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There’s a phrase that some foreigners use quite a lot about life in South Asia. It’s said with a shrug and a throwing up of hands.

“This is South Asia,” they’ll say.

Which, fundamentally, is true – I cannot argue with the fact that we do live in South Asia.

What bothers me about this phrase is the situations in which it’s used…

When a taxi driver rips you off.

When you see a bribe slipped across the table.

When you step in a big cow pie as you were skirting the pile of stinking, rotting trash.

These are the situations in which we foreigners tend to roll our eyes dismissively and say “this is South Asia”. We never say it when we see things like…

… the networks of extended families that care for and support one another.

… amazing work being done by NGOs and others, empowering women and giving them a hope and a future.

… rich curries, beautiful weddings, innovative business ideas.

… local, grassroots movements fighting corruption.

I never hear foreigners spout one of these good things, their eyes sparkling, and say “this is South Asia”!

What is it about our need to focus on the negative?

Eavesdropping on a conversation between these two focuses is enlightening. It’s a back-and-forth between a vision of the good, of the potential, of the beautiful and sights set on what is wrong, what is dirty, what isn’t fixed.

It’s like being stuck in the conversation between Moses and God in Exodus 3 and 4.

I developed a headache while reading it…

God says things like “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land… flowing with milk and honey… And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty handed… you will plunder the Egyptians.”

God’s promising big, amazing things. Not just rescue – but a plundering of the wealth of their masters.

After such grand, amazing pronouncements. Moses whines, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

Oye vey, Moses! God’s talking about beauty and wonder and amazingness and you’re stuck on such small doubts? You’re missing the delight of a good curry, the beauty of South Asian fabric, the shelter of a loving extended family because one taxi driver overcharged you?

I don’t know about you – but I do this all of the time.

God says that in Christ, I am a new creation – with the old gone and the new having come.
And I say, but I used to be a horrible sinner. 

God says that I have been set free for freedom’s sake.
And I say, but sometimes I still go back to being a slave to sin. 

God says that because of his great love and mercy, He has made me alive with Christ.
And I say, but I used to be dead in transgressions and sins.

God says I have been raised with Christ and my mind should dwell on the things above.
And I say I’d rather think about the things below… on earthly things. 

I look at a world desperately in need of love, forgiveness and peace. I see the small oppressed and the weak crushed by the rich, the strong. I see corruption and violence winning the day. I see communities still wallowing in poverty and death. I see a church that often seems less effective than more. I roll my eyes dismissively and say, “This is what its like”.

God says He loved the world so much He gave His Son’s life for it. That He’s on the side of the weak and oppressed and that one day He will set everything right. Justice will be done. He’s fueling the efforts of community reform and the spread of the good news. He said all authority is in Jesus’ hand and that like He sent Jesus, we also have been sent.
He whispers, eyes sparkling, “This is what it’s like.”