2nd Sunday of Advent

A pregnant duchess ill in hospital. A prank call from an Australian radio station. Success in terms of the radio programme with a few laughs. Life goes on. But in this case, it doesn’t for one. I don’t know if there’s a connection but it seems that everyone is making one. A tragedy of huge propor-tions. The unintended consequences.

I don’t remember the conversation in detail. I just remember that it happened. I had only been in my first parish – in remote, isolated north west Queensland – a short time – it was early days and there was the settling in and doing things for the first time as a pastor. So when the person on the other end of the phone told me that he wanted to kill himself, I can remember feeling sick inside – feel-ing dread – being scared – all the while trying to sound calm and praying that I didn’t say the ‘wrong thing’. I was ‘drowning’ when the caller ‘came clean’ as the voice changed to one I recognised – a pastor – a friend! – playing a practical joke! I was too relieved to be angry.

Generally humour ‘works’, I think, because of the un-expected, because of exaggeration and because we participate by entering the world of the comic / the film / the moment. There may be other triggers as well but I’m pretty sure that if you don’t really want to laugh or find something funny, then you won’t. The problem comes when the humorous ‘moment’ involves the unsuspecting – think the TV shows like Candid Camera or Funniest Videos – which – I think this is correct – might be filmed without consent but can’t be broadcast without consent. Take away the consent, play a prank on the unsuspecting, look for humour at someone’s expense when that someone isn’t ‘in on the joke’ and you’re entering unchartered terrain. It may turn out ok – and everyone laughs – and it may not. Use humour to humiliate and laughter may still occur but this isn’t ok – not everyone laughs.

Until more information is revealed, I think it is premature to make direct links between this tragic death and the radio prank – a forlorn thought as the media storm continues to blow and conse-quences continue to happen (family and friends grieve, people call for … ‘justice?’ … ‘blood?’ … ‘a sense of proportion?’, the DJs are off the air for an indeterminate time, the radio station deals with the public worldwide and their advertisers, and people ask why). I wonder now about these unintended consequences.

Humour and laughter really are precious gifts that can enrich us so much. Nevertheless they really should be ‘handled with care’. They can entertain and educate and enlighten while they also can demean, dirty, and destroy. They are particularly susceptible to the unintended conse-quences.

Only God can be guaranteed to bring good out of unintended consequences. Jesus’ empty grave is the last laugh on our world’s attempt at crucifying God and taking his place. Our motives and outcomes mightn’t be in sync (or sadly they may!) but God is always working for our good which is his ‘good’ in our lives. God’s ‘good’ is best seen in the cross which sadly many people regard as a joke. We intended the cross for one thing. God had other plans. That’s not a bad way of dealing with each day whether we’re laughing or crying.  — GS