“Don’t be afraid to be a fool for Jesus,” our retreat leader urged. “Don’t be afraid to be a fool for Jesus.” She repeated her impassioned plea again and again over a period of several days. It wove through her messages, her prayers, her exhortations and her actions. It stayed with us as we each went off in silence and solitude to explore the east Texas ranch. It stayed with us into the quiet of that evening, and into the next day and the next.
“Don’t be afraid to be a fool for Jesus.” The diminutive Sri Lankan was in many ways the epitome of a wise woman, a prophet, a seer, a healer and a prayer warrior. One who models her teachings in her life and ministry. She shared the ways in which God called her to be the very same kind of fool she exhorted us to be. One who follows the Lord without concern for what others think or say. One who follows the Lord without concern for what the world dictates. One who follows the Lord with single-minded concern to please him, and him alone.
On the last morning of our retreat, we sat along the back deck of the house in silence, each of us slowly pushing the heavy, wooden rockers back and forth, eating our breakfast thoughtfully, gratefully. I gazed at the natural setting—the striking East Texas pines, the arms of the ancient oaks spreading their broad canopies over a serene lake crowded with water lilies and visited by birds of all kinds. The warm summer breeze blowing gently across the water, wafting up the hill, making our morning meal a little more bearable.
As we quietly rocked that morning, we noticed a new sight. On most days the lake seems fairly quiet—the birds follow familiar patterns, occasionally a fish or two jump out of the water, a snake or toad appears then slips into the rushes. A handful of turtles crowd onto a partially submerged log resting near the shore. As some slide off, others pull themselves on. As the day wanes, small groupings of white birds quietly fly across the water, returning to their treetop roosts on the eastern shore. In the evening as the stars emerge, the frog chorus serenades us and coyote pups chime in at intervals. The last of the fireflies share their faithful light.
But this morning a visitor landed on an adjacent log, one that extended three or four feet above the water. This morning, one of the numerous lake fowl perched himself prominently on the very tip of the extended log. The world his stage, he craned his neck and held his head high, beak pointed toward the sky. He extended his broad wings, flapping them repeatedly, bobbing his tail up and down and up and down. After a while, he stretched his wings out further, shaking, twisting and gyrating in what we conjectured must be some kind of carefully contrived mating dance. Look at me, look at me, look at me!
Eventually, because his outrageous dance went on for so long, the bird managed to catch the attention of every person on the deck. His exaggerated motions, his odd contortions, like a creative traffic cop in NYC, provided some comic relief during our last morning of silent contemplation.
Gradually though, as I watched the spectacle unfold, a question welled up inside me. Am I sometimes like that absurd little bird, Lord? Dancing for the attention and affection of others? A fool for the approval of others instead of a fool for you?
The world encourages us toward self-promotion at every turn—to “sing our own praises” and “toot our own horns.” The world operates with a zero sum game mentality born not of faith, but of fear. There’s not enough to go around, we’re told; we’ve got to look after our own interests, “because no one else will.” Look at me, look at me, look at me! Today we have multiple venues for self-promotion. We play to the world, crafting our public persona, our bios, texts, tweets, posting digitally-altered photos and carefully curated social media pages. We turn our collective attentions to the loudest and most outrageous.
In contrast, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to become “foolish” in the world’s ways, because the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God. “Let no one fool themselves,” the Apostle Paul admonishes, “If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise” (I Corinthians 3:18). Paul too saw himself as a “fool for Christ’s sake” (I Cor 4:10). One called to foolishness in the eyes of this world. One called to serve God without concern for personal gain or the approval or admiration of others.
Rather, we’re called to follow Christ on the path of self-denial. To follow our Lord in the way that he lived. To be a fool for Jesus involves struggle and humiliation and self-sacrifice. To follow Christ is to be at odds with the world but yet to love it deeply, painfully. To love the people who are still lost in its ways. To love them so much that we set aside our own interests and look to the interests of another.
To be a fool for Jesus is a difficult and sometimes lonely road. The narrow road. God calls us not as the fool preening and posturing, feeding on the attentions and affections of others, but as one quietly, sacrificially serving others in the way of our Lord. Behind the scenes, seeking only to please him. Foolishness to man but the wisdom of God. To the glory of God. Lord, help me be such a fool.
(c) The Rev. Dr. Markene Meyer. Photo cred: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/anhinga