MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Here is a test: Jesus and the Easter bunny walk into a bar. Okay, that's it for the test. Now, what was the first thing that came into your mind? Are you one of those people for whom religion and humor just don't mix? Well, commentator and Jesuit priest James Martin thinks that humor and religious jokes are an important part of a healthy spirituality.
Father JAMES MARTIN (Commentator, Jesuit Priest): Lent is coming to a close. That news may prompt some people to say, thank god. Lent is seen as a time of penance, of giving things up and of, well, seriousness. Most people think that Christianity is like that year-round: humorless, depressing, boring. Christianity is seen as a path of deadly seriousness, when it's supposed to be one of life-giving joy.
Part of this is the inability to see the value of humor in the spiritual life. Unfortunately, many religious people tend to take themselves way too seriously. You know, the frozen chosen. That's one reason why humor - especially self-deprecating humor - is important.
So I like to tell jokes about Catholics, Jesuits and priests — since I'm all three. You know the one about the ecumenical group who get food poisoning at a conference, die and go to heaven? So God greets them all and says, Welcome! Now all you Episcopalians, go into waiting room five, but don't look into room one. Baptists into room four, but avoid room one. Methodists into room three but stay away from room one. Presbyterians into room two, but steer clear of room one. And finally, one of the Presbyterians says, What's in room one? And God says, Oh, the Catholics. They think they're the only ones up here.
Why is it important to tell jokes about yourself? It reminds you that you don't know everything, you can't do everything, and that you're not God. Humility underlines your place in the universe.
God, I think, has a sense of humor, too. And if you doubt that, you're just not paying attention. Last month, for example, I was wondering if I really needed two woolen caps. Shouldn't just one suffice? Maybe, I thought, I should give one to the poor.
Anyway, on the way out of a barber shop one day, I reached into my pocket to pull out my hat and realized that it had fallen out on the sidewalk. I turned around and saw a homeless man putting it on. Now who's to say that this wasn't God playfully telling me what I should have done in the first place.
But like I said, we persist in overlooking God's humor, even when it's right in front of us. It's like the guy who's late for a wedding and he's looking for a parking space. And he prays frantically, Oh God, please open up a spot. Please! Please! I'll go to church every Sunday. Suddenly a spot opens up right in front of him. And the guy says, Oh, never mind, God. I just found one.
BLOCK: Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest and the author of "A Jesuit Off Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judaists, and Life's Big Questions." He lives in New York City. You can comment on this essay at the opinion section of NPR's website, npr.org.
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