Lutheran Humor: To the Extreme
In the course of my 16th century / Protestant history / Reformation-era studies, I inevitably happen upon Youtube, which has a lot of information but not always a high level of helpfulness. Last night I came across a comedy skit about Martin Luther. The program, Horrible Histories, is a terrific kids’ history show from Great Britain (one which I admittedly love) that showcases odd bits of history to make the subject more palatable and interesting. This particular sketch was about Luther’s physical ailments (read: bowel upsets) that he suffered during much of his adult life.
I know what you’re probably thinking --- this is the man who gave us the five solas, a man after God’s own heart, a man who could be both crude and scholarly and did not care how anyone perceived him when he showed either tendency. If I as a Lutheran admire him as the founder of my denomination, should I not be offended at a comedy sketch that showed the high premium he placed on his bodily functions? Should I not gasp in uncomfortable horror as he describes writing letters to his friends to inform them of his toilet activities? Should I dare to laugh when he mentions building his office around his toilet because he spent so much time there? (This is supposedly true).
Though the skit was not offensive in a moral sense, it was definitely what some might call disrespectful. But then I got to thinking . . . aren’t Lutherans well-known for satire and poking fun at themselves? Is that not what distinguishes us? Horrible Histories’ Martin Luther sketch was startlingly raw and funny and what was some might call “cute” (if they enjoy that sort of humor!) But what would have Martin thought about it?
What do we know about the father of the Protestant Reformation? He was witty --- so much so that wit is one of his best-known talents --- and had an engaging, if occasionally rude, sense of humor. He could be forceful and antagonistic. He loved and trusted God and appreciated intensely that we are “saved by grace through faith.” He was earthy and down-to-earth. He made no bones about important thoughts, even personal ones, and saw no embarrassment in admitting his troubles. Martin Luther was a man unashamed of himself. Thus, I think he would actually find such a skit amusing. I cannot see him growing indignant or angered. Rather, I think he would give a rueful smile and a self-deprecating but somehow confident laugh and say, "ah, they’ve nailed it. That’s what I did, all right!"
You’ve got to love a man like that.
So what can a corny Horrible Histories sketch about Martin Luther teach us as Protestants? It can remind us to enjoy life and not be so serious. Having fun and seeking humor are certainty not contrary to the Christian spirit . . . God gave us humor and made it natural for us to laugh at certain things. As long as comedy is not immoral, violent, or disrespectful to God or to our fellow human beings, Lutherans will usually give it an A+. The Lord never meant for us to be puritanical (in the sense meaning straight-laced; no offense to actual Puritans and their descendants!) Martin Luther’s doctrines balanced a healthy acknowledgement of sin’s unfortunate power in our lives and an open applause of the joys of everyday life. Music was beloved. Satire was much-sought-after.
Martin Luther might not have wholly approved of the ‘toilet sketch,’ but I definitely think he would have made his peace with it. When his enemies found some choice tidbit with which to taunt him, he refused to let it dampen his spirits. “I admit it; so what of it?” would have likely been his attitude. If something was common knowledge, why deny it? Did he shut down when ugly gossip surfaced? No. He was an unstoppable man driven by the Savior. And he openly and earnestly dared to speak of things which most people would probably feel uncomfortable discussing. Again I say: what’s not to love?
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved