Gold And White Or Blue and Black: What #Dressgate Teaches Us About How We See God

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“I just don’t see how anyone can’t see what I can see.”

I heard that more than a few times this week, and wondered why it sounded so familiar.

A few days ago “that dress” was everywhere on social media; as ubiquitous as Walking Dead spoilers, grumpy cat memes, and Kanye West interruptions.

As the image circled the globe, the lines were drawn and sides were immediately chosen. You were either in one of two camps, (unless you were some sort of strange, colorblind fence-sitter), and no one could comprehend the other’s staggering inability to miss the glaringly obvious.

It was either a gold and white dress, or it was a blue and black dress.

It couldn’t be both.

You had to choose and choose correctly, or you were out; ridiculed and ostracized by those who disagreed, bearing the brunt of temporary Internet shame. Thankfully, this all passed as quickly as a high-speed, roadway llama chase, and we’ve all (at least momentarily) settled our differences.

Intolerance to dissension isn’t just for Instagram dresses, though.

Religion often operates the very same way.

We all think we see things the way they really are; that our eyes perceive reality correctly; that we’ve got the market cornered on objective truth.

When it comes to spirituality, we all believe that our perception, is God’s reality.

Though we would probably deny it if asked, most of us feel we’ve got stuff figured out that the less enlightened commoners around us haven’t yet grasped, and we get pretty ticked-off when they’re slow to come around. Far too often in matters of faith, our agendas and our arguments are delivered as someone with correct understanding, trying to convince someone without it.

Humility is a lost art these days. Listening, too.

We never consider that maybe our own vision is in some way compromised, that we have severe blind spots we’ve acquired along the way, that we’re missing something critical when we look at the world.

Sadly, when they face another with a different view of God, whether slightly or entirely, so many of my brothers and sisters who claim Christ become horribly intolerant when someone else doesn’t say yes to the dress. Though they invariably claim some sort of love buried at the core of their disdain, it often comes out looking like something far less commendable.

We’ve become culturally comfortable being the professed followers of a Jesus, who was far kinder to those who didn’t share his beliefs, than we ever are regarding our own.

Can you imagine him berating a stranger on social media, or picketing a soldier’s funeral, or vilifying someone from a distance? That was never his way.

Jesus allowed people to see God as they looked at him. His very life was some of his greatest evangelism. His “rightness” never prevented him from sitting and listening to someone else’s story, and his presence always left a trail of dignity. Too often ours is a trail of bitterness and intolerance, that does little to point people to Christ.

Friends, when you think about the word “God” what does your mind see?

What or Who (if anything) do you picture, and what makes you so sure that you’re right? More than that, does what you believe you’ve come to know about the character of God and about the nature of faith, make you feel morally superior, rather than simply grateful? Your answer makes a huge difference in the way you respond to people as you encounter them.

It always grieves me when one person of any belief system, so easily discounts another’s image of God, especially when that other person speaks with the same sincerity and authenticity and passion that they do.

Even sadder, is when a person professing faith in Jesus, so viciously attacks someone who doesn’t share that faith. They often show the latter, an ugliness and anger that all but invalidates their position.

I especially wish we Christians had more compassion and understanding for people who see God differently than we do.

I wish we could respect the vantage point of someone else, even when it doesn’t match our own, because it would honor their unique path to that perspective.

Why do we who believe that God is white and gold, so easily feel contempt for those who find God to be blue and black?

You can’t berate and insult someone into seeing what you see, in dresses or Divinity.

Whatever we believe God is made of, should be reflected most to those who don’t share those beliefs. We should refract the very color of God to those who don’t agree with us, or it really isn’t worth seeing.

Maybe the way we treat those whose eyes haven’t seen what we claim to now see, is the greatest case we will ever make for a second view. 

 God is in the eyes of the beholder. You just have to look for it.

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25 thoughts on “Gold And White Or Blue and Black: What #Dressgate Teaches Us About How We See God

    • I’ve always equated consolidation with power, and variety to the natural state of things.

      ie., after Luther then Calvin left the Church, a bunch of other “protestants” did the same and the Lutherans/Calvinists were many times more violent than the Church when it came to consolidation.

      in comparisson, the natural state of things, favour variety, in thought, and other things,

      so when I hear a pastor or priest, spouting how there’ s only one way this or one way that, then I compare it to the natural state of things and how the market place of ideas should be allowed to govern these matters and not one or a few.

  1. While I have to admit being one of the very few who didn’t see this dress phenomenon this week, I have heard a few utterances about it.

    Your remark, “His very life was some of his greatest evangelism.” definitely spoke to me.

