Learning Dirty Jokes and Finding God’s Grace—An Otto Kroeger Remembrance

Otto loved to tell jokes—the dirtier the better. His mental file of jokes, especially racy ones, was impressive in both its size and its ability to be recalled. At parties and conferences he had a standing offer to buy anyone a drink who could start a joke that Otto had not heard and to which he could not deliver the punch line. Over the years, he bought very few drinks in payment for new jokes. When he heard a joke he remembered it, and his ability to recall them and time their delivery was musically precise.

Otto could be crass, and he often used this bawdy humor and coarseness as tools to loosen up and break down distance in groups, trainings or conversation. Cursing, sex, physical indulgence, promiscuity—these were all human drives, and Otto was intensely human. Otto’s openness to sexual humor and conversational frankness could always catch me off guard—even fifteen years into our relationship.

Personality Type and Religious LeadershipPrior to founding OKA, Otto had been a Lutheran minister for twenty years, and while he had vocationally left the pulpit, he never left the church or the faith—officiating  marriages, delivering funerals and serving as guest pastor many times each year. His knowledge of scripture was deep and heartfelt. Otto’s first book, Personality Type and Religious Leadership, reflects passion and insight for Psychological Type, leadership and not just faith communities but scripture in particular.

His connection to the Lutheran faith is particularly relevant, the Lutherans believing that we are all the recipients of God’s grace and mercy—understanding and forgiveness. We have already received God’s Grace. It is not a reward for good behavior. This is a faith system that holds dear the belief that God knows who we are and knows what we do and has already decided to grant us Grace.

Before I fully understood Otto’s faith, I had some trouble aligning the dirty jokes with the scripture. How could these qualities exist side by side? Surely one was for show.

I came to see the two qualities as inextricably linked. I’ve met few people in my life as truly self-aware as Otto. Blemishes, successes, short-comings—Otto inhaled it all and brought that full self to almost every discussion or engagement. His use of self as a consultant, trainer, mentor and friend was complete. Some behaviors he worked to modify, but there were others he did not care to change and some he knew that he could not, so he wore them boldly on his sleeve. There was no false advertising with Otto.

He said what he thought and wanted me to do the same. He was what he was, and he always hoped I would accept that—he had. Otto liked women; he liked sex. He liked laughing. He loved being the center of attention, and he was good at becoming so. What would someone do if he knew that he had already been given God’s Grace? He would embrace the life he had and live it honestly to the fullest. Otto did that, and by so doing, he taught me yet one more thing.

I don’t have the desire to tell dirty jokes, but I do struggle to accept that I am OK right now, just as I am—that I don’t have to change to finally be good enough and worthy. Otto left me many things, but one of the most valuable was the deep belief that Grace is already mine.

A few months ago, Otto was struggling with the aftermath of a round of strokes. His eyesight was failing, his attention span short; his memory faltering. Over the phone I asked how he was feeling that day, and he said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed.”

“What?” I asked.

“That is from 2 Corinthians. You know, Paul’s second letter to Corinth. Good Lord, son, read your Bible.”

“I’ll re-read 2 Corinthians,” I said. “Are you able to read while you are laid up there?”

“No, but that’s OK. Most of the Bible I remember, and that makes me feel better. That, and my nurse has nice tits.”

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One Response

  1. rick maurer says:

    Hile –

    What a wonderful remembrance of Otto. I only met him a few times early in my career. I never had the pleasure of hearing the treasure-trove of filthy jokes. The final line of your tribute is priceless. Thanks for bringing him to life for me after so many years.


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