By Paul Koch –
Last week, I left the temperate environs of my home and headed out to the frozen land of Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend the annual symposia held at the seminary. We gather there in the middle of January to hear theological papers on given topics by some of the leading experts in the field. It is always academically challenging and insightful. Professionally, it allows me to examine my preconceived notions. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my understanding of the ministry and how I might better practice my vocation.
Ok, that sounds great and all, but that is not exactly what happened. That could be the pitch for their PR material to get people to the campus in the middle of winter, but what usually happens is a bit different. This year, the papers were mostly substandard (compared to previous years) and didn’t prove to be very inspiring or challenging especially regarding my vocation. There were some nuggets to be sure, some bits and pieces that will no doubt make their way into a Bible study or perhaps a sermon down the line, but overall the actual content of the symposium wasn’t much to shout about.
The shocking thing is how little this really matters to the overall quality of the time spent. For once I arrived in Fort Wayne it again became clear that the papers given at the symposium would be but a backdrop, a conversation starter if you will, to the real strength that is found there. There was a far more powerful reason for gathering there, a greater source of strength than any academic paper given. And that strength was found in the laughter of men.
Now, sure that may sound weird, but believe me it isn’t. See, gathering at the symposium is actually an opportunity to gather again with old friends to stay up late drinking manhattans in the bar, telling stories and reminiscing about old times. There are personal insults and colorful language along with serious conversations and the desperate seeking of advice from a trusted counsel, but all of it seemed to be blanketed in laughter. There is a deep truth to the words of C. S. Lewis, who said,
My happiest hours are spent sitting up to the small hours in someone’s college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea and pipes. There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.”
Though we don’t ever talk all that much about it, I suppose that we congregate when we can (even on the frozen tundra of Fort Wayne) for the sake of laughter more than anything else.
Laughter doesn’t take away from the seriousness or the hardships associated with living out one’s vocation, and it doesn’t make a joke out of what is good, right, and salutary. Rather, laughter punctuates the conversation with a call of confidence and freedom that is best cherished by those who have received the blessings of Christ’s work. For the baptized, those who have been crucified with our Lord, laughter becomes a tool of strength and boldness in our sin-torn land. Perhaps we might say that laughter is a reminder that salvation rests not in our work but in Christ’s alone.
A night with my friends where we talk and question and challenge one another, a night where we laugh till our sides hurt and our eyes water, that night is worth far more than any academic paper no matter how brilliantly argued and presented. Laughter is why I make an effort to be with my friends. Laughter is what can be so easily overlooked in the day-to-day grind of life. Laughter is worthy of your time, even if you have to fly all the way to Fort Wayne to get it.