Saturday, November 1, 2014

Coloring Outside the Lines

"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?


  1. As I read of the spiritual heroes I was stopped short by the inclusion of Dorothy Day. I had known she was a radical leftist (something I approve of) and accused of being a communist. I did not know about the soup kitchens and shelters.

    When I read of the soup kitchens and shelters the thought dawned on me that here is evidence of the gulf that separates the Kingdom of God from the Kingdom of the present evil age. One is represented by the spiritual gold of compassion, the other represents the spiritual 'slag' of Ayn Rand's posterity which is a prime motivating factor in U.S. political thought and the lack of social compassion seen today

    I also thought how the differences in the two spiritual disciplines reveal the nature of their spirituality in that they involve a choice one makes with regard to the well-being of others. This present evil age is apparent by the heartless lack of concern for other people. On the other hand the Kingdom of God is evident in acts of kindness compassion and tenderness. The differences between the two spiritual kingdoms is as great as the difference between light and darkness

    This heartless lack of concern by our society is seen when food stamp cuts are made just before the holidays as they were last year, when healthcare is made impossible to receive because of the inability to pay, when little children seeking shelter are made to be the object of hatred and fear and their plight is used as fodder for the political hate agenda of the politicians in charge of this present evil age.

    Let the light shine in acts of kindness.

    1. As always, such a beautiful and insightful comment. Thank you so much.

    2. The difference between the two kingdoms is so great that there is no chance one can fail to see it.