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Volume 15, Issue 2: Flotsam

Humor Required

Nathan Wilson

Everybody has a relationship with emotion. Most of them are bad relationships. There may have been that one time when emotion really misbehaved in middle school, and the friendship has been strained ever since. Or it might simply be an issue of watching emotion work over all of your friends and wanting no part of it. You might think you have a grand relationship. Emotion is your best of buddies and that's why there aren't any other buddies.

Within the church, almost speaking broadly, there are whole camps with different views of this strange and irrational creature. We have camps where no thought or desire is real and honest unless it originates somewhere near the sensation that lets you know it's time to hit the water closet. If it's not coming from an internal organ below the shoulders, then no one should listen. To avoid hypocrisy is to be true to such sensations, to always obey them, even if it means wetting your emotional pants at the mall. In this world there is no such thing as making a fool of oneself, and most church services are designed to facilitate some form of emotional masturbation. Strip clubs for evangelicals.
Of course I don't really run in those circles. Nobody has asked me about my heart of hearts lately. However, there are certain assumptions and taboos that we have around here, and the heart is one of them. "Reformed Presbyterian" could almost be equated with, "Emotion? She's his embarrassing cousin that managed to get herself in a condition and he doesn't like to talk about it." The Reformed world is one of walking palm pilots with infrared ports pointed at each other, data swapping. You'd think we'd be swapping something useful, like Tetris, or an ancient first-person shooter game, but we're not. Cartesian coordinates only, please. GPS is truth. GPS is beauty.
All in all, our local churches generally partake of one emotional deviancy or another. Luckily we can pick which deviancy best suits us. We can revel in the bawdy house of evangelicalism (the heart massages are free, but you have to be willing). Or we can chain up our emotions and stick them in the basement, torturing them when necessary so as to bring on intellectual gratification. We can be Dostoevsky's Ivan, and a sadist, or we can frolic with Dmitri and never know what we've fathered.
Observe ditch one. Observe ditch two. It is now natural to point out the middle of the road, and draw denominational conclusions. But I'm not going to do it. Instead, look to the lady bug. Look to the poor sugary sweet aphid that she's eating. Look to creation. Look to God, and you will have looked at Laughter.
I am convinced that humor is the one thing that more firmly establishes any person's relationship to emotion than almost anything else. Well-adjusted? Maladjusted? Bitter as thrice used communion wine? All of it comes tumbling out in laughter.
What is joy? The wise man nods his head and says, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth. . . remove sorrow from thy heart and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity." What does he mean? This is more than what to do with emotion, it is what emotions we are to have. Can I be rejoicing if I am not laughing? Can I be laughing if nothing is funny? What am I to do with my emotions? Water them down with joy. Spike them with joy while no one is looking.
Joy is the priest of the emotions. The mediator, the mitigator, the inciter of chocolate riots. What is joy? Joy is looking to the laughably cloud-disheveled heavens with a prayer of thanksgiving on your lips, thanking the sovereign God that He saw fit to place you here, to bring your footsteps to the appropriate place so that you might see the pretty girl walking away and the man on the bike watching her and not the curb. Joy is the look you give him when he sees that you are the only witness, and you see that he has sprained his wrist.
There is a squirrel, with fiery eyes, waging a death-battle with crows. He sits atop the federal peanut dispenser on the trunk of a government maple in the post office lawn, singing his songs and shaking his fists, and you are not laughing?
Around the world, our God has seen fit that ants might be herding sugar-secreting aphids out onto leaves for their meals, and into the hills for milking. God has spoken ladybugs, with their planetary backs and taste for domesticated aphids, and the ants cry out, "It is all vanity!" and meet the attack ready to die. We drink from cows, and you aren't laughing?
Joy is realizing that not all sunsets are noble. Some are tasteless. Some are terrific fizzles full of anticlimax and too much pastel. Joy is bears for bees and bees for bears, frogs that God remembered to teach how to breathe, and added the ability to freeze solid in the raspberry patch in the winter and hop out alive and happy in the spring. Joy is finding that the frog you smashed flat with the hot-tub lid not only survived, but has hopped off before you could show your family, leaving only a wet spot on the vinyl.
Joy is a humor, thorough, childlike, selfless. Joyful humor is health. Think it in your heart of hearts, and feel it in your head of heads. We die, and you are not laughing?

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