Cornball Christianity

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday March 17, 2015 in

Christians say some corny things, and that corniness can seem a little cringe worthy—even to other Christians—sometimes. The words of our faith, when straightforwardly presented, can sound absolutely cheesy—even our best liturgy such as “the Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” I catch myself at the grocery store caught in this goodwill pattern. When the clerk says, “thank you, have a great day,” I will reply, “and also you!”

Perfectly legitimate words of ritual and Christian experience can sound painful out of context. The cheeziness of heartfelt Christianity when it bursts into the mundane world brings real world wincing. Take for example an overly loud public declaration of Christian concern, like “honey, that just makes me want to lay hands of you!” in the middle of a downtown Starbucks. You are going to get some wincing and some guffaws. This whinging stems from what we might call our ‘cornball coping mechanisms.’ All that goodwill coming directly and fearlessly at you is a tense thing in a public place. That tension must find release somewhere, and one of the ways we release that tension as a culture is in humor.

Cornball comedy is comedy that is so direct it makes you cringe, and then you have to laugh just so you can get the muscles in your cringed-up shoulders to release a little bit. Cornball comedy makes fun of us humans at our most vulnerable and in our most unsophisticated moments. We are awkward if well-meaning creatures, and ripe for a little ribbing. When the comedy is just right, it hits cult or meme status.

I can think of an example right now, the movie Blues Brothers. This is a movie where the very misguided lead characters try very hard to actually do the right thing for the first time in their lives. They have a clearly defined need: to learn how to be better people in the world. They have a clearly defined goal: to save an orphanage from foreclosure over debt. But, they have a very cornball understanding of God and goodness, which they articulate with cringe worthy hilarity and declarations such as the much memed “we are on a mission from God.” The words stick. They are simultaneously wondrous and horrifying.

It is helpful to remember as you shudder and moan that we all start somewhere. For the Blues Brothers, their befuddled and hackneyed path to redemption is really not that different than our own. All of us are forced to use phrases that sound too corny for life when we are trying to communicate the things on our hearts that matter. Phrases like “we are on a mission from God,” and “can you share the words on your heart right now?” and “let’s all sing and love each other” are an example. That last sentence is one I heard a child say, and even as I giggle at the plain-speak of children (so cute and so corny!) I realize, too, that God asks us to open ourselves to just this kind of innocent trust and simplicity if we really want to heal our lives and change the world.

If the words are clumsy, the truth is made plain. Christians are a missional people. We are on a mission to make the world a better place. We work to feed children, care for the disabled, and develop social systems from the grandest to the lowest levels to make this world a better place for all. We are clumsy, we are inexperienced, and we are drawn forward into mission by the call we feel within us. We get the sense that there really is, truly and deeply, something more to our chaotic rascally lives than punching time clocks, frequenting happy hour, and hitting snooze for five more minutes. We, each of us, have something real to offer. We, each of us, bring gifts that are vital to the work. And we, each of us—and more importantly all of us together—are indeed (groans notwithstanding) on a mission for God.

And think of it this way, if it helps, that there is a reason the secular world has appropriated the language of faith for its own uses. It is precisely because these words and actions and phrases hold power that they become, even out of context, a means though which the larger conversation finds itself socially engaged. It’s a start. We as a Christian people by no means have to leave it there.

As we work together on embracing Christian faith in the midst of an evermore secular world, we probably need to get comfortable with being cheezy now and then. We probably need to give ourselves permission to be clumsy and sometimes feel a little awkward and out of place. It is simply the truth that we do not to know the path ahead. We do not even know if we will be one of the next wave to truly cross the threshold into something new, or if we will be among the ones who will wave that next wave onward into places we ourselves will never see. But in either case it is not the end that matters but the beginning. We are called to a new beginning, a renewed vision, and a next-chance to make a difference. Our earnest simplicity and our willingness to risk a little cornball will be essential to the task.

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