What is this, a joke?

 James Schaap has a new book called Up the Hill. It’s set in a graveyard and the narrator’s dead, yet the pages are packed with beauty and humour. A snippet: “His mother died in her rocking chair on a Saturday afternoon in 1947 while smiling and seemingly contented, having just concluded her housecleaning, something she always did with religious devotion. Her house in order, she’d sat down, prepared as she was at that very moment of every week for death or the Sabbath, whichever came first.”

The Globe and Mail is currently running a 10-week investigative series on what makes Canadians laugh. So far “The Front Lines of Funny” hasn’t been much of a knee-slapper, but jokes can disappear when you try to define them. (Warning: that happens here in about two minutes.) Canadians are famous for our sense of humour – on stage, on air, in comics, in literature. We have funny musicians, satirical news shows and big-league comedic actors.

Every once in a while I get a cartoon submission from a graphic artist who’s a Christian, and while I wish I could support their livelihood, I rarely even crack a smile at their work. It doesn’t take long to think of Canadians who make me laugh, but I can’t come up with too many Christian comedians or Christian writers who use comedy well. Am I missing something? I decided to do some research.

Turns out there are over 20 types of humour. Christians have, of course, the same diversity of preference you’d find in any group. Do you like gallows humour, irony or self-deprecating jokes? Does slapstick (such as America’s Funniest Home Videos) make you laugh? Do you watch stand-up? Farce (Royal Canadian or otherwise)? Highbrow? We’re not restricted by our religion from enjoying a variety of humour.

When it comes to the comedy Christians produce, on the other hand, examples evaporate. Adding the adjective “Christian” to “humour” narrowed my online search pretty fast. Every entry was now paired with the word clean, as though that’s another category, reserved for us.  


A lot of Christian humour seems to be anecdotal or situational. If you remember The Bananer (1970 send-up of The Banner), then you’ve seen good satire. In 2007, Faith Alive put out the tongue-in-cheek Reformed Handbook, with chapters such as “What to bring to a church potluck (by region).” I like these attempts to take ourselves less seriously, to have a little fun at our own expense. (Self-deprecating humour.)

In 2008, Collin Hansen published Young, Restless and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, a serious work. Now we have parody in a new book by Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels called Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder. It contains such gems as this Reformed pick-up line: “Baby, is your name Grace? Cause you sure seem irresistible to me.”
It also pokes fun of this question – Who gets to be called Reformed?

“Before we get to specifics, there is the not-small question of who gets to be called reformed. This is a tough one. If you don’t sprinkle babies, are you really reformed? And without the ‘Reformed,’ you’re just the Young & Restless, which sounds exceedingly worldly. Hmmm.

“An easy out is to continually make the distinction between reformed and Reformed, but do you really want to walk around, saying, ‘I’m lowercase-r reformed?’ Neither do we.

“At the end of the day, we needed a concrete formula. We needed certainty. We’re not postmodern, after all. So just grab a pencil and paper, and work through this simple equation:

“CW + Ch(Rf) + RCL + CCC + @ – 10(TV) – 20(RW) – ($TBN/10) – (xWB) – 10Em = RQ.”

(see page 14 for how to use the formula to find your RQ, or Reformed Quotient).

Home-grown humour

These days, I find the under-10 crowd makes me laugh the most. When my husband arrives home, the day’s best one-liners get top billing. 

Like when our two-year-old straightened his arm, stared at it with horror and cried, “My elbow is gone!” (Juvenile humour. Next up: situational.)

Last Christmas our girls were playing with a nativity set when I overheard this: “Okay, I’ll be Joseph. You’re Mary. Let’s pray for supper. ‘Dear Jesus –’ Wait a minute. Are we praying to our own baby?!”

Nehemiah calls the joy of God our strength (8:10). Laughter is a gift from God, a moment when burdens become a little lighter. The world is full of pain and sadness, but there’s also wit, silliness, merriment and real joy. Let’s claim more of that territory.

I’ve probably only scratched the surface of what could be a series as long as the Globe’s – a 10-week investigation called “Between Heaven and Mirth: Exploring What Makes Christians Laugh.”

But it would no doubt be pretty dull.

Unless, that is, we could get James Schaap to write it.

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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