Archive | Sacred Art of Joking

Reading the Bible Aloud in Church

Last time you went to church, there’s a good chance someone read a part of the Bible out loud. How did that go? Were they sight reading it? Were they trying to put some feeling into it? The odds are they were on a rota and hadn’t given it much thought. This is to be expected. We don’t have a great tradition of reading the Bible well, which is a real shame.

Read it and weep

I write about this in the Sacred Art of Joking, and have talked about it on my Sacred Art of Joking show, which is a YouTube Channel and Podcast. You can see that below. But first, here’s a snippet from the book:

Let us take a brief step sideways into music, something that many churches, large and small, take very seriously. Cathedrals have choristers’ schools set up to provide willing voices for their choirs, under the baton of choirmasters and directors of music. Small churches might expect to pay something for the services of a trained organist. Larger, more lively churches have enormous sound desks and miles of cables plugged into multiple instruments.

They may even employ a ‘worship leader’. Other churches will make do with the expertise around them. A lot of effort and care is taken to ensure that the music in churches is as good as it can be. There is an expectation this will cost money and require trained or experienced practitioners, if not full-time staff. No one expects someone with no experience of playing the organ, piano or guitar to step forward and lead the congregation in their singing.

This is not the case with the public reading of Scripture. Reading the lesson on a Sunday morning is normally put on a rota and thought of as a job to be done, like opening up the building before the service or making the coffee afterwards. It is certainly not on a par with musical worship. Sometimes, it is thought to be a good way of involving people in the service who might otherwise feel underused.

As long as the reading of Scripture remains an after-thought in most church services, the wider Church will never rediscover the literary richness of the Bible, especially the comic themes and moments. These become obvious when you hear Scripture read extremely well, having been rehearsed and memorized and then presented with confidence. On those occasions, something remarkable happens. People laugh.

p96 The Sacred Art of Joking published by SPCK Jan 2019. Order here.

I talk about this phenomenon and how to tackle scripture another way on YouTube and in the podcast. Using the story of The Man Born Blind in John 9, I show how you can read the Bible aloud and find the jokes.

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The Sacred Art of Joking Podcast

I like podcasting. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I have a big mouth, talk a lot and want people to know how clever I am. All the while I cling on to the idea that I’m an introvert. And humble. Ah well.

Maybe I like podcasting because I can’t be seen. Except now I can, because the podcast isn’t just an audio experience but a visual one. I’m doing YouTube videos that you can hear as podcasts. This is partly because podcasts are increasingly popular, but YouTube is where the debates are really happening, so I’m looking to be part of that in the future.

And what a future The Sacred Art of Joking has. There is so much to talk about. Comedy is in the news all the time. Barely a day passes without someone making a joke that goes horribly wrong, and the press react as if they don’t know what jokes are (as Jonathan Pie vigorously points out here) They should really read my book rather than the press release. If they read it, they will find a few paragraphs which I explicitly say are for journalists to read, so do look out for those.

The first brief episode is up on YouTube and is working its way through the iTunes Podcast system and will hopefully appear out the other end sooner or later. But for now, at least, the YouTube video and the podcast are identical.

In the opening show, I talk about how this book came to be, and how my interview with Ben Elton became an international news story a decade ago. I ended up on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. It was very exciting. I also took part in a global phone-in show on the BBC World Service called World Have Your Say along with Anjem Choudray, who argued that he had a great sense of humour. He was subsequently jailed for recruiting young people to banned radical groups, so there’s a bit of context for you there.

And that’s what it’s all about: context.

And that’s what everyone seems so determined to ignore when it comes to jokes that cause offence. But that’s arguably even more important than the joke itself, as I argue in the first part of the book. We’ll get to that material in good time. The first episode, running at a bite-sized seven minutes or so is up now. Have a look. Or a listen:

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