A couple of nights ago I introduced some of my kids to the movie "Princess Bride" for the very first time. It is a rather simple and silly movie, but I love it. The lines are classic:
"Mawwaige...mawwaige is what bwings us togeder today."
"Inconceivable! ... You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means?"
"My name is Indigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!"
This 1987 comedy brings back some great memories, and it still has the ability to create for me some genuine side-splitting belly laughs. After the movie was over, I scolded the kids for staying up so late (which was my fault but a good dad never takes the blame) and sent them off to bed, and then I checked the news. It was horrible, Robin Williams was found dead of asphyxiation...a man who made his living off of laughter, killed himself because of severe depression.
Laughter, it is a strange thing. At times it has tremendous ability to build you up, like a good medicine it can smooth out the wrinkles of your weary soul; and yet at other times it can be used to hide despair, the very thing that may be killing you.
I wonder, is laughter and joking a language of hope, or despair? I think it has the potential for both.
The book of Ephesians 4:29 says that the gift of communication is given to us for the sake of building others up, to encourage and breathe life into others. And yet if it is used sinfully, like a poison, it can destroy and tear down. Laughter, one of the most powerful forms of communication we have at our disposal, can do both; that is why we have to be extremely careful how we use it.
Here is my take on the proper and improper use of laughter:
(1) laughter is rightly used when it notices the ironic, strange, odd and random uniqueness of life and invites others to share it with you: Like laughing together at a funny movie line such as"inconceivable", or noticing how your weird dog likes to sleep with his stuffed monkey animal friend at bedtime. It is a spontaneous thing, a joy that bubbles up, when life just strikes you as funny and you want to share it. As they say, the more the merrier.
(1b) laughter is wrongly used when it centers simply around inside jokes and secret codes and phrases that only include a select few. Have you ever been in a group when you say something and two or three people are laughing, you have no reason why, but you are pretty sure you may be the one they are laughing at? The popular and elite often find humor in their own superiority...and your stupidity. And it hurts.
(2) humor is a healthy when you can honestly laugh at yourself and join with the rest of humanity in relishing the crazy random experiences of life. Often humor is found in the common foibles we all undergo and the unexpected expectedness of absurd occurrences we all have endured: having unzipped pants when giving a speech in front of class, toilet paper on the shoe as you walk into an interview, or even passing gas during a blind date. Let's face it, people are funny. You are funny. Laugh!
(2b) humor is deadening when you mock the dignity of others, making sport of their unique person-hood, cynically destroying tightly held moral convictions, or even enjoying other's personal human misery and embarrassing unintentional blunders. Junior Highers are masters of this, and so are late night comics and talk show hosts. Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and even David Lettermen come to mind. Like hungry sharks, they feed on other's weakness. As Christians, we must learn to "never cynically laugh" at the things and priceless people Jesus died for.
Sadly, Robin Williams floated on the waves of hilarity between both worlds. Some of his movies and television shows were filled with laughter that truly was lifting and life-giving, moments that brought joy and and continuous humor through his impromptu zany wackiness. But if you dare (I don't suggest it) to surf social media, his stand-up comedy had a terrible darkside: raw, course, brutal and dehumanizing.
I am afraid the darkside is where his mind too often dwelled. When he was left alone to himself, I believe it was this kind of thinking that fueled his despair.
Tearing apart other people's dignity through mockery and cynicism, always, and I mean always comes back to poison you. If you view others to have no real meaning, lumps of idiotic clay that is open season for all sorts of disrespect and mockery; than you will begin to believe that there is nothing intrinsically valuable about your soul either.
Are we not all made in the image of God? Take heed to Matthew 5:22.
Robin William's death is a tragedy, not only because his ability to bring us to tears of laughter through his outrageous wit has been forever silenced; but more tragic than that is because his constant need to produce a laugh for the public never allowed him to open up and ask others to share his pain in private - - comedy must always keep tragedy hidden. That is why we have the tears of a clown!
I once heard laughter is the language of faith, you can smile because you have hope for a better tomorrow. Sometimes I think laughter can also be the language of the devil, he is great at getting people to disguise brokenness through the mask of the muse. He uses it to isolate and alienate. Leaving people to suffer alone.
Ecclesiastes says it is better to spend time in the house of the mourner, rather than always hanging out at the party. I think I know why -- honesty through sharing your suffering allows people in, gives them a chance to offer you compassion and mercy as balm for a broken heart. However, laughter at the wild party has an amazing ability at keeping people at arms length. Yes, you need to laugh through tough times, but not if it hides who you really are and the pain you are really carrying.
I think as we mourn Robin's death, people are wondering, is he in peace? I don't know, I don't know.
But one thing I do know - - his death is no laughing matter. Eternity is real, and it is never worth the price of telling a few side-splitting jokes down here on earth.