Lenses on Race

I have been intentionally engaging in difficult/uncomfortable conversations, attempting to better understand the escalated racial tension in our nation. Finding folks willing, even eager, to talk is easy, especially if you agree with them and they with you. The challenge has been to engage with those espousing different perspectives. The result? A minor revelation – the lens through which I view the world has been almost exclusively shaped by the circumstances of my life. If that is true, then it follows that everyone’s lens is a bit different and unique. Like the blind men describing an elephant, each has his own perspective, and from his own unique lens – an elephant is like a tree trunk, a snake, a bird, a rope or a wall.

My natural tendency was to assume that everyone has the same or a similar lens, or should have. The truth is, lenses vary as widely as the people living them. Looking through other lenses can be frightening and difficult. It does not necessarily mean abandoning one’s original lens, but it does require adjusting by stepping back, sliding over and peering through others – they both can be “right” from their own perspective. As I have traveled the world, married, had kids and ‘grown up,’ my lens, or the field of view it encompasses, has widened, but like a bungee, it can pull back toward that original perspective unless I make mindful efforts to keep it expanding outward.

I have really tried to listen, asks questions and learn rather than judge or throw out my opinions (look through my lens!). One specific lens that has been viewed, reviewed, polished and focused has concerned Colin Kaepernick and his stand/kneel for social justice – or his disrespect for the flag – depending on your lens. Please note – I am not asking you to agree with me. I am not trying to pick a fight or challenge your beliefs. I am only asking you to consider viewing a situation from a different lens or two and consider the possibility of, like me, adjusting yours a bit.

When Colin (I am taking the liberty of calling him Colin – he seems like a likeable young man and has a cool name. I hope he doesn’t mind.) knelt during the national anthem, my first reaction wasn’t disapproval, but disappointment. I recalled watching his senior year bowl game and being hugely impressed. I thought he was the best college quarterback that I had seen that year. My disappointment was in his choice of venue for taking his stand/kneel.  I proudly display my grandfather’s purple heart for being wounded (mustard gas) in the trenches of Europe during World War I and I consider standing at attention with my hand over my heart during the Star Spangled Banner to be a gesture of honoring him and those who serve(d). I visited countries behind the Iron Curtain when I was younger and it gave me a deep and lasting appreciation and gratitude for this country and what is stands for, despite its many shortcomings and injustices. I saw the barbed wire, guns and dogs at the borders – to keep their people in.

My adjusted lens has led me to better understand, and honor, that Colin knelt for reasons akin, to him, as to why our national forefathers tossed tea in Boston harbor – to call attention to a wrong. If King George won’t listen, then we up the ante. Had the revolution of 1776 failed, George Washington and our revered founders would have been relegated to a very minor footnote in British history books – and hanged. It took real guts to stand up to the British and put it all on the line. I think Colin had the guts to put it all on the line as well for something he believes in.

I understand that there are many who honestly do not believe that there exists an underlying bias (aka discrimination, aka racism) in much of American society, and I respect that. There are lenses that may not have been pointed in those directions, including mine for much of my life. Bias can be very well camouflaged unless one looks closely for it outside of one’s usual field of view. Discrimination is easy to ignore if it does not impact you…or works in your favor. As an aging, straight, non-disabled, Christ following white man, I sometimes think I am last in line, but then I realize I have never been pulled over basically because of the color of my skin. BTW – I respect and thank the countless men and women who have honorably put their lives on the line every day to keep me and others safe – including my brother, brother-in-law, uncle and several close friends. My words are not anti-cop or anti-anyone. They have my eternal respect, admiration and thanks.

My next readjustment challenge was the nearly effortless and convenient fallback to believe it is their fault for whatever misfortune befalls them, but if I had grown up in their situation, would I be any different? What if we could all move beyond blaming and see a new vision? What if we remove the they and simply work towards a greater us? What if the only they are the forces of evil, darkness and ignorance? What if this is a God-given opportunity to move the United States and the world toward becoming the US of a united mankind – one where Colin and I could stand side by side, both proud of our shared flag, our shared anthem and our shared nation? What if they are simply an us that we don’t know and understand very well yet?

Can we suspend our old lenses for just one moment and peer through Colin’s and millions of others’ and picture him tossing a box of tea into Boston harbor? Can we shudder at the view of not being 100% comfortable driving to the grocery store for fear of being pulled over because of our skin color? Can we squint at the picture of Jesus on the Sunday school wall and remember that he was actually a middle easterner who beseeched (and commanded) us his entire life to love one another as he loved us? He loved everyone, even those (especially those) who were different from him. The only people where he jumped their case were the high and mighty, closed-minded, establishment-types of his day.

The fabric of the United States’ history is a glorious tapestry, but dark scarlet threads run through it as well. I don’t believe those threads should be removed or rewritten, nor do I believe they should be glorified. They should remind us of where we have come from; of those who sacrificed, willingly and unwillingly; those who suffered and those that are still suffering. We can weave a better fabric, acknowledging the past, learning from the past, but determined to make the future better, for everyone. An even more glorious and prosperous US.

Legislation will further level the field, but it will not eradicate bias. Awareness will focus attention on the injustice, but it won’t solve the underlying issue. Anger at anything but injustice itself will only kindle more anger. Focusing on the past will not necessarily correct the future. Real, meaningful, lasting change has its roots in our hearts, all our hearts. Head knowledge, saying the right words, doing the right things are all good, but only changed hearts, born anew, will usher in the eternal kingdom where everyone, every one, takes their rightful, honored place.

My lens is changing, even as it needs greater magnification as I get older. Until the day comes where we all actually stand together, I envision standing by Colin, even as he kneels, one hand on his shoulder in support, the other over my heart honoring grandpa, my face toward heaven in prayer, eyes wide open, asking God what I can do, and the courage and wisdom to do it, to make this truly the land of the free.

I’m not a doctor, but I believe all our hearts are the same color, no matter what lens you choose to examine them.


  1. Christine Starkweather says:

    Thank you for offering the power of intelligent and safe conversation, whether in agreement or not…
    May we remember how to do it!
    In order to do so, the willingness to listen and consider must come from all sides, angles, and lenses, as well as the ability to be respectful of all the different sides, angles, and lenses…
    Possible? I hope so, because it seems to be a lost art…