Once on a trip to India, we toured a recycling warehouse. When you are a country with a great many poor, you naturally recycle. Anything and everything can be useful. That’s why when styrofoam invaded India and took over the task of holding your morning chai at the train station, you would see children along the tracks, recovering the styrofoam cups, trying to resell them to the tea stalls.
The worst part of the styrofoam invasion was the way it killed a way of life for many potters. The potters made the small clay pots to hold your train station chai. When you finished drinking, you simply threw them out the window, where they broke into pieces and the elements recycled them naturally. The potters kept them coming, a sustainable lifestyle.
In the recycling warehouse were all manner of recyclables. You name it (if you could), they had it. If it was made of metal or wood or concrete or fabric or wire or paper or cardboard or plastic or leather, you could find it there. The warehouse space was enormous and the inventory extraordinary. We visitors were thoroughly impressed. As we shared our questions with the owner in his office, I was struck by a poster on his wall. It was a picture of a laughing Jesus.
As we were about to leave I remarked about how much I Iiked that poster. I mentioned how we seldom thought of Jesus as a person with a sense of humor, spreading endorphins as well as love. Without any hesitation, the owner took down the poster from its place on the wall and put it in my hands. “A gift,” he said, “for visiting us.”
That poster hung on my office wall for several years. It reminded me daily not to take life too seriously. I imagined Jesus, with a much more serious mission than ours, chuckling at our all too human foibles and failings.
Eventually my laughing Jesus poster came down. I had a visitor from another country who remarked how much she liked it. She said she seldom thought of Jesus with a sense of humor. That sealed it! I knew what I had to do. I took the poster down and handed it to her. “A gift,” I said, “for visiting us.”
There are a number of books by different authors on the humor of Jesus. “The Humor of Christ” by Elton Trueblood is probably the best known. We often miss the subtlety of the humor of Jesus because we lack knowledge of the original New Testament language and context. Biblical scholars like Trueblood can help us discover it.
I have a friend, a longtime peace activist, who was on an internet call recently with several of us. We were discussing a book he had written on his lifetime of peace work. He has a habit of chuckling right after he speaks about bad news. It’s as if the chuckle has become a substitute (perhaps a redeeming one) for sorrow and tears. I found it helpful. It expressed a kind of resistance to the ongoing reality of a world bent on violence. It was as if the knowledge of an alternative reality was simply waiting to emerge in all its fruitfulness. It was as if he were saying, “just you wait and see.” It reminded me of my laughing Jesus.
I believe Jesus would be looking at us these days and laughing, like my friend’s chuckle, not just to keep from crying, but in wonder at what we are doing. He’s shaking his head and saying to himself, “How did this happen? What will they do next? Don’t they understand yet?”
There is a wonderful book called “Saving Paradise.” It suggests that Jesus came to open the gates of paradise once more; that this was the original understanding of his gift. The early art work in the ancient churches all represent him in Eden like scenes; no crosses. It suggests that paradise is there before us, still. The gates are open. Jesus has gifted us. All we have to do is choose, like clay pots instead of styrofoam.
Only with the capture of Christianity by empire in the third century did the crucifixion take center stage and Christ dying for our sins become the center of Christian theology. And even today, as we are captured by our empires, paradise beckons.
One can only hope the angel with the flaming sword won’t burn Eden down before we enter again.