A young Italian nun with a powerful singing voice and engaging stage presence has been capturing the attention of millions of television viewers on "The Voice of Italy." Her performance of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" knocked another female contestant off the Italian talent show on April 16. The 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia said after winning accolades, "I'm excited, really thrilled. The fundamental thing is to have fun."
Q: Tell us what you believe the role of fun can play in a spiritually fulfilling life.
I believe that having fun within the context of a wholesome, religious lifestyle is perfectly acceptable. People need to feel good about life and experience joy, including its spiritual dimension. Fun that leads to a sense of fulfillment and happiness should be encouraged.
Judaism has an interesting take on happiness: Although there is no Biblical commandment to be happy, happiness is a key to proper, positive adherence to all of the commandments. Conversely, there is no Biblical injunction against being depressed, but a person suffering from depression cannot function properly and find lasting religious fulfillment; therefore, a person with emotional troubles should seek proper assistance — medical or otherwise — to regain their balance.
It is true that fun can sometimes get out of hand, and a reckless pursuit of excitement can come at the expense of other essential elements of life. We need to be cognizant of the difference between healthy fun and hedonism that can lead to immoral acts. Often the line between the two can be thin.
As a rule, clergy and lay leaders should feel a responsibility to imbue the religious experience with a sense of fun and happiness. This is often the key to ensuring that people come to our houses of worship, participate fully, and find proper guidance. This is especially true for young people, who are being pulled in so many directions toward activities — both positive and negative — that seem exciting and fun. To keep our youth engaged with religious practice, we need to maintain a positive, uplifting atmosphere that offers a sense of joy and excitement.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
Back when I was a few years younger than Sister Cristina Scuccia, decades before "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," my tribe and I said, "If it feels good do it." To me these expressions summarize philosophies that can play an important role in a good life, one that is fulfilling in both body and spirit.
This is hedonism but what saves these sentiments from being purely self-centered is that it can't feel good if it hurts someone else or to put it positively, doing good feels good. Likewise I am sure that Sister Cristina and her tribe know that fun is to be had beyond rock 'n' roll — in helping others, in righting wrongs, and in other unselfishness.
Although this particular girl certainly doesn't seem to need encouragement, still I will say "You go Sister!" Unfortunately, her zeal and talent will be underutilized in an institution where leadership roles for women are severely limited. Perhaps she and her tribe will have even more fun in breaking through those constraints.
The reformed Christian faith has a confession that states the chief end of humanity is "to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."
We need to spend more time living out the second part, "enjoying him forever." That is where the importance of play takes root. I can't watch the YouTube video of Sister Cristina Scuccia with out a little smile bubbling up from somewhere deep inside. I believe God created us to enjoy song and dance. I believe the euphoria attached to a catchy '80s song is just another reminder of a God who loves us and wants us to be happy.
Fuller Theological Seminary
For some strange reason, there is a "virus" in some branches of Christianity that seems to frown on laughter, especially in church — but I think those who think that way are wrong. It may be true that those who sought to "purify" the Church of England in the early 17th century (hence their name "Puritans") have been painted as kill-joys — but we may be collaring them with a reputation they do not deserve.
It is well known that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. It is also known that laughter is good for the heart and the whole vascular system. So how could a God of love, in whom Christians say they believe, require us to be dour all the time? While I do believe that life is basically serious, and none of us will get out of it alive, it certainly must be OK to laugh and be amused at appropriate times.
I have in my office a painting called, "Jesus Laughing", artist unknown, and I absolutely love the painting! Also, I can't help but think that some of the sayings of Jesus were meant to get a laugh as well as make a point. The business about getting the log out of your own eye before you try to get the speck out of your brother's eye (Matthew 7: 3-5) makes me smile, and I like to think those who heard Jesus appreciated the humor, too. Jesus also said that he came to bring us life, and not only life, but abundant life (John 10:10). What's your definition of "abundant life"? Doesn't it involve all aspects of being fully human, which would mean hearty laughter on occasion?
And one last Jesus story: The gospel of John tells us that he turned water into wine at a wedding banquet (John 2:1-11). Are weddings places to be sad or happy? The right answer is "happy", and the wine Jesus is said to have created was better than the original! So was Jesus against our being happy? I don't think so; at that wedding he seemed to be encouraging lots of happiness from an abundance of wine. Hey, sad sack: laugh it up! Jesus wants you to be happy!
