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Filtering by Tag: friends

In Praise of Folly

Callie Feyen

Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection One of the less hefty thoughts I had after September 11, 2001, was whether the show Friends would continue to air. I assumed that since the show took place in New York City, and that it was funny, NBC executives would choose to stop running it. When the show returned to the Thursday night line-up, I felt guilty laughing along with six of the coolest twenty- and thirty-year-olds I knew. I was also ashamed that I was expecting—almost craving—a laugh. Was this the time for comedy? Shouldn’t I be praying or donating money to some sort of relief fund? What good would a chuckle do now?

Folly, Erasmus’ narrator in In Praise of Folly, says comedy does a lot, including but not limited to, making us laugh. What’s more, Desiderius Erasmus argues (albeit humorously) that comedy is vital.

One of the first things Folly points out about comedy is that it brings about change. “…[W]hen you laid eyes on me, you were quite transfigured” (7).  Folly takes note of the adjustment in the audience when they realized that she was the one who would speak to them. She compares their reaction to feeling the signs of spring for the first time after a cold winter, and as though the audience was feeling the sun for the first time. The use of the word transfigured here also suggests that comedy not only lightens a mood, but it can transform us.

Throughout the book, Folly sheds comedic light on otherwise serious subjects. For example, she suggests the body part that a man uses in hopes to become a father is “so stupid and even ridiculous that it can’t be named without raising a snicker” (12). This is the organ that creates a human, “the sacred fount from which all things draw their existence.” In another example, Folly wonders what woman would ever have sex again after going through childbirth.  Not only does she have to endure contractions, labor, and the ordeal of having various liquids pouring out of her body parts, but she must rear the child as well.  Having gone through a miscarriage, the delivery of a ten-pound baby, and another somewhat high-risk pregnancy, knowing what I know about the miracle of life isn’t exactly foreplay. However, I also know the joy in first holding my daughters, watching them take their first steps, and listening to their voices. Folly’s question affirms the pains of childbirth and rearing, but her use of comedy here (I imagine her shaking her hands above her head in mock exasperation) lightens the situation as well. Bringing anything to life—a story, a recipe, a skyscraper, a human being—hurts. It is nice to laugh at the difficulty in it, whether it is a snicker or a howl. Laughing about the seriousness in life brings relief, and this is what Folly is doing here.

Comedy is a great leveler in the book. Folly makes fun of everyone, even Erasmus. She describes a wise man (Erasmus) as “always sparing, saving, sad, solemn, severe, and strict on himself…” (38) (The use of onomatopoeia here is humorous as well, in the sense that one could draw out the “s” in each word adding sarcasm and melodrama). Folly then asks, who cares if someone like this dies, “since he can’t properly be said ever to have lived?” (38) Women, apostles, writers, those who memorize Psalms, are among the groups that Folly makes fun of.  Being in on the joke shows we are all included. When we are included in the comedy, it means we have been observed; that there is something intriguing about us that deserves enough attention to make a joke. In this respect, comedy can also be looked at as a form of grace: we are all, in our strange, serious, silly make-ups, included in on the joke.

At the end of the book, Folly argues that practicing comedy is a form of piety. When we laugh at ourselves, we become like the pious man who, “shrinks as far as he can from the concerns of the body, and allows himself to be lifted to the realm of eternal, invisible, and spiritual things”(85). The more we lose ourselves in the joke, the closer we grow to God, and therefore closer to the way he created us to be. In this sense, comedy restores a new order.

It is probably folly to compare Desiderius Erasmus to the likes of Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica. However, on a basic level they do the same thing Folly does: that is make us laugh, relieve us from our serious situations, include us all, and maybe, when we turn the TV off or when Folly leaves the stage, these offerings will stay with us prompting us to forget ourselves and become the people God created us to be.

Ye are my. . . ?

Joy and Matthew Steem

USA. New York. 1950. A little while back, I read a lovely piece by the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray, “Ye are My Friends.” It got me to thinking about the difference between viewing ourselves as friends of God or servants. To be both is hard. Am I facing tension or something leaning towards the mutually exclusive? I know, I know, we are supposed to “live in the tension,” according to our post-modern friends. Yet, it’s not tension that bothers me, it’s things that seem mutually exclusive. I have long wondered at the varying flavors of doctrine which Christians seem to gravitate towards: taken individually they are okay, but together they seem, at least a bit, inconsistent.

“The keyword of the Christian gospel is not service but friendship,” asserts Macmurray. Indeed he goes on, “I believe, we have been thinking too much in terms of ... service of God and of the world.”

We have!?

This seemed nearly blasphemous to me.

The main trouble Macmurray has with service is that, to him, it is inexorably bound up with the idea of duty.

As any devoted fan of words would, I stopped there and started rifling through the OED for the word “duty.” Here are the primary meanings:

The action and conduct due to a superior; An action due to a feudal superior or lord of a manor; That which is owing to any one (i.e. legally due); Action, or an act, that is due in the way of moral or legal obligation; that which one ought or is bound to do; an obligation.

After getting back into the text – and dare I say that duty isn't looking particularly friendly according to the definition! – Macmurray asked his readers a similar question which I am going to ask you.

Suppose you are sick, not just sick with the sniffles, but ugly sick; the kind of sick that makes all food and drink repulsive (thus you become a fast friend with the toilet bowl and its pleasant and soothing coolness). Now suppose in the middle of a particularly tenacious retching session, you hear me knocking at your door downstairs and telling you in a drawling voice that I had just come from a church service where I was reminded that it is my Christian duty to sacrifice my Sunday plans of fun and merriment and, instead, out of my pious obligation – born of Godly duty – offer my precious time to you.

Now after this charming and inspiring speech which has included the right words, do you feel like graciously stumbling down the stairs, a trickle of sick running down your un-wiped chin, to accept my “sacrifice”? I think you would tell me to go and take my “duty” and “sacrifice” somewhere else – maybe even the hot place. And of course nearly everybody would agree! We would concur, Macmurray suggests, “in friendship the personal things—warmth and intimacy of feeling—must be the springs of action.” Otherwise, such dutiful actions are mere impersonal and cold obligations. One does not help the sick friend out of duty. That’s not what friendship is.

Actually, here is the OED definition of “friend”: “One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy (not necessarily lovers or relatives).” Duty hardly fits in there.

“The fact,” says Macmurray, “is that in friendship we are beyond law and obedience, beyond rules and commandments. ... [In fact] the more deep and real our friendships become, the more what looks like sacrifice from outside is found to be the free and spontaneous expression of our own soul’s necessity.”

So back to my pondering on servanthood versus friendship when it comes to God: Jesus calls us friends, yet Paul signs off his letters with “the servant of Christ.” What’s more desirable? Maybe Paul was able to remove the duty part of servanthood? Or maybe he was living in the tension, too? I wish Macmurray was here.

(Photo by Elliott Erwitt)