Friday, September 7, 2012

Humor and Heaven

Humor is so interesting, because it can reveal deep things about our beliefs and the energies we're living beneath the polite surface of our civilization. Most theories of humor consider the taboo-breaking factor, that jokes pry themselves into our anxieties and relieve the tensions by various kinds of guilty wish-fulfillment. For example it can be clear that cruel jokes appeal to people who have judgments and want to punish someone, while sex jokes appeal to people who have been considering more sex and in more ways than they've been told is allowed.

Many jokes hinge their power upon punning. Puns can startle and delight us by safely highlighting the multiple meanings that we must ordinarily ignore to stay sane and productive, while in fact the unspoken interconnections of language impact us constantly and provide pathways to altered states. People of madness or genius alike will tend to show hyper-associative thinking which is rich in puns, neologisms, and other wordplay. Advancements in language are often made by such individuals, for whom words are tools and toys of the mind. Lewis Carroll for example coined the term "portmanteau" to mean words that combine in both sound and meaning, such as smoke + fog to make smog. A portmanteau is an old-fashioned double sided suitcase, so all the baggage of two words is being packed into one! Carroll was of course a master of the portmanteau and beyond, as seen in his unforgettably evocative and arguably insane poem Jabberwocky:

'Twas brillig and the slithy toves,
did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were borogoves,
and the mome raths outgrabe.

The portmanteaus here are so stretched that our minds reach for meanings that we cannot fully grasp, and so the alternate reality is both familiar and terribly alien. Something was brilliant and maybe fragile, slithering and slimy, but God help us after that! In fact, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass (1871) that "slithy" means "lithe and slimy" and "mimsy" is "flimsy and miserable".

I certainly loved puns and Jabberwocky in college as did many of my peers, and it would seem to me that language mash-ups fascinate the young adult mind which is struggling to break the old generation's hold on their thinking. As I've gotten older, I still like puns but not for punning's sake. I tend to favor absurd humor that exposes the conflicted biases of normal society and suggests entirely different ways of being.

For examples, I turn to the few jokes that I've been able to memorize. An unusual quality of jokes is that they can be hard for most of us to recite, we just remember the experience of surprise and laughter that we hoped to share. "I guess you had to be there!" Our embarrassment to put ourselves on the spot probably attests to the taboo-busting work that jokes accomplish, because our brains are normally excluding their outsider perspectives and thus resist easy memorization. So which jokes do stick with us almost certainly reveal the personal areas in which we are yearning to break free of old dogmas and reality conventions. Both of my following favorites are by Emo Philips, a bizarre idiot-savant kind of character who borders madness and genius with child-like perspectives informed by references to classic moral and philosophical problems:

"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this."

"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."

A part of me can't stop laughing at these! So the biases of the intellect and religion that are denying me pleasures of my whole body and getting what I ask for in life are of top importance to me. At the expense of political correctness, I'll admit to another zinger by Emo that I've been unable to forget or not find awfully funny. It too suggests a whole side of life that has been denied my knowing, with a sudden exposure of prejudice by punning that brings me satisfactions of both pain and delight:

"I'm from Downers Grove, Illinois. We had a blackout there the other day, but fortunately the police made him get back into his car before he got too far."

Yes, I was from a small rural white town, where basically just one token black family lived and was respected, so long as they contributed to positive stereotypes such as working hard in jobs of less authority and excelling at sports for the hometeam. But when the young man dated a white woman and they were clearly in love, the town became embarassingly split, with some families (not mine) suddenly showing raw hatred and fear. Fortunately my mother was a school teacher who pushed international culture awareness on her own children as well as her students, and I grew up fundamentally craving diversity as essential to divine inspiration and human wisdom.

