A few months ago, I was with a group of teenagers, waiting to be let into a county fair. That may or may not sound like fun to you, but the group was in good humor. Laughter abounded.
So, when a woman passed by with posters proclaiming her support of Hillary Clinton for President, a Canadian teen in our group began a whispered “Trump! Trump! Trump!” cheer. He was neither loud not long at it, but he was mocking the woman’s seriousness. And sensing this, she turned on her heel and gave him an earful. He told her that he is Canadian and can’t vote and didn’t mean to offend her. She glared, turned, and started walking away.
But when he and his friends snickered at what had just taken place, she returned and flew into a rage.
This was the point when I intervened, asking her politely if she wouldn’t mind continuing on to where she had been going so we could get on with where we were going. To this, she gave me a good and fierce tongue lashing before taking my recommendation that she leave us in peace.
Now, before I comment further on this episode, I want to make it clear that I am no supporter of Donald Trump. Not at all. I find him boorish and rude and egotistical. I also find his solutions to be no solution at all. At the same time, I am no supporter of Hillary Clinton.
Where Trump is up-front and obvious with his ego and his folly, Clinton is sneaky and secretive with hers. I find neither option attractive in the least.
I am deeply disturbed by the thoughtlessness I find in so many Trump supporters. But as the episode at the fair highlights, I am equally disturbed by the humorlessness of Hillary’s supporters.
I had seen video footage of Trump supporters being hit, cursed at, and chased down by Trump haters. But this was my first personal encounter with that vitriol.
The complete lack of humor in the woman at the fair shocked me at first.
Does she not understand teenagers? Does she not understand that they are first-class hypocrisy detectors? Does she not understand that the knee-jerk reaction of teens is to mock anything adults take too seriously?
Her best response to the light-hearted heckling — and it wasn’t really even heckling, since it was done more as an inside joke aimed at his friends, not as an insult aimed at her — would have been to meet it with humor of her own.
But her overly serious response actually lampooned herself. When she retorted with her rehearsed slogan, “Take a dump on Donald Trump,” she became the punchline. What teenager isn’t going to smirk at that line and at its angry-faced speaker?
Instead of the angry face, which cemented antagonism between her and the boys, she could have disarmed them with a laugh and a smile. After that, she could have engaged them in a substantial conversation void of the accusation, defensiveness, and conceit she embodied. She missed her opportunity. In fact, she tilted the teens against her chosen candidate.
This has been the brilliance of liberal stalwarts John Stewart and Stephen Colbert: They’re funny! When that sense of humor is lost by liberal or conservative, we should see it as a scary sign.
Medically, a loss of a sense of humor is a sign of dementia. Conversely, there’s a reason why so many of our best comedians are Jewish. It was their humor that enabled them to retain their identity and sanity during some of the most brutal persecutions in history. It is not surprising that a loss of humor is related to a loss of identity and sanity.
Socially, a loss of a sense of humor is a sign of the unravelling of relationships. Where a shared sense of humor is the glue that bonds so many relationships together, the loss of that sense of humor is a sign that those who are humorless now view the others as enemies, not as friends.
Theologically, a loss of a sense of humor is a sign of self-deification. When I’m too important and when my purposes are what will save the world, there is no room for humor. I myself have become serious business. But when I know there is a God who rules the world and whose purposes will be accomplished despite my best efforts and despite the efforts of those who oppose God and his purposes, I regain my sense of humor.
Here’s Psalm 2:4 —
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
I wish there were more, but it’s our only biblical passage that has God laughing in it. And what he’s laughing at is the attempts of the kings of the nations to stand against him. They’re Lilliputian in size and intellect, trying to stand against the One enthroned in heaven. They don’t have a chance. They’re like me as a kid, trying to dam a river with rocks. Amusing in their futility.
Here’s 1 Kings 18:27 —
By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder — he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?”
I love that story. Elijah laughs at the prophets of Baal, having a hoot at the expense of them and their nothing-god. And they, way too seriously, get busy with yelling louder and cutting themselves to add their blood to their prayers — to no effect. And when it’s Elijah’s turn, he’s so confident in his God that he has the sacrifice doused in vast amounts of water before turning to pray. That’s funny! That’s lived out political and religious humor.
When we know that God is on his throne, every human play at power should be seen for the humorous farce that it is.
Every now and then, I start taking politics too seriously. It is serious business, this caring for citizens and the affairs of nations, after all. But when I find my humor draining from me, I know that it’s time for me to stop and pray and step back and see things from God’s bigger perspective.
And that’s when I start to laugh again. The empty braggadocio of the pretenders is belly laughter material.