Funny Things Are Everywhere: A Thanksgiving Meditation

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A week or so ago, Travis Prinzi posted on Facebook a bedtime prayer his young daughter prayed a week or two ago:

God is good, God is great.
Funny things are everywhere.
You need to go to sleep.

There’s a whole worldview in that little prayer.

I am thankful for jokes and funny things. I believe they represent more than a break from life’s “serious” matters. By preventing us from taking this life too seriously, funny things remind us that there are things that are much more serious. In light of heaven’s weighty joys, how can we help but treat the things of earth with a certain levity? Indeed, we place ourselves in grave danger if we take this world or our own selves too seriously.

Funny things soften us to the possibility that joy is a greater force than sadness or hurt or even death. The gospel vision of the universe is a comic vision, overturning the tragedy that seems to have its way wherever we look.

I love what Frederick Buechner has to say on the subject of the gospel and comedy:

“Blessed are those who see that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, [Jesus] is who he says he is and does what he says he does if they will only, at admittedly great cost to their pride, their common sense, their sad vision of what is and is not possible in the stormy world, let him do it. Blessed is he, in other words, who gets the joke.”

And more from Buechner:

“The Gospel itself as comedy–the coming together of Mutt and Jeff, the Captain and the Kids, the Wizard of Oz and the Scarecrow: the coming together of God in his unending greatness and glory and man in his unending littleness, prepared for the worst but rarely for the best, prepared for the possible but rarely the impossible. The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. And who are the few that hear it? They are the ones who labor and are heavy-laden like everybody else but who, unlike everybody else, know that they labor and are heavy-laden. They are the last people you might expect to hear it, themselves the bad jokes and stooges and scarecrows of the world, the tax collectors and whores and misfits. They are the poor people, the broken people, the ones who in terms of the world’s wisdom are children and madmen and fools.”

Funny things are everywhere, reminding us that, in the end, this story we’re living turns out to be a comedy rather than a tragedy. This world’s little absurdities may not be absurdities at all, but glimmers of a deeper joy that this world’s sorrows are hardly able to conceal.

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


52 Comments

  1. Chris Yokel

    Reminds me of the end of Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”, which has always stayed with me: “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

  2. Jonathan Rogers

    Chris, Whipple, you’re right: I was definitely had Chesterton in mind as I wrote that…thanks for providing the appropriate footnotes.

    And yes, Whipple, that picture of the turkey chasing the boy is a Norman Rockwell. I think Norman Rockwell was brilliant, and I don’t care who knows it. It’s a shame he’s fallen so far out of favor.

  3. Sir Jonathan Andrews

    Norman Rockwell is controversial? I feel undereducated. If it’s controversial and not everyone knows about it, well that seems like a future art post to me.

  4. Becca

    Confession. I openly poo-pooed on Norman Rockwell’s art until I was about 28. The sentimental nature of his work vexed my cynical outlook, and I felt that his narrow subject matter rarely tapped into themes that could transcend time and culture. I considered him an illustrator only. Functional, but not exploratory. Like Chapstick. Or Vick’s Vapor rub. Or Helen Steiner Rice. Or Mr. You-know-who who paints light and Heidi cottages a million different ways the same way every time.

    SOOOO, when I had the opportunity to see a mass of NR’s works live (which I fought tooth-and-nail, and only yielded to in the end because the only other option was redoing the see-the-free-range buffalo tour), I was astounded by the quality of his brushstrokes and his use of color. I was also amazed by some of his more creative, thoughtful pieces that never seem to reach the public eye. In the end, I had to eat many assumptions I had made because of low-quality reproductions of his lighter works.

    He’s still not in my top ten. But my respect for his work is much higher than it used to be.

    Also, just so you know, the timing on this article perfect. I’m so glad you wrote it, JR. Thank you.

