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Inside NCR

A 700-word humor piece is worth 1,000 words

This is the most reckless thing I’ve ever done. As the NCR staff sat around a fat table last week and discussed how to improve the paper, someone suggested we need more humor. This was not a new refrain -- it comes up year after year. It comes up most persistently when life gets hectic and vicissitudes pile up. Humor then becomes a safety valve. It gives perspective to our troubles on bad days and enhances our happiness on good days.

So why is humorous writing so scarce? Perhaps because, like religion, there’s something mysterious about it. How else explain different tastes, or why you like Rush Limbaugh and I don’t, or why you liked Jay Leno then but not now?

And it gets stickier when humor is brought to bear on religion. On top of the usual demand for good taste is the potential clash with the sublime. Those who try to depict a laughing Jesus usually end up with a silly one. It would have helped if one of the four evangelists had been a comic writer, a Woody Allen or a -- no, don’t even mention the entity on page 17.

Now for the reckless part, to wit, an invitation to holy fools everywhere to submit their best stuff for possible publication in NCR. One hesitates to dictate the parameters of jollity, but, everything else being equal, 700-word offerings would be best. One fears that to say any more about content would be an insult to the creative process. Yet, because we anticipate an avalanche -- the reckless part -- two caveats must be mentioned: We can promise neither to publish your material nor to return it, so please keep your originals. On the other hand, this may be the beginning of a new career for one or more hilarious, insight-laden gurus, and new reader-friendly heights for NCR.

And speaking of entertaining journalism, we recommend Leaven, more than a newsletter, less than a newspaper, described up front as “an alternative Catholic voice in the Rocky Mountain region,” an alternative, presumably, to the local diocesan paper in a diocese where, some say, stuffy is where it’s at.

The “Editor’s Notebook” congratulates the new Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, formerly of Denver, although elsewhere Leaven pokes fun at him. Explains the editor: “Humor channels anger and reminds all (‘them’ and ‘us’) that our foibles make us human. So we congratulate the new cardinal on what is for him a great success and honor. [Exquisite wording.] We wish him well, even as we fear his politics and vision of the church.”

Articles include “Ending Nuclear Weapons Forever,” “Things to Do in Denver When You Are Spiritually Dead,” and “Msgr. Mischief,” who writes, “What’s the stink about ABC’s ‘Nothing Sacred,’ boycotted and banned by the League of Uptight Cadlicks? As if there are any liberal young clerics left to denounce in America. Thirty years too late.”

Leaven’s advisory board includes eminent persons such as Dolores Curran and Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, while the editors are Kathy Coffey and John Kane.

There’s more, including word that Bishop Reinhold Stecher of Innsbruck, Austria, who retired last year amid clouds of excitement when he wrote a critical letter to the Vatican (NCR, Dec.26, 1997/Jan. 2), is also a fiction writer and, better yet, a cartoonist whose work includes this paradigm for advancement in the church.

National Catholic Reporter, March 20, 1998