In his younger days, some had called him handsome. Now, old age had set in. He was desperate. Clem knew he wouldn’t last the winter without a woman.
Oh, he was interested in loving, all right, if his health permitted, but, more importantly, he was interested in good food, lively conversation, and someone to help with the chores. If the gal played checkers and smoked a pipe, it was all the better. It’d been a while since clean overalls hung on his tall, lean frame. His shirts and socks also needed mending.
His bones were brittle from lack of nutrition and hard work; his feet misshapen from wearing boots too small; and most of his teeth were missing. The last tooth he’d pulled himself with some worn, rusted pliers borrowed from a friend. He had washed the pliers in moonshine, and, after the painful extraction, had rinsed his mouth repeatedly with the brew. He knew the art of gnawing food but was praying for a new pair in case his new wife was good at making vitals.
He had just the gal in mind. Ruby Mae lived across the creek. Her husband had passed in the spring. It was rumored that Ruby’s mama had done him in with hemlock. He thought it might be so. Any woman, old or young, who wore a pan on her head must be crazy.
It had been a while since he went calling on a girl but had worked out his mind just what was needed. He had shot and killed three squirrels. The varmints were cleaned and hanging on a stick. He kept the pelts just in case the lady was of a mind to make him slippers. He also picked fall witch hazel flowers and tied them with twine. He knew that the flower helped with skin ailments of all types. When used topically it was fine but if ingested it could cause a person’s body to back up for several of days. He wanted the pan hatted lady to be aware of his knowledge about poison plants – just in case, she had any mischief in mind.
The creek water was running low. The fall rain showers had been brief and far between. Thunder and lightning aside, he enjoyed a good rain. His tin bathtub had a small hole, so he had taken to dancing in the rain with a small piece of soap made from lard.
The worn-looking cabin was straight ahead. He could see the ladies sitting on the front porch hulling beans of some sort. He hoped it was black eye peas. They tasted mighty fine when seasoned with hog jowls.
“Gals, it’s Clem from across the creek,” he called out a greeting. It wouldn’t do any good to frighten a lady, especially since he was calling with wife finding in mind.
The younger woman, Ruby Mae, stood to greet him. Martha, the older woman stayed seated in her rocker and scowled at him.
“Clem, it’s nice to be seein’ you.”
“Ruby Mae,” he nodded and awkwardly handed her the squirrel meat.
“Well, I’m thankful. Why don’t you join me and Mama for dinner? I’ll make us a fine supper.”
True to her word, the meal was delicious. The witch hazel flowers placed in a mason jar were centered on the table. Two candles made from bee comb sat on either side of the centerpiece.
“Ruby Mae, the meal was mighty fine.” Clem hemmed and hawed. “I’m needin’ me a woman, and I’m thinkin’ you’re the gal.”
Sweet Ruby Mae blushed, and Martha made a sound similar to a growl.
“Clem, I’m honored. My Homer done passed, and I’m gettin’ scared about the snow. I’m worried that Mama and me can’t manage the farm,” she looked down at the worn floorboards. “Is you thinkin’ of movin’ here or is me and Mama coming to your place.”
It hadn’t occurred to Clem to relocate across the creek, but the idea sat well with him. Ruby Mae’s home was pleasant, clean, and well kept. He spied jars of canned fruit, vegetables, and meat in the small room off the kitchen.
“It’ll be fine to be moving here,” Clem answered. “But we’re needed to talk about Mama. I done heard that she killed Homer. If it’s true, I best be knowing before the preacher man is called.”
Ruby Mae looked toward her mother. “Mama…”
The older woman smiled a toothless grin. “I ain’t kilt nobody. There was a time or two that I was wantin’ to send Homer to his Maker, but I done feared for my eternal wellbein’. I won’t kill ya. I’m promisin’. I’ll be helping Martha to tend you. I’m knowing how to make food that you can gnaw and feed you gullet. I’ll even warsh your clothes.”
“That’s mighty fine.” Clem replied.
The wedding took place the following week. Ruby Mae looked lovely in pale blue dress with a small pocket placed over her heart. The pocket was trimmed in lace. Her message was subtle, but Clem knew that his bride’s heart now belonged to him, and his heart belonged to her. Martha stood next to her daughter wearing the old pot for a hat.
When the preacher told the newlyweds to kiss, Clem leaned in for a smooch. Before his lips touched Ruby Mae’s, he noticed a sprig of dried hemlock peeking from the lacy pocket. Ruby Mae winked and whispered in his ear, “And you thought it was Mama…”
A shivoo is a boisterous load of fun! The maker culture understands good fun. There was, however, a century or two in church history where humor was considered sacrilegious.
Historically, if rectors or ministers wasted their parishioners’ time by telling jokes in the pulpit, they were sorely reprimanded or even discharged for desecrating a holy calling.
Maybe the governing bodies had a point. After all, there isno verse of Scripture that instructs good Christians to be silly or to laugh.
A doctrine of good humor may be difficult to pull out of Scripture by chapter and verse. But there are parallels in the extravagance of good humor compared with the extravagance of God’s rich tenderness for us. For, God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 2:4-5). Don’t we know that life without laughter is a living death? Life without God’s powerful rescue through His Son’s work is permanent death. Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children (1 John 3:1). What loving parent doesn’t thoroughly enjoy the learning curves of a beloved child in speech, in toddling, in playing . . . pretending, and in the ongoing wonders of discovery?