  5. whipple

    I’ve got a couple of Rockwell-scene mugs that shamelessly run over with coffees of all kinds. Yes, my scope of NR is limited to Saturday Evening Post shots, but anyone who portrays faces and hands with that much elasticity and sinew is far far out of any danger being clumped with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Reprinted-by-Hallmark. Heidi cottages begone.

  6. Donna Ham

    Love the poem. My 10=year old grandson makes me laugh so often. We had his Mommy’s birthday party at my house Sunday evening. I tried to teach him to play Happy Birthday on the piano, but he was getting frustrated so I said why don’t you just play the first part and then sing the rest. When his Mommy walked through the door, he sat down and played a few notes and then belted out the rest of the song. With his hands outstretched on the last part and holding the last note way too long, and with a big goofy grin on his face, we all roared. Children are so wonderful. They have a way of being ridiculously funny without even trying. Funny is everywhere…even when sorrpw or fear or doubt may be in the same room. Somehow, I think Rockwell was able to capture that in his paintings and I love every one I’ve ever seen.

  7. Aaron Roughton

    Thanks for this Jonathan. I find myself reigning in comedy sometimes when I feel myself slipping toward cynicism. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s ok to point out the funny things that are everywhere. Ah, the wisdom of children.

  8. Jonathan Rogers

    Glad for all that Norman Rockwell love out there. I’m glad you repented, Becca. I’m all right with somebody not liking Norman Rockwell, but put him alongside the Heidi cottage man is to misunderstand both of them. (If anybody wants to stick up for the latter painter, now’s your chance…I’m not the man for the job, though).

    Aaron, you’re right to check yourself if being funny is an expression of cynicism. There’s plenty of meanness that is expressed as humor. Then there’s absurd humor, which often chips away at the possibility of meaning rather than affirming it. For that reason, I don’t really have the stomach for Monty Python (though I know plenty of decent human beings who do).

  9. Peter Br

    JR: since nobody else has bothered, I’ll simply say this: I’ve heard it expressed (assumedly by HWMNBRPH, via other sources) that his intent is to paint the world as it might be without the Fall. Of course he could expand his scope of subject matter a little, but that might not sell as many typecast paintings (think Sir Alec Guinness after Star Wars).

    Be that as it may, I have no particularly strong feelings either way about his work. Perhaps that should drive me to an obvious conclusion; I don’t know.

    Several cheers for Rockwell, though; the guy manages to produce art that is both earthy and humorous. Thus ends this review.

    FIN

  10. Becca

    Seriously, you can delete that. I’m sorry. That comment sounded sarcastic, but that’s not what I meant. It’s just the first thing that came to mind.

    Pre-fall white people + clothes + happy thoughts. I get it.

    Why can’t I make myself like that, though? It actually feels creepy.

  11. Peter Br

    Well, if he were from Africa, the people would likely be a different color. Not sure why that part matters.

    Maybe this is just his “cottage period” (you know, like haystacks). Maybe someday when we’ve all passed on, the whole of his work will show that all those glowy windows — which are quite inviting, really — had a place in the Great Circle Of Art, and then they’ll play mutated Elton John songs at his posthumous art shows and all of humanity will be united in the Fourth Age.

  12. Becca

    Haystacks. Of course.

    On a serious note…

    I was mulling over this whole conversation as I was driving to pick up my kids from school, and I’m sort of ashamed to admit what happened. I was intentionally making myself visualize that famous NR Thanksgiving family meal painting and trying to squeeze out a happy, golden, pre-fall emotion. But it wouldn’t come. Instead, I just kept thinking, “Blech. I sort of really hate that a lot.”

    It makes me feel like a failure as a woman to own that, because I know that women are SUPPOSED TO be drawn to Hallmark movies, and Southern Living table centerpieces, and Yanni, and Norman Rockwell prints. I’m just not. Maybe something is seriously wrong with my soul? I guess it’s better to just get it out there, if there is. Maybe God will heal it if I confess it. Still, it’s scary to admit the truth.

