Some people wonder about the title of this blog. It comes from a Chesterton quote that “Very often a scene is best seen when it is seen upside down.” This excerpt from the foreword of my book The Quest for the Creed explains things a bit further.
There are some brave revolutionary souls who stand on their head every day. They are not acrobats but artists, poets, mystics, comedians and prophets. Like children, they have a fresh way of seeing and think it the most ordinary thing in the world to have a new idea, insight or enthusiasm. Furthermore, they think it most natural to share these insights and enthusiasms with others. It is their duty, their joy and their instinct to share their revolutionary insights, and they are always surprised when they are persecuted for their effort. If these acrobatic souls are like children, then there is one famous child who speaks for them all. He is the bright-eyed boy who appears in the story of the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone in the court gasped with delight at the emperor’s imaginary haute couture. Everyone in the crowd pretended to admire the emperor’s invisible satin suit. Only the boy in the front row had the temerity to cry, ‘But he isn’t wearing anything at all!’ That child stands for every prophet, poet, artist, comedian and mystic in the world. He sees clearly what everybody else has been blind to, and declares with unembarrassed delight his joy at the emperor’s nudity.
It is the boy’s job to stand the world on its head, and in a world that is already convoluted, this means putting things the right way around. In other tales the same task falls to the court jester. In Shakespeare’s plays the jester is the one who speaks the hard truth to a character who has gone soft in the head. Sometimes the jester shocks and offends with blunt but clear statements. More often he pops the balloon of pomposity with riddles, jokes, puns and poems. Like the boy who laughed at the naked fat emperor, the jester’s job is to stand on his head and then make people see themselves and the world in a fresh way. For his labors the jester is always laughed at, but never thanked. In fact, he is more often persecuted for his efforts. His clients may laugh at the clown’s red nose, but they will also tell him not to poke it into their affairs. If he pushes his prophecies and jokes too far the jester may be thrown into a well, mocked, beaten or simply ignored.
This role attracts me. By nature I am one of those lugubrious optimists— liturgical on the outside, but anarchical on the inside. As the fool longs to play Hamlet, so this Hamlet has always longed to play the fool. I want to wear the jester’s motley, dangle a little stick with a fool’s head and a feather on the end, and wear rings on my fingers and bells on my toes. I want to scurry around in pointy slippers and poke my nose into our holy places– both the secular ones and the sacred ones. I want to enter the holy of holies and stand on my head so I can see them from a totally new perspective. If I can manage the gymnastics, then the floor may become the ceiling and the ceiling the floor. What seemed sacrosanct may turn out to be mundane, and what was mundane may burn with meaning.
I want to stand on my head and see the world in a fresh way for two reasons. First of all, I am easily bored. I am sure this is a severe character fault, but I get tired of seeing the world the same way all the time. This is the same reason why I enjoy traveling; and once bought X-Ray vision glasses from the back of a comic book. The second reason I want to see the world in a fresh way is because it sometimes seems that the whole world is as mad as the crowd who oohed and aahed over the Emperor’s new clothes. If I can only catch a glimpse of the pink buttocks of reality I will not only be happy, but I might also get one or two others to enjoy the joke, and gasp with the freshness of everything.
One of the ways to do this is for us to see the whole thing with a fresh perspective. There are many ways to get a new perspective, but two ways work very well: laughter and anger. The reason jokes are funny is because they shock us with a surprising and subversive angle on reality. The things that make us angry also give us a fresh perspective. That’s why we get angry: because some new event or bit of news has upset the comfy chair. So in this book I hope to juggle with the truth, tell a few jokes, do some back flips and stand on my head. Like most clowns, I expect I will annoy some people, and frighten others. If you turn up your nose at my style or content, then I will make you even madder by suggesting that I have hit my target. If you think I am too big for my britches, then imagine saying such a thing to a circus clown. He wears big britches on purpose. If you think I am a poseur, an impostor or simply a pompous ass, then I confess. You’re right. But just remember that I am posing on purpose and playing the fool. I am strutting the stage as any jester does—knowing that true words are most often spoken in jest.
But have patience. Try to join in the spirit of the exercise. Don’t be a party pooper, and most of all don’t get me wrong. If I tickle you its because I want you to laugh not cry. Some people assume the jester’s hat because they are weary cynics who believe in nothing and mock everyone. Not me. I wear the jester’s hat because I believe in all things and wish to mock no one. I am a cheerful jester, not a churlish jester. If I criticize people its not because I believe they are bad they way they are, but because I think they can be better. If I suggest that people are hypocrites and fools it is only because I am recognizing them as my brothers and sisters. If I shoot holes in peoples’ pet theories it is to remind all of us that truth is leaky. People are leaky too. I’m leaky. You’re leaky. Everybody, like Liza’s bucket, has a hole, and it is only those who see how many holes they have who are holy.
Go here to learn more about The Quest for the Creed.