The Color Purple

June 10th, 2012

Preacher: The Reverend Doyt Conn

In the movie The Color Purple Shug and her friend Celie are walking through a field of purple cosmos.   Shug is saying, “But more than anything God loves admiration.”  Celie responds, “so, you’re saying God is vain?”  “No, no, not vain,” Shug laughs,“just wanting to share a good thing.” She continues, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”  Celie responds, “So you’re just saying God wants to be loved like it says in the bible.  “Yah, silly,” Shug replies, “everyone wants to be loved.”

I think we would agree.  Everyone wants to be loved.

Last Sunday between the services a group of us gathered to talk about the violence sweeping through Seattle these past five months.  I invited people to share where they were and how they felt when they heard about the shooting at the Racer Café.  Many did.  Others wanted to talk about what was known and what needed to be changed.

Here is what we know:
• 21 murders have occurred in Seattle since January.
That is one more violent death than happened in all of 2011.
• We know that most of these murders were perpetrated with guns.
• We know that some were gang related, and some had to do with mental illness.
• We know that some of the victims were innocent by-standers, others were participating in aggressive or illegal or risky behavior.
• We know that some of the perpetrators have been caught and others haven’t.
• We know names, dates, and locations.
• We know a lot, and that won’t do much to keep it from happening again.

And I know that just like you know that… because we know that life is complicated, and that the circumstances around guns and gangs and mental illness and violent outbursts are convoluted, political, problematic, dense and thorny.

And when we set these realities on top of the practical, visceral panic provoked when we hear that a man with a gun is on the loose, we are gripped by fear.  And when fear grabs us, love leaves the room.

Why?  Because fear and love are protagonists one to another.  They are opposite; countervailing forces each to the other.  There is fear and there is love.  One separates, one integrates.  One digs trenches and builds encampments, the other tears down fences and opens doors.  You see, they have different starting points and different ending points.  Love is the force that comes to life the moment we are imagined by God, and it continues on until it returns to God’s embrace.

Fear, on the other hand, ignites the moment we realize we are not in control, and it flames out at the grave, when all semblance of control is gone.

Love is bigger than fear, and I think it ticks God off when we don’t notice this. Shug uses purple to make the point as she and Celie are walking through a field of cosmos.  Purple is so abundant, and yet, Shug suggests so many people don’t see it.

Love is like that, like the color purple.

Here is an interesting thing about purple, as a color on the light spectrum, it can’t exist on its own.  It appears at the edges of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet at the point where these colors are most fully saturated in themselves purple is seen.  Where these colors are most honest and authentic and clear, a purple line appears stretching the entire length of the light spectrum. Purple is the light of relationship that touches all other colors of light at that moment when they are being most fully themselves.

Purple is precious and purple is pervasive, just like love.

Though there was a time when purple was thought to be exceedingly rare.

The earliest archaeological evidence for purple shows that it came late to the color pallet of humanity.  Purple dye was discovered as recently as 1900 BC on the island of Crete.  The ancient land of Canaan, called Phoenicia by the Greeks, means land of purple and became the center of the ancient purple dye industry.

The dye was produced from the mucus from the hypobranchial gland of various types of mollusk. They say it took 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the purple dye.  Rome, Egypt, and Persia all adopted purple as their imperial standard. It was rare and expensive.  The Roman Emperor Aurelian refused to let his wife buy a purple garment, because it cost its weight in gold.

In a world where purple was that precious, people noticed it.

Love sometimes seems that precious as well.  Some might say Jo Ann Stremler is worth her weight in gold.  She was the woman who jumped out of her car and ran to Gloria Koch after she was shot by Ian Stawicki.  Jo Ann is an organist at the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle.  I don’t know anything else about her, but I’m willing to bet she believes that love starts with God and love ends with God, and that love is bigger than fear.  At least that is how she acted.  Hers was a holy act.

In my mind I imagine her in the blue and purple and crimson robe of the high priest.  It was not an accident that the ancient Israelites used these colors to adorn people performing holy acts.  They are colors that reflect on the outside something that has happened on the inside.  These are the colors of an integrated spirit.  Seven times it reads in chapter 39 of the book of Exodus:  “When you are ministering in holy places wear the vestments of the blue, purple and crimson.”

Blue is a cold color, representing winter, and ice, and sky.  It is the color of sadness, and despair; but it also represents magic and truthfulness.  Blue sits at the edge of the light spectrum as the shortest wave of visible light, trending toward the invisible pulse of ultraviolet.

Crimson is the opposite of blue. It is heat and hunger and fire and blood.  It is aggressive and dangerous.  Courage and intolerance and war and masculinity come to mind when Crimson is hoisted up the mast.  It is the color of passion, and stands as the longest visible wavelength of light, disappearing into the invisible burning realm of infrared.

Blue and crimson sit at the extremes, swirling at the outer-edges of what can be seen, but when they are brought together there is purple.

Purple unites the edges into an integrated whole.  It is what we seek to do here at Epiphany… blur our blue and crimson.  This is a place of integration.  Here we practice being the kind of people who would quite spontaneously jump out of the car to help a person in need.  As the Apostle Peter reminds us, “We are, after all, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, from beginning to end, called from darkness to light. (para 1 Pet 2:9)

And when we hear the calling and see the light of our royal priesthood blue and crimson blurs and suddenly we notice purple everywhere.

Love is like that.

It is always there, but suddenly it is everywhere, when we start noticing it.  After all everyone wants to be loved.

The mentally ill want to be loved.  Those who lose their temper want to be loved.

Gang members want to be loved. Even those who participate in risky behavior want to be loved.

Which makes them like us in one important way… Everyone wants to be loved, and love blurs the lines that fear defines as we, the us and them, touch the purple line and become completely saturated into the fullness of our selves-to that self God imagined us to be when we were first imagined into being.

It is a hard thing to notice the purple in and between people, when fear is present. Mental illness doesn’t look purple. Nor do gangs or guns, and it feels safer not to notice them at all. We look away.  We avert our eyes.

But if we want things to change, we must notice, with the eyes of our souls, we must see that everyone wants to be loved, and more than that, that everyone is loved already-from the moment we come into God’s imagination, until we return to God’s embrace.

And in the mean time we take time to notice as we seek the purple line.