    As a gay man, my partner and I (of 20+ years) agreed early on that nothing we could ever say could be more powerful to show tolerance and understanding than the way we conduct our lives. Trust me, I’ve encountered more than my share of hate and intolerance. However, I try always to remind myself I don’t know this person’s “walk” in life, or how they came to own these feelings. Listening is the key. When you listen, you learn. And from there, perhaps you can disarm someone, or put them more at ease with something they’re not comfortable with. We’re losing that art of listening these days.

  2. I wish other people could be open minded and more tolerant too. Would you ascribe this intolerance to our so “called” fallen nature or do you see this as part of the evolution of our species? Do you feel that with or without Holy Spirit – will the human race ever be able to “arrive” at the same page in being able to relate to its Creator in a cohesive way? I still feel we have a very long way – with all the varying degrees of intellectual capacities each of us has and varying forms intuition – some are ready to “think outside” the box while others simply haven’t got there yet, I do hope for the sake of our species – since there is so much riding on the decisions we make – that we can and will “evolve” to a place of respect and understanding and that someday, that just someday we’ll be on the same page in relation to knowing our Creator – or at least understanding Him/Her/It – God in my mind has revealed Jesus to me as His Son, but God may have revealed another entity or person to someone else as a significant entity to follow – who really knows? People go with what has the most meaning to them. I am so sorry that you still get people who are so nasty when they write to you – they are so sure of what they know, and this trait of the human being is really one of the worst characteristics we have as so many think they can shape and conclude the “unknowable” – I mean its good to know you are “right” when it comes to knowledge of flying a plane or knowing for sure the laws of the science when dealing with a Bunsen Burner, but knowing God in His fullness is still pretty much way out there – even with a 2000 year old Guide Book to boot – it doesn’t cover everything there is to know – and for me, this is comforting – as it shows we have room to grow and expand our spiritual side – I still feel there’s just so much more to learn – if only we could be patient with each other and with each other’s journeys. Keep writing what you do – you help to articulate so much of what many people are thinking:) As for the dress – I saw gold and white first – but now you have posted a pic of the black and blue – so I guess everyone is right?

    • The Apostle Paul talks a lot about “the flesh.” He makes it clear that any tendency towards legalism is a motivation of the flesh. The flesh wants the Old Testament law, desires a law, and desperately needs a law because the fundie soul falsely believes that it is perfect the way it is and has full power in and of itself to keep the full law in perfection. The presence of the law allows the flesh to measure itself, see how it is doing, and boast about how much a great measurement makes it better than other people, all the while ignoring the many ways in which it fails to meet the law. The law is not a matter of grace. The Old Testament law is what Paul calls the “way of death.” The Book of Galatians is the most problematic book in the Bible for fundiedom because what it says flies straight in the face of what they believe—although I doubt that they would ever openly admit it.

  3. What you said is so true, and one of the most significant things I’ve learned spiritually in the past decade. I know well-meaning (I think :-)) Christians who are so deceived, so sure of the rightness of their position. I’ve seen them split churches, and call others to beliefs and behaviors that are the very antithesis of what Christ and the Bible teach, and it’s made me realize that I, too, am vulnerable to false beliefs. One of my favorite verses is in 2 Cor 4 where Paul says that he is “perplexed”, literally, without a way to go, and elsewhere, that he sees “through a glass darkly”. None of us have a corner on understanding. I’ve seen that others don’t, and I have no reason to think that I’m any different.

  4. Christians need to see God through non dualism and realise that God is in everything and everything is in God, our real self being God. Such that we are all one and all we have is love. Then you may see more compassion. My mother has only just passed away, and I started looking through the New Testament for a reading at her funeral. It was a while since I had read the Bible, but I was shocked to see how cold and In compassionate it was. So when you say Christians lack compassion I am not surprised.

  5. Amen
    I always picture Jesus. The rebellious character hanging around all the people that others didn’t want to hang around. The lost souls. The people needing compassion and love. He would help them, preach to them, and invite them to follow him. He would then walk on. He forced nothing. I love how he “pushed the envelope.” He let people come in their time, when they were open to it. It is about perspective, and letting God work. Some people are too busy doing God’s job. The Holy Spirit has to work, and we need to let it. We can lead people to God, and then they have to build the relationship with him. We cannot do that for them!! Just like the old saying, “one can lead a horse to water, but one cannot make him drink.”
    I see God sitting up there shaking his head…..”Thank God I sent my Son, these people!!” 🙂 🙂
    God is probably in therapy. 🙂 (Humor)

  6. For most of my life, I was perfectly happy to live and let live with all of the nutty stuff Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe and espouse. That all changed when they decided to go political so they could take over government at all levels in an effort to enshrine their beliefs in the government and use the police power of the government to forcefully impose those beliefs on all other Americans. That stepped over a line from simply “this is what I believe” to I am planning to lay siege to your home and church. That is a real, physical, and existential threat—as well as violating another person’s conscience in violation of Romans 14.

