Monthly Archives: November 2012

7 Tips for Gaining Perspective

After last week’s election didn’t go the way conservatives wanted it to, many of them publicly, frantically despaired, declaring the end to America as they know it and forecasting disaster for the near- and long-term future.

Now, I wasn’t thrilled with the election results. To say the least. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling upset, troubled, even a little depressed about the direction America seems to be going politically. But I don’t think there’s any reason to despair. Because at the end of the day, American politics in the 21st century is just a small piece of a much bigger world, and a tiny blip on the narrative of history. It’s helpful to have a little bit of perspective. Christians, for example, should remind themselves that our God is sovereign and his purposes are and will be accomplished regardless of the laws and legalities of men. Furthermore, Christians should remind themselves that the church is and always will be (or should be) a stronger source of communal identity than our political party.

Putting things in perspective doesn’t diminish the importance of politics or the significance of what happens in elections; it simply serves as a helpful corrective to our tendency to get wrapped up in matters that are (by comparison) narrow and fleeting.

I worry about what happens to people when they lose perspective. I worry about America today, which I see populated by many people who are perfectly satisfied to subsist on a diet of perspective-reinforcing media that confirms but never challenges what they already believe. I worry about people whose perspective is so small that they can only see the immediate benefits of what voting for such-and-such will do for them now, while neglecting to think about the longterm impacts for their children and the world at large. I worry about the short-sightedness of a nation where political entrenchment is more important than preventing an imminent economic disaster. I fear for a people who are uninformed and uninterested in learning about what goes on in the rest of the world.

I think we would all be better off–and our world would be better off–if we were intentional about broadening our perspective a bit. And to that end, let me offer these seven suggestions for ways one can gain a healthier perspective:

1) Read. Read books, articles, poems, lyrics, anything. Read a lot. Read things that don’t reinforce any of your already-established opinions but instead open up the world to you a bit more. Take advantage of the library.

2) Travel. If you are lucky enough to afford to do this, DO IT. Travel is, I think, one of the single-most significant ways that a person can broaden their perspective on the world and better understand their own provincial experience within it. I still remember how drastically my perspective on the world changed the first time I traveled abroad (doing a study abroad program in Southeast Asia).

3) Expand your movie-going horizons. Watch foreign films and documentaries. They can be amazingly engaging! There’s nothing like cinema for opening up one’s eyes to another part of the world, another culture, perspective or curiosity. If you’d like a recommendation, let me know!

4) Worship in new places. If you’re a Christian I’m not saying ditch your home church and church hop. I’m just saying that it can be healthy to break out of your worship comfort zone. Worship in churches of various traditions. Visit a Messianic congregation, a Coptic Christian church, a Korean church. Get a sense for how wonderfully diverse is the body of Christ.

5) Get to know people different from you. If you’re a conservative, befriend a liberal or two. If you’re a Christian, befriend some non-Christians. Have spirited conversations with people who will challenge your beliefs. Make sure your network of friends is not homogenous (one single age group, one single ethnicity, one single religion) but is as diverse and yet as genuine as possible.

6) Go places and do things that make you uncomfortable. Serve the homeless on Skid Row. For a time, live somewhere where you’re a minority. Ride the bus. Try foods that might sound disgusting to you. Shop at Wal-Mart. Go to the proverbial “other side of the tracks” on occasion. It will be good for you.

7. Pray. Ask God to bring people, ideas, perspectives, and experiences into your life that challenge the status quo and help you grow. Pray that you’ll not be complacent and “satisfied” with where you are and what you know, but that you’ll always want to explore further and understand more. That your primary aim will be to know the truth and be governed by the truth, and not just to have an easier life.

November Prayer

Lord, we are exhausted and spent. This election has been a long, hard slog.

We ask that you would grant our nation peace, hope, direction, recovery. That you would heal the anger, bitterness, animosity and hate that characterizes so many on all sides. That you would help all of us to move on together, charitably disagreeing but bound by a commitment to a more civil discourse–perhaps even those in Washington D.C.

We ask that you would inspire President Obama with renewed humility, vision, and discipline. Strengthen him and his family, fortify them for the next four years of what is sure to be a rocky road. Help him to strive to protect the innocent both at home and abroad, to seek to end wars and avoid violence wherever possible, and to work to strengthen the economy so that millions across the country (and world) might be able to work their way out of poverty.

Forgive us for the deceptive ads, the rhetoric, the endless bickering and the fact that $6 billion has been spent on this election when it could have been spent to help real people with real problems. Forgive us for obsessing so much about one election, or, on the other extreme, for being so cynical and apathetic about it. Help us to recognize politics as an important, valid process of change, even when it seems so pointless and frustrating.

Help us to put everything in perspective. May we recognize that the U.S. President is just a man, a failure and screwed-up sinner just like any of us. That the United States is just a country, one of many on earth, not the hope for the earth or a messianic institution in any sense of the word.

May we shift our attention, as we always should, to you and your majestic work in the world–humbly desiring your kingdom and seeking to serve it in whatever way we can.

Help your people–the worldwide church–to forge a unity and common objective that transcends nationalism and politics. Help American Christians especially to find their identity first and foremost in you, not in their political affiliations. Help the church to work as one body, your body, to proclaim the Good News through word and deed to a world that is fractured, weather-battered, war-weary, and without a center of stabilizing gravity or hope.

Help Christians to be the bearers of hope, encouragement, love and truth to everyone--to the suffering New Jersey homeowner who lost everything in Sandy, to the impoverished teenage girl unsure if she can afford to carry a pregnancy to term, to the Libyan terrorists and illegal aliens and looters and cheaters and liars we might otherwise despise.

Help us to examine ourselves daily and check our self-righteousness at the door, recognizing that we are as failed and broken as anyone, in need of redemption like all the rest.

Help us to wake up each day and, above all, be thankful. That we are still breathing, that we have things to strive for, love to give, and wonders to behold for at least one more day. Help us to recognize the unbelievable grace that overwhelms us in every moment: the grace of a heart that somehow keeps beating; the grace of lungs that miraculously keep breathing; the grace of making it down the highway without dying (in L.A. especially!) and turning on lights and appliances powered with electricity. The grace that is democracy–being able to vote.

Oh the things we take for granted!

Help us to remember that everything is a gift–that even our very life is a miracle, precious and put here for a reason. Guide each of us as we seek our place in this world, recognizing that we are but a part of a much bigger plan, a grain of sand in the William Blake sense: minute and yet majestic, revelatory even in our weakness of the complex universe to which we all belong.