The Fool as Prophetic Voice?


There has been a debate in the blogosphere among Unitarian Universalists regarding  UUA President Bill Sinkford being part of an interfaith coalition that met with Iran’s figurehead president  Mahmoud Ahmendinejad in NYC recently.  One blogger stated that simply talking does not make one a prophet, sometimes it makes you a fool.  He states that a true prophet is one who is able to organize power behind the words spoken and therefore can be held accountable to what is spoken. He argues that Bill Sinkford’s words without any power behind them, made him a fool.   He quotes Nehemiah 5 as an example of what he calls prophecy with power.  It’s a fair argument.  Through out the Hebrew Scriptures the prophetic has been paired with power, whether that was the power of an impending doom if changes were not made or the power of miraculous events. 

Yet there is a place for the fool too as prophetic voice.  The fool is one who no one takes seriously and therefore is able to speak unvarnished truth.  The fool is the one that people scoff at and deride and then realize that they were the foolish ones with their behaviors.  We see the role of the fool as prophetic voice in Shakespeare’s plays, such as portrayed in  King Lear.  We see the prophetic fool in modern days with Stephen Colbert’s presentation at the White House Press Corp dinner in 2006.   Yet the fool also has power.  It is a power that comes with inner convictions that enables the fool to speak words of truth.  It is because the person is playing a fool that sometimes the words get heard and changes can occur. 

Some of my colleagues (read through to the comments)  thought our UUA President, Rev. Bill Sinkford, played the fool by speaking with one of the heads of state of a tyranical dictatorship.  Many thought he should have sided with the protesters outside and that stance would have been the correct prophetic stance to take.  Funny thing about prophetic stances most are not realized as such until much later, sometimes years later.   

Jonah was very concerned about playing the fool with the city Nineveh.   So he ran away.  Yet, Jonah eventually after some bizarre twists and turns, does take the prophetic stance and speaks with the King of Nineveh.  The King was a tyrant.  The king and his people had done some horrible things.  And after hearing Jonah, the King and the city of Nineveh repented and Jonah’s fear of looking like the fool is realized.  It is a risk that prophets take sometimes. 

One never knows how the spirit of love is going to move and speak through us.  Nor on what ears the message of love will fall on.  The fool can be a prophetic voice.  Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge the actions of those around us as they just may be responding to a higher conviction than we can discern with our senses.  Blessings,

Published in: on October 3, 2008 at 4:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. I am so glad you posted this. I have felt like a voice crying in the wilderness. I too think there is worth in doing something that is apparently foolish but voices truth that has not yet been spoken. I thought he did a very brave thing.

    It’s interesting to me that nobody on the chat is talking about this.

  2. Sinkford refused to say a word in support of dissents and religous liberals in Iranian prisons. He refused to mention their names.

    Sinkford no fool. Sinkford was playing to an audience at home with no regard to the opposition in Iran who seeks our solidarity.

    It was unforgivable moral crime. Calculated, callous, and far from foolish…

    [Bill: I agree that this was an opportunity lost to inquire after the welfare of Islam Clerics who have been imprisoned for their liberal stances. However, I do not have enough information (do we ever?) to be able to come to such a clean and clear judgment of a person’s motivation for what they say or how they act. There are questions that, in my mind, are left unanswered in the press releases I have read from the UUA and from the interfaith coalition, which interestingly are worded very similarly. Questions like was there a list of topics that were declared off the table and who decided this? Thank you for keeping the imprisoned Islam Clerics in our hearts and minds. Blessings- Fred]

  3. How shall we get to a good place, through a conversation? I find easy the knee jerk blanket condemning. Opening up the door to the countries which the US government has demonized may start the peace making process. The nutty figure heads have a nearly imposable job. It might be a good idea to remember how poorly our US government has treated Iran. I’m working on a vision of peace.

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