I watched Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office on a giant image projected on a wall. It was the third day of a weeklong interspiritual retreat sponsored by the Spiritual Paths Institute, and the room was filled with seekers from every major religious tradition.
We sat in silence as the camera managed to capture the full visage of the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States. He was tall, slender, draped in a wool coat reaching well below his knees. It was an awe-inspiring picture. Then from the back of the room in a voice so clear, shocked, and surprised as to call us out of our hushed reverie someone called out, “My God! He’s black!”
That someone of course was me. For some reason I cannot abide seriousness for long. It isn’t that I see everything as a joke, but that I see a joke in everything. For some reason I put my faith in humor rather than history. I am not an atheist, but I find religion more silly than serious: Praise the Lord, and pass the satire.
To the credit of our students and the Spiritual Paths faculty, the room erupted in laughter at my comment. I don’t think it broke the mood, and I’d like to think it allowed the mood to deepen. I wish I could say that is why I said what I did, but it wasn’t. I said what I said because I thought it was funny. When the words entered my mind I laughed inwardly and just had to know if it worked as well when spoken aloud. It did. I was lucky. This time.
Sometimes the jokes are just so esoteric that only God laughs. Sometimes they are so stupid that only I laugh. I always laugh; sometimes at the joke, sometimes at the fact that joke fell flat.
It was hard to laugh these last eight years. Sneer yes; scoff of course, and satire you betcha. But authentic laughter, laughter that comes from a place of trust and hope rather than fear and anger has been in short supply. Authentic laughter is liberating, it breaks up fear the way Liquid Plumber unclogs a drain. It is impossible to control a people who insist upon the freedom to laugh, which is why dictators and politically empowered clerics are quick to ban humor especially when aimed at themselves.
If it were up to me we would add a cabinet post to the government called The Secretary of Spiritual Health and Humor Services whose job would be to promote comedians, cartoonists, and clowns to continually skewer the sacred cows of piety and politics, and to see that the nation never forgets how to laugh itself free of the madness that passes for truth no matter who in the Oval Office.