The Way of the Cross by F. Dana Brown


In January, our family lost an amazing couple. Majors Dana & Ruth Brown were my wife’s grandparents (great-grandparents to my children, and my grandparents by marriage). After 67 years of marriage, they died just two days apart. Dana was a prayer warrior, had a great sense of humor, and loved studying scripture and theology. He loved the Lord with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Ruth was strong without being overpowering, straightforward but not impolite, inquisitive but not intrusive, and holy but never being holier than thou. She lived her life with her heart to God and her hand to mankind.

After Dana was already a World War II veteran, after he had already spent a year and a half in a hospital recovering from wounds he received in conflict (for which he later earned a Purple Heart), and after he and Ruth had already established a family, a career, and a living, the Lord took hold of their lives. At the center of their lives was a calling, and they served as Salvation Army Officers (ordained ministers) for thirty years before retiring in 1986.

On January 20, 2014, we conducted a celebration of life service for both of them together. It was fitting that we remembered them together, not apart, but it was a difficult day for all of us. As the family gathered in Maine to remember them, we came across these words, written by the family patriarch, hanging on a wall in their home. It is simply entitled, “The Way of the Cross.” We are grateful for the legacy handed down from one generation to another expressed in these words.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

There is a way that seems right to a man, but it leads to a dead-end of death.

Christians have been introduced to a better way – The Way of the Cross. It is God’s way of holiness for us who are being saved by it. We recognize the Cross as the very power of God.

We bid farewell to the way of the world and go by the way of the Cross where we have a better hope established on better promises.

The way of the Cross leads to paths of righteousness and fellowship with God where we enjoy a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ unto an inheritance of a permanent house in Heaven made by God. It is beyond the reach of change and decay and is reserved in Heaven for you – the people of the Way.

The Way of the Cross leads home!!

– Major F. Dana Brown (1921-2014), culled from Scripture and Song

5 Rules For Joke-Telling Leaders

A sense of humor is an essential trait for leaders, but your sense of humor can quickly turn from an asset to a liability if you are careless. Like any form of communication, people will sometimes hear what they want to hear, not what you are actually saying, so humor is always a risk. As a follow-up to last week’s post on why humor is serious business for leaders, here are my five rules for leaders to keep in mind when it comes to humor.

(1) No Sarcasm
If raunchy jokes are the low-hanging rotten fruit of humor, then sarcasm is the razor blade: it has a sharp edge which makes it highly effective but damaging. Sarcasm is usually the truth wrapped up in a thinly disguised joke that stings. Sarcasm can be a telltale sign of an insecure person, and is only useful for building walls and hurting people, not helpful for building relationships. Many of us love sarcasm, but a sarcastic person is no fun to be around. Sarcasm is not becoming of a leader since, at its heart, it is a form of mockery, and leaders should not be mockers as a general rule. If sarcasm is your guilty pleasure, then it is a habit you must quit for your leadership health.

(2) No Victims
In response to my post last week about why humor is essential for leaders, one friend told me how Proverbs 26:18-19 guides how he thinks about using humor as a pastor:

Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
is one who deceives their neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”

A lot of harm has been done by people who were “only joking.” Playful kidding is okay, but sometimes it can cross the line. If you are a leader or in any position of authority, even kidding can come off more harshly than you intended it. The fact is, there are probably only a small number of people whom you can tease safely. One day I overheard two faculty members talking on a day when the network had crashed on campus. One prof said to the other, “I’m probably the only one who can still teach around here today because I don’t depend on all the technology.” His counterpart answered, “Well, the jury’s out as to whether what you’re doing actually qualifies as teaching.” As peers, they can joke like that, but as a leader, it is rare that you can tease someone like that. Why? Because you are NOT their peer. An executive official once told me how someone accused him of yelling in a meeting. He said, “I was so confused because I never even raised my voice, but then I realized it was because of my position. Even when I speak quietly, my position makes my voice seem louder.” Your position as a leader gives you a louder voice, and can give your teasing a sharper edge, as well.

My rule of thumb is always to make sure that the punch line either has no victim or that I am my own victim. When I think of times when I have gotten into trouble with humor as a pastor it is usually either someone misinterpreting a joke (probably not my fault), or when I’ve broken the rule of victimless humor – even if I just intended it as playful kidding (definitely my fault).

A note about leader’s families:
Bill Cosby once said, “We spoke to God about the children, and we were afraid to ask God for specific things. We thought that it might be too much. So we said to God ‘Please give us a healthy child’ and left it at that, not knowing that God is a generous God, but also has a sense of humor. And if you leave that much open for God, some wonderful jokes are going to come about.”

It is humiliating to anyone to be laughed at when you are being serious. Humor is dangerous in that way. There is nothing so degrading as telling someone about an idea you have and having them laugh at you. Something I’m working hard at with my kids, as a parent, is that I only laugh at them when they’re in on the joke, and never laughing at them when they’re the punch line. I tell a lot of stories about my kids, and I try really hard to make sure that the only funny stories I tell about my kids are ones where they are in on the joke, and not ones where I’m laughing at them. In addition, it is my rule that before I ever share a story about my family in public, I always ask their permission first.

Make sure that when you tell humorous stories about your family that they are in on the joke, not victims of it.

(3) No Problem with Self-Deprecating Humor
As a leader, it is disarming when you poke fun at yourself. It shows you don’t take yourself too seriously. However, this can be a defense mechanism, or a way of making fun of yourself for something before someone else has the chance. When you poke fun at yourself, is it a sore area (weight, hair loss, or some other physical attribute)? If so, others might pick up on it and perceive it (valid or not) as insecurity.