    The truth is that sitting at a neatly manicured table with a bunch of only white people (and that does matter to me, and I don’t know why) feels all wrong to me. Propaganda is the word that keeps coming to mind. That sort of art seems to suggest that our lives are “supposed to” look like a 1950’s utopia that didn’t exist then and certainly can’t now. I feel like art (sermons, books, music) that promote nostalgia have caused the body of Christ to withdraw in so many ways from the dark corners of the world. They glamorize Western temporal contentment instead of dying to self, which is what we’ve all been called to do, I think.

    I’m not saying that different forms of nostalgia and escapism don’t appeal to me. They do. The smell of linseed oil. Black tea with milk. Faulkner can lie to me all day long, and I won’t protest. Loituma quartets on Youtube. But those things don’t promise me that I won’t need to die. Or that my life here won’t be really awful if I do it right. I think that’s why I relate more easily to Monte Python. And the funny prayers kids pray. Or Geiko commericals. The wrongness of those things allows me to admit that the world is skewed and odd here, and laugh anyway. Not because it won’t get better eternally, but because it will. And meanwhile I stuck somewhere (if I’m obedient) that’s ugly, and doesn’t make sense, and that will hurt sometimes.

    So, the blobfish. God made him weird. God knew it would be like this, and He gave me something to laugh at meanwhile.

    Do you know these lines from Wendell Berry? I cried when I read them, because it’s the struggle I’ve felt my whole life.

    “Pray,” they said, and I laughed, covering myself
    in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
    into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
    When they said, “I know my Redeemer liveth,”
    I told them, “He’s dead.” And when they told me
    “God is dead,” I answered, “He goes fishing ever day
    in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.”

    Anyway, there it all is. I’m embarrassed to own it, because I’m sure there are blind spots. Have at them. I want to git rid of what shouldn’t stay.

  13. Jonathan Rogers

    Maybe Peter Br can clarify, but I’m pretty sure he was saying the Painter of Light is the one who tries to depict a pre-Fall world. I felt I needed to defend NR again.

    But that’s a very small point from your very thoughtful comment, Becca. When I have a little more time I’ll try to respond more thoughtfully to it…

  14. Becca

    OK. Got it. Thanks.

    Also, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m drawn to the morose. I love to laugh. Love to be silly.

    There’s just something about NR-type nostalgia that makes me uncomfortable. That’s where I’m specifically struggling. The “Now I am happy all the day” hymns.

    So in particular, help in that are would be great. Is it just a nasty case of cynicism?

  15. Peter Br

    I’m not sure where those things are mentioned in the Womanhood Manual (then again, I may have gotten a pirated copy). Then again, I suspect you may have veered from your initial “serious” vector when you hit Yanni and Hallmark movies.

    I do not recognize those WB lines — I’ve only ever read Jayber Crow, and that just a few months ago, so perhaps I don’t know enough of him to be truly affected by them. Is he just putting himself out there as contrary? Who are “they” in the context of the piece?

    For what it’s worth, I often wonder if I should be moved by something that obviously means a lot to someone else (or a lot of someones); aside from a healthy spiritual contemplation, though, this can lead to over-introspection.

    I think I was going somewhere with this.

  16. Peter Br

    Jonathan: yes, I was speaking of the heretofore nameless one (whose initialism I mangled up there). I didn’t know there were people in his paintings.

  17. Becca

    Peter Br.,

    It’s from Wendell Berry’s _The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer_. And I don’t agree with the whole piece. It could serve as the Manifesto of Cynicism, if you let it. Truth doesn’t always come from being “anti.”

    I think the reason it resonates so deeply with me is because … well… hmm…

    I grew up in a mainline, conservative denomination. Most of the churches I was in were controlled by men who used nostalgic emotion like a steering wheel. That could mean special music with a lot of vibrato, or a tearjerking sermon illustration, or photo bulletin covers of neatly-painted white-steepled churches, or Sunday school art with happy, smiling children. Or not even stuff that specific. There was just a general belief that God made happy things happen to good people, and that this dependable rhythm of made things climaxed in nostalgic loveliness.

