I've been an admirer of Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for years now, and I find myself drawn to their shows in the same way a thirsty barnyard animal finds its way to the water well. Their quick and witty politicial and cultural commentary not only makes me laugh, it makes me feel better. "A joyful heart is good medicine," the Proverb says. And along with others, I sometimes wonder if comedians might just be the prophets of the 21st century, or at least its prophetic voice.
With midterm elections fast approaching, both Stewart and Colbert are at the top of their game; making fun of the candidates and the people who take them way too seriously. That would be us, by the way. And they're carrying their message outside their own television shows to other venues - faux rallies (or are they fake??), as well as various television appearances. While Stewart was on FOX News' Bill O'Reily Show last week, Colbert - in typical self-mocking fashion - wound up yesterday on ABC's The View.
Just to clarify, I don't typically watch The View. But, as so many of us in this social media-crazed world, I did catch a web clip. It's pretty funny stuff; Colbert exercising his typical schtick (including pretending to walk off the set, as two of the more liberal-minded hosts did a few days before when - no surprise - Bill O'Reily was their guest).
But things take an unexpected and amazing turn at about the 2:08 mark. Watch:
(if the video doesn't load, you can watch it here).
I had heard previously that Colbert is a devout Catholic and apparently still teaches Sunday school. I was not aware, though, that his father and two siblings had died in a plane crash. And when Barbara Walters asked Colbert how his mother raised the remaining nine kids, by herself, in light of such a horrible tragedy, this is what he said: She had a very strong faith. She taught us to still love life and not be bitter, and to realize that everbody suffers. If you can accept your suffering, you'll just understand other people better. And strangely enough, you have to be grateful for your pain.
Wow. Thoughts worthy of a seminary-level class on theodicy, and it's coming out of a comedian's mouth on The View.
Stumbling upon this clip couldn't have been more timely. Part of my job as pastor is to walk with people at painful times in their lives. And over the past few weeks it seems like I've been doing a lot of walking. I've walked with a young woman seeking companionship who once again finds herself in a relationship going nowhere. The man dealing with his father's recent death and the fact that he never quite felt like he lived up to his standards. The older gentlemen whose eyes still well with tears as he speaks of the death of his 11-year old son over 40 years ago. The homeless kids in our school system I recently learned about who literally have no home to go to once the final school bell rings. And - just yesterday - the four families who found their way to our church over the course of the day because their power had been turned off, or their car was out of gas and they had to get across the state to an ailing grandmother, or they and their two young children were one day away from being evicted and cast out on the streets.
This very well could be the understatement of the decade, but there is a lot of pain out there. Pain that, in many instances, I simply can't fathom. I feel inadequate in the midst of it. And maybe that's why Colbert's words resonate so strongly in me. I can almost hear his 90-year old mother, teaching and living out and showing him and his brothers and sisters how not to be bitter, how to love life and recognize that everyone faces hardship, how accepting your suffering helps you to understand the suffering of others. And then that powerful line: you have to be grateful for your pain.
Colbert was right: that is strange. That's not in our DNA. Our culture is one that runs for the hills when pain comes along. We'll do anything we can to numb it, deaden it, minimize it, or remove it entirely. Sometimes that's a good thing, of course - my wife is very glad she chose an epidural over natural childbirth when she brought our two boys into the world (so am I). When the stove is hot, it's not like we should sit there holding our hand on it.
But when it comes to the kind of pain that gets stuck in our heart, avoiding it is the worst thing to do. Despite every instinct in our being, we've got to head straight in to it. Embrace it, name it, call it out. And we do this not only so we can understand other people better, but most importantly so we can understand ourselves.
You know the story of Jesus coming to the disciples in the boat during the storm? I've always been struck by the image of where Jesus came from. He didn't come to them from the safety of the shore. He didn't rise up out of the waters or descend from the heavens above. He came to them from the storm - the darkest, most chaotic part. He was already there. When we encounter the most painful, suffering, stormy parts of our lives, we don't find God by running away from the storm. We find God by going further into it. Perhaps that's what Colbert's mother meant about being grateful for the pain.
It's not like this clip is going to make me start watching The View or anything. But I am planning on paying better attention to where I hear the prophetic voice coming from. Often there's a fine line between comedic satire and the truth. I kind of dig it when that line gets crossed.