Paul Griffin on a Christian light-heartedness and humour What ought to be a Christian tone?

One’s mind may fly to the average Songs of Praise, with the fixed smiles, the arm-waving and swaying to drums and trumpets, the determined air of ‘Isn’t Christianity fun?’ Answer: goodness me, no, not like that.

Back, then, to the Sunday sermon in the middling church, where the preacher starts with a joke to get attention, then turns serious and devotes the rest of his sermon to telling us we all ought to be joyful in the Lord. ‘Lift up your hearts,’he says, and we dutifully say we lift them up to the Lord.

The memorial service

At this point we may ask ourselves what our Lord’s tone is actually like. Is it like this service for habitual worshippers, or more like that at a Memorial service, where everyone works overtime to lighten proceedings, and as often as not the vicar sits helplessly, hearing of the deceased’s fun-loving nature,and lovable faults, and his passion for Gilbert and Sullivan? (So that was why the opening voluntary was the Overture to The Gondoliers.)

Then the grandchildren mutter their specially composed poems, and the standard pieces are trotted out about boats sailing over the horizon, and how ‘I am not dead’.

If the deceased is not deceased, the vicar may well wonder, what on earth are we doing here? But he knows that the fumbling efforts of grieving relatives to reach out into unfamiliar territory are precious, and that the use of time-honoured forms and prayers is more effective when they are generally known by all.

At least these Memorials seriously acknowledge the importance of enjoying life in ordinary ways, as St Francis well understood, and as our Lord, who must be our model, made clear through all the years of his ministry.

I yield to no one in my admiration for St Paul, but one reason he seldom spoke of our Lord’s ministry may well have been that it was not his own style to convey truths by jokes, whereas, allowing for the difficulty of translating them from one language to another, Jesus loved talking about planks in eyes and burying money and fiddling expenses, camels, sparrows, and his own amusing reputation as a winebibber and keeper of low company.

For reasons of obesity, or rather our fear of obesity, we could never think of him as a Friar Tuck, but I am sure he was more that than a sound but neurotic misery, like James and John and the rest who worried about priorities.

Poo-pooing the po-faced

The ability to follow in his footsteps is certainly not limited to the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, but one enjoys the memory of Friar Tucks there, and hopes the breed may not die out. I could name some members now, of whom one or two have lit up this excellent magazine. Often enough, 30DayS sets out to show us the idiocies of the po-faced.

There is a time for profound seriousness, the Crucifixion not being a very light-hearted occasion, and the hardships and difficulties of following Jesus being made abundantly clear over the centuries, so we can never expect to achieve the light-heartedness of our great Exemplar, but as far as lies within us it is right that the general tone of the way we live in the lovely world we have been given should follow our Lord’s way.

Our indispensable nineteenth century showed this in the works of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens, who expressed it clearly enough in Messrs Collins, Slope and Stiggins. How they would grace 30Days!