Just blocks from The Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland, one family gave a laugh to pass-ersby. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Just blocks from The Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland, one family gave a laugh to pass-ersby. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

As the wheels fall off civil society, I propose we roll up our sleeves, hike up our slacks and laugh at what can be laughed at.

Of course, we should perform serious prayer, serious service, serious action and serious love. At the same time, let’s do what some of our Portland neighbors have done and nourish the work with comic relief. Appropriate humor will energize the healing.

One homeowner near the University of Portland has taken a page from British humorists’ Monty Python and declared the sidewalk in front of his house a zone in which silly walking is mandatory. Near The Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland stands a 10-foot-tall inflated snowman with a coronavirus mask snugly in place.

These bits keep me going. And as it has for centuries, humor helps heal cracks in civilization.

The awful American Civil War, it turns out, was rife with gags. One newspaper printed musings on amputation under the headline “Off-hand jokes.” President Lincoln was jokester in chief. When a southern businessman requested a pass to move through Union lines back to Richmond, Lincoln told him that he had already sent 250,000 men in that general direction, but none had yet arrived. Both men guffawed over that.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used to tease his bodyguards for jumping in front of him in sketchy situations, saying they just wanted to get on television. Moments before he was killed, the great civil rights leader started a pillow fight with colleagues in his hotel room. Joy fueled the work of justice.

Speaking of laughs, remember the “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas? OK, most of the five volumes are epically not funny. But St. Thomas, a doctor of the church, did write that both excess of mirth and a lack of mirth are sinful. Joke away appropriately, lest you sin.