“First World” Dilemma

NXVnTTdINEVFS1Ux_o_first-world-problems-read-by-third-world-people(Sunday sermon, St. Sebastians Parish, Milwaukee, WI.  References are local.)

I apologize for having to trouble you with this today but it’s been weighing heavily on my mind for several weeks now and I can’t keep seem to get it out of my mind.   Yes, there have been sleepless nights and yes, alcohol has been involved…but, well, here I go.  I’m going to take a big risk here but, but…should I cancel DirectTV or not?  I’ve looked for support groups for this kind of thing but, do you believe it – there are none!  I’m on my own as only America wants me to be.  I did an internet search for “loser folks who want to cancel DirectTV” and couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find just one.  Where are those kindred people when you need them the most!  Those folks who are at parties with me and smile at me at the right times and engage in small talk with me…where are they now in my time of DirectTV need? Today I graciously ask for your prayers and your support, (cough) financial support, that is.  The second collection today is to help me pay the ETF, which I learned stands for “early termination fee.”  Your generosity is appreciated…and in gratitude there’s a five dollar gift certificate to “Cranky Al’s” for every $20.00 you give me because, you know, we Americans only give to worthy, worthwhile causes if we get something back.  That’s the American way, isn’t it?  Giving for the sake of giving just doesn’t cut it any longer. People of our first world country preoccupy themselves with what? – itself – along with there is waaay too much overtime time spent on dwelling with minor, trivial things instead of the greater things of our community, our country, our world – we seem to be quite pleased with ourselves, we seem to be quite pleased with who we are as people of God.  Aren’t we?  “Should that back wall in my front room be a cream or a light pink color, I’m not sure.”  Years ago I was in Chiapas, Mexico with the Mayan Indians.  The morning meal the mom prepared for us was delicious.   When we finished breakfast the mom immediately and I mean immediately began to prepare lunch.  I was blown away when I saw this unfold each day.  There were no breaks between meals in providing food for working and hungry people and every one of the meals was made from scratch.

Did you know that the Mayans are to the Mexicans what Blacks are to Whites in our first world, always-right country?  How poorer can a poor people get?  My unfunny joke is that the Whites look down on the Blacks, the Blacks look down on the Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Ricans look down on the Mexicans who then look down on, you guessed it, the poor people of Chiapas.  The Mayans are presently looking for a class lower to look down upon so if you know of any available poorer group please let them know. As first-world people are we even able anymore to consider greater and broader issues and events in the lives of people other than our own?  As first-world people are we even able anymore to consider greater and broader issues and events in the lives of people other than our own? Here’s the point of my sermon in case you wish to read the bulletin: If you begin thinking that your life is small (but super important) then your life will remain small (with a huge illusion of super importance).  If you begin thinking your life is small but you are able to make your life bigger and enlarge it through your prayers, your thoughts and your actions then you and your “first world” life will be bigger; much, much bigger.

First World: “What color is the couch is in your living room? “I’m still not sure of the color I chose.” (Copying your neighbor makes for good guests.)
Third World: “I wonder if it’s safe to drink this water.”

First World: ”How big should my toilet be? I am now the proud owner of a “two flusher-handle” on my toilet…one for number 1 and a second for number 2. I needed to take a MATC class to get the sequence down right.”
Third World: “Will my son and daughter live beyond 20 years?”

First World: Donald Trump’s hair.
Third World: Having a dictator-type, duly elected president with big corporate funding.

First World: “Tonight, is it Bel Air or that new Vietnamese restaurant?”
Third World: “Our crop may be ruined by that last big rainstorm.”

