The Ship of Fools

brant_narrenschiff_schoensperger_1498_1

We’re setting sail to a place on the map
From which no-one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burned
Drawn by the promise of the women and lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It’s the place where they keep all the darkness you need
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow

Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools, no, no
Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools
I want to run and hide
Right now

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
Drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you’re in search of no good
But I’m sure you’ll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
As your little boat struggles through the warning waves
But you don’t, pay

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow

Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools, no, no
Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools, no, no

Where’s it coming from
Oh, Where’s it going now
It’s just a, it’s just a Ship of Fools

Lyrics and music by Karl Edmond De Vere Wallinger of World Party.

I first heard the lyrics of this song by World Party in 1986, without realizing its refrain referred to the medieval satirical poem the “Narrenschiff” – the ship of Fools -which the humanist  theologian Sebastian Brant conceived of as a picture of a lost and foolish humanity. Written in 1494, Das Narrenschiff  “… satirizes the follies and vices of medieval social, political, and religious life. Written in vernacular German rather than Latin, The Ship of Fools was an instant success, showcasing the potential of the new printing technology and attesting to the interest in literature by a non-Latin-educated audience.” (http://www.enotes.com/topics/sebastian-brant)

Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools
I want to run and hide
Right now

https://g.co/kgs/8FSASm

I recall the words of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer, author of The God who is there and founder of the L’Abri community (I made my way to the Swiss L’Abri when I was 20, a copy of his book my only guide). He wrote that when the church fails in its prophetic role in the world, when it ceases to be salt, God raises up secular prophets to voice the plight of mankind and his need of salvation. These anguished voices repulse and horrify the bourgeois christian, content with his received wisdom and comforted by his platitudes. It may surprise us that an evangelical of Schaeffer’s stature could regard the artists Francis Bacon or Pablo Picasso as prophets. But if you look at their work you will see a depth of humanity broadly missing from the evangelical churches of the West. Step into a “Christian bookshop” in Bible Belt America and the posters on sale with their scripture verses as if the text somehow legitimizes and christianizes the otherwise conventional picture of a sunset or a landscape. Bible-verse key rings and bumper stickers (my favorite: “God recycles people”). Images of a blonde caucasian or ruggedly good-looking, swarthy, Camel-ad Christ provide assurance to the Western Christian that His Lord wasn’t heaven-forbid! – overly semitic in appearance. (Were Jesus to visit post-9/11 USA today I have no doubt good honest Customs profilers would detain Him for questioning.)

To return to secular prophecy: look at Picasso’s Guernica, or Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion  … the tortured state of man and the world cries out from these paintings.

guernica

 

I occasionally have the misfortune of listening to Sunday radio church services with their ubiquitous broadcasting of badly arranged “christian” songs with repetitive, over-sentimental lyrics. (whatever “christian songs” means of course: music is either good and authentic or of poor quality and inauthentic). “Secular” music (again, a dubious category!)  at times expresses its own prophetic voice – yet why does it take secular musicians to express the condition of mankind – and to confront a self-absorbed, materialistic Christianity with it’s own folly? Would the rogues gallery of Prosperity Gospel advocates (Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn et al) ever self-critique on reading De Vere Wallinger words:

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea 

save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools
I want to run and hide

I doubt it: Why should they? They already have the monopoly on the truth, don‘t they?

+++

In researching this post I stumbled upon an interesting website which is certainly worth a visit:

http://www.shipoffools.com/shipstuff/index.html


Notes and Sources

The image used on this site is sourced from:

https://archive.org/details/OEXV4SUP33

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève Livres
Das neue Narrenschiff by Brant, Sebastian (1457-1521)
Published May 23, 1495
Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0


“Guernica is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso completed in June 1937. The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history.” (Wikipedia)

For an overview of the bombing of Guernica – the event which inspired Picasso’s work of the same name:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Guernica


The God Who Is There
By American philosopher and Christian theologian Francis A. Schaeffer. (1982).
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer A Christian Worldview. Chicago, IL: Crossway Books. ISBN 978-0-89107-236-2.


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