Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
THE ONLY thing worse than a joke you don’t get is the explanation that is bound to follow: an explanation that, while it may help you see why you should have seen the humor that you so lamely missed, is little likely to make you laugh. It may provoke you to muster a sympathy snicker so as to avoid more of an already tedious and misdirected lecture. It may inspire a mild giggle of recognition, but it will hardly ever raise a real belly-laugh, which was the original desired effect.
And so, here I go—me and a dozen thousand other people—trying to explain a joke that we would do better to learn to better tell. I am setting out to explain again why Jesus is the only true hope of the world, why we should put our faith in Him and what all of that won’t mean. I am collecting the information, selecting from what I hope will be usable as evidence, arranging my findings into argument, framing it for presentation and recognizing that, while it may all be fine as far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough.
But then I remember two things. The first thing I remember is how I once won an argument with a heathen friend of mine who—after I had whacked away his last scrap of defense, after I had successfully cut off every possible escape route that he could use, after I had backed him into an inescapable corner and hit him with a great inarguable truth—blew me away by simply saying, “I do not want to be a Christian. I don’t want your Jesus Christ.” There was no argument left to be had or won. Faith is a matter of the will as much as it is of the intellect. I wanted to believe in Jesus. My friend wanted to believe in himself. In spite of how convincing my reason was, my reason was not compelling.
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So, the second thing I remember is this: I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who know Him. The Word has become flesh and I have encountered God in the people who have manifested (in many “unreasonable” ways) His Presence; a Presence that is more than convincing—it is a Presence that is compelling. I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey. “If I be lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will draw all men unto me.”
So here I offer what is possibly the worst thing that can be offered: an explanation of a joke. And, what makes this more inexcusable than the fact that this is that, is the added fact that this is an explanation to a joke you’ve already gotten. I offer it anyway. I offer it in the hope that it might somehow encourage you to live out your lives and, by your living, tell the joke that I, in my writing, so feebly attempt to explain. Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that.
And I will keep rattling on about how good it all is and won’t expect to be taken too seriously. I and a dozen thousand other bores will fill up book shelves and record bins and magazine racks with writing that is fine as far as it goes—hoping that it will help you somehow to go farther. Much that I have read has challenged my opinion and hardened my convictions—I am thankful for that. It is for you (and for me, more in my living than in my writing) to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.
*This column originally appeared in the Spring 1991 issue of Release magazine and was reprinted in the February/March 1996 issue and then again in 1998 with all of his other columns in the book Rich Mullins: Home. Both publishers are defunct.
Rich Mullins was a singer songwriter who lived in Wichita, KS from 1988-1995 where he graduated from Friends University. He is known to have visited Eighth Day Books and the case tops to his band’s lights and cords serve as the bar counter at The Ladder. Rich was tragically killed in a vehicle accident on Sep. 19, 1997.