Being foolish

Being foolish

It is good for teachers to be foolish sometimes, especially teachers of theology, after all they need it more than most.

I am not talking here of the foolishness of the gospel, which is a serious foolishness, nor of stupidity which is to always be avoided. I am talking of a certain light-heartedness, a sense of fun that can even be classed as “silly” by some who don’t share your lightness of heart.

Your age, your “position” in society, the church and the seminary, your fear of being too like the students you teach; these are all ropes holding us back from a bit of foolishness now and then. But why should they? G K Chesterton’s great little biography of Francis of Assisi uses various historical models to try to understand him. One is “Le Jongleur de Dieu”, a wandering minstrel, often also a juggler or jester, who made his living sometimes by being foolish.

Must we always dress soberly? There is a very effective lecturer in a college I know who occasionally dresses up – as Moses, or a high priest, and so on, to illustrate his old testament lectures – he has even been known to blow a ram’s horn now and then. I know an ex principal who used to play jokes on other members of staff. Silly stories have occasionally been used (and useful) in important lectures. Strange things have occasionally appeared behind people’s heads in college photos (which, of course, I am completely against). There is a UK tradition of “April Fool’s Day” (when people play tricks on each other on the first day in April) which could well be an un-official part of the calendar of a theological college serious about contextualisation.

Laughter was proscribed in mediaeval universities because it was regarded as human and the task of the monk was to hold down the human in order to give the spiritual room to grow. We can mistreat foolishness in the same way. It is happily human and, when kept in its place, has no negative effect on our spirituality, and probably significant positive effects. After all, becoming like a child is a good thing in the kingdom of God.

Foolishness is also a habit beneficial to the one who practices it. It is a release, a refusal to be confined, not to be boundaried by expectations, a considered decision to not suppress a happy human part of you; a bit of innocent fun that says what you are and what you are not.

Of course, there are times when it is stupid to be foolish. There are solemn occasions, hard and upsetting subjects, occasions when to be foolish trivialises someone’s pain or shows disrespect. But these do not cover all occasions in the life of a theological teacher.

So next time you are tempted to be foolish, if there is no good reason to hold back, why not give in? It is one of the few situations where falling to temptation is a blessing to your soul and others.

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