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Crazy Talk by Rolf A. Jacobson (Editor), Megan J. Thorvilson, Karl N. Jacobson (Editor), Marc D. Ostlie-Olson

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Faith+Values: A little humor lightens the theological load

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER
  • Star Tribune
  • May 2, 2008 - 3:58 PM

As a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, the Rev. Rolf Jacobson knows many theology experts. He also knows many smart-alecks. Contrary to some self-inflicted stereotypes, it turns out that they are the same people.

"There are a lot of professors who are funny but think they're not supposed to be when they're writing or up in front of a class," he said. "They think that they're supposed to be esoteric."

Jacobson subscribes to the opposite theory: that by using a little humor, you can drive home a serious message. To that end, he recruited five of his fellow smart-aleck academics to create "Crazy Talk" (Augsburg Books, $12.99), subtitled "A Not So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms."

The definitions follow a format: a humorous explanation followed by the serious one, with an emphasis on terminology that the average churchgoer can grasp.

"The theology in the book is sophisticated, but it is not presented in such a way that it's too obscure for people to grasp," he said. "The way many theologians talk about God tends to exclude anyone without a seminary degree. The result is that theology has become an intellectual game played by a small circle of people, many of whom have trouble making friends."

Sense the sarcasm there? Good, because that's what he was after. "I picked people who have a knack for sarcasm and irony," he said. The recruits included Karl Jacobson (his brother), Marc Ostile-Olson, Hans Wiersma, Megan Thorvilson and Magen Torgerson.

The humorous definitions include:

Apostle: "A person who brings such good news that he or she must be stoned."

Martyr: "A person who would rather die than allow you to help make dinner."

Praise: "To give credit to God for things that we secretly believe we did for ourselves."

The book is available from the Augsburg Fortress website and Amazon.com. It is not being carried by most Christian bookstores because of an objection to the humorous definition of sin: "Why people suck."

"We heard from one of the [publisher's] salesmen that the Christian bookstores wouldn't put it on their shelves with that use of the word 'suck' in it," Jacobson said. "That's fine. It will still get around."

Besides, he figures, it might all be a matter of predestination: "The extremely disturbing idea that God actually knows what God is doing."

'Guru' gripe

It's not likely to have the visibility of the protests over "The Da Vinci Code" or "The Golden Compass" -- at least in this country -- but there are rumblings that the upcoming Mike Myers' comedy "The Love Guru" will not sit well with the world's 1 billion Hindus.

"The guru-disciple relationship is sacred," said a letter sent to Paramount Pictures by U.S. Hindu leaders and signed by a cross-section of other religious representatives, including Roman Catholic, Methodist and Jewish. "Poking fun is one thing, but if it creates a sense of belittling others' faith, then it is wrong."

Based on a synopsis released by the studio, Myers, who wrote and is producing the movie, plays a self-acclaimed guru who tries to cash in on the self-help craze by advertising himself as a specialist in dealing with romantic crises.

The film, which opens June 20 in the United States and worldwide in July, isn't finished yet, Paramount said. The studio pledged to screen it for Hindu leaders before it's released but stopped short of promising them any input into the final product.

Finding wiggle room

In a sidestep only a lawyer could love, the Presbyterian Church (USA) dodged a potentially divisive issue when it decided this week that it will not censure a minister who has been conducting same-sex weddings because the church doesn't recognize such marriages and, therefore, can't penalize the minister for "doing that which by definition cannot be done." While acknowledging that the ruling falls short of a ringing endorsement, the Rev. Jane Spahr, a pastor at a church in California, said that it clears the way for her to "continue to honor relationships of love and commitment, regardless of sexual orientation."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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