In this personal and funny look at humor as a spiritual practice, Rev. Susan Sparks—an ex-lawyer turned comedian and Baptist minister—presents a convincing case that the power of humor radiates far beyond punch lines.
Rev. Susan Sparks
America’s only female stand-up comedian with a pulpit
6 x 9, 176 pp | 978-1-59473-280-5
Laughter—the GPS System for the Soul
Laughter was honored by the ancients as a spiritual healing tool and celebrated by the world’s great religions. So why aren’t we laughing along the spiritual path today? What would happen if we did?
In this personal and funny look at humor as a spiritual practice, Rev. Susan Sparks—an ex-lawyer turned comedian and Baptist minister—presents a convincing case that the power of humor radiates far beyond punch lines. Laughter can help you:
- Remove the fearful mask of a God who doesn’t laugh
- Debunk the myths that you don’t deserve joy
- Find perspective when faced with adversity
- Exercise forgiveness for yourself and others
- Reclaim play as a spiritual practice
- Heal—emotionally, physically, and spiritually
- Keep your faith when God is silent
- Live with elegance, beauty, and generosity of spirit
Whatever your faith tradition—or if you have none at all—join this veteran of the punch line and the pulpit in reclaiming the forgotten humor legacy found in thousands of years of human spiritual history.
“As bracing as a tonic for its humor-laced pages ... blows in with a healthy gale of laughter, love of God and love of life.”
—Huntsville Times (Huntsville, AL)
“A provocative case for adding leavening levity to sacred spaces where it might be sorely lacking.”
“Like music, laughter is a universal language. And Susan Sparks speaks this language like no other. [This book] weaves humor and the sacred into one beautiful work of art. If you want to blast some fresh air into your spiritual life, then by all means read this book!”
—Naomi Judd, multi-platinum country music artist; actress; author, Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully and other books
“Thank God for Susan Sparks! By immersing ourselves in her honest insights, warm encouragement, and hysterical stories, we’re able to shatter the crust around our hearts that has kept us from fully experiencing the grace of life as God intended.”
—Peter Wallace, host and producer, Day1; author, Living Loved: Knowing Jesus as the Lover of Your Soul
“Pure joy. Lively and lighthearted examples illustrate the connection between guffawing and God. A must-read if you want to laugh, learn, and lighten up your journey on your spiritual path.”
—Allen Klein, author, The Courage to Laugh and The Healing Power of Humor
“The definitive book about how humor and laughter have everything to do with God. You will laugh out loud, and then it will move you to quiet contemplation and awe. It has done more for me than most of the theology books I’ve been forced to plow through. I’m still smiling ... and contemplating.”
—Edward L. Beck, CP, author, God Underneath: Spiritual Memoirs of a Catholic Priest; ABC News religion contributor
“Helps us transcend to a higher and better place, no matter what our circumstances. A much needed balm for a world that often forgets how to laugh.”
—Saranne Rothberg, CEO, The ComedyCures Foundation; host, ComedyCures LaughTalk Radio
“More than a delightfully written book; it is a Saturday afternoon conversation with a favorite friend at the neighborhood coffee shop. I hope that this is just the first installment in an ongoing Saturday afternoon conversation with a new favorite friend, Susan Sparks.”
—Pam Durso, executive director, Baptist Women in Ministry
Why did you write this book?
I wrote Laugh Your Way to Grace to share what I’ve learned over ten years as a stand-up comedian and an ordained minister. The story started many years ago when I was working as a trial lawyer and moonlighting as a stand-up. I knew my heart was being called to the ministry—but I had no idea how to make that transition work. Consequently, I decided to leave the practice and travel around the world hoping to find some—any—kindred spirits. I traveled for two years doing everything from working for Mother Teresa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to driving my Jeep Wrangler from NYC to Alaska. When I returned, it was clear to me that I was to go into the ministry—stand-up comedy and all. I then entered seminary and wrote a master’s thesis on humor and the sacred. After three years of seminary, and then ordination, I am now the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church and the first woman in its 165-year history.
What do you see in your future?
I hope to continue my ministry of humor, teaching people it is ok, even healing, to laugh on the spiritual path. This ministry now includes running my church, media appearances, blogging, comedy shows, keynotes, and workshops on the healing power of humor.
What advice would you give to those facing their own career transitions?
Follow what your heart calls you to do—no matter how improbable it seems. As a stand-up comedian, where was I going to find a home in the church? Please. But paths open up that you never expect and here I am negotiating a career that up until now did not exist. Whatever you do, don't wake up one morning after a long career in something you hate and realize forty years are gone and you can't get them back.
What has been the reaction to Laugh Your Way to Grace?
I am very thankful that the book has received wonderful reviews and has drawn a wide audience from all religious and spiritual backgrounds. In fact, it has sold over 15,000 copies to date! My greatest kick is reading letters and emails from people I have never met, telling me how much the book meant to them.
Where can we connect with you?
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. Additionally, my sermons are available weekly via iTunes. I also write a blog entitled “Thoughts from Tha Rev.” All of these can be accessed through my website: www.susansparks.com.
- Did you grow up in organized religion? If so, describe the minister, priest, or rabbi you grew up with. If not, what was your impression of clergy? Did they laugh? Smile? Were they warm people or arms-length people? How did this influence your image of God?
