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Say what? Insights from the "Devil's Dictionary"
Ambrose Bierce (1842- circa 1914) was an American satirist best known for his Devil’s Dictionary. In it he sought to “improve” on Noah Webster’s famous work by providing definitions that weren’t so much devilish as cynical. And a cynic was, so Bierce defined him, “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. “
Now God says unbelievers are fools (Ps. 14:1) so it follows they shouldn’t be our go-to source for wisdom. That makes it all the funnier/that-much-more-embarrassing when an unbeliever sees something we’ve missed. It is, for example, quite a shock to the system when Bierce sees through the fundamental flaw in the conservative political position, noting that most who go by this label aren’t principled, but are simply “conserving” whatever it is the liberals pushed through in the years preceding! If even an agnostic – if even a blind man – can see through the folly of unprincipled conservatism, we Christians – who have been gifted God’s illuminating Word – really have no excuse for supporting it. This is a rebuke delivered via the mouth of a donkey.
What follows below are a few of the diamonds from Ambrose’s dictionary, sifted out from the dross.
Admiration: Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.
Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.
Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Idleness: A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices.
Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.
Radicalism: The conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today.
Referendum: law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.
Tariff: A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the domestic producer against the greed of his consumer.
And finally, others have taken up Bierce's diabolical definitions. Two of these selections are often attributed to Bierce, but probably in error.
Atheism: The belief that man is god, a god who eventually and invariably takes incarnational shape in the form of the state – Douglas Wilson
Classic: A book which people praise but don't read. – Mark Twain
Lottery: A tax on people bad at math. – Ambrose Bierce?
Racist: Anyone winning an argument with a liberal.
Sweater: Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. – Ambrose Bierce?
Transgender: The application of blackface to gender issues. – Douglas Wilson
Articles, Entertainment, Humor, Satire
The pitch meeting for "Redeeming Love"
PRODUCER: Do you have a new movie for me? SCREENWRITER: Yes, sir. This is gonna be gold, trust me. It’s an adaptation of a steamy romance novel s...
What is humor?
What is humor? It seems a simple question, with a very obvious answer: humor is whatever makes us laugh or smile. But then what of all the cruel pr...
Humor, Satire, Sexuality
Are you a transkindophobe?
Doctor Clive Gledhill looked down at his watch – 4:30. Only half an hour until the surgery shut and then he could head off home for the day to his f...
Humor and the life of faith
"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God" – G. K. Chesterton ***** Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58: As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away: The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2). All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8). Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12). Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161. This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."...
Gender roles, Humor
#chairchallenge highlights male/female divide
We live in a curious age in which the self-evident isn’t. So if you have a friend muddled about whether men and women are different, here’s some help. It’s the #chairchallenge already making its way around the Internet, and while women can do it, men can’t. What’s involved? One easy-to-lift chair, one wall, plus at least one male and one female participant, both ideally wearing shoes. Stand facing the wall, toes touching it, and then move back two footsteps (not paces – just the length of your own feet). You should now be standing two full foot lengths away from the wall. Place a chair under you touching the wall (or have someone else do it). Bend forward over the chair at a roughly 90-degree angle and lean the top of your head against the wall. Grab the chair by its seat and raise it to your chest. Then, stand up! That’s all there is to it! We tested this out at our house, and I found while I could almost, sort of, kind of do it in my socks, there was no way once I had shoes on, as that brought me just a smidgeon further away from the wall. Meanwhile, my wife did it with ease. So why the consistent results? A number of possible explanations have been offered: Men generally have larger feet, putting them further from the wall. Women generally have a lower relative center meaning more of their weight is over their feet making it easier to move off the wall. Women are generally more flexible than men, making it easier for them to shift the center of mass. Whatever the reason, a sharp male/female divide is evident and that makes this not only a funny experiment to try, but also an important one. God says we are created male and female (Genesis 2:17) and for different roles (Ephesians 5:22-33). Our rebellious world dares insist the opposite: infinite genders, no notable differences between them. Now we’ve got an experiment that makes the self-evident obvious again. ...
