Question, Mark: How do you cope in not-so-funny circumstances?
Christian comedian shares struggles with faith, diagnosis of multiple sclerosis
By Melanie B. Smith
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Krispy Kreme doughnuts are "crack" for Christians, according to funnyman Mark Lowry.
He jokes that the perfect church would have La-Z-Boys with Big Gulp holders and remote controls.
"I figure if you're going to sleep, you might as well enjoy it," he says.
He'll share zany stories about churches, Christian culture and his life, like he has through concerts, CDs and DVDs, on March 17 at Decatur Baptist Church.
Comedy may seem like Lowry's drug of choice, but seriously — what happens when life doesn't seem like humor material?
Lowry was diagnosed as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He said he had a huge self-image problem. He wrote in Guideposts magazine that he would go home from school every day with teacher notes pinned on his lapel.
He has survived serious wrecks, including one on a motorcycle last year that crushed his leg.
And a few years ago, Lowry went partially deaf in one ear.
The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis.
Tests of faith
Lowry said in a phone interview that he is concerned about what "comes out" of him when troubles compress.
"You squeeze a lemon and what comes out? What's inside. When people are squeezed, examine what comes out. That's the truth," he said.
Lowry said he was thrilled that faith has poured out during trials.
When he learned that his 4-year-old nephew was lost in woods in Virginia in winter, he said, he kept looking up and praying. He felt face-to-face with God, he said.
"All that came out of me was praise ... All I could tell him was how good he's been to my family," Lowry said.
He said the very day his nephew was missing, he saw on CNN that a child got lost in snow and died 150 feet from home.
Lowry's story had a happier ending. After 26 hours, someone found his nephew sitting in a tree. The boy asked for a Diet Pepsi, he said.
The comedian said he tries to trust that God is good, even when there is no evidence of it.
"He's God. I'm not. If God explained it, we wouldn't understand it," Lowry said.
He likens God to a parent trying to describe a mortgage to a preschooler. The child won't grasp it, so the parent lets the child live in the house and enjoy it, Lowry said.
Lowry turns some stereotypes upside down. Reared an independent Baptist, Lowry said, he was a "raging fundamentalist" until he spent time reading the words of Jesus.
He does programs with Tony Campolo, an author and speaker regarded by many as a liberal Christian.
He is a former member of the Gaither Vocal Band, and his music is mostly traditional Southern gospel, but his latest delivery of it is anything but conventional.
Lowry has lampooned singers on numerous Bill Gaither Homecoming videos. For instance, he donned a curly wig like one worn by the late Jake Hess, the well-loved Southern gospel singer from Limestone County, as they sang together on camera.
Keeping up with technology is one of his hobbies, he said.
He has a Web site full of podcasts and Web casts he has dubbed ADHD Radio. And some of his videos are on YouTube.
Lowry, 48, doesn't claim to have God all figured out. The older he gets, the more fearful he is that God won't show up when he performs, he said. He spends concert days napping or praying, not out of piety but out of desperation, he said.
Lowry said he doesn't always know "where I'm going" when he gets up to sing and talk. He often heads down rabbit trails, he said, but God seems to lead him and the audience.
"God always shows up," he said. "We don't have to ask him twice."
Lowry dubbed his latest travels the "God is Crazy About You" tour. Yet he once doubted that God was crazy about him, he said.
"I think God did a wonderful job when he made me, but I didn't always feel that way," he said.
Lowry, who lives in the Nashville area, said he once begged God to change him and his hyperactivity, but now he knows that the way he is enables him to get on stage and perform.
It has also helped him creatively branch out. He has written several books, including a series for children about Piper the Hyper Mouse, and recorded six comedy videos. The "Mark Lowry on Broadway" video went platinum, selling 100,000 units.
And what about the MS? That diagnosis came seven years ago, Lowry said. He decided against shots a doctor recommended, thinking that side effects would last longer than just during treatment. The doctor warned that future "episodes" could leave him blind or paralyzed, but no more symptoms have appeared, Lowry said. He thinks the diagnosis was wrong.
"I just have chosen to believe I don't have it," he said.
Larry Franks, minister to students at Decatur Baptist, said Lowry has the unusual ability to engage people across generational lines with laughter and worship.
"Literally one minute you'll be laughing and the next you'll have tears running down your face," he said.
Franks' niece, Amber Balltzglier, has performed until recently with LordSong, a group that tours with Lowry. Franks said he has heard from his niece that every one of Lowry's concerts is unique.
If you go
Who: Mark Lowry
concert with Stan Whitmire and LordSong
Where: Decatur Baptist Church
When: March 17, 6 p.m.
Tickets: $16.50 at the church office, Christian bookstores and the door.
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