What follows is the result of an invitation to deliver a sermon of sorts at my church on July 15, 2018. Technically this is a “lay” sermon as I’m not educated (enough) or consider myself knowledgeable (enough) for this sort of thing to become habitual. I write what I think I know and what I feel … not at all what I know I know. Be that as it may, I’m pleased with the writing here and where I was led. I hope you enjoy and laugh or smile or think a little. If not, then maybe next time. — Gare
Laughter, Joy & Embracing the Fa-fa Moments
Comedian George Burns: “The secret of a sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.”
The pastor was away, and a minister who was known for delivering never-ending sermons volunteered to fill in. When Sunday arrived, only 10 worshipers were present.
“That was a very small turnout,” the minister complained to the sexton. “Weren’t they informed I was coming?”
“No,” replied the sexton, “but word must have leaked out.”
— Sunday Post
The sexton quit and the pastor asked the organist if she would clean the sanctuary.
The organist replied, “Do you mean that I now have to mind my keys AND pews?”
Mother knocked on her son’s door and told him it was time to get up and go to church.
“I’m not going to church,” the son replied.
“You gotta get up and go to church,” said Mother.
“No I’m not. They don’t like me, and I don’t like them. Give me two good reasons why I have to go.”
“Number 1, you’re fifty-five years old, and number 2, you’re the pastor.”
Laughter & joy are important and we are continually striving to have more in our lives. When my pastor asked me to deliver a lay sermon, I had a vague idea that I would speak on humor. Glancing at the proposed readings in the lectionary, I put aside the one that pertained to the beheading of John the Baptist. Not your general yawkfest there.
Life is better when we’re laughing. Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Charles Dickens said, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Lesser known, but still wise, Dr Madan Kataria said: “I have not seen anyone dying of laughter, but millions are dying because they are not laughing.”
True story: Over 20 years ago, the century-old church I worked for in New York City proposed the idea of renting space to various groups to bring in more funds to help pay for needed repair and upkeep. We had quite a few members of the church who had background in the arts, mostly theatre, music, and dance. I supported the concept of having an active theatre space, but also saw the difficulty this proposition presented. I mean didn’t these people know about the separation of church & stage?
I know, I know. But to me, a groan is as good as a laugh.
Comedian Mary Armstrong: “My Mother always told me God hears every prayer. If I’d pray really hard for something and nothing happened, she would say ‘Sometimes God’s answer is no.’ But what if God just doesn’t answer right away? You could be 42, your needs will have changed, and all of a sudden you look out in the yard one morning and there’s that Shetland pony named Rex.”
Shetland ponies aside, I have very few regrets for the sorrow in my life. I am saddened for when I’ve been sad. But, to the best of my ability, I try to embrace the sorrow. To some extent, we all should. Not that we should wallow in it. But sorrow helps us to grow. To love. To remind us that we feel. That we are moved. Sorrow also reminds us how funny life can be. And humor can be inappropriately welcome at the most sorrowful of times. Laughter and humor help us to get rid of the “stuff” of life.
Occasionally, I experience what I call the “The Fa-fa Moment.” As I describe it, you may feel that we all experience it at one time or another. “Fa-fa.” Such an odd term. The Fa-fa Moment is that moment where we are emotionally touched by something or someone but we can’t really express our reaction at the time. We try to speak but get a lump in our throat and we get welled up. At best, the only sound that comes out is a brief … fa-fa … and we catch ourselves … and try to compose.
The Fa-fa Moment comes at some expected times — when we have that unrequited crush on someone; the unspoken scene of a returning soldier hugging his mother or father; involuntary empathy of seeing a stranger in emotional pain; glancing at the humor, truth, pain or joy of a Norman Rockwell painting. The Fa-fa Moment also comes at some unexpected times — an insurance commercial; a silly sitcom with a surprising but truthful moment resolving a family conflict; or a song playing on the radio that invokes a sense memory, bringing us back to an earlier, youthful moment.
While researching this little talk today, I was surprised by how much Biblical text there is that focuses on humor and keeping good humor no matter what is going on … but also surprised by how some other texts actually emphasize the benefits of sorrow over humor. Indirectly, this supports my idea that I’m uplifted by my fa-fa moments. I may get sad. I may experience empathy. But I am joyous that I feel.
This also brings to mind that many of us involuntarily laugh or smile when we cry or when we are moved. I experienced that a few times last fall when Po, my father, passed away. I would recall something that moved me about him. I would well up, go “fa-fa”, then smile or laugh, recalling Po’s boisterous laughter. Or his pout, if and when he took umbrage at a joke I made at his expense. But then later smile if and when he saw the truth and love in my humor. Which just gave me a fa-fa moment all over again.
