Today is the 50th birthday of one of my favorite comedians, Steven Wright. I first saw Wright back in the 80's when standup comedy was really getting popular. It's hard not to notice a guy who talks about putting Slinkys on escalators! He did an HBO special which I still have on VHS tape somewhere in my basement and stashed away somewhere in my memory banks.
If you're not familiar with Steven Wright, he's hard to explain. His on-stage delivery makes it look like he's bored and disinterested in what he is saying. He speaks in a monotone, paces back and forth and never so much as cracks a smile. If you aren't listening to him or the audience reaction, you'd think he was a school administrator explaining reasons for changing methods of accounting. But the things he says catch you off guard. The humor comes in short bursts -- jokes which twist your mind into thinking you know what is coming, but you're wrong. How about a few examples?
I knew a guy who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to
the funeral in one car.
If blind people wear dark glasses, why don't deaf people wear earmuffs?
I spilled spot remover on my dog. He's gone now.
What's another word for Thesaurus?
Why isn't the word, 'phonetically'spelled with an ' f '?
If you were going to shoot a mime, would you use a silencer?
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman,"Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
You get the idea. I like the way his mind works. Instead of accepting the established way of thinking, he takes things to the next, absurd step. So instead of bowing to the world's definition of "walking distance," Wright says, "Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."
That's the stuff I can appreciate. Because too often we accept what the world or the church or the pastor has to say without question. The world gets very loud sometimes. We're told repeatedly to be tolerant -- which means that we can't tell others they are wrong. As Christians, we have the responsibility to speak out against injustice, sin and wrong ideas about God. So too often we remain silent to avoid wearing the "intolerant" tag. Churches and demoninations teach doctrine which we are to accept. The Roman Catholic Church even claims the sole authority to do so. Pastors preach all kinds of odd doctrine in the guise of Christianity, but many times their words are spoken just to tickle the ears of the hearers.
Paul praised the church at Berea for not simply accepting his words without checking them out. Should we do less? That's why I never have a problem with the people who ask me, "Where did Cain get his wife?" or "Why did Jesus make wine?" -- they're just checking out the words and trying to understand them. There's nothing wrong with that. I've done it plenty myself. I still run into passages where I wonder, "Why did Jesus say that?" Questioning is good. Taking what we've heard and testing it against the Standard of Truth is what we are supposed to be doing. We shouldn't feel bad about doing it. Those teachers who spout, "Touch not the Lord's anointed!" are acting in an unbiblical manner. They should welcome the questions, not persecute those who ask. If they teach truth, then the words will speak for themselves.
It is that spirit which I admire in Steven Wright. Question the obvious. Investigate the claims and traditions. Then hold fast to what is true. And if you're talented and twisted enough, crack a good joke about the unforeseen possibilities.
In honor of Steven Wright's 50th birthday, I'll close with his words:
"Last week the candle factory burned down. Everyone just stood around and sang 'Happy Birthday'."