April Fools' Day Sermons
Reverend Darcey Laine
April 1, 2001
Palo Alto, CA

Darcey LaineFool's Wisdom. When Kate read to us earlier about the fool, her reading was taken from a guidebook to the Tarot deck. Now the Unitarian Universalist church does not officially endorse the tarot deck, and generally we consider ourselves too rational to pay much attention to anything associated with fortune telling, but then it is April Fool's Day. The tarot tradition has always been seen as heretical, viewed with displeasure by the church. The traditional Tarot deck contains 78 cards- 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana is a series of archetypal characters, with some similarity to Jungian Symbology, containing such archetypes as the hermit and the moon. The first of these, numbered 0, is the Fool.

We also find the fool in Shakespeare. This is the character who may be somewhat insane, or witless. But it is precisely because the character does not have the guile to hide behind a polished persona that he or she has the ability to speak the truth in a way that a character like the King cannot. The fool can also take the role of the court jester, one who can say the unspeakable in the presence of the king; because he is a clown, he cannot be taken seriously. It is because the Fool exists somewhat outside the bounds of societal norms and expectations that she is so powerful.

Perhaps you've heard of a community ministry based out of the UU church in San Francisco. They call it "Faithful Fools." This is a street-based chaplaincy to the residents of the Tenderloin. Each night when the ministers go out into the streets to be with the people there, they do so dressed as clowns. Though this seemed strange to me at first, the more I thought about it, it came to make perfect sense. In a climate where persons in authority may not be seen as trustworthy, who is more worthy of trust than one willing to make a fool of themselves, willing to dress in a silly costume for the sake of easing communication?

The fool is a risk-taker, but not in a calculated way. There is selflessness, an ego-lessness with which this archetype steps off the edge of a cliff without looking to see what is below. Appearing foolish is difficult for us humans. We work so hard to polish our personas, appear competent and attractive to the world. In common parlance when we say we feel foolish, this usually carries a negative connotation. We mean that we feel embarrassed by our ignorance, our naiveté, that we were caught in deed or word not designed for a critical audience.

Playing the fool can be an act of personal sacrifice to the group. This is the person who is willing to draw the situational tension to him or herself, to express the shared ignorance, to make oneself seem incompetent so that the group as a whole can feel stronger. This person is willing to be the butt of a joke so that everyone can have a chance to laugh together. This is the person who risks being outgoing and friendly in a new situation so that others can feel welcome and wanted.

Being foolish also allows learning to happen. I remember that during Seminary my sense of urgency to find answers to my spiritual and religious questions was so strong, that I was willing to ask questions that felt stupid. I was willing to speak my own experience without censoring it or editing it for public ears. I decided the only way I was really going to learn was if made plane my ignorance, my blind spots, to whomever could see them in hopes that they could fill in the wisdom that would eventually lead me on a path of growth and knowledge.

Each time I go to drum class, for example, I have to set aside this idea that because I have studied music since before I learned to read, I should be immune from the that awkward feeling of holding a new instrument for the first time, of making mistakes and strange noises, of being publicly imperfect like a toddler walking so that I can begin to learn something completely new.

I have noticed that great lessons in my life are often accompanied by a feeling of foolishness. You know the moment, when you have asked loudly where on earth the women's room is only to find you are standing in front of it? When one of life's mysteries, small or great, is uncovered for me, I invariably feel embarrassed once I have this new knowledge- Surely everyone else knew this and has observed my ignorance with some humor. The truth was so obvious I feel a bit foolish not having seen it before.

We risk appearing foolish when we expose our authentic selves. We take this risk when we cry in public, when we try something new, when we say the thing no one else is saying. We take this risk any time we commit ourselves to a dream.

In the Silicon Valley where competence is valued so highly, it can be hard to play the fool. As a church community we must therefore make a safe place for the fool to live in each of us, and to be part of who we are together. After all, the fool has a wisdom that even the King cannot speak.

. . . .

Freak Flag Flying. While my brother-in-law was interviewing at the Cal research psychology department, I was touring my sister around Berkeley, not missing an opportunity to show her how wonderful a home it could be. We sat in a bar called Spats one evening, drinking fruity drinks while reclined in eclectic sofas and chairs, when in rode "Pink man," a pink-unitard clad unicycle riding caped character from the Berkeley scene. He asked the crowd if he could sing a song, and with their permission he does. The song is a simple one about the value of expressing one's uniqueness, and ends with the line "pick a color and join me." He unicycles a final lap through the bar, and back out the front door. Well that's something my sister probably doesn't see too often in Boston.

When I first moved to California myself, this was one of the things that most impressed me about the bay area: seemingly sane people doing utterly outrageous things. My husband Eric and I were invited to a Halloween party in our first months on the West coast. It never occurred to us to wear costumes- most folks back in Baltimore would have been afraid of making fools of themselves. But at this party we were practically the only folks there not completely foolified for the occasion.

Later, when I'd become more fully assimilated into the Bay Area culture, a woman commented to me "I love this 'let your freak flag fly' attitude out here. You eventually come to realize that we're all freaks."

What would it mean to let your freak flag fly? To say or do the outrageous instead of the expected? There probably aren't too many unicyclists in the crowd, and I personally know that the hooded unitard is not really my look. But would you wear your tiara to a party? Would you admit publicly that you're actually a fan of Xena Warier Princess? Would you confess the nature of your experience of the divine? Would you tell your co-workers that capitalism doesn't really make any sense to you? Would you take great pride in your daughter's imaginary friend? Would you stop hiding the fact that you really, really like a well-alphabetized personal filing system? Or maybe you're even the kind of person who makes room for others to merge during rush hour traffic.

For myself, it began with a vision of myself with my hair partly shaved and dyed a deep royal blue. This was my last year of seminary, and I realized that if I planned to begin a parish internship the following fall, this was probably my last chance to have blue hair. I wondered what it would be like to make a statement with my appearance that couldn't be washed off or hidden under clothing. And the first day I walked to class with hair that turned out more spring-green than blue, my heart was pounding. In fact, only one of my professors stopped making eye contact with me, the rest of my teachers and fellow students were mostly downright congratulatory. I'll always be proud of those months that I, as a grown woman and seminarian, wore my spikey green then purple hair like a confession of my individuality.

We all have this part of our selves, the part that made us the object of ridicule in junior high, that still makes our friends roll their eyes. I suppose eventually we either make a career out of our unique idiosyncrasies, or we keep them quiet in self-defense. It is a revolutionary act to claim those parts of yourself that set you apart, that are truly yours alone.

Even though many of you have luckily moved away from the days of schoolyard taunts, you will not always be supported in your fight to love your own weirdness. But you must learn to love it, so that you can show the world how lovely it really is. This takes great courage, to stand by the aspects of your true self that seem strange in the context of community, but remember that when you come to those aspects of your life that set you apart from even your closest family and friends, this is that place where you are creating something truly new, truly unique with your own life. Cherish this novelty, this innovation in yourself.

And if you will fly your own freak flag, perhaps others will have the courage to realize that they too are freaks, and to love themselves because of it. An army of revolutionaries, freak flags flying.

What is your reaction to this sermon? Please send comments to Reverend Darcey Laine

 

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