Summary: An exploration of why joy and humor should be a more important part of the spiritual life.
Donald Kim’s A Down and Dirty Guide to Theology, is the only book on systematic theology that I have read that includes a section on theological jokes. Kim makes the point that too often when we talk about God and Theology, only the dry stuff gets passed on. Instead Kim thought a section on theological jokes was important (in a very short introduction to theology) because it would help the reader remember that theology is not only dry academics, but rooted in a relationship with God and any relationship needs laughter. Not long after that I read David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. One of his chapters was on the importance of being able to laugh at yourself (and your religion).
James Martin picks up both of these ideas and expands them, looking not only at why it is important to be able to laugh at yourself and your religion but why so many of the spiritual saints have been fans of laughter and jokes.
This book caught my eye a couple years ago when it first came out. But it wasn’t until I saw Glenn Packiham recommend it on twitter a couple weeks ago that I decided to pick it up. This is my second book by James Martin, the first, a short book on Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Jesus, and a few others is on the short list of best books I have read this year.
Martin, a Jesuit priest, writer and speaker has the helpful ability to talk about serious things, be very open about his own struggles and foibles, bring in appropriate humor and still convey real spiritual depth.
The main point of this book is that our faith is missing something when we believe that spiritual things need to be serious things. At root, many things are just funny. And even the when they are not funny, a joke or laughter can make serious or hard things better and help both us and those around us to be better off.
I did not think this was quite as good as Becoming Who You Are. He spends a decent amount of time trying to talk academically about laughter and humor and I think that is important to the topic. Otherwise it would just a book of jokes. But I think Martin draws out the topic too much. I think this would have been a better book if it were about 50 pages shorter.
The book is funny and there are lots of good presentations of humor. (The audiobook is narrated by Martin so he is telling his own jokes.) Martin also strives to show that humor is a part of a variety of religious traditions. And I think that part of the book was less successful and less important. It is not that he is wrong, it is just that I think it was not necessary to try to make laughter universal. It would have been better to make it more particular. Although much of the humor, especially the self deprecating kind, is based around his own Catholic background.
I still think, even with the weaknesses it is worth picking up, especially if you find it on sale.
- A ‘Down and Dirty’ Guide to Theology by Donald McKim
- Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints by James Martin
- A Jesuits’ Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin
- Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
- Operation Screwtape: The Art of Spiritual War by Andrew Farley
- James Martin, SJ – Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Englewood Review of Books)
- Henri Nouwen – A Spirituality of Homecoming (Englewood Review of Books)