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121 of 122 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Faith-Filled
The nicest compliment I ever received came from a Catholic deacon at a parish in Iowa. My family and I were getting ready to move out of the area (my one-year fellowship at the local Catholic hospital was ending) and he was explaining why our family would be missed: "It's been so nice having you here. You and your family live the faith joyfully."

This...
Published on October 4, 2011 by Jonathan F. Sullivan

versus
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contagious
We want to be around joyful people. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, a prolific writer and an editor at America magazine. His latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, explores the many ways in which spirituality becomes evident through joy, humor and laughter. He explores each of those areas with wit and...
Published on November 22, 2011 by Stephen T. Hopkins


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121 of 122 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Faith-Filled, October 4, 2011
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
The nicest compliment I ever received came from a Catholic deacon at a parish in Iowa. My family and I were getting ready to move out of the area (my one-year fellowship at the local Catholic hospital was ending) and he was explaining why our family would be missed: "It's been so nice having you here. You and your family live the faith joyfully."

This compliment came back to me while reading Jesuit Fr. James Martin's new book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, which hits shelves today. Fr. Martin has crafted a wonderful book highlighting the rich tradition of faithful humor and joyful spirituality. He takes dead aim on the gloomy, pessimistic side of Christianity, arguing that it is not only antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but hurtful to the Church's mission of evangelization.

If you're looking for a quick summary of Fr. Martin's insights, skip to chapter four (helpfully entitled "Happiness Attracts: 11 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor"). This is a similar list to the keynote talk I heard Fr. Martin give at the 2011 NCCL conference. At the top of the list is the fact that happiness and humor are ways to witness to our faith:

"Joy, humor, and laughter show one's faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don't you think that after the Resurrection Jesus's disciples were joyful? 'All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,' as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith."

This may seem self-evident, but the number of dour and humorless Christians would seem to indicate that it bears repeating. Fr. Martin goes to on extol humor's virtues in the area of health, spirituality, hospitality, play, and interpersonal relations.

What's more, the book is funny. Fr. Martin sprinkles jokes and humor from the saints liberally throughout the text, including stories about Pope John XXIII; Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ; Dorothy Day; various Jesuit saints; and, of course, Jesus!

In fact, I think his look at humor in Sacred Scripture (both Old and New Testament) will be especially eye-opening for many people. As Fr. Martin points outs, it is easy to overlook the humor in the Bible:

"We've simply heard the stories too many times, and they become stale, like overly repeated jokes. 'The words seem to us like old coins,' [Elton Trueblood] writes, 'in which the edges have been worn smooth and the engravings have become almost indistinguishable.' Trueblood recounts the tale of his four-year-old son, who, upon hearing the Gospel story about seeing the speck of dust in your neighbor's eye and ignoring the log in your own,laughed uproariously. The young boy readily saw the humor missed by those who have heard the story dozens of times."

Besides the Bible Fr. Martin recommends numerous books on humor and spirituality (he admits up front that his book is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject) and even gives a list of his favorite funny movies.

A quick note about the book's intended audience: some Catholics may wonder why a book about spirituality by a Catholic priest includes insights from other Christian traditions as well as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Fr. Martin writes for a broad audience, and I hope that his Protestant and non-Christian fans from the Huffington Post and the Colbert Report will pick up the book; I think many would be surprised at the relevance of its subject.

I heartily recommend Between Heaven and Mirth for anyone interested in furthering their own spiritual journey -- or just looking for a few new jokes from their repertoire. The Church's rich tradition of faithful joy is a treasure that deserves to be shared, for humor is a gift from God.

Or, as Hilaire Belloc so succinctly put it:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There's always laughter and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for free from TLC Book Tours.
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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want joy, humor, and laughter in your life? This is the perfect guide, October 6, 2011
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
Sometimes you'll find a book written by precisely the right person. When you see such a book you know that the author was born to write it. For instance, with all of its beauty and intelligence, Catholicism had to be written by Fr. Robert Barron. Likewise, nobody else could have compiled The Future Church like expert journalist John Allen, Jr.. And only a dreaming philologist like J.R.R. Tolkien was capable of producing The Lord of the Rings.

