I’m a big fan of grey.
Yeah, the colour.
The skies have been grey over our area for five consecutive days and apparently there’s still another one ahead of us. I have the feeling that grey wants to just blend in; would rather just do it’s job and not get noticed. Grey is a complicated colour, understated but important.
First off, it doesn’t even have a place in the family of colours – it’s a mongrel, consisting of hidden combinations of red, blue, yellow and white.
More perplexing is that we can’t even agree on the four simple letters in it’s name. My MacBook must be Canadian because every time I try to spell ‘gray’ correctly (also ‘color’) it keeps forcing me to the ‘grey’ and ‘colour’ options. My middle name is Paul and I’ve never had anybody ask, ‘Is that spelled with a A or an O?’ At some point in history somebody decided how to spell Paul and civilized people accept it to this day.
To make things more confusing for grey, it often gets called by other names: light, dark, medium, lead, ash, pearl, smoke, gunmetal, charcoal, dove, etc. depending on the whims and hyphenations of the person using it. Silver gets dragged into the debate too – a silver car I used to own was described as grey by all kinds of people. That’s stupid.
The walls in the room here are painted with Dulux Silver Quill, or as I call it, grey. Benjamin Moore has over 150 shades of grey. On the other hand some recent books and movies apparently only have 50 shades of the colour … boring.
Depending on how nerdy you are, computers can reproduce either 101 or 256 shades of grey and, depending on where you get your information, the human eye can identify either 30 or over 500 variations of it.
In some cases even I am trying to distance myself from grey so my facial hair is salt and pepper and the hair on my head is … well, low-maintenance salt and pepper.
So why am I a fan of grey? Well, because it describes real life. Grey is an intermediate colour, existing in various shades and levels between black and white which is where most of life is lived.
Yes, I suppose there are absolutes, blacks and whites in the world, but look around – even God rarely colours anything in absolute black or absolute white.
Often people, religious or otherwise, like to oversimplify issues with right/wrong judgements and easy answers. ‘They should have…’, ‘I don’t see why they didn’t…’, ‘If it was up to me I would…’, ‘Well, we used to…’
Many years ago during a drought in Ethiopia, thousands of people began to migrate with no particular goal except survival. Masses of people with no food, no education, no money, no home, no hope were stopped by soldiers at neighbouring borders so they were forced to form into stationary, starving camps. I actually heard someone wonder out loud why they didn’t just move and get a job in another country like other refugees do. Yeah, not that simple.
Idol of judging.
Grey is why we have various degrees of burns and murder, education and chemotherapy. Greys are why committees exist. Money is good, right? Yes, says an overworked, stressed out culture of deeply indebted people whose fragile children get raised by somebody else while multi-national corporations corner product supply. How about chickens in our backyards? Yes or no? Spank or time-out? Technology or Stone Age? Should our taxes supplement roads or arts? How about gun control? When does a fetus become a person? Pay doctors more? How about your mechanic? Or Tim Horton’s employees? Develop that farmland? I once asked a group of pastors I was with when the Apostles became ‘born again’ – still don’t know… Greys are why the Old Testament Law just couldn’t work: there’s always an exception, an excuse, a shadow, a workaround, an experience, opinion, emotion.
Things aren’t always as simple as they seem: life is fuller, more complex and nuanced than our easy answers. We do injustice to an amazing and varied world of possibilities when we make things simplistic and narrow.
How many TV preachers have absolute black and white theology and opinions while they strut and preach and point and confidently speak for God? And how many sentences do they begin with ‘I’? They miss that God is Other. Mystery. And defies boxes.
People struggle with the Bible for similar reasons. Religious types try to simplify and explain away the awkwardness and contradictions, searching for absolute rules, applications and formulas that answer questions, make us feel better or confirm what we want confirmed.
But the Bible isn’t as absolute as they say and it’s also dirty because life is like that. (More on that in the future.) Think of the Bible as a room full of people of various ages, cultures, economics, viewpoints, abilities, interests and personalities sitting together sharing their story. The Bible is full of narrative and poetry because those are the best ways to guide us toward God without making Him the victim of rules. It’s why Jesus employed parables – so the colour of truth can be mined, discovered, discussed, made relevant, applied. So many colours of experience and outcomes. Same God.
It’s said that for painters, grey is the richest color because it lets all other colours speak. That’s true – the Silver Quill paint in our home allows any furniture to match the room and my wife’s paintings pop when they hang on the wall. Interestingly, it’s also known traditionally as the colour of truth. Think about that. Grey lets other colours speak; it is the colour of truth.
As we search around in the greys, suddenly we begin to see the reds, blues, yellows and whites that created it. As we seek to understand and experience and taste other possibilities, the brightness of truth is released and it’s colour feeds our souls. The black and white thinking we used to love becomes less interesting and there’s no going back to it.