Thursday, May 12, 2011

There's always more to say - another thought on sarcasm

In last Sunday's (5/8/11) sermon, I spoke about practicing kindness in a world that favors snarkiness. One area of our language that I took particular aim at was sarcasm. This wasn’t the only form of unkindness we spoke of, but rather just one example of our culture’s propensity to elevate oneself by putting others down. This week proved that the topic of sarcasm in our culture probably can’t be covered in a forth of a sermon. As is the case with every sermon ever preached, there is more to say, more to think about.

One, this week confirmed that sarcasm is everywhere. Before the day was even over on Sunday, Alyson had caught me in several acts of sarcasm. Throughout this week, in staff meeting and in conversations with others, it’s been noted time and time again how sarcastic we all are.

Two, this week proved that not every bit of sarcasm feels the same. Some of our sarcasm fits exactly what I was talking about on Sunday – it’s mean spirited; it has a victim; it is meant to elevate oneself above another. Thanks to God’s grace, I’ve caught myself this week before I uttered a phrase like this. I feel better, no mark that, I am a better person for having bit my tongue. But not all sarcasm fits that category. Sometimes what we call sarcasm is just a light hearted comment about a light hearted topic. I’m not sure such comments even deserve the title sarcasm and aren’t what I’m worried about. Such levity can be joyful part of life.

How can we tell the difference between that which tears down and that which lightens the mood? How do we know what kinds of sarcasm to avoid? There’s probably no hard and fast rule, but the actual definition of sarcasm helps – “Harsh or bitter derision or irony; a sharply ironical taunt; a sneering or cutting remark.” In the Latin it means to rend the flesh of something or someone. Compare that to 1 Peter 3:8-9 and I think with a little help from the Spirit, we can know exactly when to speak and when to hold our tongues: “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing” (from The Message).

For an fair and thorough look at the topic of irony and the Christian, read Brett McCracken’s “The Importance of Being Earnest for an Irony-Obsessed Generation

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