Reduced Laughter: A Review

Reduced Laughter by Revd Dr Helen Paynter.

A Review by Richard Matcham

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Chapter 1 – Introduction

My title:  In Defense of the Comedic

Using Private Eye as a great introductory example, one thing is sure – humanity loves humour, and we love humour that subverts the way things are, the high-and-mighty, etc.  The Bible hasn’t had good fare in recent millennia regarding all things funny.  The Bible is a serious book, and is found to be read (when it is read at all), to be read by serious people.

 

Our Western rationalism in general, and 19th century German scholarship (p.5) in particular, riding on the back of Plato’s suspicion that humour is malicious; and Aristotle’s warning that while humour is necessary, it should be ‘kept in check’, is missing the point that humour can be ‘a route to truth’ (p.3).

 

On the contrary, humour is not the opposite of sadness or seriousness, a useful observation of what de Sousa calls a ‘category error’ (p.4).  Thank God!  I have come to realise that my own use of humour is directly related to my serious side.  They are two sides of the same coin.

 

All this is carried over into our Bible reading.  Our culture may ‘Think Bike – Think Safety’ but we certainly do not train ourselves or our churches to ‘Think Bible – Think Humour,’ and I for one would love to try.   Admittedly, this is not easy – the Bible is a very serious book(s), with lots of weighty, eternal, salvific images, multi-genre & theological categories, stories and truth claims.  Thus, as a default setting, we ‘are more likely to under diagnose humour than over-diagnose it’ (p.6), and this means we will likely miss it altogether.

 

A taster-example is offered via the Naboth narrative (1 Kings 21), and how the Hebrew word describing the sulky and vexed Ahab is related to the Deuteronomic stubborn and rebellious son (21:18-19).  Here, the son is the one killed, whilst in Kings, it is Ahab who kills.  ‘This subtle, darkly humorous, allusion will only be apparent to the attentive reader or listener’ (p.8).  I wish I’d been more attentive in my reading!

Helen then offers some ‘ground rules’ for textual interpretation.  The text itself assumes a ‘literary or aural competence’ (p.8), and this requires competent hard work.  Highlighting wordplays and ‘hidden polemics’, the careful reader is able to see the ‘subversive, and deliberate partial concealment’ (p.10) of the narrative, using the ‘useful guidelines’ for the ‘methodological criteria’ outlined by Yairah Amit on page 9.

 

Finally, Helen’s hermeneutical approach leans heavily on the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, someone who refers to seriocomic literature as ‘playful, irreverent, multi-voiced, subversive and outrageous’ (p.11).  I have already guessed in my own reading that the Bible is all of these things, but what I hadn’t reckoned with, is that it is more deliberately so, and far deeper than I gave credit.

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The Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day 2016

Turkey

                The Disciples

             Sometimes they acted like turkeys; sometimes they spoke like turkeys.  Sometimes they are just like you and me.  We are the type of people God loves; We are the type of people that Jesus came for.

 

Roast Potatoes

                The Roman Soldiers

Their on the plate, big, brash, hot and bothered.  Just doing their job.  Some of them mix with the other foods on the plate, but mostly they keep themselves to themselves.  Too many and you get full up too quickly.

 

Carrots

                The Pharisees

Pharisees are like carrots!  Some are chopped and boiled in water!  Some are part boiled, then roasted.  Others are coated in honey and baked.  Mine are a Tom Kerridge recipe:  Cooked in butter, sugar, water and Star Anise.  Some Pharisees are plain and boiled in water, trying to trick Jesus.  Others like Nicodemas are much more interesting, and ask Jesus really interesting things like:  How can a person be born-again?  Now that is a question full of flavour!

 

Sprouts

The Shepherds

The sprouts are either loved or hated.  Like 1st century shepherds in Palestine.  They can tend to be a bit wiffy on their own or if they’ve been “with you” for a while – know what I mean?

 

Parsnips

                The Wise Men from the East

A Christmas dinner doesn’t have to have parsnips.  But if cooked nicely can influence the whole dinner.  The wise men are a strange addition to Jesus’ story, they enter stage right, leave abruptly stage left and that’s it.  Would we miss them if they weren’t there?

 

Stuffing

                All God’s centuries old promises fulfilled in Jesus

The flavor of really good quality stuffing, enhancing all it is eaten with.  Just like the OT promises of God that speak of a coming Saviour that will rescue the people from their sins.  Century after century God spoke, and the people waited century after century.  And when God’s promises are fulfilled, the flavor to the rest of the meal of life is incredible.

 

Cranberry Sauce

                Mary

The sweetness of the sauce compliments all the food.  Mary was just an ordinary girl who loved God and was waiting for her Saviour to come.  How would she ever guess she would birth the boy around whom angels and shepherds and strange Eastern men and all the other things would happen?  The paradox is there for all to see:  The creature gives birth to the Creator.

 

Christmas Pudding

                Mary Magdalene

If Peter represents the fool, and Judas the betrayer, and Thomas the doubter, Mary Magdalene is often the one we are too full to stomach.  The religious people thought Jesus not religious to be welcoming such an awful sinner as Mary.  Jesus said, we have to stomach this one:  If Jesus welcomes the worst then we are welcome.

 

Mince Pies

                The crowds around Jesus

Occasionally we get offered mince pies, just like occasionally Jesus was surrounded by great crowds.  Intrigued by this rule-breaking Messiah.  Sometimes we don’t fancy a mince pie, we can’t be bothered.  Sometimes the crowds couldn’t be bothered when they realized Jesus wasn’t their puppet on a string, their court jester, their messianic clown.  They walked away.  Sometimes the plate of mince pies will come round and we will let it go, just as Jesus let the people go.

 

Wine

                All those healed of illness and disease

The Bible describes God’s kingdom like a party, and a party with wine, and that wine is “the very best!”  We live in the old wineskin of this world and in our bodies, and one day we will be in a new world, with new bodies and God’s new wine of the Kingdom.  Jesus’ first coming is like the opening ceremony of the Olympics before the main event.  His Second Coming will begin the main event.

 

And finally, the best is last…

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Luther Rap

To good not to post!

31st October-Reformation@499

LYRICS:

Martin Luther’s the name, but don’t confuse me with the King
I was just a simple man working on my law degree
I was on the road home, and what did I see?
Thunderbolt of lightning very very frightening me

I was terrified, so I prayed to St. Anne
I’m in a funk, I’ll become a monk if you get me outta this jam
I survived that night right and I gave my life to Christ
Started living the fantastic monastic life Continue reading

If Jesus carried notes from his Vision Statement….

vision

  • Be born in weird circumstances
  • Flee a murderous king
  • Argue with scholars at 12
    • And be a little bit above your station with your parents!
  • Become a carpenter for 30 years
  • Get baptized by your cousin John
  • Go into wilderness and be tested by satan without eating or drinking for 40 days
  • If successful begin ministry…
  • Call ordinary people to your side
  • Re-interpret the Bible like you know what you’re talking about
  • Assume you are the fulfilment of the promises
  • Heal people of all sorts of sickness and disease
  • Never catch the sicknesses or diseases yourself
  • Walk on water (frighten the life out of those in the actual boat)!
  • Talk to demons; silence demons
  • Kill the pigs and curse the figs

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Calvinism and free-will

A Calvinist arrives at St. Peter’s gates and sees that there are two queues going in.  One is marked “predestined,” and the other is marked “free will.”  Being the card-carrying Calvinist that he is, he strolls on over to the predestined queue.  After several moments an angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?” He replies, “Because I chose it.”  The angel looks surprised, “Well, if you ‘chose’ it, then you should be in the free will line.”  So our Calvinist, now slightly miffed, obediently wanders over to the free will line.  Again, after a few minutes, another angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?”  He sullenly replies, “Someone made me come here.”

With thanks to Michael Bird in his epic Evangelical Theology (excerpts and review to follow)

evangelical-theology-bird