Friday, February 9, 2018


Christmas made me sick this year. Beginning December 26, I was afflicted with the crud and it took me until February to feel human again. It was brutal. The worst part was that during this time I felt myself becoming something I detest: a whiner. Whiners drive me up a wall!

The last time I was with my three-year-old grandson, Nick, he started whining. I saw this as a teachable moment and introduced him to the Whiner family by pulling up a video of an old episode of Saturday Night Live on my phone. You may remember them. Every word they utter is spoken in a whiny tone that is as annoying as a preacher hacking and clearing the mucus out of her or his throat after every sentence. I never thought the Whiners were all that amusing. Mostly, I just wanted to turn the TV off. Nick watched with interest wondering what this had to do with whatever it was he was whining about.

“Are you a member of the Whiner family?” I asked him.

“I’m not a member of the Whiner family; I’m Nicholas Ferrara.” He spoke the words even whinier than before, just to let me know who was in charge.

Kids and cats are notorious whiners. As someone who lives with a cat, I seldom hear Guido whine these days, and when he does, he never gets what he wants. I won’t reward it. I like to believe that’s why he rarely whines. I think the same method works on kids. Neither my son nor my daughter are whiners. If they whined when they were wee little, it didn’t last long. They knew better. It never got them very far with me. As for other people’s kids, well, you need to know that I love other people’s kids. Really, I do. But when they whine, I’m gone.

As a pastor, from time-to-time, parishioners come to me and whine. I don’t have a problem with crying, which I believe is good for the soul, and I consider it an honor when someone shares their tears with me. But whining is something else. And when they whine, it takes all the restraint I can muster to listen sympathetically when everything within me wants to smack them and shout, “Suck it up!”

I’m grateful that God is a lot more patient than I am with whiners. It seems to be God’s nature to put up with them. There was Adam who whined that he wasn’t responsible for his actions; it was all Eve’s fault. And who can forget the children of Israel, who were saved from slavery and certain death through a miracle of God’s deliverance, and then proceeded to whine for forty years because things weren’t quite perfect on the way to the Promised Land. Jesus’ disciples were classic whiners, all worried about petty concerns, like who got to talk to Jesus, or who got to sit where in the Kingdom, as if any of that mattered a hill of beans. And then there’s Saint Paul, who was so pathetic, whining round and round in circles about how he wanted to do the right thing, but as hard as he tried, he always ended up doing what he knew he shouldn’t be doing. Oh, Whaa! Whaa! Whaa!

The Bible might be subtitled, The Book of Whining. It’s filled with self-centered people who don’t get what God’s up to and can only fret about what’s in it for them, or as often as not, what’s not in it for them. Of course, the Bible gives us a spot-on representation of humanity.

If I were God, I would have ended the whining a long time ago. I really don’t know how God tolerates it. But from what I know of God, she/he does more than tolerate it. God seems to have an affinity toward whiners. I don’t understand it one bit. But it’s true.

As much as I hate it hate it hate it hate it, there are times when I have to whine because I know that if I don't, I may implode, and I suspect that would be worse. So, all that being said, I really do appreciate the fact that God is a lot more gracious with whiners than I am. I count on it.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

What's so funny?

As I spent time with my grandsons this past week, I was reminded of what a gift humor is. And what a mystery. To my knowledge, there is no other creature with the ability to appreciate humor. Even among humans, it’s hard to understand how humor can manifest itself in such weird ways.

Baby Justin, who turned 8 weeks old, has just started to smile. I mean legitimately smile, not those gas-passing smirks that are really nothing more than expressions of relief. While I was with him, I got him to laugh a few times by making goofy faces. It was glorious. A baby belly laugh is the ultimate high.

Nick is three-and-a half now, and his humor has evolved to butt jokes. He told me about ten knock-knock jokes in a row and the punch line to every one of them was, butt. I suspect that with his friends in day care, all someone has to say is the word butt and everyone cracks up. It gets them every time. I recall seeing comedians like Lenny Bruce back when profanity was taboo, and every time he said fuck (which was quite often), he got a laugh. It always felt like a cheap laugh to me, and it wasn’t really all that funny after the 50th time. The audience was laughing out of nervousness, knowing the comedian had just stepped outside the confines of what’s socially acceptable by using a naughty word. Hearing Nick laugh at words like butt and fart, I can see now that laughing at words considered naughty really is at the humor level of a three year old.

As an older, wiser woman than I was when I was interested in coupling with men, I would advise any person seeking a life partner not to overlook the importance of a sense of humor. While I suspect everyone does have some sense of humor, it’s important to notice exactly what they find humorous. I should have paid more attention to this with my ex-husband. We rarely laughed at the same things. I would be watching a comedy, laughing my head off and see him sitting on the couch looking like the Great Sphinx of Egypt. It’s not that he didn’t laugh. He did. But, as I recall, usually when he was laughing, it was at his own jokes.

For a while I dated a really good man I’ll call Poindexter. Once he took me to see Larry the Cable Guy, who ended up telling a lot of jokes about Mexicans that I found offensive. I couldn’t bring myself to laugh. In fact, if I had driven myself, I would have gotten up and walked out. Everyone in the arena, including Poindexter, was laughing hysterically. For a moment, I wondered, what's the matter with me that I can't laugh at these jokes along with everyone else? But then I came to my senses and wondered, what's the matter with all these people that they think this is funny? On another occasion, I took Poindexter with me to hear David Sedaris. This time the tables were turned. Everyone in the concert hall was enjoying David Sedaris. As I laughed, Poindexter had a blank look on his face. “I don’t get it,” he said. What!? How is that possible?! On the basis of those two events, I should have ended our relationship immediately. But of course, I had to hang in there for a couple more years trying to make something work that was obviously never going to work. Humor doesn’t lie, folks. 

It seems to me that you can tell a lot about a person by the kinds of things they laugh at. Is it a pie in the face? A punny phrase? An ironic twist that you didn’t see coming? I admit that I enjoy it all. But it’s the absurdities of life that really get me going, especially the absurdity of my own life. There have been times when something from my day struck me as so funny that I’d wake up in the middle of the night laughing about it.

The people I enjoy most in my life are gigglers. We get so tickled together that we’re holding our stomachs as tears stream down our cheeks. Whenever I meet someone I can giggle with like that, I feel like there is a bond between us that transcends time and space. It’s as sweet as any holy communion I know.

A former co-worker once told me that he never laughed as much working with anybody as he did with me. I considered that high praise. He was someone I could giggle with. Although it’s been twenty years since we worked together, I still remember moments with him and chuckle. I don’t laugh as much these days and I’m not sure why. Grief often overwhelms me.

After spending time with my grandsons, I realize how much I miss laughing, really laughing in the moment, without the shadows of sorrow tempering my joy. If you’re reading this and care to offer a prayer for me, please pray that I will find myself free to laugh more in the days to come.