Friday, April 25, 2014

Joyful, Joyful…

I forget when I first heard it - and an internet search didn’t reveal further information, so it’s probably nonsense- but I still enjoy the following story that once got stuck in my brain-space about something called, “Holy Hilarity Sunday”:
Long ago, an Eastern Orthodox priest lamented his church’s steep drop in attendance the Sunday after Easter. Imaging creative ways to drum up interest, he realized something new- that he could tell the Easter story not simply as the triumph of Christ and life over sin and death, but also as a cosmically-planned and guffawed-over practical joke. Indeed, he thought it may be THE greatest practical joke played in the history of EVER, in that when Satan went to God’s Son’s tomb that first Easter morn, prepared to gloat that the dark side won, the tomb was…wait for it…empty! “Fooled you, bumbling Beelzebub!” the Mighty One might’ve chortled.

Thusly the priest re-told about Easter, promising his congregation that if they showed up the following week, the entire service would be humorous and joyful, and therefore not as, well, boring as many expected. “Holy Hilarity Sunday,” it was dubbed, which then entered the ever-dynamic tradition of Christian worship possibilities. As I said, I can’t find any source confirming this story, though I enjoy believing that priest packed the house as intended!

But whatever its origin, Holy Hilarity Sunday has recently become “a thing” among some American churches. It’s not so widely accepted that you see it on printed church calendars. Nevertheless, many pastors I know practice it in their congregations year after year after Easter. For some, it’s entirely lay-driven, offering “open mic” time during worship for anyone to share her/his favorite religious-themed (and clean) jokes. For others, it’s about pastors, who worked real hard during Lent, telling nothing but corny jokes during the sermon. When I first introduced it to Plymouth Creek, I think that second option was what some feared. I heard various kinds of the following feedback, “But Shane, you already tell enough groaners every Sunday; do we really need more?!” Fair point. So we’ve tried to make this admittedly arbitrary and made-up “holiday” slightly more profound. Every year post-Easter, we explore the unique value of joy in the spiritual life. And, yes, I tell variously corny jokes.

But here’s my reasoning behind that attempt at humorous profundity. In recent years, I’ve grown disillusioned with what currently passes as “wisdom.” Namely, I see on TV and read on the internet too many snide, self-satisfied information peddlers who only critique, criticize and condemn others, then call themselves smart. Newsworthy has become synonymous with gloomy. Intelligent commentary is oftentimes only deemed trustworthy when the commentator’s negative. Therefore, when a person is happy, upbeat, excited, the chattering class ironically rolls their eyes and mutters, “How quaint…” As if earnest joy is childish, useless.

I find this trend- wherein trustworthy sources of truth are solely those that have little nice to say- an incredibly worrying, to say nothing of fundamentally misleading, development in our culture. For starters, Christians claim that The most newsworthy event we know of is Good News- Christ is risen! Death, injustice, intolerance- however terrible and sinful- don’t win in the end. Love does. Besides, as I’ve written about before, some of the world’s latest, most interesting developments are hopeful trends in global health, violence reduction, etc.. Not that you’d know any of that by watching cable news.

In other words, positivity, hope and joy aren’t fake accessories we manufacture in order to feel better amidst an ever-crumbling world. Rather, they’re critical lenses through which we must look in order to understand this world better. After all, if we listen just to the gloom masquerading as wisdom these days, we may wake up thinking, “Is it worth it, trying to make a difference?” We won’t work to make better those things that haven’t yet gotten better fast enough for enough people. That’s why every year, Plymouth Creek reflects on the power of joy in our spirituality and daily lives. Because that’s both truest and the proper response to our favorite Good News: Christ’s resurrection! Sorry that it takes some groaning jokes to remember…

Grace and Peace,

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