the evolution of foolishness

I remember one Sunday,
probably a few years ago now,
Janet Trockenbrot came up after one particular worship service
and said, with a smile, “Sometimes, you just need to
get it out of your system, don’t you?”
And I was grateful for the smile,
and for the freedom.
And this morning, I confess to you,
I just needed to get this out of my system!
So strap in, hang on, and thank you.

I think we have some idea
that the evolution of foolishness
leads to wisdom.
And it doesn’t.
We have some idea that you grow out of foolishness—
and you don’t.
At least not in Scripture—not in the Bible—
not in the stories of God—not in the truth of God.
Quite the opposite.
There is, rather, a consistency to the foolishness—
a necessary consistency to the foolishness.

We read in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians:
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,”
and (here’s the thing) it must remain foolish to remain wise.
It must remain foolish in the eyes of the world
to retain the wisdom of God.
Right?

As much as we, as followers of God, might crave
the world’s validation—
the world’s appreciation—
the world’s celebration,
the foolishness would thus be compromised—
inevitably compromised.
It would become wise—
or, God forbid, strategic.
And if it makes sense to the world—
any kind of sense to the world,
how can it then be a part of the not-making-sense of God?

And yet we confess, even as followers of God, who know this,
that we still want things to make sense.

That’s why, on the one hand,
longing for resolution—yearning for vindication,
and not getting it,
we tell stories of the end—capital “E”—
when it will all make some kind of ultimate sense—
some kind of final sense—
because we all know right now it doesn’t.

And why, on the other,
we tell the story of the end that happened in the middle.
that’s another way of talking about Jesus—
his life, his ministry, death and resurrection, right?
God tipping God’s hand, and showing the royal flush to come.

And within our history we have this host of—memories—
I guess that’s the right word—
memories we can’t shake—can’t get out of our minds.
We have these memories
of stories we’ve heard, over and over again, of younger sons
within the context of primogeniture,
in which it’s always supposed to be about the first-born sons—
stories of daughters in a context of patriarchy
in which it’s always supposed to be about the sons—
stories of orphans and widows and aliens—
stories of the poor and the sick—
we have these memories of characters,
not always—rarely, in fact, heroes—
rich, real characters though—
the characters of Scripture.
And it’s not so much that the stories change the context,
as that they are consistent within it.
How foolish is that?!

And we have these memories of some few people
throughout church history
who foolishly thought they mattered
when they really shouldn’t have.
Or people who, equally foolishly, treated people
who shouldn’t have mattered
as if they did.

We may have memories of such people in our own stories—
who loved us when we weren’t loveable—
who forgave us when we were stupid and mean
and rude and so very, very self-centered.

We have these memories—
all these memories that won’t let us go
try as we sometimes might to let them go.
And it occurs to me
that considering the church,
its checkered past,
its monumental failures—
considering the church,
it is the fools who redeem its history.
It’s St. Francis and St. Clare,
Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu.
it’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero,
Dorothy Day, Clarence Jordan,
Flannery O’Connor, Howard Thurman,
Martin Luther King, Jr.—
not perfect people by any means,
imperfect as anyone,
but people of that wonderful foolishness—
that prioritization of the least of these,
that rejection of the status quo,
its structures of power
its strictures of the imagination.
It’s the fools who redeem the history of the church—
and who make possible a relevant future with integrity.

Oh, and, well, Jesus—that magnificent fool from Galilee!
He who is perhaps best known for teaching (and living)
the exhortation to not just love those who love you,
to love your neighbor as yourself,
to love your enemies.

What about the resurrection, you might wonder—
here at the end of EasterTide?
Isn’t Jesus best known for his physical, bodily resurrection?

Ah, yes, well, my mind came to a fork in the road this week,
because it occurred to me—
I had an interesting thought with regards to resurrection—
y’all scared now?!
Because on the one hand, how appropriately foolish!
What an insane thing to believe,
a man crucified and dead, and yet alive?
And so, entirely in keeping with the foolishness
that is wisdom, right?
On the other hand though, it’s at least interesting to consider—
this is where my mind wandered and wondered …
and maybe got lost!
It’s at least interesting to consider a physical resurrection,
while certainly foolish to the mind (to what makes sense to us),
would constitute an amazing vindication in the eyes of the world
of God’s foolishness revealed as wisdom—
and so, no longer foolish—
strategic.

My mind came to a fork in the road
where two roads diverged,
and my mind took them both.
It’s been a confusing week!

Consider the profound witness of those who saw the failure
(in the eyes of the world)
of Jesus—
of his life and his mission—his ministry,
saw his humiliation and his death—
who saw no vindication,
but saw commitment,
trust, assurance, faith.
and so, nonetheless,
in spite of their witness,
committed themselves
to his priorities—
to his story.
That would be that crazy consistency within circumstance,
not the transformation of circumstance.

