Once upon a time, I belonged to a growing house church that spent years talking about its growth—and what to do about it. Should we divide into several churches to maintain the intimacy that was our hallmark? Should we retain our current form and become a larger body, preserving the bonds of affection that had grown up among so many members? Could the two be combined in some way?
Because close relationships were involved, emotions ran high, and meetings became contentious. At one point, we turned to euphemisms—divide, bud, grow—to soften the discussion. That was just too much for one of our most passionate and funniest members, so in the middle of one meeting he started in on a rant. He had had it with the euphemisms and the pleasantries and the dancing around the issue, he said, “and all because we’re afraid to utter that one four-letter word—split!”
The entire room dissolved into laughter. You could feel everyone breathe a little deeper. For a while, at least, the tension was gone, and we could talk with one another again.
Dialogues can get very serious and very intense. They involve sustained concentration, reflection, and listening, all of which require considerable work. Occasionally, therefore, we need a reminder that (in nearly all cases) the fate of the world does not depend on our getting this dialogue, in this place, at this time, absolutely correct. On these occasions, humor is nothing less than a gift from the Divine.
As I wrote in a poem many years ago, “Our work is serious; don’t take it seriously.” If we can hold that paradox in mind when pursuing our dialogue—and laugh a little along the way—we can be freer to make mistakes, stumble over words, explore trains of thought that go nowhere. Ironically, that freedom may help the dialogue flow more freely.
It also reminds us of something fundamental. By lightening up, we give ourselves permission to be who we are: human. And our common humanity may bind us together more than anything we can say.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard in an otherwise serious conversation? Let us in on the joke. Hey, it’s Friday; we could all use a good laugh!