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One Philosopher Gets It: Why Christians Should Be Purple

There is enormous pressure these days to conform to the world’s standards and expectations whether in fashion or politics or religious thought.

We see it in the now fading bumper stickers on the backs of our cars: “I’m With Her” or “Make America Great Again.”

We hear it in the debates of church courts where issues are debated and those with the most votes are declared to be “winners.”

We feel pressure to choose one side or the other, to declare our allegiance, and indeed there are times when that is exactly what we must do.

Yet the Bible rightly reminds us that our calling as Christian people is not so much to conform as it is to be distinctive.

In Romans 12:2 we read, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Those who take Scripture seriously understand the power of those words but also understand the challenge of living by them in our current context.

Our calling as followers of the Christ is sometimes to imagine a different way of living together, a different way of shaping our common life, a different way of bearing testimony to our faith.

And given our current context, I wonder if one of the ways we do this is by being distinctive in the ways we relate to people who aren’t like us, who don’t think like us and who perhaps don’t look like us.

I wonder if one of the ways we demonstrate our faith is by reaching out to those with whom we don’t agree.

I wonder if this might be a part of our Lenten discipline, a way of reminding ourselves that we are all loved by our Creator.

The Greek philosopher, Epictetus, once compared the people of his time who only wanted to “fit in” with the white threads of a toga – indistinguishable.

He wanted instead to be the purple thread, that small part which is bright and brought great beauty to the rest.

He said, “Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many, and if I do, how shall I still be purple?”

That is a question worth considering and especially in the season of Lent, whose color is, appropriately enough, purple, the color of both royalty and penitence.

As we consider the shape of our lives and that of the churches we serve, this may be a time to invite a purple response to the world around us.

Perhaps we might focus on having churches that are intentionally neither red nor blue but purple.

Perhaps we could invite our members to reach across the aisle both literally and spiritually.

Perhaps we might all become a little more honest about the limitations of our own political party, our own church system, our own limited understandings of God and what God is doing in the world.

And perhaps we could invite a few others to join us in an experiment of living with just a bit more modesty.

I admit it sounds a bit risky. Being a nonconformist always is. But it surely sounds biblical.

Dan Holloway is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog. It is used with permission.