And when we think of the ongoing relevance—
the continuing significance of the church,
in spite of its all too regular shortcomings,
is it honestly the care with which people believe that we consider?
Is it the strict adherence to a particular theology?
The protectiveness of any given ideology?
No. Well, it’s not for me.
Is it even the physically resurrected Jesus
that gives the church its integrity—
honestly? relevantly? practically?
Most of the times, I don’t think so.
It’s the fools—
who live life in the image of Jesus—
who put their lives on the line
because of the life lived so long ago
and the presence of God with us even now.

Now later in 1 Corinthians, Paul will write
“If Christ has not been raised,
your faith is futile and you are still in your sins….
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

But my mind is still going down that one fork,
and Jesus never preached the cross.
Oh, he preached the consequences of his way of life,
but not the cross—no kind of atonement—
no cross as the means of salvation.
That all came later. That was Paul.
So when we preach Jesus,
do we preach what Jesus preached,
or what others came to preach about Jesus?
Because there’s a significant difference there.

Another fork in the road—
two more divergent roads,
and maybe we need to take both here too—
not privilege one over the other.
Believe both.
Preach both.
Live both.

So in the swirling together of all these memories in our minds
of stories and characters and history,
these two—now four divergent roads—
and some kind of persistent divine foolishness
(I did mention it had been a confusing week, didn’t I?),
what evolves?

How good it has been to explore with you the 20th chapter of John
and to discover different ways of experiencing resurrection,
and so different ways of believing in resurrection.
Because I believe—
and I need to believe—
in resurrection.
But frankly, it’s not just that what I believe
might be different from what someone else believes,
it’s that what I believe is different just about every day.
And there are many days the physical resurrection means little.
And yet while I’ve never encountered the physical manifestation
of the resurrected Jesus,
I absolutely believe that the word of God continues to be made flesh.
I absolutely believe in the living presence of God,
and the resurrection of the story
in the foolishness of the people of God—
the consistency of that wonderful foolishness in history.

But sometimes I need to believe more than I know.
Sometimes I need the assurance of wisdom revealed in foolishness.
Sometimes I need to believe God has shown God’s hand
conclusively, and, already, ultimately—
that the power of violence and fear
never has the upper hand—
never had the upper hand—
that nothing can end the story that ends in love.
Of course Jesus was resurrected.

And I’m tired of the crazy fights.
The history of the church is so sadly and viciously scarred
from factions fighting each other—
and so is the church’s ministry—scarred, that is.
And it’s usually because someone feels
someone else doesn’t believe quite right.
You took the wrong road.
We’re on separate roads. and that won’t work.
Tell that to the folks from John chapter 20!

There’s more integrity to our fights with God—
when the anger and the questions
just get too big for our affirmations.

But in the end you see,
for me,
it’s not about who wins such fights.
It comes down rather to these fools who somehow seem wise,
who hold onto and are held onto by God,
in spite of it all,
who choose love when it makes no sense,
who extend grace when that, by all rights,
should be the last thing on their minds,
and who seem to hold, as well,
the integrity and the future of the church—
precisely in their foolishness.

So we need to resist our resistance
to foolishness—
in order to see the light,
and to see more clearly those who have seen the light—
the light that is the foolishness of love in history.

And, it’s true,
if you stop to think about it.
It’s ludicrous.
It makes absolutely no sense—
whichever way you think about it
to believe in a resurrection—
to believe in such a way of living and loving—
to believe in such a love—
such surprising initiatives of grace.
We really should let it all go,
and yet we can’t—
can’t let it go,
or maybe it’s that it won’t let us go.
And so it keeps us going—
keeps us hoping—
as what we hold on to that holds on to us—
the foolishness swallows us.
Thanks be to God.

Two roads diverged.
I took them both.
And that has made all the difference.
Sometimes, the more we encounter Jesus,
the more we live into Jesus.
Sometimes, the more we live into Jesus,
the more we encounter Jesus.
Sometimes my head believes; sometimes my heart,
and what my heart believes, my head doesn’t,
and what my head believes, my heart doesn’t.
And it’s all the same story.
I don’t believe,
and I do.
I am the fullness of the Thomas story—
all the time,
doubting and confessing, confessing and doubting.
I am all of John chapter 20,
and I need my community who stays in conversation—
who sometimes believes for me
so I can tell these stories
and follow these roads—
that I might believe—
that we might believe—
in a story big enough
to include us when we’re struggling
and doubting and angry
and thinking and feeling and hurting and needing—
that we might have life
in the name of the one
who foolishly lived gracefully enough
and foolishly loved big enough
to include us all all the time.
Now that’s good news, isn’t it?

Which leads me to this question:
how do you plan foolishness?
How do we plan foolishness?
How do we incorporate it into our ministry plan—
into our worship and into our budget?
If it’s that important to our integrity and our future?
Because it is—
whatever road you’re on, right?
Now here’s the line item with which we’re going to be foolish.
What does that even mean?
What would it look like?
What do you think?
It’s tricky.
Because I’m not talking about foolishness
as some sort of a grand gesture—
not talking strategic foolishness,
but foolishness as an implication of our faith—
as a consequence of our loving—
as an incarnation of Jesus—
a manifestation of God—
as resurrection truth.

