Explaining the Joke
Because his video for "The Color Green" was in black and white, and the one for "Here in America" was filmed in Ireland, it is somehow fitting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins' death by reprinting the first of a series of articles he wrote for Release magazine; this one published in Spring 1991.
The only thing worse than a joke you don't get is the explanation that is bound to follow: an explanation that, while it may help you see why you should have seen the humor that you so lamely missed, is little likely to make you laugh. It may provoke you to muster a sympathy snicker so as to avoid more of an already tedious and misdirected lecture. It may inspire a mild giggle of recognition, but it will hardly ever raise a real belly-laugh, which was the original desired effect. And so, here I go - me and a dozen thousand other people - trying to explain a joke that we would do better to learn to better tell. I am setting out to explain again why Jesus is the only true hope for the world, why we should put our faith in Him and what all of that won't mean. I am collecting the information, selecting from what I hope will be usable as evidence, arranging my findings into arguments, framing it for presentation and recognizing that, while it may all be fine as far as it goes, it doesn't go far enough. But then I remember two things. The first thing I remember is how I once won an argument with a heathen friend of mine who - after I had whacked away his last scrap of defense, after I had successfully cut off every possible escape route that he could use, after I had backed him into an inescapable corner and hit him with a great inarguable truth - blew me away by simply saying, "I do not want to be Christian. I don't want your Jesus Christ." There was no argument left to be had or won. Faith is a matter of the will as much as it is of the intellect. I wanted to believe in Jesus. My friend wanted to believe in himself. In spite of how convincing my reason was, my reason was not compelling. So, the second thing I remember is this: I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who know Him. The Word has become flesh and I have encountered God in the people who have manifested (in many "unreasonable" ways) His Presence; a Presence that is more than convincing - it is a Presence that is compelling. I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey. "If I be lifted up," Jesus said, "I will draw all men unto me." So, here I offer what is possibly the worst thing that can be offered: an explanation of a joke. And, what makes this more inexcusable than the fact that this is that, is the added fact that this is an explanation to a joke you've already gotten. I offer it anyway. I offer it in the hope that it might somehow encourage you to live out your lives and, by your living, tell the joke that I, in my writing, so feebly attempt to explain. Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that. And I will keep rattling on about how good it all is and won't expect to be taken too seriously. I and a dozen thousand other bores will fill up book shelves and record bins and magazine racks with writing that is fine as far as it goes - hoping that it will help you somehow to go farther. Much that I have read has challenged my opinion and hardened my convictions - I am thankful for it. It is for you (and for me, more in my living than in my writing) to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.
* * * * * * *
Truth is...In the words of Meredith Wilson (The Music Man), "You can talk, you can talk, you can bicker, you can talk, you can bicker, bicker, bicker..." but it is by living out the truth of the Gospel with a transformed life that those around you will come to know Jesus.
Apparently, It's Not Easy Being Gray
Oh, the needless anxiety we heap upon ourselves.
Allow me to use a recent Sunday comic from Sandra Bell Lundy's Between Friends as an example.
Regular character, Susan, is in the grocery store and sees a stranger with gray hair. Of course, Susan starts comparing herself to the stranger and ends up feeling inferior.
Little does Susan know what's going on in the stranger's mind.
Truth is...Comparing ourselves to our idealized assumptions about other people often has negative results for everybody involved. Be yourself, as God created you to be. That's beYOUtiful enough.
Thoughts and Prayers???
If you've been around Truth is... for a while, you know I try to keep things positive as much as possible.
Today, it might be a struggle to live up to that precedent, but I'll give it a shot.
Most-notably with the recent weather-related emergencies in Texas, but also widespread across the social media landscape, there have been uncountable uses of variations on the theme "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."
- We're thinking of you!
- We would appreciate any positive thoughts you could send our way.
- Our thoughts and prayers go out for...
Let's look at each of these specific examples:
We're thinking of you - This seems to be a non-religious synonym for "We're praying for you"...meant to be an encouragement to the person hearing it. But why would it be an encouragement? If we don't believe in the power of prayer to affect change, what possible use would it be to think about a person and their negative situation? Wouldn't it be better to say "You've crossed my mind and I'm on my way over"?
We would appreciate any positive thoughts you could send our way - Apparently, the speaker isn't comfortable asking for prayers, but has faith that people thinking positive thoughts about them will be of some use. And if "positive thoughts" is politically-correct code for "prayers", why send them toward anyone other than God?
Our thoughts and prayers go out for... - I really don't get this. If I'm going to pray for someone, I'm going to pray for them: ask the Lord of all creation to intervene on their behalf. How does additionally sending "thoughts" into the ether have any bearing on what may or may not happen?
* * * * * * *
Truth is...for Christ followers, prayers are powerful tools for making the world a better place. For non-believers, who think that prayers are nothing more than wishful thinking, wishful thinking is all they can offer. And for both groups, linking those thoughts or prayers to actual involvement where the rubber meets the road is the best of both worlds.
Pastoral Potpourri from Rich Mullins
I admit I probably quote the songs of Rich Mullins and just generally refer to Rich far too often, but I refuse to apologize for bringing to folks' attention gems like this...
Truth is...even without being able to hear the questions, there are plenty of sound bites of wisdom in the answers Rich gives in these 11 minutes. Listen closely to what God brings to your attention today. Favorite quote: "If God wants you to go to Egypt, he will provide you with 11 jealous brothers who will sell you into slavery."
Do you find it hard to believe Jesus loves you?
Do you feel like you are always disappointing him?
Is he mad at you? Ignoring you?
Does Jesus seem like a hard man who wants you to work harder?
Does he seem distant - loving, sure, but disengaged?
I was recently confronted with these questions while reading the book by John Eldredge, Beautiful Outlaw.
I say confronted, but truth is...they weren't really that personally challenging, except for that last one. Yeah, I knew that Jesus loves me...enough to die for...but with age comes a level of familiarity with that thought that borders on complacency.
And then you read a book like Beautiful Outlaw and get reacquainted with the personality of Jesus. All the layers of super-serious religiosity get stripped away and you see a real person with real feelings and even a sense of humor:
Does Jesus have a sense of humor? Well, he created laughter. And think of the crowd he dined with. These rabble-rousers quickly earned Jesus a reputation as a drunkard and a glutton, and it wasn't because they served water and crackers. This was a wild group, and surely such a crowd got rolling in laughter from time to time, if only from the joy they were experiencing being with Jesus. Now, surely the creator of these colorful characters didn't sit there frowning, looking pious, Mr. Killjoy, Mr. I'm-Above-All-This. Imagine his own happiness at having these very lost sheep back at his side. But the religious tight-shorts didn't like it one bit. They constantly griped about it.
* * * * * * *
Truth is...the more I can relate to Jesus on a human level, the more gloriously divine he is revealed to be; the closer I feel to him; the more I can celebrate how he loves me and saves me and supplies me with joy.
* * * * * * *
To see a little-over-three-minutes-long trailer of the book Beautiful Outlaw, CLICK HERE.