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Recently, we adopted a pair of kittens. They’re cute, cuddly, feisty; all of the things you’d expect from a pair of kittens, all of which our eleven-year-old cat holds in disdain. Whenever the kittens are near, he hisses and occasionally takes a swipe at them. It’s a problem, but not a true problem. It’s probably the biggest problem we’ve got at present, and it humbles me.
We also have a half-dozen kids, two with special needs. This presents a number of problems on a daily basis but –having been in this parent-gig for thirteen years — those daily challenges act more as speed bumps: they slow down the pace of the day, but aren’t really barriers.
All of this came to mind when I was trying to find a way to appropriately explain our relative opulence to one of our older children. Contrast, I suggested, our problems with those of our brethren in other parts of the world, who are, at this moment, being forced out of their homes, raped, beheaded, or whatever horror suits their oppressor’s fancy. That sort of thinking has caused my tolerance for Western consumerism to wear a little thin lately. Not that I’m a minimalist. I’m typing this on a new laptop and spent the better part of the other night researching alternate ISP’s because ours is a little unreliable for the price. Still, there have been a number of instances lately that have shaken my faith in our culture’s priorities, peaches chief among them.
Last month, a particular processing plant in California voluntarily recalled peaches and nectarines due to possible listeria contamination. Leaving aside my confusion over how a fruit can be irreparably contaminated with a dangerous bacteria (isn’t this why we wash our fruit?), I became disheartened when I was forced to throw thousands of pounds of perfectly good fruit in the garbage in the course of my work. Most of it wasn’t part of the recall, but people simply didn’t feel good about eating it. Think about that for a moment, and consider what a few thousand pounds of fresh fruit would mean to a village in any third world country. But, since we read on Facebook that peaches are bad now (never mind the details), we throw them away, get ourselves a refund, and buy some oranges as replacement. This is what we call a First World Problem.
I encounter things like this so often that it really shouldn’t surprise me but, as the fruit mounted and the cross-cultural indifference became so widespread and callous, I despaired. The final straw was a summer camp operator who, after getting rained out for an event, whined until reluctantly being allowed return over $200 of perfectly good, but perishable, picnic supplies. “After all,” he reasoned, “what are we supposed to do with it? We didn’t need it, and it was rather expensive.” Biting my tongue, and valuing my job, I refrained from offering the first suggestion that came to mind.
Lest I paint a picture of myself as living within a perpetual state of frugality and good stewardship, let me relate a personal gut-check.
Not long ago I had a conversation with God in the cab of my pickup, whining out my frustrations to Him over having to shell out close to a thousand dollars for its most recent repair. This had come on top of the fact we had spent the better part of that year scraping together donations toward our international adoption of two kids. As I drove my now perfectly-running truck on dry summer roads through a peaceful, growing, Alaskan city toward my middle-income job, I was somehow bitter. I asked God for peace through the rotten hand we’d been dealt, when I received the following, gentle rebuke:
“You still have more than seven times the amount of that mechanic’s bill in your emergency savings account, right?”
“Well, yeah,” I replied.
“Some people might call that a First World Problem.”
I lowered my head, agreed, and repented for my lack of faith. I was infused with a responsibility to set aside my juvenile grievances, give thanks for all we have, and make better choices about where we invest our resources, how we prioritize our needs, and what we owe to those suffering — desperate and persecuted — who’d gladly trade the terror of waiting for ISIS to kick in the door for problems like hissing cats and imperfect fruit.
Image Credit: Bryan Costin.