For Lent: Take off 'first world' lenses and learn the reality of others
Recently I led a day of reflection for a wonderful bishop, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, his presbyteral council and his curia.
I had been invited to share Salesian spirituality to offer some reflection on the Salesian Year of Youth. To model the central Salesian priority of youth serving youth, I asked one of our high school graduates to assist me in making the presentation that day.
Andrew Coffey, a marvelous student who "woke up to service and ministry" in his senior year at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, is now a postgraduate studying for a master's degree in criminal law at Cal State Long Beach. And even with this amazing course load and while holding down a job, Andrew gave his time and demonstrated his finesse for leading youth ministry and sharing faith. He was, in fact, the real hit of that day.
In our days of preparation before the presentations, I was struggling with certain technologies I found necessary for the projection of audio-visuals. I wanted them to flow seamlessly between slides of information and move in and out of video clips and interviews.
We worked for hours and Andrew seemed to be, as sociologists have claimed again and again — a digital native working with this old immigrant into the wireless miracles of computer presentation. Often I found myself becoming so impatient wanting the presentation to "wow" the audience with all the bells and whistles of the technologies. And with every fist pounding on the table and reworking of some slide or integration of this or that video clip, Andrew would respond to my tantrum with "FWP!"
After my fourth or fifth outburst, I finally surrendered to this young man's texting language and asked with annoyance, "What the heck is 'FWP' anyway?" Andrew smiled at me with a frightening wisdom coming from a young man his age and explained: "FWP means, "First-World-Problem!"
I was embarrassed and inspired by his explanation.
Andrew has a close friend who recently returned from a year of volunteer work at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. This friend is a remarkable young man who had quarterbacked for UCLA with his brother, got drafted into the NFL and blew out his knee before being able to play his first pro-game. This man could have felt self-pity and gone into a downward spiral but, instead, contacted the Salesians and asked to use his time volunteering for poor children.
Andrew stayed close to this man throughout the experience and learned much upon his friends return from Africa. Andrew explained that he sees things so differently now and realizes just how silly some of our problems and concerns are in this so-called first world. Compared to the daily realities and problems of so very many others throughout the world, our little inconveniences are amazingly ridiculous by comparison.
Our presentation to the diocese that day went very well and our technology went off without a hitch, but I was changed by a young man who sees the world in a way I often have not.
During this Lent, it is my hope to take off the first world lenses and try on the reality of others. I can do that simply and effectively by shifting my priorities, not making the problems of my daily life become insurmountable mountains.
I feel invited into the world and its pain and to offer whatever inconveniences life throws at me to become invitations to pray for and work for bettering the world. Andrew, thank you for your insight and your global heart!
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, and an adjunct professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.)