Funny Girl

Funny girls ain’t no joke. They are a rarified rush of redemptive humor. Within their satirical, slap stick, and sarcastic rhetoric, they hold the paradox of laugh-your-rump-off playfulness and serious-as-all-get-out truthfulness.

I dream of a church where these women are plentiful and pesky. I want to be inundated with their wise-cracking wit on Sunday mornings and beyond.

Tina Fey stands behind the pulpit in her “Liz Lemon” sweatpants and scunchie, preaching about the need for Sabbath with her cry, “O Lord, break the Internet forever.” Amy Poehler is the humble pastor of children’s ministry who admits the only way to manage youth is to enlist robots. “I have, like, 15 robots. They do everything from singing lullabies to driving the kids to soccer. It’s just amazing what robots can do.” And Kristen Wiig is the inspiring worship director who unabashedly punches her fist in the air during hymns, akin to her Bridesmaids‘ dance-along to the 90’s flashback hit “Hold On.”

Before you dismiss my dream as some media-induced, pop candy coma of generation-Yers, I’d argue these women are already present – although perhaps in subtler forms – in our congregations. I know them. I’ve seen them do the robot dance to Justin Beiber. I’ve done it with them.

And I’m telling you, there is something spiritual about their humor. It lifts. It holds. It heals the often tragic nature of our lives. It doesn’t just seek a laugh; it seeks deep joy.

But for some strange (cough <sexism> cough) reason, women don’t unleash this very raw and radical hilarity in the church. They already have a hard enough time being taking seriously. Why risk a failed joke when judgment is already plentiful for their open-toed shoes or kindergarden-teacher tone?

It matters to me that women bring their inner funny girls to their faith. I’m writing my Master’s thesis at Duke Divinity School on Humor in Feminist Homiletics – a highly un-saturated field of research.

Christian Humor? I had a good chuckle at Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like blog and Susan E. Isaac’s Angry Conversations with God. Recently, I even stumbled across Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary and her punchy writing on girl farts. She even (reluctantly) offers tips for humor writing.

Feminist Humor? Look up any of the women enlisted in my liturgical fantasy above.

But Christian Feminist Humor?

Even Amazon puts a strike through one of these descriptors when searching, telling me they can’t possibly be strung together in a resource, let alone an individual.

I’m not convinced, despite the unfounded chorus of sinners that insists women just aren’t that funny. Stringing together paradoxes of wit and wisdom is part of the boundary-breaking nature of our God and our faith and our women.

Through parables, parody, irony, and wit Jesus broke into humanity when humanity had broken apart from God and each other. African American folk stories characterized the one who refused to signify with his or her cultural categories as a trickster, who acts very much like a savior to his or her people when there appears to be no way out of oppressive identity politics. In this way, Jesus was a sort of holy trickster who blurred the distinctions between who was in and who was out, what was central and what was peripheral, and where God’s presence could be found.

Consider the humor of the Christian foremother Sarah who when faced with the absurdity of God’s plan for her to bear children in old age asks, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12). In that moment of revelation, her laughter ruptured the biological “reality” that she could not bear children and the theological “truth” that she was only a woman in whom God could not possibly place God’s promise. Sarah modeled what some humorists call “incongruity theory,” a characteristic of women’s sense of humor that depends on breaking down stereotypes rather than cementing them. In this way, Sarah’s laughter broke up the sacred and cut open God’s ear to hear her ludic and ludicrous laughter.

Emily Dickinson once wrote: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Perhaps this  could be the slogan of not only Jesus’ rhetorical approach but faith-full funny girls everywhere.


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