God's a Joke

The Reverend Jeffrey Eernisse preaches the gospel of divine comedy

He had watched a Muslim vampire movie with his friend the Wiccan, but the moral he drew was entirely Christian.

Jeffrey likes to mess with people's heads. At the bank, he asks for $2 bills and $1 coins. Once, at Burger King, he paid for his meal with one of each. The kid behind the counter was stunned. She stood there with the money in her hand. She looked at her cash drawer: no slot. She looked at Jeffrey. She looked at the money. She looked at the drawer.
String theory: God, says Jeffrey, ties everything together.
Photos by Deron Neblett
String theory: God, says Jeffrey, ties everything together.

Finally she asked her manager, "Do we take these?"

"It's money," he said. "We take it."

Jeffrey was deeply gratified, not because he'd passed the currency, but because he'd rocked the cashier's world, expanded her job-numbed mind: "For five minutes, she'd been knocked off automatic pilot!"

Autopilot is the enemy of truth, Jeffrey says. When you function purely from habit, you see only what you expect to see, not necessarily what's actually there; you force the world to fit into the slots of your cash drawer. When he preaches, he hopes to leave his congregation a bit dissatisfied, to smash their paradigms and trouble their minds. "You can't participate in the divine life if you're snoozing," he says. "If there's anything God isn't, it's automatic pilot. God is all cylinders, 24/7. That being the case, the last thing I want to do is lull and soothe. You comfort people at a funeral. That's the only time they should be comforted."

Instead, he makes his flock laugh. Humor is a relative of surprise, laughter the sound of a paradigm breaking, a truth recognized. He likes to say, "If you're missing a piece of information, there are jokes you don't get. The more you know, the more jokes you get." Jeffrey hates not to get a joke.

"This is what I believe is true, ultimately, in a theological sense. We are told that God created this universe. And we are told that his intention in doing so -- the reason he didn't just create a bare stage and stick us on it -- is his desire to communicate to us, through the creation, about Himself. Natural revelation: It's why people everywhere came to the conclusion that there's a power behind the universe. The heavens declare the glory of God -- that thing. The whole universe is God's attempt to communicate himself to us.

"The one thing that we believe about God is that he is the source of all joy. So everywhere we look -- from the blue of the sky, green of the grass, the whole bit -- is God pouring joy at us, if only we have enough sense to interpret it. Which means that the universe is a joke God is telling us. And He Himself is the punch line.

"You know how it works? It works like this.


"Who's there?


"God who?


"That's the joke. And the more you know, the more of the joke you get. Everywhere I look, God is saying, Guess who? And if I go, God? He goes, yeah. And if I fail to see God, it's a failure on my part.

"Knock-knock.Knock-knock. Everywhere. The whole universe is going, Hello! Hello! Helllllooooo!"

Behind the loot piled on his pulpit, Jeffrey reads the sermon's text: Exodus 11:1-3. God has just unleashed the last and ugliest plague, killing the first-born child of each Egyptian household, and the Egyptians are desperate for the Children of Israel to leave slavery, get the heck out of Egypt and take their avenging God with them. But first God tells the Children of Israel to ask the Egyptians for their jewelry. It is, basically, a shakedown.

God, Jeffrey says, "is the ultimate thief": He wants his followers to plunder the secular world, not to leave anything of value behind. Sure, Jeffrey says, Christmas used to be a pagan holiday, but why not appropriate such a good celebration? Yeah, the Old Testament was Jewish; it's ours now. Even the cross was filched, a former symbol of Roman oppression.

He urges his flock to go out and steal, for God's sake, anything that might prove useful to their faith. He doesn't mention vampire movies, or Burger King, or knock-knock jokes. He doesn't mention his own carefully modulated embrace of the secular world, in all its trashy pop-culture glory.

He doesn't have to mention those things. The congregation knows him, and they get that part of the joke.

E-mail Lisa Gray at lisagray@alumni.rice.edu.

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