    I trotted along with it for years, feeling the ebb and flow of right things when asked. But as the years passed, I was disappointed over and over and over again by the hypocrisy of the “golden perfect.” The slicked-down pastor was leading a dual life. The coiffed soloist who let a poignant tear fall as she whispered the name of Jesus was not who she seemed. Eventually, every time I was around something glossy, my guard went up. The too-perfect, too-happy became a warning that something wasn’t right below the surface.

    So, I left the church and started hanging out with poets, artists, and musicians. But that’s another story altogether.

    So, I guess I am cynical. I wish I weren’t. I keep reading that it’s the wrong thing to be. I’m jealous sometimes of women who seem content with a cute little cup of hot tea and Heidi cottage paintings. But I can’t stop those old feelings of mistrust and disappointment.

    Tonight I showed my kids the Youtube from Chevy Chase Christmas where the dried up turkey implodes. We all giggled. Every perfect turkey I’ve ever known has imploded. It helps me to laugh about it. Maybe there’s a little girl crying in it, too. I don’t know.

    Rarely have I found God in the places I was “supposed to.” He has surprised me by showing up fishing at the Kentucky River while I was skipping the church. And I love more Him for walking through the mud to find me.

    I don’t know if this even makes any sense.

  18. Becca

    Oh my goodness. I spelled “get” with an “i” earlier. And it’s *Geico*. And that last post should read, *I love Him more”. I’m so sorry.

    We adopted a new toddler a few months ago, and I’m trying to think and write around a whole new level of beautiful, never-ending babble. Type-o’s are a downside. An upside is mistakenly telling telemarketers, “‘Love you, bye,” before I hang up on them.

  19. whipple

    Is that really a mistake, Becca? Those telemarketers need a foolishly joyful surprise now and again. They certainly don’t get it from me.

    I’m a passenger in your boat that sails away from all glitz and gilded perfection, even and especially in the Church (shoot, I might be the Sergeant-at-arms – my bitterness has often, to my shame, been militantly contagious). I confess, when I first heard “Everything is Sacred” from Caedmon’s Call’s “Overdressed,” something in me squinted dubiously at the references to holiness in unwashed dishes and burp-rag-spangled living rooms.

    My daughter is slowly curing me of that.

    I was standing under Jackson Avenue the other day, waiting out the rain. I had gone downtown to get some writing done after the girls went to bed. I darted across the alley to stand in the shelter of a covered loading dock. As I stood there, my knit cap on and hands crammed in the pockets of my coat, collar turned pensively up, looking through a rainy curtain at the blinking neon signs atop high-rise buildings, I finally started to understand something. I’m tired of that cynical guy. I’m over the coolly aloof lone coyote who doesn’t believe in anything that lacks a chaotic edge.

    Nope, I’m not a fan of the Heidi cottage on canvas. I don’t particularly agree with Kincaid if that’s his assessment of a pre-Fall world, but the warm glow through a window and the hot fireside mug of good company are resolutely excommunicating that cool kid who used to write off anything covered by the umbrella term “Institution.” My distrust of theological fluff in all its permutations is getting outdated. It doesn’t serve me as well as it once did. What led me to songwriters like our dear Proprietor now scoffs at the sanctimony of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer,” even though my prayer could be said to be a sinner’s prayer.

    I’m going to have to exchange that bitterness for something more useful. Maybe I’ll buy a painting. There’s a gallery at the mall.

  20. Becca

    Good thoughts, Whipple.

    Here’s where I’m stuck. I agree bitterness is bad. So is pride. So is snobbery. Selfishness can fuel rebelling against the norm. My heart is capable of all of that and worse.

