A Fool Such As I

Now and then, there’s a fool such as I…

So sung Elvis and so goes what effectively could be the theme song to my life. I’m sure the angels and saints, should they ever want their fill of cringe, need only tune into ‘a day in the life of Jeremy Ambrose’ to have all such cravings satisfied.

I wish I had a ready-made excuse for my foolishness over the years, but the only reason I can offer is the constant exposure through childhood, watching many movies about fools and maybe too much rubbing off…

Take for instance, one of my favourite film fools, Hrundi V. Bakshi, the protagonist of the 1968 comedy, The Party. Hrundi is an accident-prone Indian actor who unwittingly blows up the main set of the Hollywood film for which he had been hired. The Producer hears about this and furiously scribbles his name onto a piece of paper lying on his desk, which unbeknownst to him, is the page containing the list of invitees to an A-list Hollywood party. The secretary retrieves the list and Hrundi is mistakenly invited! All this takes place before the opening credits, setting the scene for Hrundi’s escapades at the party. His bumbling and child-like simplicity combined with his ethnic quirks put him out of place in the glamourous superficiality surrounding him. His efforts to engage with people or fix things only alienate him further (like attempting to feed the household parrot with the enticing words, ‘Birdie Num-Num’). Yet, in his simplicity and goodness of heart he seems to never lose his peace, with providence never abandoning him. At the end of the film he drives away a contented and happy man, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

In conjuring up the portrait of this type of fool, I am struck by the vast difference between it and my own long history of foolishness. The intention to offer an excuse seems to have backfired.

The type of fool I have been, historically at least, is one rooted in ego and blind arrogance, self-conscious while lacking self-knowledge and caught up in one’s own ‘complicated’ personality. All those long years I had been a fool for myself - which is only ever useful if you want to inspire more country and western ballads.

Hrundi, on the other hand, is a fool by virtue of his innocence, child-like simplicity and purity of heart. He has a natural reliance on providence and fails to fit in the world because of it. He is like the ‘holy’ fools of old; the fools who were fools for God!

The fictional character points towards a whole tradition of real-life fools for God, such as St Francis of Assisi, St Simeon Salus and St. Philip Neri. These saints were so caught up in the things of God that their subsequent antics seemed foolishness to the world. Their experience of being ‘God’s children’ unlocked the freedom to live in His providence while their seeming ridiculousness allowed them to be authentic truth tellers.

Being a fool for oneself may be the way of the world but being a fool for God is the call of every Christian. As St. Paul writes, ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise’ (1 Cor 1:27). How else can we understand the topsy-turvy vision of life framed by Christ where the first are last, the littlest are the greatest and the poor will inherit the kingdom?

The call of the Christian is to appear foolish to the world because we stand in opposition to worldly wisdom. We are child-like, not childish. We strive for authenticity instead of glamour. We try to be uncomplicated in a world that thrives on complication. Ultimately, we know that we are playing for Heaven, so no matter how foolish we appear in the present, eternity will vindicate us. This should give us true freedom.

Reflecting on my own life, I recognise a time when I started redirecting my foolish ways so that it became more for the Lord’s sake and less for my own. At university, I began stepping out of my comfort zone to engage with others. Hoping to be a conduit of God’s love, I knew that while I would probably look foolish in the process, God would use all things for His glory. Social rejection for being Catholic or for putting myself out there stopped being my biggest fear. I started trusting that even rejection could be salvaged by God for something greater. I began to be free to be myself, my foolish self, ridiculous Elvis sideburns and all. Maybe those sideburns would help bring people to faith, maybe it would just make them Elvis fans, in any case, they were for God to use as He wanted and I was fine with that.

Are you?

As April 1 comes around, how can you be a fool for God, not only for one day but for a lifetime ahead? Maybe it’s as simple as actively living in God’s Providence and with true freedom. Living like this removes the confines of what can be achieved by ‘our’ strength only, so that we cease to be trapped by fear and become more our truer selves. Step out in freedom and be the fools you were called to be, trusting that God can use our foolishness for His fruitfulness.

Birdie Num-Num.

BIO: Jeremy Ambrose is the Campus Pastoral Associate for Staff at the Melbourne campus. He has a love for classic films, literature and Elvis Presley music as well as a brand new love for his 8 month old baby boy. 

Photo used with thanks from Giovanni Portelli

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