HOW DO WE FOOL OURSELVES?

Rev. John P. Gaffney
March 4, 2001

Today is April 1, “April Fool’s Day,” and I must admit I am really pleased that it has fallen on a Sunday ...and a Sunday when I am in the pulpit. As I ponder this day, I become more and more convinced that it is a uniquely “sacred day” with the promise of sending us a powerful spiritual message.

This day also happens to coincide with our change to daylight savings time. I can predict that as I extinguish  the chalice and pronounce the “closing words,” some of our members, who have forgotten to turn their clocks ahead, will be arriving for the Service and feeling rather foolish about it. And so this is a particularly foolish day.

How did this custom of “April Fool’s Day” begin? Some trace it back to 16th century France when King Charles IX adopted the new Gregorian calendar which changed the date of New Year’s day from April 1 to January 1. As the story goes, some people in France either didn’t hear about the change or didn’t believe it, so they continued to celebrate the beginning of the new year on April 1 and were mocked and called “fools” by others. When you think of it, though, the new year more logically begins on April 1 with Spring and new life and it may have been Pope Gregory with his new calendar who was the “fool.” Nevertheless, April 1 became “April Fool’s Day.”

Others say that Nature fools us with her sudden changes in weather at this time of the year and it is appropriate that we celebrate this foolery with a day of its own. Shakespeare did say that April was the “cruelest month of all” because we are fooled by a warm day followed by a cold one. But others say that the custom grew because, after the doldrums of a long winter, we needed a day to be foolish and frisky. Who knows what is the origin of the day but it has become a venerable tradition and it is a day with a message.

Before I tell you why I think “April Fool” Day can be a sacred day with a uniquely spiritual message, let me make two asides. First, we need to be a bit more foolish and less gloomy about life. James Thurber was right when he said: “Humor is a serious thing.  I think of it as one of our greatest and earliest national resources which must be preserved at all costs.” By the way, next Sunday I’ll be a bit foolish  when I come as God Himself, telling you what I would do if I were “God for a day”.  If I could come as Ralph Waldo Emerson there is no reason I can’t move one step higher and be God.

My second aside is that we should never dismiss anyone as a “fool.” I remember a particularly ugly scene in the airport in La Paz, Bolivia. The terminal building was one simple, little room. Some Amayra Indian boys were scurrying around trying to get bags for the arriving passengers. One little Indian boy made a mistake bringing the wrong suitcase to a pompous businessman.

He shouted at the boy, “tonto”, you “fool.” To this day, that scene pains me to think of . I even have problems with the comment: “He doesn’t suffer fools well”. I don’t think anyone deserves the title, “fool.” As I had said in an earlier sermon, “everyone has a speck of wisdom in them.” Today, however, I will turn that coin over.  It is also true that everyone has a speck, or more than a speck, of foolishness in them. This “foolishness” can be a spiritual disease and April Fool’s Day is a good time to reflect on it. This designated day of April Fool’s is a gift, an opportunity to ponder something very important.
So, it is April Fool’s Day. Be a bit foolish, a bit silly today.

Resolve never to think of anyone as a “fool.” But, most importantly, ask yourself: How do I fool myself? I believe that the  most important answer came in that parable which was read earlier, in the Reading of this Service. I love that storyteller. You might call him teacher or Rabbi, or Master, or Lord, or even God. I simply call him my friend and favorite storyteller. He paints a familiar picture. The times are good. I would update the details a bit by saying that the stock market has been good, my investments are multiplying nicely, jobs are plentiful and well compensated, interest rates are low. I might buy a bigger house, a more upscale car, take a more expensive vacation. Yes, I work many hours but it’s worth it. These are good times. “Eat drink and be merry.”

But remember what our friend, Jesus, said, “Thou fool. This very night thy soul shall be demanded of thee.” We fool ourselves by thinking that we have plenty of time and we can delay for a future time, perhaps till our retirement, the more important and humane tasks of cultivating our souls, finding peace of heart, and establishing a firm connection to others, to Nature, andto our deepest self. Ask yourself, as I ask myself: “Do I use my time wisely? Will I regret what I have left undone while on my deathbed? Am I wasting valuable time  with material things and ignoring the healing work of the soul?’ Take time this April Fool’s Day to evaluate where you are and what are your priorities.

A second way we can fool ourselves, and I speak autobiographically, is to live and work to please others. I would hope that none of us are living out our mother’s dreams, but do we judge our worth by what others think?  Do we value ourselves by the particular job we have as though our work defines who we are? Do we say: “I am in the right field and am moving up the ladder and my income is above average so I am pleased with myself?” To lose a job could be economically devastating but do we feel humiliated and worthless because our job has defined us? When we first meet people why are we more interested in “what they do”, what their job is, and what their status in the company is, rather than who they are as a human being? And aren’t we more proud of our work credentials than we are of our spiritual, our humane growth? This April Fool’s Day look inside of yourselves and not outside to see your true worth.

To look at this from a slightly different angle, do we follow our dreams? What do we really want out of life?  Have we abandoned the dreams of our youth? You say that the harsh demands of the real world have driven you to compromise or totally abandon your ideals of the past. I would ask: What is the real world? Have we compromised too much? Has disallusionment and cynicism taken over? Have we given up? Each of us will have to answer in a different way. This April Fool’s Day is a good time to ask the question.

For me all of this boils down to the simple word “time.” I have said often before that I think the lack of time is one of the greatest moral evils of our time, far higher on the list than sex. How we use our time defines who we are and separates the wise from the foolish.

How do we get out of the “fool trap”? Certainly some serious reflection would be a first step. Do we even take the time to think about it?

Second, we could heed the words from the book of Proverbs, which were our “Call to Worship.” Listen again to the words: “The way of the fool is right in his own eyes but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” Alone and “in our own eyes” we can’t see straight. We need others, the “counsel” of others to arrive at some kind of wisdom, and to find the right balance. It might be a spouse, or friend, or even  a professional counselor. Sometimes it is better done in a group. I would think that this Fellowship we call BUUF, this spiritual community, is a place where we can find “counsel”, where we can be challenged to reorder our priorities. Find your “counsel” where you can but be not such a fool as to look only “in your own eyes” and not even take the time to do that.

William Thackeray was right when he said: “A fool can no more see his own folly that he can his own ears.”

All Fool’s Day can be as sacred and spiritually revealing as Christmas or Easter. The humorist Mark Twain remarked: “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”

Let us seize the opportunity this April Fool’s Day to make sure we are not such fools the remainder of the year.

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