    But are those things always behind cynicism? How do you know when you’re harboring sin in disguise and when your concerns are legit?

  21. Sondorik

    We interrupt this fine post with a few words from our sponsor:

    “The common places of America are to me the richest subjects in art. Boys battling flies on vacant lots; little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight–all these things arouse feeling in me.”

    “Right from the beginning, I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible.”

    “I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be and so painted only the ideal aspects of it—pictures in which there are no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers … only foxy grandpas who played baseball with the kids and boys who fished from logs and got up circuses in the backyard.”

    “The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be.”

    “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.”

    “If there was sadness in this creative world of mine, it was a pleasant sadness. If there were problems, they were humorous problems.”

    “Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I’ve always called myself an illustrator. I’m not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.”

    –Norman Rockwell

    As a teenager, I visited a hole-in-the-wall museum in Philadelphia that showcased Rockwell’s entire collection of Post covers (nearly 350) and other original prints. His work really struck a chord in my tumultuous adolescent heart. Perhaps it was because his illustrations portrayed the simplicity and joy and belonging that I longed for. I recognized that his idealistic world was far from reality. But good storytellers convince us to suspend reality for a time. Cynicism can be fought with hope that some ideals are worth pursuing, even in our fallen world. If Rockwell were still alive, I think he would have much to contribute to and learn from a place like the Rabbit Room.

    Thanks for sharing this post, Jonathan. I needed to hear it all, especially that “joy is a greater force than sadness or hurt or even death.” Thank God for the simple faith and fun prayers of children!

  22. Becca

    Have you ever read _My Name is Asher Lev?_ The sort of idealism NR is advocating here seems contrary to the goal of artistic honesty promoted in that book.

    It’s really helpful to read NR’s goals in his own words. I guess what I’m struggling with is whether or not I agree with them.

    You guys would feel like what he was trying to do was a good thing?

  23. Jazz and Dryad

    Becca, we were sitting at our desk, happily reading this post, when we saw you telling us to google blobfish. Being the obedient, trusting, innocent, and unfallen people we are, we went to google it.
    Our lives have been ruined. We will never be able to trust recommendations again. Also, I think that it is a very good thing that we had not eaten yet.

  24. Laura Peterson

    Can I chime in here?

    Thanks for the quotes, Sondorik. It is helpful to read his own words about his work.

    The two Rockwell images I picture when I hear his name are “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom from Fear” – the big feast table and the little kids being tucked into bed while their dad holds a newspaper headline proclaiming bombings and terror. Becca, I hear what you’re saying about artistic honesty – I agree that the role of the artist is truth-telling. But instead of images that say “this IS NOW true,” I think Rockwell (especially in these two paintings) leans more towards “this CAN BE” or “this SHOULD BE” true. In a future redeemed world, we will have freedom from fear and freedom from want – that’s what I think of when I see these, and for me that’s a good thing.

    BTW – there’s a Rockwell exhibit currently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through January 2nd, that displays the collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Apparently they are big fans. Here’s a story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128360139

  25. Jonathan Rogers

    Sondorik, thanks for those quotations from the man himself. I knew those were the kinds of things people said about NR’s work. I didn’t realize that’s how he viewed it himself. Those quotations sort of tilt me in Becca’s direction. The first couple of quotations I was right there with him. Little girls playing jacks and old men plodding home at twilight are perfectly appropriate subjects for art and fine vehicles for meaning. But as for the next three quotations, I don’t much like the idea of an artist finding clarity by excluding everything that’s messy. So no, Becca, when I read NR’s goals in his own words, I don’t think that’s an especially good thing. I love the fact that NR takes the mundane facts of American life seriously–the fact that he applied his considerable talent to depicting a boy getting chased by a turkey is very appealing to me. I guess what troubles me about these quotations is that they suggest that NR didn’t seem to think there’s more than meets the eye in his paintings. I kind of thought maybe there was.

