Thursday, March 31, 2016

Make America Laugh Again

Many Americans have lost their sense of humor. We no longer laugh as we once did. Candidates have been getting meaner and the jokes have been getting uglier. However, we can make America laugh again. Not with insults to belittle one another, but with kinder gentler jokes.

In regard to healthcare, laughter is not only the best medicine. It’s also our least costly healthcare option. With my Haha Health Program, Comedy Practitioners will be able to prescribe jokes that heal instead of expensive drugs. Consumers are going to see tremendous savings!

I envision an America with a thousand points of laughter, all over this great land of ours. This laugh is your laugh, this laugh is my laugh. Life, liberty, and laughter - these are the values that will bring our country back together. Ask not what your country can do to make you laugh. Ask what you can do to make a fellow American laugh. Give me laughter, or give me death!

Further reading.

#AprilFools #AprilFoolsDay #HappyAprilFoolsDay #MakeAmericaLaughAgain

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Lord’s Final Performance Review

This piece was first published in a magazine called The Wittenburg Door in May of 2003. (Click to see a larger readable image.) The Door was sort of like National Lampoon for Christians. The editor, Bob Darden, had the wisdom to use several of my writings over several years.

In regard to this piece, one good way to come up with a funny bit is to add a new twist to a story people are already familiar with. Most people are familiar with the name of Jesus and have some idea of his story as it was recorded in the Gospels.

In those accounts, he healed the sick, fed the poor, and performed many other impressive miracles. This bit examines how things may have gone if his manager had reviewed Jesus’s performance as a rabbi a month or two before he was crucified.

The primary underlying message of the piece is that things are not always as they appear. 

Here are links to a few of my other writings that might be of interest.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pontius Pilate's Dilemma: What is truth?

This story is a fictionalized account of what may have been going through Pontius Pilate’s mind as he deliberated about Jesus. It's in first person, which means that it's from the perspective of Pontius Pilate.

When the chief priests of the Jews brought Jesus to me, I tried to get out of handling the case. I'm not ashamed to say that I do that when possible. You don't reach high office by wasting time on things you don't have to.

"What accusation do you bring against this man?" I asked.

They replied, "If Jesus was not a criminal, we would not have brought him before you."

When you hear irrelevant evasions like that over and over as a judge, they become very tiresome. "Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law," I told them.

They said, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death."

So, they were after Jesus' death, but they didn't want to bloody their own gentle hands doing the deed. They despised me, but they wouldn't hesitate to turn their dirty work over to me if I allowed them to. They told me how Jesus had stirred the people up, even as far away as Galilee.

I’d heard about Jesus, that he was a wandering prophet and he had a following. The thought of disposing of a potential insurrectionist didn't bother me in the least. However, the city was crowded, and some of his followers were bound to be around. There was no telling what they would do if I put their precious leader to death. They might get scared or they might start a riot. Crucifying Jesus, then and there, didn't seem like a good idea.

"Did you say Galilee? Is Jesus a Galilean?" I asked.

They told me he was. I told them to take Jesus to Herod, who was judge over that district. There was no reason a lower court couldn't handle the Jesus situation. Problem solved, or so I thought. Unfortunately, Herod soon sent him back to me.

Once again, Jesus was brought before me. I tried to squeeze a confession out of him. That's always one of the first things I do. It's so much simpler that way. If I can get a confession, the only thing left for me to do is to work out the punishment. Otherwise, I have to sift the truth out of all the lies the witnesses tell me. People have no idea how difficult that can be, especially when you're dealing with criminals, lawyers, and holy men who routinely tell lies to get what they want.

If I could get Jesus talking, he might incriminate himself, the way many criminals do. "The chief priests are making serious allegations against you, Jesus. Don't you have anything to say for yourself?" I asked. But he didn't answer. He seemed to understand that anything he said would be used against him.

"Are you the King of the Jews?" I asked.

Finally, he spoke. "My kingdom is not of this world."

It was a preposterous, laughable statement. It confirmed something I already suspected: that Jesus was not right in the head. However, being a little crazy was not a crime.

I wanted to keep him talking, talking until he began to contradict himself, the way liars always do after a while.

"So you are a king?" I said.

"That's right," he said. "I came into this world to bear witness of the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice."

I couldn't help rolling my eyes. In front of me was a man, a whacked out uneducated rabble-rousing carpenter, telling me, the Governor, about truth. To be a judge is to embark on a quest for the truth. As I've already mentioned, finding truth is sometimes very difficult. I've heard all kinds of stories, from all kinds of people who all insisted they were telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

There was something odd about Jesus. Although he appeared to have some serious mental problems, he seemed intelligent, far more intelligent than the average working man. Also, people who are not all there sometimes have stunningly insightful things to say. "What is truth?" I asked him.

