Can God-talk be funny-talk?
I have wrestled with this for much of my life. Certainly, my understanding of the Bible has been that it’s not a real knee-slapper. As a young Catholic, I found the Baltimore Catechism to be 100% chuckle-free. It seemed to me that the Almighty was not a subject for levity, not at all. Candles, incense, communion? Yes! Pratfalls, puns and punchlines? Not so much! And life pretty well bore me out, with its terrible tragedies and everyday disappointments and general crosses to bear.
So when did I decide to write humorously about my faith? And who are my literary partners-in-crime?
As a newly-minted Director of Spiritual Formation at a Philadelphia area Lutheran church in 2002, I made the decision to use my own, sometimes a bit irreverent, voice when talking about my relationship with the Divine. I have come to feel that my very existence proves that He/She must have a sense of humor. So I began writing stories about my crazy mixed up life, and God’s presence in the midst of it all, and found that people actually related. Three books and many articles and blog posts later, I still regularly reference the Lord in a light-hearted vein, and I haven’t been struck by lightning yet.
I soon discovered, I was not alone in the spiritual humor writer category.
Anne Lamott has been an inspiration to me for years. Anne is brutally, refreshingly honest about herself and her world. She is a recovering addict and a single mom and an incredibly gifted writer whose books include Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Grace (Eventually). She talks to, and about, God, in very witty, very personal terms, and I, and many many others, can definitely relate.
“He said that there would be more information available in the narthex. I leaned over to Matthew and whispered, “The Narthex? Isn’t that a Dr. Seuss character that speaks for the trees?”—Nadia Bolz-Weber
Another terrific humorist, a pastor and former standup comedian (and fellow Lutheran) is Nadia Bolz-Weber. I saw Nadia in person at a speaking gig in suburban Philadelphia. The event included raffling off a ham, just because. Nadia is the minister at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, and I am betting her sermons are a riot. Nadia is the author of Pastrix, and the upcoming book Accidental Saints.
“Psalm 20: May G grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. Except that scheme about meeting Angelina Jolie. Give it up, man.” –Jana Reiss
Jana Reiss is one funny lady. She is the author of Flunking Sainthood and The Twible (which is the Bible in tweets, believe it or not). In Flunking Sainthood she fights her way through twelve spiritual practices in a year (the practices win). In The Twible Jana illustrates the point that God’s message adapts well to the language of the digital age–and hilariously, too.
WWJS? What would Jesus say if you met him over coffee? That is the premise of a wonderful series of comic strips by David Wilkie. The online comics have been collected into two books, Coffee with Jesus and A Second Shot of Coffee with Jesus. A recurring cast of flawed but very recognizable characters bring their questions and concerns to Christ, who answers them bluntly but lovingly, no matter how ridiculous some of their comments may be.
Father James Martin
“Preparation for heaven forms the basis of a great deal of Christian theology. Life, in this understanding, is not so much a test as it is a rehearsal….in that case, why couldn’t earthly joy, humor and laughter be a way of preparing for a lifetime of happiness? …Engaging in those virtues, then, is not simply to live a fuller spiritual life now, but to orient yourself to your future.”—Fr. James Martin
And finally, James Martin, S.J. The Jesuit priest (and prolific author and speaker who has often appeared on The Colbert Report) has written a book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of Spiritual Life. From the ancient saints to modern popes, to writers of every faith tradition (including the Bible), Martin makes the case that God not only has a sense of humor, but delights in us laughing and making others laugh.
So those are some of a chorus of literary voices reminding us not to always take faith matters so deadly seriously. As much as life can be heartbreaking, life can be side-splitting too. It is wonderful that many spiritual writers are tapping in to their funny bones these days, giving us glimpses of the Divine that are very down-to-earth indeed, and very entertaining.
About the author. Elise Seyfried is Spiritual Formation Director at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, PA. She is an author, actress, and mom of five. She writes a regular column for The Chestnut Hill Local. Her work has also appeared in such diverse places as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metropolis, The Lutheran Digest, Guideposts Magazine, Simul: Lutheran Voices in Poetry, and the Wittenburg Door. Elise is the author of the books Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life, Underway: Reflections on Everyday Grace and Everyday Matters. Elise was lyricist for the Stanley Drama award-winning musical Flight and has co-written (with her husband Steve) 15 plays for children. Elise’s website is www.eliseseyfried.com. She blogs at www.eliseseyfried.blogspot.com.