Marriage, Laughter and What Not
(From Easter “Outreach”)
I recently wrote what is possibly the best piece of light verse I have ever written, a parody of a song by Gilbert and Sullivan based on an unlikely and clever pun. When I read it to Diana we all but rolled about on the floor laughing. Unfortunately it is too naughty to share. I don't think it would offend our broad minded bishop, but it would a few other people. There is always the odd, po-faced person about who prefers a parson to titter or giggle rather than belly laugh and to be more prissily prudish than a rollicking, ribald roisterer!
The best reason for getting married
One of the very best things about marriage is laughter. Diana and I do a great deal of it. The rite for the "Solemnization of Matrimony" in the old Book of Common Prayer (of blessed memory) suggests three reasons for which God ordained marriage: first, the procreation of children; second, as a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; third, for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Trendy clergy have always objected to the absence of the word "love" in these reasons. I object more to the absence of the word "laughter". One of the best reasons for getting married is companionable laughter, hilarity, merriment and humour.
It is not easy to laugh on our own. What is funny when we are in solitude rarely flares into full blown laughter. It might raise a chuckle or a smile, but that is all, laughter needs laughter to laugh.
Paul Johnson the columnist and historian once wrote of Sir Herbert Spencer that he "had no sense of humour at all. But he practised laughing, and developed a powerful chuckle which crescendoed into a roar. He also made jokes by way of experiment. He was once on holiday on the Isle of Wight with G.H. Lewes, who by then had taken on the weighty responsibility of being George Eliot's lover. The two men were at lunch when Spencer said, 'These mutton chops are very large for such a small island.' He started to chuckle, and his chuckle was so peculiar that Lewes chuckled too. Then Spencer worked up to his roar, and Lewes found himself roaring too, and they slapped each other on the back and stamped their feet and roared and roared. They made so much noise that George Eliot eventually appeared and said, 'What are you laughing about?' Lewes explained as best he could. George Eliot listened carefully, weighed the joke about the mutton chops in her mind, front, back, sideways and upside down, translated it into German and back again, Greek and Latin ditto, and finally pronounced, 'I don't think that is at all funny.' Then the men started to laugh again, and George Eliot retired to get on with Middlemarch."
Authentic Christians tend to laugh a lot. Fanatics don't. This is because humour depends largely upon bringing together two incongruous sides of one reality. It is the incongruity that is funny. Being able to see two sides of anything is one of the best remedies against the one-eyedness of fanaticism. Keep laughing.
I am on the point of investing in a Kindle Book. With retirement looming and a bulky personal library of close to 3000 dusty, though valued, books it is time I began to off- load them and start collecting the best of them again, electronically on the single little device that is a Kindle. It enables you to hold in the palm of your hand 3,500 books and, best of all, books that are out of copyright usually cost nothing. If you wish to order a new book, it can be in your hand in a matter of seconds, cheaper to buy than a conventional version and with no postal charge. You can also instantly download magazines and newspapers. Kindles are very clear and readable, even in bright sunshine. I am still trying to find a few reasons not to buy one. My whole collection of CD's is already on both computer and i-pod and so can accompany me in my pocket wherever I go.
It is because the heart of humankind remains as deceitful and wicked as ever it was and as sorely in need of redemption as heretofore, that I do not feel at all redundant as a passionate Christian and priest. However I am happy to acknowledge that the new world of technology and science has most certainly changed our material and intellectual circumstances hugely for the better and is wonderful beyond telling.
Living next door to a church hall, as I have for most of my life, carries both blessings and curses. There are occasionally functions that are so loud they shred the night's sweet silence unforgivably and unacceptably. I have had to venture into many a boozy wedding function, a cassock covering my nakedness, to remonstrate and demand a lowering of decibels, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. I have also several times had to call in the police. Even noisy functions like these can bring unexpected blessings though. Once, when gardening, I discovered a small cache of unopened champagne bottles buried beneath a bush, presumably deposited by an inebriated reveller for subsequent collection and then forgotten. Church halls are one of the many reasons for a life time of rectory dwelling having being so interesting and enriching.
I have been receiving a few complaints about hall noise from our neighbours here in Orr Street. I suspect my tolerance level is higher than most, but if noise is deemed unacceptable I now inform complainants that they have two sensible choices, they can ring me and I will make my customary remonstration, or they can ring the police. They should also note, I like to say, that living next to a church and its hall has inevitable consequences and the good far out way the bad. St Augustine's raises the tone of the neighbourhood, and the beautiful building and gardens probably add thousands of dollars to the value of local properties. While an occasional too noisy night is annoying and should not necessarily be tolerated, it needs to be balanced by a happy acknowledgement of all the benefits and blessings.
Murchison and Rushworth
In the middle of May our parish is to take on the oversight and care of Murchison and Rushworth. More work for your beloved clergy, of course, but more blessings too, we trust. For a start The Rev. Dr. Chris Shields, who lives in a lovely self-converted shearing shed on the fringes of the Waranga Basin, and is a full time lecturer at La Trobe here in Shepparton, will become an Honorary Associate Priest at St Augustine's which will further enrich our ministry team. Murchison and Rushworth are two distinctive and interesting towns; it will be good to get to know the folk and the locations better.
At a recent meeting of Bishop in Council I sat next to someone from another parish who all but died of apoplexy on hearing the word "stewardship" mentioned. She maintained that insensitive stewardship campaigns, such as the Wells scheme, had made the word unacceptable and so it should be avoided at all costs; her husband had refused ever to go church again after one such campaign, she maintained. I suspect he'd been looking for an excuse for years. In this parish our last "**********" campaign was about four years ago, and unless we are content irresponsibly to eat our way into capital to maintain ourselves, we need another. Our campaigns at St Augustine's are far less onerous or invasive than those of old, and involve no door to door campaigning, and so should be acceptable. We certainly received little flak from the last one of four or more years ago. However in a mammon-mad society such as ours, any suggestion of raising one's giving is bound to offend one or two of the profoundly mean. We plan to get a "**********" campaign underway after Easter and expect a positive response from all those who truly love God and/or St Augustine's.
Keep laughing and have a blessed Holy Week and Easter. You are most likely to do so if you attend the marvellous and ancient liturgies that articulate the narrative heart of life's very meaning and purpose.