Jeffrey Overstreet uses the term “Fools and Jokers” to describe those who behave in unconventional ways. The madmen, the visionaries, the crazies. He says,
The characters that have meant the most to me have often been downright foolish. In fact, some of them seem to be out of their minds. These characters serve a similar purpose — they inspire us, they reveal things to us, they expose our lack and our need. But they do so through aberrant behavior, making us uncomfortable, demanding that we attempt to understand the way they see the world.
When asked what character comes to my mind when I think of “the fool,” two people immediately came to mind, neither of them characters, both of them flesh-and-blood people with whom I have attended church. I have learned so much from both of them.
The first person that came to mind was a man I’ll call Leonard. I haven’t seen much of Leonard these past few weeks since his last stay on a psychiatric ward. Yes, he’s mentally ill. He walks the streets of our little talking to imaginary beings. He’s a total conspiracy theorist. The first time I met him, he struck up a conversation with me about how the government was poisoning the ocean and aliens were coming, or something like that. People cross the street when they see him coming. He waves his arms in the air a lot, as if fending off something. His world is an unseen world.
But when he worships in church, I want to be just like him. In church, when we’re singing, I love to look at Leonard. He closes his eyes, puts his hands over his face, and rocks back and forth. Then, he’ll throw his hands up in the air and his head back, with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He’s murmuring something in an unknown language, which would fit right in if we were a charismatic church, but the elderly staid Methodists in the room shrink back just a little from it.
I watch in wonder. And I think of the verses in Isaiah 6
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Leonard hears what I cannot understand; he sees what I cannot perceive. It torments him through the week, but in church, it blesses him. He may be a freak to some, but on Sundays, I see him as blessed.
The second person that I thought of was an older woman I attended church with years ago. I’ll call her Catherine. She was what I consider simple. She was pushing 70 and still working on getting her GED. Studying, taking the test, failing, and studying some more. It was almost as if she didn’t know enough to give up. But that’s not what I admire her about her. She was short, overweight, missing teeth, and a little hard of hearing. The hard-of-hearing part always caused her to speak in a loud voice. The speaking-in-a-loud-voice part made her someone I didn’t always want to go talk with because everybody in the sanctuary would hear our whole conversation.
Catherine had two responses. If what was shared with her was happy, she shouted boisterously, “Thank God!” loud enough for anyone in the whole county to hear. If what was shared was not, she said equally loudly, “Let’s pray!”
When Jason Gray sings his song, “Help Me, Thank You,” I always think that he must have met a Catherine at some point in his journeys. A simpleton with a heart for the Lord.
Fools and jokers, freaks and simpletons. May I be one.