Friday, March 23, 2012

He who laughs last...didn’t get the joke

Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE - June 2010
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan

I’m not the pulpit-pounding type of preacher – at least I don’t consider myself a pulpit-pounding, bible-bashing, tongues-talking type of preacher. The congregation in my circuit/parish may differ in opinion. I prefer to drop thunderbolts and lightning out of the blue rather than constantly hail fire and brimstone on my flock.

When I began my theological (fancy word for studying God) training, I found myself specialising in Theology and Ethics and also from, my passion for history, engaging in Church History. This means my preaching and teaching usually is on the way we who are followers of Christ should live. It also means that I know a lot about dead people and things that happened a long time ago – sometimes in a galaxy far, far away. Often to illustrate my point I use events from real life, usually things that have happened in the “holy household” (metaphorically –because we live on Mission Hill; literally – because the house is over a 100 years old and has holes in the floor). As a rule, I try to keep these anecdotes light and funny to break the serious information I have been loading my captive audience with; just before launching a thunder or lightning bolt.

However there are times when the anecdotes “over-thunder” the thunder and lightning. I remember overhearing one member of our church youth, who had missed one of my services, asking another, who had attended, about my sermon:
“Man he was so funny,” was the response. “We were just LOLing (now that’s the first time I’ve written that) the whole sermon.” However when the now excited absent youth member enquired about the content of my sermon, the response was not what I expected, “he told the joke about ‘Adam and Eve and an arm, leg and apple’ and about the minister who preached a full sermon and service to only one person or something. I can’t remember but it was really funny!”

I guess it was consoling to have them laugh at my jokes rather than just laugh at me. Not that it hasn’t happened. I was preaching on servant-hood once I made reference to Jesus’ act of service through the washing of his disciples’ feet. As I urged the congregation to follow the Messiah’s example bending down in humility, the first fruit of my loins leant over and asked his mother if this “was the same as the bending down to wipe his bumbadoo after a big pooh.” The question was innocent enough, except that it was heard by everyone in the church. That certainly woke up those dozing in the back pews.

Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to tell a joke you heard from someone else as your own and failing miserably. Here’s an example: “The was an old man who was walking along and met a young man...oh was a young man and he was walking along and met an old man....oh wait.....” By time you figure it out, the congregation has either turned into an old man or gone walking with the young one. While this mistake is not limited to preachers, the poté (think “ka-splat!”) is larger when you have a captive audience, especially if after all the “no mean..” you stuff up the punch line. I’ve been fortunate not to be in this position but I have witnessed it and would honestly prefer crucifixion to standing in the pulpit when a well planed and often-rehearsed joke falls apart.

Once in preparation for a sermon to a Christian youth group, I tried to use jokes or statements from popular culture using television programmes, songs and movies as my source.  I got some chuckles from adapting “Lo I will be with you till the end of the ages,” into “I’ll be back.” There was stifled laughter from using the lyrics of “Every breath you take...I’ll be watching you,” to explain the omnipresence of God. However I think I went over the top when I tried equating the initials “H.S.” (Holy Spirit) with quotes from a superstar, known as Homer Simpson:
“I'd love to go to church, honey, but I've got a lot of work to do around the bed.”
“If God didn't want us to eat animals, then why'd he make them so tasty?”
“Oh, spiteful one! Tell me who to smote and they shall be smotted.”
“I wish God were alive to see this.”

Of course we who tend to pontificate from the pulpit with much finger-wagging and gnashing of teeth (try it, it keeps away the tsunamus – see April 2010 issue) find the best way of illustrating a point with a smile is self-depreciating humour.  After all no-one likes to laugh at a priest, minister, or pastor more than his congregation – then again it could be just mine.

"A senior minister was getting ready to visit USA. Some of his close associates advised him to be careful when responding to reporters on his arrival in New York. The bishop however was overconfident and paid little heed to the advice. On arrival at JFK airport, during a press conference one reporter asked the bishop if he was planning on visiting any night clubs in New York? The minister, pretending to be ignorant of such ‘worldly’ matters, replied "Are there any night clubs in New York?" To his surprise, the next morning’s papers had the following headlines, 'Padre asks, "Are there any night clubs in New York?"
It wasn’t me.

A sunbaked, self-confessed Jesus-freak, Padre James Bhagwan spends his time between doing laps in the pool, lecturing at Davuilevu Theological College, preaching at Dudley Methodist Church, playing with his children and driving his wife around the bend.

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