- Laughter, in a way, is about forgiveness. Think of a time when you were able to laugh at your shortcomings rather than judge yourself. How did that change how you felt about yourself? Did giving yourself a break offer a heightened sense of forgiveness for others?
- Recall a time you were in a comedy club or watching a comedy on television with others. When you laughed together at the same jokes, how did you feel? Did you feel a sense of solidarity? Less alone?
- Think about Conrad Hyers’s statement: “Faith without laughter leads to dogma, and laughter without faith to despair.” Do you think this is it true? Why or why not? What experiences in your life do those words remind you of?
- Can you imagine God smiling? How does a smiling image of God fit, or not fit, with what you have been taught about God?
- How might it feel to laugh in the ear of God? Does this sound blasphemous? According to whom? What thought or image would you need to revise in order to enjoy a bit of the Creator’s humor?
- How might your prayer or worship change if a sacred clown were present? If you actually laughed with God?
- What images of God do you remember from childhood?
- How did your parents act around God? in worship? in prayer? Was God treated like a fearful authoritarian figure or a close friend?
- What is your image of God now? Has it changed?
- If you treated God like you do your best friend, how might your relationship with God change?
- Do you believe you deserve happiness? If your answer is no, why not? What things have been said to you to make you feel that way? (You may need extra time for this … ) Who told you? What did they tell you? Are they happy? What in their lives do you think made them say it?
- Have you ever felt “plutoed”? When?
- How do you make time for joy? Do you schedule it in? Do you prioritize it in your life?
- Do you pick up a salad plate or a dinner plate when it comes to joy and laughter? What could you do to make more room for joy? (Remember the Titanic … )
- What are the three scariest things on your desk or in your life today? Do any of these things get to the core issues of life? Health? Food? Shelter? In twenty years, will you care? (I’m assuming the answer is no. However, if it’s yes, take a preview look at chapter 9. This one’s for you.) What clues do your answers give you about your need to lighten up?
- Humor is about juxtaposing two opposing ideas, such as the amount of stress and energy we spend on issues that really don’t deserve it. Think about these combinations:
- Picture a time you worried about things over which you had no control.
- Remember a moment where you dragged around heavy loads of anger over the lightest and slightest of things.
- Recall a night where you stayed awake with fear over something that never happened.
- Can you see the humor here? Are you laughing? If not, keep thinking.
- If you allowed laughter into the difficult places of life, what things might you see that you are now missing? Things with your family? A clearer sense of priorities? How do these things rank when compared to the problems that obscured them?
- Think of someone whom you have judged unfairly. Can you think of what you have in common with them? What might the two of you be able to laugh about together? Families? Kids? Work? Traffic? If you laughed together, how might that change your perception of each other?
- Recall a time you laughed with someone you didn’t know. Maybe it was in a meeting or in an elevator or with someone on television. Did you feel more of a sense of connection with them? Would you go so far as to say that you were more invested in their wellbeing?
- Think of a recent conflict you’ve had. Was there anything about the situation that could have made you or the other person laugh? How might that have changed the dynamics and/or results of the situation?
- Where might you be able to use laughter to diffuse a tough situation to “turn the other cheek”?
- What age do you see yourself at heart? Why? Where is that little kid now? Is he or she welcomed in your life? What made you laugh at that age? Do you still laugh at the same things? Do you allow yourself to?
- Do you laugh in worship when you feel joy or experience humor? If not, why not? Who told you it was wrong? How might your prayers change if you offered them like a five-year-old? Like the subway conversation? What words or emotions would be included that otherwise wouldn’t have been offered?
- Do you worship as if you are in the living room or the den? What would you like to change about that? Would you laugh more in the den?
- What makes you laugh out loud? If you don’t know, listen to yourself for the next few days and make a list of what makes you laugh.
- The Bible is composed of a collection of books—a canon. That is a holy canon. How about building yourself a humor canon? Think about making a collection of videos, books, cartoons, sounds, images, letters that make you smile or laugh. Can you imagine how these might aid your physical, mental, and spiritual healing?
- Think of the times when you have found yourself in need of an emotional or spiritual ark. What became your ark? What lifted your spirits? Did it include any lightness or laughter?
- Have you ever laughed when you couldn’t cry? What happened? Did the tears eventually come? How did you feel after the release?
- What second chances do you need in your life? How might cultivating a sense of humor help you get there?
- Where could you look for places and people who could help you smile more?
- What is your experience of infectious smiles? Have you ever watched a smile “travel” around a room of people? How have you seen such a smile change people?
- Have there been times in your life when you have felt that God was silent?
- Do you have specific expectations of how God should sound? of when or where should God show up?
- What are your “thin places,” places or times when you feel closer to God, spaces where the veil between human and holy is thin? Is laughter a part of this place?
- Think of a time when you were helpless with laughter. Have you ever considered incorporating such laughter in your spiritual journey? using it as a sign of spiritual surrender? letting go in front of God?
- How’s it going with your “dash in between?” Are you predominantly an Eeyore or a Tigger? Do you smile more or complain more? How does that affect those around you? What would you like to change?
- If you could write your own funeral eulogy, what would it say at this point in your life? What do you want it to say?
- Find one tiny thing to smile or laugh about today. It doesn’t matter what it is. Find it and share it with a friend or a loved one or even better with a stranger. At the end of your day, reflect on the joyful handprint you shared. Think about how it may have begun a tiny but significant chain reaction’a healing for your community and for your world.