"A core value of Christianity is joy and Jesus brings us joy," said the Rev. Laura Gentry, while leading a recent laughter ministry workshop at Wartburg Theological Seminary. "Through joy, we become more 'Christian' than ever, more loving, more willing to roll with life's punches, trusting that God will take care of us."
Gentry's students practiced a number of techniques that might help them laugh at their problems and those of their congregations. They chuckled, giggled, tickled and belly-laughed. As a warm-up exercise, they sang the children's song, "Jesus Loves Me,' substituting "ha, ha" for the lyrics. Students doubled over with laughter at the silliness and the room rang with adult giggles. The session was part of Wartburg's "spiritual practices" course.
Ministers and lay faithful alike can spread the joy of the Christian message through their actions.
"It can be as simple as smiling. In today's society, that can be powerful.People may see you smiling and happy and say, 'Who is your savior? I want to know (who makes you so happy)?'" Gentry said. Four years ago, she started a community-wide laughter club in Lansing, Iowa. It is now based at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, where she serves.
Inspiring her audience with goofy hats, including a full-sized chicken headpiece, Gentry reminded them of the health risks that pastors often face and how laughter can provide some relief."Laughter is a stress-buster, controls high blood pressure, relieves pain naturally, strengthens your immune system, helps you sleep better and enhances your creativity and problem-solving skills," she said. Gentry chronicled stressful times in her life, including the first years of her church ministry. She attended a "laughter school" in California and has expanded on lessons she learned there, becoming a certified laughter yoga teacher.
Gentry urged her students to find personal ways to incorporate a bit of laughter into their daily lives. Her suggestions?
"Laugh while you are brushing your teeth, driving or vacuuming, and try to match the pitch of vacuum. Laugh with your houseplants and your pets. If you are in a public place and really feel a need, fake a cell phone call and you can laugh at what the other person supposedly said," she said, throwing her head back and chortling loudly with her hand held up to her ear.
At the end of class, Gentry made the students stand, put their hands over their hearts and pledge to, "Have fun at all times and in all places and to live with the joy of the Lord in my heart and promote laughter in the world."
This video also accompanies the story.