Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my forthcoming Fortress Press book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Hell, it’s even the #1 New Release in Religious Humor, no big feat considering how humorless we are as a tribe.
Almost a year ago, Fortress approached me to ask if I’d consider writing about my cancer exile and wandering.
Some have questioned the appropriateness of the title. Fair enough. Obviously, it was meant to grab attention.
“How can something so painful and horrific be funny?” I’ve been asked.
Don’t forget, I’m not nor will I ever be ‘cured’ so I get better than most the unfunny bits of cancer.
Still, I believe cancer is funny because God is present in cancer.
John Chrysostom, a fourth-century Christian clergyman, whose oratory netted him the nickname John Goldenmouth, once preached, “Tears bind us to God not laughter.”
You might expect to find such esteeming of seriousness and suffering in a religion with a cross at the front of every sanctuary and an execution at the heart of its story, but the Gospels frame their narratives not from the perspective of the crucifixion, but from the hindsight of resurrection’s happy surprise. In other words, the laughter of Easter, not the laments of Good Friday, should determine for us how we conceive of God and ourselves as God’s creatures.
Everyone assumes that suffering leads the sufferer to God, and sometimes it does. Suffering can knock down all our other (self-) defenses so that we can finally, wholly, depend upon our maker. But if suffering leads us closer to God, suffering should not leave us mirthless.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and priest from the twentieth century, posited as a sort of first principle:
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
The first time I heard my youngest son’s belly laugh, I marveled over how a celibate like Pierre had understood about God what it took fatherhood to teach me.
Everyone assumes suffering leads you closer to God. And no one registers surprise to hear how cancer has led someone to a deeper (i.e., more serious) faith, but people betray something like shock when you suggest to them that cancer can be funny.
If God is Joy, then we can’t rightly be said to have grown closer to God, through suffering or any other means, without a marked increase in joy, and with joy comes laughter.
Mirth and levity that only the good news of grace makes possible.
Despite the finality with which he expressed it, John Chrysostom was only partially correct. Tears, and the suffering that provokes them, can in fact bring us closer to God by leaving us no other options but turning to God.
But tears and suffering cannot fetter us to God.
Only joy can bind us fully to the God who is most infallibly Joy.
Cancer is funny, then, because the suffering occasioned by cancer draws you nearer to God, and the closer you get to God, the louder laughter becomes.
The more people who do, the more people will happen upon it by accident. The whole reason I wrote about my cancer in the real, raw language I was feeling was because of the number of people I met still carrying unresolved grief and pain from cancer in their own family. I wrote about my cancer the way a lot of people (non-pastors) speak so that those people might find a way to speak their grief, worry, rage, and laughter.
It’s available on Amazon for pre-order.
Check it out.
Order another copy for someone who might be helped by it.
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