Comedy as a calling
An interview with the Panic Squad’s Andrew Bright (he’s the upside down one) ***** Andrew Bright is a professional comedian and a professing Christian, and while that’s not as rare as the albino spotted zebra, comedic Christians are hard to come by. His improv comedy troupe, the Panic Squad (www.PanicSquad.com) is well-loved across the US and Canada, and known for their hilarious and clearly clean comedy. What follows is an edited version of our interview. Did you always want to be a comedian? While I loved making others laugh from a young age, I never imagined becoming a professional comedian. I guess it seemed so out of reach, something other people did. In junior high and high school I was searching for a way to fit in. I wasn’t super good looking or exceptionally smart, wasn’t athletic. But I was funny. I used humor as a way to be noticed and make friends, and defensively, as a way to deflect insults and mask the pain I experienced. I enjoyed the fact that I could always make my friends laugh, but never imagined a use for my wit and humor beyond just that. When did you first try doing improvisational comedy? The first time I saw improv comedy was at Trinity Western University (TWU) in BC. I was blown away. Here were guys and girls on stage getting suggestions from the audience, making up scenes and jokes off the top of their heads, and getting big laughs. It looked like so much fun, I wondered, "Can I could do that?” When I tried out for TWU’s improv comedy league, “11:07” I discovered I had a real knack for improv comedy and was affecting others in a positive way. I had always loved acting, and making others laugh, and here was a venue created for just that. I thrived in this environment, the way anyone does when we discover God’s purpose for us. God wires us all differently, to be good at some things and not so good in others. It’s an amazing thing when we begin to operate in a role that fits with the unique way God created us. How did you turn this into a full-time job? Though improv comedy was a highlight of my years at TWU, I didn’t see it as a career option – it was my fun hobby. So along with some other TWU grads and students, we started putting the word out and would take anything we would get our hands on. If a youth group was willing to give us some gas money, we’d come and perform. We also began promoting some regular performances at a Christian coffee house in New Westminster, BC. Our first show had an audience numbering 6 people (and two of them were parents of a group member!). A humble beginning for sure! A few months later, however, we were breaking fire codes with over 500 people packing the place out. While the Panic Squad was started as a hobby in 1996, God blessed our work and three of us quit our day jobs to make it a full-time career in 2001. At the time I had been married for just a year, and left a job in public relations in Bellingham, WA. That first year was very lean, my wife teaching second grade at a small Christian school and me trying to grow a career in comedy. It was an incredible year of fear, trust and surprises. At times it still doesn’t feel real. I just celebrated my 15th anniversary with my wonderful wife, have four amazing kids, and get to perform comedy across the United States and Canada for a living. We’ve learned some hard lessons along the way, been blessed with opportunities and shaken by disappointments, but it’s been a great journey. I feel like I am living Ephesians 3:20-21. Someone watching one of your shows would see you guys are decidedly different. What makes your brand of comedy different, not only from the typical secular comedy, but even from most other Christian comedy? We hope the first thing people notice when they watch our show is that we’re funny, real funny. As comedians, that’s our job and we take being funny seriously. The second thing you’ll notice is that our comedy is squeaky clean. Not clean by comparison to dirty comics, not clean enough for most venues, but simply clean. All the time, for any venue. That’s also very important to us. Clean is clean. You shouldn’t have to define or qualify it. I think where excellence meets standards is what sets us apart. There are very funny, talented comedians who choose to perform material that is offensive. We’re out to prove that you can be committed to standards and still be successful. We perform clean comedy, and we put on a great show. There are also comedians who market themselves as clean, or Christian, but they’re simply not funny. They have standards but no talent. Would you trust your home to a Christian electrician who knows nothing about electricity? Excellence gives you a credible platform. No matter your message, if your life or work is in opposition to what you’re saying, no one will listen. Our work is comedy, so we had better put on a funny show. On your first DVD Your Title Here your teammate Cliff Prang talked about how performing your best requires a real unselfishness. He described improv as “setting each other up for success, working together, listening to each other, yielding to each other.” Improv sounds like quite the appropriate medium for Christians, one in which you serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13) to bring out the best in all of you. What else do you love about improv? Improv is unlike stand-up comedy, or sketch comedy, where the audience sits and watches. With improv, the audience is a part of the show. It’s all about relationship. There is a genuineness or humanness to improv. I love the fact that we can’t do this alone – we need the audience in order to do well. I love that I have no idea what will happen next in a scene. I love that there is grace in improv. There is transparency, for better or worse. The audience knows we are making it up as we go, and when something fails miserably, it can be just as funny, because it’s real. Improv is such an incredible metaphor of life. I think that’s one reason improv is so attractive to audiences. It’s clear during the show that you really enjoy interacting with your audience. At the shows I’ve attended that interaction continues afterwards too – is that common? It is. I think our off-stage personas set us apart from a lot of other acts. We have never been under that impression that we’re a big deal. I’ve never understood people who see themselves that way. Our identity is in Christ. He’s the big deal. We genuinely like people, too. We’re not the type of act that does the show and then disappears backstage until we can get to our hotel room. One of my favorite things is getting to know the people at our shows. Improv being so relationship-driven helps, too. At the end of a show you can’t help but feel like you know us, and we know you, a bit more. I love it when someone comes up and tells me, “I’m the one who shouted out, ‘radio-active chicken livers,’ when you asked for something you’d find in a high school lab.” Lets me know I’m hanging with my kind of people. This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue....
