The First Joke That Occurred to Me
For the young male evangelical would-be writer--maybe further differentiated by a quality of unmasculine whimsy and melancholy--there is a standard progression: starting with C. S. Lewis, of course, and then proceeding to Frederick Buechner and eventually arriving at G. K. Chesterton. There are other luminaries along the way, and not every young male evangelical would-be writer's path is identical to all the others, but I feel confident that these three are common touchpoints for all of us-I-mean-them. This has certainly been the case for me, at least. I did my duty with Lewis, reading a couple of short books by him (including only a few of the Chronicles of Narnia, I confess) before falling hard for Buechner--his soulful, mournful essays, his pithy, incisive insights. I stole some writing tics from him for a while before I realized that it did him no good and made me sound pretentious. But I soon thereafter landed at Chesterton, and I never really left.
I, for one, have sworn, by the sword of God that has struck us, and before the beautiful face of the dead, that the first joke that occurred to me I would make, the first nonsense poem I thought of I would write, that I would begin again at once with a heavy heart at times, as to other duties, to the duty of being perfectly silly, perfectly trivial, and as far as possible, perfectly amusing. I have sworn that Gertrude should not feel, wherever she is, that the comedy has gone out of our theater.I understand this, and even more I feel understood by this. We honor the dead, we honor the living, we even honor life and the giver of it, by whatever lightness we can muster. That doesn't excuse us from fighting for the good, from taking the wrong and the evil and the destructive to task. But it does set a tone for life that is itself life-giving.