Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Armor Of Humor: A Sunday Rumination

     To those who’ve wondered why these have been infrequent in recent months: I only do them as the Spirit moves me. That hasn’t happened often lately. It happened this morning, immediately after Mass.

     I was walking out toward my car when I heard a woman nearby comment on our new parish parking lot. The pavers did a beautiful job, really. The previous one was wavy and heavily cracked. Partly that was because of a lack of supervision. So this time, Father Charlie got a couple of retired civil engineers to oversee the job – and friends, there is nothing more demanding, more minutely specific, more utterly uncivil than a retired Catholic civil engineer. So it came out right.

     (No, I didn’t query the paving company about whether they enjoyed the experience. They got paid a fortune; that should make up for the agita those engineers cost them.)

     Anyway, my fellow parishioner noted how provision had been made for several “planters:” the little boxes of soil around a tree or a couple of bushes that are often used to break up the starkness of a parking lot. She commented that she’d have liked to see more of them.

     My fey side overcame me at that point, Gentle Reader. “You never know where that sort of thing will lead,” I said. “First a few more planters here, then a dais or an outdoor pulpit there, and pretty soon you’ve got kiosks selling T-shirts, expired cosmetics, and stuff ‘As Seen On TV.’”

     Apparently my voice carries better than I knew. I got several hundred parishioners laughing with that wisecrack. But none of them appeared offended, thank God.

     And there might be a lesson in there, too.

     Clerics were once more solemn than not, publicly at least. We’re all familiar with the caricature of the fire-and-brimstone preacher who’s constantly carrying on about the dangers of temptations, Satan’s wiles, and the need to be unsparingly disciplined about yourself. Those are important messages, doubt it not...but they’re not the only messages a good cleric, or a good lay preacher, should deliver.

     Father Charlie gave us an example just this morning in his homily. I’m transcribing from memory – it’s considered a gaffe to take actual notes during Mass – but this is my best recall:

     President Theodore Roosevelt once told a story that went like this: Two men were engaged in a political discussion. The first, when asked why he was a Republican, replied, “Because my father and grandfather were Republicans.” The second said, “That’s a silly reason. Suppose your father were a horse thief and your grandfather a bank robber. What would you be then?” The first pondered briefly and said, “Then I guess I’d be a Democrat.”

     The congregation laughed heartily. Father Charlie added a coda: “Of course, I’ll reverse the parties for the nine o’clock Mass. Always your non-partisan pastor!” That got even more laughs...though I must hope the sentiments of the congregation are more in line with the 7:30 version.

     Father Charlie is considered one of Long Island’s best pastors because of his light touch. He’s always in a good humor. I imagine he would be severe with someone who’d just confessed to murder...or horse thievery. But when he preaches, he’s a living example of something C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters:

     The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before. [From The Screwtape Letters]

     And again:

     He's a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are "pleasures for evermore". Ugh! I don't think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He's vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working, Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side. [From The Screwtape Letters]

     When G. K. Chesterton praised Christianity for its liberality, he amazed many of his readers...because so many clerics of his time and place were humorless scolds! Those clerics were doing the faith the very worst hurt anyone could do it, albeit (probably) unknowingly and unwillingly. The great majority of men are not suited to asceticism, and God would not have it of them. Some are equipped for it – perhaps they even need it – and enter the priesthood. The rest of us live lives designed by God for Man.

     To the extent that it’s possible to do so without compromising on the absolutes of the Nicene Creed and the Commandments, it’s best that Christians of all denominations maintain an attitude of good humor, both toward others and for their own sakes, about Christianity itself. Yes, we believe things we cannot prove. They can’t be disproved, either; that’s the nature of a sound religious proposition. But we can maintain our faith without becoming grim, relentlessly disapproving, and generally unpleasant to be around.

     In this regard, consider the Militant Atheist of the field. He may “toil;” he probably doesn’t “spin;” but Great God Almighty, is he a revolving son of a bitch! He grants those who differ with him absolutely no peace. He insists that you’re stupid for holding to a belief in God. He strains with all his might and main to convert you...and should he fail, he slathers you with an extra helping of contempt. Who wants to be around someone like that? Even other Militant Atheists probably find him trying company.

     I should avoid beating this into the ground. Let’s end on a high and funny note, from the great Tom Lehrer:

     May God bless and keep you all!


Anonymous said...

Fran -

Excellent! Well-said!

An aside, and perhaps food for thought on a future piece . . .

WAPO ran a smear piece on Ben Carson bout his "faded legacy" - because he dared criticize the Bammster. It was hilarious to read the author's list of Carson's comments, and then make light of them all to defend Obama.

Pax - jb

Anonymous said...

Once again I agree on the similarity between the faith of the believer and the faith of the atheist. But unless the atheist desires to work against the good represented by Judeo-Christian moral values, best to keep arguments on a friendly, theoretical basis.

Speaking practically, an atheist should never use the argument "prove it" on a believer, because all the believer has to say to the atheist is "YOU prove it". Touché! If the atheist is smart and honest, they will be forced to change their status to "agnostic with atheist tendencies". If they can't or won't do this, then you know you're dealing with someone who either isn't smart, isn't honest, or both.