I conducted a clinical, scientific experiment in my church service last Sunday. I had a theory, and as all my atheist friends who read this blog keep reminding me, you need to test your hypothesis with a controlled experiment. So I grabbed a typical beach ball (selected randomly at the Dollar store), took it to my pulpit and hit it into the air above the heads of my congregation. As you can imagine, they looked up in surprise as it sailed above their heads and began its descent...
Then, to my delight, someone got up and took a good, hard whack at it, sending it backup into the air. Then another, and another, until it finally came to rest only due to a lack of mobility, not a lack of a sense of fun.
You may wonder what kind of goofy church I am running, and you would not be the first person to ask. However, I think that before you join any church, the beach ball experiment is the litmus test you should use. Because if the congregation stands back with arms folded and watches the beach ball hit the floor, they have failed the all important "fun test". You see, in addition to believing the Bible and many other good non-negotiables, a church without a serious attitude toward fun is not a church in which you want to spend an hour or more of your life. That's a wasted hour each week you'll never get back...
As a pastor, I have a rather odd role-model as to how I want to be perceived. if i could choose one person I would remind people of - other than Jesus - it would be Willy Wonka, without a doubt. And that playful spirit I try to exude has gotten me dubbed "Pastor Willy" by our congregation. I was offended at first, because I thought they meant "Free Willy" the whale. I'm glad it's the other guy with the chocolate factory instead!
I think one of the big things that many Christians miss about their faith is the importance of a fun-loving attitude. Honestly, there are some Christians who are so serious, so curmudgeonly, so disapproving of anything that smacks of fun that I'd rather spend my time with non-believers. Funny thing - I believe Jesus felt the same way!
One of the main criticism lobbed at Jesus from the religious crowd was that he ate with the "publicans and sinners" (Mark 2:16). This was the party crowd of His day. And while I don't believe He ever did anything to compromise His holiness, He had to be a pretty fun-loving person for those kinds of people to enjoy having Him around. You can be sure He wasn't like many professing believers, shooting disapproving glances at every joke they heard.
One of the things we have lost in the translation of the Scriptures into English is some of the fun-loving repartee Jesus had with people in His teaching. Theologian Elton Trueblood points out in his book The Humor of Christ that there are even verbal puns in the spoken teaching of Christ that are completely lost in translation. So it is very possible that along with the enlightenment His teaching inspired, He may have even inspired a few groans from the crowd at the "punny" way He taught. And many of His responses to the self-righteous religious leaders of His time were laced with sarcasm, going so far as to refer to them as "sons of snakes" and "white-washed tombs".
But evidently not all religious people agree. I remember a quote from the late (and not so great) Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. When asked about joy and fun within his faith, he responded, "Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious."
While I'm sure many Muslims would disagree with his statements, it's sad how well his words reflect the views of some believers. But please understand, if you call yourself a Christian, your Lord was not a "stick in the mud"! He was a loving, joyful person who exuded so much life that people followed him out into the wilderness for days at a time just to hear him speak. In fact, the whole "feeding of the 5000" was because people came to hear him with no regard for what they would eat. Can you think of anyone you'd listen to all day, without worrying about food? That's how exciting, how captivating a person he was...and is!
I personally didn't go to high school with the Ayatollah, but I can guarantee you that with an attitude like his, he didn't get invited to many parties. Maybe that's why he seemed so grumpy the rest of his life - teenage angst. But that's not true of Jesus, because even those who didn't follow Him could not deny the love and life that flowed from Him.
So as a pastor, and a Christian, I will proudly wear the title of "Pastor Willy Wonka". That's the playful spirit of fun I want people to see in me, because that's what I believe Jesus was like.
And if you get time, feel free to drop by the "Chocolate Factory"...I mean, the church. Who knows what might happen when the room is filled with the fun-loving spirit of Jesus? We might even throw in an Oompa Loompa or two!
Join us Sundays at 10:30am - I'd love to see you there!