Humor is Serious Business

by Rev. Elizabeth River

June 2007

Rev. Elizabeth River

Sometimes in my ministry I make people laugh. This is probably the best of all my ministering, but I don’t always know when it will happen. It’s a Mystery…. a God-thing.

Are you laughing right now? Did you laugh yesterday? How many times have you laughed since last month? Can you laugh all by yourself, just looking at the silly things you’ve done or the absurd thoughts that run through your head? Or do you get your sense of humor in gear by going to a funny movie, watching a sit-com, or hearing a “real” comedian?

If you aren’t laughing every day, you may be in serious trouble, and I mean it! You may have the beginning symptoms (or even advanced ones) of Terminal Seriousness—a seriously deadly disease. People have been known to die of Terminal Seriousness. Marriages die of it, for sure. It can even be contagious, if the people exposed to someone actively carrying the disease are not taking the proper precautions.

Look, I know the world is in serious trouble. There is no doubt that the problems we’re facing today are serious. But when you are confronted by these problems and your response consists solely of serious emotions — such as fear, anxiety, dread, hopelessness, pity, not to mention rage, blame, hatred, judgment — this only intensifies the seriousness of the situation and does not help you or anyone around you help solve these serious problems! Au contraire, your creative genius, which has the potential to come up with brilliant ways to alleviate the world’s suffering, is enhanced, inspired, and stimulated by laughter, and it is suppressed by worry, fear or rage.

Are you bothered by your crow’s-feet? Well, don’t be! (Unless it’s your feet that look like crow’s feet. Then you have a problem.) Your crow’s feet are a testament to your well-developed humor-response to life, which is indeed a blessing. I always feel an extra sense of warmth, ease, and comfort when I meet someone whose face sports a nice set of crow’s-feet. I worry less (or not at all) about how I am appearing or sounding. I am more genuine, more myself. I figure anyone who has laughed enough to mark her face permanently must have a good grip on humanity’s extensive imperfections as a species. This causes me to trust that my own imperfections fit right in. Thus I can get on with the business of living, guided by honest communication and kindness.

The minister at my church, during his first sermon after prostate cancer surgery, told hilarious minister jokes that had the whole congregation laughing ‘til we cried — and he did too. He is not treating his serious health problem with Terminal Seriousness. Instead he is treating it in faith, with joy and laughter. In the process he is opening all of us to greater love, compassion, and acceptance.

Good news: the disease of Terminal Seriousness is treatable — even curable! Bear in mind that you’re never going to be perfect, and life is never going to be perfect. Everyone suffers. There will always be small and large problems in the world (and in your life). So, lighten up! Laugh a little, or a lot, especially at yourself.

If you can’t make yourself laugh, find someone who can and stick close to them. You’ll get the hang of it, and a knack for humor is truly worth getting the hang of. The benefits are enormous—for your life, your health, and your spirits. And for others! Just being a person of good humor will make you a blessing to everyone around you. And what is our job as spiritual beings? To be a blessing in the world, of course!

May you and your ministry be generously blessed with the gift of humor. And in closing, please enjoy this “interfaith wisdom” from The Bikur Cholim Joke Book. (For more info, see

“Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.”

“If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?”

“Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?”