What does it mean for us to take evil seriously?

A few years ago, Rev Dr Stephen Cherry led a retreat on Julian of Norwich. Last week I visited Norwich and visited the cell attached to a small church from where she ministered, prayed, wrote and spoke. It was an amazing experience. In commenting on evil, Rev Cherry said the following, which I think speaks to not only evil per se, but also anxiety, a current blight for so many people in our day.

I remembered this verse from 1 Corinthians 14:20 to accompany it: “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

“What does it mean for us to take evil seriously?  There’s a good question! It does not mean we take it on its own terms.  Don’t let the devil determine what seriousness is.  Don’t let sin call the tune . . . we’re getting into moralism territory a little bit . . . but this is what Julian is up to; It’s the victorious – we don’t know how; it is nothing but the loving, transcending, the delight in God that should set the tone, set the agenda.  And it’s that context which makes things “laughable”.  Do we see what she is saying here?  Challenging at many levels.  I’ve always liked that line in the hymn,

Continue reading “What does it mean for us to take evil seriously?”

The mirth of believers

We live in a broken world, with astonishing levels of violence, rivalry and scapegoating.  And only a fraction of it makes the news.

But one of the most counter-intuitive resistances human beings can do, and should do, is to laugh.  Laughter is what makes us human, and since we are all made in God’s image, as Sydney Harris says, “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed us with the incalculable gift of laughter.”

The New Testament does not have one single account of Jesus laughing.  But it would be a mistake to think he never did.  Jesus was most gloriously free and always unashamedly himself.  He wore no religious masks.  Laughter is not less than holy, but an actual fact of it.

I can’t read the story  of the seemingly rude encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which Jesus refers to her as a dog – as anything but Jesus humourously teasing out of her a response that is a product of true faith, faith that sees.  I suspect he even had a wry smile on his face as he did so, and so did the spiritually astute woman (Mark 7:24).

Sometimes our churches can be communities that are reduced.  Places of simmered down spiritualities.  Dour, serious, pious!

Maybe we’ve thought that to permit laughter is to allow victory to the devil.  Some people get very serious when they get religion.  That’s a shame.  Maybe they think laughter represents weakness, corruption and foolishness of the flesh.

I think one of the holiest sounds in our churches, or anywhere, is laughter.

Continue reading “The mirth of believers”

The incalculable gift of laughter

Below is a wonderful article about laughter, originally published in the Baptist Times.

I nearly died laughing!

Is there a specifically Christian view of laughter, asks Colin Sedgwick?

I read something recently which reduced me to a state of helpless laughter. It was an article in the Church of England newspaper The Church Times (yes, really), and it was about a bishop of a bygone generation who had a wonderful if sometimes waspish sense of humour. Absolutely hilarious – it took me several minutes to regain control of myself. If ever you have had “a fit of the giggles” (and if you haven’t I feel really sorry for you) you will know what I’m talking about.

But the following day this article nearly caused me death by drowning. All right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but for a moment it was decidedly dodgy.

I was doing my regular twice-weekly half-mile swim in the local pool (feel free to utter a gasp of amazement and admiration) when one of the bishop’s gags came unbidden into my mind. Whereupon I found myself floundering, spluttering and barely able to breathe. I wondered if I was about to suffer the same fate as that man who died of a heart-attack while rolling about in laughter at a Morecambe and Wise television programme.

Well, here I am now writing this, so you will realise that I did in fact survive the experience. But it made me do some thinking about laughter. Is there a specifically Christian view of laughter?
Only indirectly. The Bible has very little to say about it – Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 is about the nearest we get: “There is a time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh…”

There are, true, indications elsewhere that God delights to see his people laughing – have a look, for example, at Psalm 126:2 and Luke 6:21. But the laughter mentioned there is laughter from sheer happiness rather than at jokes or wisecracks. There’s not much at all about what we call “a sense of humour”. Still, these verses do remind us that God loves to see his people happy. (Is that a reminder you need?)

Lacking much to go on in the Bible, I’ve been doing a bit of rummaging around in Christian history to see if some of the church’s wise heads have much to offer. And I have been impressed by the things they have to say.

Here is Martin Luther, short and to the point: “If you’re not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there”. (I suspect, mind you, that that isn’t one of his more deeply thought-out theological utterances.)

Here is Richard Baxter, the 17th century puritan pastor and scholar: “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the Godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers”.

Amen to that! I recently spent a morning in the company of a group of volunteers stuffing publicity envelopes for the Africa Inland Mission, and it really was a laugh-a-minute business: completely silly, perfectly innocent – and very uplifting.

And here is somebody called Sydney Harris: “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed man with the incalculable gift of laughter”. Yes?

And somebody called Grant Lee: “Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship. When people laugh together they cease to be young and old, master and pupil, worker and foreman. They have become a single group of human beings, enjoying their existence”. I think that’s worth a second read… laughter is a great leveller, ironing out the inequalities and breaking down the barriers between people.

Of course it isn’t only Christians who have good things to say.

Here is the Jew Philo, who lived around the time of Jesus: “God is the creator of laughter that is good”. That last bit is important, of course – sadly, this world is not short of ugly, nasty, spiteful, vulgar laughter, and as Christians we should not be guilty of it.

And here are a couple of proverbs: “He is not laughed at that laughs at himself first”. I like that! How good are you at laughing at yourself and your own quirks, idiosyncrasies and ridiculousnesses? Do you take yourself too seriously? Lighten up!

And from Spain: “One who is always laughing is a fool, and one who never laughs is a knave”. Well, perhaps that word “knave” is a bit harsh; some people are naturally humourless without being bad people. But certainly there is something a little disturbing about people who can’t laugh.

I’ll finish with a word of advice, just in case you might need it one day: It’s not a good idea to combine (a) swimming with (b) having a fit of hysterical laughter. Trust me; I know.

Meanwhile, a note to self: Must laugh more. And a prayer you might like to make your own: Father in heaven, thank you for the wonderful gift of laughter. May my laughter always be pure, wholesome, health-giving – and honouring to Jesus. Amen.

PS. By the way, did you hear about the scarecrow who was awarded a prize for being outstanding in his field?

Boom boom.

Lol.

Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com

Baptist Times, 01/04/2016

 

Communion & Discipleship

Balthasar

One of the things that the Reformers wrestled back from the Catholic Church was how to do church!  From complexity to simplicity, from pomposity to humility, from monotone to multi-coloured, from virtual blindness and deafness to 3D vision with surround sound.  The Sacraments took centre stage in the raging debates of the 16th century from Martin Luther onwards!  While the Reformation rightly challenged, and in a sense judged, the imagination-free zone of the entrenched Catholic cultures of Europe, the Bible was reigniting a God-imaged imagination that had, by-and-large been lost to the masses, kept and guarded (and forgotten) by pope and priest. Continue reading “Communion & Discipleship”

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