Foolish UUs!

Foolishness and Salvation, part 3

St. Paul, I think, took a wrong turn when he cast Christianity as fundamentally about what one believed. For us Unitarian Universalists, as well as for followers of Judaism and Eastern religions the question is not, "What shall we believe?" but, "How shall we live? Who shall we live with in community? And, those moments we’ve had of mystery and wonder, glimpses of eternal goodness, transcendent oneness, what shall we make of those? How can the power of such radically nonsensical flashes be integrated with our daily life?" Those are our questions.

The answer isn’t one that can be spoken or written down but must be lived out. So we come here, come together once a week to light some candles, share of ourselves, sing some songs, hear and consider a sermon, center ourselves on what is important, worship in the sense of worth-shape, give shape to what has deepest worth in our lives.

Since it is in our relationships that we find who and what we are in the vast web of reality, we come here to live by a covenant for how we relate to each other. Within our relationships as Unitarian Universalists, we can come to spiritual depth and wisdom and find the grace to walk on this planet fruitfully rather than destructively. We mutually agree to strive for authenticity and honesty together amidst mutual respect and care. We share not a belief, but an attitude, a faith that life is good, that justice is attainable, that caring redeems us, and that joy is one another’s company.

A family member of mine, an Uncle, told me once that he had visited his local Unitarian church a couple times and found it, he said, “empty and devoid of anything to grasp.” Well, OK. Think of us as the zero – the number of the Fool card.

The zero, as a concept – a nothing, symbolized as an empty circle devoid of contents – came rather late to Western civilization. Did you ever notice: Roman numerals have no zero? Sallie Nichols reflects on the zero in her study Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey.
“The concept of zero, unknown in the ancient (western) world, did not appear in Europe until the twelfth century.”
The first people with zero were apparently the Mayans, whose mathematicians discovered or invented the zero for their elaborate calendar system, around the year 350 CE. Independently, zero was discovered/invented in India around the year 500. From India, it reached Baghdad in the 8th century and was incorporated into Arabic numerals. It got to Europe, finally, through the Moorish conquest of Spain.

The discovery/invention of this apparent ‘nothing’ enlarged (humanity’s) thinking in important ways. It created the decimal system. It made computers possible. It concretized the astounding paradox that ‘nothing’ is really something, and that this nothing occupies space and contains power. It’s appropriate that zero is the number assigned to the Fool. “Like the empty, worthless zero, the fool’s magic can turn one into a million" (Nichols). How absurd is that?

In terms of creed or doctrine, Unitarian Universalism is a zero. Unitarian Universalism has no beliefs. But each of us has beliefs. We all believe something. Whatever you believe, our way of living in community, our rituals and shared practices of worship, our covenant, augments your convictions, increasing whatever positive number you bring by powers of ten. Therein, our foolishness. Therein, our salvation – our freedom from doctrine that would bind and constrict.

It’s a hard job, being a fool, seeing what others don’t. How do we tell what is just plain foolish, and what is a foolish way to wisdom? Which folly is worth persisting in until it becomes wisdom? As Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford says,
“The line between being fully present and one’s self, and being narcissistic and dangerous to others is as thin as the line between an in breath and an out breath. A bellows, indeed.”
Here, I think we find some of the wisdom in being fools together. As Reverend Ford says,
“Fools together. Here, in our coming together, we find how we are, and what it means. When we rub up shoulder to shoulder with others wisdom emerges as a magical third. Here, in this company, we see what our behaviors mean. Here as we crowd up together in our holy company of Fools, we find the alchemical process that burns dross and reveals gold. Here, as we foolishly pursue our individual depth among others, we discover our relationships and our obligations and the possibilities of intimacy and action. All this flows out of the trickster-like quality of our foolish way, that is both the last and the magical zero.”
Coming together provides us with a check on the darker, less wise aspects of foolishness.

Then, again, returning to the jester fool can also help us puncture the pretensions of our foolishness. The joking, laughing fool can depict our most exalted in another light. In our laughter we may recognize that the most exalted is at the same time the most profane.

Jehovah was chatting with the other Gods about where to go for vacation.
Zeus said, "Try Earth. Some nice beaches. In the mountains, good skiing.
Jehovah demures, “Mmm. I don’t know.”
Zeus says, “What?”
Jehovah says, “Well, I went there a couple thousand years ago. Got this little Jewish girl pregnant, and they’re still talking about it.”


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This is part 3 of 3 of "Foolishness and Salvation"
See also
Part 1: An April Fool's Easter
Part 2: Jesus as Wise Fool

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