I’ve been feeling bruised lately. Battered and bruised. The news of the world is so filled with malice, brutality, hatred, and evil I can barely comprehend it. Every soundbite, every picture, both galls me and breaks my heart. This tension and conflict has invaded the ecumenical Bible study that I co-lead. More often than not, the differences in our theologies and faith perspectives have served to widen our sense and understanding of God. But in recent weeks, those differences have driven us further from one another. Add to all of this my own internal struggle between the impossibly high standards I set for myself and the self-doubt that plagues me when I fail to meet those standards – in all honesty, I’m not sure Gandhi could live up to my standards – it is no wonder that I feel worn and torn and bruised from the inside out and the outside in. From where I’ve been sitting, life seems bleak, and I cannot seem to shake the negativity that dwells within me.
Then along comes this dress. I’ll pause while you, dear reader, roll your eyes and say, “Enough with that dang dress already! Who cares if it is blue and black or white and gold?” Yes, I know, the tumult over this dress was all foolishness. It was ludicrous. The vehemence with which people asserted that the colors they saw were the true ones seems especially inane in light of the tragedies that continue to unfold around us. The dress itself is not worth the time it takes to write this blog. But what fascinates me is the science behind this dress of many colors.
I do not proclaim to understand the science. But what I have gleaned from it is that the reason some of us saw one set of colors and others saw another is because our retinas function in different ways. So when I looked at the dress, I saw the colors I saw because my retinas functioned at one level due to the light, etc. of the photograph. People who saw the colors differently have retinas that function at a different level. That’s it. That’s the reason we see different colors in that silly dress. It’s pure science. Let’s move on.
Fine. But before we do, here’s one more thought. I can’t help but feel that there is an implication in this that is much larger than what it seems. Much of the time I would rather cling to what makes us alike more than what makes us different. However we may look outwardly, we share physiological commonalities – skeletons, brains, muscles, tissue, blood cells, and so on. The designations we assign to each other based on these differences are artificial. Different races you say? Biologically we are one race, the human one. But if I understand what I’ve read correctly, there is diversity in our retinas, at least in the way they function. This physiological diversity leads to diversity in how we perceive color. Maybe that sounds like no big deal. But I see this (no pun intended) as amazing. Our diversity is more than just our outer appearance; it is part of our physiological makeup.
Some might see this as justification for why we are at constant odds with one another. Some might see this as more reason to separate into our own groups and factions. I don’t. What I’m grasping from this is that diversity is not just a reality we have to deal with, it is necessary. Diversity lies within these bodies of ours. And let’s be honest, these bodies are incredible. Whether or not you believe in Creator and creation, it is hard to dispute the fact that the human body is the most complex and elegant of all systems and designs. I don’t believe for a moment that any human-made machine could ever match it. Science teaches me this as much as my faith does. But perhaps it is my faith that is pushing me to see a greater purpose in this small diversity of retina. Diversity is necessary. I think it is necessary because it reminds me that we need each other – if only to see, both literally and figuratively, in different and diverse ways. I guess what I’m really trying to articulate is that we need diversity, we need it. Diversity in our genes contributes to our physical health. Shouldn’t it also contribute to our emotional and spiritual health? I’m not trying to be all sunshine and rainbows or 1970’s commercials for Coca Cola. I am too much of a realist for that. Yet I am also in the business of hope. This glimpse into the diversity of our eyes, the diversity that lies within and without, gives me hope. Diversity does not have to be a point of contention – as in the colors I see are the true ones. I’m right. You’re wrong. Instead, I think diversity is a gift. A gift that reminds us our eyes alone can only see so much. To see fully – whether our focus is on a dress, a culture, or a creed – we need a variety of differently functioning retinas. At least, that’s the way I see it.