While these books are rare, one new title fits the mold. Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Harper One, hardcover, 263 pages) was written by Fr. James Martin, one of the funniest, joyous, most light-hearted religious figures in America and the perfect person to write it.

Martin is the rare priest who personifies levity. Whether writing articles in America Magazine or exchanging one-liners with Stephen Colbert--Martin is the official "Colbert Show chaplain"--he just exudes happiness wherever he is.

Between Heaven and Mirth captures this attitude and shares it with the rest of us. The pages are full of humor and the jokes roll one after another.

But the book isn't just a collection of jokes. An early section, for instance, explores the humor of Jesus. Many people see Jesus as a joyless judge, a sober teacher unconcerned with humor and laughter. Part of this is because many of Jesus' jokes are tinged with first-century Jewish wit and therefore fly right over our heads. To fix this misconception, Martin provides some context to many of Jesus' stories and quips, making them much more lighthearted and, yes, even funny.

In another section, Martin turns to the saints. "A sad nun is a bad nun," says St. Teresa of Avila and Martin provides plenty of alternatives. From St. Francis' gleeful conversations to Pope John XXIII's regular wisecracks many saints were full of mirth.

But how can we acquire a similar joy? Martin answers in the final chapter by explaining how we can integrate joy, humor, and laughter into our own spiritual life. Through practical tips and time-tested advice, Martin's spiritual wisdom is on full display here.

Also, on a related note, while the book's content is stellar from beginning to end, I can't tell you how much I love its cover. The cover is full of smiling saints, which is strange since saints are rarely depicted as cheerful. Most statues, stained-glass windows, and mosaic portraits show saints with their hands folded, their eyes downcast, and their morose faces fending off a smile. But this cover beams with holy joy. Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, St. Francis, and more make sanctity seem less like penance and more like fun. If "joy is the infallible sign of the presence God", these look like saints who understand the Divine.

G.K. Chesterton famously wrote that, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." Like the angels, Martin floats through life with levity, making jokes, laughing regularly, and never taking himself too seriously. Between Heaven and Mirth shows us all how to live this way and is the perfect guide to spiritual joy.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making A Joyful Noise for the Lord: the Primer., October 30, 2011
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
Folks who have been visiting this space know that I have a soft spot in my heart for the writings of Fr. James Martin. You see, the very first post written here, by Webster Bull [...], was about his book "My Life With The Saints." I also read that book and enjoyed it immensely. Fr. Jim, see, has what I like to think of as a unique, folksy style, that appeals to many. Stephen Colbert has noticed.

Perhaps it's because Martin is so effortless to read. The words just seem to pour off of the page and directly into your subconscious, and before you know it, you're on the next chapter. In the particular case of this book, the subject matter is appealing because, and bear with the rhetorical question, how many of us have met the bane of St. Teresa of Avila during our journey along "the Way?" I'm referring to the "sour faced saints" that she begged God to spare us from. If you can find a way to give them this book surreptitiously, it would do them a world of good.

But forgetting about the speck in the eyes of others, and turning to the planks in our own, which Fr. Jim uses as an example of the tomfoolery of Our Lord, this latest book will help you along the narrow path with a lighter step. You see, the subtitle of this slim volume is "Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life," and though there are plenty of sour moments through this "vail of tears," Martin's book reminds us to remember that there is a time and place for everything, which he assiduously goes about pointing out for us through both biblical passages (Ecclesiastes in this case) and numerous other citations gleaned from the lives of the saints and other real world examples of lived, not just theoretical, faith.

He takes the reader through patterns of joy from other faith traditions as well as from theological, psychological, and the views of academic experts from various fields who reflect on historic and anecdotal examples of humor and the Faith. And I have to add that he does so without burying the reader in a sea of footnotes or involving us in long winded academic discussions, which as I recall from my experience in college, serve only to kill joy with the mercilessness of pedantic proofs that can put chronic insomniacs to sleep in 30 seconds. Instead, Martin shares with us some of the best research on this subject matter, jokes that he has heard over the years, and biblical passages that many of us have read, and summarily forgotten, that remind us of the joy we should take in our very personal faith journeys.

