Every time a Unitarian Universalist congregation posts UU jokes on their website, in their newsletters, or Orders of Service, your Growth Strategist does a face-palm and whimpers a little bit. I find these jokes to be self-deprecating, and not in an ironic way, but in a stale and tiresome way. It sends the message that we as a UU People don’t take ourselves seriously, that we don’t believe we matter, that we have low self-confidence or worse, distain for ourselves. We use this kind of humor to poke fun at ourselves before someone else can.
And others do. We can count on Garrison Keillor in his weekly Prairie Home Companion show to regularly gird an embarrassing stereotype of tradition. Many of the characters in The Simpsons are negatively neutral to openly hostile toward Unitarian Universalism. Stephen Colbert pokes us on The Colbert Report, which admittedly is my favorite of the three. Somehow I find it more digestible coming from these social commentaries because it’s clearly satirical.
There is a difference between having a sense of humor and going out of your way to make fun of yourself. And then there is satire… Satire uses sarcasm and irony to effect political or social change, or to prevent it. It’s a literary court jester.
The Onion is one of the most read American satirical rags. Sometimes it’s so close to reality, I have to check to see if it’s The Onion. And sometimes an article from a news source is so outlandish, I have to check to see if it’s The Onion.
And now we have a Unitarian Universalist version called The Beacon. Stefan Jonasson suggested we might call it The Bunion (Beacon + Onion.) The writer(s) of The Beacon are anonymous. Usually I like my social commentary with names attached. However, I’ve found the inaugural addition to be open-spirited, spiritually mature, and nuanced. I suspect the writer(s) are missional leaders with institutionalist hearts. In other words, I am certain that the authors are prophetic court jesters who love our faith tradition very much. I want to hear what they have to say even if it makes me squirm a bit.
Please do read The Beacon from cover to cover. Share it with other UU leaders. (Notice I am not suggesting you post this on your website for seekers to find when looking for clear markers of our faith and your community.) Please do talk with other UUs about the messages within the humor. Do you see yourself and/or your congregation in there? Is the Beacon nudging you to consider change? What rubs you in a raw way? There’s wisdom there, too.
Good satire pokes us gently through a cheeky caricature and invites a fresh perspective. The caricature allows us to hold the commentary at arms’ length as we digest and accept and then embrace it as an invitation to healthy change and growth.
Today I give thanks to the Court Jesters.
Growth Strategist Rev. Tandi Rogers likes knock-knock jokes very much, especially ones about planets and bugs, but can’t actually tell a joke to save her life. She leaves that to her 5 year old. He’s in charge of telling. She’s in charge of laughing.