Sunday, July 13, 2014

Biblical Humor

As I mentioned in a previous post, I try to do a column of humor each summer for our parish bulletin.  This year I went with the smart remarks of Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.  But there are misses, too.  On the internet I found this list, "Top 15 Ways the Bible Recommends To Find a Wife."   I thought it was funny.  It is accurate, too, to the books of the bible, mostly the Old Testament.  But as I asked some friends to look it over, it became clear that this was more "R" rated, and not for publication in a bulletin read by members of families, young and not so young.

Also, it was clear that the tone could encourage disrespect, or even contempt, for the bible.  One of the realities of biblical interpretation is understanding how ideas (like about marriage) changed over time.  The "family values" touted by some biblical evangelicals are not the "biblical values" seen here.  It took people of faith a while to understand and articulate the core teachings of marriage:  between one man and one woman, exclusive, permanent commitment, faithful, fruitful, of body, mind and soul.  This is why (despite #15 in the list) St. Paul's elevation of marriage to a comparison of the relationship of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:22-33) is the culmination of a long journey of reflection on marriage.

Reading this list also shines a spotlight on the patriarchal patterns of behavior in most of the sacred scriptures.    Women were certainly second class citizens.  In this the Israelites copied the attitudes of the peoples around them  (with a few exceptions such as Ruth, Susannah, and Mary).  I do not believe that Jesus Christ was patriarchal, or misogynist (see Mark 10:12, where he says a woman can divorce her husband; or how Mary Magdalene is the "apostle to the apostles," see Matthew 28:10 or Mark 16: 9-10).  Elements of the New Testament also confront male domination (see Galatians 3:28).  But the times and location of the bible (c. 1200 B.C. -- 125 A.D.; the Middle East) were certainly patriarchal and misogynist.  

So, enjoy the irony of this list, even as we have to put it into perspective with the further developments that came in our understanding of marriage.


  • Have God create a wife for you while you sleep.  Note:  This will cost you a rib.  --Adam (Genesis 2:19-24)
  • Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you'll definitely find someone.  (It's all relative, of course.)  --Cain (Genesis 4:16-17)
  • Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman's hand in marriage.  Get tricked into marrying the worng woman.  Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place.  Yes, 14 years of toil for a woman.  --Jacob (Genesis 289:15-30)
  • Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock.  --Moses (Exodus 2:16-21)
  • Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and giver her new clothes.  Then she's yours.  --The teaching of Moses (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
  • Find a prostitute and marry her.  --Hosea (Hosea 1:1-3)
  • Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal.  --Boaz (Ruth 4:5-10)
  • Go to a party and hide.  When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.  --Benjaminites (Judges 21: 19-25)
  • Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law's enemies and get his daughter for a wife.  --David (1 Samuel 18:27)
  • Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest.  --Ahasuerus (Esther 2: 3-17)
  • When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, "I have seen a woman; now get her for me."  If your parents question your decision, simply say, "Get her for me.  She's the one."  --Samson (Judges 14: 1-3)
  • Kill a co-worker and take his beautful wife.  (Prepare to lose your son though.)  --David  (2 Samuel 11)
  • Wait for your brother to die.  Take his widow.  (It's not just a good idea, it's the law.)  --Boaz (Deuteronomy 25: 5-7; example in Ruth 4:10)
  • Do't be so picky.  Make up for quality with quantity.  (But 700???)  --Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3)
  • A wife?  ... NOT!  --Paul (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dolan & Colbert, Deuce

Here are some more repartee and one-liners from the friendship of Cardinal Tim Dolan and Stephen Colbert.

From Dolan's appearance on "The Colbert Report," in September 2013:

As the cardinal walked onto the set, he ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert's hand as if he were greeting the pope.  Colbert replied, "I've got to get a nice big ring if you're going to be kissing my hand!"

Colbert (in character) talked about Pope Francis, saying, "I don't care for the guy.  He's too soft.  He's too soft on sin, for me, this pope."  The pope had recently remarked, regarding priests who may be of homosexual orientation and living good celibate lives and seeking God, "Who am I to judge?"

Colbert thundered, "You are the pope to judge!  What is a declaration of sin or no sin except judgment."  

Dolan replied, "Yeah, but we can never judge persons.  We can judge actions.  Jesus told us that.  So he [Pope Francis] is repeating the timeless teaching of the Bible that we can never judge another human being."

Pleaded Colbert, "But I'm a pundit.  If I don't judge someone I don't get a paycheck."

As they went to the first commercial break, Dolan took a sip from the "Colbert Report" coffee mug.  He laughed, "This grappa is great--from Italy?  You brought some back?"  Colbert agreed.  "It's pure grappa.  It's jet fuel.  You are going to be dancing on the table by the time we're done."

Colbert was riffing on the fact of two popes alive at once.  

Colbert:  "You've got a spare pope, right?  Pope Benedict made you a cardinal.  Do you think Francis looks at you and goes, 'You're one of Benny's boys.'  No, no, no, no, no!  Back of the popemobile for you!"

Dolan:  "Well, we all are!  He hasn't made any cardinals yet.  I'd like to think he'd say, 'He was part of the conclave that elected me.'"

A few weeks later Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Dolan appeared together on stage at Fordham University, in a dialog on how joy and humor infuse their spiritual lives.  It was hosted by Father Jim Martin, S.J., who wrote a book, "Between Heaven and Mirth:  Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the heart of the Spiritual Life."  Father Martin has made several appearances on "The Colbert Report," such that Colbert dubbed him chaplain to Colbert Nation.  (Hmmm, will Father Martin be Colbert's chaplain on "Late Night" on CBS?)

