Laughter and Postponing Lent

In case you haven’t heard, we’ve recently gotten a little snow in Boston. Just a little? Okay, it’s more like seven feet, but who’s counting?

At Andover Newton Theological School, located in the Greater Boston area, we have had to cancel six days of classes in the past 3 weeks. This has led to frustration and anxiety for sure, but it has also led to creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: we have decided to postpone the season of Lent by one week. ANTS President Martin Copenhaver said:

Part of our mission as a school is to be ‘radically open to what God is doing now.’ Well, we have no idea what God is doing now, except this: Snow. Lots of snow. We have had to cancel classes on six days already — that’s already a whole week (minus Sunday, of course). In other words, we are already a full week behind. Therefore, we feel obliged to respond. Moving Lent seemed the least we could do.

A school known for its innovative education, it seemed like the only logical thing to do.

A satirical press release describing this decision includes comments and support from administration and staff alike and it has received local and national attention. Some wonder if this comical story is misplaced and whether our energies at Andover Newton would be better directed elsewhere. But others, myself included, welcome a breath of fresh (albeit freezing) air and an opportunity to laugh at this unusual and record-breaking winter.

According to scholars of communication and rhetoric, humor is identified as “a cognitive process that draws on both the human sense of order and systems and our appreciation for the clever violation of that order and those systems” (Rybacki and Rybacki, “The Rhetoric of Humor,” Communication Criticism Approaches and Genres, 245.). In other words, human beings expect the world to work in certain ways, that there are systems in place and orders to those systems. But when that order or those systems are violated or disturbed, when something happens that disrupts the way that the world is supposed to work, we notice it. Human beings are the only creatures that can identify this. We know the difference between what is ideal and what is real. There are two potential responses to these types of incongruities, disruptions: despair or humor. Humans either see contradiction and disruption of order as a tragic event, or we notice the absurdity of it all and we laugh.

Couldn’t New England use a laugh right about now? We laugh because even though it is winter and we expect to have snow and cold weather, this season of record-shattering temperatures and snowfall is just unusual, out of the ordinary, and absurd. Our patterns of behavior (our driving, our public transportation, and our daily schedules) are being disturbed and disrupted, so humor is one of the most effective coping mechanisms that we have.

Samir Selmanovic is a Christian minister and founder of Faith Life Manhattan, an interfaith community of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and humanists. He once wrote:

Laughter is one of the ways we cope with the discrepancies of our lives. There is a dream we all have for this world, and then there is, well, this world. There are expectations we have of our religions, and then there are our religions…Our capacity to love God, ourselves, people, and all of life grows with our capacity to laugh. We are ridiculous, and not to laugh at our religions, our worldviews, and our philosophies (that is, ourselves), would be a false witness…This ability to laugh in the midst of our imperfections in the presence of God is what we call grace (Selmanovic, It’s Really All About God: How Islam, Atheism, and Judaism Made Me a Better Christian, 267-8).

So perhaps some might think it imprudent or disrespectful for a Christian seminary to announce, in jest, that they are postponing Lent due to the outrageous amount of snow. But I say that God knows we could use more laughter in this world, and especially in snow-buried Boston. Bring on the laughter and bring on the jokes! I personally think God would approve.

Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.

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2 thoughts on “Laughter and Postponing Lent

  1. Agreed. More laughter please! Though laughter is one of the most important resources we have it is often underutilized.

    In an unrelated note, this reminds me of–the quite serious–postponement of Ramadan that some of the Muslim athletes in the last summer Olympics chose to take. Also some cadets at the US military academies chose to move Ramadan back about three months when basic training and Ramadan coincided.

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