And however we get there,
whatever we mean and believe,
today—
whatever we meant and believed yesterday—
whatever we will mean and believe tomorrow,
foolishness evolves,
I have come to realize,
not out of its own foolishness,
but into my living.
What folly is this?

Cue music: Muse, “Madness
and Powerpoint with lyrics.

Amidst the lyrics and music:
regular typeface, muse lyrics,
bold typeface type, my spoken word,
italic typeface, words included in the Powerpoint presentation.

(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)

[What madness is this?
the foolishness of God,
the foolishness of love,
the foolishness that is truly, and finally, wisdom.
]

I—
I can’t get these memories
(St. Francis, St. Clare)
out of my mind,
(Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.)
[memories of foolishness]
and some kind of madness
(Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. — Jesus)
has started to evolve.
(I really only love God as much
as I love the person I love least. — Dorothy Day
)
[in the lives of those who entrust their lives
to love
]
(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)

I—
(There is something in every one of you
that waits and listens
for the sound of the genuine in yourself.
It is the only true guide you will ever have.
And if you cannot hear it,
you will all of your life spend your days
on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.
— Howard Thurman
)
I tried so hard to let You go,
(God does not love some ideal person,
but rather human beings just as we are,
not some ideal world, but rather the real world.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
)
[Wouldn’t that make sense, God,
to let You go?
]
but some kind of madness
(Let us love, not in word or speech,
but in truth and action. 1 John 3:17-18
)
is swallowing me whole—
(I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,
there can be no more hurt, only more love. — Mother Teresa
)
[a baptism as it were]
yeah.
[of faith—into faith—in foolishness]
(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)

I have finally seen the light,
(Judging others makes us blind,
whereas love is illuminating.— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
)
[what really matters—
what truly and ultimately matters
]
and I have finally realized
(I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
)
[the evolution of foolishness]
what you mean.
(We are made for loving. If we don’t love,
we will be like plants without water. — Desmond Tutu
)
[Love. That’s it.
That’s what You mean.
There’s nothing else.
There’s nothing more.
]

Ooh oh oh

[And as much as things may not change,
everything does
]

And now
I need to know is this real love,
(Let us not tire of preaching love:
it is the force that will overcome the world. — Oscar Romero
)
[Something to live into? to lean into? to trust?]
or is it just madness
(Love and ever more love is the only solution
to every problem that comes up. — Dorothy Day
)
[craziness? absurd? dangerous?]
keeping us afloat?
(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)
[To what then do I entrust my living?]

And when I look back
at all the crazy fights we had,
(It is not enough to limit your love
to your own nation, to your own group.
You must respond with love even to those outside of it. . . .
— Clarence Jordan
)
[I mean consider Your followers through history!]
like some kind of madness
was taking control, yeah.
(Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
)
[and yet … and yet …]
(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)

And now,
I have finally
seen the light,
(Children know by instinct that hell
is an absence of love …. — Flannery O’Connor
)
[illuminating truth—illuminating me]
And I
have finally realized
[in my evolution of foolishness]
what you need.
(How does God’s love abide in anyone
who has the world’s goods
and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
— 1 John 3:17-18
)
[You need me to love.
You need me to trust love—
to live into love—
lean into it.
]

Mmmm…

[You need people
who will risk love—
risk that crazy transformative foolishness.
You need people who will prioritize love—
will prioritize other people as those they love—
creation as that which we love.
Within life as it is,
you need me to love.
]

(We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work. — Oscar Romero)

(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)

But now I have finally seen the end (finally seen the end),
(The final word is love.
— Dorothy Day
)
[And it’s love; the end is love]
and I’m not expecting you to care
(Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim church,
subject to misunderstanding, to persecution,
but a church that walks serene,
because it bears the force of love.
— Oscar Romero
)
(expecting You to care),
but I have finally seen the light (finally seen the light),
(Love your neighbor as yourself. — Jesus)
[illuminating all]
and I have finally realized (realized)—
(If there were love of neighbor there would be no terrorism,
no repression, no selfishness,
none of such cruel inequalities in society …. — Oscar Romero
)
I need to love.
[There it is. I need to love—
not in word and speech but in truth and action.
]
I need to love.
(The measure of a Christian is not in the height
of his or her grasp but in the depth of her or his love.
— Clarence Jordan
)
[I need to love.]

Come to me.
(you who are weary and burdened …. — Jesus)
Trust in a dream.
(I have a dream that my four little children
will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged
by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
)
Come and rescue me.
(This is the message we have heard from the beginning:
love one another. — 1 John 3:11
)
Yes I know, I can be wrong,
(For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same? — Jesus
)
[It is madness.]
maybe I’m too headstrong.
(Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister,
is still in the darkness. — 1 John 2:9-10
)
[Please God, don’t let me blow this.]

Our love is
(Love has no awareness of merit or demerit;
it has no scale… Love loves; this is its nature.
— Howard Thurman
)
(Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…)
[All love, really, is
by definition …
]
madness.

And may it be so.

(I added Howard Thurman quotes to the manuscript
after a church member suggested him
as a worthy example of loving foolishness …
and baptist to boot! Thanks, Kathy!)

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