I remember many years ago talking with a friend of mine about another friend. There was something about this guy that we did not like, but we could not put our finger on it. We knew this: He made us uncomfortable. He made things stuffy. You really did not know what to say when he was around. Time with him was always awkward. We would have to walk on egg shells in fear of saying the wrong thing. The wrong thing would always cause the conversation to go in a totally unexpected way.
Finally, we figured it out. He took himself too seriously.
Since last week I have been in a conversation with a guy that thinks differently than I on many theological issues. From a distance, I would think that we would not get along at all. But such is not the case. Though we differ in many ways—passionately differ—we are having the best time in this long-distance fellowship. Why? Because this guy knows how to lighten things up in order for conversation to take place. He is very wise. He intentionally does not take himself too seriously at pivotal points. He lightens the conversation when it begins to become burdensome. He recognizes it is not about him or what I think of him.
Chuck Swindoll used to say (you know I have a quote from him!), “Don’t take yourself too seriously…after all, no one else does!”
Sometimes we get caught in a trap of taking ourselves too seriously about everything. We take ourselves so seriously that our relationships suffer. We take ourselves so seriously that no one wants to be around us. We take ourselves so seriously that we lose all our influence. We take ourselves so seriously that the very thought of being around us becomes burdensome. Some of us just need to lighten up . . . a lot!
Some characteristics of those who take themselves too seriously:
- Can’t look bad in front of others
- Are always concerned about their image as they think others see it
- If someone thinks badly about them they respond in anger, sometimes even violence
- Disgruntled attitude
- Always have to get in the last word (or they might look bad)
- Always must respond (book length) to what others say bad about them
- If they get a hate email they delete it and never think about it again
- Always trying to prove themselves to everyone else
- They are the martyr in every circumstance
- Can’t take it when people make light-hearted jokes about them
- They are always right
- Joyful and lighthearted
- They see themselves as the example of truth, stability, and excellence in humanity
- Never can be the butt of a joke
- Most certainly, they will never be found making fun of themselves
Oh, and here are some adjectives that go along with it: annoyed, testy, bellyaching, crabby, cranky, always disappointed, peeved, put out, discontent, discontented, griping, always irritated about some thing, malcontent, malcontented, and sulky.
It is not as though we hope for people who are always joking, jesting, light-hearted, never taking themselves or anyone else seriously (we have all been around this type as well), but many of us need some intentional and strategic comic relief for the sake of others and for the sake of ourselves.
As tragic as this is when people take themselves too seriously in life, it is much more so in theology. Of course, like with life in general, we need to take it seriously—very seriously. But we should be careful not to let our passions be a cause for being unnecessarily burdensome and heavy in our personality. Many of us need to take ten and laugh a bit. Many of us need to learn to laugh at ourselves. And we need to let others laugh with us and at us!
What are we? Theological narcissists? Evangelicals, we need to laugh at ourselves every once in awhile and let others laugh with us. Catholics, the same. Baptists, Presbyterians, Orthodox, and Arminians as well. In fact, this goes for everyone. Lighten up! Lighten up so that we can listen. Calvinists: come on! There are plenty of ways we need to lighten the loads. Some Calvinists, we need to take 20 30! Premillennialists: can’t we talk about our charts all day and get some laughs?
This was the death of the emerging movement. No one wanted to be around them. They took themselves way too seriously. I know: I tried. I understood. I agreed on many things. I just could not be around them. It was always the someone-has-done-me-wrong-and-I-am-mad-about-everything mentality.
It is really a sign of maturity when you can lighten things up. With teens, everything is the end of the world. They don’t have the ability to step away from themselves and see how their personal intensity is rather comical. Everything is too serious.
“But wait! If we don’t take ourselves seriously, others won’t either.”
This is simply not true. If you said, “If we don’t ever take ourselves seriously, others won’t either,” this would be true. I am simply saying that we need to lighten up every once in awhile. The fact is that when we lighten things up, people will take us more seriously when it matters. As well, people won’t feel so burdened to be around us.
Let’s take a cue from marriage conferences. They know how to make couples laugh. They poke fun at the idiosyncrasies in both husbands and wives. I often go to Family Life Conferences just to laugh at myself. They know they have to provide some comic relief precisely because the subject is so intense and needs to be taken seriously.
The evangelical blog world out there has become so intense that I don’t want to keep up. The intensity causes us to lose our perspective. Polemics can be wearying.
My point is simple. Theological discourse needs to have a time-out for comic relief.
Tomas Oden gets this: “Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology–more than literary, humanistic, and scientific studies–does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some comic sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity. I invite the kind of laughter that wells up not from cynicism about reflection on God but from the ironic contradictions accompanying such reflections. Theology is intrinsically funny. This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God. I have often laughed at myself as these sentences went through their tortuous stages of formation. I invite you to look for the comic dimension of divinity that stalks every page. It is not blasphemy to grasp the human contradiction for what it is. The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy.”
Michael J. G. Pahls gets it too, “Never attempt the task of theology without a smirk on your face and never trust a theologian who lacks one.”
Let’s try to lighten up every once in a while. Let’s let go of the burden here and there. Let’s not give people any more excuses than they already have for not wanting to be around us. The Gospel is an offense enough. We need to quit adding to it by our theological narcissism.