Monday, August 04, 2014


It is a long time since my friends and I at a 1970s church youth club remarked at how many Christian songs were about getting girlfriends - you shall go out with Joy; you will be saved by Faith.

I came to faith, aged 16-19, in a Christian environment that was full of fun and laughter. We had setbacks and disasters but we laughed more than we cried. It was 1993, when I was a conference organiser for the Church Youth Fellowships' Association (CYFA), when someone told me that an event I had organised was 'too much fun'. I had been specifically tasked with easing the debilitating seriousness the Reform / Proclamation Trust gang had inflicted on CYFA conferences. One of their number said I had gone too far.

Those thoughts came back to me last night but another quickly replaced it as a preacher, speaking on number two in a series about the fruits of the Spirit, asked the question, 'What is joy?'

In a question and answer session we quickly established that laughter wasn't joy - although joyful people often laugh a lot. We also felt that joy wasn't quite the same as happy, although joyful people might seem happy a lot of the time. The ubiquitous Pharrell Williams got played. The congregation made a mess of clapping and dancing. Just not used to it.

We ended up, I think, because my mind went a wandering on this, concluding that the word joy was about a deeper, inner contentment. It is related to certainty and assurance more than a sense of humour. It is often the case that English translations of Greek words do not do justice to their depth of meaning. Chara, the Greek word translated 'joy', also means happiness and gladness.

So far so good but then one of the conclusions, if I heard it right, was that we should look happier; that people will be more attracted to our church if the members smile. Really? Are outsiders (hate that term but feeling too lazy to do better) so shallow that they will turn away from a church event if the percentage of smiles is too low.

There are some people who always look happy and smile a lot - I am married to one and it is nice - but most people don't. I am happy. I am deeply content with my lot and in my own shoes. I like being me. I do jokes. I tell a mean story. I love craic (note spelling). I look forward to the day, enjoy problem solving and am pretty sure I cheer up more people than I depress. On Facebook yesterday there were some comments from people who love that Trendlewood Church (my responsibility) is characterised as a place of laughter.

Although there are commands to put off sad faces the word smile only appears three times in The Bible. All three references are in the book of Job and two are negative - smiling at another's misfortune. Job is not exactly a bundle of laughs although I am more convinced than ever before that it is meant to be black comedy.

Maybe it is because I am a Brummie (we tend to save smiles for emergencies). Perhaps my self-consciousness following facial injuries in a road accident aged 14 has something to do with it. I don't know. All I can say is that I will never judge your joy level by your facial muscles and ask that you similarly do not treat me that superficially.

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