David Augsburger is an Anabaptist minister and author teaching at Fuller Seminary. He’s written on such subjects as confrontation, violence and prejudice, about forgiveness and biblical counseling. But my favorite book of his is Dissident Discipleship; about how to follow Jesus in community – it can’t be done alone, he says, and it should be done with some humor.
In community prickly truths are sometimes spoken, values need reconciling, pride needs puncturing, authority needs questioning, convention needs revision, legalism needs unlacing, licentiousness needs fencing. We need the right tools for such important jobs.
One such tool is humor. Some excerpts from the professor on the serious subject of lightheartedness:
Humor steps back from seriousness to see the lighter side; it holds events at arm’s length to see their irony. It is a perspective on life that allows us to discover, express, and appreciate the ludicrous, the absurd, the incongruous elements in ideas, situations and happenings.
[Humor] exposes the gap – or gulf – between the ideal and the actual, between intention and achievement.
Laughing is our way to humility…the way to puncture pride without wounding personality…
According to Augsburger, humor comes in two flavors: dark and light.
Dark humor is what some might label “sarcasm.” Webster says sarcasm is bitter and caustic, intended to do harm or cause pain. If defined in that way, sarcasm sure is dark and dangerous stuff.
Dark humor is veiled or open aggression; it perpetuates prejudice; it denigrates persons or groups; it buttresses threatened hierarchies; it defends vaunted superiority; it is antihuman.
Light humor comes in all shapes and sizes – wit, satire, parody, caricature, etc. It never intends to do harm or cause pain to an individual but is a wrecking ball to those ideas, values, institutions and conventions being questioned or protested.
[Light humor] is sudden illumination with surprising insight. It is subtle deflation of whatever or whoever is inflated; it is the re-evaluation of those who have been devalued; it is shock when arrogance is humbled; it is relief when pretense is punctured; it is amusement when false claims are exposed.
[Light humor] does not yield to aggression, animosity, or the urge to annihilate. It smiles ruefully when reminded of its own fallibility; it chuckles in self-recognition before another’s inadequacies; it laughs aloud at the folly of the human situation. These three – the failings of self, the foibles of others, the foolishness of context and conventions – are all about humility.
Finally, I love this quote from Augsburger:
[Comedy] is essentially a protest, so rather than being dour and gloomy persons, Protestants should be first-rate comedians. Unfortunately, they have been known more for their gravity than their levity.
I sure hope I didn’t cross the line between wit and sarcasm, light and dark humor yesterday. I and my various sources of accountability (and there are many) didn’t think so since I caricatured an idea and not a person. But we could be wrong. Where do you draw that line between dark and light humor? Did I cross it?
Whether I did or didn’t, I think a lot of us Christians need to lighten up in general. We can think and love and laugh at the same time. I promise.