Thursday, February 26, 2009

The World's Funniest Joke

With all the doom and gloom we're dealing with these days, I thought considering the world's funniest joke might be a good distraction. I even threw in the world's second funniest joke to help ease the blahs of our current situation.

A little background about the "World's Funniest Joke." In 2002, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire conducted research to determine the world’s funniest joke (no kidding!). Over 40,000 jokes received nearly 2,000,000 ratings by people across the globe. While Dr. Wiseman’s study highlighted that people from different regions had distinct ideas about what they judged as humorous, the joke that won first place across lines of geography, gender, and age is as follows:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.
He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?”

The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure that he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard.

Back on the phone, the guy says: “Okay, Now What?”

Yeah...I groaned too when I read this “world’s funniest joke.” Regardless of your judgment of this joke’s level of humor, two serious points emerge. First, as in many jokes, the twist to this comedic tale involves a serious lack of communication. Most of us are very aware of the complex nature of exchanging thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Often, misunderstanding occurs somewhere between the sending of a communication and the reception of the message. And, while the above joke is an exaggeration of the consequences of such miscommunication, sometimes relationships can be badly damaged by misunderstandings. This joke, therefore, reminds us to take the time to insure that we understand what’s being said before we respond.

Second, and this might even be more important, this joke reminds us of the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves. I think we oftentimes take ourselves entirely too seriously. A person who doesn’t have the capacity to laugh at herself is most miserable indeed. “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” says the ancient Proverb, “but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). So, perhaps we should all lighten up a bit. God is honored equally by healthy laughter as well as fervent prayer.

By the way, the second funniest joke was:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the stars and tell me, what do you see?"
Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars."

Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?"

Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like earth out there. And if there are a few planets like earth out there, there might also be life."

And Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent."

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Kingdom Response to the Current Crisis

As I pen these words, U.S. senators are attempting to hammer out a bi-partisan, stimulus bill whose prayerful purpose is to cure, or at least mitigate, our economic woes. Most economic and political pundits believe that a package will pass, but its actual content is still uncertain. Talking heads on either end of the political spectrum have labeled the legislation "porkulous" or "too lean" respectively.

With whichever side of the political aisle we identify, we all acknowledge that we currently face a major economic crisis. And, with the 24-7 news coverage, we constantly are bombarded with doomsday messages. It's no wonder that the national level of anxiety has increased exponentially. With this uncertainty of the future, fear tightens its unrelenting grip on us all. Christians are not exempt from this uncertainty.

Against this gloomy fiscal backdrop, the words of Jesus stand out in bold relief:

"Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possesions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heavan that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:29-34).

Without drilling critically into this profoundly relevant passage, I've been pondering its personal implications for my life. While no singular experience can capture the full essence of any particular passage, perhaps these observations resonate with you as well.

First, the call of this passage juxtaposed to the current economic calamity has exposed the extent of my personal anxiety. Like millions of folks, I have family responsibilities, which carry a price tag. Mortgage. Utilities. Clothes. Food. Gas, etc. These are legitimate concerns while we exist between the times of Christ's first and second advents. In my position as a minister, I realize that my personal finances will be affected by the finances of the larger culture. In fact, many churches and non-profit organizations already are experiencing the negative, fiscal impact of this economic crisis. People are trimming their budgets along with their giving to religious and other charitable organizations. It's hard not to worry about this.

Second, and as an extention of the first observation, I've realized how easy it is to become infected by this fallen world's concerns. Jesus equates anxiety over even the necessitites of life as "pagan" goals and objectives. Ouch. In this connnection, perhaps the people of God need to confront the sad reality that, behaviorally and attitudinally, there is little to no difference between believers and unbelievers.

Third, my wife, Carol, and I have come to a conclusion regarding our particular response to this crisis: God has moved us to resist the natural "hording" tendency during this time and to increase our generosity. In this text, Jesus' cure for economic worry is to "sell your possessions and give to the poor." This seems to be counter-intuitive, and certainly counter-cultural. But, isn't that the true nature of the kingdom of heaven? I don't think that Jesus is teaching a type of Christian communism, nor is he tacitly condemning the rich. In fact, the bible recognizes different socio-economic statuses, even among the Christian community. There is nothing inherently evil with being rich, nor is there anything inherently righteous in being poor. The good news of this text is that kingdom people live according to an eschatological ethic. The abundance of the eternal kingdom--the reign of God--has "already" broken into our current world but has "not yet" been fully consummated. In the meantime, kingdom people are to reflect something of the coming age. Our attitude toward possessions is a poignant, practical way in which we can demonstrate an eschatological ethic--we trust in God, not in any fallen economic structure of this world.

The good news of this text is that God has seen fit to give us the kingdom--a gift far surpassing anything we can accumulate in this world. I'm just trying to figure out how to express that reality in my own life. Perhaps if God's people responded to the current economic crisis in radical faith, and increased generosity, maybe this would go a long way in demonstrating at long last the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.