A Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest met at their town’s annual 4th of July picnic. Old friends, they began their usual banter. “This baked ham is really delicious,” the priest teased the rabbi. “You really ought to try it. I know it’s against your religion, but I can’t understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden! You don’t know what you’re missing. You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried Mrs. Hall’s prized Virginia Baked Ham. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try it?” The rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said, “At your wedding.”
I love this story. Not only are these two men old friends despite their differences, they can joke about it. Sometimes, it seems, we have nothing left to joke about. We’re all too serious about our own thing.
There are certainly times and places to be deadly serious—probably lots of them. It would seem to me, however, there are also plenty of times and places to loosen up a bit.
In the old Readers Digest publications, there used to be a section entitled, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” My Mom was a subscriber, and I would grab it each month and turn directly to the “Laughter…” page. It was all too short, but sometimes it was the only thing I would read. I haven’t seen that publication in years, but if I ever ran across it again, I would immediately turn there once more.
Whatever happened to us?
I’m not exactly sure what happened to us. Why is it we can’t laugh at ourselves anymore? Everything is perceived as an affront to our sensibilities, and we become sober, sour people in our relationship to others. It’s a sad existence.
Life should be more of a picnic. We should have some fun, laugh with each other, and even poke fun at one another. In short, we should loosen up.
When I entered pastoral ministry years ago, my motto quickly became, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” I’ve tried to stick by that over the years. Frankly, it hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s because others take me too seriously. Other times, however, it’s because I just can’t get over myself.
Get over yourself!
When I get like that, I try to schedule a weekend and go back home. I do that to spend a little time with my old high school buddies. The great thing about them is they don’t allow me to take myself too seriously. They know too much of my history to buy into the “gravity” of my existence.
I once heard Noel Stookey (of Peter, Paul & Mary fame) speak about his faith journey. At one point he asked Bob Dylan what he should do to reconnect with God. Dylan told him to read the Scriptures and go back and visit his old high school.
That makes sense to me. We had a lot of picnics “back in the day.” Maybe we need to schedule a few more.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]