(4) No Retelling Someone Else’s Self-Deprecating Humor:
Just because someone makes a joke about him or her self, it doesn’t mean you can make that joke. When you recycle someone else’s self-deprecating humor, you break rule #2 (no victims), and it’s just bad form on the whole. A lot of public speakers will say, “Obviously I’m not starving – just look at me!” and it usually gets a polite chuckle, but if someone else said, “Obviously you’re not starving – just look at you!” it has a very different tone.

(5) No Missing The Comedy of Everyday Life
My friend Dan at the college where I work is seriously one of the funniest people I know. In a very serious conversation he will often derail us with his jokes, but I can never remember him being mean. At all. Ever. He just has an incredible (and I mean incredible) knack for seeing the humor in everyday stuff. Even if you are not in a laughing mood, he can get you laughing just by pointing out absurdities all around us.

The takeaway:
Humor is always up to interpretation, so there will always be people who do not understand your sense of humor, or think you’re saying something you are not. You can’t worry about all of that, because it is your duty as a leader to understand that just because you’re laughing doesn’t mean everyone else is. C.S. Lewis said, joy is the serious business of heaven, and I believe one of the closest things to hell on earth is a humorless leader, one who can’t take a joke, or one who uses humor as a weapon.

Keep it safe.
Keep it clean.
Keep it friendly.
Keep it light.
No sharp edges.

© Steve Dunmire 2014

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

3 Reasons Why Humor is No Laughing Matter for Leaders

C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven,”[1] and I think humor is no laughing matter for leaders. In honor of April Fools’ Day, here are three reasons why humor is one of the most underestimated devices in a leader’s toolbox.

1. Humor is Good for Morale

You have probably sat in tense meetings where the only laughter is nervous laughter, and likewise you have probably sat in meetings where the laughter is easy and comfortable. There is a time and place for serious meetings, but humor makes showing up for work more enjoyable. The first time I met many of my current colleagues in my position at Houghton College was attending a staff retreat two months before my official start date. My new colleagues laughed together so much it caught me off-guard, and convinced me that I was going to love my new job. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (NIV), and it is perhaps especially true when working with employees and volunteers. Make your environment a place where people have fun, and they’ll gladly work themselves to exhaustion.

Our college president, Dr. Shirley Mullen (a strong leader and gifted scholar who has earned two Ph.D.’s and was featured on the cover of Christianity Today magazine) took part in an incredible phone prank last spring. The video of the prank was posted and re-posted by folks at Houghton College who said things like, “This is why I love working at Houghton.” Need I say more?

Humor is good for morale, which is probably one of the main reasons why so many comedians have had unhappy childhoods, and 80-85% came from poor families. Humor is a coping mechanism for otherwise unhappy people. Winston Churchill said, “Famous men are usually the result of an unhappy childhood,” so it is my parents’ fault that I’m not famous.

2. Humor is Disarming

Before you are ever going to be able to make some people change you first need to be able to make them laugh. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and an engaging sense of humor isn’t what you do instead of saying something important. A sense of humor helps take the edge off of a hard message. Nothing is quite so disarming for a person who is skeptical about your message than making them laugh.

There are people who can tell jokes and one-liners and keep you in stitches, and there are those rare people who are just plain funny. I think most people do not expect their pastors or anyone else to be incredibly eloquent all the time, but they will extend you a lot of grace if you just help them laugh. A leader who doesn’t have a good sense of humor (whether he or she doesn’t have a sense of humor or has an inappropriate sense of humor) had better be really strong in other areas to compensate for it.

A good sense of humor, like a good question, is always disarming. There was a certain teacher who always answered people’s questions with questions of his own. Finally one day someone asked him, “Sir, why do you always answer questions with a question?” He answered, “Why not?”[2]

3. The One Enthroned in Heaven Laughs

Psalm 2:4 says “The one enthroned in heaven laughs” at the nations who conspire, plot, and band together against the Lord’s anointed. Many of us picture God in heaven scowling, or any other number of ways, but have you ever pictured God in heaven laughing? At the very end of his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton says that Christ, who “fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall” seems to be hiding something from us. He says the stoics concealed their tears, but not Jesus. He says that diplomats pride themselves in constraining their anger, but not Jesus – he turned over tables at the temple. Chesterton writes, “There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”[3] Mirth is an old fashioned word for laughter, humor, hilarity, or fun.

Have you ever thought of a sense of humor as being a godly characteristic? The fact of the matters is that there is so much humor in the Bible, but we are just too serious to even notice half of it. Consider these examples:

  • I cannot help but chuckle every time I read about the transfiguration when Peter blurts out an idea to Jesus about putting up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. My favorite part is when scripture adds the comment, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:5-6, NIV).
  • Another favorite example of mine is King Xerxes’ conversation with Haman about “the man the king delights to honor” whom Haman assumes is himself, but is actually Mordecai, the man Haman is plotting to have impaled by the king (Esther 5:9-6:14).
  • Lastly, I don’t know if Jesus was trying to be funny in this example or not, but I laugh out loud every time I read Mark 1:37-38 where Jesus had gone out to a solitary place to pray, “and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else…”

Do you think a humorless teacher could have attracted all of those crowds? If you don’t find yourself chuckling once in a while when you notice humor in the Bible I guarantee you’re doing it wrong.

A Word of Caution

Humor is a big deal for leaders in many different settings, but humor is always a risk. Some of the most biting comments people have ever made in my life have been put-downs wrapped in a “joke.” Like any form of communication, people will sometimes hear what they want to hear, not what you are actually saying, so next week I’ll follow this post up with a post entitled, “5 Rules for Joke-Telling Leaders.”

© Steve Dunmire 2014

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Orlando:Harcourt, Orlando, 1963, 1964), 93.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 38.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics/Orthodoxy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1908), 310-311.