Humor and Humility
Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer.
- Reinhold Niebuhr
Humble and human both come from the latin word "humus," meaning ground or earth. To be a human is to be of the earth, to be an earthling; to be humble is to remember what you're made of. Sound familiar?
From dust you came, to dust you will return.
Humor helps us be humble. It takes out of ourselves, and lets us see the peculiarities and pretence and hubris in being human. It reminds us that we are earthlings, of the earth, contingent and vulnerable. And in our humility there is room for hope, and for redemption.
Listen to today's podcast which explores this in greater depth....
1. Literary - P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)
A humorist, famous for his daft dandies Bertie Wooster and PSmith, and the implacable Butler Jeeves.
For Mr Wodehouse there has been no fall of Man; no 'aboriginal calamity'. His characters have never tasted the forbidden fruit. They are still in Eden. The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled. ... Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
- Evelyn Waugh
PG Wodehouse helps unveil our pretensions about our own selfishness and silliness.
2. Visual (kinda) - Little Dorrit (1857), Charles Dickens
Satire works well as a critique of the banality of evil. Evil is always a mockery, a cartoon of humanity because it defies the sort of thing we are in its attempts at grandeur, and it corrupts the telos of human nature. This is why hobbits beat the evil in Lord of the Rings, because those things most aware of their humility, their earthiness are not tempted to the grand pretence and banality of evil.
Dickens does this in Little Dorrit by writing about “circumlocution office” as a satire of the British treasury. It is run by mr. barnacle: A barnacle is a crustacean (really hard to remove or destroy) a person or thing that clings tenaciously, feeding off it's institution.
3. Musical - "Laughing With" by Regina Spektor
We don't laugh at God in difficulty because it reminds us of our need, our vulnerability, our dustyness.
Laughter without hope leads to cynicism.
Laughter with hope leads to hope, and possibly, redemption.
Laughter is only redemptive when it moves toward faith.
The gospel is a blessed incongruity. It recognises all the pain. All the sadness. All the pride and hypocrisy and hubris of humanity. It sees how terribly it’s all tumbling toward utter destruction. And in the greatest incongruity of all it offers hope and redemption.
To be reminded that you are dust is hopeless if there is nothing beyond that reminder. But the hope of Lent is that we remember that the same breath which breathed life, love, consciousness into humankind, will breathe grace and redemption of all things through Christ.
And so, we learn to laugh at ourselves, to remember we are but dust, that we may be ready for redemption.
Peace to you all!