On top of all of this, Fr. Jim effortlessly recalls episodes in his own life where a Christian sense of humor has saved the day for him personally, as well as for others he was ministering too. Often times, the humor that "saved the day" was generated by a friend, or colleague, or even a stranger who, by being in the right place, and at the right time, was able, through the skillful application of humor, to make an unbearable situation bearable.

For example, I liked learning that right before his ordination, Fr. Jim became ill and had to be taken to the emergency room. Accompanying him was a 70 year old priest, whom Fr. Jim turned to for, as he called it, "emergency spiritual counseling" along the lines of "Why is God doing this to me?" The answer he got was unexpected, and therapeutic, for in a deeply serious voice (think of that voice-over artist in movie trailers) the priest answered, "God is punishing you for all of your wicked sins!," which caused them both to burst out in laughter.

There is much enjoyment and practical knowledge that is gained from spending time with this book. Because there is enough bad news out there in the world to bring us all to the brink of mental collapse, if we allow ourselves to focus only on what is wrong with the world. But to do so is to miss the point of our lives as witnesses to joy. Fr. Jim reminds readers gently and subtly that God loves us, wants us to be happy, and that making a joyful noise to the Lord</a> is nothing to be ashamed of. He even has an answer for those of you who may believe that "I'm not funny, and my life stinks."

Buy this book and find out why that self-assessment is not true. You'll be glad you did.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Gift for Lots of Joy, October 16, 2011
By 
Sara (Leesville, SC, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
Looking for the perfect gift for your priest, minister, spiritual director or cranky relative? This informative and hilarious book will delight them. Get a copy for yourself, too. If you're like me, you're not sure sometimes what humor is appropriate, when you can laugh in church or even what's funny. Fr. Jim clears it up with serious reasons for good humor, and he clarifies what's good. Fascinating historical anecdotes speak of the humor of many holy people from various times and faiths. Plus, there are really good jokes and lots of joy, the kind that comes from God. Did you know that God has a sense of humor? Get the punch line in "Between Heaven and Mirth." You really need to know this before the Apocalypse.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humor and Spirituality Go Together, November 2, 2011
By 
E. Ritzema (Bellingham, WA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has been called "The Official Chaplain of Colbert Nation," is convinced that joy, humor and laughter are central to spirituality. In this book, he makes his case by calling readers' attention to humor in the Bible and in the lives of spiritual leaders throughout the centuries.

This is not just a book about humor; it is actually funny. Most of the jokes that Martin tells and examples that he gives are from his own Catholic tradition - all the cartoons on the cover seem to be of Catholics, save Martin Luther, who had a well-known spat with the Catholic Church. However, he does give space to humor in Protestantism and even other religions. When writing about humor, there is always the danger of being unfunny. Thankfully, Martin escapes this danger. This was a fun read, and it was fun in large part because Martin is able to poke fun at himself. I had no idea there were so many jokes about Jesuits.

Martin was interviewed at Duke Divinity School's Faith & Leadership blog when this book came out. In that interview, he said "We feel drawn to religious leaders with a sense of humor. It shows us that they understand their essential poverty of spirit and their own reliance on God. It shows humility, which is also essential in the spiritual life. You take God seriously, Jesus seriously and the gospel seriously, but you shouldn't take yourself too seriously."

To which I can only say, "Amen."
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Shall Say It Again, Rejoice!, October 24, 2011
By 
Julie D. (Dallas, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me, "How can you be a Happy Catholic?" They then go on to cite the problems currently in the Church, how hard life is in general, and so on and so forth.

My answer is that happy does not mean cheerful. I'm not talking about a Pollyanna-ish insistence on always seeing the glass half full. I'm talking about a deep, underlying joy that comes from the peace of mind in knowing Jesus really has overcome the world, really is real, really does love me personally. Except in times of deep trouble or sorrow, when no one in their right mind would be able to say that they are happy, I have happiness as a foundation of my days. I must add that even in those times of trouble there is a peace lurking in the background reminding me that "all manner of things shall be well."

I suppose that I am asked that because even the best of us tend to think that faith and religion aren't real unless they are sober, serious, and definitely not amusing, humorous, or joyful. This never made sense to me because I have had too many times when God makes his point to me using a "virtual" nudge in the ribs and a chuckle. There is that stunning moment when I realize what I've gotten very wrong and then that hilarious moment when I realize just how ridiculously wrong I am ... and somehow, you know, I wind up howling with laughter and things just never seem too bad after that.

