually impossible to disassociate the creation from the creator. So, if we believe that God is in fact the divine Creator, we accept that we bear his character as well.

So with that said, what on earth are we supposed to make of all the junk we see everywhere? For every one DECENT thing we encounter we basically crawl over ten terrible things to get to it. This is not meant to sound cynical, just taking some realistic inventory on the condition of humanity at large. If we all reflect the character of God in some capacity, what do we make of all the evil we see around us? God’s not evil, right? Did we miss something? If not, then what’s the deal with all the mess? As Jen Hatmaker says, #FIXITJESUS!

Don’t worry, I am not foolish enough to try to tackle that one. I am, however, um, feeling courageous enough to eek into the matter as it relates to stewardship. I would argue that most traits, at their most basal level, could be used either for good or for harm. Passion, for instance, has accomplished both great good and great harm. Leadership, strength, pride, the list goes on, have all been used, and in theory, could all be used, for great good or great harm. It depends then not on the trait itself, but rather how it is stewarded by the person who possesses it.

Novels could be written about how this or that trait has been stewarded well or poorly throughout the centuries. I’m not getting into all that. I’m just sharing an article I wrote for Darling Magazine about stewarding humor. I find God to be very funny throughout the Bible. This belief is continually affirmed as I get to know his children who are free to be funny. However, as with anything, there are boundaries in humor. It too, can be used for great good or great harm. So the question becomes, how do we, as believers, steward humor well in a way that brings God glory and brings others joy?

Here is the article from Darling Magazine’s blog:

There are few things more satisfying than a good belly laugh. I’m talking about the deep sort of laugh that takes over your entire body. The type that forces your head to fall back, tears to stream from your eyes, while stealing your breath and rendering you incoherent; the type of laugh that physically hurts, and leaves you aching afterward. As painful as it sounds, there are few things more satisfying.

The only thing that I’ve found to be more delightful than one such laugh is being the one who brings about this type of laugh. I discovered this pleasure as a child and have since seized every opportunity to get a laugh from everyone within earshot. But as with any endeavor we take on in childhood, I had a lot to learn about the boundaries in humor.

One memorable learning opportunity came about at the baseball fields when I was 12. I had two girlfriends with me who had tagged along to watch my brother’s game since several of our friends played on his team. One friend in particular was named Chase, and if my tween diary entry is correct, this Chase had broken up with my friend shortly before. Naturally, she was devastated.

So in a lighthearted attempt to cheer her up, I casually drifted out the phrase, “Chase, Chase monkey face.” It more than accomplished my goal. In between bursts of laugher, my friends reiterated how fitting the nickname was since Chase had not quite grown into his ears. And so we giggled our way from the concession stand back to the bleachers where my mother asked, with a smile, what was so funny. My friends shared with her my genius nickname, and I felt buzzed with accomplishment. This feeling vanished when I saw my mother’s smile disappear and she said she wanted to talk to me privately.

Behind the bleachers I defended myself, saying that it was just a joke and that she was overreacting (in the eloquent tongues of a 12-year-old, mind you). She informed me that some things were worth an overreaction and this was one of them, because being mean is never funny.

We were so taken with ourselves that we failed to consider how Chase might feel about our joke. Beneath the surface, my harmless fun was at his expense. While we felt the pleasant pain that comes with a belly laugh, he would feel the pain that comes from being mocked. We would both hurt afterward, but in very different ways and for very different reasons. Being mean is never funny.

Those words continue to haunt me. And while I want to agree with them in full, I find myself second-guessing more often than accepting them. “Mean” is such a strong word, after all. Making fun, on the other hand, is just that, fun! And what’s the harm in a little fun, anyway?

When we take inventory of what our culture finds humorous, it seems that the majority of our laughs come at someone else’s expense. We live in an exploitative culture of humor. It preys on people’s mistakes and spotlights the socially taboo. We watch these on replay, make memes and graphic tees about them, and even morph them into auto-tuned songs. We chuckle under our breath at innuendos and curt jokes. We cackle at misspelled words on Twitter and howl at the interesting characters we see at Wal-Mart. We snap pictures of unsuspecting strangers and invite our friends to laugh with us. In essence, we have made sport of objectifying people for humor.

And I’m both a participant and a consumer in this sport. I laugh until it hurts without giving much thought of who or how it might be hurting.

We have been conditioned to laugh not with, but at others. And when we aren’t objectifying others, we’re objectifying ourselves. In attempt to be kinder, I’ve overcompensated by making fun of myself, concluding that it’s fine if I’m the butt of my own jokes. But self-deprecation is no better at all, because making a joke at our own expense invites others to do the same, reinforcing that self-degradation is funny.

So where does this leave us? Are we forced to choose between being funny and being kind? Of course not! But we must ask ourselves how can we advocate for refining humor, so we don’t continue falling into the ditches of objectifying others and self-deprecation for humor’s sake.

It’s challenging. Let’s start by laughing with people, not at people– inviting others to laugh deeply about situations and circumstances, and things that are silly, witty, adorable and clever. Let’s reject the humor that is cheap and cliché, crass and mean. Instead, let’s refine humor by being creative, kind, and hilarious. It is a challenge, but a challenge worth accepting.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s