These days, getting the laughter rolling in a spiritual education class and also in the pulpit enjoys an allotted time-frame.
It is counter-intuitive to look on the funny side of the events rather than the logical and just side of things. There’s a special form of intelligence to brandish the one-liners rather than the guilt. And, that’s what God did for us by sending a counter-intuitive way out of the punishment that He Himself instituted (death for sin). And, a counter-intuitive personal sacrifice (His beloved genetic Son’s life for ours’, the created ones) is what became the model and essence of all goodwill.
I’ve used a lot of silly words in my book’s essays for the purpose of lighting up some ideas being conveyed. Does this technique make it fall into the secular box for you rather than into the “sacred speech” box?
WHERE IS THE HUMOR?
Before we separate and relieve serious teaching and preaching of lightweight joking or wry and witty smart talk, we want to consider the importance that the Lord Himself puts on cultivating the fruits of the Spirit. Goodwill, love, kindness, graciousness, contentment, redemption, joy, allspring from the development of good humor.[i]
Maybe the Lord assumed that human beings would not have to be supplied with chapter and verse to discover the importance of laughter. Instead, He taught us through His own creativityand example of creation so that we should pick up and ingest the ability to mimic His goodwill and good humor through personal experience and natural expression.
I love that God is an entertainer, and when we mimic Him, we become the best lil’ entertainers we can be ourselves. My fellow writer, Kathy Joy, is a humorist who couldn’t help but write me this note, “Glad to know Shiv-oo-lery isn’t dead!” after reading this book. In The Melody of the Mulberries, historic author Tonya Jewel Blessing encompasses her story of a family’s search for forgiveness with the humor of discovering an aging, onery parrot in the Appalachian hills.
Because our Creator’s good humor is modeled for all people by His common grace, potentially all people are able to pick up and mimic God in good humor, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, joy and love. All the more then, Christians should open wide, be infilled with the Holy Spirit’s power and with access to the light of God’s written word, and spill it out like rain over others.
The Apostle Paul advocated for remaining in a state of joy at all times when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. In chapter four, verse 4 he states, “Rejoice in the LORD always, and again, I say rejoice!” Rejoice is the active voice of beingfull of joy. Paul’s mandate to those who are already full of love and knowledge? Hey! Put some notes of happiness into your hearts at all times because of Who the LORD is. Rejoice means “ACTIVATE JOY, PEOPLE! Recycle it. Again, now.”
And because we have confidence in the risen Savior––Who has promised us many benefits in eternal life––shouldn’t we mimic His ironic patience, entertaining goodness, and merriment in our every action and reaction? Proverbs 17:22 clearly equates a merry heart to good (and needed) medicine, using a spice of humor to describe the opposite. A broken spirit tends to dry up the bones.
PRAY FOR BUOYANCY
You cannot manufacture joy. It is a divine gift that we must submit to, and one that we typically experience when we remain in the LORD’s fellowship. When David was severely disciplined for his theft, adultery, and murder, he repented and then prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”[ii] If you lack joy, ask the LORD to open the eyes of your heart. These are a creative’s marching orders: find God’s good humor.
Find the exclamation point.
You may have already discovered, sometimes incredible amounts of creativity are required to produce buoyancy in conflict. What did the Puritans do without television and radio and cell phones? Maybe they had lively parties with debates, singing and playing instruments, logging uses for medicinal herbs, creating educational material, cooking for groups, planting, harvesting, reading, developing businesses, quilting, writing, storytelling, and reciting. I’m not sure if they danced, but many Christian communities do.
We learn from tragedy, epic or otherwise, but tragedy is a genre of literature—believe it or not— which is considered entertainment. One of the fruits of the Spirit is longsuffering.[i] How can anyone suffer for a long while without some fits of humor to prop them up? Humor is absolutely necessary to human survival, and that is why the Creator gave some to each of us.
When I met my husband, I discovered one of the most delightful senses of humor ever to cross my landscape. I fell in love with him. Gratefully! I had been too serious for way too long. Recently, he told me an old story about how some hungry hospital staff used to steal left-over breakfast items, the “safe” ones, from the top of the trash barrel to eat during the morning break. The aide, my husband, arrived to scavenge just after the coffee grounds had been tossed on top of a plate of bacon. What did he do? What any low paid, hungry man would do. He washed off the bacon and re-plated it. As he carried his cache into the lounge, a nurse spied him. “I hope you’re planning to share that?” she asked. He shared it. . . in all good humor. My husband confessed this story recently to the nurse initially involved for the purpose of sharing a laugh about the old days—for bonding. For human cheer. What a gracious gift God gives us when He brings us funny people, and stories of situations like that. Some light-hearted communication can bring us great joy.
I think God enjoys silly human jokes.
The end of the book of Jonah shows that God enjoys pulling out a practical joke, or poking a bit of His own irony at Jonah.
I see the humor in Job’s memoir, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” The comment is so absolute and desperate and bland, I can’t help but smile.
Can humor haunt you, tag you, gag you when you are too serious? Can it open the shades and throw into a dark room the rays of light?