He made no answer. He was so unlike the typical guilty person. People who are guilty feel compelled to defend themselves. Most of them have no idea how stupid they sound. Jesus seemed to know that the more he said, the less truthful he would sound. Either he truly was innocent, or he was very sly. In any case, I was beginning to respect him.

I went outside and told the crowd, "I find no guilt in him. You people have a custom that I release a prisoner for your Passover. Do you wish that I should release the King of the Jews?"

"Not this man. Give us Barabbas," they shouted.

Then, right in the middle of it all, a messenger showed up with an urgent message from my wife. She'd had a terrible dream about Jesus and she implored me, through the messenger, to have nothing to do with that Jew.

I didn't have time to think about that. I had to get back to dealing with the mob. "Which of these two do you want me to release? Jesus or Barabbas?"

"Barabbas," they shouted again.

I thought to myself, I'll give you Barabbas, alright. You people deserve Barabbas. "But what shall I do with Jesus?"

"Crucify him," they screamed.

I had Jesus whipped and I let the soldiers rough him up. There was still the possibility that Jesus would confess, but I didn't expect that. After the beating, Jesus looked very bad. Most people instinctively feel a degree of pity when they see someone in that condition. I was hoping the mob would be satisfied.

"Behold the man," I said, as the soldiers brought him out again.

This mob was peculiar and hateful. "Crucify him," they screamed.

"I find no guilt in him," I told them.

They kept on. "He must die because he claims to be the Son of God!"

I hadn't heard that before. I went back inside and I asked Jesus, "Where are you from?"

He wouldn't answer. I had a job to do and he wasn't being helpful. My questions hadn't worked. The whipping hadn't worked. It was time to get tough. I didn't want to kill him, but I needed him to understand that I could.

"Do you realize, Jesus, that I have the authority to let you go or to put you to death?" I asked.

Then he said something astonishing, something I'd never heard before. "You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above," he said. That was a wiseguy remark, but it was also a wise statement. I could easily have accepted it if I had thought that he was speaking of Caesar.

I again went outside, trying to find a way of releasing Jesus without angering the crowd. However, they wanted Jesus dead. People were saying that if I released Jesus, I was no friend of Caesar. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the Jews caring about Caesar!

The whole day was out of kilter. Jesus didn't appear to be guilty of any real crime. Yet, the Jews insisted on his death. He said he was a king but his kingdom was not of this world. And then there was that strange message from my wife. What were the gods trying to tell me? It was getting hot out. The mob was unruly. Something had to be done before things got out of hand.

Executions never bother me, but this business was more delicate than usual. I saw that the safest course for me was to let the crucifixion proceed, but to do so in a way that shifted the blame to the chief priests. I sent for a bowl of water and washed my hands in front of the mob. "I am innocent of the blood of this man. The responsibility is yours," I said. Finally, I turned Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified. The crowd settled down. Thank the gods.

Soon after Jesus was hung, the chief priests came to me complaining about the inscription I had made, which said "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews." They told me the sign should have said, "He said he was the King of the Jews."

Nothing seemed to make them happy. "Look," I told them. "You got what you wanted. The man is up on a cross and he'll be dead before long. I'm not changing the sign. What I have written is written. Now, why don't you people go home and do whatever you do for Passover?"

That afternoon, a follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimethea, requested the body. Joseph was a wealthy and respectable man. Not at all the kind of person who would associate with a criminal. He seemed nervous in my presence, but there was no reason for him to be. He actually impressed me as a far more decent man than any of the priests I had encountered that day.

I was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead. Death by crucifixion is supposed to be slow and agonizing. The longer people walk by and see the dying person in agony, the stronger the message that resistance against Roman authority would not be tolerated. The problem with Jesus was that I hadn't really intended to crucify him. I let the soldiers go too far in beating him, weakening him before the crucifixion. When one of my centurions had verified that Jesus was dead, I told Joseph he could have the body.

A bit later, the chief priests came to me yet again. I was beginning to wish I could crucify a few of them. They told me that Jesus had claimed he would rise from the dead and there needed to be a guard posted by the tomb to make sure no one tampered with it. "You have temple police," I told them. "They can guard the tomb."

I look forward to the day when I can leave this hellhole called Jerusalem.

This story and two others are available on Kindle or on Kindle apps. One of the other stories is Pilate's Dilemma and it's from the perspective of Pontius Pilate. The other is The Epistle of Judas and it's from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. If you read on Kindle or on a Kindle app, you can get it for free for a few days this week. (I always make the ebook available around Holy Week.)

