When I look at my life so far, I realize that I really shouldn’t be a Christian. I grew up in a culturally Christian environment, where neither of my parents really cared about religion, and the few experiences I did have with the church growing up were not good ones. Add to that the fact that I am part of the generation called “Millennials,” which tends to be less religious than previous generations. In all respects, I really shouldn’t be a Christian.
What changed was that I discovered Jesus. I found the radical, subversive, Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus, and I just couldn’t let him go. My mother, who dislikes religion, has found my affection for this strange character particularly frustrating. She wanted me to be a teacher, or perhaps a professor. I chose to be a pastor. She wanted me to be concerned for material goods and financial stability like she is. I have a habit of not caring much for money. I also collect different Bible translations and theology books, which also annoys her. My faith is foolishness to her.
My brother is another story. While he is a born-again type of Christian, he embraces much of American culture. He goes shopping on Black Friday, works in a corporate office space, commutes into the city, is a member of the Republican Party, and votes in every election. In his eyes, my understanding of Christianity is foolish. He even once called me an atheist.
Even at the various churches I have attended, I have come across accusations of foolishness. I have been accused of heresy, pastors have accused me of never having actually read the Bible, and most recently I have been called idealistic.
In Christianity, there is a concept of foolishness, but it is not looked down upon. It is a sign of discipleship:
We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)
Here, Paul contrasts the life of the apostles (the “fools” and “weak”) with the lives the Corinthian church (the “wise” and “strong”). Paul is being ironic and sarcastic, but he is making the point that the gospel is one of sacrifice. Paul called the apostles “fools,” in addition to calling the gospel “foolishness” multiple times before.
Paul’s concept outlined in 1 Corinthians carried on through church history. In the West, St. Francis and his followers were commonly identified with such foolishness, and there were many in the East called “holy fools”. It seems to me that any Christian who really tries to take Jesus seriously with absolute trust is deemed foolish at best and a heretic at worst.
Peter Waldo was such a holy fool. He tried to do what St. Francis did. He was a wealthy man who surrendered it all in the name of Christ. The difference between him and Francis was that Waldo just could not reconcile with the Vatican. Waldo had these words to say about his decision to give up the comfortable life of a businessman for a life of discipleship and solidarity with the poor:
My fellow-citizens and friends, I not not insane, as you think, but I am avenging myself on my enemies, who made me a slave, so that I was always more careful of money than of God, and served the creature rather than the Creator. I know that many will blame me that I act thus openly. But I do it both on my own account and on yours; on my own, so that those who see me henceforth possessing any money may say that I am mad, and on yours, that you may learn to place hope in God and not in riches.
Waldo came to the same conclusion Jesus did—that you cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24)—and the result was that the people accused him of insanity. He knew his discipleship was foolishness in the eyes of the world.
I love these holy fools. I want to follow that fool Jesus with reckless abandon like they did. Unfortunately, that means that I will continue to become even more misunderstood. I will continue to be accused of ignorance, foolishness, heresy, atheism, and idealism. I guess I am a quixotic Christian, and that will never change. I’ve embraced the foolish.