Note: This was also the first column on Townhall.com, Sunday 4/1/07 (Andrews in Denver Post, April 1) As a staunch conservative, I’ve never had much use for Hillary and Bill. But after their recent civil rights pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, a change of heart overtook me. I have signed on as national chairman of Republicans for Clinton 2008, and you read it here first.
Actually, you read it here on April First, which means I’m fooling. You weren’t really taken in, were you? It was just too far out of character. Of course, people thought the same thing when such bad actors as Saul of Tarsus, slave trader John Newton, and Nixon hatchet man Chuck Colson signed on as born-again Christians. They were dismissed as frauds, fools, or both. But each man’s turnabout made him a benefactor to society thereafter.
Since the nonsense of April Fool’s and the solemnity of Holy Week coincide this year, it’s worth asking what it might be, besides foolish superstition, that makes the churches overflow on Palm Sunday and Easter every spring. After two millennia of continued human suffering, following the arrival of a Prince of Peace who was supposed to change all that, why do believers still believe?
Paul, the former Saul, cheerfully confessed himself a fool for Christ, take it or leave it. He conceded that the cross, in which the faithful see salvation, may appear as just so much foolishness to nonbelievers. In other words, reasonable people can differ about these things – and God talk comes off poorly in newsprint anyway.
Sticking then to what is, shall we say, historically and sociologically verifiable, it’s a fact that the reason Christians take Holy Week so seriously is their individual and collective experience of finding that forgiveness and love are in the world more fully in our day because -- as they are convinced -- Jesus died and rose in Caesar’s day. The bunnies and colored eggs next Sunday are all very well, so is the foolery this Sunday, but the bottom line is this love thing.
Granted, those of us who claim to be Christ’s followers have a woefully uneven record of living this out. We profess to worship a good man, executed unjustly, who used his dying breaths to redeem a fellow convict, give his grieving mother a new son, and even forgive his murderers. Why do we often dishonor his example by bashing each other with Bibles?
And that’s among ourselves. Christians’ too-common coldness to those outside the fold is another embarrassment. The hardest thing about Jesus for me to imitate is the unconditional love that he’s said to give absolutely everyone. Ouch. The political opponents my column sometimes harshly condemns? He’s fine with them. Marxists and Islamofascists? He cherishes each one personally, err as they may. I am shamed by his gentle patience with each atheist, his tender heart toward each illegal alien.
The Founder of my faith is so far ahead of me in the forgiveness department that I blush to write this. He was harder on religious hypocrites than government hacks, tougher on temple profiteers than drunken prostitutes. Who knew? If we who claim to be his church don’t find ourselves startled and chastened by him every single day, we’d best wake up.
Two good friends of mine (good Christians also, as it happens) share an April 1 birthday. Imagine turning a year older with your high school sweetheart on each Day of Fools, and making a marriage work all the way to grandparenthood. Maybe it's helped them keep the sense of humility – and absurdity – that gets a couple through the rough spots. Personally, on those mornings when I see a dunce in the mirror, I’m a bit kinder to others all day. Christianity at its best does that on the world scale. No fooling.