"Bold and Beautiful"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Today is "All Saints' Day"on the Christian calendar - a day set apart to remember the great heroes and saints of all time.
A few years back I had an opportunity to engage in a conversation with a group of college students, and I asked them, apart from Jesus or Buddha, could they name a religious or spiritual hero that really stood out for them as having made a significant difference in the world?
Almost immediately the name of Francis of Assisi, renowned advocate of the poor and the outcast, was raised. Someone else offered the name of Dorothy Day, who in the early 20th century devoted her life to creating shelters and soup kitchens throughout New York City for hordes of homeless, hungry and penniless immigrants. Still others offered the names of Martin Luther King. Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, apostles of non-violence and champions in the cause of justice.
I asked the students in my group if they thought there was any common denominator among the heroes that they named, and I clearly recall one student's immediate response: "All of them colored outside the lines." What a wonderful insight!
Each and every one of these renowned heroes and respected "saints" did indeed "color outside the lines," outside the expected norms and standardized rules of institution and establishment. Francis of Assisi rejected his family's wealth and stood at the very fringes of the church living among the poorest of the poor. The people of his era thought that he had literally "lost his mind." Dorothy Day was accused of being a communist and she was always at loggerheads with the Catholic Archbishop. Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi spent lots of time in jail for their "sedition" and revolutionary tactics against the established government.
In my meeting with those college students, I also asked if any current 21st century religious or spiritual hero came to mind as having made a significant difference in the world - there was no response.
I wondered, "Maybe you have to be willing to color outside the lines to be a champion of justice and voice of compassion, and maybe there aren't a lot of people today who are willing to do this?" Maybe that's why there was silence when I asked for names of the heroes of our own day?"
We live in a culture of committees, where Roberts Rules of Order, long range goals and strategic planning are the standards of the day. Religious institutions are failing, churches are dying, less and less young people are affiliating. And yet, far too often the only questions asked by clergy and congregations are: "What can we do to make a few little careful changes that will attract new people? What carefully designed strategic plans can we develop to advance, save and preserve the traditions of the established institution?" I doubt Saint Francis ever asked these questions, nor did Dorothy Day, or King or Gandhi.
As I see it, a day like All Saints' Day can be a wake-up call not only for Christians or for people of faith, but for any person of goodwill who lives in a world mired down by violence, poverty and injustice and feels compelled to do something about it.
No one ever made this world a better place by living cautiously within the restrictions of the status quo. They made a difference in the world by throwing caution to the wind and coloring outside the lines.
Where are all the heroes of today?