Tears are running down my face now. My sides hurt. Make it stop!
“Brace yourself! It’s coooommmminnggg!”
I’m sucking air. I haven’t laughed like this forever. It feels good. It’s therapy.
“I couldn’t help it man. I went down. The dude in front of me weighed, like, 250. I didn’t wanna do it. I’m so ashamed…”
My cousin is in storytelling mode. He’s recounting the time he and his brother-in-law went to a Benny Hinn event. Live. For them it was more like a trip to the circus than a trip to church. Benny was in rare form. Waving his arms and knocking down the crowd in waves of the, um, Spirit. They were determined to remain standing as the crowds of devotees around them were “slain in the Spirit” or “blown away by the wind of the Spirit” or “succumbed to the onslaught of hot air coming in waves from the platform” or whathaveyou. It was all going so well, too, until the six foot four linebacker directly in front of them surrendered to the bologna and went down. On top of them. Alas, try as they might to literally stand their ground on behalf of rational believers the world over, it was to no avail. They were slain in the Spirit. Forcibly.
See, that there is funny.
My question du jour is this… When it comes to all things religious, does having a sense of humor diminish our reverence in some way? In other words, if we laugh at the charlatans and jesters, instead of responding with somber judgement, are we making light of the faith we claim – or worse… are we treating the reputation of Jesus and His church with irreverence? It’s a serious question.
When charlatans and jesters dabble in the arena of religion, and if said charlatans and jesters are truly funny…is it OK to laugh? Or is it playing with fire?
Today is one of those days when I don’t necessarily have a hard answer. I’m curious to see what you think about all of this. I’m trying to find that nebulous middle ground… in the place where freedom and license mingle. I’m open to correction, or at least to refining, because you guys might have a perspective I haven’t thought of yet.
Two people have prompted this post. First of all, Benny Hinn, the TV “evangelist” from the dark side. Second, Niko Alm, the Austrian “Pastafarian” who recently won the right to take his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a religious head covering. We’ll get back to Niko and his dual-purpose head gear in short order. But first…
Benny Hinn. It is appropriate to write this post today immediately after writing about my distaste for snark in the Church, because it allows me an important clarification. I stand by my conviction that sharp, pointed, sarcastic characterization of other people is almost always ugly and unnecessary. Nine times out of ten, I think Christians should err on the side of kindness. And yet, I don’t feel any contradiction in calling out wolves among the sheep… if they really are wolves. I’m not talking about character assassination – and often that happens between brothers who disagree on some point of doctrine or methodology. But this is something else, I believe. There is a time to call out the phonies who use the name of Jesus for personal gain. There is a time to call a fool a fool.
Benny Hinn is no brother in the Lord. Benny Hinn is a dangerous charlatan who has HARMED the cause of the Gospel of Jesus, using His name to bilk people of their money, providing staged “healings” and ridiculous false “Holy Spirit power” to literally knock people over… for what reason I don’t know. So I have no problem calling him out. I do think he may actually wield some spiritual power… just not God’s power.
With that in mind, please enjoy the following. This makes me laugh every time…
Good times. Now, a great friend of mind posted this video clip on Facebook earlier this year and the response was… surprising. Really surprising, to be honest. He was raked over the coals for “mockery” and an unkind spirit toward Benny Hinn. The comment thread was LONG and pointed. My response… “That is funny. It’s OK to laugh at funny. Benny Hinn is a baffoon, and he does not speak for Jesus or His Bride. I have no problem laughing at that.”
I’m curious. Does that put a bad taste in your mouth? I’m not judging the laughers or the non-laughers among us. But I’m curious. Are there some of you who feel the same as those who criticized my friend? Is this kind of humor below the holy standard of the children of the King?
For those of you who are unaware of the growing Pastafarian movement, here’s the 411… Although the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a.k.a. “Pastafarianism”) claims to have existed underground for hundreds of years, it really came to the forefront with the publication ofthis letter to the Kansas School Board by one Bobby Henderson in 1995. In response to their inclusion of Intelligent Design theory into the public schools as an alternative to Darwinian theory, Bobby proposed inclusion of the Pastafarian theory of creation, involving the Noodley Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and of course, propagation of the inverse relationship between the number of Pirates and global warming.
Of course, it’s full blown mockery of the one true God. So when Niko Alm, a devoted follower of FSM (that’s code for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) was victorious in the Austrian court system and won the right to sport kitchenware on his cranium for his driver’s license photo, I felt a twinge of inner conflict.
But, truth be told, I laughed. Out loud. I lol’ed. ‘Cause that right there is funny.
So here I am, a voice to the Church for freedom and joy. I really believe that in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t do the message of the Gospel any good when His followers refuse to acknowledge the funny amidst the irreverent. Funny is funny.
Or am I off base here? Part of me wonders, literally, what would Jesus do? Forgive the cliche… but I honestly wonder. Would Jesus laugh at Benny Hinn using the force? Would He see the humor in the straight face of Niko the strainer-adorned Pastafarian?
There was a time Jesus wept for the lost souls of Jerusalem. I’ve honestly wondered how, knowing with perfect clarity the eternal fate of those around Him who chose not to believe – not to follow… How could Jesus have walked among them without weeping all the time?
And yet, he didn’t. He mourned the consequences of sin at the grave of his friend Lazarus. He got frustrated with the stubborn hearts of the people he taught. He grieved. But he also sang hymns and shared jokes with his disciples and he laughed.
God is the author of humor. He wired us to recognize it – to respond to it. He created us to laugh. In fact, I’m walking proof of His sense of humor. My foibles are epic-making, and He’s still trying to use my life. So I look to Him as a Father I can trust to be good and who will respond to me in love.
And I fear Him as a Father who is not to be taken lightly. He is a Father to be revered. To be loved and adored, yes. But respected and revered as the Holy One.
I walk in balance here. Joy and freedom, yes. And reverence. They are not mutually exclusive. But they do live in tension sometimes.
The truth is, seeing anyone choose to align themselves with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hoping to be “touched by his Noodley Apendage” is two things at the same time… tragic… and funny. They are clever in their irreverence. They do not hurl venomous insults at the Church. Instead they subvert Christianity (and all organized religion, I suppose) with parody. But it’s funny. I’m torn.
Benny Hinn – especially Benny Hinn with a light saber – is two things… tragic… and funny. He is a wolf, not a brother, as far as I can tell. And the staggering cost of his perverse “ministry” is hard to calculate. But watching him flail around like a clown and shoot people with lightning bolts… I find it hard not to laugh.
God will be the judge of Benny. God will be the judge of Niko. One day every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners. Benny and Niko and yours truly all need Jesus. I’ve prayed for the three of us. Unless my life situation somehow puts me direct contact with either of these two men, I don’t see how my laughing at their antics has one iota of impact on their eternity.
But for the sake of the name of Jesus, should I be laughing at all?
Today, for the sake of transparency, I’ll own it. I rever the Lord of Heaven, and I am passionate about His reputation. But I’ve been redeemed for freedom, and He knows my heart. And doggoneit… I feel free to laugh.