Tearing down tyranny, one joke a time...
November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, for 28 years, divided socialist East Germany from the free West. To mark the anniversary some old East German jokes gained new life. What sort of jokes? Jokes that mocked the State for its incompetence and vindictive pettiness. Jokes that could get an East German arrested back then if the police found out he'd shared them. But if jokes could land you in jail, why did people risk telling them? Because every punchline was an act of resistance. A government that couldn't take a joke was a government that had overstepped its bounds and this became a small way of pushing back. So to mark the anniversary here are a few of the more popular jests from 30 years ago. Why do Stasi (East German secret police) officers make such good taxi drivers? – You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live. The five rules of socialism: Don’t think. If you think, don’t speak. If you think and speak, don’t write. If you think, speak and write, don’t sign it. If you think, speak, write and sign it, don’t be surprised. What would happen if the desert became a socialist country? Sand would become scarce. Three East German political prisoners were sharing the same cell and got to talking about what they were in for. The first explained, “My watch always ran ahead, and I would always arrive at work early, so they said I must be spying.” The second fellow shared, “My watch always ran slow, so I was always late for work, so they said I was guilty of sabotage.” Then the third fellow said, “I was always exactly on time for work so they said my watch much be from the West.” Asking, how could it happen here? We mark this anniversary as a tribute to those brave and wise souls who fought tyranny in the past. But we also mark it so we can learn from the past to hopefully avoid the same sort of mistakes going forward. When we see the trouble Big Brother brought the East Germans, we'll be motivated to pre-empt the same sort of government over-reach here... before it gets to the point where we're arrested for telling jokes. With that in mind, here are a few jokes worth telling while we still can. Three Americans businessmen were sharing the same cell and got to talking about what they were in for. The first explained, “I charged more for my goods than anyone else. So they convicted me of price gouging.” The second fellow shared, “I charged less than anyone else for my product, so they convicted me of anti-competitive dumping.” Then the third fellow said, “I charged the same for my product as everyone else, so they convicted me of price-fixing.” Here's a switch worth making: let's treat convicted murderers like we've treated the unborn and let them be executed, and treat the unborn like we've treated convicted murderers and give them life. A cheap Albertan fellow heard that women drivers get better insurance rates so he phoned up his insurance company and asked, "If I identify as a safer driver, can I get this cheaper rate too?" "I'm sorry sir," the insurance rep replied, "You can't simply identify as a safer driver and expect us to take that seriously." "Okay," he said, "but what if I identify as a woman - can I get the better rate then?" To which the insurance rep replied, "Of course ma'am. What do you think we are – a bunch of transphobic bigots?" What should a Christian think of mocking humor? Some Christians argue that humor, and particularly biting humor, has no place in Christian dialogue. Passages will be cited such as 1 Peter 3:15 and Proverbs 15:1: "...give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." But this "absolutely no mocking" understanding overlooks that God Himself mocks foolishness, with one of the funnier examples occurring in Isaiah 44:14b-17: "He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, 'Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!' And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my god!'” During His time on Earth, Christ had a biting way with words as evidenced repeatedly in Matt. 23 in thrusts like these: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean" (vs. 27). "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (vs. 24). Ah, you might say, it's one thing for God to do something and quite another for us to do the same. There is truth to that, but let's also remember that we are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1, 1 Cor. 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21). And let's remember, too, how others in the Bible have used humor or in other ways shown approval for mockery. For example, Luke evidenced a dry wit in Acts 17:21, poking fun at the Athenians: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." Solomon wasn't pulling any punches when he compared beautiful women without discretion as being "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout" (Prov. 11:22). David in Ps. 52:6-7 spoke of how the "righteous will...laugh at" the foolish fellow who "trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others." More texts could be cited, but this last one is a must – in 2 Cor 10:5 we are told to "tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God." It takes wisdom to know when to tear down arguments and when to answer more gently, but one general (and certainly not absolute) rule is that the broader the audience, the more pointed we can be. And vice versa. So if one of our coworkers is bald, bearded, and loves wearing his summer dress even into the depths of fall, we won't want to start a conversation by making fun of his fashion sense. But when politicians and judges and celebrities start insisting that men should be allowed to compete as women, that is an idea that must be mocked – to treat it as anything less than insane is to give it too much credit (Prov 26:4). So as we mark the Berlin Wall's demise some 30 years ago, we can remember that humor has been used as a weapon for a lot longer than that, by both God and man. To learn more about the godly use of pointed humor, a great small book on the subject is Douglas Wilson's "A Serrated Edge."...
Apologetics 101, Humor
The theology of dirty jokes
In Miracles, C.S. Lewis makes the intriguing argument that it takes a theistic worldview to explain the existence of dirty jokes. the Christian kno...