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Published: Saturday, 7/17/2004

Church shows sense of humor in Jesus' tales


Don't expect stories about priests and bars, but do anticipate plenty of humor Friday and Saturday during "Comedy Night at the Naz," an event Oregon Church of the Nazarene officials said will blend religion and comedy.

After a barbecue dinner, comedian Torry Martin will perform a 45-minute show filled with parables based on his experiences.

Jesus "had to have a sense of humor," Mr. Martin said. "He actually turned sarcasm into an art form."

Mr. Martin said Bible passages with Jesus and the pharisees - actually, all the scenes in which Jesus calls someone a hypocrite - are hilarious. Humor is not just entertaining, he added. It's also good for teaching.

Religious leaders representing several denominations agreed and said blending humor and faith can be useful in bringing people closer to God.

Dave Tippett, a member of the Oregon church, suggested the church bring in the self-professed "interdenominational" Mr. Martin for a comedic performance.

"We're using this as an outreach effort, to just introduce people to who we are and what we do,"

Mr. Tippett said.

"If we're not joyful people, no one is going to be attracted to what we believe," he added.

Such sentiments cross denominational lines.

The Rev. Robert Reinhart of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish, Toledo, said he isn't the sort of priest who tells jokes in his homilies, but he does tell funny stories sometimes during Mass.

"One of God's most underrated qualities is a sense of humor," he said. "I think when you take yourself too seriously, then you miss a lot."

Father Reinhart said one of his professors in the seminary used to disarm his students by making them laugh before he snuck in a religious message.

As a high school teacher at Central Catholic High School in the 1960s and 1970s, Father Reinhart said sometimes he adopted the same strategy in the classroom - and it worked.

The Rev. Lynn Kerr, who serves as minister of religious education at the First Unitarian Church of Toledo, said there is definitely a role for humor in religion.

"Personally, in every sermon I write, I try to have at least one line I know is going to make them chuckle," Ms. Kerr said. "It relaxes people. They perk up a little bit and tend to listen a little bit better."

As for Mr. Martin, a Tennessee resident whose occupations before settling into spiritual stand-up included acting roles in Los Angeles and selling jewelry made out of moose droppings in Alaska, comedy was "not something I ever intended for myself - but then again, neither was therapy," he quipped.

Mr. Martin, who twice in a row won a national comedy contest sponsored by the Gospel Music Association, said his success proves "God can use anybody, just anybody, if they surrender themselves to Him."

Father Reinhart said the fact that lowly creatures like cockroaches exist shows their creator must be funny.

"Maybe God's sense of humor created something that's not beautiful in the eyes of most people," he said.

Later, Father Reinhart added, "He has to have a sense of humor - after all, He made us."

Tickets for Mr. Martin's performance are $12 and can be purchased at the church or by calling 419-691-9789.

Contact Lindsey Mergener at lmergener@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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