r m p

MIND'S EYE

 

 

Fool Day

Robert M. Price

Iím voting for John KerryÖ April Foolís! Had you going there, didnít I?

April Foolís Day, it seems to me, is vastly underrated as holidays go. In celebrating humor and tomfoolery it highlights what surely must be the highest faculty of human beings: a sense of irony, whether broad or fine. Computers can do a better job of calculating numbers, but you never hear them chuckling. (At least I hope not.) Humor, irony, parody, satire: these things show our ability to transcend ourselves and our immediate circumstances, and the more mature you are, the greater the extent to which you can transcend them.

The person who cannot take a pratfall, find himself the butt of a joke of circumstances, and laugh at the humor in it, as easily as he could if it were someone elseówell, he hasnít risen to that level where he can objectify himself. He canít yet view himself as one person among many. If you can do that, it means you can also rise to new moral heights, because it means you are able to see that you are just a face in the crowd, that yours are not the only feelings or interests to be considered.

On notable occasions, the biblical prophets indulged in barbed humor. Their favorite target for fun-poking seems to have been idolatry, which seemed to them especially lunk-headed. Isaiah 44:9-20 asks how it can possibly be that a rational person can not realize the silliness of his actions when he cuts down a tree, strips the bark off half of it, carves it, gilds it, and sets it up as a god and prays to itóand then uses the rest of it for a log of firewood! Elijah lampoons the prophets of Baal when they cannot get their hookey-playng deity to show up for the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:26-29). "Whatís the matter? Maybe heís asleep! Maybe heís in the bathroom and canít hear you!" (Literally, "he has gone aside").

And it is such biblical antics that prepared the way for the important role of the court jester in Medieval Europe. The jester could get away with saying anything to the king (much as Micaiah does in 1 Kings 22), because the kingís rising rage could always be cooled down with the quick proviso, "Of course, Iím just kidding!" Whatever oracle or bit of straight talk he delivered was medicine made easier to swallow by the sugar of humor. The king saved face despite the rebuke because it was, after all, "only" a joke, and yet he knew he would be the fool if he did not take it seriously. And the jester was safe, since royal punishment would open the king up to the shame of not being able to take a joke. This form of humor is alive and well today on TV shows like Saturday Night Live and in political cartoons.

My wife Carol loves jesters and fools (otherwise Iíd be in big trouble!), and she even collects jester caps. Once when my daughter was having a friend sleep over, she whispered to Carol, "Mom, please donít do anything to embarrass me!" She promised to behave. Then a few minutes later she strolled in nonchalantly, wearing a jesterís cap, and asked, "And what will you girls be wanting for dinner?" They exploded laughing. Nothing like a little humor to prove the validity of humor, to dispel the gray cloud of seriousness!

When I was being interviewed by the search committee to become the pastor of the church I used to serve, someone asked how I planned to avoid creating problems like the previous pastor did. He had been a bit of an egomaniac who thought he could do no wrong. My answer was simple: I cannot take myself too seriously! I cannot escape a due sense of my own silliness! I am essentially a comedic character. To become too impressed with myself, to grow pompous and self-important, would mean that I had lost my sense of humor. That I didnít get the joke. But I do. For me, itís April Foolís Day 365 days a year.

 

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