I am in California this week, finding sun and rest (will you forgive me?), but I am thinking a lot about words. And, I'm thinking about satire. One of the burning questions this month after The Interview and Charlie Hebdo is, "Can Christians use satire?"
I won't keep you guessing on where I stand. The first piece I ever published was satire, in a magazine of Christian satire, The Wittenburg Door, which has been around, off and on, for maybe 40 years? My piece was written my senior year of college, after a week long "Missions conference." At the end of the week, the speaker pleaded, wept, lead us in 21 verses of "I Surrender All" trying to get us all to walk the aisle to become missionaries to the dark corners of the world.
But things weren't going well. After a week of priming, No one was coming forward to change their majors and become missionaries. He was clearly upset and pulled out every stop, naming every student group he could think of, "Basketball players!" he sobbed into his hankie. "Have you given your hearts fully to JEsus! Then walk down this aisle!" No response.
"Cheerleaders! Musicians! God is calling YOU to the mission field!" One or two stumble down the aisle. More tears, more pleading, until he was clearly desperate and finally rang a few of my own bells: "English majors! People who wear sneakers when they go shopping! Women who hate romance but love Jesus!" Tears streaming down his cheeks . …
Despite this very personal identification, which showed a scary knowledge of his audience, I didn't trip out into the aisle. At 21, I wanted to serve Jesus with my whole life, wherever He sent me, but I counted on the Holy Spirit to get me there. Not this Sobbing Saint whose primary moves were manipulation and guilt.
There's more to report on this sad night, but I've said enough. My piece satirized the ways we try to fill in for the Holy Spirit when the Spirit's clearly asleep on the job.
And so. I defend satire. We need it. I believe in holy laughter---at ourselves. We don't do it enough. Though yes, it's terribly hard to do well. It's terribly hard to call out the Church in meekness and love. I probably didn't do it well at age 21.
We know words can kill. And maim and eviscerate. We know not to take them lightly.
Consider what Frederick Buechner has written:
"In Hebrew the term dabar means both "word" and "deed." Thus to say something is to do something. "I love you." "I hate you." "I forgive you." "I am afraid of you." Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.
Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other."
- Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
And we do. The words we speak to each other matter more deeply than we'll ever understand. (Did God not call EVERY being and thing into being and thing-ness by words, words??)
By our words, we create and we destroy one another. It's real.
Yes, dear friends, "seek peace and pursue it." "Do your best to live in peace with all men"---but don't stop speaking truth. In love. Seasoned with grace-----but Truth all the same.
Don't stop overturning a few tables in the temple, where extortionists rob the poor.
Don't stop calling out Pharisees who make rule upon rule, missing the kingdom of God.
Don't stop calling out human traditions that strain out gnats and swallow camels.
Don't stop the holy laughter (or holy tears) at ourselves and the subculture we've created: our Christian music, our "Christian" clothing, our "Christian" bumper stickers---the insult, kitsch and crutch of it all!
(If this is true, do we really need a T-shirt to say it?)
(Who knows? Maybe someone will be converted reading this very-clear Bible reference, Proverbs 4:23)
(This is a very effective witnessing tool!)
What about this genre of "Christian" writing?
(The top 2 books are from Steeple Hill, the Christian Romance division of Harlequin Romance.)
And--just one more: look how stylish we women can look while carrying a Bible!
(This one is called "chocolate pink Italian leather clutch")
Is Christian satire valid? You tell me.
For me, I write all this because I love the Church. I love the One who died for the Church. I love the people of the Church.
True words will never return void.
Peace to you all,