Comedian Ed Marques: “They say when you die you see a bright light at the end of a tunnel. I think my father will see the light, then flip it off to save electricity.”
The Fa-fa Moment hits at obvious times where we are moved to love and joy … or sorrow and pain. It allows us to embrace and appreciate the love, joy and laughter that much more.
Ecclesiastes 7:3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
Job 8:21 You will once again fill your mouth with laughter, your lips with shouts of joy.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
Proverbs 31:25 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
Luke 6:21 Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh.
Like many of us, I’m drawn to humor. Quite a few of us would much rather embrace love, joy and laughter than to embrace sorrow. The state of sorrow or sadness is because we are hurt or that we empathize with someone who is hurting. And even though we can heal through humor, much of humor comes from the slight or suffering in the situation presented. This is where some people take offense at jokes or humor. This is also where the idea of “having a sense of humor about oneself” comes in handy.
An attorney dies and goes to heaven. As he approaches the Pearly Gates, an orchestra plays and thousands of angels are cheering. St Peter himself rushes over with excitement to shake the lawyer’s hand.
“This is quite a reception,” marvels the new arrival.
“You’re very special,” St Peter explained. “We haven’t seen anyone live to be 130 in quite a while.”
“But I’m only 65,” says the attorney.
St. Peter thinks for a bit. “Oh, my apologies. We must have added up your billing hours.”
I’m no Bible-thumper. Nor am I educated in the multitude of competing religious doctrine or varied translation of doctrine. However, I’ve been touched on occasion by some books that have to do with different ways of looking at Scripture or the biblically familiar. One is called The Last Testament, a Memoir by God. Another favorite book is called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend. The quality of both books is different but both are funny, serious, touching, smart, reverent and irreverent. If you are open to being open, you might enjoy another way of looking at some of the familiar and unfamiliar, especially with Lamb.
There is a documentary available called The Last Laugh. This film intellectually examines the thought process — as well as the psychology and science — behind the boundaries of comedy and even finding humor in the inhumanity of war. At first blush that sounds odd and offensive. One simply cannot laugh at these things. But historians, comedians, writers — and more importantly, survivors of The Holocaust — talk about and examine the importance humor had in getting some through one of the most horrific periods in our history. It was funny, serious, touching, smart, reverent and irreverent.
Our lives so far have been filled with funny, serious, touching, smart, reverent and irreverent moments. And plenty of fa-fa moments where we can’t really describe them or their degree of impact aside from calling them fa-fa moments.
Proverbs 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
Proverbs 15:15 For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.
Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
Long ago, I became a fan of Joe Jackson’s music somewhere around his third or fourth album, Steppin’ Out. When it was released, Jackson’s jazz and rock influences opened my eyes and ears beginning an on-going love affair with his music that few of my actual love affairs and romances understood. I can quote only a fraction of his lyrics, but Joe Jackson’s humorous and optimistic cynicism continues to speak to me. This past Thursday, I saw him live for the 1st time, over 35 years after first discovering him. It usually takes a lot for me to commit to ticket prices these days but both Joe and I are getting up there, so I figured it may be now or never.
As a lay sermon, one would think I could end here with some more scripture. And, while I am familiar with some, I do not feel I speak with authority. As I said, I do not have a scripture-filled education. I am filled with doubt and question. And question of my question. But in our search for joy, inspiration, love, light, laughter & the varied fa-fa moments in life, I will end with one of my favorite Joe Jackson lyrics:
… life goes on, filled with bizarre contradictions
And life can be strange
But love can be stranger than fiction
Only love can be stranger than fiction
I know that sometimes love goes
But sometimes it comes back to getcha
And when love grows
It grows like a flower or grows like a tumor
Love shows that God has a sense of humor
— Joe Jackson, Stranger Than Fiction
Gary Trahan transplanted back to New England in 2011 after 25 plus years living and working in New York City as an actor, writer, waiter, administrative assistant and caretaker for a church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He has performed throughout the United States and has written plays, screenplays, sketches, humor columns and a multitude of snarky letters to the editor. He now lives in Bedford, providing daily aid and presence for Mo, his recently widowed mother … the rewards of which have been reciprocal. “Gare” received his BA from UMass/Amherst another lifetime ago and has been learning lessons ever since. Writing and other forms of creativity help to keep him sane, uh, sanER. Should any of his thoughts touch you to smile or think, he’d love to hear from you. He can be reached at email@example.com.