Sunday, April 17, 2011

Privileged

What does it REALLY mean?

My recent experience with my young friend at my temp job in Norristown has gotten me thinking about what it means to be privileged. "Being able to do what you really feel called to do in life," she told me, "Is a privilege and not a right." 
Kugel Ball in Railroad Plaza, Lansdale, Pennsy...Image via Wikipedia
Kugel Ball in Railroad Plaza
Lansdale, PA

I often get the impression from people in my church social circles that I have led a pretty privileged life. Among my local colleagues, the main reason for this seems to be that I have served at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA. It was my first call, and I am only 32. I was the youngest person on staff the entire time I was there. Having done that at my age and level of experience is not an honor everyone can attain. I should feel pretty damn special.

On the other hand, I also sometimes get the impression that in the eyes of some of my colleagues, I now have nothing left to live for professionally. Around here, once you've been at Trinity, you've kind of made it. I have heard people ask, "Is there life after Trinity?" Of course there is, don't be silly. I have also had my time spent at Trinity thrown in my face in random unrelated conversations. I think people want me to be angry or bitter about whatever they think might have happened to me there. Perhaps they want me to affirm their own pre-conceived notions about the place. I had a colleague approach me recently and ask me out of the blue, "Don't you feel like you got shafted?" Would it make you feel better if I said yes? Then you will probably be disappointed.

The truth of the matter is, when it comes down to the things in my life that have impacted me the most deeply, that I feel the most privileged to have been able to be a part of, I must be different than most people I know. Because when I make my list, when I think about the things that bring me to tears because I feel so honored to have been able to be a part of them, "Being at Trinity" is not on the list. Don't get me wrong--I am not talking smack about Trinity. It is a lovely place filled with lovely people, it was an important experience, I learned a lot and I will never regret it. It was a time of great growth and learning for me. At the same time, I never really wanted to go there, and although it was an exciting and challenging time in my life, I am not now sorry I am gone. It did, however, provide me the opportunity for something else that does make the list.

Downtown Ngaoundéré with Mount Ngaoundéré in t...Image via Wikipedia
Evening at the Petit Marche
Ngaoundere, Cameroon
There are two things in my life that I feel more privileged to have been able to be a part of than anything else. The first one was living and serving in Cameroon, in Africa. That was truly two years spent on holy ground. To be welcomed into the homes of my students, to hear their stories, to teach them and learn from them, to eat together, to love them and be loved by them--that was truly an honor. To know that I have formed lasting relationships with Nafissatou and Rifkatou and all of those beautiful girls who taught me so much more than I could ever teach them... that is truly an honor. I feel privileged to have even been welcomed into their midst.

The other one is spending my nights in a homeless shelter last winter. What an honor to get to know these men who came to us seeking a warm place to sleep. What courage they had. What a privilege to see volunteers from the congregation and community have their eyes opened and to begin building relationships with people who before this experience were just "those people," un-named others who we could just throw our money at and who we didn't really need to care about. What an honor to be summoned to the hospital bed of a sick, dying, drug-addicted man who had spent his life on the streets, and for whom those volunteers and the other guests at the shelter had become his only family. What a gift, to be called to give your life in service to others... Those nights I was truly in the presence of God, and walking on holy ground.

Many of the things that this world values, and that many of the people in my church value, do not make my list. Trinity is a very privileged place, and yet it does not make my list. Perhaps my idea of what it means to be privileged is messed up. I feel privileged to have been welcomed into the midst of the outcasts, the poor, the forgotten. I feel honored to have known them by name, to have met them on their terms, to have shown them the light of Christ. If this isn't true privilege, then I don't know what is.


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1 comment:

Edward said...

This post reminds me of a song.
"The king of contradictions strikes again. You said the last to cross the finish line will win. And the beggars will be millionaires someday. And the humble ones are gonna have their say.
Well all my friends are gone now. And all my money's gone now. And all my pride is gone now. This will be my finest hour."

It sounds like the time you spent working in ministry through Trinity created opportunities for some very fine hours.