Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Jesus, Moses, and Confucius walk into a bar...
Well, maybe that's not a real good way to start a blog about the redemptive power of humor. Or a good way to start a book about it either. Which, to his literary credit, Robert Darden didn't in his new book Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor. But it might have made for a better book if he had.
I really wanted to like Jesus Laughed. After all, religious humor in its many forms is one of my favorite things. I worked with Stan Banker on the two QuakerLite books, wrote a whole series of light humor and devotions for kids (Lunch is My Favorite Subject, et al), and regularly visit Ship of Fools, Lark News, and, of course, The Wittenburg Door (where Darden is senior editor). And I did like the book. I just didn't love it.
The parts I liked -- not unexpectedly -- were the funny/ironic asides that he called "Digressions," the Quaker joke that appears early on (though it doesn't have the "complete" punch line I've always heard), and references to well known Quaker funny man, Elton Trueblood. Okay, so Elton's not really known as a funny man, but he did write the The Humor of Christ, which Darden notes and uses well.
Darden's exposition on humor and religion -- including in the Bible -- is first rate, but... well, writing humor is hard work and writing about humor is even harder. Examining humor just isn't very funny. I read this book with a more serious expression on my face than usual. I know that because Nancy asked me one time what I was reading and I told her it was a book on humor and religion. "Can't tell from your face," she said. "Where's the humor?" Indeed. There just wasn't a lot of joy in this book, from my standpoint. I much prefer Howard Macy's Laughing Pilgrims or Tom Mullen's Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences.
So, would I recommend Jesus Laughed? Yes, it has much good thinking. Just don't get it expecting to burst out laughing as you make your way through it. This book, I think would be best for folks who see little humor in faith, rather than those of us know that Jesus did indeed laugh.