There's a video on Vimeo called Pilate's Dilemma. It covers some of the same ground in an interesting way.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Criminal and the Cross

by Danny Murphy, copyright 2016. 

This is a fictionalized account of what may have happened between Jesus and the criminal on the cross next to Him, the one who accepted the gift of salvation. It's in first person, which means that it's from the perspective of the criminal. Although this is fiction, I'm hoping there's some truth in it. 
I was crucified beside Jesus. A few of my victims turned out to watch me die. I deserved to die. I made a mess of my life and hurt a lot of people along the way. Nobody loved me and nobody would miss me.
The people in the mob were there to see Jesus. The Pharisees had ignited their hatred. From what I’d heard of Him, He never hurt anyone. I’d heard that He healed people, inspired them, and given them hope. He taught people about the kingdom of God and encouraged them to live good lives. I’d also heard that the trial was a travesty. So what had Jesus done to deserve the ultimate punishment? He hadn’t shown the proper respect for the priests and the government.
By the time they actually nail you to the cross, you’re already exhausted. The soldiers who did the hammering were real spooks. Driving spikes through a living man’s wrist is barbaric. I could whack someone over the head and take his money. That was easy. But I don’t think I could stomach what those soldiers had to do. When the three of us were all up on our crosses, the guy to the right of Jesus tried to agitate Him. I’m ashamed to say that I joined in. “Save yourself, and us,” we said, mocking Him.
Jesus looked around at us and at all the people who were insulting Him. Then He looked up and said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He was innocent, dying a death as slow and as painful as dying could be. He should have been angry, but He was talking about forgiving. I thought to myself either He was crazy or there really was something special about Him.
I was about to die the way I had lived, being hateful to someone who was decent, who had at least tried to do good things for others. I was completely pathetic. I decided to stop wasting what little time I had left. “Shut up,” I told the other criminal. “You and I deserve this, but Jesus hasn’t even committed a real crime. So shut your mouth.”
Crucifixion is excruciating, of course. It’s also degrading and humiliating. You’re hanging there, naked, for hours. People can say anything and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. They can take a break and come back if they want to. One of the worst things about being crucified was not being able to scratch an itch. See, after a while you take the pain for granted. You know there’s not going to be any relief and you accept that. Then you get a killer itch that will not go away. And you wish you could reach it because a simple scratch could end that particular torment.
What they did to Jesus was beyond brutal. The soldiers had truly rearranged His face. He barely looked human. His lips were puffed out. His entire face was black and blue with bumps and bruises, except for His nose. It was unbroken and straight. Everybody knows about the crown, but I was close enough to see the spittle mixed with blood in His hair and His beard. It was disgusting. The blood from the wounds on His back glued Him to the lumber. Every time He moved, He opened Himself right back up.
I asked Him about His life, whether it had been worth it to live a good life and to try to get other people to live good lives, only to have them turn on Him like a pack of jackals. He told me there was no way for me to understand it, but yes, it was worth it. Then, I don’t know why, but I asked Him about His kingdom. He said there was a place for me there.
"But how?" I asked. "I’m an evil man. I’ve killed for pocket change." Jesus said He knew about all that, and, even so, He would accept me.
Still, it didn’t seem possible. "I’m going to be dead in a few hours. I haven’t done one good deed my whole life, and I’ll never be able to do anything good. How could I possibly be worthy?"
Jesus said, "Friend, you’ve stumbled onto the key. There’s nothing you can do to earn your way into my kingdom. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. It means that you have to look outside yourself for the answer. It’s true that you’ve lived an awful life. I hate to see anyone live the way you’ve lived, hurting other people and hating yourself. But at least you know that you’re a sinner. You also appear to know who I am, as unlikely as it must seem here today. If you want to enter into my kingdom, all you need to do is ask for it and receive."
For the first time in a long time, I felt love. It was radiating out from Him. The pain in my body eased up. I asked Him to remember me when he came into His kingdom. He said, "I tell you the truth. Today, you’ll be with me in paradise."
I believed Him. I was hanging, half-dead, and I knew that His promise was real.
He died before I did. When He cried out to His father, it was the loneliest voice I’d ever heard. He seemed bewildered. I wanted to relieve Him somehow, to comfort Him in some way. What a strange, wonderful feeling that was for a man like me!
Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It got dark and everything got quiet. He was gone. A wave of doubt swept over me, but it only lasted a moment. I could still feel His love, and I knew it was the most powerful force a human being could encounter. It was real and I knew I would see Him again.
Then came the rumble of an earthquake. When the shaking was over, the centurion cried out, "Surely, this man was the Son of God." Most of the spectators were gone. The Lord’s followers were leaving, their heads hung low. The wave of doubt had swept over them too, but they hadn’t experienced His love in those last hours the way I had. I wanted to tell them that the love of Jesus was real, real enough to save a dog like me.
I passed out. When I came to, a soldier was breaking my legs. I barely felt it. The other criminal screamed in agony when his legs were broken. Since Jesus was already dead, the soldier speared Him in the side instead of breaking his legs.
A murderous rage welled up in me. My strength came back for a moment, and with it all my pain. If I could have gotten my hands on that brute, I swear I would have choked the life out of him.
Then a miracle happened. I glimpsed the humanity and the misery beneath the man’s depravity. I remembered the Lord’s compassion and I felt His love once more. However, this time it was flowing out of me. I wept, in grief over what had been done to Jesus and in joy over what He had done for me. A while later, I met my Lord in paradise. He is faithful and true.
Jesus accepted the criminal next to him and his acceptance was not based on anything good the criminal had done or would ever do. The criminal next to Jesus was crucified because he deserved it. And yet, when he asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus promised him that they would meet again in paradise that day. The criminal next to Jesus couldn’t do anything to earn his way into the kingdom. 
So what did the criminal next to Jesus have going for him? He acknowledged that he was a sinner and that he deserved to be punished for his sins. Then he recognized Jesus as the way into the kingdom of God and he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. There was nothing complicated about it then, and there’s nothing complicated about it today. If you’d like to be accepted by Jesus the way he accepted the criminal next to him, pray this prayer:
Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner and that I’ve done some bad things in my life. I know that I’m not worthy of your grace and I know that I can never earn my way into your kingdom. I recognize you as the one true God and as the only way into the kingdom of God. Please forgive me for my sins the way you forgave the criminal who was crucified next to you. Thank you. Amen.
Notes from Danny
Many years ago, I was at the home of a mentor who invited me to pray the prayer of salvation, to turn my will and my life over to God, so to speak. I saw no pressing need to do that. It seemed like something I could get around to someday, perhaps. On that cold night in late December of 1980, I rode my motorcycle to my garage apartment in a rundown part of Jacksonville.
In the driveway I was confronted by two men, one of whom had a shotgun and was ready to blow me into eternity. I wondered if I would ever have an opportunity to pray again. They eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn’t the guy they were looking for and shot out the windows of a neighbor’s car. The police showed up a little later.
After things settled down, I went into my little apartment, got on my knees, and turned my will and my life over to Jesus. I’ve fallen short many times since then, but He never has. Thank you Jesus!
This story and two others are available on Kindle or on Kindle apps. One of the other stories is Pilate's Dilemma and it's from the perspective of Pontius Pilate. The other is The Epistle of Judas and it's from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. If you read on Kindle or on a Kindle app, you can get it for free through Easter Sunday. (I always make the ebook available around Holy Week.)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

