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Rev. Susan Sparks to preach on humor as ‘ark’ in tough times

What is “spiritual geliophobia” and why is it such a painful condition?

The Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City (and the first woman to hold the position in the church’s 169-year history) will answer that question in her sermon series as Week Six chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua Institution.

Sparks describes herself on her website as a trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister and “Harley-riding cowboy boot addict,” who is “America’s only female comedian with a pulpit.” She defines “spiritual geliophobia” as the fear of laughter in the presence of God.

“For those who think God doesn’t laugh, think platypus and blowfish,” as she writes on her website, is her reminder to “all who live life just a bit too seriously.”

Susan Sparks

Sparks will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday worship service in the Amphitheater on the topic, “The Mulch Pile.” She will share her spiritual journey at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy. At 9:15 a.m. Monday through Friday, she will preach at the morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon titles include “Not Today, Satan,” “The Tisdale Triangle,” “Trust Jesus and Elvis,” “Check your Weapons at the Door” and “Running with the Horses.” Her sermons will cover the themes of letting go, temptation, fear, doubt, angry words and possibility.

“My philosophy is simple: Lean into the curves. Live full power,” Sparks wrote on her website.

She has been on sabbatical for May, June and part of July, and her first event to end that sabbatical was a blessing of the motorcycles at Living Water Lutheran Church in Cameron, Wisconsin. Her latest YouTube channel playlist, “Rev It Up!,” features her reflections on riding her Harley and its motto is “Ride it Like You Stole It.”

She tours nationally with Rabbi Bob Alper and a Muslim comic in the Laugh in Peace Tour. She and Alper will appear together at the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture on Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy.

Sparks’ work has been featured in The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times, CBS, CNN and ABC. She also blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Sparks received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and a J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law. She earned her master of divinity at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, writing an honors thesis on humor and religion on “Laughing Your Way to Grace.”

Her book, Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor, was named a best spiritual book of 2010 and was featured in USA Today and on “Good Morning America.” In the book, Sparks explores humor in ancient cultures and religious traditions, looks at how humor lets people transcend barriers, and reveals how humor can act as an “ark” to carry people through tragedy.

“Laughter is the GPS system for the soul,” she wrote. “We have forgotten the playful, joyful aspect of the Holy One.”

Tags : AmphitheaterchaplainComedy and the Human ConditionMadison Avenue Baptist Churchmorning worshipRev. Susan SparksWeek six
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the Morning Worship column. A Presbyterian minister, she preaches at the Seneca Reservation in Irving. She is the deputy managing director of People Helping People International. Her latest book is Chautauqua’s Heart, the first full history of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. She lives in Chautauqua with her dog, Max, and is beginning her second term as a member of the Board of Education of Chautauqua Lake Central School District.