James Martin has written a book all about that very thing. He writes compellingly that holy people are joyful people, providing numerous examples of the people, their joy, and their levity ... up to and including Jesus. The main premise is that joy, humor, and laughter help us live more spiritual lives, relate to others better, and connect with God more easily.

Martin's examination of scripture and Jesus' humor will be especially valuable to those who hesitate to think that humor and playfulness have a place in faith. His case studies in scriptural joy look at a psalm, the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and 1 Thessalonians. It gives us a fresh look at the familiar passages and perspective on the way the hearers would have understood it when the scripture was new.

I also really appreciated the chapter where Martin addressed the problem of living joyfully when life is difficult. He discusses the fact that joy doesn't mean one is happy all the time, how to find joy during times of pain, what to do if you are not a funny person, and what to do when working or living in a joyless environment. This section is almost a primer on how to look at our lives with both gravity and lightheartedness. It is one that more people than Christians would benefit from.

Naturally in a book of this sort, anecdotes and jokes are larded throughout the text. They always are illustrations of the point that Martin is making and yet, in themselves, contribute to helping look at things just a touch less seriously or from a different point of view. My favorites were the ones that came from real life, as those are the sort that are most genuinely funny. Those are often the sort that help us in painful times, as Martin points out.

There were a few places where Martin was going so fast that he skimmed on providing all the information we needed for the book to be as solid as it could. The primary place I noticed this, and the one that kept bothering me, was his lack of distinction when he compared Zachariah's doubt at the promise of a son after many years of childlessness (who would become John the Baptist) and Mary's reasonable, straight-forward question about how she could become pregnant if she'd never "known" a man. Zachariah, the experienced priest who should have known better than to doubt, is struck mute by the angel. The simple question of the young girl, Mary, is answered. Martin's joke in the footnote that Gabriel is gentler with women was amusing but completely inaccurate and that made me a bit wary of other such confident assertions about Scripture when they came up.

Happily, there are not many instances of those problematic points. Those aside, this book is informative, engaging, and makes a solid argument for the case that joy and humor are integral parts of being human and the spiritual life. Certainly this book is much needed to help lighten the mood of those who believe that only serious attitudes will gain us the kingdom of Heaven. It most definitely is appreciated by those of us who occasionally must defend our faith because of our joy.

Highly recommended.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contagious, November 22, 2011
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This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
We want to be around joyful people. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, a prolific writer and an editor at America magazine. His latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, explores the many ways in which spirituality becomes evident through joy, humor and laughter. He explores each of those areas with wit and self-deprecating stories. The result is an entertaining book that leads to laughter as well as to reflection. I found myself passing along at least two or three anecdotes from this book. Readers who like spiritual themes and humor are those most likely to enjoy this book.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between Heaven & Mirth, November 17, 2011
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This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
This is the first Catholic book I have read that talks about laughing & humor as Catholics. I love to laugh & this book made me do this & also show how you can still be respectful to God & have a laugh. Great book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between Heaven and Mirth, October 18, 2011
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This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
Hard as it may be to believe, this could be Fr. James Martin, SJ's best book ever. Fr. Jim's books are always edifying, thoughtful, spiritual, and wonderful food for thought and, yes, prayer. But this book fills your heart with joy and gladness. It makes you feel good! And...it will make you laugh!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God is in the joyful moments too, November 28, 2011
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This review is from: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Hardcover)
I purchased this book after seeing the author on The Colbert Report. He's been on the show a few times and I was always impressed by his answers.

I really enjoyed Martin's approach to joy, laughter, and humor in our lives.

We usually talk about "experiences with God" as solemn, deep, heavy-emotional moments. Very rarely do we say we meet with God during times of laughter and joy. God created laughter and he loves to be a part of it.

Humor can build us up, humble us, and destroy us. It is a powerful tool.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"Humor helps us to endure suffering by giving us something of a break and reminding us that pain is not the last word for the one who believes in God"

"Joy is not a selfish thing to seek, but a selfless thing to find"

"Joy, deeper than happiness, is a virtue that finds its foundation in the knowledge that we loved by God"
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Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life
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