The fool or victim is a common image that appears throughout Western history. We expect people to act respectably, appropriately, expectedly. It's in their stability that we find opportunities to prank them. These are the unexpected fools that we think about in April. Additionally, those who don't act respectably, appropriately, or expectedly often are considered outsiders, or fools. It's this type of predictable "foolishness" that my mind's been playing with since a recent chat with Rev. Zelda Kennedy of All Saints Church Pasadena.
It was after a noontime service, and I was bringing up trust as a component of that day's Gospel reading. So, trust in the Gospel. Trust in the Word. Trust that's inherent in faith. And she told me of a former parishioner who referred to herself as a "fool for Christ". She called herself that because she trusted in Christ to the point that may sound foolish to the outside world.
It's a phrase I actually wasn't familiar with other than the line in 1 Corinthians 4.
|We are fools for Christ. But you are so wise in Christ! We are weak. But you are so strong! You are honored. But we are looked down on!|
1 Corinthians 4:10
As it were, the concept of "foolishness for Christ" has a long history which I didn't appreciate. Now, what I describe here came from Wikipedia, so it's gotta be true. I'm not a theologian or church historian, so it's the best I can muster at the moment.
Apparently, those who gave up their worldly possessions and joined monastic orders were often described as fools for Christ. St Francis of Assisi was an example of a well-known fool. Modern English language variants include "crazy for God". It's not so much about Bible-thumping, but about taking the Gospel's call to give up worldly possessions literally. At its ideal, at least when you read the full passage about discipleship in 1 Corinthians 4, it's not about our judgment on others, but on our right ways with God.
The tradition varies among various traditions of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Church records Saint Isidora Barankis of Egypt among the first Holy Fools. Saint Symeon of Emesa is considered to be a patron saint of holy fools, though his feast day is July 1. In Greek, the term for Holy Fool is salos. In Russian, the yurodivy has behaviour "which is caused neither by mistake nor by feeble-mindedness, but is deliberate, irritating, even provocative" but is rooted in or even intended to mask piety.
Much of this seems to conflict with the concept of the foolishness of April 1. But Stephen Colbert, the comedian who is well-known to be a devout Roman Catholic, has described foolishness for Christ as the willingness “to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.”
I'm glad I stumbled upon his thoughts, for they are consistent with what Zelda and I were discussing. Sometimes, when you live and speak prophetically, or justly, or in unity with God, you aren't consistent with your own reasoning. And often times, it's not consistent with popular culture. What if you don't need to buy the latest consumerist item, lust over the current body du jour, or yearn for the fanciest car? I've caught myself expressing surprise when someone tells me that they don't have televisions.
And in truth, I shouldn't be surprised. I mean, we ourselves don't have cable. We stream some things from the Internet to our tv as needed, but for the most part, we try to not be beholden to television. I rarely know the top 20 songs of the past year anymore. It sometimes seems I'm out of sync with others, and I've realized that I am okay with it.
In fact, I find that I like to live more simply. To live a leaner life. To not care if I seem out of step with others. I mean, what normal person (or so I am asked at times) likes to walk through heat, rain, cold, and hail for hundreds of miles at a time in a foreign land? That's about as out of step as you get - a lot of steps.
Maybe I'm a fool for Christ, which is why I felt drawn to look into this. Or, maybe I'm not foolish enough.
Or maybe, just maybe, as Holy Week approaches in 10 days, I can focus and pray on all this foolishness:
- coming into the city on a donkey instead of a steed
- believing in one who was crucified with criminals
- calling out a dead man to walk out of a grave
- rubbing spit and dirt in a blind man's eyes
- rising from a grave
And for my own life, praying on what foolishness I can handle
- wondering what it means to give up all your possessions (real or otherwise)
- trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle
- loving those who strike me
Maybe I'm a fool for Christ. And, maybe I'm not foolish enough. And maybe, just maybe, at least for now, at least for this April, we can be fools together.