Recently a joke came to me in a daily email humor list; there are many worth signing up for, because you never know by what synchronicities humor will augment your day's consciousness. This joke is a bit longer and simply revels in the kind of alternate idiot-savant thinking that I can celebrate, at least until the deeper cultural problem is considered. Note that I changed the nationality and gender of the person to be unimportant, since I have no humor interest in stereotyping some human beings as smarter than others. Technically, English doesn't have good gender neutral replacements for the singular third-person pronouns he and she, but I use they and them for this purpose regularly, and I expect it will become part of the language in the future.

A simple person died and went to heaven. When they got to the pearly gate Saint Peter told them that new rules were in effect due to the advances in education on earth. In order to gain admittance a prospective heavenly soul must answer three questions:

1. Name two days of the week that begin with "T".

2. How many seconds are in a year?

3. What is God's first name?

The person thought for a few minutes and answered...

1. The two days of the week that begin with "T" are Today and Tomorrow.

2. There are 12 seconds in a year.

3. God has two first names, and they are Andy and Howard."

Saint Peter said, "OK, I'll buy the Today and Tomorrow, even though it's not the answer I expected, so your answer is correct.

But how did you get 12 seconds in a year, and why did you ever think that God's first name was either Andy or Howard?"

The person replied, "Well, January 2nd, February 2nd,March 2nd, etc...."

"OK, I give," said Saint Peter, "but what about the God's first name stuff?"

The person said, "Well, from the song....Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own..., and the prayer...Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name...."

Saint Peter let them in without another word.

Great stuff! And then the deeper anxiety that the joke wedges into bubbled to the surface in me. Oh God, I had a dream recently in which I saw a group of people that I was deeply drawn to be with, but when I went to join them I became so overcome with inadequacies that I had to run away in shame before I could even see their reaction to me. I awoke so upset and crying, that I had to do a meditation and visualize a different ending, in which I reached for someone's hand despite all my fears of rejection, and they grasped it and smiled at me. I have felt an opening to more love from that experience ever since.

The idea that one must pass a qualification to enter heaven is old indeed, and has been esoterically verified by those who see gatekeepers to hold standards of behavior for different spiritual planes. But where we belong in our hearts is where we must feel wanted, or else we suffer torments of a divided soul and temptations to judge others in defense, which will only make matters worse. The fox and the grapes: oh I didn't want to be there anyway! But the pain of deprivations continue, despite what the mind can rationalize.

Then I laughed, because the following resolution of the joke came to me, from some spiritual guidance that showed heaven's own brand of real humor and love. Enjoy! :)

An honest person died and went to heaven. When they got to the pearly gate Saint Peter told them that new rules were in effect due to the advances in education on earth. In order to gain admittance a prospective heavenly soul must answer three questions:

1. Name two days of the week that begin with "T".

2. How many seconds are in a year?

3. What is God's first name?

The person thought for a few minutes and answered...

1. The two days of the week that begin with "T" are Tuesday and Thursday.

2. I might be able to calculate the number of seconds if you give me paper and pencil, but I don't know off the top of my head.

3. I'm sorry, I don't know what God's first name is.

The person started to turn away in despair, but Saint Peter stopped them with tears in his eyes.

"Thank you so much, you're absolutely correct in all of your answers! We never expected you to know anything to want to return to God, that's been a human quality that we've had to contend with up here as you people advance in your civilization. In heaven, you can learn anything you want after you let in how much we love you just for being, and especially how much we celebrate when you come to us for a place to belong. I only had to ask questions because you expected me to, and the only answer I'm not allowed to accept is a false one made to impress, because then the real you isn't really here."

The person had a hard time absorbing this, but tried, and still had to ask.

"So, what is God's first name?"

Saint Peter laughed. "Potentially that's the easiest question of all! How many days start with T depends on your language, of course. How many seconds are in a year depends on the difference between your calendar and the true solar year, which is hard even for astronomers to measure and can change over time. But God, well God has many names, and your favorite one someday will be your own."

The person might have backed away in some shame of doubts at this, but such a light of heavenly friends came out to greet them that they were enfolded in love and escorted Home.

** with special thanks and blessing to Richardis, through the ages and stages you've always known how to make me laugh ***