Seeing Color


Originally posted on Reconciling Ministries Network blog on April 1, 2013.

A couple weeks ago, my bestie came to visit. There are a lot of things I truly love about Mike, but right now, my favorite has to be his boundless passion for podcasts. As we drove up to the family beach house, we listened to a fascinating hour from Radio Lab on colors: The way we see them, the way we talk about them, the way we expect others to experience them the same way we do.

Take the Himba tribe in Namibia for example. They don’t have a different word for blue in their language, so when researcher Jules Davidoff showed members of the tribe a laptop screen displaying twelve color blocks–11 green and one blue–and asked them which one was different, he didn’t get an answer. “When they stare at this screen, they just stare and stare.”

“When we decide to put colors together in a group and give those colors a word, like blue. . .something happens. Now that there’s a category for that thing, the thing in the category jumps out. it gets louder and louder in your eyes. The category actually feeds back on your perception so you notice it more… Without the word, you’re still seeing the blue, you’re just not noticing it.”

I just love that. And it makes a lot of sense. For example, you can present two people with the same color and get different answers. Friend One simply calls it red. Friend Two, fuchsia. (Come on, Friend One, get it together. Am I right?)

And so it would seem that language informs our perception and helps us to become more attuned to and aware of the world we live in.

Imagine (just imagine!) my surprise when I sat down in a staff meeting a week later and and was presented with this text from Matthew chapter 5, verse 14 from The Message paraphrase of the Bible:

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.

Huh.

As a Christ-follower, I believe one of my roles in life is to give witness to (or describe) God. Hints of God are all around us: in the trees, the sunrise, laughter, tears. It all points back to our creator, if we’re willing to see it. We can help each other see it if we point it out when we do.

The more I’ve learned about and reflected upon my own identity, the more I’ve realized I don’t fit into a box–single, Christian, straight, woman, intelligent, fabulous. Could you really know me based on a handful of simple words? Until I started thinking about these things differently I really did view the world as very black and white. My nature tends toward the legalistic; the rules and the check boxes that go with them feel very safe and productive to me. But in the past I’ve missed out on much in life because of it. I’m glad to have been able to break out of that mindset, little by little.

Imagine if I had decided I couldn’t be in relationship with my brother because he is gay. No brunches or happy hours, no game nights with him and the really fun boyfriend, no holidays. Or (worse?) stilted, awkward gatherings with some kind of gross, dark cloud hanging between us. (Because we all know the only thing worse than no brunch is awkward brunch.) I wouldn’t have known about the richness–all the shades of blue and fuchsia–they and other friends bring to my life, had I chosen that path.

The more I become aware of God in my relationships with the people around me, the more colorful life becomes. I hope that as I continue to engage with my own faith community, we can develop new language and help each other recognize God in surprising, vibrant, and delightful ways. Just as God is meant to be experienced. Just as God experiences us.

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2 Comments on “Seeing Color

  1. Pingback: Come and See | Misadventures

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