St. Patrick’s Day and jokes based on stereotypes

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up. Inevitably, we’ll be hearing lots of jokes about drunken Irish alcoholics. Using stereotypes for jokes is a bad idea. It’s so unfair to lump a group of people together and make fun of them just because of where they or their ancestors came from.  For example, there are many people of Irish ancestry who don’t abuse alcohol at all. Many prefer to pop pills or smoke dope. They might partake of legal drugs when they can get a prescription for painkillers or sedatives, or illegal drugs when they can’t.

Here are some jokes for St. Patrick’s Day, many of which are examples of terrible stereotyping.

Two Irish guys walked out of a bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Hey, it could happen. (I heard that one from Jimmy Shubert when he was at The Comedy Zone.)

Why can't you borrow money from a leprechaun? Because they're always a little short.

Why wasn't Jesus born in Ireland? He couldn't find three wise men or a virgin.

How does every Irish joke start? By looking over your shoulder.

Why don't you iron 4-leaf clovers? Because you don’t want to press your luck.

What do you call an Irishman who knows how to control his wife? A bachelor.

What's the main difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral? One less drunk at the reception.

Are people jealous of the Irish? Sure, they're green with envy!

Why are leprechauns so hard to get along with? Because they're very short-tempered!

If you're lucky enough to be Irish... you're lucky enough!

"Hey," said a new arrival in the pub, "I've got some great Irish jokes."
"Before you start," said the big guy in the corner, " I'm Irish."
"That’s OK," said the newcomer, "I'll tell the jokes slowly."

An Irish Blessing

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

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Further reading.