The Moth Joke— Revised

Norm MacDonald recent passed away. I found him to be a great comedian, with the ability to be funny… even when it seems like he wasn’t trying to be funny.

A joke that he did was known as the Moth Joke. It was one of those jokes that wasn’t inherently that funny, but he could make it funny in telling it.

I want to use that joke, and revise it. I apologize for it probably not being funny— humor is not my expertise. However, I think the joke may make a point in this version.

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One evening, Ptr. Jim was sitting at home reading. It was around 10pm and he hears a knock on the door. Perhaps Ptr. Jim should be more cautious this late, but he went to the door and opened it, and there was a moth.

The moth said, “I am sorry but I have been going through a lot. Can I come in and talk to you about it?”

This was new to Ptr. Jim, but he adjusted quickly and welcomed him into the living room. He said, “What should I call you?”

“Mr. Moth is fine. We really don’t have first names.”

Ptr. Jim said, “Well then, Mr. Moth, tell me what is going on in your life?”

“Well, you see I damaged my wing so I really have trouble flying.”

“Oh. I see how that can be a difficulty,” replied Ptr. Jim. “It sounds like you need some sort of professional medical help for that. I don’t know… an entomologist perhaps?”

Something like that I suppose. But I am having trouble with one of my children. He does not return home before sunrise. Sometimes, he stays out all day. He has been failing night school, and with my wife and myself separated, I just don’t have the time or resources to take care of him as I need to.”

Mr. Moth, that is a real challenge. Have you talked to the school principal or a social worker about this situation?”

“Well, No. And I have been so anxious lately. I do okay at work I guess, but I feel like everyone there thinks I am a fraud. I suppose it is ridiculous, but I hear people laughing at the office, I really feel sure it is about me.”

“That must be hard for you. You may need to talk to a psychologist— a moth psychologist I guess. But tell me, Mr. Moth, I am not an entomologist, or a social worker, or a psychologist. Why did you come to me?”

“Because your porch light was on,” responded Mr. Moth.

Yes that long joke was all to get to the (perhaps) humorous point that moths are attracted to porch lights. However, I think there can be a point to it as well. Pastors, pastoral counselors, and chaplains are part of a helping ministry. Part of this may be in strictly religious things—- rites, sacraments, and dogma within the church— especial for pastors. Pastors, pastoral counselors, and chaplains may also deal with issues of morals and ethics, as well as the great existential or religious questions that have challenged mankind for millennia.

But people will commonly go to these religious professionals for a wide variety of concerns beyond these, and will go to them long before going to a professional who specializes in the exact concern they have. There can be different reasons for this. For some, the religious care provider is thought of as one who is trustworthy when they are not so sure about others. For some, it is that they see the religious care provider as one who can help “for free.” For still others, the fact that they share a common faith a worldview is important. Finally, it may simply be that they know the local pastor or chaplain, but do not know the other specialists.

Regardless, this opportunity does lead to some responsibilities:

  1. Being trusted is nice, but religious care providers need to ensure that the trust is earned. If others trust, one should be trustworthy— trustworthy in terms of professional ethics especially.
  2. Being honest in one’s limitations. No one is good at everything. A religious care provider should know his or her own limitations and know who and how to refer clients or members to others. It is not weakness to recognize limitations. Going to secular specialists is not suggesting superiority of these. Rather, most people would do well with working with the religious care provider AND one who specializes in the are of the problem.
  3. Being trained to be competent. Since people will come with a wide variety of problems, it is good to have basic competencies. It is good to refer to experts… but the pastor, pastoral counselor, or chaplain is often a bridge between the one in need and these. The religious care provider should be prepared and practiced to provide support in a wide variety of areas. In fact, a properly trained religious care provider can take care of many many problems (but not all problems) without bringing in specialists. This requires intentional training and mentoring/supervision.

Religious Care Providers should be prepared for anything. One never knows who will see your porch light on.

