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forest in sri lanka

Injustice, Outrage, and Priorities: Stepping Back from the Culture Wars

He can’t see the forest for the trees.

Step back and look at the big picture.

What’s under the surface?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Don’t take that at face value.

Close up of a drum

These are just a few of the more popular ways to state that losing perspective is not healthy. But it’s hard work to look beneath the surface or walk out of the trees. Stepping back from the granular to look at the whole can be terrifying, especially when a person is embedded within the system or culture. It’s almost impossible for an individual to extract themselves enough or pull back far enough.

Spending ten days in Sri Lanka, a country far older than the US, dominated by eastern rather than western thought, affords a unique opportunity to do just that, step back. I have long believed that we can only form truly educated opinions if we stretch ourselves and attempt to learn a new way of looking at life. It resets a person’s perspective and redefines what is important or worth getting worked up about.

One of the things that this time in Sri Lanka has given me is a much-needed reality check. At breakfast this morning, several of us talked about some of the challenges facing Christians in the USA, and how jarring it is to think about them after seeing the life-and death struggle here. As important as it is to advocate for human rights, whether the right to marry the one you love or the right to speak and teach and alongside men or the right to ask questions and insist on leaders being held accountable for their actions or the right to be treated with dignity and respect no matter one’s skin color or heritage, let’s be honest for a minute. These issues pale in comparison to starvation, preventable illness, the lack of clean drinking water, slavery, and AIDS. They just do.


I keep thinking of something Matthew Paul Turner said, after he told us the heart-wrenching messages her received from same-sex couples after posting about the Chick-fil-A protests. “Maybe all of us, on all the sides of these issues, need to bring it down a few notches.”

Hearing the stories of women being taken advantage of because they are poor and uneducated and without any social or legal standing is a healthy reminder to me. I don’t mean to diminish the real injustices that take place every day in North America. But I do have an education, the right to vote and buy land and take a case to the courts and I have a voice, both online and in my community.

It’s not as if the action I take in the US (or anywhere really) give anyone a humanity they didn’t have before. Tony Jones pointed out more than once that anything we do to bring people up does not give them more value or more humanness or more of the imago dei than they already have inherently. We, each one of us, bears the image of God. Our work is to see it, acknowledge it, and help others to see it too.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but I get myopic in my easy life. I allow myself to indulge in outrage over things that, if placed on a more global scale, don’t merit quite such a degree of outrage. I’m not saying they aren’t important, or that we don’t need to keep working. I’m not saying that we’re close to where we need to be on these issues. We have much work yet to do.

But so many are so far behind. If I can hold onto that bigger picture, maybe I will spend more of my energy and passion advocating for those who truly have no rights as human beings at all. Maybe I’d be a little more patient and a little more gracious towards those who disagree with me.

What do you think?

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