    Becca, you asked about whether cynicism is always a bad thing. I would answer that question in two parts: a) Yes, by definition. b) Being critical (or discerning, if you prefer that term) isn’t the same thing as being cynical.

    The original cynics, as you probably know, got their name from the Greek for ‘dog.’ They were biters. Their humor bit, their commentary bit. They felt free to tear people apart. Cynicism in that literal sense is never a good thing. And I think it’s true that bitterness, pride, selfishness, and snobbery are always behind it.

    From what you told of your story, Becca, it’s obvious that you’ve been bitten. If you feel like biting back, I get it. So no doubt there’s some cynicism there. But I suspect there’s more there than cynicism.

    The heart of cynicism is the idea that you can say or do whatever you like and you can treat people any way you like because you don’t really believe that you’re accountable to a larger truth. It sounds like there was plenty of cynicism among the church people you described. One can deal with that kind of cynicism by turning cynical. It happens all the time. But to criticize that cynicism does not necessarily make a person a cynic. There is such thing as righteous anger.

    I love the picture of David the shepherd boy showing up at the battlefield and utterly transcending the cynicism around him. It was clear that the “army of the Lord” didn’t believe the things they said they believed. They were taking the Lord’s name in vain. David might have said, “You’re full of it! There’s nothing to this God talk yall are always talking.” But instead he said, in effect, “I believe so thoroughly in the truth that not even the cynicism of those who misuse the truth can make me cynical.”

    Becca, I’m with you: my guard goes up when I’m confronted by the glossy, the too-perfect, the over-simplified. But cynicism isn’t the only way to deal with those things. Irony and cynicism always put distance between us and the problem we’re viewing ironically or cynically. Which isn’t very different from the glossiness, perfection, and over-simplification, which are also calculated to distance us from life’s messiness.

  26. Becca

    Very helpful. Thank you. What I am hearing is that there is a difference between naïveté/escapism and childlike faith. There is an honesty and purity in the latter – a lack of pretence- that is exciting to me.

  27. Becca

    Jazz and Dryad,

    Here’s the irony. I found the blobfish while looking for created examples of the absurd. ‘Thought I’d nailed it. An hour or two later, I realized the lifestyle of that fish was the living model of consumerism in the modern church that I’d been looking for all week. :/

    However, did you zoom in on that yellow thing hanging out of his mouth? If you haven’t yet, you probably should.

    “Korean Drummer Rocks Out” is another interesting Google, BTW. I haven’t found the meaning in that one yet.

  28. whipple

    I got hooked on a weird fish website from that thing. The best part, though, was the fishing video backed by dramatic music from The Matrix.

  29. Becca

    Laura,

    Thanks for the NPR link. I didn’t get the chance to check it out yesterday, but I just sat down with it for a while. I agree with you about _Freedom from Fear_. It’s beautiful.

    Thanks to everyone else as well. This has been a helpful conversation in lots of ways. Because of it, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why I have such a visceral reaction against the sentimental, and I’m asking the Lord to bring holy trust and softness back into my heart where it has been lost.

    For several years, I’ve been asking the Lord to transform me from Eowyn into Lucy. This seems to come so easily for some women, but I learned as a little girl to be strong but not trusting.

    So, I’d really like to learn more about what’s behind the heart of cynicism, if any of you have additional resources. I can find several examples of what seems like sarcasm in the Bible (the minor prophets, some of Paul’s statements, some words of Christ, etc.). And some well-received teachers like R.C. Sproul seem to teach by biting. Quite a few of the writers I trust have a bit of an edge to them as well. I’m not sure how to identify what is sin.

    Jonathan, you wrote this: “Irony and cynicism always put distance between us and the problem we’re viewing ironically or cynically. Which isn’t very different from the glossiness, perfection, and over-simplification, which are also calculated to distance us from life’s messiness.”

    I’ve been reading and rereading it. Are you saying that the key is staying close/vulnerable?

