Gross is not funny...

As a Christian educator, I have an odd relationship with gross humor. The professional in me wants to chide my student: “Gross is not funny.” Yet the adolescent version of me that still influences much of my soul wants to respond, “you are correct: gross is not funny – it’s hilarious.”

I remember when our grade school Halloween carnival featured putting your hands into buckets filled with mysterious items that were somehow supposed to be eyeballs and entrails (yet seemed remarkably like boiled eggs and cold spaghetti). That event was an "a-ha" moment for me: Halloween was not just about "scary," it was also about "gross." That connection between Halloween and gross is reiterated each year as I watch the variety of costumed youth in our neighborhood whose dress features their insides on their outsides (and I should give these kids candy? Really?).

I realize that Halloween can be a polarizing issue for Christians, and the only reason I reference the holiday here is because (a) it's October, so many folks are thinking about the approaching trick-or-treat season, and (b) I want to talk about "gross" and the Bible.

The Bible is a truly amazing book. I tell my non-Christian friends that its stories can go head to head with the greatest of classical literature when it comes to describing the plethora of issues that transpire within the human heart. I also tell both my Christian and non-Christian friends that when we allow the Bible's stories to work like a form of literature, they become amazingly entertaining as well as inspiring.

Paul Little, in his book, How to Give Away Your Faith, suggests that the best response to a dirty joke is to tell an even funnier clean joke. Likewise, when the world is trying to out-do each other with gross, why not show your kids that the Bible is able to use gross-out humor that is just as entertaining as stories that celebrate gross for grossness sake? For example, the book of Judges features stories that are gross with a point (pun intended).

Despite how the story of Judges 16:1 is sometimes treated in Sunday school, the majority of stories in the book of Judges are not child-friendly. They deal with very mature issues, sometimes in an exceptionally violent manner (for example, the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19). Yet some of this mature material can be presented to kids in a way that is both grossly entertaining and God-honoring. Not only are these stories “gross out” stories, but they also demonstrate how God creates and uses unlikely heroes. God’s ability to use different kinds of people both honors Him and encourages us. One story you might consider telling around a fall campfire: Ehud (the name alone will probably get you some second glances).

In The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible Volume Three: Judges-Kings, David Penchansky points out how the story of Ehud works like a “gross-out” story. By telling a gross-out story about their enemies, the Israelites were able to make their enemies appear less fearsome.

Although you can certainly read these stories out of a modern translation and children will still get some of the gross-out elements, if you re-tell the stories on your own, your children will be even more impressed. To learn these stories and retell them well, ask yourself three questions. First, what makes the main character an unlikely hero? Second, what makes the “bad guys” entertaining. Finally, what gross-out elements can you emphasize?

Let me offer a disclaimer: this article is not about inspiring your children with the best of philosophy, theology, literature, or great examples of humanity. This is about those moments when you want to make someone’s jaw hit the floor while the person next to them exclaims, “No way! That is in the Bible?” (And I must confess that I love instigating such responses).