    I would just like to remind the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals that they are not the only church members in the United States who have weapons arsenals in their homes. Nonfundie Christians have them, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the nonbelievers that far outnumber all Christians have them and have them in great abundance. In my opinion, taking over the government to forcefully impose your beliefs on the rest of the American people would be a really bad idea that would result in far more than just a disagreement over scripture, and the fundie side would surely lose both the gun battle and the scriptural argument in the end.

    • Charles,
      Not all of us Christian Fundamentalists are the same. I am somewhere between libertarian Socialist and democratic socialist. In addition, there are politically conservative fundamentalists who do not believe in trying to control the government, for the most part. On the Reformed side, they are call 2Kers. And there are a variety of nonreformed fundamentalists who withdraw participating in political issues and debates.

      • Yes. I am sure that is true Curt—but my best guess would be that it is the exception rather than the rule—and it also fails to account for something important.

        It has been my experience that basic fundie indoctrination is fairly uniform overall. That is the planting of a seed. As long as that seed has been planted, it can erupt when the right conditions present themselves. When the right fundie leader comes along and what he has to say is charismatic and inviting (like Hitler was to so many), I think most of the planted seeds will erupt. The leader will cry out, “Follow me now.” The rank and file from the center of their internal seed will then cry out: “Yes, leader. We know that all you say is true—and we obey.”

        In short, I do not trust any of you to do the right thing now or at any time in the future. Therefore, I will always be on alert until the day I die with the words of Sheriff John Brown swirling in my head, “Kill it before it grows!!!”

        • Charles,
          Two points here. First, some of the younger fundamentalists are setting some new trends.

          Second, absolute statements made about any group are wrong. Would you substitute a racial group for fundamentalists when you write that you do not trust anyone from that group to do the right thing?

  7. I love the comparison that you draw here between the differing perceptions of the dress and the differing perceptions of God. I thought primarily about differing interpretations of the Bible when I was wondered how this optical-illusion dress could relate to faith. But your focus on differing views of God is a larger issue, and probably one that gets more to the heart of the problem. When we accuse someone of disbelieving the Bible, we’re really accusing them of having the wrong God and the wrong faith. I just started reading Peter Enns’s The Bible Tells Me So, and it’s making me think again about how important it is that we really listen to each other’s stories of faith and life, rather than trying to hit people over the head with the Bible until they claim to see it, and faith, in the colors that we think are the only ones.

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  10. Thanks for all your great posts, John. I’ve only recently discovered your blog, and it’s become essential reading for me! Lately, I’ve been digging through church history…different perspectives on “orthodoxy,” things the church fathers wrote, etc. etc. etc. What stands out to me in relation to this post is that nothing has changed. The bitter language that they used sometimes, the anathemas of church councils, the (sometimes mutual) excommunications, forcing theological opponents into exile using the power of the state, all point to that. I hold out hope that the time will come when Christians can sit down and have honest, open, civilized discussions about points of disagreement–about God, about how to interpret the Bible, church authority, etc. I’m not saying that has never happened, in fact it has been happening, perhaps quietly, for a number of years. I remember twenty or so years ago, going to just such a discussion (in debate format) between a Protestant pastor and a Catholic priest on justufication. (Oddly, I found myself applauding both sides at times…as if each of them were putting forth a different facet of the same thing.) I see promise of this in writings such as yours. Please keep it up! You are truly a breath of fresh air.

  11. There is a huge “hitting people over the head” with Bible verses about women’s ordination in my former church of 60 years. I no longer attend church because my head is sore and bruised and bleeding. However, my heart is now well and healed because I allow God to speak directly to my heart, rather than through the beliefs of others. I tried for years to associate with people who did not want others to be allowed to listen directly to what God was saying to me. No more. What peace and joy this has brought me.

  12. I tried for 60 years to be part of the church of my childhood where God’s word to me was through other people’s interpretation. That church is in a huge “hitting people over the head” with thoughts and Bible verses of their choice about weather to ordain women as ministers. (Has never mattered what the subject was – just always hammering.) My head was sore, bleeding and bruised from too many years of hammers. I now listen to God from His heart to mine. My heart is peaceful and calm. My head is healing.

  13. I was reading a passage from the “Book of Law” where Lucifer supposedly stated “My colour is black to the blind, but blue and gold are seen of the seeing” (AL 1:60).

    So I googled those words to see what they mean and to my horror dressgate showed up. Is there some type of connection to this ancient scroll and the perception of men differing based on dressgate. Furthermore is the difference of perception have some deeper connection with morality?

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