Watching children discover color is an amazing thing. I don’t mean the color of people’s skin or being able to name the colors of the rainbow. I mean the wonder of color on a page – through paint or crayon or pencil.
Young children will use color in unexpected ways. In ways that we wouldn’t think of. The horse may be red blued spots. The house may be bright pink, and their mother have orange hair.
That’s one ways children color outside the lines, outside the lines that adults think of. It is beautiful and full of creativity and insight.
I am especially partial to this portrait of ruling elder Diane Rhodes, which was made by her two-year old granddaughter. I really think it captures Diane’s energy and light.
Of course, most young children also just color outside the lines entirely. They may go right off the page and onto the desk or the wall.
My sister and I had a first-grade teacher who made us outline every form on the coloring sheet in black crayon. Only then could you fill in the color you wanted. My sister was especially saddened by the effect of coloring a yellow sun when it was already sealed with black crayon. “It smears,” she told her seatmate and immediately got a tick on the blackboard for talking out of turn.
That’s what all this coloring inside the lines feels like to children – a setup for following someone else’s ideas of how things should look and finding that the results are less than satisfying to the soul. And, then, when you step out of bounds or color outside the lines, there is one more little negative tick set up against you.
Oh, no one is opposed to children developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills that coloring inside the lines produces. No one is opposed to children learning boundaries and to follow directions.
But perhaps adults have something to learn from children about the value of coloring outside the lines.
In Acts 10, we watch as Peter is called to let his hand and heart color outside the lines. It can be difficult for us to conceive what is at stake in Jewish codes of ritual purity. The terms clean and unclean are used but it’s not like dirt-free vs. mud encrusted or sanitary vs. unhygienic. Ritually clean was inside the lines, orderly, the way things should be. Ritually unclean was outside the lines, way outside the lines, disorderly, dangerously other.
Foods were, of course, central to the ritual purity codes. More important, however, were people. The ritual purity codes drew lines, lines between people. Jewish. Gentile. Us. Everyone else. Color some in and others out. Don’t cross the line.
We may want to think “how quaint, archaic and other are Jewish custom then and now.” But all cultures – including ours – give people labels based on their ethnicity or wealth or education or gender or abilities or other categories. We see differences between people and rather than using them merely as descriptors of people, we place values on our differences. The lines we draw do not usually enable more people to live abundantly. Instead, when people cross a boundary, we are likely to give them a negative tick. If they’ve blurred the lines of who is in and out, it’s just one more thing to hold against them.
This is not the way of God. God has to instruct us, as God instructed Peter, “What God has made clean you must not call profane.” In the vision of ritually unclean food wrapped up in the lines of a sheet, God is giving Peter a vision of all people without any lines between them. All those people who were previously outside have been colored in, are welcome, are not the other. The vision is saying, “Who God has made, do not treat with contempt.”
Peter went to the house of Cornelius because his encounter with the living God changed his thinking about ethnicity determining the value of people.
It’s good to remember that you and I are here today because of Peter’s openness to color outside the lines. Not many of us have Jewish ancestry. We are the ritually unclean. Because the lines were erased, we Gentiles have received the same pouring out of the Spirit as the first disciples of Jesus.
God is still changing our thinking about what determines the value of people. Sometimes that takes courage. When the Spirit of God inspires you to color outside the lines of cultural norms and societal expectations, you may face resistance, from those who have an interest in conformity and even from your friends, family, and fellow believers.
It can take effort to live into the reality of a world without lines and see all people as equally made by God. Barriers have to be taken down. Adjustments must be made. Positions shift.
More often, though, coloring the kingdom of God without lines is just as full of delight, creativity, surprise and energy as a child’s first renditions of the colors of the world.
It looks like 32,000 people of different ages, heights, abilities, languages, ethnicities and speeds walking 3.7 miles to get water to people who don’t look like them or do look like them. It doesn’t matter. Everyone may have been wearing orange shirts, but it is still – believe me – a fair amount of chaos that release a wonderful burst of creative energy.
It looks like our church on Clear Your Clutter Day. A swirl of old papers, well-read books, wrong sized clothing, old paintings, flown flags and furry furniture scribbling across our church parking lot. The lines of location, ownership, burden and blessing get all mixed up. Possibilities of having less and others having more pours out in beauty.
It looks like the kingdom of God drawn by a child with a heart as big as heaven and a hand as free as the Spirit.
Rachel Held Evans is an author who has been a gift to people who, like herself grew up in Christian churches that still draw bold black lines of inclusion and exclusion. Rachel has written with humor and intelligence about finding Jesus and herself included in the wider blanket of mainstream Christianity. Rachel died yesterday at the age of 37, but she leaves a legacy of showing people the power, creativity and Christlike quality of coloring outside the lines. “This is what God’s kingdom is like” she wrote: “a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
This is what happens when you get a glimpse of the expansive, colorful vision of God for the salvation of the world. You get drawn in. God’s breaking of the color line will change your life. It will change the life of those who do not yet know Jesus. It will change the life of the church. It will change the world in which we live.
What beauty and energy will the world see, when the spirit guides your hands and your heart to color outside those lines, welcoming all God has made?