Enlarging Our Field of View

This month, I came across an affirming reminder from octogenarian South African Bishop Desmond Tutu:

When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view… Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We must have a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.

There’s no question that the Covid pandemic has consumed much of our attention and compassion the past 18 months. Many of us are moving toward this holiday season with an underlying mix of weariness and apprehension about yet another wave or variant—or both!

Recently, I found myself wanting to underestimate the current suffering in Afghanistan and northern Ethiopia, comforting myself that “it’s not as bad as it was in the past.” While this is true, at least at present, I had to admit to myself that this mind-game also conveniently absolves me from worrying about fellow human beings in very real pain and crisis today.

As Bishop Tutu states above, as we get older our experience helps us put any current crisis into a larger context. This enlarged ‘field of view’ can provide us with very helpful and hopeful reminders. Comparisons with the past should never become an excuse for inattention and uncaring in the present. But they can provide wonderful encouragement that we can in fact make a real difference, that the world doesn’t have to go to hell in a handbasket, that the daunting challenges in front of us can be overcome just as those in the past have been surmounted. Just a few examples of many:

The official death toll from Covid-19 has just surpassed 5 million. Each death is a tragedy.

  • Still, the 1919-20 “Spanish” Flu killed 20-50 million people, or more. As a percent of global population, that would be the equivalent of 75 – 250 million deaths today.

Deaths during cyclones currently reach into the hundreds or even thousands.

  • Yet as recently as the 1980’s they were in the hundreds-of-thousands.

Child mortality averages 7% in the world’s 20 worst nations.

  • But of Queen Anne’s 17 pregnancies, not one survived to age 12; Thomas Jefferson’s wife lost 4 of 6 children before adulthood, Suzanna Wesley lost 9 of 19 children.

We can take heart, that even in the midst of a broken world and very real human tragedy, human life is truly getting better decade by decade. Still, there are tremendous new threats, including Covid and climate change—especially as the poorest are also the most vulnerable to both. These require our full attention and commitment for the sake of humanity and all God-given life.

Our enlarged ‘field of view’ can also unfortunately become a crutch for not praying, not comforting, not mourning with those who mourn, not acting when action is needed, simply tossing off concerns with “This too shall pass.” It’s tempting to feel we’ve already done our bit and paid our dues, that others possess more energy to right this new wrong and are more worked up about it than we are, that we’ve already ‘been there, done that’ before.

This is where the concept of ‘retirement’ gets a bad reputation. There is nothing unbiblical about stepping aside from our careers and letting others serve. But what is never condoned is the idea that we can someday retire from caring, from the concerns of the world. As my friend the HIV-positive activist Princess Kasune Zulu says, “I’m going to live until I die.” Whether it’s our attention, our influence, our prayers, our resources, or our time, we’re all expected to truly live as long as we’re alive. Our internal resources and our external offerings of time, talent, treasure may shift over time, but God never invites us to simply “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Instead, Jesus condemns that attitude in the strongest terms. [Luke 12:16-21]

When I’m not using my knowledge of the past to absolve myself from further engagement with the needs of the present, I’m extremely grateful for the decades of experience and exposure I’ve had in relieving human suffering. I’ve been able to witness historic improvements in human flourishing over the past four decades.

I also take great encouragement in seeing global engagement grow… The world is now more aware. We’re more involved. We recognize we all live in a global neighborhood. We’re more committed to ensuring that every child can experience fullness of life.

And I am thankful that you dear reader have been an adherent of Jesus’ teaching from another parable, that of the Good Samaritan, in recognizing that the age-old question “Who is my neighbor?” must be answered through the global perspective of our gracious God.

Cory

November 2021

PS: World Vision created an Advent guide and as one of the four entries they adapted a recent reflection I’d written. But what REALLY impressed me is a 46-second video link on how to make your own water pump that kids might enjoy.  You can download here.

One thought on “Enlarging Our Field of View

  1. Thank you, Cory, for your latest post and the many “trees of hope” you’ve planted in the lives of so many! Your encouragement have changed my perspective this morning and will change my approach to the two meetings I have scheduled this afternoon. Onward!

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