This stuff is not easy. “Camel color or blood red for the bedroom walls.”  ”Oh, that blood-red color is so yesterday and her curtains are draped to the floor…”Who does she think she is?” …First World. I fear we’ve all become “Valley Girls” – male and female – in our self contained compartments whose accessories make us relevant and real.  The saddest part of our humanity is that the curtains and the wall colors make us feel alive. Make us fee real.  ”Just look how relevant I am, I have a smart TV…,” which isn’t very smart unless I’m the dumb one. El Salvador is prayed for each week, including today and what do we know about them…we know that a small group of white people visit there from time to time…Anyone ever google it?  Does anyone look on a map that extents beyond WTMJ’s weather map that begins at Sheboygan and ends at Racine?  The extent of our TV weather map ends the vast and diverse world that we First Worldly people have the luxury to avoid…ignore…forget about. And if you think that I’m mocking you or your lifestyle, you’re wrong because I’m included.  I signed up to go El Salvador along with those “white folks” and chickened out at the last minute.

Let me try a different approach in case you’ve dismissed me during the first.  We all abhor the word “victim” unless it applies to ourselves and then we call Habush, Habush, Habush, Habush and the other guy to see what the Habush clan and the other guy can do for us.  They send us sadly away.  Can we be “victims” of a first world environment over which we had no control except that our parents moved here?  Can we say anything less for our “third world” folks?  Victim means that something happened to us and we had no control.  Victimization is terrible when it brutally occurs  and it is the same terrible when accepted, blindly or otherwise.  First World folks gladly accept “victim” applied to us because we enjoy and take for granted the goods that make our lives as good as they are.  “Goods,” a word that applies to both supplies and to an attitude.  “It is good for us to be here,” people say each week in churches throughout the U.S.  The Psalm today was giving thanks to God for the goodness God supplies us each day.  Two different applications but one word.  Goodness.  If First World people accept that they are victims than perhaps a breakthrough to God’s mandates may make sense to us because then we are no longer victims but active players in a church that welcomes activism and in a culture that needs them. And God found that good.

Folks, we are in this “first world” dilemma together.  We got it too good, we don’t know what to do about, we want to do more but how often do we.  We need to question and challenge ourselves on a regular basis (which is called “prayer”, by the way).   What persistent voice is heard in our minds?  Is it God’s voice of peace and justice for our world and reflected through our lives – even with the smallest part of our bigger selves that we can share?  Or is it “that cream color or a soft pink color on that back wall that will balance off and compliment the other walls, especially the carpet.” Isaiah says that God opened his ears to hear (to hear ourselves but also the cries of so many others)..can God open our eyes to see beyond our comfortable eyes the uglier aspects of the world that we also inhabit.  Can God give us ears to hear struggling voices that we will never personally hear?  Can God give us feet that truly walks along side each person instead of behind or in front.  Can we allow others to taste the satisfaction of going to bed every night without putting a gun under their pillow?  Is it possible for others to taste what we taste?  Or is it just for us?  Or is it just a “third world” problem or a “that neighborhood problem?”  I often kid priests who send kids to Appalachia for a week for a mission experience.  “Why not send them to 3rd and Burleigh for a week?” I ask.  But that would be too close to home.  That would narrow that TV weather map to a “third world” experience along side our comfortable “first world” neighborhoods. Like 20 minutes away.  But this is America and I love this country.  But we…no, forget the word “we,” I am on my own and like it or not, I’m going to do this.  I will.

Can God please open our hearts (your wallets, actually) to contribute to this needy fund to help me decide whether to cancel DirectTV or not?  It agonizes me to no end and I don’t think you appreciate how important this is to me.  I’ve already texted seven friends about this…even while driving…(“because I can do text safely and no one else can”…American thinking?) and no one can help me.  Seven other friends changed the subject when I brought up DirectTV to them.  I’ve posted my dilemma on Facebook but no one has “Liked” me.  (Please “like” me on Facebook after Mass today.)  No one cares about my small life and the isolation I’ve created for myself.  My “First World” life is worthless….

(walking away saying…)
“Cream or a light pink?…I think a soft green or a variation of blue might work in the den but not the front room, but I’m not sure.”  God…I sound like I live in the Highlands.

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About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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One Response to “First World” Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Fr. Joe’s Homily: First World Dilemma | Saint Sebastian

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