“Noah built an ark, the prophet Hosea married a prostitute, poor suffering Job refused to curse God, and John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness. They all experienced doubt. They all had things to learn. Yet their unconventional behavior drew attention to their vision, which conveys essential truth.” Jeffrey Overstreet

Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Movie of the Week – The Fisher King

Webster defines ‘the fool’ as “One who is destitute in reason, or the common powers of understanding; an idiot.”

We see ‘the fool’ everyday. In the neighborhood, at work, on the highway, in our families, and if we’re honest, in the mirror.

When I meet ‘the fool’, I should pay close attention. My reaction to him reveals a great deal about the state of my heart.

Am I quick to judge?
Grateful that I am not him?
Offended by his choices and behavior?

Or am I willing to pause and see that the fool has something to teach me. . .

“Some of the great fools, as Hamlet proves to be, behave in the manic fashion more deliberately and strategically in order to unsettle those around them and lure wrongdoers into exposing their devices.” – p. 210

“If I’m confronted with bizarre behavior on the street or on the bus, I am likely to cross at the nearest crosswalk or get up and move closer to the bus driver. But in the safety of my theater seat, I sometimes find that these characters reveal a great deal not only through their ranting but also by the way they provoke people around them to all manner of revealing behavior.” – p.201

“In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Finding Neverland and Nurse Betty, these characters stir up trouble for the strict, the proud, the upright and the overly rational.” – p.208

1) What character comes to mind when you think of “the fool”?  What truth did he/she reveal?

Take a few minutes to read “Why Honey Boo Boo is Like a Flannery O’Connor Character” by Jonathan Rogers(Rumor has it that Jonathan may have a few things to add to our discussion in the upcoming weeks.)

2. What do you make of the Honey Boo Boo article? How does it relate to Overstreet’s take on ‘the fool’?


“The healthiest laughter is that which recognizes our shared fallibility.” -p.226

“Many of us are laughing because we see and reject the errors on display and because we are admitting our own culpability in such folly, without despairing from the shame of it. The laughter is release: I’ve been there, I recognize that, I acknowledge the folly of human behavior, and I know there’s a better way.” – p.220

We enjoy comedy streaming from the TV or movie screen.
Our laughter is spontaneous, involuntary and without invoking further reflection.
We move on to the next scene, sitcom, or to decide what we’ll have for dinner, grateful for having been given a break from the “real world.

But occasionally. . .
As we’re gulping in prime-time lightheartedness,
We ingest traces of something more substantive.

We discover that the comic elixir wasn’t a mixture of well-timed stunts, clever puns, or sticky situations. It was concocted from the most basic ingredients. Those that represent the truth of who we really are – the good, the bad, the obvious, the unspeakable.

Have a taste.

3. How can comedy convey eternal truths? What does laughter (even at ourselves, or perhaps particularly at ourselves) have to do with Hope?


* * *

For further reading:
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World



If you liked this post, you might like these:

The Gospel According to Eliot
Tell Me a Story
The Lingering Scent

3 thoughts on “Fools and Jokers

  1. Some quick thoughts on #1 for now.

    The first character I thought of as I read the “Fools” chapter was Lars, Ryan Gosling’s character from *Lars and the Real Girl.* I remember coming away from that movie thinking, “What if we approached mental illness with active compassion rather than fear? What would the world look like then?”

    In the movie, Lars is the fool – traumatic events have impacted him and he is just a little “off” from “normal.” When he buys a life-sized doll and begins to bring her places with him and introduce her as his girlfriend, etc., people get really worried. His brother and sister-in-law talk with Lars’ psychiatrist and the doctor recommends that they roll with it, welcome her in, and accept Lars’ delusion. They do, and they ask the town to help. It’s a beautiful picture of a whole community coming together to serve one man who is in need – and through their compassion, Lars is able to work through some of the previous trauma he experienced.

    It’s a question that I think we could expand out beyond just mental illness – what if we looked at everyone with compassion rather than judgment? I thought about it more in a blog post for the blog of a friend of mine:

    I also thought of Gimpel in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story, “Gimpel the Fool.” ( He’s another character who can teach us beautiful things if we’ll just listen.

    1. Carrie – Thanks for the link to Gimpel – it’s new to me. I’ll be sitting with that story for a while. Yes, beautiful things if we’ll just listen.

  2. At Hutchmoot last year, Andy Gullahorn and I did a session called “The Gospel Uses of Comedy.” I gave a talk which I thought was quite good (here’s a shortened and chopped-up version of it:, but then Andy sang “I Haven’t Either,” and it was obvious to everyone in the room that you can talk about comedy all you want, but there’s no substitute for the thing itself. People were crying laughing, and then at the end they were crying crying–after the sucker punch at the end. I love that song.