Oh yeah… and one more thing— There is also an interesting article (opnion essay in the NY Times) on Norm MacDonald as a comedian who was a Christian, but who did not market himself as a Christian comedian. You can read it “Norm MacDonald’s Comedy Was Quite Christian.”



Congratulations to Violeta C. Canoy, a Supervisor-in-Training with Bukal Life Care has recently passed her board for Diplomate Supervisor in Clinical Pastoral Education/Training from CPSP-Philippines! This is actually the second honor this year for her as earlier she earned her Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling from Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary.

Publicly Broken

In sports recently, the issue of mental health has been a matter of focus. It began in the Olympics with Simone Biles. Then Michael Phelps brought his own perspective. More recently Naomi Osaka has reenergized the discussion with Tom Brady adding his thoughts, among many.

Many sports fans, and some sports commentators have been… less than sympathetic. This is hardly new. Roberto Duran was castigated by his fans (and foes) for “giving up” in his with Sugar Ray Leonard. Although he claimed he quit because of stomach cramps, many people saw it as a sign of weak character.

Some of this, however, is how it is framed. If Duran went back in the ring and allowed himself to be knocked out (perhaps taking a dive, perhaps just allowing his physical problem to play out) he probably would not have gotten as much grief. If Biles expressed her problems as being more physical than mental, or if Osaka had expressed things in terms of family issues or wanting to take a break, perhaps the responses would be different.

We have generally gotten comfortable with athletes “quitting” due to physical injury. We have also gotten somewhat comfortable with sports stars taking a break due to grief (such as death in the family). Less slack is given for issues of relationships and psychoemotional problems. Perhaps people are least in understanding of problems that come from what I might call spiritual problems. What I mean by that is struggles in terms of purpose, ethics, and character.

What can we say in response to this? I would suggest two things that, unfortunately, are somewhat in conflict with each other.

Thought #1. It is good to be able to speak honestly about one’s brokenness. It is good that one does not feel the need to make up fake reasons for struggles, or hide the struggles. Healing comes from identifying one’s brokenness and acting on it honestly. Deception, and especially self-deception, does not bring healing. Additionally, bringing problems out into the open can be good for other people, to come forward and get the public to talk about these issues.

Thought #2. As good as it is to talk honestly about one’s brokenness openly, it can be self-destructive to share with people who are judgmental or in other ways toxic. It is good to share with those who are trustworthy.

Ideally, one should find people that one can trust to talk about one’s areas of brokenness. For celebrities, this can be tough. Far too many people are invested in their lives. We call these people fans, but fans (derived from the term fanatic) are often not trustworthy people.

Religious leaders can also have the same problem. Some religious leaders are put up on a pedestal. It is difficult to talk about their spiritual brokenness (issues of purpose, ethics, and character). Both friends and foes can be toxic. It can be even a bigger concern in faith communities that spiritualize physical, relational, and psychoemotional problems (seeing them as sinful, or the result of personal sin).

We think of Heaven as a place of absence of problems or brokenness. That may be accurate. However, I would like to suggest a different image of Heaven. Heaven is a place of absolutely trustworthy relationships– a place where brokenness can be shared freely and openly because everyone will respond in a way that is supportive and therapeutic. Heaven is then a community of healing.

The Bible says that there is a day coming when Heaven comes to Earth— but that day has not yet arrived. We live in the tension between the two thoughts above. It is good to be open and public, but sharing with untrustworthy people causes serious problems.

For religious leaders, the following suggestions are worth considering:

  • Have a network of supporters (not fans). Supporters hold people accountable. Supporters listen and respond therapeutically.
  • Don’t put oneself on a pedestal. Others are less likely to do it if one does not do it oneself. Don’t try to put on an air of invulnerability or perfection.
  • Train one’s flock properly. Do not teach toxic theology that is more focused on judging than healing. Help them struggle with issues of theodicy and sin with wisdom.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. That is a sign of strength not weakness.

There will always be unhelpful friends and foes… but one can minimize their effect, allowing one to be publicly broken.