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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Fools!
distributed 4/2/10 - ©2010

This year brings a blessed convergence of sacred dates. An extra day of reflection and ritual shines fresh theological light to this Holy Week. 2010 provides the rare occurrence where April Fool's Day falls between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Most significantly, Maundy Thursday fell on April 1. It is a fitting combination.

The things that Christians commemorate this week -- crucifixion, death, and resurrection -- are foolish. The holy values and disciplines that we claim -- servanthood, sufficiency, love and community -- are foolish. Paul put it in just those terms (1 Cor. 1:18-31):

  • "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles"
  • "For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
  • "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."

    Holy Week is foolish, in the richest sense of the word. The things we hold most sacred are absurd or incomprehensible according to the measures of the ordinary world. Jesus is not the poster child for worldly prosperity and success. We follow a vagabond preacher of radical ideas, a man executed as a criminal. It is foolish, if you stop to think about it.

    Paul did not know about our culture's springtime day of joking and pranks, which is just as well. Many of the gags acted out yesterday were mean-spirited or just stupid, and don't reflect well on the grand tradition of the fool, the jester, and the prophet. To understand why April Fool's Day sits so comfortably in Holy Week, we have to reclaim that deeper sense of foolishness.

    Yesterday, the Denver Post interviewed the official University Fool at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Professor Patty Limerick is a brilliant scholar, director of a prominent and creative research institute, and is probably the only University Fool in the world. Dr. Limerick says that her assignment is to bring some levity to a campus that takes itself pretty darn seriously. More importantly, and drawing on the tradition of medieval fools, she says that her role "is to speak out truthfully and directly in times when others are scared to do that." The fool, the court jester, is much more than a funny figure or a silly clown. Patty says, "I would like to be very clear that Bozo is no Fool."

    That is the sort of fool we affirm during Holy Week. Edward Hays describes Jesus the Jester in his lovely little book, Holy Fools & Mad Hatters: A Handbook for Hobbyhorse Holiness. Hays says that "His words, stories and behavior fearlessly brought into focus the oppression of both the powerful Roman Empire and the Temple's religious establishment. His poor peasant listeners did not miss the humor in his parables which poked fun at the rigid structures of their society."

    This prophetic jester is an agent for justice and transformation. Hays, again: "He called his disciples to be fools who would mirror back the oppression of money lenders who were ready to take a poor person's cloak as security on a loan. Jesus said, 'When they ask for your cloak, give them your shirt as well.' (Mt. 5:40) With both gone, stand before them naked so that you can mirror back to them the shame of their injustice. Such comical resistance to power is non-violent resistance."

    Our spirituality is deepened when we discern the counter-cultural, transformational jester at the Last Supper. Our faithfulness is deepened when the jester is a model for our own transformational calling. Hays wrote, "You and I are invited to be fools, followers of the Great Fool, the Clown Christ. Wasn't he playing the classic clown when he got down on his knees and began washing his disciples' feet at the Last Supper? What better way was there to make his disciples see how comical was their desire for the sort of muscle exercised by the power brokers of the world."

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    Our world is in desperate need of God's foolishness. What Paul names as "human wisdom" and strength is precisely what is driving the destruction of this fragile Earth. That so-called wisdom reduces vibrant ecosystems to a collection of resources, celebrates exploitation and extraction, depreciates the needs of future generations, and rejoices in exponential growth that must deplete the planet. We are in need of a vision that flips our cultural operating system toward a celebration of the web of life, community and sufficiency. Those godly values are seen as "foolish" -- and they are precisely what we need.

    The realm of God that Jesus proclaimed is foolish in a world fixated on money. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams recently commented that "the commerce of the market is buying and selling. The commerce of the Kingdom is giving and receiving."

    It is hard to preach the foolishness of God in the language of worldly wisdom. Grace, compassion and justice don't fit into the simplistic box of the gross domestic product. Gratitude and generosity are hard to express within the framework of individualism and consumerism. To communicate the foolish message, we need to claim our own language, stories and metaphors. We need to describe the fullness and richness of God's creation, rather than functioning within the limited views of worldly wisdom.

    The presence of April Fool's Day within Holy Week can remind us of the need to be fools for Christ. As advocates for eco-justice, we can go beyond political lobbying and practical stewardship. A part of our transformative witness is to tell stories and act out skits that poke pointed fun at the failures of business as usual. In the face of dominating empire and exploiting markets, we can do what jesters do so well -- laugh and weep.

    As holy fools, we will "speak out truthfully and directly in times when others are scared to do that." As prophetic jesters, we will embody and enact the foolishness of God.

    Good news breaks into the world through the dismal events of Good Friday. May we participate in that transforming foolishness as we proclaim shalom for the whole Earth community.

    Shalom!

    Peter Sawtell
    Executive Director
    Eco-Justice Ministries

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