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge
Sister Cristina is a breath of fresh air in the body of Christ. Her exuberance and pure joy in exercising her singing talent is infectious. Her performance prompted the Italian judge, J-Ax, to comment, "I've noticed this and it's extremely uncommon. When Sister Cristina sings, she gives joy and this is her gift." Alicia Keys commented on the nun's blind audition singing her hit, "No One," "That's what beautiful pure energy looks like!"
Sister Cristina's original audition became the fastest growing viral video, with 30 million hits in just seven days. People are attracted to joy and there is far too little of it in the church world. For too long the church has presented a somber, solemn, even dour face, conveying the mistaken idea that God is strictly serious and even chronically grumpy.
I think God has a tremendous sense of humor. For instance, can you think of a bigger practical joke than Almighty God coming to earth incognito as a human being, and living 30 years in an obscure village on the backside of Galilee? And I'm sure there was a twinkle in God's eye when he first presented Eve to Adam!
Scripture repeatedly couples God's presence with joy. "You Lord make known to me the path of life. In your presence there is joy, at your right hand are pleasures for evermore." (Psalm 16:11) Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance." (John 10:10) I am a big sports fan, and I often feel that God is sitting with me enjoying the game and enjoying my enjoyment of it.
Scripture leaves no doubt about what gives Father God the greatest joy. It states that all heaven bursts into rejoicing when one person turns to Him. (Luke 15:10; Zephaniah 3:17)
Pastor Ché Ahn
What's with the recent spate of Catholic crooners? I only just heard of an Irish priest named Fr. Ray Kelly who sang a familiar song at a wedding he officiated, with all the lyrics personalized for the couple, and the thing also went viral. Now he's being compared to Susan Boyle, the famous singing contestant from "Britain's Got Talent."
But sure, it's all fun, and fun is something God has made available to us on this extravagant planet of his. Yes, we have hardship and labor and sinful natures, but there are also flowers and music, competitions and beauty, all provided for our lifelong enjoyment. God is no cosmic-killjoy, though you'd think he was, given the prevalent opinion of pagans who believe that the Christian God quashes all worldly fun. Generally, the things that they have in mind God does not condemn but calls us to enjoy moderately or in proper context.
There is that old saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." God apparently agrees and so provided his people in the Old Testament, Sabbath days of R&R, and we are wise to make room for the same in these New Testament times. Without relief from the struggles of existence, life would be unbearable. That's why the Bible says, "when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil — this is a gift of God" (Ecc 5:19). So, fun is good, unless that's all we "Just Want To Have," which isn't the point of life at all. The Bible says that they are "terrible times" when people become "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2Ti 3:1, 4). Put God first, and everything else will follow. It could be fun.
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Having fun is good and important, but it really isn't the "fundamental thing." Based on the commitment that she has made to her church, I'm sure that, in a more reflective moment, Sister Cristina would agree.
As Mormons made their difficult trek to Utah in the mid-19th century Brigham Young encouraged them to gather in the evenings to sing and dance. He knew that a little fun would make the journey more bearable for the exhausted, often underfed pioneers. Likewise, scientific research confirms that sharing fun activities contributes to strong, healthy relationships.
However, there is a difference between having fun and being happy. Fun is a temporary diversion — a dance, a game or a party. Happiness comes to those whose lives are in harmony with their values and their conscience. For the religious, that would include keeping the covenants they have made with God even when it is difficult.
In my experience, the happiest people are those who rely on religious teachings to find the balance between having fun and keeping the commitments they have made to God, to their families and to their work. We need this balance just as we need the right balance between foods that are necessary for good physical health and the deserts that taste great but provide little nutrition.
I can't fault Sister Cristina for performing. She has the endorsement of her order and sees her television appearances as a way of extending her ministry to a larger population. However, I believe there is some risk in relying too much on popular culture, which appeals to self-indulgence, as an evangelical tool. The scriptures teach that faith, ultimately, is the product of commitment and sacrifice. It sometimes comes to us through life's hard lessons. The process of acquiring faith is deeply fulfilling and even joyful, but it isn't always fun.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints