Blogs > Cliopatria > HOLY HILARITY, MIKE ...

Dec 30, 2003 12:22 pm


My colleague, KC Johnson, nominated former Senator Paul Simon as one of the memorable figures who died this past year. I'd like to nominate a different sort of character, Mike Yaconelli. I never met him, but Yaconelli both taught this wayward disciple to take his faith seriously and to leaven my seriousness with a holy hilarity. Mike founded The Wittenburg Door, later simply The Door. Yes. They originally mis-spelled Wittenberg. I've sometimes called it the evangelicals'"Mad Magazine." On the net, it would be the evangelicals'"Onion." Mike understood that evangelical America needed to laugh at itself – not the laughter of faith's despisers -- but the laughter of the prophets who mocked the priests at Caesar's throne. I still recall an issue of the old Door which bore a picture of the heavily made up Tammy Fay Baker on its cover and proclaimed her"Theologian of the Year."

Everyone who knew Mike Yaconelli had many stories to tell about being with him. Ben Patterson recalls"the time someone unwisely asked [Yaconelli] to give thanks for the food set before us in a restaurant. Mike stood atop the chair he was sitting on, raised his arms into the air and began to pray loudly and sonorously. Our faces got red, our ears hot, but we laughed our heads off, and I'm still talking about it."

I loved and hated being with him in public. He mainly loved it. He looked for ways he could create disequilibrium in a room, or in a crowded elevator. Once he spoke to me in confidential tones just loud enough for those around us to think they were eavesdropping on a private conversation. He said,"Ben, when are you going to go back to your wife and family? She's heartbroken and the kids are crying and hungry." The people around me were glowering, and there was nothing I could say to him or them that wouldn't make me seem even more guilty. I wanted to throttle him, but his impish grin saved his life, and I'm still talking about it. And I'm still thinking he was totally out of line.
Robert Darden recalls the scene at a large church convention banquet where Yaconelli and his friend, Tony Campolo, an ethicist at Eastern University, were seized by holy hilarity.
In the midst of a giant banqueting hall filled with more than a thousand people, Mike suddenly hung a spoon from his nose, stood in his chair and wordlessly began rotating in the chair, his hands waving above his head, his fingers snapping to a soundless beat – like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. Immediately, Tony Campolo joined him in the silent dance. Then, across the hall, dozens of people hopped up and joined them. As quickly as it began, it was over and Mike resumed eating as if nothing had happened.
If there were no laughter in heaven, earth would be a very sad place, indeed. Be of good cheer. Mike's got laughs in store for you yet.

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Jonathan Dresner - 12/31/2003

I've also read that Luther's "nailing" was metaphorical. What he did was post them publically and invite comment and debate, which was a pretty ordinary thing for Scholastic academicians.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/31/2003

Gad, Richard, that could be correct. I've done my share of disputing second hand accounts published years later, but I'm no Reformation scholar, so I don't know about this just off-hand. Marius would certainly know more about it than I would.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/30/2003

I read Richard Marius' biography of Luther a few years ago, and discovered that Luther never claimed to have nailed 95 theses to the door at Wittenberg, there is no surviving contemporaneous account, and that the earliest extant account was by Melancthon, who wasn't there at the time, and who only published his claims years later. Isn't it amazing what we are taught as fact in school?