What could we learn from a box of crayons? Depending on how long you’ve had you box, you will notice that some of them might still be sharp while some are pretty used up; and a few are broken. There are all different colors, some of which have pretty unusual names, like apricot and orchid and periwinkle. All these differences, but they all have to live in the same box. As different as they are, they all have to live in the same box.
So do we. We are so different – at least externally – on so many levels. Yet, as different as we are, we, too, all have to live in the same box. Certainly the tensions and violence in Ferguson these days have made painfully clear the challenges of doing so. But the challenges in Ferguson right now, are not new.
700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed the dream that was in the heart of God that ALL God’s children would come together as one; holy and happy on God’s holy mountain. That the prophet proclaims such a dream tells us it was not yet happening.
Nor was it happening by the time Jesus walked the earth. In today’s gospel we see that the challenge was still just as real. The disciples were trying to keep a woman away from Jesus because: well, first she was a woman. Secondly, she was a foreigner. Finally, she was a persistent complainer, making her need known early and often.
It is important to remember that these disciples had been walking with Jesus for a while. They saw how inclusive his life was. They saw that the preached – and lived- in a way that again and again welcomed the outcast and the outsiders INSIDE his box of crayons. Jesus saw – and proclaimed – that we are one. If it was still that hard for those disciples – who walked with Jesus himself – how real the challenge will also be for us.
It IS hard for us. Yet that does NOT free us from the responsibility of the work of inclusion; the work of justice, the work of bringing people together into the one box of crayons God created for us.
I learned this profoundly on the eve of the feast of the Assumption, summer of 1981. I was standing on top of a small hill, overlooking the soccer field of Ballyoran school in Portadown, Northern Ireland. I was with a group of volunteers during the high point of ‘the troubles’ – trying to make a difference. To ‘honor’ Mary, ostensibly, the Catholics have their bonfires, a response to the Protestant bonfires of July. They start out peacefully enough, but like what we are seeing in Ferguson, they become a flashpoint for all the frustrations to come out as the evening wears on. So the volunteers stay indoors – remaining neutral, having a sing a long, playing games and just interacting. At one point, I stepped outside to clear my head from the smoker’s haze.
I became aware of a presence…a local walking the grounds to make sure we were safe. So we starting talking. Mid-sentence, he stopped, said “Achh!” (and something else I won’t repeat here) “It’s started.” “What?” “The riots. There – the sound of a plastic bullet being fired. And another and another.” With a sickening feeling in my heart, I realized that less than a ¼ mile from where I stood, a riot was going on. Here – it’s about 4 miles as the crow flies – and riots are going on. Just then, the door opened behind me, and I heard them singing. And the song that they were singing was “Puff the Magic Dragon”. It froze me to the spot. Before me just beyond the top of the low income Catholic housing project, were people from one country, two political/religious/social realities who could not seem to find a way out of the spiral of violence. Behind me, were students representing 6 countries, 4 different religions and an agnostic or two thrown in for good measure, who found a way to love each other with all our differences. And as clear as day, it was as if a voice spoke in my head. “Both of these worlds were created by the choices that people make. Bill Kempf, which world will you create with your life?”
That, I think, is the challenge of these days for us as believers. How do we see in such a way as to create the “Puff the Magic Dragon” world? How do we teach ourselves to see what Jesus saw across the board? How do we make sure that we remember that people whose gender attraction, whose religion, politics, skin color, country of origin are different than ours – are precious to God. How do we recognize that we are all called because of our faith in God to create that kind of world?
I don’t claim to have that figured out, but I suspect a lot will be in baby steps: the jokes that I choose not to pass on or forward that demean people; the choice to absorb some pain from people’s treatment of me, instead of transmitting it; the decision to be involved in writing to and working with our politicians to create a less heavy handed way to respond. What I do know it begins with a choice. A choice about what kind of world we will create, what kind of life we will lead to make that happen.
<> One interesting piece of information about the evolution of crayons. It seems that the people of the Crayola company had to learn just that. When I was young, (back in the 1800’s) my box of crayons had a tan-colored crayon that was named ‘flesh’. I wonder how many children looked at that and wondered: “Why do they call that “Flesh”? The people from the Crayola company changed. They realized that human flesh takes on all different hues, and whatever our differences, all people smile in the same language. And if the people from corporate America can learn that, the we, looking at the world with our eyes of faith, can’t we learn to acknowledge that we are indeed, brothers and sisters in Christ.
We could actually learn a lot from a box of crayons. With all the different colors and names, as different as they are, they all have to live in the same box. So do we. So do we…