Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 31, 2005
Laughter belongs in church — life is hard enough

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:21)

More than not, we focus on what causes weeping. We weep over the recent shootings in Minnesota. We weep and agonize with the family and friends of Teri Shiavo, asking, “Should she live or die?” We weep over the horrors of war in Iraq. We weep over the massive loss of life in Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the tsunamis. That’s human nature: We weep; we grieve; we mourn. Life is full of sorrows, indeed.

On the other hand, there is, “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Not all of life can be spent weeping, grieving, or mourning.

Whether we like it or not, life involves a series of changes. Nothing can ever stay the same — even if things are going well for us, and we want life to stay the same. Won’t happen. So, yes, we weep, but also, we will laugh again one day.

That one day, when we can laugh again, could just as well be on a Sunday as on any other day of the week. Not only could it be on a Sunday, but also it could be inside a church — even during a worship service.

Nothing in the Bible says, “Thou shall never laugh in church.” I challenge anyone to find that passage for me. Laughter and humor revitalize our human souls. Joy and mirth invigorate, refresh and renew our hearts. Why not use humor and laughter in church?

It’s one of those places where people like to go to find something more in life — to discover a reason to keep on living — to find out what it’s all about. And we already know that life is all about weeping and sorrow, so the church hardly needs to teach us more about all that.

We can just step outside the door of our home or open a newspaper to learn about how hard life can be for us. Why not have an alternative to the sorrows of life in church — a place where we can certainly take our sorrows and worries and woes, but then, when we leave church and leave those griefs there, we can chuckle and laugh a bit, walking from church to our car? There is so much to be so serious about day after day after day that we ought to have some place where we can go to lighten up a bit — be less serious — be less dour.

As a child, there were three things that I could never do in church. One was to pick my nose. One was to squirm in the pew. And the other was to laugh, even if I couldn’t help it.

Unfortunately, my parents had given birth to a boy who suffered from hay fever (and so I did pick my nose from time to time, especially in the fall), who found it hard to sit in the same position for longer than five minutes, and who liked to laugh and found a lot of things that people did to be quite funny — especially when it came to the pastor, who looked so serious and grim. I once asked my mother what the pastor had to do to make his face look like that. Needless to say, she was not pleased with my question.

People often ask what Jesus will be like when he comes back again. They ask, “When Jesus comes back, will he be serious and grim? Will he be dour and gloomy? Will he be depressing?” When I think about that question, my hope is that, when Jesus comes back again, he’ll be a lot fun and tell jokes about what it was like to be in heaven and be filled with mirth and joy and love. I hope he’ll be someone that we sorrowful and distraught human beings wish to follow — someone we want to be around as much as possible. I hope Jesus will be empathetic and warm when we weep as well as humorous when it’s our time to laugh. (I really hope that he has some new material for joke telling, because my congregation is ready for a few new jokes these days.)

The famous playwright, Eugene O’Neill, wrote a story about the resurrected Lazarus entitled “Lazarus Laughed.”

It’s a story about what it’s like being dead and then returning to life. O’Neill’s Lazarus reacted to his “dead time” and resurrection with uncontainable delight.

In fact, Lazarus was so uncontrollably joyful about it all, that a magistrate had him burned at the stake, because Lazarus just couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Despite his awful fate of once again returning to the world of the dead, Lazarus kept shouting, “There is only life! I heard the heart of Jesus laughing in my heart! Fear is no more! There is no death! Death is dead! There is only laughter!”

So, when Jesus comes back, I hope it’s like being Lazarus. There’s plenty of time in our lives to weep, to grieve, and to mourn. No need to set time aside to do that. Instead, let’s take a little time out each week, maybe even in a church during Sunday worship, to laugh a little and then go back out into the world of weeping and sorrow with hearts that are born all over again with joy, happiness and mirth.

Tom Towns is the pastor of Tooele United Methodist Church, where he’s been serving since July of last year. He is also the pastoral assistant at Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.

He graduated from Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri in 1984. He went on to Johns Hopkins University to study Ancient Middle Eastern languages and history and graduated from there with a Master of Arts in 1987. Before he continued his pastoral ministry, he took time off to manage inpatient psychiatry for ten years at the University of Utah. He is father to three sons and one granddaughter and happily married to Sandy, who is an administrator with Intermountain Health Care.

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