This afternoon, after church, my Paul (that’s my husband, for those of you who haven’t been around a Jenn blog before) and I went for a drive in the windy sunshine. We were talking, as we tend to do, about a strange mixture of topics both serious and frivolous, and at one point I started thinking of a song we had sung in the church service that morning.
I like almost all the songs we sing at our church, but I have a long-standing objection to this one in any context. You might think said objection would be theological, or at least stylistic, but it isn’t either. “The thing about it is,” I said to my Paul, “that it doesn’t matter who sings it–it always ends up sounding like everybody’s saying, ‘How grey is our Gah.'”
“It drives me crazy,” I went on. “So then I spend the whole song–which can also often be very repetitive–trying to over-enunciate ‘greaT’ and ‘GoD,’ and then I realize that I’m not worshiping at all, but I just can’t because it’s so annoying.”
“So,” he said, deadpan, “Articulation is your golden calf.”
There was a pause. Then he said, “Moses comes down from the mountain, with his two stone tablets, and there’s Jenn, going ‘t-t-t-t-t! d-d-d-d-d!'” We both burst into laughter, and then at intervals over the next probably fifteen minutes, I continued to giggle.
Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to find this as funny as we did. We spend most of our down time cracking each other up, but I understand that in most cases, “you had to be there,” and in most of those, I’m not sure even being there would help. I’m telling you all this because a question arose afterward.
We started talking about whether we would feel free to engage in this kind of humour if Jesus were visibly and physically present in the car with us (we were pretty sure we would). But we also acknowledged that there might be something not quite right about it that we just aren’t aware of in our not-yet-fully transformed or sanctified state.
Then I started thinking about humour itself–and started wondering if what makes something humorous in the first place is that something is “not quite right.” CS Lewis (among others, probably) talks notably in the Screwtape Letters about various kinds of humour, some of which is free and good-hearted and some of which is mean spirited, and I think there’s validity to that observation. Also it’s a pretty well-worn cliche–which, like many cliches, I may resent for being a cliche, but also basically agree with–that God has a sense of humour. But it seems to me that what makes things funny is the element in the joke or the circumstance of something being “off.”
If you read the story about the golden calf in the Bible, you can see that God did not find that episode very funny. I guess He probably doesn’t find my idolatries all that funny either. But I sense that He does have a pretty highly attuned sense of irony, if for no other reason than that He so deeply loves such easily distracted and inconsistent creatures, and I feel like if He were riding in the car in the physical person of Jesus, He would have found our joke funny for the very reason that it gently and humorously pointed out both the frequent ridiculousness of human nature in general, and my own foibles and idols in particular.
So then what I started wondering was this: if humanity had never become enticed away from God by other created beings and objects and even ideas–if nothing had ever become out of joint, or “off,” would humour be human? Would it even be a quality we possessed, let alone could get our brains around?
I’m asking. What do you think? And can you think of anything funny that doesn’t reflect something “off”–a disconnect, or an absurdity, or an unmet expectation–in the human experience?