A Matter of Perspective

It helps to have proper perspective, to view the world and oneself with clarity and in context. Unfortunately, perspective is sometimes lost or misplaced. Like my eyeglasses. On occasion, I absentmindedly put the darned things down somewhere and then cannot locate them. My squinty-eyed search is rife with irony. I need the glasses to look for the glasses, but, if I had them, I would not need to look for them. Similarly, it can be hard to find perspective when you lack perspective.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a great many Americans are angry and unhappy with the republic. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 66% of respondents voiced dissatisfaction with the way things are going in this country. The blame game is in full swing. In a recent Gallup poll, 46% of respondents expressed disapproval of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President. That’s not too abysmal, when compared to ratings of the legislative branch. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month, 71% of respondents disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job. The only folks less popular right now are Wall Street bankers, Internet spammers, and Sandra Bullock’s cheating spouse.

While there is ample reason for discontent and worry, I believe that many Americans have lost perspective. Our elected leaders are viewed as both the cause and the solution for this country’s ills. They broke it, and they’re gonna fix it. Except “it”…is us. America does not belong to Barack Obama. It does not belong to Congress. It does not belong to the faceless plutocrats in their mahogany-paneled boardrooms. It belongs to us. We, the citizens, are America. The fate of this nation and its constituent communities rests in our collective hands. It is our responsibility. We would do well to forsake blame and dependency and show some gumption. We have become far too flabby. Democracy must be exercised more than once every couple of years in November.

Similarly, we ought to look elsewhere for celebrity-worship. Turn off Entertainment Tonight. Cast aside Us Weekly. Take a gander around you. That’s not Brad Pitt tinkering with live wires atop the telephone pole out back; that’s a utility worker. That’s not Angelina Jolie strolling up the walk with a heavy bag slung over her shoulder; that’s the mail carrier. That’s certainly not Lindsey Lohan collecting the trash; that’s a sanitation worker. These and others in your community—teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, et al.—are the true stars. They are much more worthy of your devotion (and gratitude) than strangers graced by fame and fortune.

The same might be said of the clergy. There are many who toil in obscurity, whether in your neighborhood parish or in places like the Sudan, while the religious aristocracy garners the lion’s share of attention. It seems wrong. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times appears to agree:

Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down.

Jesus wasn’t known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues. Does anyone think he would have protected clergymen who raped children?

Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church’s. Yet once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world’s neediest are lowly nuns and priests — notable not for the grandeur of their vestments but for the grandness of their compassion.

As I’ve noted before, there seem to be two Catholic Churches, the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity in places like Sudan. The Vatican certainly supports many charitable efforts, and some bishops and cardinals are exemplary, but overwhelmingly it’s at the grass roots that I find the great soul of the Catholic Church. [link]

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Ah, there are my eyeglasses.

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2 responses

  1. Kiersten Marek | Reply

    I quite agree that the amazing people in institutional religion are at the ground level. For our church, Ascension here in Cranston, we just sent our junior warden, Wes Wright, to Haiti, along with our priest’s wife, Carol Lewis, who is a doctor. They delivered medicines and vitamins which we collected to send. It was a small mission but very direct and real, and out of small missions grow bigger missions.

  2. I know some good Catholics who keep faith with the best ideals of the religion.

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