The Gospel according to Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck

(Humorist Erma Bombeck contributed the following article to Editor Cal Samra's 1985 best-selling book The Joyful Christ: The Healing Power of Humor (Harper San Francisco), which launched The Joyful Noiseletter.)

In church the other Sunday, I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling.

Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off-Broadway said: "Stop that grinning! You’re in church!" With that, she gave him a belt and as the tears rolled down his cheeks, added, "That’s better," and returned to her prayers.

We sing, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!" while our faces reflect the sadness of one who has just buried a rich aunt who left everything to her pregnant hamster. We chant, "If I have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Translated in the parking lot it comes out, "And the same to you, fella!"

Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.

I wanted to tell him He is an understanding God. One who understands little children who pick their noses in church because they are bored. He understands the man in the parking lot who reads the comics while his wife is attending church. He even understands my shallow prayers that implore, "If you can't make me thin, then make my friends look fat."

I wanted to tell him I’ve taken a few lumps in my time for daring to smile at religion. By tradition, one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the gravity mask of tragedy, and the dedication of a Rotary badge.

What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only thing left in our civilization – the only hope, our only miracle – our only promise of infinity. If he couldn’t smile in church, where was there left to go?

By Erma Bombeck

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