  30. Jonathan Rogers

    Hey, Becca. One thing I’m saying is that from your remarks I get the idea that you’re put off by any religion (including the secular religions of, say, nostalgia and sentimentality) that paint a happy face on things and distance us from the hard realities of life in a fallen world. You talk like a person who wants to engage those hard realities. If that’s true–if you actually are willing to live in the messiness and brokenness of the human condition–you’ll make a very poor cynic. Ironic distance is a key principle of cynicism. The cynic sees herself as in the world but not of it–in the worst possible sense. The cynic sees herself as less ridiculous than the people around her…which is one reason cynics can be such bores.

    And now, perhaps, 44 comments into the discussion, we finally circle back around to the original post, which had nothing to do with Norman Rockwell. We are all of us ridiculous. It takes a little bit of ironic distance to recognize (and revel in) that fact. The divine call to be in the world but not of it is a call to ironic distance. Perhaps my biggest beef with sentimental art is that it lacks ironic distance. (I’ve always thought there was just enough irony in NR’s work, though the comments quoted by Sondorik give me reason to doubt).

    But having said that, too much ironic distance puts us over in the realm of cynicism. A holy irony can laugh at the world (and the self) because there’s something truer. A cynical irony laughs at the world because nothing is meaningful enough to take seriously (except, perhaps, one’s own superiority).

    As for sarcasm, as much as I agree with Sproul for the most part, I don’t much like the sarcasm. I agree that he can be biting.

  31. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca,

    As long as we live in this world there will be a tension between our regenerated spirit and the way the world operates.

    We often deal with this tension soulishly. We get cynical, sarcastic. We get worried, fearful. Or worse, we just go with the world’s way of operating. We love and accept people only when they love and accept us. We operate in a performance-based mentality.

    These are all attempts to reconcile things between spirit and soul, or spirit and world, and also an attempt to put up a shield to protect ourselves. But really the tension is there so that we can learn to reconcile things the other way.

    Most of us, in a practical sense, don’t really believe in the orthodox doctrine of the omnipresence of God. God is present in every moment, in every place, and especially within each Christian. A Christian being harsh with his kids has temporarily suspended his recognition of this Fact, as has the pastor caught up in pornography. They are simply not believing in or relying on an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God who is love, who is purity, who is peace, who is power.

    This is why love is the only true reality we’re to live from. The way that love works out is through faith – faith in this omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God who is in every situation, who is our power to believe for each person in our circle of influence, who is our power of seeing the real Facts behind the incidental circumstances. I don’t mean we have to be blind or pollyanna. But we do have to be faith-full.

    A relevant Norman Grubb quote: “Now, faith is potent. What we believe in we are producing and propagating. Our very looks, words, and actions are always propagating our faith. We are always ministering either faith or unbelief, life or death, Christ or devil, every minute of the day.”

    How does this work in every day situations? By seeing the unseen. I have relatives who struggle with various forms of addiction, jail time, living on the streets. I have gone from being an enabler (sending money) to being distanced (no money, but feel free to call me and talk). I have lately been saying to God, “What are you going to do about these relatives of mine? How can they be helped, changed?” First thing is to pray, of course. God is present there with them. In seeing God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, working on them, I am freed to have faith for them. That changes my behavior towards them; it changes the subtleties of my tone from judgment to love (not indulgence or pity – love). So – I am freed to send them expressions of love – photos, guitar strings, cds – but not cash which they will use for their addictions.

    If I conceive of myself as merely a human self, by itself, trying to change myself and the world, I am certainly going to become cynical. But the power of God is limitless; the Kingdom of God is here and now, and he wants to press his rule and take back his stolen territory and property. We are the co-operators in that divine plan, the connection points by which the Divine presses himself into ordinary situations.