The news reports I have of the event (in front of 3,000 rapt students) are mostly serious stuff, with Colbert putting aside his faux persona from TV and talking seriously about his lived Catholic faith.  He remarked, "Are there flaws in the church?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty in the church?  Absolutely."  He said, "The real reason I remain a Catholic is what the church gives me, which is love."  

But there were some funny lines.  Cardinal Dolan introduced Colbert's wife, Evelyn, who was sitting in the audience, and brought her up onto the stage.  The cardinal put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and when Colbert feigned offense, the cardinal said (in a remark that brought down the house), "I can kiss your wife.  You can't kiss mine."

Colbert did rant about the new English translation of the Mass.  "Consubstantial!  It's the creed.  It's not the SAT prep!"

At one point Father Martin gave the two men questions via Twitter and email.  One was, "I am considering the priesthood.  Would it be prudent to avoid dating?"  Former seminary rector Dolan responded that, on the contrary, "It's good to date at this stage, partly to discern whether the celibate life of a priest is what you want."  Then he added, "By the way, let me give you the phone numbers of my nieces."  Colbert rejoined, "It's actually a great pickup line:  I'm seriously considering the priesthood.  You can change my mind."

Finally, here are some more Colbert jokes from the Al Smith dinner in New York City.

"The last time I spoke on a dais like this was during the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, so I hope you will give me the same respectful silence I received that night."

"Since Al Smith first shattered the stained glass ceiling, America has seen a flood of Catholic presidents, from John F. Kennedy, to JFK, to good ol' Jack Kennedy."

"We got close-ish in 2004 with John Kerry, who was a deeply Catholic candidate. In that listening to him talk was like attending a Latin Mass."

"I'm not saying New York is gay Mecca, but it's at least Gay-rusalem.  New York City is the only place in the world where the lesbian candidate is too conservative."

"In all seriousness, tonight is about the littlest among us.  Speaking of which, is Mayor Bloomberg here?  The real reason Bloomberg doesn't want drink cups over 16 oz. is because he's afraid he might drown in one."

"The pope is constantly talk about about how the church doesn't need to be so dogmatic or hierarchical.  Which forces me to ask the eternal question:  Is the Pope Catholic?  And if not, where are bears going to the bathroom?"

Some Church Humor, Anyone?

Every summer I try to do a column on humor.  I don't know why--it's summer, I'm a failed comedy writer, something different, I like to laugh--whatever.  I've done the Catholic alphabet, homespun philosopher Will Rogers, and the usual priest jokes.  Today it's the banter between two unlikely friends, Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.  First is the column which will appear in our July 20 bulletin, and then some additional material which was left on the cutting room floor.

Here is humor from two very different men who are friends, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Stephen Colbert.

Cardinal Dolan is the archbishop of New York, and the former president of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.  He is also well known for his belly laughs and one-liners, making fun of himself and his rotund figure.

When he was archbishop of Milwaukee, he met with Pope John Paul II in Rome on his ad limina visit.  He reported on his local church and said, "Holy Father, we have good news.  The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is growing."  The pope said, "So is its archbishop."  Dolan laughed and replied, "Holy Father, please assure me that is not an infallible statement."

On a recent edition of his weekly show on "The Catholic Channel" on Sirius  XM satellite radio, Cardinal Dolan spent several minutes on air extolling the deliciousness of a box of fancy French pastries that a producer had brought him as a gift.  In the spirit of Pope Francis, Dolan said, "I am going to give these to a hungry person. (Pause)  Namely me at about 4 o'clock this afternoon."  He regularly jabs about his weight ("I'm the only guy that breaks a sweat while he's eating"), his radio ratings ("my mother is my only listener"), and his Irish heritage ("I tried to trace my family roots in Ireland, but I got so embarrassed that I had to stop.  It was not a pretty picture.").

Stephen Colbert is the host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."  In the spring CBS announced that Colbert will take David Letterman's place as host of "Late Night" in 2015.  In real life Colbert is a practicing Catholic, who for several years taught CCD in his home parish in New Jersey.

Last year Colbert hosted Dolan on his show.  Colbert, using his TV identity as a blowhard, right-wing, not-too-bright pundit, welcomed Dolan saying, "You're the second most famous Catholic in America--after myself."  Colbert then asked Dolan about the recent papal conclave in which Francis was elected pope.  Dolan:  "There's really not much to say--I lost."  Colbert:  "You did not get the gig.....I was pretty mad because I had fifty bucks on you."  Colbert asked the cardinal what name he would have taken if he had been elected pope.  The cardinal paused, and said simply, "Stephen."  The studio audience roared.

A few weeks later Cardinal Dolan returned the favor and asked Stephen Colbert to be the main speaker at the prestigious Alfred E. Smith Dinner for New York Catholic Charities.  Colbert opened his remarks by declaring himself "America's most famous Catholic."  Then he said, "I know what the cardinal is thinking:  'Stephen, pride is a sin.'  Well, Cardinal, so is envy, so we're even."  Colbert also made fun of the cardinal's cassock.  "I have great respect for Cardinal Dolan, though I do have to say, sir, it is not easy when you're wearing that outfit.  In that cape and red sash, you look like a matador who's really let himself go.  Did you not see the invite?  It said, white tie, not Flamboyant Zorro."

Colbert remarked that "Early this year  Cardinal Dolan came thisclose to being selected pope.  But he blew it in the swimsuit competition.  I'd have gone with the one-piece."  The comedian also mentioned Pope Francis.  He joked that if the pope had planned the dinner, "we wouldn't be in tuxedos at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel--we'd be in sweat pants at the corner booth of the IHOP."  But Cardinal Dolan had the last laugh, as Colbert's humor raised $3 million for needy children.