This morning saw me staggering into London only half awake to do Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show. Chris and the production team are excellent and never make me feel like an intruder on their territory – which I suppose I am. This morning’s real guest was the wonderful Stephen Merchant – clever, funny, insightful and very tall. This is a gig I never take for granted.
The problem is, however, how to write something that says something, but fits into the milieu of the programme and doesn’t sound like a jarring add-in. Following a funny and interesting hour with a famous guest means that a Pause for Thought script can easily sound out of place. At least, that’s my fear.
So, this morning I did something on ‘thinking’ and comedians. I found a story to begin:
A wise man goes to the market and finds, among all the hustle-bustle, a man selling a parrot for the astronomical cost of £100. The wise man can’t believe his eyes and asks why it is so expensive. ‘Aha,’ says the vendor, ‘this parrot can talk.’ So, the wise man goes home and comes back to the market with a duck, which he puts on sale for £500. People are outraged: ‘£500 for a duck? There’s a bloke over there flogging a parrot THAT CAN TALK for only £100!’ ‘Yep,’ replies the man, ‘but my duck can THINK.’
I then went on to admire the way comedians don’t just make you laugh, but make you look differently at the world. I used three examples:
It’s watching David Brent dancing in The Office and realising that that’s how I dance normally. It’s four revolutionaries sitting on the ground discussing ‘what the Romans ever did for us’ that makes Monty Python’s Life of Brian expose the humbug of selective political memory. It’s Jesus making people laugh by suggesting that trying to get into heaven with all your accumulated stuff is like trying to get a Rolls Royce through a revolving door. (Although he didn’t actually put it quite like that.)
I wasn’t being funny about Jesus either. When he said his thing about camels and the eye of a needle, his audience would have laughed. Comedy makes a point more acutely than any amount of earnest seriousness.
No surprise, then, that there was humour in a serious meeting this evening. Four of the five Anglican Bishops from Zimbabwe are with us in Southwark for the enthronement of the new Bishop of Southwark this coming Sunday. They are intimidated, threatened and squeezed by the Mugabe-backed renegade Nolbert Kunonga and Elson Jakazi. Their churches are stolen form them and their people are under huge pressure. An 82 year old woman was recently tortured and raped by Mugabe’s men in Harare diocese. The rule of law is non-existent: court rulings are simply ignored by the powers.
Yet, in our conversation this evening there was much laughter and funny stuff. Why? Because there is something prophetically subversive about the refusal to let the darkness overwhelm everything. As resurrection suggests, death, violence and threat do not have the final word: God does. And there is laughter in the face of the destruction.
It’s as if all the violence of Golgotha is met ultimately by the laugh of a rolled-away stone and the absence of fear.