Is there such a thing as Christian comedy, or is that an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “airline food?”
That was the very serious question facing me as I sat down to watch Thou Shalt Laugh (Warner), a Christian comedy festival hosted by Patricia Heaton of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The show is produced by Hunt Lowry, also the producer of Jeff Foxworthy’s Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
For all the showbiz power behind this production, the DVD is more likely to leave you scratching your head than holding your sides. I found myself wondering why, when the performers were funny, they weren’t being obviously “Christian,” and when they were expressing their Christianity, they weren’t very funny.
There were exceptions, such as Jeff Allen’s observation that teenagers are God’s revenge on parents—because they’re someone created in their own image who denies their existence.
But the laughs were pretty thin after that.
It seems that while Christians are excellent at making funny observations about everyday life—like relationships, airport security, or kids—they’re not very good at making funny observations about Christianity. Perhaps we’re afraid of crossing that line where we’re no longer laughing at ourselves but instead mocking God. The result is safe, sanitary humor that doesn’t dare to become what the very best humor can be—funny, smart, social commentary.
Perhaps, then, we’re afraid of laughing at ourselves for fear of offending God or each other.
Which brings us back to Jeff Foxworthy. If you’ve ever seen his performances, you’ll know that he makes fun of rednecks. But rednecks and non-rednecks alike love him because he deeply loves the people he mocks. It works because there’s real affection behind the pointed observations.
One Christian comedian who straddles that fine line is Mark Lowry, former member of the Gaither Vocal Band. Lowry can be wickedly funny, but his performances can also leave Christians squirming—particularly when he draws attention to our petty hypocrisies, our frailties, and our pride.
Christian comedy doesn’t have to be an oxymoron if as Christians we can laugh at the ridiculous without resorting to outright ridicule—and if we can distinguish between laughing at our humanity rather than the divinity we worship. But for so many of us, that’s like threading a camel through the eye of a needle—and we prefer to play it safe and serious.
Less Than Two Dollars a Day
by Kent A. Van Til
reviewed by Wayne Brouwer
Former missionary and current Hope College professor, Van Til brings both personal experience and solid ethical scholarship into this fascinating review. His explanation of the development and nuances of free market economies is clear and well illustrated, and he offers six profound reasons why poverty does not disappear from these societies. “What the Bible Says about Poverty” is short and basic, as is Van Til’s review of church history on wealth and poverty. He affirms an approach to social development in which government promotes social justice. Van Til sees free market economies as generally beneficial but calls for morally invested care of those with less. (Eerdmans)
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
In 1970s Afghanistan, when Rasheed commands his 15-year-old wife, Mariam, to wear a burqa, he says, “a woman’s face is her husband’s business only.” Though Mariam’s childhood was marred by shame, poverty, and rejection, her adult years with Rasheed are a nightmare. In the 30 years that follow, political turmoil continues. Meanwhile, Mariam and her newfound friend Laila persevere and form an enduring bond characterized by compassion, hope, and sacrificial love. From the author of The Kite Runner. (Viking Canada)
by Cora Daniels
reviewed by Robert N. Hosack
According to black journalist Daniels, we reside in “Ghettonation”—a condition that values “now” over the future. In a casual, cheeky voice, she chronicles the impact of the ghetto persona that is as popular in suburbia as inner-city neighborhoods. Hip-hop culture has been co-opted by corporate America. Daniels fears that the bar for personal behavior “has dropped so low that we don’t even know where it is anymore.” She moves beyond the racism-versus-personal-responsibility arguments to reveal the blinkered mind-set that has dominated our day. (Doubleday)
Heroes: Season One
reviewed by Edirin Ibru
NBC’s riveting drama “Heroes” is part superhero genre, part real-world TV drama. Ten seemingly ordinary and diverse strangers are unified by a common personal discovery: they all have superpowers, and they are destined to save the world. A cop can hear people’s thoughts and a high school cheerleader is indestructible. The characters’ lives eventually become intertwined in a breathtaking, sometimes violent, narrative that includes time travel, predestination, and saving humankind. Season one is now available on DVD. Season two promises a brand-new storyline. Caution: this is sci-fi for adults, not for children. (Universal)
Welcome to the Family: New on DVD this month, Meet the Robinsons (Disney) is a fun tale of acceptance and ingenuity.
Horning In: The Trumpet Child (Great Speckled Dog) is the latest CD from the soulful husband and wife team that is Over the Rhine.
Actualize Yourself, God’s Way: Bestselling Christian self-help guru Joel Osteen offers his latest book this month, the ambitiously titled Become a Better You. (Free Press)
And Embarrass Yourself No More: Too many message missteps? Send, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, promises to teach e-mail etiquette. (Knopf)