Laughter is essential as it spreads God’s goodness to the world. Pixabay

Laughter is God’s medicine for the world

  • January 25, 2024

Woe to you who are laughing now….
-- Luke: 6:25

As a humourist I have often asked myself if my lighter reflections were appropriate in a time of such deep division and grief. As a columnist for over 10 years, there have been times when I have wondered if I should change tack, focus on darker or more politically edgy work, addressing the catastrophes of our times. It is surely fair to ask if one’s lightness, at a time of dark, is fitting or even welcomed. Truth be told, I continue to be torn. Humour, I know, has had a role to play in every context since the beginning of time, as a mediating influence, a salve or as a weapon to address contentious topics.

Social justice comic Negin Farsad has argued that we desperately need humour to open the door for complex conversations: “when you’re laughing, you enter a state of openness. And in that moment of openness, a social justice comedian can stick in a whole bunch of information.” My own upbringing in Montreal meant that my frame of reference was often marked by the earthy and bawdy comedy of francophones and the self-deprecating wit of the Jewish community, both of which used humour to address discrimination, and in ways that drew truth to power. These were my chief influences, and I still turn to that edgy facetiousness to help me confront the ludicrous, the tragic and the extraordinary in everyday situations.

What I most love about humour is that it reminds us never to take ourselves too seriously, especially on matters of great significance. As a self-styled social justice warrior, I’ve loved the jokes that remind us about dangers of posturing to which taking the high road sometimes leads. For example, “I caught a bunch of social justice warriors in my yard digging up large wooden stakes. They said the posts had to be removed before they caused a fence.”  “What do you call a werewolf who has adopted social justice causes? Awarewolf.” My favourite: “how many social justice warriors does it take to change a lightbulb? Just kidding. Social justice warriors don’t change anything.”

Humility, via a playful ethic, reminds us to interrogate the news, to review issues to see all sides of a question, and prepare for not always being in the right. Most important is that we approach the spaces we walk in with an open heart, a resonant faith and sincere commitment to being part of the solution and not the problem.

Faith life, strangely enough, operates along the same rules. It is sacrosanct, after all, and yet a humble servant can celebrate the dynamism of the faith by creating a space of inclusion, reminding us of our flaws without devastating condemnation. Or one can proselytize and humourlessly leave those who are wounded or disaffected firmly out in the wilderness. My favourite priests have had a twinkle in their voice, spoke of the sacred, but could also leaven the bread with bonhomie or a quirky quip that reminded me it was okay to be imperfect and that my mistakes weren’t fatal, even at their worst. It gave me hope that the miracle of salvation was indeed possible. More to the point, perhaps I might benefit.

We are all impacted by the good, the bad and the ugly. We do not all respond alike. Some can dive deep into an issue and encounter moments that strain our sense of justice. Others can easily be overwhelmed, shut down and turn away. The only way through conflict, however, is with dialogue, which can’t happen in silence. Sometimes a light touch can raise the curtain slightly on an issue, let some light in and create space for conversations. To reappropriate Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And where there’s light, there’s hope.

A friend recently sent me a family newsletter, and she included the following quote from social justice author L.R. Knost. “‘Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go … LOVE intentionally, extravagantly and unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is YOU.” And laugh. Because laughter is the sound of God spreading goodness in the world. So, one last quip. “What’s the opposite of a social justice warrior? A Status Quosader.” And who wants to be that?

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

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