A Little Bit of Francis

Here’s an excerpt from my book Adventures in Orthodoxy for St Francis.

Picture a fat, middle aged Englishman trying to stand on his head. This is not just any Englishman. This is your honest to goodness Edwardian Englishman in a tweed suit. With his wide brimmed hat, a drooping moustache, walking stick and ridiculous pince nez he looks like an overblown Teddy Roosevelt. The porcine face puffs as he tries to plant his head on the ground, then the chubby feet, stuck into stout boots, try to kick up into the air. The fat man kicks once or twice, wobbles, then on the third try he’s up, feet waving and swaying for balance. His hat is squashed because he forgot to take it off. His tweed cape has fallen over his head. A button on his vest pops off with the exertion, then suddenly the pince nez fall off and he instinctively reaches for them, loses his balance and comes crashing to the ground.

All of this to test the fat man’s theory that, “…it really is a fact that any scene such as a landscape can sometimes be more clearly and freshly seen if it is seen upside down.” The fat Englishman is named G.K. Chesterton, and he wrote those words about a skinny Italian called Francesco Bernardone otherwise known as Francis of Assisi. Francis was a sort of holy acrobat, a wandering minstrel, a chevalier of the spirit, one of those fools who not only see the world upside down, but turn the world upside down. In his fat English way Chesterton was a similar sort of clown, and his observation that the world is often more clearly seen upside down is revolutionary.

It’s revolutionary not because Chesterton is a jolly English Che Guevara, but because, when you stand on your head you revolve. Revolutions upset the status quo by challenging the majority view. This kind of rebellion is both frightening and admirable. Witness our feelings towards any adolescent with a safety pin in his eyebrow, a surly expression and purple hair. The sort of revolution Chesterton advocates is subversive toward both sides — like a court jester who cracks jokes to those who are solemn, and assumes a funereal face for those who are fools. In fact, the court jester is an excellent example of the sort of revolutionary I mean because he is an acrobat. He may stand on his head and do literal back flips, but with his jokes and riddles he also stands on his head symbolically. In so doing he not only sees things the right way around, but helps others to have a fresh and more sane vision of the world too. Of course, there is a risk in this, for in a world where everyone has gone solemnly insane the sane person will seem to be a playful idiot, and history shows that society is not kind to such idiots. The prophets, poets, visionaries, jesters and fools may be laughed at, but they are rarely thanked.

I confess to borrowing heavily from the heavy apologist, my moustachioed master before whom I humbly grovel.

If you would like to read the whole chapter drop me a line and I’ll email it to you. If you would like to buy the book link here.


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