Laughing Matters

hlayer_watkins-u3572A Guest Post by James Watkins

According to Elton Trueblood, in his wonderful book called The Humor of Christ, Jesus was a stand-up comedian.

Yep, “hyperbole,” or intentional exaggeration, was the hip humor in first century Palestine.

So, Jesus would have had them rolling on the hillsides with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. And I can just imagine the multitudes roaring when he told the Pharisees they would “straing out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Or how ’bout camels squeezing through the “eye of a needle?”

Unfortunately, a literal translation of Christ’s words doesn’t always capture the cultural comedy that’s really there. For instance, “hiding a lamp under your bed” isn’t funny until you understand that a “bed” was a flat, dried-grass mat and a “lamp” was an open flame. Grab the fire extinguisher!

Humor is a powerful communications tool

First, humor breaks down barriers between people. If you can share a laugh with someone, you’ve connected with that person. The defenses come down, and there’s a desire to continue the dialog.

Secondly, humor is “laughing gas.” You’re not going to stay in the dentist’s chair and allow him or her to drill away on a root canal unless you’re hopped up with plenty of anesthetic. So humor is the laughing gas that allows us to drill away at the abscessed areas of another person’s life.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer claimed laughter is–and I quote–the “sudden perception of incongruity” between our ideals and our behavior.

And third, you can get away with so much more using humor than you can with preaching. That’s why G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I am all in favor of laughing. Laughing has something in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”

I heard someone at a youth worker’s convention–way back during the Polyester Era–say, “It’s a sin to make the gospel boring.” I’ve always instinctively known that humor was a powerful method to share the gospel. The speakers I remember most–and who had the greatest impact on my life–were stand-up theologians.

Humor is a proven communications tool

It wasn’t until I was taking a grad class on communications at a secular university that I discovered that this is not only good theology. It’s terrific psychology as well. One study showed how humor could increase retention of information in a statistics class. Now there’s a real sleeper of a course. Students in the class, where the prof used humor, scored significantly higher than students in the class where the prof simply presented the same information, but with no humor.

So, if I’m going to be “effective,” I’m going to use all the tools available and humor is a heavy duty, high-voltage power tool. It’s proven that humor increases attention, retention and comprehension.

squeezing-good-out-of-badHumor is a serious–and sacred–communications tool

I’m reminded of a great quote from author Conrad Hyers. “Humor is not the opposite of seriousness. Humor is the opposite of despair.” If anyone has reason to laugh, it’s a person who’s trusting that God does indeed work all out for our good. Romans 8:28 is the ultimate “good news/bad news” joke. God takes our tragedies and adds a punch line.

Squeezing Good Out of Bad addresses the power of that attitude and is written as a top ten list of strategies to cope with life’s lemons.

You can also read about the principles, practices and pratfalls in my college text book, Writing with Banana Peels, which I wrote for my course at Taylor University. It includes 20 ways to use humor in writing to indeed increase attention, comprehension and retention.

But the best way to develop your gift of laughter is this:

  • Don’t take your situation too seriously,
  • Don’t take your senses too seriously, and
  • Don’t take your self too seriously.

Laughing matters, so leave ‘em laughing . . . and learning!

Meet Jim

Known for his love of Scripture, fun sense of humor, and gracious encouragement to other writers, Jim Watkins is a popular speaker at writers conferences across the country and around the world.

We could tell you more about Jim. But we think you’d rather hear from him.

So here’s Jim’s intro in his own words:

Whatever anyone dares to boast about, I dare to boast about it, too. Are they writers? So am I with 20 books and over 2,000 articles.Are they speakers? So am I. I’ve spoken throughout the United States as well as countries in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe—in churches, conferences and colleges such as Liberty and Regent Universities. Are they teachers? So am I having taught writing for 15 years at Taylor University.

But if I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my C in Freshman Composition, hundreds of rejection slips, poor sales figures, clinical depression, mild autism, broken relationships, cancer, four surgeries in three hospitals in two months, and . . . well that’s probably enough. But here’s the point: when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, that’s all you really need to know. I’m simply Jim, a writer saved by grace.

Jim’s Workshop

squeezing-good-out-of-badWriting with Banana Peels

Based on his college text book, this seminar provides practical strategies for communicating more effectively with humor. If nothing else, you’ll laugh a lot!

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