Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Funniest Joke Ever (or is it?)

My poor wife--married to the same guy for more than 25 years, a guy who thinks telling the same joke over and over again somehow makes it funnier. Here’s one of my favorites: when we visit friends with a newborn baby I take the child in my arms and stare lovingly at the infant. Compliments ensue as I coo and chat with this fresh new life. But when I hand the baby back to its mother, I strike the most serious posture possible. “I’m so sorry,” my voice is filled with deep concern, “but I think your child is illiterate.”

Hysterical, no? In anticipation of the hilarity my wife has already headed for the car.

It gets worse. Not only do I think my comedic stylings rival those of Jack Black, I also think my philosophical depth rivals Kierkegaard. Each one of us is born fully human. Each of us has the potential for relationships filled with love, kindness, mercy, and grace. And each of us is born a complete idiot.

The potential of human life and relationship depends on what happens after birth. Every child needs love and attention, food and care, safety and security. Every child is born with the capacity for language, yet has no concept of sounds, words, sentences or meaning. Every child grows in its ability to learn, discover, and relate to others. The beginnings of life are finite, the potential is infinite. Coming into maturity depends not only on the child, but the family as well. And the neighborhood. And the society.

When Jesus suggested to a religious teacher “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above” he was describing the beginnings of our life with God. In the last hundred years the evangelical church has made it the end of life with God. Jesus (the smartest guy in history) knew how to use a metaphor. He was pointing in the direction of life with God, a life that begins with new birth and carries infinite potential. Here is the challenge for North American believers: we have embraced the concept of new birth, but we have mistaken it for the end when it is merely the beginning. Spiritual formation is not an option for "serious students," it is reality that flows from the new birth. We are born into a new Kingdom, where the scripture itself refers to some as babes in Christ and others as mature sons and daughters.

All children grow. Some grow healthy and strong, others grow weak and die. Still others languish in a lifetime of unfulfilled destiny. Some develop into adults capable of healthy relationships, others develop into misshapen caricatures of human beings. Some take their place in society while others are stranded awkward and alone. Why do we think it any different in the Kingdom of God?


  1. P. Ray it's so funny that you posted about this today! Yesterday I brought this very thing up with Dusty. In my early childhood classes I am learning that the most formative years in a child's life are birth through age five.

    Dusty and I were talking about how that can be applied in the spiritual realm as well: the discipleship (or lack thereof) that a new believer receives in the very beginning years of their walk with the Lord really does impact the rest of their life within the Kingdom.

  2. I love the analogy with illiteracy Ray. That really drives home the importance of growth and spiritual formation. Spiritual illiteracy... wow.

  3. I am SO using that joke for the rest of my life.

  4. Hi guys:

    Emily--I'm confident you and Dusty will find practical ways to impact the young believers in your life.

    Ed--Your blog would be one site to which I would direct others who are looking to find the right nourishment.

    Joshua--I give you the joke as my gift, and my wife will be thrilled to see it go!

    Peace to all!