Monday, January 02, 2006
He was funny. He had the giggles all afternoon and while we listened he told a string of jokes. He’d start a joke and giggle a little, tell a little more and chuckle, tell a little more and start to laugh. We were all smiling and laughing long before he got to the point where he could gasp out a punch line.
I was on a journey, inspired by other journeys, and I had found a treasure that afternoon. Encircled by hippies and locals, Red Skelton sat on the side of the hot spring pool, dangling his feet in the warm water and cracking jokes. His wife kept bringing him drinks from the rv.
The guy could tell a joke. I can’t help but have a big grin on my face as I sit here typing, remembering the funniest man I ever met.
I was hiking and hitch hiking. The Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, highway 101, highway 99, I-5... from Canada to Mexico, Yosemite to Crater Lake... I was a-roamin’. It was late in the summer of 1974 (or was it ‘75?) and I had a copy of Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, and Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons in my backpack, atop the box of Bisquick and under a pair of Levi’s. I was on a Kerouac-inspired adventure discovering who I was and being as non-conformist as possible. You see, I’m from the near side of the baby boom bell curve and I missed out on most of the real hippie stuff and I was trying to catch up. It was a good time to be eighteen.
There was fifteen or so fellow travelers watching the live and in color version of the man from the golden age of television, and we laughed so hard for so long that afternoon our cheeks hurt, our sides ached.
Red had this great big grin that told you that life is good, that laughter is good, that being human was about breathing joy. He was an icon of Americana, as much a part of American culture as Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain. I felt like I had found a big piece of America, a laughing national treasure. I laughed until I hurt.
There is something about laughter that makes us feel wonderful. There is something about that giddy joy we feel that tells us that the world is wonderful and that life is good, and perhaps there is a God despite the sorrows we often feel. Because anything that makes us feel that good feels like some sort of a gift, some sort of magic that the universe has given us. I believe that to be entirely accurate. Because the universe is held together by a being of love who has a wonderful sense of humor.
The Bible has a lot of humor in it. One of my favorite parts is when Jonah is sulking and the Lord starts poking fun at him:
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."
But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" --Jonah 4
Here is this cantankerous guy sulking before God. “I’m so ticked off! I knew You would do this, that You would go ahead and forgive these turkeys. I just wanna die!!!”
What does God do? He starts poking fun at him! He creates shade, and then brings up a hot wind, removes the shade, and practically starts poking him in the ribs... “Oh, poor little Jonah... doesn’t have his shade any more... What about all those poor confused people who don’t know nuthin’ and all their widdle animals?! Think about the baby animals!!!”
I get the impression that when Sarah laughs (overhearing she will have a child in her old age) and the Lord hears her, there is a sense of playfulness in His reply. She denies laughing (now rightfully fearful of the Lord) and He chides: “Yes you did!” They named the child Isaac, it means “laughter.”
Later, when the Lord talks about the evil of Sodom and Gomorra and Abraham begins to barter, there is a sense of tolerance and playfulness as the Lord “deals” with His servant. The Lord knows exactly what will happen, and the depth of the sin of those cities. But He spends a few moments playing with Abraham, almost as if He is at some sort of auction, letting Abraham get his way, to a point.
And that makes a lot of sense. I know the Lord is playful. I know that sometimes when I feel close to Him I feel joyful, happy, I want to laugh, I want to dance. I often feel that way when I worship.
The events of this past summer were difficult. But there was a point that while I felt dark forces astir the Lord was with me and a dangerous situation turned comical.
Even in the Book of Job, a very serious sort of tale, there are hints that joy and laughter are a part of what is good and right about living. Job’s children gathered frequently to enjoy each other’s company. Even the Lord speaks of laughter, about joy, in the book of Job, how the living things He created enjoy what they are.
Some may think that being a follower of Christ means being very serious all of the time. I admit many Christians never seem to smile. I think they are missing out on something. I think that they are missing a playfulness and enjoyment of life that the Lord wants us all to have.
My friend Tom Sawyer (yes that was really his name, he used to joke about it and sometimes introduce himself as Huck Finn) had a joy of living that was contagious. He passed away this past year, a spry retired missionary who was quick witted, kind, and full of laughter. That is the way the Lord wants us to live. Serious when needful, and dancing our lives toward Him with joy in our hearts.
My concordance indicates that the word “joy” appears 168 times in the Bible. “Joyful”, "joyfully”, "joyfulness”, and “joyous” 35 times. It would seem that joy is a part of what it is to be human.
As I grow in the Lord I find that joy growing as well. There is a part of me that feels younger than I have in a very long time. I believe that is a part of who and what God is, the emotions we call happiness and joy. I believe that many of the things that make us special: creativity, love, forgiveness, kindness, tenderness, and joy, are there because we are created in His image and as we draw closer to Him, we reflect those qualities all the more. They make us feel good because they are good.
I have sometimes felt those things to be distant. They are closer now because He is closer, or more accurately, I am closer to Him.
This summer I found myself laughing harder and more frequently than ever before. It is a very good thing.