…there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes. -Lewis
Have you ever been in a friendly conversation that unexpectedly turns personal? How do you interact when a trusted friend is “in your kitchen,” so to speak? Do you become suddenly grave and tearful or do you become suddenly light and comedic? When you suddenly see your own weakness in the community of Christ, do you become serious or funny?
I can only speak for myself and say that I become funny- well, to be precise, I make jokes, which may or may not mean that my jokes are at any time something to write home about. For years I have done this without thinking twice. This is usually how it plays out:
Setting: Driving in car with a friend.
Friend: Boy, did you see that guy who just cut us off? That was a close one.
Casey: Yeah, what a jerk, right? And he’s wearing a scarf, driving a smart car to boot! What a joker!
Friend: Well, that was sure close, I’m glad you looked up from the iPod just in time to avert that catastrophe. I mean, I feel ready to die and all, but still…
Aside: Ok, in this highly (fictional) scenario, this would be a great opportunity for me to own my fault, apologize to my friend for endangering our lives to change the playlist and thank the Lord for letting us see another lane change.
Casey: Well, maybe if I was driving a smart car, it would know to change from my Yanni playlist to the whale sounds while I concentrate on adjusting my beret.
Humor is a funny thing. When we use it to evade responsibility it all of a sudden becomes grotesque. This kind of humor arises from a defensive heart. It is the type of humor that arises not from joy, happiness and wonder but from fear, insecurity and self-love. Far from embracing my place in the story God is carving out, this is a defense mechanism that clutches the last bits of pride I have been hoarding this whole time.
Do you remember the old Smokey Robinson song The Tears of a Clown?
Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurtin’ so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
In the third verse to the song, Smokey references the story of the sad clown Pagliacci. Do you know that the story of Pagliacci begins with a plea to consider the souls of the actors instead of the costumes? The story is about the clash between art, comedy and real life. There is sadness and, at the end, tragedy behind the story of the clown. Today’s clown is no different. It is no new observation to say that our best comedians have very little experience with happiness, contentment and joy.
And so we return to C.S. Lewis and the story of Narnia. At the end of The Last Battle, the children finally see the new Narnia- a land so beautiful and real that, up to then, they had not even begun to dream. When they encounter this new world, they immediately realize that they joy, wonder, happiness, fulfillment, completion and wholeness is of a different sort.
You see, we use jokes as a distraction from the reality around us. After a hard day’s work I love to sit and watch a couple episodes of Seinfeld or The Office and I feel a release from the pressures of my day. I feel happy. I feel joyful. But we all know that feelings, though they are real, are not necessarily true.
I do the same thing with Coke. When I look for refreshment in the midst of a busy and taxing day, I reach for carbonated, syrupy goodness in a red can. And I feel refreshed, just like they do in the commercials. But my feelings are not necessarily true. These are times I am thankful to have people around me that love me, care for me, and look out for me. These people are widely regarded as “healthy.” They eat vegetables and drink water and have about ten times as much energy as I do on any given day. My girlfriend Peggy is one of those people.
“Here, drink some water.” Oh how I hate to hear those words but do you know what? After I drink water instead of Coke, the weirdest thing happens. I am actually refreshed. Who knew? Water instead of Coke brings health instead of stealing it away.
We have the same role to play as the community of Christ. Coke is not poison and I can drink it in moderation, the same as I refuse to feel guilty about watching television here and there. But the point is that I can only find comedy on the television. I cannot find joy. And the more I substitute jokes for joy and cynicism for hope, the sicker I will become.
And so I need somebody to call me back to life. I need my brothers and sisters to remind me to drink water. I need them to invite me back to Jesus who says:
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
There is a happiness that is too good to waste on jokes.