  32. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    One more thing, and this was the original thought as I read through this thread:

    Death and resurrection is the principal thread of the Christian life. We are always in a constant process of laying our lives down. This world is enemy territory, and we gather the results of what Jesus accomplished at the Cross by laying down our own lives for others. As we do so, God is always faithful to resurrect. Someone hurts us. We lay down our lives for them, forgiving, loving them, praying in faith that God will work on them, draw them, convict them, open their minds and hearts to his love.

    What we call ‘death to self” is really a misnomer. It’s really a dying to the material appearances of a situation or person and instead taking up God’s view. Let’s say I feel anxiety in my soul. I can enter that anxiety, and live from it (and I have, and sometimes do), or I can step back into spirit, where Christ is, and hold to God’s view. This anxiety isn’t the real me, the deepest me in Christ. He is the anchor of my soul, and as I hold to that anchor I can watch the anxiety as if watching a storm from the shelter of my covered patio. The storm is still there, but I am not flying around with it. I have died to the appearances (I AM anxious, an identity statement) and now have the truth (I FEEL anxious, but I AM one spirit with the Lord).

    We can do this same faith-act when we feel hurt by another, or feel anger and hatred toward another. We can know that within us is the Lord who is Love, the Source of love. So we can say, in faith, in our deepest being, that we love the other person. I have often done this when hit by something someone has said or done to me. “Lord, I feel this anger, this desire to strike back. But you are love in me; you love them, and because I am one with you, I say that I love so-and-so. I love them. Thank you for this love.” Now, of course sometimes this takes a little time. We have our Gethsemanes. But the overarching theme of our lives needs to be that we are using the access we have to the Divine omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence to change our little corner of the world.

  33. Becca

    This discussion makes me realize I have sin in places of my heart that I didn’t even realize. Thank you all so much for taking the time to explain what you have learned.

    Maybe I have misunderstood something about the Lord, too. I’ve always taken certain strange created things (the duckbilled platypus, the star-nosed mole, the blobfish) as sort of a Divine acknowledgement of the current state of the world.

    Their weirdness has sort of given me “permission” to laugh at other manifestations of the absurd: Monte Python (the cleaner stuff), The Korean Drummer Rocks Out, Smooth-E Baby Face Foam commercials, Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog.

    Because I know the Lord and trust the meaning He will ultimately bring into the world, I don’t feel the temptation to slip into the sourness of Existentialism. But experiencing little bits of that sort of humor seems to release some of the pressure of living in the wait.

    Is that the wrong way to laugh? Am I feeding something that is ultimately unhealthy?

  34. Jonathan Rogers

    It occurs to me, Becca, that when I mentioned Monty Python I may have come across as if I were morally opposed to Monty Python. Some of it, certainly, I have moral reservations about, but broadly speaking my opinion toward Monty Python is shaped by aesthetic considerations, not theological or moral considerations. I don’t expect anybody to apologize for laughing at Monty Python. It’s funny. I like that phrase “to release some of the pressure of living in the wait.” I agree that Monty Python can serve that purpose, and it’s a fine purpose.

    I also think that comedy can do more for us than serve as a release valve. I think, for instance, of the Italian movie “Life Is Beautiful,” which is not just humorous, but comedic in the sense of divine comedy. It is life-affirming in a way that some kinds of humor aren’t. (It is no coincidence, I think, that Roberto Benigni is also something of a Dante scholar).

    All that to say, I hope I didn’t come across as judgmental toward anybody who likes Monty Python more than I do. In fact, I can quote large swaths of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  35. Becca

    I didn’t think you sounded judgmental, Jonathan. But thanks for the clarification.

    I’m just looking for some sort of plumb line, I guess. I’m really not sure how to make the absurd not funny to someone with my temperament, unless I can dig up a heart issue that’s amiss.

  36. tricia prinzi

    Thanks for pointing me back to this post, Jonathan. I can’t believe I missed this one. Your thoughts are such an encouragement to me today. It was great talking with you this weekend. Be well, friend.

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